Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Gospel-Centered Accreditation

A tremendous amount of misinformation and confusing statements about Christian colleges and secular accreditation has been available during the past thirty years. A recent World Magazine article [free registration required] about the state of Christian colleges offers in its closing paragraphs some fresh insight in a brief discussion about accreditation.

One of the common speculations has been that schools will become dependent on accreditation and its associated benefits and lack the courage to relinquish it when the accreditation association makes demands that are incompatible with biblical faith. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College, discusses in the statement below his response to a severe problem with accreditation that his institution faced. (It is unclear whether he is referring to SBTS or Boyce, but it seems unlikely that SBTS would have had a social work program.)
Secularist accrediting agencies can also pressure a school away from its Christian identity. Mr. Mohler told about his institution's social work program. "The Council on Social Work Education is adamantly pro-homosexual and committed to 'non-judgmentalism.' That led to an impasse here, the closing of the school.
The article closes with some surprising indications of a trend within at least one accrediting agency:
“We spent years working to convince our regional accreditation agency that confessionalism allows an authentic academic experience," Mr. Mohler said. "It was so foreign to the visiting committee (in the main) that they were simply at a loss." And yet, eventually, his school did get the accreditation. As did Westminster, said Mr. Logan, after a tough battle.

Thanks in part to the church institutions that stood their ground, most accreditors have switched their approach. Today, said Mr. Logan, "they are generally more likely now to allow Christian schools to define their own missions and to evaluate those schools on the degree to which the schools can demonstrate that they are accomplishing those missions." Mr. White agreed: "My experience is that accreditation is almost always helpful."

So despite the continuing problems, it may be easier now than before, given resolute leadership, constituent support, and faculty committed to the school's Christian mission and identity, to resist the secularizing tide.
In other words, by engaging the presuppositions of the academic elites, SBTS and Westminster were able to make an effective case for the fact that genuine learning can take place in institutions that 1) believe in objective truth, and 2) believe that objective truth is grounded in the Word of God. Some might argue that this engagement is a vain attempt to gain respect and affirmation from the world. I wonder if it is not rather gospel-centered infiltration of the world—“in it, but not of it.”

My experience with secular accreditation does not make me an expert, but it is enough to allow me to offer testimony that is consistent with what Mohler and others in the World conversation said. When I served for five years on the staff at an institution in the process of acquiring secular accreditation, the heavy lifting had been completed, but the ongoing process for maintaining accreditation was in constant motion.

Reports that came back to faculty and staff from College leadership consistently demonstrated that the institution’s commitment to core theological principles surprised, impacted, and impressed accreditation agency officials, as well as leaders of other member schools. It also affected their perspective on the legitimacy of Christian education. The result was that this school was selected several years ago to participate in a pilot program for periodic review towards maintaining accreditation status. This new program increased the year-to-year responsibility for self-study reviews, but it also granted an even higher level of autonomy to the institution.

The moral of these reports is not that Christian educational institutions can legitimately gain approval from the world, but that Christian educational institutions can be uncompromising salt and light, even in the corners of the world system that are the most godless. This is gospel-centered accreditation—a Christian academic strategy that recognizes and applies the power of the gospel.


Tolle, Blogge said...

It does seem unlikely (probably part of the reason why Mohler got rid of it) but SBTS did have a social work program at one time.

Ben said...

Good point. I was forgetting from whence Southern had come. The accreditation flap probably offered a convenient excuse to offer faculty and alumni. Disgust with homosexuality motivates many who are unmotivated by inerrancy and doctrinal fidelity.