FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Leaders in higher education discussed growing challenges and obstacles faced by Christian universities and seminaries related to the topic of biblical inerrancy during a Nov. 19 panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore, Md.
The panel, hosted by Southwestern Seminary and moderated by Southwestern vice presidents Jason Duesing and Steven Smith, featured Cedarville University President Thomas White, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason Allen, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Dean of Theology Greg Wills. Panelists addressed the role of biblical inerrancy in their own institutions as well as trends in higher education they see that call for courageous leadership in the face of opposition.
“The doctrine of Scripture is like a continental divide,” Wills said in response to a question about how a school’s view of Scripture affects it as an institution.
“Your doctrine of Scripture is not like one doctrine in a basket full of doctrines. It’s the doctrine that determines which basket full of doctrines you have.”
White, whose school requires all faculty and staff to affirm biblical inerrancy as outlined in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, said the Bible “undergirds everything we do.”
“Special revelation, or the doctrine of Scripture, has to have preeminence so that all of general revelation is judged by the Bible, which is our ultimate foundation. It affects how we do sociology; it affects how we do biology; it affects how we do psychology. If you don’t have that, then you’ll find in certain areas that you creep away from a biblical worldview because you’re not tied to a standard.”
Wills and Allen also confirmed that faculty in their institutions are required to hold to inerrancy based on their seminaries’ guiding documents, which include the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Both shared their own institutions’ histories with faculty abandoning inerrancy and their seminaries’ subsequent moves back to fidelity to Scripture.
Allen noted that the president of the institution is the “lynchpin” in preserving an institution’s adherence to doctrinal convictions.
“In any school, the president is the lynchpin not only in hiring faculty but in maintaining faculty,” Allen said. “The most important decision any board of trustees makes is who they hire as president. The most important decision any president makes is who he puts on the faculty.”
“It is my job to enforce the doctrinal standard,” White said. “I’m thoroughly convinced that most institutions drift toward (theological) liberalism, or at least start that drift, under presidents that are not moderate or liberal in nature. They would call themselves conservatives, but they’re just not ‘minding the store.’”
Panelists agreed that one of the growing issues for Christian colleges and universities is homosexuality.
“For Christian colleges, the issue of sexuality is the driving issue,” Allen said. “Most Baptist colleges and most Christian colleges, ostensibly self-recognize that way, are seeking their own ‘Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell’ policy. They’re not speaking to it, and they’re trying to please different constituencies with divergent view.”
White agreed, saying, “A college or university that calls itself Christian but is not one is the worst kind of poison.”
“As a Christian university, we must undergird what God has put in place through Scripture, which is the family, the church, and the state. And so as I undergird the family, I’m going to have to hold to a complementarian position against homosexuality and hold a view of marriage that is biblical.”
Panelists also said that what happens in evangelical higher education—including Christian colleges, universities and seminaries—impacts churches as well as the broader evangelical movement.
“The professors who are writing books, thinking thoughts, engaging culture and engaging new errors have the opportunity to have a tremendous impact upon the entire movement (of evangelicalism),” said Wills.
When asked about how such strong stances on biblical inerrancy affects the idea of academic freedom in higher education, panelists said true academic freedom is a false notion.
“It’s not academic freedom in the way it’s advertised,” Wills added. “Academic freedom, as it has developed in the American university system, is one that was designed deliberately for the toleration of leftward views on the faculty of all sorts. Some of those things turned out for good because they were things that needed to be done, but there was a lot of damaging error that came in at the same time. Don’t buy the advertisement that it’s some kind of neutral freedom. “