What is not surprising is that TRACS has seen fit to extend candidate status to BJU. There can be no doubt that the academic reputation of BJU will actually increase TRACS' own credibility rather than vice versa, which would seem to be a more conventional objective of academic accreditation. At least two knowledgeable sources said that TRACS lobbied BJU to pursue membership in the 1980s, but BJU was not interested. What is so surprising is the fact that BJU pursuing accreditation at all. This development presents the opportunity to consider accreditation as a case study in the changing face of ecclesiastical separation.
Gerry Carlson's recent article, "Accreditation: Testimony of Integrity or Accommodation to Compromise?", alluded to this issue. In the 1980s, Dr. Carlson was the Executive Director for the American Association of Christian Schools. One of his responsibilities was "to secure recognition for the accreditation programs of the AACS and the American Association of Christian Colleges," now known as the American Association of Christian Colleges and Seminaries. He writes concerning his historical perspective:
Great changes have transpired in fundamentalist thinking about accreditation over the past 25 years. This writer thinks these changes have primarily been a good development. During those years, there has been a shift toward the idea that accreditation is more about testimony, integrity and accountability, rather than about government control or external intrusion into God’s ministry.And later:
The question of involvement with secular or Christian agencies likewise can be problematic. My experience in the late ‘80s with TRACS and several other agencies underscored the potential conflict. During 1986 and 1987 I developed and proposed a consortium concept that would have allowed the fundamentalist accrediting agencies to be recognized by the federal government alongside of TRACS and a charismatic group. The concept proposed was to keep the agencies apart for ecclesiastical separation purposes, but to mutually affirm similar basic standards that could be recognized by the Department of Education. The idea failed to gain a majority vote of the AACS state leaders and was shelved.Carlson's insights into the thinking of fundamentalist leaders is further documented by an article by Dr. Bob Jones III and apparently co-authored or at least endorsed by a number of other men. This article, "The Accreditation Trap," was written and initially published in the late 1970s or early 1980s, according to a BJU administrator. TRACS came into existence about that same time, in 1979. The article was published again in 1988 as the last chapter in A Fresh Look at Christian Education by James Deuink of the BJU administration. The above link to the full text of the article connects to a Google cache created in September, 2004, of the Gospel Fellowship Association web site. The GFA is an affiliated ministry of BJU, and although the article is no longer available at the GFA site, Google maintains the cache, which is essentially a "snapshot" of the page as it once existed.
In other words, the fundamentalists of the ‘80s felt that even a disconnected relationship with non-fundamentalists was a breach of the ecclesiastical separation principle. The consortium concept was developed around the idea of religious freedom, not organizational cooperation and intermingling. It was explored because the AAEU staff made it clear that their firm policy precluded recognizing a proliferation of Christian accrediting groups. The AAEU staff was willing to embrace the consortium concept, if the separate accrediting bodies were willing to affirm mutual standards for non-theological matters. However, the majority in AACS saw that as a first step toward the slippery slope. That development opened the way for TRACS to be recognized as the sole accrediting voice for Christian education, aside from the Bible College accrediting body.
The article makes some valid points. It also makes some points that seem to be inconsistent with BJU's current pursuit of TRACS accreditation. Below is the most clear example:
Inter-Religious AccreditationDr. Carlson and Dr. Jones' articles illustrate a strikingly different attitude toward religious accreditation that existed in the late 1970s and continued at least until the publication of Dr. Deuink's book in the late 1980s. At that point, TRACS had been in existence for almost a decade. The conclusion seems unavoidable that some substantial shift has taken place between then and now. Has TRACS somehow changed its philosophical underpinnings since that time? No one is suggesting that. Its membership is quite diverse, including everything from evangelical Lutherans to Liberty University to charismatic Jack Hayford's King's College and Seminary.
Accreditation, even by religious agencies, that weakens the historical and biblical practice of separation from unbelief and compromise always results in the removal of Heaven's blessing in exchange for earthly prestige and approval. The loss of God's blessing from any wrong alliance, whether secular or religiously ecumenical, is the price which will be paid for the short-term economic survival which often motivates these unholy relationships.
Seeking approval from a religious organization of any kind has historically resulted in hierarchical control and heinous tyranny. A cursory knowledge of Christian history will reveal that this is always a step away from the religious freedom we value so highly, however sincerely motivated this idea or purpose may be. [emphasis added]
It is doubtful that BJU has escaped criticism for this change. My expectation, which arises from my attempts to obtain answers to some of these questions, is that BJU will explain their reasoning at some point, but it is the administration and board's responsibility to choose the expedient time and manner. It would be easy for critics of BJU to level charges of hypocrisy, but anyone who has written a theological paper in his or her early semesters of grad school only to read the paper again years or even (for me) months later will agree that circumstances, reasoning, and opinions change. People ought to have the right to grow in understanding and to change their minds on non-essentials. I believe that BJU ought to be extended charity for reconsidering their strong opposition to accreditation and be permitted to explain their reasons for a difficult choice.
But critiquing or defending this choice is really outside my purpose. What I really want to know is this: What is different between the way fundamentalists view ecclesiastical separation now and the way they understood it 20-25 years ago? Let's face it. Association with Jack Hayford and Jerry Falwell in any form would have been unthinkable back then. Accreditation involves a significant level of a cooperation, since it consists of mutual endorsement that member ministries are accomplishing their missional objectives. This is not solely my conclusion, because it was also the opinion of fundamentalist leaders in the 1980s as documented by Dr. Carlson's article.
I believe this shift and the questions it begs reach far beyond BJU. This example is simply one documentable example of these new perspectives on separation. I am convinced that some kind of paradigm shift has taken place very quietly over the years without any public explanation. Not surprisingly, fundamentalists seem quite reticent to admit openly when real change has taken place. Fundamentalists like certainty, and certainty does not mesh well with change. I find this tendency to deny change unhealthy at best.
I will be the first to admit that I do not have the answers to when, how, and why this paradigm shift occurred. My speculative thoughts would likely be just as unhealthy as the silence of others when change occurs. Nevertheless, I am convinced that some readers share my questions, and other readers have the answers, or at least some more educated speculations. No doubt, more thorny questions will arise in the future, and generations that are now in positions of learning, not leadership, will have to confront them. As one of those who is learning, I would like to have a better understanding of our past before those new questions challenge me.
For more details on accreditation at BJU, the Collegian published an informative article in September, 2004.