jasonbwatson

July 7, 2014

“Abandoning the battle for the Bible”

A few months ago the board of trustees at Bryan College in Tennessee decided that it would insist that all of its faculty members adhere to a clarification to its statement of faith that makes clear that God created Adam and Eve in specific acts of creation–not through starting a process from which Adam and Eve eventually evolved.

According to a May article on insidehighered.com, this clarification has been deemed by many to be “too narrow” and has resulted in the departure of at least two faculty members, a vote of no confidence in the school’s president by the faculty and a variety of student protests.

The article explains that the Bryan College statement of faith previously included this statement on Adam and Eve: “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death[.]” Now I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty clear to me. Then again, I believe the Bible means an actual 24-hour day when it describes the days of creation in Genesis. Apparently a number of those who claimed that they agreed with this statement in the past do not agree, since they have been squawking ever since the school made this clarification: “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”

The article also quotes some talking points presented at the faculty meeting prior to the no confidence vote by Phil Lestmann, a Bryan professor mathematics and head of its natural sciences division, in which Lestmann claimed that the clarification “pretend[s] that a very complex issue is really very simple and straightforward” and “possibly put[s] the college into too small a scientific or theological box.” Therein, of course, we find parts of the problem. The issue in fact is “very simple and straightforward” when you believe the Bible means what it says. Only by reinterpreting it or by trying to make the Bible (God’s Word) fit with science (man’s interpretation or understanding) does any complexity come into the matter. Speaking for myself, a “small…theological box” is exactly where I would want to be, and want my school to be, assuming that box is the one claiming the Word of God to be inerrant. After all, Jesus Himself created a “theological box” that could not be any smaller–when He said “no man comes to the Father but by Me” he was not leaving any room for discussion.

Apparently the student government at Bryan has objected to the clarification because the school’s charter says that its statement of faith cannot be changed. An open letter from the student government appearing in a February issue of the school’s newspaper said, “We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families.”

I would suggest that what is unfair is the very need for the clarification in the first place. After all, fiat means “an authoritative decree, sanction, or order” or “an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it.” The original statement of faith asserts “the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God.” To suggest that fiat, act of creation and was created allow for some understanding other than that being made clear in the recent clarification is simply absurd. The reality is that Bryan has apparently been lax in enforcing its own statement of faith until this recent clarification and some faculty members have not felt troubled by the fact that they were annually signing a statement of faith with which they did not really agree. If someone consistently drives ten miles over the speed limit without getting a ticket he cannot then cry foul when a law enforcement officer finally does pull him over and issue the ticket. Getting away with something in the past is no justification for eliminating consequences for it in the future.

In the May 3 issue of WORLD Marvin Olasky, with whom I do not always agree, made a poignant and powerful statement about the importance of this issue. “Many Christian liberal arts colleges assert that their goal is to teach students how to think and not what to think. That is laudable in most areas, but should it mean that colleges do not care if students graduate with the belief that the Bible is merely a book compiling man’s fallible teaching rather than God-inspired wisdom?” Olasky asks. He answers his own question thusly: “In such an environment, a Christian college that proclaims it will just throw out to students a variety of theories and let them decide, is abandoning the battle for the Bible.” Olasky is exactly right, and his point is precisely why it is so imperative that Bryan College, as well as other Christian colleges, Christian schools and churches establish clear and accurate statement of faith and insist wholeheartedly that they are adhered to; anything else is a surrender to man’s reinterpretation and is inconsistent with Scripture.

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