Saturday, June 26, 2010

Is Liberty University Post-Evangelical?

Yesterday will not go down in history as one of Liberty University's better days.

First, the school announced the outcome of its investigation into contradictory statements made by seminary dean Ergun Caner. The board acknowledged Caner's contradictory statements and declined to renew his contract as dean, while retaining him on seminary faculty.

Elmer Towns, co-founder of the University, said previously, "It's not an ethical issue, it's not a moral issue. We give faculty a certain amount of theological leverage." Do you hear what he's saying? Repeatedly making factually contradictory statements (what my parents might have called habitually lying) is "theological leverage." They article doesn't clarify why Caner apologized for his inaccuracies if he was merely employing the "theological leverage" afforded to him as the Liberty Seminary dean.

How Liberty is able to justify extending him a faculty contract is simply beyond me. Though, the CT article points out that under Caner's leadership, Seminary enrollment tripled. Is enrollment more valuable than honesty and credibility? The school's public witness? (The story has been repeatedly told in the Washington Post, with the latest installment published today.)

But as reprehensible are both Caner's habitual misrepresentations and Liberty's retention of him on its seminary faculty, far more disturbing are the comments chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. made on Mormon Glenn Beck's radio program:
GLENN: Jerry, I have to speak about something we've spoken about privately and I hope you don't mind, but when we first met and I went down, you asked me to give the commencement speech and I -- when I first met you, I thanked you for that and I said I know you must be getting heat because you're an evangelical in a Christian college and I am a Mormon, and those don't seem to go hand in hand with a lot of people in their minds. And I know you took heat for that, and I thank you for that. And you told me if you don't mind me sharing this, that you know what -- you know what time of day it is, and that we all have to kind of stand together hare [sic] and put our differences aside. That doesn't you endorse my faith or whatever, and that's fine. But we have to unite on things that are big, because we are in trouble, here.

JERRY: If we don't hang together we'll hang separately, I mean, that's what my father believed when he formed Moral Majority, was an organization of Mormon's, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, people of no faith. And there are bigger issues now, we can argue about theology later after we save the country. [emphasis added] And I really think that we really do need to stand together, it's a critical time in our nation's history, and it's -- I met with a banker this morning, and he was telling me how all the new regulations, how much they're going to cost his bank, and how he's going to have to pass those costs onto the consumers, and he's going to explain how the Congress is hiding how they're paying for this new banking reform bill by taking money out of the federal reserve, and just some scary things that public doesn't even know about.
What Falwell says is appalling simply on the face of it. But the context clarifies that this isn't merely an intramural doctrinal debate among Christians. Falwell is responding to Beck, who has framed the conversation in terms of his Mormonism. And then, Falwell proceeds to talk about the significance of . . . banking regulations.

Some might suggest, as Falwell does, that this is no different from his father's cobelligerence (or perhaps something like the Manhattan Declaration). As much as I think the MD was a colossal mistake, this is far worse. Follow the logic of the conversation:

1. Beck = Mormon.
2. Beck: Don't endorse my faith, but we have to unite on things that are big.
3. Falwell: My father advocated cobelligerence on moral issues.
4. Falwell: Issues today are bigger than when my father was around.
5. Falwell: Theology (including the differences between Mormonism and Falwell's Christianity) is less significant than these issues today.
6. Falwell: Banking regulation is one of these issues that's more significant than theology.

In short: Jerry Falwell, Jr. just made the case that banking regulation is a higher priority to him than the gospel.

Now, in offering that synthesis, I'm assuming Falwell recognizes that the differences between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity aren't merely peripheral, but strike at fundamental doctrines of Christ and salvation. And that's what makes me ask whether Liberty is post-Evangelical.

Or maybe Falwell merely thinks he's wielding his "theological leverage."


Anonymous said...

Ben, if Obama's financial regulations are put in place, then there will inevitably be less money coming into Liberty. A lack of funding for their school is a grave threat to that coward.

Anonymous said...

I understand the progression you are making in this dialogue but disagree on one point. I don't think Fallwell views the theological differences in terms of the Gospel. While that is the fundamental difference between Mormonism and being a follower of Christ, the times I have been on campus or read the literature coming from the leadership at the school and the church, all I hear is some sort of moralism. So while we think of theology in terms of the Gospel etc...I don't think either of the Falwell boys do. If they do, they hide it well.

ben said...


That's a fair point. My assumption that Falwell understands the gospel-related differences between Mormonism and Evangelicalism may NOT be valid. Perhaps Falwell will be kind enough to clarify at some point.

But in either case, I think my question as to whether Liberty is post-Evangelical is valid and relevant.

Also, in my editing process I had a sentence out of place at the conclusion, which may have created some ambiguity. Corrected now.

Coram Deo said...

Sadly I can only conclude that Falwell's kingdom is of this world, and that it primarily consists of nickels and noses.

In Christ,

Mark | hereiblog said...


Sadly, I believe you are correct. I recent did a critique of Beck's commencement at Liberty using Liberty's own position statements.

This interview further shows just where LU's aspirations lie. I can't help but wonder if there is a lack of trust in the power of the gospel from LU.

Warren Kelly said...

One thing we need to remember -- Jerry Jr. is NOT theologically trained. I doubt he remembers much of the basic theology and Bible he got in his undergrad at LU. He doesn't hold the same position as his Dad did -- Jerry Sr. was chancellor and pastor, the spiritual head of the whole thing. Jerry Jr. is chancellor and head political guy. Jonathan is the pastor and head spiritual guy.

I always thought this would be a great system of operation when I was at LU (86-89). Now I see one of the big problems with it -- too much disconnect between the church and the school, even at the highest levels.