Larycia Hawkins is a tenured professor at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical university outside Chicago. Professor Hawkins was in the news recently for expressing solidarity with American Muslims by wearing a hajib and saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. Wheaton’s administration interpreted this viewpoint as contrary to the school’s statement of faith and has begun termination proceedings against Hawkins. She disagrees with this interpretation of orthodox Christianity and has garnered a collection of students, faculty, alumni, local clergy and the ubiquitous Jesse Jackson to stand with her. She has also been supported by some columnists who went so far as to assist Wheaton in understanding its own statement of faith.
American culture clearly misunderstands the point of a Christian university. “Christian” has a long-established meaning. Never mind for now that many schools use the term with zero regard to its classic meaning. The fact is, a Christian, much less evangelical, university is not doing something shocking by insisting its professors teach from the perspective of biblical revelation—theistic, Trinitarian … Christian doctrine in every discipline it teaches. The New York Times and Chicago Tribune should be scandalized that any “Christian” schools are not orthodox rather than that Wheaton attempts to do business according to its label and convictions.
But I think there is significant confusion among Christians about the nature of Christian higher education. Let me offer some ideas that seem minimal for a school wearing the label “Christian” or even “Baptist.”
"This is then a bright spot in the history of Wheaton College, not because a professor is losing her job but because the administration seems willing to do something hard in order to be worthy of being called a “Christian” college."
Theist—Agnostics, atheists, Buddhists and pagans need not apply to teach at a Christian school. The administration is responsible to see that they are not thus employed. If it sounds silly that I would specify this, I could point you to a couple of times when the faculty members at Baptist schools rose in fury when a professor or guest speaker suggested that the created order implied the activity of a Creator.
Trinitarian—God reveals himself as one God in three persons. Each of these persons is fully God and of the same essence. Christian schools should not then hire Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims. These religious expressions reject the clear teaching of the Old and New Testaments regarding the nature of God.
Exclusivist—Christian theology, based on the plain reading of the Bible, teaches that there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This is a difficult teaching to many who call themselves Christians. Universalism is increasingly popular in many schools, but popularity does not change the fact that this teaching is utterly foreign to biblical revelation.
Biblicist—For Baptist and evangelical schools, it should be assumed that the Bible is our primary source of knowledge about God, the nature of man, salvation and eternity. No theory about what happened a billion years in the past or what will happen a hundred years in the future can be allowed to trump the eyewitness testimony of the One who sees all time with perfect clarity. If God has revealed these things, unavailable to us in any other way, in Scripture, then we are bound to believe his testimony on subjects like human psychology and the nature of human sexuality, which we claim to understand. God’s Word is true in all it says is true, or it is of little use in teaching morals and compassion.
Confessionalist—As indicated above, “Christian” and “Baptist” have meanings more specific than even “college” or “university.” If a school does not affirm a particular confession of faith, the label implies the gospel, as recounted in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. A Baptist Christian school will thus found its entire curricular offerings on the presupposition that God exists, has revealed himself and offers redemption exclusively through his only begotten, crucified and resurrected son, Jesus. Yes, that means you in the social welfare, psychology, biology, geology and theology departments.
Our state convention has two affiliated schools, Criswell College and Jacksonville College. Both of these schools exemplify these traits. The professors affirm the Baptist Faith and Message; people are saved each semester as the gospel is preached to and by the students and faculty. The various subjects taught begin with the assumption that there are things we cannot know apart from special revelation from God (the Bible).
These are not the only colleges worthy of the name “Christian;” in fact there are more Baptist colleges worthy of the name now than there were 10 years ago. It is an uphill push that requires occasional unpopular actions in service of the school’s foundational convictions. If it was easy, everyone would do it. This is then a bright spot in the history of Wheaton College, not because a professor is losing her job but because the administration seems willing to do something hard in order to be worthy of being called a “Christian” college. God bless trustees and administrators willing to do hard things. They are rare.