The Ventriloquist

An online publication at and outside the boundary of evangelical Christianity.



January 2013

When Ideologies Collide

by Rev. Adam Wirrig, on Cedarville, January 2013, Purge

I can't imagine it's an easy job to run an institution the size and scope of Cedarville University. I would imagine that to be a vice-president or a trustee, one has to rather constantly make difficult and often unpopular decisions. I also imagine that, due to human resource issues, one can't always be entirely be forthcoming with the reasons and rationals behind such decisions. Bearing these thoughts in mind, I, nonetheless, have to say that there are a number of recent decisions from Cedarville leadership which, as an alumnus, I find concerning. The resignations of Dr. Ruby and Dr. Brown, the dismissal of Dr. Pahl, the potential dissolution of the philosophy major, and the rise of the white papers are all causes for concern. However, I also harbor concern for older, yet, I believe, similar issues. The dismissals of Dr. Hoffeditz, Dr. Blumenstock, and Dr. Cragoe and the accompanying "truth and certainty" debate are still concerning, even a number of years after their inception. Again, I'm aware that not everything which is decided behind closed doors is available, or even good, for public consumption. Still, as an outsider looking in, I have to wonder if a sort of culture war has not enveloped the higher management at Cedarville. Taking all of the previously mentioned events in sum, it would seem that the last few years at the university could be characterized as a tug of war between the traditional and progressive elements of evangelical Christianity in the university's leadership. To be honest, this makes me more than a bit nervous. One of the things I look back and appreciate most from my time at Cedarville was the ability to question, think, examine, and ask opinions on a range of faith issues. I would hate to think that such freedom, in either a traditional or progressive manner, was leaving Cedarville. In response to a behind-the-scenes ideological battle, what do we- as members of the Cedarville community- then do?

In a way, this potential battle, calls us to a larger conversation. Any time a battle of ideology occurs, we are drawn into conversations about purpose, mission, and people. These questions and conversations almost always lead to a search for authority, example, and answers. We, in the Cedarville community, are folk who generally hold the Bible, being God's word, as being sufficient to help us find these things. I'm acutely aware that when we begin to discuss issues of Biblical interpretation and meaning, we are opening ourselves up for a breadth of interpretations. Nonetheless, whether we see the Bible as the literal inerrant word of God, or as a divine metaphor meant to lead us to holiness, I think there are some Biblical passages we might agree to be relevant to any current ideological struggle, both at Cedarville and in the wider church. For the sake of brevity, I think one particular passage might best speak to our potential situation.

In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15, we find the story which has become known as "The First Council of Jerusalem." To make a long background story rather short, we should begin by saying that the early church was wracked by missiological discord. Though we like to envision the early church as a sort of halcyon amongst believers, the truth of the matter is that it was anything but. There were numerous questions over: what to believe, who to believe, how to believe, and everything else one might expect of a fledgling institution. A number of these conflicts over mission and understanding which wracked the early Christian church came to a head in a council between the followers of the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul. Though the concerns of the early church might seem trivial by today's perspective, we should not lose sight of the context of these missiological arguments. On the one hand, the followers of Peter advocated a traditional perspective which placed a Jewish-oriented outlook as central to the church's mission. On the other hand, Paul and his followers advocated a more progressive perspective for the church's mission, one which was inclusive of the Gentiles. Realizing, perhaps, that the mission of the church spanned different and differing missiologies, the leaders of the Council of Jerusalem, along with Paul and Barnabas, came to a compromise of sorts. Instead of insisting upon one single missiology predicating the actions of the church, the ancient church fathers enacted a missiological compromise which reflected the importance of multiple missions, ideas, and understandings and the need to live in harmonious interaction as a wider church. Though contexts and situations have changed greatly, it should not stretch us too much to see the parallels between the ancient church and our modern situation at Cedarville.

We alumni, current students, faculty, staff, and trustees of Cedarville University are faced with a situation much like that of our ancient fathers and mothers. At the root of the issues I set out earlier lie questions which our current realities, like the ancients', call us to answer: "What is the purpose of Cedarville? What is its mission? Whom is it for?" I won't begin to attempt to answer these questions. I could try, I think, to provide some answer for them, but they aren't questions which should be answered by one committee, let alone one man. They are questions which we, as alumni, students, faculty, staff, and trustees must come together and ask of ourselves and of each other. They are questions which we should ponder significantly. Questions which we, ultimately, should devote to much prayer. What I can tell you, however, is that I think the followers of Peter and Paul set a lasting example by allowing for a broad swath of opinion to be considered as valid in the family of faith which would become Christianity. If there was, is, or were to be an ideological conflict between leadership elements at Cedarville University, it is my hope they remember Acts 15 and the Council of Jerusalem; the ancient church well knew that Christ's call was broad and to multiple peoples and ideals, not just one in particular.

Speaking personally, I can say that, if there is, in fact, an ideological battle at Cedarville University, I am most worried. I worry not just for Cedarville, but for the place of evangelical Christianity in the wider world of academia. Cedarville, in my experience, was a place which radiated grace. It wasn't perfect, but it was a place in which faith could be explored by student, staff, or faculty. Sometimes, that exploration led to progressive ideas and sometimes it led to traditional ideas. On the whole, however, Cedarville was a place where faith and reason worked together. Where idea and ideal could be compatible. To me, it evidenced that faith and academia could work together in harmony in the life of a student. That one side of this equation might become subservient to the other would be of the utmost travesty.

In sum, can I tell you that the university has been engaged in a "tit for tat" ideological battle for the last few years? No, certainly I can't, with marked assuredness, tell you that. What I can say is that it seems as though there have been waves of ideological heave which have gone either for progressive or traditional elements of the university. That gives me pause. Hopefully, it gives you pause as well. Certainly, any institution which involves ideology will always, to some extent, have these battles. Nonetheless, when these battles stop being simply ideological and begin to have both harsh and considerable effects upon the lives of others, we need to pause and ask: "Is this the way it needs to be?" Moreover, we should ask ourselves: "Is this even Biblical?" The simple answer to both questions is: no.