When I saw Peter’s article, my immediate thought was this: I don’t necessarily agree with the premise, but I am intrigued because of my own experience. Heck laments that students of his plan on attending Christian colleges. Using this to springboard off of, he then details why this is problematic given the new types of thinking that have infiltrated the church today. There is no doubt that Christendom is plagued with heresy. There is nothing new under the sun. But now we have these institutions designed to equip young people to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Are they actually doing that?
Students attend Christian colleges for any number of reasons. Atmosphere, discipline, faculty that is invested in the lives of students, and of course theology. Students want to grow in their faith. Students want to avoid the party scene and the temptations associated with it. Students want fellowship with other believers.
There is a measure of utility in attending a Christian college, but that utility is confounded by factors raised by Heck, though I would qualify some points.
1: If I was Satan, I would know I’m not going to win my battles against the church of Jesus on secular campuses. Truly faithful Christian kids that go there will have their radars on, defenses up, and will be prepared for what’s coming: mockery, ridicule, and dismissal. They anticipate attacks on their faith, intolerance for their beliefs, and name-calling for their convictions.
To Heck’s first point, I would say that this may be true. There is some aspect of this that may lead one to conclude that the world needs the saltiness of Christian students too. If we are to be the salt of the earth, are we to stay in the salt shaker? Ok bad analogy, but you get the point. No, we are supposed to go out, to preserve, to season, to bring God’s light into the world’s darkness. But that can also occur at Christian colleges. Whether it’s through university sponsored missions trips, the activities of on-campus groups in the community or through an education that equips students to be ambassadors for Christ in public life, the students of Christian colleges can still be the salt of the earth. Heck’s next point makes me think we may need strong Christian students at Christian colleges now more than ever.
2: Instead, if as Satan I was really interested in striking a blow against the Kingdom of God on earth, I would go to work at the institutions training up the next generation of Christian “leaders” in society. I would paralyze faithful administrators at Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries, with fears over money and the desperate effort to increase enrollment at whatever cost to the spiritual temperament of the campus. I would infiltrate the faculty and use professors there to teach New Age humanism wrapped in Christian language – blending light with just enough darkness to make it deadly, counting on the Christian students not knowing the Word of God well enough to discern what was happening.
This is where Heck is spectacularly accurate. An unfortunate truth about Christian institutions is that sinful people forget they are sinful. They become insulated in a bubble of appearance, Christian vanity, and desperation for control of their immediate environment. With the exception of high school, I have only attended Christian schools. Heck's description is a sad reality that I have known. There are always those who exude Christ’s likeness. We should be grateful to have had their counsel and grateful for the work they have done in other’s lives. But a handful of good apples cannot possibly preserve or restore a rotten batch.
Christian universities have become a hotbed of liberal theology. Christian students may very well be better off attending a secular university knowing full well what they are getting into. Even new or future believers would be better off attending a secular institution, with all its depravity, than to subject themselves to false teaching masked as orthodoxy. While students at Christian universities may complain of having religion shoved down their throats, these objections are made in ignorance of how bad theology animates everything in a deceptively subtle manner.
Christian universities draw the “churched,” who are then converted to the university’s brand of heterodoxy parading as biblical Christianity. Professors and chapel speakers make off-hand comments that only a perceptive ear will hear. Praise for NT Wright or Tony Campolo goes unnoticed by ignorant believers. Dalliances with the NAR and promoters of new divine revelation knowledge emphasize the vacuity of the university’s doctrine. Mandatory theology classes purposely eschew “controversial” issues. These courses are used to introduce students to a different way of thinking via deception. Did anyone want to tell me that a book assigned during my freshmen year of college was written by a mystic who dabbles in heresy? No! This course was supposed to be about the basics of Christian theology. Not a platform for indoctrinating students to a professor’s preferred version of new and hip Christianity.
I am all for hiring professors who can challenge the traditional view point. That is expected, but we also have to remember that Christian universities are not bound by some equal opportunity heresy hiring commission. I expect doctrinal stances to be defended by a Christian institution. The only doctrine that ends up being defended is a vague notion of liberal theology, generally not embraced by the parent denomination. They hire faculty who bow to the academic establishment in their field, instead of hiring qualified and distinguished individuals who have stood up for the gospel in their fields.
The abandonment of sound doctrine has a profound impact on the campus culture. Where students are taught that “living in the way of Jesus” is just about caring for the poor, the oppressed, the sick, etc. sin is minimized and repentance is optional. Hypocrisy abounds in these circumstances. Christians do all the things the world does, except they believe that Jesus wants them to also help illiterate children in a far off country like Nerdocrumbesia. That’s not Christianity, that’s feel-good liberalism that ignores the depravity of man and his sin and his need to be saved.
These universities fear the bottom line more than anything else. They sacrifice doctrine to get and retain faculty. They sacrifice doctrine to appeal to prospective students. They sacrifice doctrine to retain students.
What’s the solution? Should Christian students attend Christian or secular universities?
Do what your faith allows you to at that moment. I don’t mean do anything you want. I mean if you can be on your guard at a secular institution, then go. If you can discern false doctrine at a Christian university and not be swayed, then go. If you can’t, figure out the best way to preserve your faith.
It is clear that secular institutions need strong Christian students, but how do we restore institutions associated with the church unless we have strong Christian students who are willing to call out bad doctrine? If a student is going to fall away to new age beliefs or moral therapeutic deism, it’s going to happen regardless of where it’s at. I think the concern is not whether Christian students attend Christian or secular universities, but whether we are sending strong or weak Christians into the rest of their life.