Cedarville, The Next Episode

It appears to this interested outsider that professors and administrators are pawns on a chess board eliminated by surging faculty and board culture wars. Very sad.

It’s not often that a college’s chief disciplinarian inspires such love. But Carl Ruby, who last month resigned asvice president for student life at this little-known Christian college, has become a symbol of some very public trials, as faculty, students and trustees at Cedarville try to figure out what kind of Christians they are.

Are they sectarian or broad-minded? Fundamentalist or open? Republicans, or independent of political parties? Those who want a less fundamentalist, more open Cedarville believe that Dr. Ruby is a martyr to their cause.

For much of its history, Cedarville, which was founded in 1887, was affiliated with theGeneral Association of Regular Baptist Churches, a fundamentalist organization wary of association even with other conservative groups. But over the past decade, Cedarville, which has 3,400 students, has moved away from its Regular Baptist identity.

Some kinds of dancing are now allowed on campus, for example. And there have been other signs of moderation, troubling to some. Last fall, two philosophy professors caused a stir with “Why I Am Not Voting for Romney,” an editorial in the university newspaper that upset many on this right-leaning campus. Last summer, the contract of another professor,Michael W. Pahl, was not renewed because he had written a book that some critics asserted failed to make strong enough claims for the creation of the world in six days.

Dr. Pahl’s “doctrinal views were inconsistent with doctrines the university holds,” was how Mark D. Weinstein, a spokesman for Cedarville, explained Dr. Pahl’s departure….

Now, some say, the more conservative faction is having its revenge. In an interview, Dr. Brown, the president, offered a wan explanation for his departure, saying that “it’s a long story.” When asked why Dr. Ruby had resigned, Dr. Brown said, “I really don’t know,” explaining that Dr. Ruby reported to the provost. Meanwhile, philosophy has been eliminated as a major, which will most likely mean the departure of Shawn Graves, the untenured half of the duo that wrote the anti-Romney editorial.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://adammclane.com adam mclane

    I don’t know what happened to Cedarville. But not too long ago I really enjoyed taking my high school jr/sr students down there for campus tours.

    It’s sad to see them go from middle of the road evangelical to flat out fundamentalist. Other schools have shifted more conservative over the past couple of years… but none quite so dramatically or publicly.

  • Bob

    I know of Cedarville (through people who graduated there) but don’t know much beyond that. Regardless of what I may think of their stances on various issues, it’s refreshing to see a school stand behind its convictions rather than take a poll or see which direction the wind is blowing this time around and go with it, not against it.

  • DRL

    “… philosophy has been eliminated as a major.” Yes, let’s have none of that!

  • Jennifer Eaby

    I’m an alum and many of us have been watching the situation closely. When I was a student there (graduated 15 years ago), it as fundamentalist. In the past 7 years, it swung to a more moderate Christian college (yay!) and now it’s swinging back towards fundamentalism. It seems the college has internal skirmishes every few years and someone or many someones on faculty end up as casualities.

    Suffice it to say, intellectual curiosity is suppressed under heavy indoctrination. Other Xian viewpoints than the one that the school holds to are generally not tolerated. To me, this is not a true institution of higher learning. It is a fine school in many ways, but the infighting over doctrinal stances is discouraging. Honestly, if I could have a do-ver, I’d probably choose to go to Wheaton.

  • Prodigal Daughter

    Pardon my misspellings. Alumn, was, do-over.

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    This sort of thing always makes me think about that verse which says that God will give them over to a reprobate mind. If you can’t see your sin, you’ll be allowed to follow it until you’ve self-destructed in a completely spectacular way and it will be clear to those watching that following the same path doesn’t work so well. A good part of the church is fortunately repenting of having embraced extra-biblical, oppressive and devisive doctrines. I don’t think things will go well for those who figure that rather than being humble enough to allow change and accept correction, they’d better just double down on the original error.

  • MatthewS

    I saw a smaller-scale swing back to the conservative side at a different school. It was a smaller school and didn’t attract any national attention. One of the issues is that the constituency which pays the bills tends to be one the conservative side and they don’t want to send their kids off to a denomination’s flagship school and get back grads who hold new and different philosophies. (and schools have also had shifts to the Left side in which unpopular faculty on the Right were pushed out as well – it has happened on both sides)

    I can understand some of those concerns but for those who feel left out by such a shift, it can feel like economics and politics are driving the bus more than a passion for learning and for truth.

  • http://www.dennyburk.com Denny Burk

    I thought that Oppenheimer’s reporting was pretty skewed. He reported nothing about the fundamental theological issues that are driving the recent division at Cedarville. Instead, he portrays the liberalizers as victims and conservatives as war-loving, poverty-supporting, haters of gay people. It’s a distorted picture at best.

  • Scott Barber

    Places like Cedarville stretch the meaning of “school.” University-level education is about having presuppositions challenged for strengthening or replacement. In contradistinction, these universities only offer a salve to ease the cognitive dissonance of fundamentalists trying to live in a world so contrary to their political-theological mythology. One wonders how long these sad outposts of fundamentalism can survive. Forgive my harsh tone but I have had first-hand experience of this sort and have difficulty disconnecting my thoughts from my life.

  • Michael G Dixon

    I discern a resistance to the notion of a primacy for revealed truth, bolstered by the reductionist view that truth can not be revealed because what what some report as “their” revelation varies from what others report as “their” revelation.” Christianity is the revealed truth of the saving grace of a relationship with Jesus, the Christ. Paul admonishes his readers and bearers to hold onto the truth just as it was originally preached to them. If there is any hierarchy of authority ( never forget The young man Timothy) it is of the advanced wisdom of those who have suffered for the their conviction that salvation come through accepting Jesus, the Christ, as Lord and Savior.

    My daughter attended Wheaton. It was excellent in every way, but one does not escape these issues and tensions there. All politics are local, so the facts and circumstances of their divisions are simply obscure to those not following them.

  • DB

    I work for another Christian college and one of my colleagues is the spouse of a Bible faculty member at Cedarville. My colleague sees the Cedarville actions as a sort of purge. I’ve personally been blessed at Cedarville sponsored events so it’s sad to see a sister school managing disagreement in a publicly destructive fashion. Lord, have mercy.

  • Matt Edwards

    I think the title of the piece nails what is going on at Cedarville right now–the university is struggling to identify itself.

    I graduated from Cedarville in 2000. There is a lot to love about the school. But there is a bit of a conflict of identity between an invisible “old guard” and the faculty/staff that want to move the university beyond the issues it was founded on. The language in the article of “creeping liberalism” is significant–this is the narrative of the university’s existence. Cedarville considers itself a bastion of faithfulness in a Christian culture that has gone adrift.

    But the “battles” that Cedarville is fighting to stay faithful are not gospel battles–they are culture war battles. I hoped that the passing of Dr. Jeremiah in 2000 and the hiring of Dr. Brown shortly thereafter would inaugurate a new chapter for Cedarville, but it looks like the old guard is not going to give up without a fight.

    I hope the senior leadership of Cedarville can come to some kind of consensus about the kind of university they want to be. What ARE the battles they want to fight? What are they hills they are going to die on? Are these gospel issues? (If not; that’s okay. Just be up front about the fact that you take stands on issues that are not gospel issues.) Are these values clearly communicated to the faculty, staff, students, and alumni so that no one is caught off guard when they write a position paper contrary to the values of the school?

    On a personal level, there is a bit of irony in all of this since I studied cross-cultural ministry at Cedarville and was trained (well!) in how to distinguish the gospel from cultural expressions of Christianity. It’s bizarre to me that they can’t figure this out at the highest echelons of the school.

  • scotmcknight

    Matt, thank you for that reasonable and charitable comment.

  • Carl Ruby

    I’ve been associated with Cedarville for over 30 years. I continue to love the school and the many wonderful peers who are working very hard to live up to the ideal of being centered on Jesus Christ. I also love its students and I don’t want them to be hurt by this controversy. While no institution is perfect, I still have confidence that Cedarville is a place where students can get a great education. My own children still attend there and I trust that they will find mentors who will bring out the very best in their faith. My prayer is that God will work all things together for good, that he will help all involved to become more like Christ, and that His Spirit will have free reign to make the campus feel more and more like heaven. This has been my prayer for Cedarville in the past and it is my continued prayer today. I long for the day when Jesus’ prayer is answered and we God’s children are known for the extent of our love and unity.

  • Marci

    Why is it O.K. For a christian school to shift their views and beliefs, but not to affirm and uphold them? If Cedarville chooses to continue to affirm the doctines it was founded upon and not “creep” toward a liberal view, that is their choice. If you disagree, go someplace else. It is concerning that there is this demand that all must have the same views or else.

  • http://www.joshuapsteele.com Josh

    Incidentally, we could really use some prayer here at Cedarville these next few days. The upcoming special trustee meeting on Saturday is widely regarded as one of the most important in the school’s history. We have reason to believe that the board itself is incredibly divided on opinions regarding Cedarville’s future (evangelical vs. fundamentalist), and the stakes are pretty high.

    I get to graduate in May and move on to seminary, but many many many good people are still going to be around here next year. My concern is for them and their families, not to mention all of the underclassmen and future students.

    Please pray for my school, especially from now through Saturday. Thanks.


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