Are Christian Colleges No Longer Possible?

The dream has been the same for a hundred years. Is a recent move by Trinity Western University a sign of changing times? Must more-conservative evangelical colleges and universities choose between their two most cherished purposes?


Christian sexuality? Or Christian lawyers?

Here’s what we know: According to Christianity Today and Inside Higher Education, TWU has elected to drop its mandatory “community covenant” for students. The Canadian Supreme Court had blocked TWU’s efforts to establish a law school, based on the discriminatory anti-LGBTQ covenant. In short, in order to open an evangelical law school, TWU has eliminated its core lifestyle rules for students.

What’s the big deal?

As I argue in my book about the history of evangelical higher ed, schools like TWU have always promised to do two things at once. As a special sort of religious school, they promised to shepherd and guide the faith of their students in specific directions. At the same time, though, they have insisted that their graduates would be perfectly prepared to enter the professions. Going to a “Christian” school, in other words, wasn’t supposed to be a retreat from the world, just a better, particularly evangelical preparation to thrive in that world.

As Bob Jones—one of the most famous evangelical college leaders of the twentieth century—put it in 1929,

It is our plan to train and educate strong, outstanding Christian leaders.  This is what America needs—lawyers, doctors, business man, teachers, preachers, all strong leaders.

Evangelical colleges have always promised both halves of this equation. Students would receive top-notch professional training as well as relentless Christian guidance.

In its recent decision, TWU seems to have had to choose between preparing evangelical lawyers and insisting on its conservative definition of evangelical lifestyles. TWU will no longer force students to agree to its many rules, including the legally problematic ban on sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage.

Previously TWU students had to “affirm” the following statement:

sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, and within that marriage bond it is God’s intention that it be enjoyed as a means for marital intimacy and procreation.

From now on, students will apparently no longer be bound by the rules of TWU’s covenant. But they will be free to become lawyers. [Insert gratuitous Jonah Hill gag here, at :52 in the clip below.]

For the most conservative sorts of evangelical colleges, does this mean the end? Must they choose between their two goals?

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  1. Maybe in Canada it is. I wonder if that would fly here.

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