What to Do When Your College Goes Liberal: Some Thoughts Regarding the Issue

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approaching-storm1

Approaching storms


On November 11, 2008, Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, launched a website for the purpose of refuting so called “attacks” the school was receiving regarding it’s theology and practice . . . but the attacks weren’t coming from non-believers. Instead, questions and opposition were coming from concerned students and alumni. The reason? Theological drift. Students and former students were becoming increasingly concerned over the fact that the school was drifting from its conservative roots that once steered the school’s course. The College was originally founded by Baptist Fundamentalist William Riley in 1902. Now, a century later, there is only a remnant that remains, wondering exactly why the school has left the foundation from which it was built. The full article can be read here at Christianity Today (November 11, 2008)

While I am concerned about the outcome at Northwestern College, I’m not interested in addressing the issues surrounding it here. I rather want to address a topic that seems to be rampant in our Bible Colleges, Universities and Seminaries, and that is a continual, gradual slide into Liberalism.

This is nothing new. Gresham Machen experience the same disappointment and slandering when his beloved Princeton Seminary fell to Liberal tenets in the early 20th Century. The signs aren’t new either. Below are common occurrences that have historically marked shifts from Bible-saturated, culture-engaging schools to the graveyard of Liberalism and what to do about it.

Evidence a Christian University Slipping Into Liberalism

a. The authority of the Bible is waning.

This is no surprise here. Whenever there are heretics and heresies it can always be traced back to their view of Scripture.

It is incredibly surprising but true that those who affirm the Bible as only source of authority, that biblical authors intended what they meant and we can derive truth from what they wrote, that God is sovereign over salvation, that men should be elders in Churches, that husbands should lead their home, that women should be a helpmate to husbands . . . you are considered an out-dated, culturally-irrelevant, people-hating, close-minded, world-rejecting Fundamentalist who doesn’t understand Jesus’ call to “Kingdom Relationship”. Sad. Who would have thought that one who thinks the Bible actually means what it says would be mocked first by professing believers? But it’s true. This is the first sign, and it always begins here.

b. Substitutionary Atonement is Questioned

Whenever the idea is put forth that God isn’t mad at sinners, that crucifixion was divine child abuse, the Bible itself is being relegated and our salvation is in jeopardy. Richard Niebuhr of Machen’s day summarized it clearly: Liberalism is:

“A God without wrath bringing men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

Without the cross, without substitutionary atonement, there is no forgiveness of sins, no reconciliation with God, no peace with humanity. There’s nothing. The very thing that can save our souls and save us from ourselves is rejected. When the authority and efficiency of Scripture is question, the very next doctrine that will be question is the nature of Christ and the cross. Look for it. Don’t be fooled by loose terminology veiled as relevancy.

c. Universalism is Entertained as a Possibility

It seems very popular now to think the Bible only speaks in metaphors and never in physical terms (regarding an eternal, physical hell). It is also and always will be popular to make the gospel sound as least offensive and as non-confrontational as possible. If that becomes the goal, God actually sending people to a physical hell is out. If the center of God’s attributes is love, then a loving God could not possibly do that. That’s too mean. That’s not the way to win friends and influence people.

That’s why Paul said to discern what the Scripture has taught and what you have learned; hold tightly to sound doctrine “So that you might save both yourself and your hearers” (2 Timothy 4:16). Sin is real; God is offended; hell brings justice. If God does not punish sin, He is not a God worth serving because He is not true to Himself and He ignores justice. Even if a professor propounds an over-glorified position of purgatory (God will soak up all the evil in Himself and empty heaven), then I would question whether it is then possible to eventually go from heaven to hell. If God can’t keep people out of hell, how do I know He will keep me in heaven? Don’t let professors entertain that idea. Snuff it out.

Historically, these are the tell-tale signs of coming heresy. It would not be surprising, then, that Machen composed a list of “Fundamentals” that closely resemble the above:

* Scripture’s Inspiration and Trustworthiness
* Christ’s Virgin Birth
* Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement
* Christ’s Bodily Resurrection (As an Historic Event)
* Christ’s Peformance of Miracles during his earthly Ministry

These five componants are what the Fundamentalists held to with the coming onslaught of Darwinism, Arianism, and relativism in the Church. Come to think of it, looking at this list, I’m not sure I mind being called a Fundalmentalist (it’s almost . . . like . . . biblical).

1. Hold Your Classmates and Professors Accountable to the Word of God

If your professor’s theological zipper is down, call him on it. Hold everything he says to the light of God’s Word. It is common that when a person goes to Bible college, he does not know much about the Bible (hey, that’s why he went, right?). But this can be dangerous because he could easily take as gospel truth whatever is being propounded from the front of the class room. Ask questions in order to understand the position. If something does not sound right, speak up.

A shocking and humbling reality is to realize that even at Christan Universities and Bible Colleges there are broken people who regularly engage in stealing, sexual immorality and drunkeness. Most students could care less about what they are learning; most desire to play video games rather than wrestle with the Word of God; most write their doctrinal statements of the Holy Spirit at midnight the night before it was due, because they decided to play rather than actually wrestle with what they believed about the Holy Spirit.

All that to say: I would encourage you to encourage your classmates. Correct them when necessary. Challenge them and remind them that whether or not they become a “vocational” minister of the Word, people will naturally hold them with high regards merely because they graduated from a Bible College. It is your God-given responsibility to hold accountable those who are part of the flock (Matthew 18; 2 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3; Hebrews 2)

2. Resolve to Encourage Students in your Sphere of Influence

There are many opportunities you have to influence students.  At Multnomah, there are opportunities for students to teach freshmen Bible Study Methods. This is a unique opportunity not only to be in a mentoring relationship with the professor who oversees it, but also to encourage fellow students.  This may be unique to Multnomah, but if you have that opportunity at your school, take it.

Rally a group of fellow enthusiasts around for prayer; hold a Bible study. Host a weekly time of worship and Bible read-through. Promote what you want on the campus. If there is a particular class that you question the theology, gather the students for an extra session and facilitate a discussion centered on the areas of disagreement.

If you can and are able, join student government and rally for the change you see needed. Talk to the academic dean. Express your concerns that the school is not adhering to the word of God. Be a reformer in your own generation, in your own family, in your own school.

3. Reform is Always Needed

Often institutes and universities are started precisely because there was a need for reform. This was the case for Gresham Machen, who founded Westminster Theological Seminary because of Princeton’s ever-increasing slide into liberalism. Multnomah University was started by John G. Mitchell for the same reason. The point is, there will always be need for reform.  As excellent as Multnomah University is, it will inevitably need reform some day, simply because it is run by humans. And it will need competent, Bible-saturated, culturally relevant theologians to rise up and again hold the banner of Christ and the truth of the gospel . . . and next generation will need to then reform us.  It is a process necessary until the coming of our Lord.

Reformation never comes without a cost. For some of you, it may mean you move schools. For professors, it may mean they lose their job, much like Machen, R.A. Torrey and B.B. Warfield. But being right never has been poplular, and it shouldn’t surprise us that it never will be.

For an excellent article on Fundamentalism click here for Piper’s article


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5 Responses to “What to Do When Your College Goes Liberal: Some Thoughts Regarding the Issue”

  1. Adam Says:

    amen Carey. Excellent post. Call me fundamentalist. You nailed it down the line. I’m frustrated. Keep blowing the trumpet and standing unashamedly on such core doctrines. Holiness gets you hated.

    The prophets were….killed. John the Baptist…beheaded. Jesus Christ….crucified. All of the Apostles (with 1 exception)….martyred. Elders…killed. Even their wives…killed. Deacons (Stephen)….killed. Missionaries…killed.

    See a pattern? It’s a Calvary road. Should we expect different?

    “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

    Prepare for suffering brothers, defenders of the faith, proclaimers of righteousness and truth. Do not revile when reviled or threaten when threatened. Do not overcome evil with evil.

  2. Eric Says:

    The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
    the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
    the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
    the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
    the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
    the rules of the Lord are ture, and righteous altogther.
    More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
    sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

    Ps. 19:7-11

    I love that we, in unison, say this beford God and each other at church every sunday…to lose the authority and love of the scriptures is the beginning of the end! Thanks for your insight Carey…THIS IS WISDOM! let it be a constant reminder of the work ahead.

    Here is a quote from John Sailhammer I read yesterday. He is explaining the differences of theology and revelation vs. theology and religion:

    “The point of departure between the two ideas is the question of whether the Bible is a record of God’s revelation or of human religion. The consequence of the distinction in meaning is the question of authority. Does theology have a right to make claims about the normativity of its statements? does theology stand at one end of a special process begun by God, or is it a purely human enterprise? Can the theologian ever hope to say to the church, “Thus saith the Lord”?”

    The shifts are slight…a definition tweeked here, a statement regarding doctrine there until you are off the reservation!

    God Bless

  3. Karli Says:

    Thank you Carey, for saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done. When I stop and look all around me and see so much liberalism and the distortion of the truth, it makes me cry. We must be passionate and compasstionate for everyone around us, believers and no-believers. It all starts with compromises, little ones that just turn into even bigger ones sooner or later. Remember to pray constantly, that God’s light would shine through us and would reach the world, but that the hearts of the world would be prepared by God’s own hands.

  4. Kyle Says:

    Great post. I’ve been thinking lately of how if there is no judgment of God then there’s not much point in being a Christian period. To downplay the wrath of God and the reality of hell is to also downplay His great love and grace. Jesus didn’t come questioning as liberalism does, He came preaching.

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