Stan Cox


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Editorial

The Bible and Academia


The obligation to correct a brother who is entangled in sin is clearly revealed in scripture. In Galatians 6:1-2, Paul wrote, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

This call to correct or restore the one caught in sin is in fulfillment of our responsibilities under Christ's law. This law can be encapsulated in the command to love. If I truly love my brother, when I see his soul in jeopardy I will seek to warn and correct him.

James revealed the value of such correction while instructing brethren in this responsibility. He wrote, "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). Surely all agree that “save (-ing) a soul from death and cover (-ing) a multitude of sins” is a laudable and important work.

There is value in correction for the simple reason that truth is better than error. Righteousness is to be preferred over sin. The teaching of error and the commission of sin can have dire consequences that are eternal in nature.

We can see this through a simple illustration. Consider the teacher who instructs your children. An important part of her work is correcting papers. If she were to cease making corrections, accepting any answer no matter its validity, she would be doing a disservice to her students. You can't learn without correction!

Too often as of late brethren seem not to understand this truth. A dramatic instance of this can be seen in the present controversy over whether the "days" of creation are literal and serial 24 hour periods of time. The defense being presently made by some associated with Florida College regarding the controversy is arresting. Shane Scott has publicly advocated the position that the days of creation are not to be taken as literal. Naturally, as Scott teaches on the subject at Florida College, brethren have asked, "What is he teaching in our children?" In answering his critics, Shane Scott defended himself on the basis of his not expressing preference for one position above another in his lectures and exams. Scott wrote:

    "In my one lecture I present at FC on Genesis 1, I present four basic interpretations and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each. This is exactly how I was taught when I was at FC. I only tell the students which view I prefer if I am directly asked..." (emp. his)

    "On the exam in which I test the students over the material in Genesis 1, the questions (sic) I ask is this: 'Choose one of the four interpretations of Genesis 1 and defend it.' I do not ask my students what view I (sic) take, and I do not test my students over things I don't present in class. Further, they are not graded on the basis of which view they choose. They are graded on their ability to defend their own view."

            (A Response to the Open Letter)

Objections to Shane Scott's method of teaching will be noted momentarily. However, first note that such methodology is considered appropriate in the classrooms at Florida College, and is defended by both the Bible Chair and the College President.

First, Ferrell Jenkins, head of Biblical Studies at Florida College:

    "The view presented by Shane Scott has been held continuously by one or more teachers at Florida College since at least before I enrolled as a student in 1953. Some of these teachers openly taught the view as their preferred understanding of the biblical text. Several of the signers of the Open Letter were students during that time and some had these teachers. Do they know of anyone whose faith was shattered as a result of this? Was yours? None of the men mentioned here were naturalistic or theistic evolutionists. Neither is Shane Scott."

        (The Creation Controversy and Florida College)

Next, C.G. "Colly" Caldwell, President of Florida College.

    "While it is understandable that without some of this background one would see brother Scott as dogmatic about this topic, he is not..."

    "As all our Bible teachers have done for many years in studying Genesis 1, he feels that the responsibility in a college classroom is to inform students of the several positions identifying strengths and weaknesses of each position. Because of that, the bibliography in his course syllabus contains references to the writings of men on all sides of these issues; as would the biliographies in other college courses on other subjects. This particular discussion is done as a part of only one lecture on one day in one course. ...he does not present a conclusion in class and does not discuss it publicly..."

    "While I do not concur with all his reasoning and/or personal conclusions, this teacher has a humble spirit, a tender heart, and a sincere desire to know and teach only the truth of God. Shane has great potential for good in the kingdom of God. He has a commitment to the Word that cherishes both the content and spirit of Truth. He has not, to my knowledge, taught error in the classroom of Florida College."

      ("The Days of Creation" - Some Things to Consider)

Can Truth Be Established?

It is interesting that Scott defended himself by stating that he does not reveal his preference as he presents the four views to students. Caldwell states that this is a common practice in college classrooms, where "the responsibility in the college classroom is to inform students of the several positions identifying strengths and weakness of each position." Perhaps this reveals a fundamental flaw in attempting to teach Bible to Christian young people in such an academic setting. The Bible with its various teachings is not just another college subject, and can not be treated in the same way.

While I have no problem with a college professor debating the strengths and weaknesses of "Supply and Demand" economic principles versus some other model, or Parliamentary Government versus a Representative Republic, I do have problems with the Word of God being treated in the same way. Some truths are established and are not to be questioned. Divine Revelation must certainly be characterized as such.

In discussing the current controversy, one defender of Shane Scott wrote, "I support and applaud Florida College for allowing academic and religious freedom in its classes and at the lectureship. You label academic freedom and religious freedom 'false teaching' and 'false views.' However, I must insist that during Florida College's 'golden age' of intolerance and indoctrination, it taught error and false doctrine. In order to protect the students of the college from the imposition of a religious creed and indoctrination, it is absolutely essential that Florida College allow religious and education (sic) freedom, as well as freedom of speech."

          (David Matthews, email correspondence)

No doubt brothers Caldwell and Jenkins are not willing to go as far as Matthews, but it is disturbing nevertheless to see the change in attitudes toward the way the word of God is handled in the classroom at Florida College. Contrast brother Caldwell's quote with an excerpt from a letter written by James R. Cope (FC's first President) in the infancy of Florida College's existence:

Caldwell:

    "The responsibility in the college classroom is to inform students of the several positions identifying strengths and weakness of each position."

Cope:

    "(5) Point of emphasis. Florida Christian College proposes to not only declare emphasis on the Bible but it intends to make that declaration true. Either the Bible penetrates every fibre of school life or it merely takes its place as just another study in our curriculum. God being our helper, we do not intend the latter to happen now or later. Every student must receive at least one lesson in God’s word every regular school day. Not only so, but we aim to make the Bible the chief consideration in every activity. If we fail in this, we shall fail in the purpose for which the school was founded. (6) Preacher training. While we expect to have academic work accepted as readily by other educational institutions, we make no apology to anybody for placing emphasis on the teaching of young men desiring to preach the gospel and others desirous of doing religious work. We believe that the safety, security, and soundness of the church depend upon the kind and amount of teaching and preaching done. Those who take the lead in this matter are elders and preachers, and unless they are thoroughly grounded in the faith, innovations, errors, and inertia will abound; hence, we expect to have a Bible Department second to none. Our students will be taught the issues and how to meet them. It is inevitable that some hobbyists will come our way and in such event we hope to sober them; however, we sincerely desire and expect that none shall become a radical or hobbyist because he has attended Florida Christian College. (7) Academic ambitions. We have no objections to any institution’s desire to improve it’s educational standing by seeking entrance into any recognized accrediting organization or agency. In fact, in the future we would like to be so honored, but let the following be once for all known and understood: if Florida Christian College must surrender any principle prompting its founding and existence in order to obtain entrance into any secular or educational accrediting organization, those organizations can go their way and we shall go our own. We do not propose to sell principle for popularity even if it means the closing of our doors never to open again."

      (Letter to Gospel Guardian, published June, 1949)

Brother Cope recognized the danger of placing the pursuit of academic standing over the faithful teaching of God's word. Further, he noted the need to teach the truth so that students would be able to "meet" the issues. Rather than putting out various theories and inviting the student to pick the one he wants, Cope intended that truth be defended and error exposed.

It is readily accepted that brethren now and in the past have differed on what is taught in Genesis 1. The fact that sincere brethren differ, and that a man has "a humble spirit, a tender heart, and a sincere desire to know and teach only the truth of God", does not validate a "believe what you want" mentality. The Bible says, "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. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:11). It is our place to accept that passage, not to place it side by side with three other theories which deny its literal truth.

Some Parallels

The problem with such an attitude can be seen when taken to its ultimate end. A few examples will suffice.

  1. Various theories are espoused on the subject of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. False teachers abound who advocate theories that deny the plain scripture stated by Matthew 19:9. Would it be appropriate for a professor at Florida College to present the various conflicting theories to students without refuting those theories which are false? Are we to tell our children to choose the view we like best, and be prepared to defend it? Are we going to grade them not on what the Bible teaches, but on their ability to defend their false position? If a professor did such a thing could brother Caldwell write a letter in defense of him saying, "He has not, to my knowledge, taught error in the classroom of Florida College." ?

  2. Many theories abound regarding eschatology. Premillinial thought is endemic to denominationalism. Some brethren have taken a false position coined as "Realized Eschatology." Should a Florida College professor present each position to the student without a value judgment? Should the student be given free reign to choose the position they wish to hold, grading only on their ability to defend their position?

  3. How about an issue that addresses the salvation of any soul. There are several positions regarding the necessity of baptism in securing the salvation of man. Others disagree on the method of baptism, some advocating a substitution of sprinkling or pouring for immersion. Again, (hopefully not trying the reader's patience too severely by repetition ), we ask: Is it appropriate to present each position without a value judgment? Are we to show the "strengths and weaknesses" of each position? Are we to allow each child to believe as they wish, only grading on their ability, in effect, to spout the human sophistry that accompanies those who advocate such error?

What has happened to the attitude brethren have always had that error is indefensible? Is human sophistry now to be euphemized as "strengths and weaknesses"? Can we know the truth? Is it appropriate to defend the truth and refute error in the college classroom? If not, can we truly say that the Bible should be taught to our children in that setting? Do you want your kids to get their Bible instruction in such an academic setting?

By the way, if Shane Scott takes the position that one of the views he espouses in the lecture is truth, how is it he can state that truth has strengths and weaknesses? Truth has no weakness! It is assailed by human sophistry, and is sometimes misunderstood, but the perception is not the reality. The fact that brothers Scott, Jenkins and Caldwell would couch the issue in such terms is in itself a cause for alarm.

These Issues Addressed in the Church

When these issues are addressed from the pulpit and in classes in the local church, all of the positions are examined. However, in so doing the truth is extolled, and the error is refuted. Brethren need to hear about all of the theories espoused regarding the creation account, and the truth of Exodus 20:11 needs to be affirmed. Brethren need to hear the false positions taken regarding Divorce and Remarriage, and the truth of Matthew 19:9 and Romans 7:1-3 needs to be affirmed. Brethren need to hear the false positions taken regarding the end time, and the truth of such passages as 2 Peter 3:7-13 needs to be upheld. Error taught on the subject of Baptism needs to be examined and refuted, and passages such as Mark 16:16; Romans 6; and 1 Peter 3:21 need to be defended. To treat the word of God in any other way is without defense, no matter the setting.

Shattered Faith

At Florida College error has been put on equal footing with truth. It has been presented side by side, and impressionable young minds have been exposed without guidance or protection. This is a concern, but it is inevitable that it happens. After all, you can't know someone is going to teach error until it happens.

What is of greater concern is the response of the college to such teaching, and the response of those who blindly defend the college against criticism.

Brother Jenkins dismisses the importance of the issue by stating that no student has had his faith "shattered" as a result of such teaching. I can almost imagine the Judaizing teacher of Paul's time telling Paul, "What's the big deal about our teaching on circumcision? After all, nobody's faith has been shattered by believing the Gentile must be circumcised!" But Paul said, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-8).

No other doctrine is more fundamental to our faith than the belief in the biblical account of creation. Despite repeated claims to the contrary, a denial of the literal account of creation serves to weaken the efforts being made to combat evolutionary theory. The fact that theistic evolutionists and even pure evolutionists have been avidly defending Florida College in this recent controversy serves as anecdotal evidence of this assertion.

Also alarming is brother Caldwell's quote, "He has not, to my knowledge, taught error in the classroom of Florida College." Arguments have already been made showing the fallacy of this contention. Four different positions were advocated, without a preference being shown. It is axiomatic that only one of these constitutes truth. Is it not true, therefore, that the other positions are by definition error? Is it appropriate for any teacher of the Bible to present what he believes to be error, without refutation?

Most alarming, however, is the defense of the college being made by alumni, and other Christians. In many cases there is the admission that errors and mistakes have been made but an unwillingness to be critical. There is also a decided intolerance of those who have exposed the error propagated. Note as an example the following excerpt from an email criticizing this author's writings on the subject: "Errors have been made at FC and Shane is wrong in his beliefs...your website and articles regarding this, flame the fire and spread national rumors... they do not help..."

Conclusion

As Christians we are exhorted to defend the truth and refute error. Jude wrote, "I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

If it is not ethical or possible to teach our children the truth without compromise in the halls of academia, then the Bible should not be taught there. Parents need to consider this carefully before sending their children to such institutions where their Bible education will be coming in large part from college professors instead of preachers, teachers and elders in the local church.