Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Gradual Demise of Christian Schools of Higher Education, updated

A nationwide announcement went out recently in search of a Vice President of Academic Affairs at another formerly Christian college. It sent my mind to wandering. How many Christian schools of higher education do not secularize over time? Outside of revival, it is almost impossible to stop the slow grind into secularism.
An Interesting Example
In 1827, Baptist home missionary John Peck founded Rock Springs Seminary on his farm in Rock Spring, Illinois, just east of St. Louis. Its purpose was to train evangelists, pastors, and missionaries to evangelize and plant churches in the expanding West of the United States. In 1837 the college moved to Upper Alton, Illinois, where it was renamed Shurtleff College. Then in 1957, Shurtleff College closed its doors and reopened as the University of Southern Illinois, Edwardsville Campus. In 120 years the secularizing process was complete.
But what happened to Rock Springs Seminary, and then to Shurtleff College, that led to its eventually merger into the Southern Illinois University system? When was the idea of training men for Christian ministry lost? When was the concept of “Christian” removed from its curriculum and administrative principles? While not considering the particular demise of Rock Springs Seminary, this blog will address the gradual, constant, and sad drift of Christian schools of higher education into secularism.
A Sad Reality
There is very little in U.S. Evangelical culture sadder than the constant secularization of Christian schools of higher education. It is like an inevitable treadmill from which no Protestant School is immune. Further, it appears that there is virtually no antidote to this trend, save the occasional God-ordained and God-orchestrated revival.
[Thinking about the recent SBC Conservative Resurgence in theological education, two scenarios can be extrapolated: (1) There was an actual revival and/or Awakening in the 1980-1990s that accompanied the votes for SBC presidents that allowed for the redirection of the SBC seminaries to a theology in conformity with the Baptist Faith and Message; or (2) God withheld the decline of the SBC seminaries and allowed the resurgence without a corresponding revival. The former conclusion seems far more probable than the latter.
[Further, since we are now 15-20 years after the beginning of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, students who benefited from the education they received after the Resurgence are now impacting U.S. Evangelicalism in a positive sense, as can be noted through the popularity of groups such as T4G.]

In fact, it is amazing that this very clear downward cycle does not receive more academic attention, given the number of formerly Christian schools of higher education that have followed this sad trend. The patterns of secularization are very predictable, like steps going down a ladder. The changes in curriculum are equally predictable, as are the reasons for these changes. The Christian school’s financial struggles are also predictable, leading either to its dissolution or to endowments funding a high-class secular education.
The fact that the changes are incremental and take place over several generations hide them from plain view. Further, each small change, in and of itself, appears wise, calculated, and necessary for the future benefit of the school.
God’s Sovereignty
A first response to this inevitable drift may be to wring one’s hands in despair, complaining to God that He ought not allow this downgrade to happen. Then comes the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers” (Psa 37:1). Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matt 6:34).
It is so easy to fret that one can become completely paralyzed by discontent in the present and in a fear for the future. Yet God is working out His sovereign plan. He knew and cared about all the individuals alive during the cycles of apostasy of which we read in the Book of Judges. God knew and cared about the individuals alive during the cycles of revival and apostasy during the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah.
The fact that Christian colleges are falling into secularism is not a surprise to God. In fact, it must be part of His mysterious sovereign plan.
Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
There are some things that we will never understand about God’s sovereign plan, and the gradual demise of virtually every Evangelical school of higher education, given enough time, is one of these anomalies. But, we need not fret—God is in control.
And yet we do not need to succumb to the secularizing tendency and wash our hands of responsibility to “fight the good fight” in our generation. We ought to learn lessons so that we can be faithful, seeking to understand God’s ways, and then working with Him to keep His Word, His gospel, and His glory central in our focus.
Some Lessons from Doctrinal Demise
(1) God knows that schools tend to a downward trend if left to their own designs. The depravity and rebellion of human nature is no surprise to Him (Deut 31:29).
(2) God allows the personality clashes and battles that exist around classes and curriculum among faculty members and administration (1 Cor 11:19).
(3) Jesus calls His people to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16). Dealing with doctrinal drift in schools in particular, and in theological education in general, requires uncanny wisdom and unusual gentleness.
(4) Often, knowing that a spiritual battle exists, and understanding its lines of demarcation, is the beginning of fighting that battle (2 Cor 10:3-5; Eph 6:10-13).
(5) By inference, God encourages the diligent study of the theological demise of individual schools, so that we can understand the issues, the pressures, and the solutions that are available via diligent historical inquiry (Deut 32:7; Mark 8:15; 13:5, 23; 1 Tim 4:16).
Let’s not let the demise of Rock Springs Seminary and its many contemporaries be lost in the sands of time.
1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Eight Litmus Tests for Christian Leadership

A number of years ago, a political candidate knocked on the door of my in-laws in Plymouth, Minnesota. She introduced herself as a candidate for political office, so I asked her about her view of abortion. When I did so, she became visibly agitated and angry. She told me that she thought abortion was not a real issue and that it should not be used as a litmus test.
Several years later I exited an interview with a group of Board members. Upon exiting, another prospective employee excitedly questioned me, “What did they ask; tell me, what did they ask you?” He wanted to know the litmus test questions of Board members.
The existence of litmus tests to discern the doctrinal and/or practical stand of politicians or Christian leaders is not negative, but rather a necessary reality. The issue at hand becomes what the litmus tests are, and how they are applied. The following provides eight litmus tests. Their inclusion on this list is merely by way of example, and does not imply an endorsement of the question. The esteemed reader may also think of other questions.
Issues of biblical interpretation
  • Are you a premillennial? Sometimes the hidden issue is biblical interpretation.
  • Do you believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11? Sometimes the hidden concern is adherence to evolution versus creationism.
Doctrinal issues:
  • How do you feel about biblical inerrancy? The term inerrancy usually implies adherence to the authority of the Bible, and submission to its all of its words as interpreted literally and contextually. Because there are seven views of inerrancy, an answer to this question can be equivocal in nature.
  • What is your opinion of the Doctrines of Grace? Calvinism and non-Calvinism have become very divisive issues in some circles. Therefore, adherence to Calvinism or a clear disavowal of the same has become a litmus test in this arena.
Evangelism issues:
  •  What do you think of the Great Commission and its place in the ministry of the local church? The primacy and urgency of evangelism are sometimes litmus tests for church leadership.
  • What do you think of ________? Then is inserted a particular method of evangelism, be it servant evangelism, door-to-door, or apologetic evangelism. In this case, the person asking the question often seeks adherence to or non-negativism towards a particular style of evangelism.
Cooperative/ecumenical issues:
  • How do you feel about _______? Then is inserted a denominational program. The questioner may be looking for denominational conviction or perhaps an affirmation of denominational independence.
  • How do you feel about the Catholic Church? Convictional openness to Roman Catholicism, usually tested by secondary questions, appears to have become a new litmus test for those teaching on or writing in church history.
Views on evangelism are a bit faddish. And most Christians have clear views on what they believe is right and not right. However, ecumenism is a different thing. We only find fault with what we experience, know, and study. So ignorance can be a problem in the area of ecumenics. Interestingly, since the 1994 “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (brokered by the now departed Richard John Neuhaus and Chuck Colson), openness to Catholicism appears to have become a new litmus test in Evangelical academia.
That being said, litmus tests do have value. Doctrinal and practical positions in one area often spill over to views in other areas as well. Further, Christian leaders may desire to hide their views on touchy subjects. Thus some litmus tests allow the interviewer to discern other views by use of tangential reasoning.
The danger with any litmus test is that it be taken in a vacuum, not considering context, or other important doctrines and practical concerns. Some, looking for quick and easy answers, may not see the full ramifications or implications of an untried or untested litmus test. Young minds often fall prone to quick judgment, and may easily fall prey to a heavy reliance upon litmus tests—which is not all bad!
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Amazing Three and God’s Sovereign Love

The “Amazing Three,” hunger, thirst, and nudity, have a very interesting biblical usage and application.

Deut 28:47-48
In hunger
In thirst
In nakedness
Curse for lack of thanks; also God’s oversight of these things!
Matt 6:31
“What shall we eat?”
“What shall we drink?”
“What shall we wear?”
Trust God for these things
Rom 8:35
Or famine

Or nakedness
In list of tribulations that cannot separate us from the love of God
1 Cor 4:11
We both hunger
And thirst,
and we are poorly clothed
List of tribulations of Paul and his team members in the ministry
2 Cor 11:27
In hunger
And thirst, …
And nakedness
List of Paul’s reasons for sarcastic self-exultation in the ministry

This trio is first used as a curse in Deuteronomy 28. If God’s people did not give thanks for all the good things that God provided in life, then He would afflict them with hunger, thirst, and nakedness:
Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Deut 28:47-48).
In a fascinating way, Jesus used this same trio in Matthew 6 to teach God’s sovereign provision for our earthly needs, when we trust in Him. Therefore, it seems like Jesus applied the control God had in removing these earthly things from our lives with a heavenly point of view.
You can trust in God, for He has ultimate control over what shall you eat, what shall you drink, and what shall you wear!
Further, when Paul described the struggles he encountered in his ministry, he mentioned the same trio in the same order twice (1 Cor 4 and 2 Cor 11). In both instances Paul was defending his apostleship from those who were denigrating the validity of his ministry—perhaps even for these very three things in his life! Paul’s perspective was explained in Romans 8, where, using two of the three, he wrote that the existence of hunger and nakedness in our lives does not imply that we are separated from the love of God.
Merely going through stress and difficulty, no matter how extreme, does not imply that God has forsaken us.
Jesus was forsaken on our behalf on the cross. Paul reaffirmed that even through the greatest physical hardship and struggle that the spiritual battle of life may send our way, we will never be forsaken by God nor by His love.
Let us watch that we not become like Job’s friends. They assumed that hardship in Job’s life revealed unconfessed sin. That is not always the case. Paul in Romans 8 taught God’s sovereign love in the midst of the hard times of hunger and nakedness, and that sovereign love even up to the point of peril and [death by] sword.
So these amazing three, hunger, thirst, and nakedness, are quite a teaching tool after all!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Four Unchangeable Realities in Evangelism

Sometimes involvement in evangelism can be like a roller coaster. There are spiritual highs, and there are discouraging lows. At times it can be difficult to gauge if we are engaged in the proper style of evangelism.
There can be self-doubt, especially at the low times. Even the Apostle Paul had trouble from “false brethren” in his ministry. How can we be sure that our evangelism methodology is correct, especially when we face difficult times, persecution, and even capital punishment?
The New Testament communicates timeless truths to encourage us to persevere in evangelism, even through times of testing. Here are four “Unchangeable Realities” in evangelism, from the Bible:
(1) Fear Is Inevitable!
There is no magic bullet to remove fear from evangelism. It is inevitable. Being with other people to evangelize can be helpful. But fear is a nagging emotion which must be overcome in evangelism.
Consider what God told Paul by night:
Acts 18:9-10 (ESV), “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.’”
God had many people in the city of Corinth. And He needed Paul to keep on speaking, and not to be silent. Paul, the veteran missionary-evangelist, had fear.
If we have fear, we are in good company. Paul had fear. Peter had fear. It’s not a problem to have fear, it is a problem to let fear rule us—so that we do not speak and so that we are silent. God has many people for you to reach—so press on through the fear!
(2) Difficulties Are Inevitable!
True New Testament evangelism draws difficulties and adversaries. Paul had this interesting statement to make about his ministry in Ephesus:
1 Cor 16:8-9, “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”
Here Paul shares the paradoxical interrelationship between effective ministry and adversaries. Rather than effective ministry being proven by no problems or issues, the opposite is true. Effective ministry for Paul included many adversaries.
Again, when we are involved in effective work or effective evangelism, we can expect adversaries to come our way. We don’t look for them. We don’t incite them. But their existence does not mean that our ministry is over or is ineffective.
We must remain “Wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16), remembering that adversaries may actually be a sign of effective ministry!
(3) Antagonism Is Inevitable!
Closely at the heels of difficulties comes antagonism. Paul, in the last letter shared about a certain Alexander the Coppersmith. Listen to the words of Paul:
2 Tim 4:14-15, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.”
The last word in these verses, “message,” is actually a translation of “logois” or words. Because of the words of Paul, Alexander opposed Paul, resulting in a great deal of harm to Paul.
Many of you who read this will agree that Paul’s ministry was effective and approved of God. And yet, God allowed that this certain Alexander did Paul “great harm.” Perhaps the result was one of Paul “beatings times without number” (2 Cor 11:23).
Truly effective and God-ordained ministry does not exonerate us from antagonism!
(4) Persecution Is Inevitable!
Fear, difficulties, antagonism, and now persecution: this is a tough list. But it is reality therapy for the true minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul reminds Timothy of the difficulties of the second missionary journey that they experienced together. Then he makes this statement:
2 Tim 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted
He broadens the scope of persecution beyond mere evangelizing or ministry, and generalizes to living godly in Christ Jesus. All who want to live godly lives under the lordship of Christ will suffer persecution.
While these four inevitable or unchangeable realities are more convicting than they are comforting, nevertheless, they are biblical and real. They match up with real life.
Be gone the idea that evangelism is always fun and easy. That is not always the case. We quite often “sow with tears” (Psalm 126:5). If we understand in advance that there will be hardships, we do not need to be scandalized “when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word” (Mark 4:17).

[For further information, see:]