Monday, December 19, 2011

Voices from the Past: Provocative Perspectives on Accreditation (Part 2) [or] How BJU "Turned to Egypt"

"We ought not to survive." "We ought to just close."

That's what BJU's representative at a 1995 conference said should happen rather than pursuing regional accreditation.

Part 1 drew our attention to BJU's decision to pursue regional accreditation–a more widely-regarded and secular alternative to its present accreditation with TRACS. We looked at a short quote from the leader of a sister institution. Now we'll see at what the BJU president had to say:
Bob Jones University refuses regional accreditation because we can't take our counsel from two masters. If indeed the Scriptures and the God of the Scriptures is the God we bow our knee to, we cannot bow before a dual authority. We cannot bow in educational matters to the secular world that knows nothing of our God and the purposes of our institution. Those who are accredited—if we were accredited at Bob Jones University we would always have to turn one ear toward the accrediting agency, and that means we only have one ear turned to God. And when God is speaking in one ear, and the accrediting agency is speaking in the other ear, I wonder which authority we would yield to when the two were in conflict.

I believe with all my heart the Bible has a great deal to say that precludes our being able to be accredited. Second Corinthians 6:14 makes it very clear that we are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. With all my heart I believe this is unequal yoking.

I remember twenty-six years ago this summer [1969] some 25 men assembled themselves together at Bob Jones University—Christian college men who said, "We know accreditation is wrong. It's not for Christians. We know it's bowing to an authority that's going to make us cease to bow our knee to the Lord's authority and to the authority of his Word. [Explanation of how those men considered forming their own accrediting association and discarded it. Then names a bunch of the men who were there at that meeting.] I was there in that meeting 26 years ago. Some very wise and godly men who understood the horrific dangers of being regionally accredited and said, "We cannot do this."

Were they wrong? Did they misunderstand the Scriptures? Is their advice to be thrown aside and stepped underfoot and trampled and considered old-fashioned and no longer valid for our day? Bob Jones University cannot be accredited because of the abundant present evidence that accreditation does change the purpose of the school—does impose upon schools things that their Christian conscience would not allow them to do. [Lists several examples.]

We're not accredited because of the inconsistency of being accredited as a Christian college. You know, ladies and gentlemen, I don't think anybody here would have a debate at this conference that fundamental independent churches should join a liberal denomination for whatever perceived benefits there might be in doing so. We would say, "That's not a talking point for fundamentalism." Why? Because they give up their autonomy when they do this, and they get into a political arena when they do this, that eventually affects their pulpits, destroys and degrades their pulpits. Now why should we that the educational institutions doing the same thing with a counterpart—a hierarchal [sic] control, if you will, of the accrediting agency—why should we be immune from those political pressures and the degradation that will take place?

If the accrediting agencies praised us—if they thought Bob Jones University was a great school, and if we had to have their endorsement that we were doing a good job and that we were a great school, I think something would be drastically wrong with Bob Jones University. The endorsement we want is from above. The endorsement we want is from the people of God who stand by the Word of God, and the endorsement because we stand by the Word of God, and if we don't they ought not to endorse it. We're not looking for the endorsement of the world. We don't want them to praise us. If they were praising us, something would be wrong with what we were doing. This is why Bob Jones University is not accredited. We would be scared to be accredited. We would feel that we had failed God if we were accredited.

[Discussion of graduates' access to grad schools.]

If we were going to get accredited, what would be our motive? I can tell you what the motive would be. And I have to guess—I don't know the motive of anybody else—but I can tell you what our motive . . . It would have to be survival. We don't need the accrediting agency unless we think they would make our job easier, and it'd be better for our graduates, unless we were in financial difficulty.

Why would we turn to Egypt? You'd turn to Egypt because you're in trouble and Egypt has something you think you need. I believe with all my heart that regional accreditation is not essential to survival, and if it is then we ought not to survive. The survival of our institutions is not the issue. The faithfulness to God is the issue!

And if we have to do what I would say is absolutely wrong and unscriptural in order to survive—if God wants us to close, let him close us. We may close one day. We too, Dr. [speaker in first set of quotes], may be greatly smaller one day. That's ok! Survival is not the name of our game. Trying to please God and be faithful and do right is the name of our game.

So as far as I'm concerned, the bottom line in discussing accreditation is, "Is it right?" If it is let's do it. If the argument is, "Well, it's essential for the sake of financial or academic survival," and we have to go down to Egypt to survive, we better not go. We ought to just close. There are worse things than being dead and buried. Far worse is to live without the approval of God. [emphasis mine]
Four observations, at least a couple of them brief:

1. I have no quarrel with BJU pursuing regional accreditation. I suspect it'll be quite helpful in the short term.

2. Whether the perspective in the above quote about deleterious long-term effects is correct, I do not know. I suspect no one really does, though it does seem plausible.

3. This extended quotation offers a vivid argument for why institutional leaders in the BJU wing of a [former?] movement are unpersuasive when they try to claim that there's no change taking place in how they apply long-held principles. They're moving their "ancient landmarks," as some folks used to say. Maybe they were dumb landmarks to use in the first place, but they were landmarks nonetheless.

4. I wonder if we shouldn't learn something about our rhetoric as we read that quote and look at BJU's recent choices. Was the speaker right? Is this decision really about survival? Is BJU now refusing the counsel of God? Is it "unequally yoked" with unbelievers? Has it surrendered its autonomy to an accrediting agency? Does BJU now think that they've "failed God" because they're pursuing accreditation? Should the school shut its doors? And didn't we alumni pledge to make happen? (Maybe Christmas vaca will be busier than we expected.)

So has BJU turned to Egypt?

Fact is, I don't know and don't intend to spend a great deal of time thinking about it. But it seems that there must be at least one person who either thinks so, or perhaps has reconsidered his judgments of 1995.

Maybe this sort of rhetoric worked back in the day. Maybe it's the sort of authoritarian leadership that, as I heard someone recently suggest, was necessary for its time. I'm not so sure. I'd like to think not.

In any case, my judgment—and you can make up your own mind whether it's good or not—is that the sort of culture reflected in that quote is unworthy of emulation. It's bankrupt of principles. Bankrupt of morals. What else could we say about a culture that produces this sort of manipulation and implicit criticism of sister institutions, and then turns on a dime to serve its own interests? Are some hoping that we'll all forget the bold promises of the past?

Don't miss this: a champion of morality and principalled stands has abandoned on both. And come to think of it, I'm not the one saying it; it's the former president. (Just take another look at the bold text above.)

Like I said, I don't care if BJU gets regional accreditation. It really might be a good thing—short term and long term. I hope it is, for the kids' sakes. Frankly, I think people can and have made good cases both for and against regional accreditation. But you can't have it both ways. When you're the general and you tell the troops "with all my heart" that a hill's worth dying on, you lose a bit of credibility when you surrender that hill to save your skin. We all make mistakes. We all change our minds. But at some point, this sort of rhetoric has to remind us of Matthew 23:1-4.

Folks, friends, pastors, men, may I make a few suggestions?

1. Study God's Word relentlessly so that you may know him as he's revealed himself to us.
2. Learn to discern foundational, unchanging principles and how to distinguish them from relatively peripheral issues.
3. Declare your allegiance to those principles and hold on for dear life.
4. Don't stop listening to people you disagree with strongly.
5. If you become convinced from the Word and the work of the Spirit that you were wrong about one of those principles—either about the substance or about just how fundamental to the faith you thought it was—repent, admit you were wrong, and seek forgiveness from any that you hurt in your previous zeal for your misjudged principles.
6. Maintain your allegiance to the rest of those principles.
7. Don't confuse allegiance to institutions with allegiance to principles. Drench yourself in the truth of the Word rather than loyalty to a cabal. Don't fear man; be a man.

Well, I better stop there.

But just one more thing: I believe some folks might owe an apology to Arno Weniger.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Voices from the Past: Provocative Perspectives on Accreditation (Part 1)

At its regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 2, 2011, the Bob Jones University Board of Trustees unanimously granted approval for the University to pursue the process of applying for regional accreditation.
BJU says in this statement that regional accreditation (a more secular form of accreditation, as distinct from other options available to distinctly religious institutions) is now feasible due to changes in the Southern Association's (SACSCOC) approach to accreditation:
BJU believes these recent changes significantly address past concerns we’ve held about regional accreditation.
These do appear to be helpful changes, apparently similar to the approach the North Central Association has practiced for some time. Back in 1993, Maranatha Baptist Bible College achieved regional accreditation with North Central under Arno Weniger's leadership. Weniger came under fire both within the MBBC community and from outside, particularly from the leaders of "sister" institutions. A forum at a 1995 conference brought together Weniger, another president of a regionally accredited institution, and two presidents of institutions that, at the time, resisted all forms of accreditation. (None of these men still fill the roles they did at the time, though some are still on staff at their institutions.)

Here's a bit of what one of those latter two said:
I've decided not to surrender the authority of the Scriptures in that regard. We're going to stay a Bible college; we're going to stay functioning in. That's what we're going to be. Not a half Bible college or maybe a Bible college, but that's what we're going to stay.

I think a signed agreement joins me officially in an unequal yoke in that aspect. That is a concern to me. This generation? Maybe not. Those leaders in position now may be no problem at all. "Hey, we're not going to touch you." But what I've done is I've given permission by that joining to perhaps cause some real difficulties later.
What's most interesting is that the line of argumentation offered here isn't that the particular approach to accreditation taken by SACSCOC makes regional accreditation objectionable, but that regional accreditation itself constitutes compromise. (This school doesn't even fall under SACSCOC's geographic jurisdiction.) The quotations in part two should make even more clear the perceived compromise in the very essence of regional accreditation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Leaving Elementary Doctrines

Awhile ago some of you may have heard a prominent leader—certainly no less prominent now—argue that once we're converted we need to move on, past the gospel. His argument was rooted in Hebrews 6:1-2:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Bobby Jamieson deftly exposes the flawed exegesis at the root of that argument in this post at the 9Marks blog. Here's his conclusion:
So, when the author of Hebrews “moves on from the gospel,” what does he move on to? The priesthood of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ, the heavenly intercession of Christ, the new covenant mediated by Christ, the future return of Christ, and how all of that enables us to turn from dead works and serve the living God.

In other words, the author of Hebrews doesn’t move on from the gospel; he moves deeper into the gospel. He doesn’t leave the gospel behind, but instead claws his way into more and more of its riches.

So then, at least for the author of Hebrews, leaving behind elementary teachings doesn’t mean leaving behind the gospel. Instead, it means diving into the deep end instead of splashing around in the shallows.
His follow-up post spells out some warnings and advice for those of us who believe that the gospel remains at the epicenter of Christian life and discipleship.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Speaking the Truth, in Love, of Course

As long as we're kicking the concept around, let me just say a few true things in love—things that ought to be said.

Sometimes, love—whether for a person, an idea, or for God himself—demands that we say things that we assume people don't really want to hear. Depending on the person (and how we say it), we may find that we're right. But how we go about saying the things that need to be said gets a bit tricky. We've got to grapple with all sorts of factors—a list that I just deleted from this post, because they're not really my point.

Bottom line: This gets messy. We face unavoidable judgment calls, often contingent more on wisdom and prudence than exegetical clarity. We probably tend to speak too aggressively and abrasively when we're wrestling over a public issue with minimal relationship. And we probably speak too privately when we sense a stronger relationship and some hope for incremental influence. No doubt you can imagine the tendencies of other scenarios.

All that to say this: If anyone ever writes a history of the sort of ideas and people we've discussed here over the past few years (and I'm not suggesting someone should), I hope that person gets the fact that the people who changed the game weren't the people in key positions of influence. Rather, it was people like D.M. and B.B. and A.B. and a few others who put their names (and necks) on the line by telling the emperor his attire fell a few articles of clothing short of afternoon dress.

Those guys (and that's not to exclude some ladies) proved that the dog might bite, but the wound heals. Maybe the dog runs you out of the neighborhood, but you wind up a couple streets over and realize it actually wasn't such a great neighborhood after all. (The new neighborhood may not be so hot either, but hey, it has are fewer ferocious dogs.) Sometimes you stare down a dog and you actually see it's not a pit bull but a paper tiger. Then you realize that its bite is really just a paper cut.

Newt Gingrich tells the story of how Pope John Paul II visited Communist-dominated Poland in 1979. He was greeted by immense throngs of people at every stop. Eventually, the people looked around at each other and said, "You know what. There's more of us than there are of them."

So once those guys started writing and SI opened for business, it didn't take the rest of us long to figure out there were more of "us" than there were of "them." Look at all the non-change change effected by the non-leader leaders in the non-movement movement over the past couple years. It happened for a reason. I simply believe market forces are that reason—not the non-leading leadership.

[Let me just say, we should not blame the non-leading leaders too much for not leading the revolution or for not exposing other non-leading leaders for their hypocrisy and reprehensible behavior. Many of them are doing outstanding work related to the missions of the ministries that they actually do lead. Revolutionary work is almost always counterproductive to the mission of a para-church. Incidentally, the guys whose initials appear above—the leading leaders—all happen to be pastors.]

So maybe petitions as a mechanism for change are a good idea, and maybe they aren't. I read the con side's arguments and they really do resonate. I read the other side's, and I'm really glad that truth has found a voice. Those among us who've been obnoxious and/or abrasive and/or self-aggrandizing and/or [your accusation] in the forms of confrontation we've chosen will one day give account. I'm quite sure I will.

I can tell you what I believe: I'd rather give account for pursuing the proclamation of truth in love and falling short of perfect love, than for knowing truth and not speaking it. It was not so long ago that a certain dank, putrid serenity rested in our air, so we all tried to breathe through our mouths. I'm grateful for those guys who loved what ought to be and spoke the truth. It's been a breath of fresh air.

The weapons of our warfare are not silence.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

My Favorite Dispensationalist Quote. Ever.

Thirteen or fourteen years ago students in the Dispensationalism class at MBBC were assigned Alva McClain's Law and Grace as one of the required texts. I'm sure I read it at the time. Unfortunately, I didn't mark it at all. Flipping through the notes I might have written, from the vantage point of the present, would be a bit of theological archeology. Ah, what might have been.

The book is marginally useful—maddeningly frustrating by repeatedly ducking at least one foundational issue, while making a quite helpful contribution to the indefatigable specter of legalism. Maybe we'll get back to that later. Written in 1954, it feels a bit dated.

But one little snippet just about knocked me out of my chair towards the end of my recent re-read. Let me just say first that McClain is no junior varsity Dispensationalist. His The Greatness of the Kingdom is a Dispensationalist classic. He's actually much more thorough and persuasive than some of the more widely-known Dispensationalist authors. And he's highly regarded by Rolland McCune, who—perhaps more than any other living theologian—represents the Dispensational wing of the Dispensational Party.

So here's what McClain had to say:
I would like to encourage Christians who delight in finding the Lord Jesus Christ upon every page of Scripture. Do not permit yourselves to be frightened by those over-cautious souls who cry against what they call "too much typology." Doubtless there are some things which may properly be catalogued as "types" and the others not. But whatever you may call it, it is the privilege and highest duty of the Christian to discover and behold the face of the Lord Jesus in Scripture—everywhere! Far better to break a few rules of classical hermeneutics than to miss the vision of his blessed face. (67-68, emphasis added)