Academic freedom vs. Christian orthodoxy: finding a balance

Saint_Anselm_CollegeWhat happens when a university’s ideal of academic freedom clashes with its statement of faith? That’s the core question at the heart of a recent essay describing the tension between evangelical orthodoxy and academic freedom at Wheaton College.

The essay speaks directly about Wheaton’s upcoming change of leadership (shortly after the article’s publication, Wheaton announced its new president), but the issues are relevant to any Christian college or university that cares both about academic integrity and theological orthodoxy.

Does requiring all faculty at a Christian school to adhere to a very specific statement of faith lead to intellectual stagnation on campus? Wheaton’s statement of faith, like that of many Christian schools, excludes not only followers of non-Christian religions, but also fellow Christians who don’t agree with the school’s take on controversial (and often “non-salvation”) issues like Creation or homosexuality. This can result in the school not hiring otherwise superb teachers due to doctrinal disagreements; or even in the firing of professors whose beliefs don’t conform to the school’s.

It’s not an easy question to answer—everyone acknowledges that without requiring some adherence to a statement of faith, a Christian school risks drifting away from the Christian values it was founded to promote. On the other hand, there’s a point at which a statement of faith becomes too restrictive, needlessly keeping out Christian educators whose presence would be a real benefit to the school.

The article raises these questions in a challenging but fair way. What’s your reaction to the issue?

Consider how you’d answer these questions:

  • Did you (or do you) attend a Christian college that held faculty to a specific statement of faith?
  • If so, have you seen examples of such policies getting in the way of academic ideals? Any instances where the policy protected the school from unbiblical ideas?
  • As you read the article above, are you more sympathetic toward the traditional (keep a strict statement of faith) position, or to the progressive (allow faculty from outside the statement of faith) position?
  • Share your thoughts!

    6 Responses to “Academic freedom vs. Christian orthodoxy: finding a balance”

    • Stuart McCardle says:

      It depends on how the college presents itself so that in choosing a college an individual can make a choice based on what he/she wants to learn. I am a southern Baptist by faith. I am firm in my belief and if my money is going to support a Baptist college, then I expect them to employ teachers who can make a statement of faith. Then a person could choose this college or another who doesn’t adhere to this policy based on what they want to learn.A college that wants to be acdemic can be that way, but should not expect support from from the religious groups. I personally would not want to go to a college such as this,because I believe that with such diversity, it would be confusing.

    • mike waters says:

      “A little leaven leavens the whole loaf”

    • Chris says:

      The college I attended had a similar statement of faith to Wheaton’s. We were a bit more lax on Chapel attendance and Creation/Evolution, but not by much. I can say that having everyone on the same page theologically unites the campus in an unique way; however, it also makes it easy to become insulated. You start to think that the campus is representative of the world.

      That said, I think it’s Wheaton’s prerogative to decide on their staff and culture. Wheaton appeals to a certain kind of person and it’s comforting on some level to know that they can find it if they want it. Yes, they’re probably losing out on some academic rigor by constraining themselves to a statement of faith, but academics are not their only focus. If they started hiring people outside of their culture and theology it would quickly change the atmosphere of the institution.

    • Whenever I read phrases such as “Academic freedom” I become an instant skeptic, just like when I read the terms “progressives” or “global warming-then-climate change.” The fact is academic freedom is a myth. I spent 5 years in college and have known thousands of people who came out of universities and colleges. Never met one who wanted me to learn about anything except that which they believed as truth. Well, with the preponderance of “progressives” teaching our young men and women, and the minority of professors fighting to balance the onslought, it’s no wonder the myth exists. It is a human power struggle. Nothing more. Just as history is rewritten by the victors, academic freedom is non-existent for the slaves. It doesn’t matter, we will all be in remedial courses in heaven.

    • Sam says:

      The educational system in America is decreasing and people have seperated faith from the school and instead follow what they want to do. Money is what is driving this nation and many have been taught that there is no fundamental truth. That is why the bible will never go wrong and people need to be lead by the truth to be able to live for others and not for themselves. Most importantly to give one’s life to God and to do his will is the best thing that can happen to a person. Nuff said.

    • Mandy says:

      Historically, Christianity has had difficulty accepting some scientific concepts. The Church thought that believing in a heliocentric galaxy was heresy. I realize that the type of questions evolution raises are very different. But I think it’s important to cling only to what is actually in the Bible. Often we substitute what people assume the Bible is saying for truth.

      I don’t think it’s important for someone to believe in evolution, though I do think it’s important to understand the theory. It becomes a problem when people get out into the world and are faced with what science is telling them, and they don’t know how to reconsile that with a literal account of Genesis 1. I’ve seen many people lose faith in situations like that. When you’re faced with “proof” that one part of what you’ve been taught is wrong, it would be good to be able to reconsile beliefs, rather than concluding that the Bible is wrong, or “they’re just stories.”

      In my personal opinion, God is mysterious. I don’t think He intended for us to know everything about how our world came to be. The Bible tells us the truths we need to know. It doesn’t tell us everything about everything.