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Crisis in the colleges

A call for reformation

by , CMI–Australia

23 November 2004

Note: This article refers to the current situation in Australia. However, it is in greater or lesser degree relevant to other parts of the once-Christian western world. In the USA, the word “college” can mean a liberal arts university, which can also operate under a Christian banner. This is not the case in Australia, what is being referred to are specifically theological institutions training future pastors and Christian leaders.

“I lost my faith at Bible college”. It’s hard to imagine what could be sadder than hearing that, but it’s an increasingly common reality. It is an inevitable result of the increasing compromise with the world’s thinking in areas of science and origins in particular. And this phenomenon is accelerating at an alarming rate.

Surprisingly, it is not just happening at institutions associated with traditionally “liberal” denominations. Most supporters would be horrified at the degree to which many colleges that are mainline evangelical and conservative (Bible-believing) in their constitutions, their statements of faith and their advertising are in fact “way down the slippery slope”.

For example, see these testimonies that have been directly shared with some of our speakers.

“When does this book start becoming real?”

A lady told us that her husband had become a Christian after many years of prayer and witnessing. He decided that he would attend some evening courses run by a local Bible college, to strengthen his understanding and faith. The course he attended began with studies in Genesis, and after several months he came home one night, angry and frustrated. He exclaimed to his wife, “When does this book start getting real?” The college had been teaching him that Genesis was “myth” and legend, not real history. He feared he was wasting his time; his wife said she feared that he would lose his faith.

Peter Sparrow tells of a young man who approached him after a meeting in Port Lincoln, saying, “I used to believe everything you believe.” Peter asked him, “What happened to change your mind?” He said, “I have just completed three years of study at XXX Bible College [a well-known one, with a conservative reputation].” The college had convinced him that the history in Genesis was not “real”.

In our January 2003 Prayer News we recalled the testimony of a practising homosexual who had been converted through CMI ministry. He abandoned his lifestyle, married and was so enthusiastic about his Christian faith, he signed up for Bible college in his (very conservative, 6-day–creationist) denomination. However, his lecturers, contrary to the denomination’s traditional stance, taught him that what he believed about the creation account was wrong. I.e., that which had led him to faith was ultimately a lie. Confused and saddened, he left the college, his faith in tatters, and returned to his former ways, leaving his wife devastated.

I also remember a phone call from a pastor who had had me speak in his church before he had been to that denomination’s theological college. Later, partway through his training, he rang me, saying; “Help, my faith is drowning, I’m not sure it’s going to survive what I’m being taught.”

Dr Don Batten tells of a year 2 student at another conservative evangelical college who said how they were taught that Genesis was not a scientific or historical account of creation but rather it was a “theological statement”. Don asked, “What does that mean?” The student replied, “Well, Genesis is simply teaching us that God created things and that man was created in his image.” To which Don said, “Well, then, we have a direct conflict with the claims of science here: evolutionists claim that the universe was not created; it popped into existence all by itself. Furthermore, they claim that apes evolved into people; God did not create a man from dust and a wife from his rib. So, either science is making theological claims, or the Bible is making scientific claims; they are in conflict.” “Good point”, the student conceded.

Then this student went on to say that his lecturer taught that Genesis was merely a “polemic against sun worship”. However, it’s hardly a good polemic if it is not true! Conversely, great early church leaders such as Basil the Great taught that the real historical fact that God created vegetation before the sun showed the stupidity of sun-worship (see Genesis means what it says: Basil (AD 329–379) and Refuting Compromise pp. 96–98).

This young man conceded all points made; he had clearly not thought about it much, just accepting “on trust” what he had been taught. It is sad to think how many impressionable young minds have been taught things like these that water down the clear message of the Bible.

Dr Tas Walker heard one of the saddest such reports, from a lady whose husband had left his work to begin training at the theological college of another conservative, evangelical denomination. Some months later, the husband started to become very depressed, eventually having to stop his studies. Nothing seemed to help until, years later, his depression lifted—just after one of our speakers visited their church. She said he returned to his former self because the message had restored his faith in the reliability of the Bible as God’s Word. Only then did he feel free to talk about the causes of the depression; he said it began when he lost his confidence in the Bible—through the unbelief and doubt he was taught at the theological college! He had been unwilling to talk about this with his family or anyone—it was too painful, and he did not want to spread unbelief to them.

Actually, many of the same colleges in which this sort of thing is occurring teach some very positive and sound doctrine in other areas. Sometimes there are solid, faithful Bible believers teaching in one department, who either don’t know, or feel unable or unwilling to influence, what is being taught in other areas/courses. This makes it even harder for supporters of such Bible colleges to be aware of what is taking place; even many of the college’s own board members may not be fully aware!

It is perhaps fortunate for the theological colleges that they can’t be sued for false advertising. For example, one Bible college officially claims to believe in biblical inerrancy. It states further that its “philosophy of ministry is that all teaching should be … Scripture-based” and promises “to ensure that all courses are Christ-centred, biblically based.” But in a course it ran called “Christian Ministry in a Scientific Age”, the main lecturer made almost no use of the Bible; instead, fallible long-age evolutionary “science” was his authority. Even the apostate anti-creationist historian Ron Numbers exposes what can only be called the deceit of some theistic evolutionary college professors “[s]tretching the truth to the breaking point” when trying to hide what they really believe from conservative (that is, Bible-believing) parents and donors.1

A compassionate approach

We are sympathetic to the fact that there are enormous pressures on such colleges these days. In order for their students to get government subsidies (such as Austudy for mature-age students in Australia), it is vital for the colleges to have formal accreditation. The easiest route to accreditation is to employ staff with high academic credentials; that is, degrees from institutions that are acceptable to governments. The more famous secular universities are the preferred institutions (Cambridge, Oxford, etc.). Unfortunately, this usually means having serious Bible-compromisers on staff. You see, churchgoers have not usually been trained in how to think from a Christian worldview—that is, consistently in all areas, according to the Bible. Thus, when many of them go through high levels of the world’s education system, more often than not they are further than ever from a biblical understanding of reality. Sadly, some then become passionate about “enlightening” their “less informed”, still-theologically-conservative fellow Christians.

This may be why Bible colleges with great reputations engage lecturers (both full-time and occasional) whose stance is way removed from the college’s own biblical/conservative/evangelical foundations. Some are even pantheists2 or panentheists;3 some, when pressed, do not even believe in personal resurrection after death, and certainly very few would say that the Bible means what it says about the history in Genesis. This means that they cannot and do not accept that sin caused death and bloodshed to enter a once-very-good world. And with that, they have dramatically undermined the whole thrust of the Gospel. 

The most common justification for colleges running courses or having lecturers espousing such decidedly unevangelical views on Genesis is that “we teach all views”. On one occasion, when we pointed out that several colleges were running courses funded by a well-known (pan)theistic evolutionary source, the Templeton Foundation (see Bible colleges and Templeton), the justification was exactly that.

Unfortunately, it is near-universally true that in such instances, they don’t really “teach all views” at all. The view that Genesis is real history usually doesn’t “get a look-in”. It may be mentioned, but it is not taught positively. Why? Because, besides upholding biblical inerrancy, it excludes all the other views, by definition—and thus it can’t help undermining the justification for the “teach all views” approach.

Our interaction with many of these situations has strongly suggested to us that in many cases, “we teach all views” is really a cover for not being willing to make a stand on a position which they perceive to be “unacademic”, “unscientific” or “discredited”. (Never mind, it seems, that this is precisely what Jesus and the NT writers all clearly believed—see Jesus and the age of the world). It is also a way of portraying the issue as “not very important—you can believe what you like about it, folks”. Translation: it doesn’t really matter what God said He did (see Genesis: Bible authors believed it to be history)!

What can be done about it?

We are thankful to the Lord that there is enormous support for believing Genesis as history at the grassroots level in churches across virtually all denominations. If more people were to take an active interest in what is being taught at their Bible colleges, it would make a huge difference. If your particular Bible college uses the “teach all views” argument, we suggest gently and respectfully enquiring of them as to whether any of their courses positively affirm to their students that Genesis teaches a real, six-24-hour-day miraculous creation, a global flood and a deathless paradise before man sinned—in other words, no geological millions-of-years of death and suffering. (Note once more that many of them teach “about” such a view—only they do so dismissively. But that’s not what “teaching all views” should be.)

Put the best construction on the situation; assume that the person you are talking to is simply unaware that a teaching program to train their students and/or lecturers to think about science and history from a fully biblical worldview is available through our qualified scientific staff.  If they wish to redress the balance, you can show them that here is the opportunity. Help them to follow up. (Note: in mentioning this, we’re aware that this article may be perceived as motivated to simply promote the course. In fact, we are overloaded with ministry work, and our concern is to see changes take place in our colleges.) If unwilling to go for the course (and I would suggest gently persevering with finding out why not until satisfied that the answer “tells it all”), ask whether they have any other ideas for ways to at least redress the balance.

Some traps for the unwary …

We would hope that many of those institutions approached will respond positively. But we have also experienced evasiveness, even disingenuousness. One Bible college, contacted by its disturbed supporters after we had publicized the dangers of a Templeton-funded course it was running, published an article which sought to neutralize supporters’ concerns. It indignantly pointed out that the college has not taught, and never will teach, “naturalistic evolution”.

Sadly, many would have been bluffed into thinking that we were wrong, and that the college had never taught or promoted (theistic) evolution. Of course, a Bible college will hardly be teaching naturalistic evolution, which is evolution with no action by God, i.e., a-theistic. But this college’s classic “equivocation” tactic neatly evaded the issue of whether or not they are teaching theistic evolution, as does the Templeton Foundation. Which is precisely what we had claimed; we had never claimed that they were teaching “atheistic” evolution! Of course, theistic evolution denies the historicity of Genesis just as surely as does atheistic evolution.4

(This same college has as its Dean of Theology Studies a member of ISCAST, a theistic evolutionary organisation. One of its leaders once told me [when I challenged him about the obvious fact that Jesus believed in literal Genesis] that he knew more about science than did the Saviour.)

Other “debating tricks” that have been used in the past by Bible colleges and seminaries to deflect supporters’ enquiries include:

  • “We are totally committed to divine creation by almighty God” [so is even the most liberal “Christian”: by definition they believe in God as creator, and as divine. But this is irrelevant to the issue of whether they believe the Bible can be trusted as real history in Genesis.]
  • “You can check our statement of faith” [statements of faith can be just as vague on origins as the above statement about divine creation. And even sound statements of faith are useless unless the college obliges the lecturers to follow them, and then ensures that they do so. So ask if this is the case. The issue is firstly whether the college takes a stand. But if not, do they at least give their students a chance to hear, in-depth, the powerful biblical and scientific case for a historical Genesis, and how vital it is to the credibility of the Gospel?]

This is a matter in which our many, many friends and supporters can really make a difference in their own church circles. If thousands of Christians gently and respectfully were to engage in dialogue with their local colleges/seminaries about this vital, foundational area (without coming across as a “creation pest” of course), what a difference it would make! It could be a great opportunity to reach the future leaders of the next generation of Christians, should the Lord tarry.

At the very least, negative responses might alert many of our supporters to the full depth of what is really happening in regard to institutions which they might be supportive of, but which are teaching against the historical accuracy of the Bible.

The current situation is tragic—all too often, we see our most enthusiastic, committed Christians enter college with fire in their bellies to serve the Lord, only to come out lukewarm, confused or, worse still, rejecting their faith altogether. At the least these graduates are ill-equipped to give a logically-consistent defence of the faith in a world that no longer believes the biblical framework of history (Creation-Fall-Flood-etc.).

A clarion call

But things need not be this way. Recently we heard of a fully accredited evangelical Bible college in Africa that trains Christian leaders from many nations and cultures all over Africa. The faculty had noticed how the education systems in various African countries are promoting evolution aggressively and they realized this was a direct threat to the Gospel. Further, they saw growing compromise with theistic evolution and progressive creation in the churches and realized this was destroying faith in God’s Word and neutralizing the effectiveness of the church’s ministry. When they heard of CMI ministry they were delighted to obtain expertise and resources to help them counter this problem.

We need Bible colleges like that in the West—colleges that recognize the threat of evolutionary/humanistic philosophy and that train Christian leaders to counter this challenge with power and effectiveness. As Bible-believing Christians at the grassroots in our churches speak up and take action on this crisis we will see changes in our colleges. We need faculties that are uncompromised on biblical authority, starting from the very first verse. We need leaders who understand how the Bible connects to history, science and reality, leaders who are able to lead the church to engage our culture and reclaim it for our Lord.

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References and notes

  1. Numbers, R., The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism, University of California Press, p. 182, 1992. Return to text.
  2. ‘God is everything’, a view akin to New Age thinking. Return to text.
  3. ‘Everything is in God’—another distinctly unbiblical view that eliminates the Bible’s creator-creature distinction.  Both this and pantheism are examples of the creature-worship which Paul denounces in Romans 1. Return to text.
  4. In any case, naturalistic evolution differs in no practical way from theistic evolution—see The horse and the tractor. Return to text.

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