Friday, January 16, 2009

Cedarville University: A Controversy over Truth and Certainty?

For some time now, Cedarville University has been involved in a controversy over truth and certainty: the belief that we can know that the Bible, the truth, is 100% certain versus the belief of the emergent church that the truth is unknowable, i.e., we can be relatively certain, but ultimately, no one can know the truth for sure.

Initially, I wondered at the relevance of this information to Case4theRight, but came to the conclusion that many of us may be looking for Christian colleges to which to send our children in light of the severe leftist leanings of many, if not most, of the secular colleges and universities in our nation today.

The controversy seemingly came to light after the university fired two conservative professors in the summer of 2007, only a few months after they had a signed contract. One had even achieved tenure at the university. My initial exposure to this affair was in the form of an email communication from the alumni office with a statement from the president of the university announcing the university’s unwavering stance toward the truth of the scripture and a warning of unfounded accusations made by several media outlets. I did some internet research on the situation at that time because I was saddened to hear of these developments and I wanted to be as informed as possible about this emergent church movement and about what was going on at Cedarville. There are always two sides to every story and I was concerned that I was only hearing the situation from a public relations standpoint. I was able to find quite a bit of information detailing the situation from the viewpoint of the fired professors.

I was seriously concerned about these accusations because my daughter, who is a relatively new Christian, is a student at Cedarville. I was concerned about what she was being taught in the classroom regarding the certainty of scripture. She did not seem to be familiar with too many of the facts surrounding the situation, however, I did get an opportunity to explain why we can be certain regarding the truth of the scripture and admonished her to keep an ear out in her classes for any teaching that might undermine the truth of the Bible. As that is all I could do at that point, I left it at that, and kept Cedarville in my prayers that they would not succumb to the lies of false teaching.

Earlier this week I received another communication from Cedarville citing a report that was about to be released by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), detailing an investigation performed by the AAUP into the firings of the two university professors. Cedarville stated that the report is “misleading and inaccurate”. Several other conservative faculty and staff (those identifying with the certainty of scripture) have either left or been asked to leave. I began to believe that where there is smoke, there is fire, and again I looked at all the sources of information I was able to find. A couple of points raised serious doubts in my mind as to the sincerity of the school’s position:

1) Why have no emergent professors left the institution or been asked to leave? Why is it that only those with conservative viewpoints are no longer affiliated with the university? And I suppose, first and foremost, why are there even professors with emergent leanings even employed by the university? If their position is the complete inerrancy and certainty of scripture, why are they employing individuals who do not share these views?

2) Why does Dr. Brown, the university president, include known emergent books on his reading list for the students to see without any type of disclaimer?

3) Why does the university invite known emergents to speak in chapel under the guise of exposing the students to other viewpoints? Chapel is for spiritual growth and teaching, not a learning experience for apostasy. I understand the need to teach these things, but these teachings should be done in the classroom, not in the chapel forum.

I am still at a loss of who or what to believe. I would like to believe that Cedarville is firm in their unwavering stand for the truth, especially since I am an alumnus of the university, not to mention that I am sending tens of thousands of dollars a year to the school for my daughter’s education. The only thing I am sure of at this point is that I will be watching this situation very closely from all angles and that I will be praying for them that they truly do stand for what is right and will continue to do so. There is a spiritual warfare going on in Christian circles and we need to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (NKJV, 1 Peter 5:8).

Some interesting links:

A Book Recommendation:
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception by John MacArthur


  1. This is disappointing to say the least, but not surprising.

  2. Whew! That last link was long and very detailed. I am sorry to hear that these problems have been taking place. I am always concerned to hear of doctrinal error creeping into educational institutions. But the fact that this has included controversy (never a thing in and of itself to be feared since wrestling through the tough issues should be part of all Christian workings as we grow in Christ) but then that it has been so personally and unfairly disputed tells me that the goals of those involved have moved from genuinely seeking to preserve the accuracy of a doctrinal position to seeking to preserve the personal reputations regardless of truth. It is always hard to decide who is being honest about what in these things. But the fact that pride and personal resentments have muddied the waters is clear. I agree that we need to be in prayer for this school in light of these things.

  3. Apparantly if they get censored by the AAUP, that can lead to losing their accredidation. This should be a concern for the current students who could end up with a degree from an unaccredited institution.

  4. **A correction to my post above**

    Both professors had achieved tenure.

  5. An interesting video:

  6. Not the other anonJanuary 16, 2009 at 2:25 PM

    The obfuscation that is occurring in this argument about truth is a little bit humorous. . .

    Also, most people (myself included) will probably not truly understand the arguments on the two sides (Truth with or without Certainity). It seems to me that both sides are arguing over some minutia: does the certainty lie within the believer or God or both. It also seems to revolve around semantic differences of the words certainty and assurance. Throw in some accusations of postmodernism and the confusion increases.

    I am all for the postmodern viewpoint of all texts except the Bible. The Bible is unique because the only way to understand it is by the Holy Spirit. Without Him, no one can know the intention of the Author. Whether He affects that knowledge through assurance or making it certain within the believer doesn’t seem to me to be that weighty; I have faith that whatever He reveals to me is true and I have to constantly seek Him to reveal the truth.

  7. But this isn't minutia! If we can't be certain that the Bible, God's Word, is true, what can we be certain of. If we just have mere assurance, that opens up the door and makes room for doubt.

  8. dayzeegirl:
    If they remain above board in how they deal with the troubles they face whether between faculty or doctrinally or otherwise, what do they have to fear with the AAUP? Don't numerous institutions deal with controversy regularly? And wouldn't the AAUP recognize this to be true? I would think controversy alone should not be a problem that might threaten their accreditation. That they apparently tried to hide the problem until the accreditation process was complete suggests there is more to this than meets the eye!?!!

    While I can't say that the issue is minutia (for it certainly is not minutia to give cause to doubt God and His Word), I do agree that most folks would not fully understand the how weighty a matter this is. Many Christians are not prepared for that caliber of meat in their Scriptural studies. Unbelievers will not even be able to grasp even a little bit of the real issues at stake. And to force a person who is spiritually unprepared to chew and try to digest something this meaty could be detrimental in the long run.

    This is why it is so important for universities to consider the long range effects of the issues they take up and allow to go public in the name of education. It is a shame that the problem has been dealt with so poorly and thus has become such a public matter. Pride and sinful responses on the part of believers in leadership always provide the world with reason to blaspheme God. Whoever is truly at fault here has caused more trouble than he bargained for, because he has made the name of God to "stink" in the nostrils of the heathen.

  9. Melodie,
    I agree that they would have nothing to fear from the AAUP in the event that they conducted themselves as they ought. But the lengthy report details numerous claims of unethical behavior on the part of the administration. And the administration continues to conveniently hide behind the issue of privacy and claim that they are unable to disclose the issues of the termination. They go on to say that were they to disclose them, everyone would understand why they took the action that they did. It just sounds very fishy to me.

    The fact that they could not find it within themselves to work this situation out before it has escalated to this point is also disturbing to me. Some of the comments to the articles on newspaper websites are downright hateful toward Christianity. As you said, non-Christians do not understand the necessity of standing up for the truth and seem to be of the opinion that this is just a case of Christians bickering over something stupid.

  10. Not the other anonJanuary 16, 2009 at 5:27 PM

    I think the argument is not about the integrity of the Bible itself, but in one’s ability to experience it.

    Not too far back we had a discussion about bias. We talked specifically about my pastor’s biases coming through his sermons, but I wanted to make the more general statement that the bias affects my pastor’s own understanding of the Bible. He reads a Bible passages that says X, Y and Z, but he only hears, knows, experiences X & y. His limited understanding doesn’t change the integrity of the Bible, nevertheless his understanding is still not the full truth.

    We all experience this dark glass and so we have to go to God and ask Him what we’re missing.

    To me, the truth with or without certainty debate is an argument about semantic gymnastics. I can be 100% certain that the Bible is true because I am assured of it by Someone that is 100% truthful.

    Our experience with the Bible and God does, in fact, come down to faith and doubt, but our ideas about them don’t change their attributes whatsoever.

  11. NTOA:
    I understand what you are trying to say, but I think you are coming at it from the wrong direction. The Bible is God's Word and it is 100% true. You need to view it from God's perspective of 100% truth, not by man's flawed experiences, reasoning, bias, etc. I believe that this is what you are trying to say, but again, I think your angle is incorrect.

    The emergent church and others that embrace the uncertainty of scripture are undermining the importance of scripture and its correctness. In so doing, they plant the seeds of doubt in people's minds as to what is true in the Bible and what is not. How can we know for sure that we are saved? How can we know anything? This is an age old argument that is simply resurfacing under another name.

    John MacArthur couldn't have said it better in his book, The Truth War. He says, "Not knowing what you believe (especially on a matter as essential to Christianity as the gospel) is by definition a kind of unbelief. Refusing to acknowledge and defend the revealed truth of God is particularly stubborn and a pernacious kind of unbelief. Advocating ambiguity, exalting uncertainty, or otherwise deliberately clouding the truth is a sinful way of nurturing unbelief."

    To address your comment of experience with God, MacArthur says this: "Truth is never detemined by looking at God's Word and asking, 'What does this mean to me?' Whenever I hear someone talk like that, I am inclined to ask, 'What did the Bible mean before you existed? What does God mean by what He says?' Those are the proper questions to be asking. Truth and meaning are not determined by our intuition, experience, or desire. The true meaning of Scripture--or anything else, for that matter--has already been determined and fixed by the mind of God. The task of the interpreter is to discern that meaning. And proper interpretation must precede application."

    I think you were trying to get to that in a roundabout way in your post above. The problem with this whole controversy, is that people are relying on their own interpretations, feelings, etc, to come to conclusions about truth and that is never good. We are flawed creatures with sin natures. While some might think this is simply a matter of preference and interpretation, it is much more serious. It is a matter of the personhood of God and His character. It is not something that should be taken lightly by Christians. I will end with a final quote from MacArthur's book. "In every generation across the history of the church, countless martyrs have died rather than deny the truth. Were such people just fools, making too much of their own convictions? Was their absolute confidence in what they believed actually misguided zeal? Did they die needlessly? Many these days evidently think so--including some who profess faith in Christ. Living in a culture where violent persecution is almost unknown, multitudes who call themselves Christians seem to have forgotten what faithfulness to the truth often costs. Faithfulness to the truth is always costly in some way or another (2 Tim 3:12), and that is why Jesus insisted that anyone who wants to be His disciple must be willing to take up a cross (Luke 9:23-26)"

  12. Not the other anonJanuary 16, 2009 at 8:11 PM

    I think I said exactly what JM said, when I said, "We all experience this dark glass and so we have to go to God and ask Him what we’re missing."

    The bias I referred to comes from our sin nature, our experiences, our feelings, etc.

    JM isn't entirely correct when he infers that there is just one set of things to get from Scripture for all time -- prophecies surrounding Jesus mean something different to me when compared to those in OT times. . .

    Is the truth-without-certainty position questioning the validity of the Bible or looking at how one comes to know of its truth?

    If it is about how, then I think the brouhaha is unfounded (even it might lead some to question the Bible). If its premise does question the truth of the Bible, then I see your point.

  13. Wow, this has really sparked my interest. My brother attended Cedarville, as did many friends. The emergent church is a cloudy mess of feel-good teachings. They are doing more than taking the rough edges off the gospel, they are eliminating truth.

  14. NtoA:
    You said, "JM isn't entirely correct when he infers that there is just one set of things to get from Scripture for all time -- prophecies surrounding Jesus mean something different to me when compared to those in OT times. . ."

    My question to you then is:
    What did the apostle mean when he said in 2 Peter 1:20, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation?"

    I believe JM is dead on when he says each piece of the Scripture was written with one intended interpretation in the mind of God for each. The point of that one interpretation may influence several different possible applications. But it still only one doctrinal Truth and not several morphing truths which are dependent on the person reading to work out for himself. That point God intended may be above us and our ability to fully comprehend for the time being (Romans 11:33), but that point is still the only accurate interpretation of that Scripture that is acceptable in the mind of God.

    Yes, the understanding of those in OT times may have been different. And you are right, their understanding does not influence the veracity of the Scriptures themselves. But the fact is, their interpretation versus our interpretation of a passage of Scripture is not the real issue. The issue is, what is God's interpretation? He is the God who never changes. He is the same from generation to generation, and His Word will endure for eternity.

    One of the most wonderful things about the Word of God is that it is eternal and yet applicable now . . . always applicable now! It is not just some old relic! It is Life! It is that which gives life: the two-edged sword that divides the soul and spirit, joints and marrow with the edge of unchanging Truth.

    The issues surrounding this controversy are real and deeply important. Faith is an elusive concept for many to comprehend. But we must remember that God's Word can and ought to be believed with certainty, KNOWING that it is Truth. "Assurance" suggests that faith is but a feeling: a peaceful relationship between the mind and heart. But faith involves more than just the heart. We are to trust with all our heart, soul, and MIND that the things of God are exactly what He says them to be. We must have the faith that knows with certainty or we are guilty of unbelief.

    Brouhaha? The brouhaha in this case is brought about only by pride, not by the controversy itself. "Only by pride cometh contention." While it looks as though some serious ethical and moral lines have been crossed by the university's leadership, I believe it was also in bad form for the injured in this mess to bring this to the attention of the law and thus the secular media. God has ordained better ways of handling this sort of thing within Christian organizations. And when all else fails, there is something to be said for turning the other cheek for the sake of the testimony of Christ before unbelievers.

  15. Let me clarify that when I say we should have faith that knows with certainty and not just the faith that is assured, I realize most of us do not always fall into the "certainty" category on all doctrinal fronts. We are all still learning and growing in our faith. We are to "add to our faith" as the apostle Peter said. But that does not mean that we can't have that certainty and must remain only assured until we "experience" the reality of the Truth.

    Remember too that certainty is child-like trust. It can precede full comprehension of a truth. It is the willing acceptance of God and His Word, a presupposition of truth, before it is even understood and regardless of what may be at stake for us to accept it. Certainty is a gift that God freely offers now. We need to simply ask Him for it as the father of the demoniac child did in the gospels when he said, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."

  16. The AAUP report is massive -- so check out these explosive highlights in a condensed format:

    That school is toast.