Christian College…or Secular
I’m writing to you in regard to your recent short series in the SB issuing a warning to students attending a Christian college. Before I comment on that, I should tell you that I graduated from Calvin College and then spent three years at the University of Michigan earning a master’s degree. So I have personal experience both with a small, Christian college and with a large, public university.
It is my opinion that we PR folks are woefully deficient in education. Our modern society requires that we compete for jobs and that we be educated well enough for our modern technology. Good, well-paying jobs are necessary to enable us to support our churches and schools. The cost of these churches and schools continues to increase, frequently more than inflation. In addition, the Consistories and School Boards need to be educated, if they are to be able to deal with the issues that arise in the management and operation of our churches and schools. Mothers at home need to be educated, in order to assist with their children’s education in grade school and high school and to be the home’s “business manager.” Also women who do not marry need to be educated, so that they can support themselves and also the kingdom causes. In spite of all this, the committee established to investigate relocating the ninth grade to the high school found that Covenant Christian High School, Grand Rapids, was a distant last in the percentage of graduates attending college when compared to our peer Christian or church-related high schools in West Michigan.
I do not think there is one, single reason that our PR young people are not attending college. Expense is probably a factor, but scholarships are available; and CRC, RCA, and Baptist families seem to be able to cope with this issue. I know that there is also some apprehension about advising students to attend Christian colleges because of their stands on common grace, evolution, women in office, and the like. However, there is no Christian college with which we agree completely. And the public colleges are, in my opinion, less desirable.
So, the concern that I have with your SB articles is that, while they accurately present the doctrinal issues with which we disagree, they may lead our young people to avoid the Christian colleges. The articles didn’t present the much greater danger (in my opinion) in the public colleges. I agree that we have doctrinal differences with the Christian colleges. However, I am concerned that your articles may encourage our parents to advise their students to go to the public colleges, as a cheaper alternative, or not to attend college at all. As an aside, I am also concerned that, while our PR schools insist on hiring only PR teachers, they give little or no heed to where those teachers got their education. Many times it is from the public colleges.
While you have correctly identified the doctrinal differences that we have with the Christian colleges, you have not addressed the issues that our students face in the public colleges, such as atheism; profanity (even in the classroom); immorality of every sort, including homosexuality, drugs, and alcohol-abuse; and worldly entertainment of all sorts. (I have observed this firsthand a few years ago and I’m sure it is worse now). We avoid the public grade schools for these reasons, but we send our students to the public colleges, sometimes even to become teachers in our schools.
To conclude, I appreciate your articles, and I have no criticism of them. However, I think we PR folks have need of more education, and I think the best place to get it, in our modern society, is at the Christian colleges. I don’t mean that we may not attend the public colleges. They have a place in our society. But I far prefer the education available at a good, liberal arts, Christian college, at least for the first four years.
Tom Newhof, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Mr. Newhof ‘s letter reflects on important dimensions of the college education that the editorials were not addressing. We are glad to publish his thoughts. With much of the letter I can express full agreement. I would add a couple of matters for consideration:
1. The reason for a good college education, whether public or private, is more than the need to make more money (even though that need is not to be slighted in these difficult days). Our young people need to develop their critical thinking skills, and grow in the knowledge of God’s “creation, preservation, and government of the universe” (Belgic Confession, Article 2). History, the physical sciences, philosophy, and psychology… the whole realm of learning is before God’s people as means by which they can serve Him better, know Him more deeply, and thus glorify Him to their fullest capacity. All this both in the church and in our lives in the world.
2. The brother makes a judgment of “woeful deficiency” in education among us. We recognize that this is both a personal, non-scientific assessment, and a judgment made about what is observed in only one area of the PRC. It would be interesting to hear statistics, as well as statistics of educational levels outsidethe Grand Rapids area.
3. As to the greater danger in public universities over against Christian institutions, can it be said that there are dangers in both, but that the important issue is not so much the degree of danger, but the preparedness of our young people to face what dangers there are. Let us parents ask ourselves, consciously, as we teach our high school students, whether our children are able to face the challenges of the subtle errors in the Christian colleges or the blatant assaults on Christianity in the public institutions.
May God bless our homes and the extensions of our homes in the rearing of God’s covenant seed.
As a regular reader of the Standard Bearer, I want to thank you for the consistent quality of the articles that you publish. Your readership will certainly be aware of the fact that my own views on many key theological topics differ greatly from those discussed in your magazine. But I do read each issue with the expectation that I will be stimulated—and even edified—by what I read. And I am seldom disappointed!
I have reflected much on the recent series of articles by Professor Barrett Gritters, addressed to college students. My interest in this case was reinforced by the fact that Professor Gritters was a student in one of my classes during my years of teaching at Calvin College. Indeed, I remember him fondly as an excellent student with whom I had some helpful exchanges about the subject matter of the course. He often disagreed with points that I was attempting to make, but I always found him to be a respectful and gifted student, and I regularly profited from our exchanges. I have followed his journey into leadership in your churches with warm memories of those early encounters.
It was with a bit of disappointment, then, that I discovered (in his installment in the Oct. 1 issue) that he continues to live with a troubled spirit over his “guilty silence” over something that he heard me say in that class several decades ago. He did not mention me by name in his report of this incident, but I clearly recognized myself in his account. And let me say that he in no way distorted anything that he reported me saying in the lecture in question.
Needless to say, I was gratified by his reference to me as a “genial professor.” But I was also disturbed by his declaration that what I said on that occasion was not only an “absurdity,” but actually a manifestation of genuine “wickedness” on my part.
Professor Gritters reports that I “boldly proclaimed that Christ’s resurrection accomplished two very important works: it both liberated women and instituted civil disobedience.” He also laments the fact that there were a number of important things about the Resurrection that I failed to mention or discuss: “Nothing about Jesus’ victory over sin and death, or His breaking of the devil’s power, or His earning for the elect the spiritual blessings of salvation, centered in the forgiveness of sins.”
On those things that he did not hear me say, on that occasion, please let me make it clear that I do indeed confess those matters with all my heart. With Professor Gritters I am convinced that not only are these matters absolutely crucial for our eternal destinies, but that they ought to be boldly proclaimed on any occasion when we discuss the Resurrection. If our covenant youth are not learning in our colleges that in Christ’s Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection our Sovereign God accomplished for us what we could never accomplish for ourselves, we are of all people most miserable. If I in any way during my years of teaching have given the impression that I do not hold to these matters in the deepest places of my being, I have failed in my mission as a teacher.
But what about liberating women and civil disobedience? Here too, I must admit that I may have put my points in too flippant a manner, and for that too I apologize. But let me rehearse here the core contentions I was getting at, and ask Professor Gritters to see whether he still wants to characterize my views as “wickedness.”
First, the question of the role of women. The background to my claim in that class lecture was that Old Testament Israel was a patriarchal culture, where only the adult male had legal “voice.” To put it bluntly: if a woman was the sole witness to a man murdering five hundred people, no one “saw” it from a legal point of view. Only if a man could speak on behalf of a woman in a court of law could her testimony have legal standing. This is at the heart of God’s special concern throughout Scripture for the widow and orphan—neither of them have an adult male who is committed to representing them in public life.
Now, it is a biblical fact that both the angels and the resurrected Jesus Himself told women on Resurrection morning to “go tell the disciples.” It is also a fact that the disciples’ instinct was to dismiss the women’s report as “an idle tale” (Luke 24: 11). I take this to be an indication that something new was happening: that the word of a woman was now being given a new legitimacy. Admittedly, this does not by itself speak to questions of ordination and the like. But it does signal something new that was happening regarding the status of women in the believing community. My former student may still strongly disagree with me on this—and I will respect that disagreement. But does he really want to continue to characterize this as “wickedness” on my part.
Similarly for the civil disobedience matter. My core contention is that the Resurrection was in effect an illegal act, since the breaking of the seal of Pilate was a challenge to governmental authority. The larger issue here is that when Jesus said to Pilate that His own authority was not of the same world as Pilate’s, Jesus was not conceding to Pilate the authority to prohibit the Resurrection. And this refusal to allow “the powers that be” to place obstacles to God’s redeeming purposes is carried on, for example, in the Book of Acts, where angels release apostles from prison and God’s people do not acknowledge the right of earthly authorities to prohibit the preaching of the Gospel. Professor Gritters may plausibly argue with me about what we as citizens of earthly kingdoms may or may not do in actual cases with regard to civil disobedience. But surely it is not wicked to use these examples to make the general point that we all acknowledge that real situations arise when out of obedience to the Gospel we must “obey God rather than man.”
Well, enough said. My main concern here is to assure my fondly-remembered former student that I still respect his voice on issues of shared concern, and that at least in my case his “guilty silence” has been corrected. I also, of course, want to apologize for any overstatement or excessive rhetoric in that class of many years ago— while insisting that the core convictions that motivated me to say what I did do not deserve to be categorized as “wickedness.”
Yours, under the mercy of our only true and righteous Sovereign,
(Dr.) Richard Mouw, (President of Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA)
Dr. Mouw’s letter is appreciated. SB readers may be reminded that Dr. Mouw’s concerns do not address the main point of my editorials. My editorials centered on another weakness in Christian colleges—a wrong view of God’s kingdom in which the church is marginalized and the kingdom is this-worldly. But introducing that series about kingdom-teaching, I mentioned that there are also other dangers in Christian colleges that must be guarded against, including teachings like Dr. Mouw’s that the resurrection of Christ liberated women and instituted civil disobedience (although I had not identified Dr. Mouw or his college).
Dr. Mouw objects to characterizing his teachings as “wickedness.” In his letter, he apologizes for some things; he also qualifies and clarifies his views on the liberation of women and civil disobedience. These apologies, clarifications, and qualifications that he makes are significant. Had the qualifications and clarifications been clearly made in the college classroom almost 30 years ago, I may not have judged his teachings in the way I did.
Dr. Mouw qualifies his teaching about Christ’s resurrection liberating women: “Admittedly, this does not by itself speak to questions of ordination and the like.” Had the impressionable college students heard this qualification, it would have made a world of difference. Of course “something new…was happening regarding the status of women.” Of course women have different rights and abilities in the New Testament than they had in the Old. Reformed Christians have always recognized this (even if the basis of this teaching has not been found in the women’s witnessing of the resurrection.) The important question is whether the difference includes opening of ecclesiastical special offices to women. But without Dr. Mouw’s qualification, the implication was clear: “Women ought to be allowed into ecclesiastical office. They are freed from their oppressive shackles and now permitted to be deacons, maybe elders and pastors too.”
Put into historical context, the matter is even more serious. The school year was 1983/1984, in the midst of the CRC’s turmoil about women in the special offices. In 1978, after lengthy battles, the CRC Synod opened the door to women deacons; and reversed that decision in 1979. In 1978 a woman applied for ordination into the ministry and was denied. The CRC’s stance was: “no women may serve in ecclesiastical office.” The battle lines were drawn. The issues were vital. In that context, the teaching that “the resurrection of Christ liberated women and instituted civil disobedience” is not innocent. In fact, holding the lie before students of a Christian college as though it were truth, sowed a seed that was deadly and hastened the adoption of great evils in his denomination. That is my definition of “wickedness.”
Along with the qualifications, Dr. Mouw apologizes for, perhaps, putting his “points in too flippant a manner,” and for including in his lectures “overstatement or excessive rhetoric.” The apologies are important; by now it likely is not possible to apologize to the many students who were influenced by the teaching. But it was that flippancy, overstatement, excessive rhetoric, and failure carefully to qualify, in a Christian college lecture hall, in that historical context, that moved me to call the teaching not just “wrong,” but “wicked.”
I put the matter of civil disobedience in a slightly different category because there was no current ecclesiastical battle fought about that issue. That does not take away from its gravity. Dr. Mouw’s teaching was that the resurrection of Christ also “instituted civil disobedience.” Christ broke the official seal on His own tomb, and by that example permits Christians to engage in civil disobedience.
If this conclusion is not sinful in itself (I judge it to be so), it certainly is both failure properly to “nuance” teachings and highly questionable exegesis of Scripture. The context of the instruction was discussion of Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech, and of movements to force governments to change oppressive and discriminatory laws. Let me first ask briefly (readers may make their judgments): 1) Were the seal (and the guards) those of the civilauthorities (Pilate) or of the chief priests and Pharisees and thus ecclesiastical authorities? 2) How does Christ, the sovereign Lord of the universe Himself, breaking the seal to reveal His resurrection translate into permission forChristians to engage in civil disobedience? 3) In the history of exegesis, has anyone else found in Christ’s resurrection a justification for civil disobedience? Who were they? 4) When the apostles in the book of Acts preached the gospel in plain disobedience to the authorities who had commanded them not to preach (Acts 4:19ff.; Acts 5:29ff.) and “obeyed God rather than man,” is not this very different from a crowd paralyzing a city until civil rights laws are enacted, or an unruly mob trying to oust a tyrannical ruler from present-day Egypt or Libya? Until questions such as these are faced, the instruction ought not be considered scholarship worthy of the highly regarded institution in which it was given. I regard it as careless. If I were to teach that way, I would want my overseers to call it sinful—it presented what is contrary to Scripture as though it were based on Scripture.
Dr. Mouw’s letter is cordial. He speaks of his core convictions. He remembers fondly my presence in his class. I am thankful for that. But may we all understand that in teaching covenant youth, although conviction and cordiality are demanded, careful adherence to the Word of God is paramount. In the end, his memory of me is unimportant. What does God remember? Where have I led His children?
In the name of academic freedom and being open to opposing views, truth is being forsaken, if only so gradually. We wish there were Christian colleges and universities we could recommend without having to caution our young people to beware of such fundamental (but subtle) denials of biblical truth.