Tom Roberts

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Associate Editorial

Florida College at the Crossroads
Which Way: Academic Freedom or Biblical Accuracy?

There is a sure and certain conflict of interest between academic freedom and Biblical accuracy. Those who endorse academic freedom insist on the right of every position on any issue to have equal weight. Those who believe the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant word of God endorse only "the faith" (Jude 3) which is inspired by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). When conflicts arise between so-called "science" and Biblical accuracy, Christians cannot endorse total academic freedom.

Within educational circles, colleges may well examine and postulate different theories on economics, languages, mathematics and the arts. Such disciplines of education are human and not divine in origin and they normally do not involve a dispute with scripture. But when the field of Biblical truth is under consideration, when Divine revelation is discussed, there can only be one position, one truth, one way that is right (John 14:6; 1 Peter 4:11; Jude 3). This is true, even when science and the Bible are compared. While understanding that all positions of error may be studied and compared, the final emphasis of those who are children of God must be that truth is defended without equivocation, compromise or ambiguity. In many colleges, academic freedom has swept away Biblical accuracy. The right to teach denominational error, religious diversity, evolution and humanistic philosophy has long since taken control and one does not attend a state or secular school with the intent of finding defenders of the faith on the faculty. However, many people view Florida College differently. They look at Florida College as an educational institution with a Bible department in which every professor is a Christian and in which the Bible is defended in its inerrancy and accuracy, even when fields of science are considered. In the past, this has been the stated position of the administration. Today, it is different. Statements by the current and recent administrators and faculty indicate a different approach which elevates academic freedom above defense of the faith.  Florida College is at a crossroads. Where will the emphasis be placed in the future? Friends of the college (emphasis on friends) do not want academic freedom to smother Biblical accuracy. There are precious few institutions of higher learning where the Bible is elevated and defended as the word of God. The administration and faculty of Florida College need to make it abundantly clear which road the college will pursue in the future. Will it follow the path of most colleges and slide into liberalism and modernism in biblical studies or will it insist on a clear and unequivocal position? Inquiring minds want (and need) to know.

Florida College in the Past

What caused many brethren to have confidence enough in Florida College to send their children there for education (an extension of the home responsibility), was expressed by James Cope, past president. Notice what he stated very succinctly:

"(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."  (Letter to Gospel Guardian, published June, 1949)

Brethren, there has been a change in the last fifty-five years. The administration has changed and the policy has been changed. Brother Cope said that if the college failed to "declare emphasis on the Bible" and to "make that declaration true," "we fail" (emp. mine, tr).

Florida College Today

Compare the noble sentiment expressed by James Cope with the statements of current and recent administration and faculty and guest speakers.

Shane Scott, while on the faculty of the Bible department expressed his settled belief (which was expressed in debate format) that the days of Genesis 1 and 2 were figurative and not literal. In Sentry magazine (Vol. 21, No. 1), brother Scott said,

"Some Bible believers insist that the world, according to Genesis 1, was created in six twenty-four hour days. I believe, however, that the days of Genesis 1 should not be interpreted literally."

The next section of his article is entitled, "The Days Cannot Be Literal." 

As to his methodology of teaching classes on campus, rather than "make the declaration true" as brother Cope insisted, brother Scott said:

 "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 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)

This is a "study in our curriculim" approach and not sound Bible teaching! Would it work on Acts 2:38? Should the teacher only teach four views of Acts 2:38, discussing the strengths and "weaknesses" of that passage, then allow the student to defend one of the four views he chose? Should he only "tell the students which view [he] prefers if [he is] am directly asked..."? Should a student be graded well on his ability to defend an erroneous view? Though Shane Scott is no longer at the school, is this the academic freedom that is promoted in Bible classes?

Brother Caldwell, the present president, commented about brother Scott's teaching in the following manner:

"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..."

Again, academia rather than sound teaching. A conclusion is not presented in the curriculum on Genesis 1, and this is defended as proper teaching. But Shane did discuss his view publicly in Sentry Magazine, decidedly stating his conclusion. Brother Caldwell further stated:

"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)

But the fact of the matter is that brother Scott believed and taught error and his right to teach was defended by the Bible department as his academic freedom.

During the 1999 lectures at Florida College, brother Hill Roberts (who spoke that year) distributed a compact disc which contained his material from the "Lord I Believe" seminars, including articles entitled A Harmonization of God's Genesis Revelation With His Natural Revelation and Genesis and The Time Thing. These essays deal extensively with brother Roberts' support for a non-literal view of the creation account as well as his support for an evolutionary explanation for the inanimate world. He advocates the "big bang" theory and "stellar evolution." in which vast eons (billions and billions of years) were required for the universe to cool enough for human habitation on the earth.

In early June, 2000, an open letter signed by 67 preachers (of which I was one) was sent to brother Caldwell to indicate our concern over these events on the campus. His response concluded:

 "I appreciate your concern for Truth and your desire to warn of departure from it when there is a real threat. In this case, there is none" (letter dated June 30, 2000).

Again, brother Ferrell Jenkins, then head of Biblical Studies, defended the right of Hill Roberts to distribute his material on campus, saying:

"That's what education is about; making people think and allowing us to come to conclusions based on our study of the Word of God." (The Creation Controversy and Florida College.)

If allowing error to be freely distributed is equated with "education," then there has really been a shift in Florida College. Some perceive this shift in a complimentary way.  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 with Stan Cox, editor, Watchman Magazine).

Which shall it be: academic freedom or biblical soundness? While respecting an educational institution's right to explore, think, challenge and investigate different disciplines, there must never be a compromise of truth. There must never be an "uncertain sound" (1 Corinthians 14:8) in Biblical studies, even by brethren who operate a college. When men who hold false views appear under the auspices of a lectureship in an atmosphere of fellowship and tolerance, there is an inherent danger to young and/or impressionable minds. When sound brethren are criticized for opposing false views that are openly advocated and when reasonable requests for discussion are dismissed and ignored, a signal is being sent that change is in the air. When an administration allows dissemination of error without making provision for presentation of truth to be equally presented, a dangerous precedent is being set.

When all is said and done, the Lord's church is not dependent on any human institution. Florida College has always correctly stated that its existence is not "church related" but to be seen as an extension of the home and its education of young people. Many colleges operated by brethren have gone the way of digression and have ceased to be effective in their original purpose. Nevertheless, the church continues on in its divine mission as the body of Christ, seeking the lost and edifying the saved. If Florida College insists on academic freedom to the extent that it overshadows biblical soundness, it will be a tragic change. We insist on the right to uphold truth wherever it is found and to confront error to the same degree. We address this danger because many families entrust their children to Florida College for an education. We hope it can achieve a balance between educating our youth even while demanding that the faculty remain true to the word of God. If this cannot be achieved, we will note the change and oppose it with sadness.

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