Liberty U Continues the Ugly Tradition…

The story has leaked out already, but WORLD put it all together, with some depth. Student editors and reporters at Liberty’s student newspaper told their tale of administration bullying and Trumpish power-grabs. I’m sorry to say that such administrative antics are not unusual for student newspapers in evangelical higher education.

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…all the news that fits [the Falwells’ vision]…

If you haven’t seen WORLD‘s story yet, it’s worth your time. Liberty’s hatchet man was Bruce Kirk. Kirk upbraided the student editors for trying to act like real journalists. After students tried to publish news of the controversial Red-Letter Revival last year, Kirk warned them that the student newspaper ought only to make the university look good. According to WORLD, Kirk told the students,

in the real world, which this isn’t, let’s just be honest, right? … You will be beholden to an organization, to a company. … That is just part of life. And it’s part of life for all of us by the way. Put journalism aside for a second. Do I get to do everything that I want to do or does Jerry dictate what I get to do? … Somebody else decides what you do and what you don’t say or do.

When student editor Erin Covey asked a question, Kirk tried hard to shut her down. Liberty University, Kirk told her, is not all that different from any other “family business.” Kirk went on,

it’s a family business, it is. I mean, Jerry Falwell and his dad Jerry before him and that’s how this university was founded, right? It wasn’t founded by somebody else. It was founded by the Falwells. . . . It’s their paper. They can do what they want. … If things aren’t followed, they’ll get stricter.

And get stricter they did. According to WORLD, student editors soon found themselves out of a job.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are aware, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m no evangelical myself, nor did I attend an evangelical college. As I found in the research for my recent book, however, the recent goings-on at Liberty are not very far from the traditional norm. As I’ve pointed out in the book and in these pages, censorship has always been part and parcel of the student and faculty experience at evangelical institutions.

It might not be polite to point out, but I think it’s true: speaking historically, there can’t be any sort of free speech crisis at evangelical colleges. I hate to quote myself, but this is how I put it earlier, and I stand by it:

Evangelical colleges that restrict speech these days don’t face a crisis. They fulfill a promise.

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Listen, America!

Is this normal these days? I was surprised to hear that Oxford has just released an audio version of Fundamentalist U. I hope that means more people can interact with the book in one format or another.

audio book

Now…for your listening pleasure…

If you are a listener rather than a reader, I hope this new format helps you get into the book.

I didn’t know that academic presses were issuing audio versions. Is that a twenty-first century kind of thing that my twentieth-century brain just needs to get used to?

Cheap Date!

Been waiting to pick up a copy of Fundamentalist U? Wait no longer! Sales have been brisk and by the secret algorithms known only to Jeff Bezos, the price right now is lower than it has ever been.fire sale fuSo get em while they’re hot.

There’s One Word Missing from this Essay about Trump’s Christian Nationalism

Sorry for the long title, but it’s all true. I read with great interest Gene Zubovich’s recent article in Religion & Politics about Trump’s appeal to Christian Nationalism. It’s a great argument, but Zubovich leaves out one crucial word.

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For Jesus AND America…

Zubovich hits the nail squarely on the head when he argues that Trump’s shameless appeals to God and Country are a big part of Trump’s appeal among conservative evangelicals. As Zubovich puts it,

Trump has repeatedly argued that when America remains true to its faith and traditional values, God will bless the country with the might to defeat its foes. And his words resonate with Christian nationalists—those who believe the United States was founded as a Christian nation and must continue to be one—because they tie together so many of the Christian Right’s beliefs and instincts. We have good reason to believe that Christian nationalism is one of the reasons evangelicals overwhelmingly support Trump.

Moreover, Zubovich recognizes the other side of this coin. Though big majorities of conservative evangelicals love Trump’s Christian-nationalist spiel, evangelicals also provide its most trenchant critics. For example, as Zubovich explains,

In May, American clergy issued the “Reclaiming Jesus” manifesto, which rejected Trump’s nationalist slogan of America First “as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.” . . . [They] reminded Americans: “Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries.” They went on to say, “We, in turn, should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants, rather than seek first narrow, nationalistic prerogatives.”

So far, so good. But Zubovich leaves out a vital bit. This debate over the relationship between nationalism and globalism among American evangelicals has always really only been a debate among WHITE American evangelicals. For other groups, most notably African American conservative evangelicals, the temptation to lump religion in with government has never been an issue.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that there aren’t a lot of patriotic African American conservative evangelicals in the USA. There certainly are. The urge to equate the government with the church, though, has only been a curse among white evangelicals. For obvious historical reasons, African Americans have always tended to keep their church strictly separate from other social institutions, institutions that all too often embraced slavery, Jim Crow, and anti-black racism.

Insisting on this one word, then, is more than just academic nitpicking. If we want to understand Trump’s appeal among conservative evangelicals—and we DO want to understand it—we need to be very careful to remember that only one segment of American conservative evangelicals has suffered from a muddling of religious zeal with patriotic fervor.

Three Reasons to Read Fundamentalist U

Thanks to Justin Taylor for finding three reasons to recommend Fundamentalist U.

Cover art final

Three reasons to put this on your summer reading list…

Taylor is senior vice president at Crossway books and a scholar of evangelical history. I appreciate his description of the book as a “unique and important project.”

What are Taylor’s three reasons for reading? You’ll have to click over to find out.

Why Didn’t Christianity Today Mention The Most Important Part?

Remember Dorothy Sayers? A lot of us don’t, but the twentieth-century writer has had enormous influence on twenty-first century evangelicalism. A recent article in Christianity Today about Sayers’ influence, though, mysteriously left out the most important part of Sayers’ legacy for American evangelicalism. Why?sayers

In the Christianity Today article, author Crystal Downing focuses on Sayers’ famous series of BBC plays about Christ. As Downing tells the story,

In 1940, the BBC asked Sayers to write a series of 12 radio plays about Jesus. Taking the commission very seriously, Sayers spent a year rereading the Gospels, studying the original Greek as well as Bible commentaries. . . . Reporters, surprised that Sayers used colloquial rather than King James English, played up the fact that some of Christ’s disciples spoke working-class slang. . . . Due to the nationwide scandal, hundreds of people tuned in to the broadcasts for titillation more than for edification. What they got was the gospel delivered in language that made sense to them. They discovered that their perceptions of Jesus had become as static as stained-glass depictions in their churches. . . . As Sayers recounted to [C.S.] Lewis in 1946, “Thousands of people write to say that they have been ‘brought back to God,’ or had their faith renewed, or returned with eagerness to reading the Bible” due to the broadcasts. Lewis himself was so impressed by the profundity of Sayers’s plays that he read the print version for his Lenten devotions every year.

It’s a well-known story and one that should be remembered. But when it comes to real influence in the world of American evangelical culture, there is a much more important side of Sayers’ that this article simply didn’t mention.

sayers lost tools of learning

Sayers’ REAL lost legacy…

Why not?

It might be simply due to ignorance. As Patrick Halbrook has explained in these pages, not many people know the story of Sayers’ indirect influence on conservative evangelical schooling in the twenty-first century. As Halbrook explained,

if you were to visit a conference on Christian education and pull aside a parent or teacher to inquire about the distinguished Ms. Sayers, more often than not she would simply be lauded as the author of a brief 1947 essay on education entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.”

Throughout the past few decades, this essay has spread throughout the evangelical Christian community through a peculiar turn of events.  In the mid twentieth century it came to the attention of William F. Buckley, who reprinted it at various times in National Review.  In the pages of Buckley’s magazine, it was read by a pastor of a small church in Moscow, Idaho named Douglas Wilson (Wilson is now known, among other things, for debating Christopher Hitchens and writing an award-winning novel).  In the early 1980s, Wilson began a private Christian school in Moscow in which he implemented Sayers’ ideas; he later popularized them in his 1991 book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.  Over the following years, hundreds of schools across the country began to form using Wilson’s school as a model.  Sayers’ ideas also appear in the pages of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, an enormously popular book on homeschooling which is now in its third edition.

Perhaps the general reader might not know about this vital legacy of Dorothy Sayers, but it seems odd that it wouldn’t be mentioned in an article specifically dedicated to revealing Sayers’ oft-forgotten legacy.

The Death of College: We’ve Been Here Before

Ask anyone with a PhD in history, English, or philosophy. They’ll tell you: It’s not just a tough career path, there IS NO career path. Most universities rely on non-tenure-track teachers these days. In the new Atlantic Adam Harris reviews the bleak future of higher education. As my current research is showing me, we’ve been here before.

As Harris writes, Bryan Alexander’s predictions seem to be coming true. There just aren’t as many college students as there used to be. Enrollments are down and they will continue to slide. As Harris explains,

Why is the dip in enrollment such a big deal? Well, quite plainly, the business model for a lot of colleges is dependent on enrollment. If enrollments decline, revenues decline, and colleges have less money for facilities, faculty, and programs. That creates a sort of death spiral in which colleges are getting rid of programs, which in turn makes it harder to attract students, and so on.

No one ever asks the historians, but in this case we do have a strong precedent. Two hundred years ago, the systems we think of as K-12 education began to evolve into something close to their current form. It was a jagged and slow process, spread out over thirty or more years.

composition class John C Mee Oct 5 1835 Phila

Someone always has to read all the essays…

Our current system of mostly public education didn’t simply grow in an empty field. It pushed out several existing educational systems. The biggest losers in this evolution were the so-called “school masters” of the old system. As public schools took on their current form (more or less), the masters slowly lost their positions as the snobbish titans of education. Their experiences in the antebellum years could serve as a preview to the current state of tenure-track university faculty.

It’s not that the masters didn’t know what was happening. Their anxiety is palpable in every page of the letters and reports I’m reading these days in Joseph Lancaster’s papers.

For example, as one of Lancaster’s former pupils advised Lancaster in 1822, it would be better to get some students in the door immediately at Lancaster’s new school in Philadelphia. Enrollment was key to paying all the bills. As this pupil told Lancaster,

I think it would be well to admit a number of pupils at an easier rate than you have done, for you will be able to manage a greater number well organized in your own excellent mode, than a few on the imperfect plan hitherto pursued in the Institute. I think further, on this ground, could you fill your classes but respectably and get early and frequent exhibitions a short time would raise you in great and exalted honor high very high above your present inconvenient situation and engagement.

In the old system, school “Masters” experienced the dizzying shifts that today’s tenure-track faculty are experiencing. When their schools filled their enrollments, they were happy. When their schools faltered, masters suffered. Always, always, they lived in a state of continual uncertainty about the future. Would enough students come to full the school? Would they need to move to a different school, or maybe strike out on their own?

Sound familiar?

By the 1840s, the masters’ schools were tottering. As Bill Reese has described so compellingly, common-school reformers like Horace Mann toppled the Master system in Massachusetts with a set of new standardized tests.

What does this history tell us about today’s higher-ed situation? We don’t want to be too glib in our predictions, but the obvious guess would be this: We are facing a generation-long transition to a different sort of higher education. Instead of relying on effete experts for instructors, colleges will increasingly rely on a professionalized teaching force with little or no expectation of research and publication. Students will be expected more and more to prove their success with adequate performance on new sets of standardized tests.

The death of college is a death long foretold.

Tweeter Tester

Well, for good or ill, I’m in. I’ve signed up on Twitter, so (I think) you can click to the right to get all the ILYBYGTH latest.

I remember when I started teaching high school in the 1990s. I really did used to be “with it.” But then they changed what “it” was and now, etc. etc. HT: EM

twitter

#not sure if I’m twittering correctly…

What Does a Friendly Atheist Want to Know about Fundamentalist U?

I had a chance to talk with Hemant Mehta, the famous Friendly Atheist. He had great questions to ask about Fundamentalist U.

friendly atheist

FA on FU

For example, Mehta wondered what today’s evangelicals didn’t like to hear about their own collegiate history.

He asked how schools that were dedicated to passing along eternal truths somehow rationalized changing their beliefs. In Mehta’s words, schools essentially had to tell students. “We’re correct NOW, but in the past when we said we were correct we were wrong.” Why would anyone believe such things?

Mehta also wondered how schools can change ONE rule, like racial segregation, without admitting that they might be wrong on everything?

That’s not all. Here are a few other topics Mehta pressed me about:

  • How did Bryan College get away with changing their faculty statement of faith in 2014?
  • Do schools like this “exist in a bubble?” Or do they want to be influential in mainstream culture and politics? How does the history of the CCCU help answer these questions?
  • How have evangelical colleges handled sexual assault and abuse?

It was a real pleasure for me to talk with him. I’ve long been a follower and fan of his blog. Click on over and listen to the whole interview if you’ve got some time to kill.

Professor Hankins on Fundamentalist U

I’m tickled pink this morning to read a new review of Fundamentalist U from a scholar I have long admired. Barry Hankins of Baylor offered an insightful review today in the pages of Christianity Today.family feud

What did he think? As he explains,

Laats attempts to identify the distinct nature of non-denominational, fundamentalist-evangelical higher education in the 20th century. And he succeeds admirably. . . .

In explaining how this struggle [between fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism] played out, Laats helps us better understand both Christian higher education and the historic relationship between fundamentalism and evangelicalism.

My favorite bit of all?

With fundamentalism subject to such a fluid range of definitions, controversies often centered on the question of authority. In other words, who gets to define fundamentalism for the college? Is it the board, the president, the faculty, or the students (certainly not, unless you ask them)? This was not shared governance but something akin to WrestleMania.

Professor Hankins explores the book’s treatment of issues such as creationism and racism in evangelical higher education and sends us off with a heartening conclusion:

Overall, Fundamentalist U is an exhaustively researched and well-written book, even when it dwells on episodes we might prefer to forget.