Letter to the Editor: Minority Opinion – Countering the Bryan SGA Talking Points

9 years ago Triangle 0

By Seth Julin
Class of 1993

My son is currently a sophomore at Bryan, and my wife and I are alumni.  We are not wealthy people, and the cost of Bryan has been challenging.  Yet it was and is an expense gladly paid, for the quality of education was, and I think probably still is, extraordinary.  For many years, therefore, Bryan College has occupied a place of high esteem in my family’s opinions, memories, and prayers.

So it is with some interest that I have followed the recent contention that has arisen over the intent of Dr. Livesay and the Board of Trustees to add clarification to the school’s statement of faith.  Though I am neither a current student nor an employee of Bryan, I am heavily invested and wish to register my opinion.1

I first heard of the controversy from my wife, who had, via telephone, been advised of it by my son.  My initial reaction was to think that the president and board were unnecessarily adopting a very hard line, which would be disruptive to the health and morale of the school.  From what I see online and in things my son has sent me, it seems that the majority agree with my initial reaction and that many also believe that this proposed change to the statement of faith will undermine the academic credibility and integrity of the college.  So it was that my first thoughts on this topic placed me squarely in the majority.

However, within the space of a few hours, my thinking had completely reversed to the extent that I have since found myself backing the president and the board and, in fact, appreciating them greatly for taking this stand.  I wish, therefore, in light of the fact that I am in the much disparaged minority, to proffer the following thoughts, for I have come to believe that if the majority gets its way, great harm will come to both the legacy and the future of Bryan College.

The talking points document issued by the Student Government Association (SGA) is among the items that I have read regarding this topic, and although the SGA clearly opposes the president and board on this issue, their talking points were instrumental in bringing me quickly to the conclusion that the proposed clarification to the statement of faith is, in fact, very advisable.  It was by reading these talking points that I realized the vapid nature of the arguments arrayed against those who seek to shore up Bryan College’s historic role as a defender of the whole Word of God…even those unpopular first chapters.

Given that the SGA document was instrumental to my thinking (though not in the way they intended), I would like to use their exact words as stepping stones for my own thoughts.

The SGA language appears in italics below:

The president notes that this clarification is not a stated change to the current statement of belief, but instead an explanation of what has always been the position of the school.

The president is correct.  This has always been the position of the school.  When, as a young man, I first visited Bryan College, I came away after only a few days with the understanding that the college had been founded in response to the Scopes Trial and in honor of William Jennings Bryan, the trial’s most notable defender of the creationist worldview.  Furthermore, it was abundantly clear to me that the college had in no way departed from that original intent.

If those things were clear to me as a high school educated young man, it seems evident to me that they are also clear to men and women of advanced education and greater world experience who staff and teach at the college level.  This leads, inexorably, to the conclusion that any faculty or staff who hold to macro-evolutionary tenets and yet still signed the statement of faith, did so with full awareness that they fundamentally disagreed with a foundational principle of the college, yet believed that they had the college on a technicality in the language of the statement.

And since we are talking about what has always been, the president and board are adhering to something that has always been the position of the Bible itself.  The Bible just flat out really does say that the universe was created by God over a time period of six daysand that mankind had no ancestors but was, instead, crafted by God’s own hand.  The Bible does make those claims, and no amount of scoffing, theorizing, pontificating or wishing it were not so will overcome that fact.  Furthermore, it is noteworthy these are the very first claims made by the Bible, for by them the Bible asserts for God the sovereignty over all creation, sovereignty without which no other Biblical assertion can stand.

Regardless of whether or not the president of Bryan believes that this is the conceptual vision of Bryan’s belief, the hiring of faculty, educational diversity, and student opinion functions under an entirely different vision.

Although student opinion is, by necessity, of great interest to a student government association, student opinion is not really very germane to this issue.  Bryan has always welcomed Christian and non-Christian students, regardless of their views on origins or any other theological or social issues.

With regard to the hiring of faculty, the problem, it seems to me, is not so much that faculty members were hired under a different vision. The problem, rather, is that, knowing very well that they fundamentally disagreed with Bryan College’s founding and sustaining principles, certain faculty members applied under an assumption that they would not be called to account for their different vision.

Also, it was with a mix of irritation and amusement that I noted the SGA’s use of the term “educational diversity”.  Diversity is a modern liberal buzzword that means, “You’re not allowed to argue with me because no one could possibly be against diversity!”  Well, guess what.  I am allowed to argue with you, and if educational diversity was what I wanted for my son, he would be going to college twenty minutes from my house, and my wife I would not be driving beat up old vehicles to save the money needed for tuition.  No.  Educational diversity ranks somewhere near bedrock bottom on my list of reasons to be a customer of Bryan College.

What does rank at the top of my reasons to send my money and my son all the way from Central Florida to the hills of Eastern Tennessee?  The answer is:  Truth.  I want my son to learn about truth, and truth, as it turns out, has always been a topic greatly lacking in diversity.

It is crucial to understand that this clarification will functionally change the spiritual and educational culture of Bryan.  

It is, indeed, crucial to understand that this clarification will functionally change the spiritual and educational culture of Bryan.  That is precisely what it is intended to do.  When I take my aforementioned old vehicles to the mechanic for repairs, I am counting on those repairs affecting functional change.

It is a sad fact of our fallen world that all human institutions founded upon Christian principles eventually fall away from service to the Savior.  It happened to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stetson, University of Florida, Beloit, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, Wake Forest, and many more.If Jesus tarries, Bryan College too will eventually erode into a secular organization.  The challenge, then, is for those entrusted with the stewardship of the organization’s Biblical values to infuse the organization with enough salt and light to stave off, as much as possible, the natural apostasy toward which all Christian organizations are inexorably driven.  In so doing, they extend the length and depth of the service rendered to the kingdom of God.

Students consider the subject of creationism and theistic evolution to be a secondary issue in comparison to the other tenets put forth in the statement of faith. While certain standards of belief are crucial to evangelical theology, the church has not historically included specific doctrine on this issue in its creeds and statements of faith. 

The board of any college has a right to defend that college against the assimilation of individuals whose values or goals differ significantly from the goals and values of the organization.  The specific doctrines or creeds of churches are not a significant consideration.  What is significant is that the influx of Darwinian worldviews represents one of the most dangerous threats to Bryan’s service for our Savior and is a direct affront to the memory of the statesman for whom the college is named.

The question that must be asked is: what is essential to the faith of a professor teaching at a non-denominational/evangelical institution?  

This is NOT the question that must be asked.  The question that must be asked is:  What is essential to the faith of a professor teaching at a non-denominational/evangelical institution that was founded as a direct result of a famous challenge to the veracity of the Biblical creation account and that has most ably defended that creation account ever since?

The student leadership submits that this issue is non-essential. 

How fortunate we are that the student leadership was not allowed to choose the canon of our scripture!  The subject of origins is a secondary issue, but the terms “secondary” and “non-essential” are not to be confused.

Let me illustrate:  Some friends of mine recently asked me to assist them with a repair to their automobile because their headlights had stopped working.  How ridiculous it would have been for me to scoff at their problem and tell them that headlights are non-essential!  The failure of their headlights had greatly compromised the usefulness and safety of their car.  And yet, the problem truly was a secondary issue, for the purpose of vehicles is to move people and their cargo from one place to another, and in this, their Toyota still performed quite well, proving that headlights, while very essential, are a secondary issue.

While it is true that one’s understanding of origins is secondary to those doctrines necessary for salvation, let us not be so quick to cast these beliefs overboard as non-essential!  Hold on to those first chapters of Genesis, for by them, we have the understanding that God has authority to judge and forgive sin on His own terms and on no one else’s.  By them, we understand that man does not have authority to define marriage, murder babies, or deem certain ethnicities worthy of the gas chamber.  Non-essential is a term much better suited to debates over hymns versus choruses.

It is important to remember that there are several peripheral issues surrounding the proposed clarification. Some may point to these issues, such as the scientific question itself or the way in which the situation has been communicated, as the central topic of discussion. Some regard their personal position on the question of origins as the primary concern, and thus respond to the clarification based on whether or not they personally agree with its wording. We encourage everyone to avoid debate over these secondary matters and instead focus on the concern at hand: how does Bryan College want to define itself, and what effect would this change have on the Bryan community?

The SGA does an excellent job of defining the critical subject at hand.

Those who do not believe God’s Word about the creation account control almost every other college, the government with all of its schools, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Hollywood, and a majority of the pulpits in America.  But they’re not content; they want Bryan College.

So as a member of the Bryan community, here’s what I want the Bryan College of the future to look like:  I want a Bryan College that stands as a city on a hill4, solidly built upon the bedrock of God’s Word, a welcome refuge to the weary traveler tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching and tricked by lies so clever they sound like the truth.Let the scorners of our world do their worst, God’s blessing comes to those who believe His Word.As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord7; we just want Bryan College to be there with us.

Ultimately, will this change help us to achieve our motto of Christ Above All? The student body of Bryan College asks you to consider this question in your response to the proposed change.

Very well, student body; since your government has posed this question, let us consider a reasonable answer.  Since we are endeavoring to place Christ above all, it makes sense to start with Christ’s own words.  Jesus said, “…if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.”8

Christ tells us to look at Moses, and since I know we all want to put Christ above all, let us do just that.  The central most passage of all of Moses’ writings is found in the first seventeen verses of Exodus 20.  These verses contain the Ten Commandments, which are Moses’ quotation of words that were not authored by him, but were, Moses tells us, scribed by the very finger of God upon tablets of stone.  Within these verses are the words, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.”There you have it:  The very Word of God Himself.

The very Word of God Himself…hmm…that seems like a very familiar New Testament phrase!  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”10

This Christ, whom we all claim to hold preeminent above all, is the very incarnate Word that spoke the universe into existence and breathed life to man, and those hands that carved God’s Law upon tablets of stone are the same hands that carved man from wet clay and that bled upon a cruel cross.

And so I ask again, student body, in light of the fact that the college president and board of trustees only wish to affirm the writings of Moses, will this change help us to achieve our motto of Christ Above All?  Think about it, and when you have thought about it, I propose that another question be asked of those who seek to undermine the writings of Moses.  It is the question that Jesus posed as an introduction to the parable of the man who built upon the rock and he who built upon the sand, and it is a great question to pose to all Christians who will undermine Moses’ foundational book of Genesis.  That question, from the mouth of Christ Himself, is as follows:  “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?”11

 

1 The opinions expressed in this document relate only to the statement of faith clarification and not to any other points of contention that may exist between the president and faculty.

2 I realize that the specific language under debate relates specifically to Adam and Eve’s creation and not necessarily to the idea of a six day creation.  I believe both should be defended.  No, it is not necessary to educate me about the fact that William Jennings Bryan was agnostic about whether or not they were twenty-four hour days.

3 An interesting article on this topic is Marvin Olasky’s review of the book The Soul of the American University.  Entitled “Soaping the slippery slope: the decline of once-Christian colleges into bastions of unbelief “, (http://www.worldmag.com/2012/08/soaping_the_slippery_slope) the article itemizes three chief drivers for schools slipping into apostacy.  The first is that there are financial gains to be made for relaxing Christian stances.  The second is the type of presidents that are chosen.  The third is how the college treats Darwin.  The Bryan community should be thankful for a president who understands the dangers Darwin poses to truth in accademics.

4 Matthew 15:14-16

5 Ephesians 4:14

6 Psalm 1

7 Joshua 24:15

8 John 5:46

9 Exodus 20:11

10 John 1:1-4

11 Luke 6:46-49