Identity crisis in the midwest

Christians at Christian institutions love to pontificate over how Christian the Christian institution should remain. That appears to be the case over at Northwestern College in Minnesota where a debate over its identity persists.

I tend to agree with Alex Chediak that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune‘s article over its identity crisis was pretty fair. The Star-Tribune should be lauded for trying to tackle an issue usually kept on Facebook walls or higher education blogs. However, the author uses some vague language that clouds the issues rather than illuminate them.

A debate dogging the quiet Christian campus of Northwestern College has the president apologizing, some alumni calling for his resignation and everyone doing a lot of praying.

A group of students and alumni has accused Northwestern President Alan Cureton of weeding out conservative professors and trustees to help push the campus toward “postmodern” theology. A protest group on Facebook has drawn more than 1,200 members.

This is an okay setup (although Facebook groups are completely unscientific). But no where in the article do we learn what “conservative” or “postmodern” mean for people in this debate. The story seems full of vague quotes instead of concrete explanations.

Northwestern denies any shift in its Bible-based focus and attributes the hubbub to a small group of disgruntled alumni. Trustees say they have investigated the charges, Cureton has apologized to those involved and said it’s time to “put this often un-biblical process to rest.”

“I think we’ve reached the point where we have done everything we can to resolve the differences,” said trustee Arnold (Bud) Lindstrand.

What was the president referring to when he called it an un-biblical process (something he had done or others had done)? Other than the Facebook group, is there a way to quantify these disgruntled alumni?

Northwestern espouses a “Christ-centered” philosophy, including the belief that Christ will physically return to Earth during his second coming — a belief at issue in this recent controversy.

So do some faculty deny a second coming or is it a debate over when Christ will reign on the earth (premillennial, amillenial, postmillennial – does your head hurt yet)? As Jim Hart, one of our readers, put it:

Is this widespread? Why is this important? They also indicate that a lot of the conflict is led by Dallas Jenkins, who is Jerry Jenkins son, so I can understand why the second coming issue is important to them, but, really, couldn’t this have been spelled out a bit more in the article?

The story offers some background for the current dispute, showing how professors and students became involved.

The trouble began — depending on the version you believe — when Prof. Douglas Huffman was demoted as chair of the Biblical and Theological Studies department. That move, coupled with the removal of several members of the Board of Trustees, triggered accusations that the administration was punishing the college’s more conservative
voices.

Several former trustees said in a letter that they had seen the college’s culture changing and hoped it “might, by God’s gracious intervention, be spared the fate of so many other institutions that have witnessed the dying of the light. …”

Last January, the student government sent a letter expressing a vote of “no confidence” in Cureton and asking for his resignation or removal. The letter said that Cureton had committed “grievous sin, lies, slander, and unethical actions” –including lying about his reasons for demoting two faculty members and falsely accused another employee of viewing pornography.

And so the debate continues. This identity crisis has been going on for several years, though, so I’m wondering why the reporter picked up on it just now. Other than Huffman, the reporter did not appear to talk to any professors, and the only student quoted is a vague comment from the current student government president. Perhaps the reporter could have done some more digging or visited the campus?

My guess is that that every institution has its disgruntled alumni who worry about the direction the president is taking their alma mater. Add theology and technology to the mix and you’ve got a can of worms. Concrete examples and specific explanations go a long way in helping readers understand these debates.

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  • dalea

    The story should have explained what denomination this college is part of, and which particular part of the denomination runs it. The college’s web site explains that it began as a Baptist school, but does not explain what the current affiliation is. This would clarify if it is a liberal or moderate or conservative denomination.

    Interestingly, the conservative group has changed their password which is given in the article. This does not look very helpful.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Good points, dalea. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Dallas Jenkins

    I’ll give you one big reason as to why the article is somewhat vague and confusing–theology has little to nothing to do with the current controversy. I told the author this explicitly. The “Second Coming” hasn’t been mentioned by anyone involved in this in at least a year and a half, even though yes, I am Jerry Jenkins’ son. :)

    When it started, there was a good deal of concern about the theological direction the school was going–Dr. Cureton was demoting or giving a lot of trouble to the more conservative members on campus, and many decisions at the flagship radio station and on campus were geared towards style over substance. But we realized awhile ago that the “theological drift” issue was too difficult to navigate through, and our focus and concern was more on the issue of administrative corruption and deception.

    Plus, for obvious reasons, no one had any desire to try to have a doctrinal debate in the confines of a mainstream newspaper.


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