Friday, May 09, 2014

The (Mostly Sad) State of Christian Education

"Christian education" is a pretty major deal in the church. I will dispense with the quotation marks going forward because I am lazy but I imply them throughout because I think a lot of what passes for Christian education doesn't have much that is Christian about it. Regardless we as the church spend tons of money on providing a Christian education for our kids. In spite of the intense focus and enormous investment, the entire Christian educational system is a trainwreck. This is more true the higher on the educational ladder you get, all the way to the Christian college experience.

Many traditionally Christians colleges and universities are completely secular. Places like Wake Forest and Baylor are indistinguishable from the rest of the secular educational system. Other Christian schools are under assault from the outside and more commonly from the inside.

On the one hand we have prominent Christian leaders and institutions playing footsie with a heretic who espouses damnable and abominable heresies but says the right things politically. I have mentioned on a couple of occasions that Dr. Albert Mohler, head of the flagship of the Southern Baptist seminary system Southern Seminary, has chosen to appear as the guest of Brigham Young University, a school that trains up young people in the lies of mormonism and is named for a cult leader with a harem of "wives" and a litany of demonic teachings on subjects ranging from the nature of God to perverse racist rantings. Recently Liberty University, a school that prides itself on being "conservative", invited one of the most dangerous wolves in the fold today, unhinged talk radio personality Glenn Beck, to essentially preach to their students, going so far as to fine students who failed to attend a talk by a heretic. These are strange days indeed. As Christendom crumbles, far too many of my brothers are seeking "enemy of my enemy is my friend" allies among the world, some with dubious orthodoxy and others outright deniers of the Gospel itself. Even as the Religious Right loses the culture wars it is simultaneously exposing students to dangerous false teachers in the hope of averting a loss of political influence.

On the other hand the creeping encroachment of various forms of liberalism are washing away the shaky foundations of other schools. My good friend Josh Gelatt recently wrote a post regarding the "Clarification Statement" controversy at Bryan College. Here is an ostensibly Christian college with an existing statement of faith that affirmed the Biblical Creation account. As is common at Christian educational institutions employees are required to affirm the statement. The controversy came about when Bryan published a "Clarification Statement" that clarifies that the Statement of Faith regarding Creationism. This is where things got hairy as a number of faculty members found the clarification's statement regarding the literal descent of all humanity from Adam and Eve to be beyond the pale. Read that again. A  confessionally Christian college needs to reiterate belief in something that has been an accepted teaching in the church for thousands of years and instructors who have chosen to teach in an avowedly Christian school find that position to be incompatible with their own belief system.

This is only the tip of the iceberg but it has been happening for a long time. With the notable exception of the Southern Baptist seminary system that came back from the brink, an overwhelming number of Christian colleges are either being unequally yoked with unbelievers and heretics or plunging headlong into a liberalism that knocks out the foundations of the Gospel. Meanwhile the cost of getting a degree from a Christian college is rapidly entering the same stratospheric level as secular schools, becoming available only to the very wealthy, the very poor or the middle class student that is willing to go in to six figure debt.

Look at the cost for tuition at some of these elite,ostensibly Christian schools:

Wheaton Undergrad tuition: is $31,900

Calvin College undergrad tuition: $29.400

Even lower tier colleges are crazy expensive. For example local (to me) colleges like Taylor University ($29,298) and Indiana Wesleyan ($24,102) are just as expensive as secular alternatives. Even Christians secondary schools are extremely expensive. I tried finding the tuition cost for a large local Christian school and literally couldn't find it but I know it is pretty pricey.

I attribute a lot of the problems to the basic premise as I see it of Christian education. It seems to me that the underlying philosophy is that we want to follow the way of the world but slightly in a "Christianized" variation. Nowhere is this more true than in our wholehearted acceptance of the modern American success paradigm that involves lots of debt for homes, cars, vacations and of course college that is perpetuated and passed down from generation to generation until "Christianity" in America looks like little more than a slightly more moral (at least in certain areas) social group.

There is no question that Christians in America have swallowed the contemporary American dream paradigm. Go to college so you can get a high paying job so that you can afford to buy nice stuff and take nice vacations and of course save money for your kids so they can repeat the process. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway) the church also depends on donations to keep itself running so the church body needs to make enough money to have their own disposable income while at the same time paying for "the church" to keep operating. This leads to the perplexing  prevalence in the church of working mothers in Christian homes, the overt display cultural symbols of affluence and the proliferation of speakers hawking the latest get rich quick scheme, get out of debt quick scheme or some weight loss scheme to lose the excess pounds we gain by our conspicuous gluttony.

It should come as no surprise that the Christian education system has gone so far off the rails. In the same way that sports reporters desperately want to write about "serious" topics to get over their inferiority complex of being the red headed stepchild of journalism, many Christian academics seem to crave the acceptance of the broader, secular academic world. If that means jettisoning the foundational truth propositions of the Bible, so be it. Even in more "conservative" circles where those truths are not set aside we see an attempt to create the next generation of culture warriors to smite the liberal heathen trying to take away our Ten Commandments monuments and raise taxes. We can worry about the widows and orphans later, them Democrats are fixin' to cut defense spendin'!

Perhaps it is time that the church step back and rethink the whole notion of Christian education. Is our goal to have our children graduate from college prepared to make a nice middle class household income while at the same time keeping their virginity intact and their Republican voter registration in good standing? Or is it instruct our children for a life of ministry in a hostile world where they may very well have to choose between comfort and truth, between acceptance and affluence or poverty and faithfulness. We are doing a bang up job of the former, not so much on the latter. A conversation about the goal of Christian education is overdue but unlikely. As in so many other places in the church a combination of institutional inertia and entrenched vested interests make these conversations nigh impossible. The sad truth is that this system will go on until the money runs out and then the church will be left with the task of rebuilding. If nothing else the near future promises to be a busy one.


Aussie John said...


Whoever it was who said the following, was so right: "There is more of the world in the church than there is church in the world".

Anonymous said...

I agree with your statements about something needing to be done in Christian education. I do take exception to your pointing out Dr. Mohler (and please understand that I am no Mohler acolyte by any stretch of the imagination) as if he was in agreement with Brigham Young Univ. If you read his opening statement to the student body about the differences between Mormonism and Christianity you will see one of the best examples of clear witnessing in print today.

Arthur Sido said...

Anonymous I did read the opening statement, and the entire speech, on both occasions. if you read my posts that directly respond to Dr. Mohler ( and I do love me some Al Mohler) you can see that I interact with what he said and why i still think it was a bad idea

Anonymous said...

As a graduate of Seattle Pacific University, with family who have graduated from Wheaton, I'm not sure what makes Wheaton "ostensibly" Christian, or if you really have recent experience within Christian Higher Ed. I was certainly not encouraged to think that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" or to pursue the American Dream--quite the opposite. If Christians are going to be vibrantly witness to the power of Christ in our culture, neither isolationist or accomodationist approaches will work, and my experience was neither. A continuing anti-intellectual culture in evangelicalism doesn't help. All the accusations about "liberalism" and "heresy" (instead of a deeper engagement about specific points of belief) leave little room in the public space for people to claim seriousness about the Gospel and scholarship. Despite what you imply here, we don't need to choose between being respected scholars and committed Christians. Christian Universities can and do serve as an important witness to this. If only we would embrace that calling instead of disparaging it.

Arthur Sido said...


You seem to be implying that no one has had a "deeper engagement about specific points of belief" except self-proclaimed intellectuals. There are simply some positions that have been examined, engaged and found contrary to Scripture. It is not "anti-intellectual" to point that out, it is simply being faithful to Biblical revelation.

I also have very little interest in being a "respected scholar" or seeing the church subsidize six figure tuition costs to prop up that system. You anonymously claim that Wheaton doesn't pursue the American dream while it simultaneously makes attendance there so expensive that only the very wealthy or those willing to get a handout from Caesar can afford to attend. Quit hiding behind the faux nobility of academic prowess, you might see a worldly educational system with a religious veneer.