My last post has received a fair amount of backlash and this warrants a further explanation of why I wrote what I did. I’m not above correction and apologizing when I get something wrong. Such actions are demanded of me as a Christian, and I am happy as a follower of Christ to do just that. But if I haven’t sinned or erred, then an apology would be both a mistake and unethical. Some of the critiques I’ve received have been fair and warrant a response.
I should start with some background. I love Christian education, and I have benefited greatly from it. There are few greater gifts in life than receiving a world-class Christian education. Conversely, there are few more dangerous things than receiving a pseudo-Christian education. Unfaithful Christianity is an all too common reality in Christian education. I have been a student at three different Christian institutions: Northwestern, Bethel Seminary, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I also recently started doctoral work in educational ministry. I have family, friends, and congregants with deep attachments to Bethel. I only wish the best for Bethel, but sometimes that means an institution needs to repent of its errors—it’s a two-way street.
Now being an alum of Northwestern, it would be fair to think I am biased against Bethel and blind to the problems of my own alma mater. Again, a fair point. Northwestern has its own issues, some even arising recently, that display its incessant desire to one-up its rival Bethel in the race toward unfaithfulness. In my four years at Northwestern, I spent two of those fighting for the faithfulness of Northwestern even to the point of formally stating no confidence in its president. I have paid the personal price in this fight before. I have count the cost, and I am still fighting. Moreover, I have sat with the parents and students of my church to talk through the particular challenges of attending Northwestern, Bethel, and other colleges. It is part of my job to shepherd my flock through the challenges of this life including higher education.
So why write as I did? Why was I so “harsh” toward Bethel? Here are five truths which motivated my original post.
This behavior is a trend with Bethel. If the testimony of Mr. Johnson was an anomaly, then I wouldn’t have used the language I did about Bethel. The truth is, in theological circles, Bethel has a well-earned reputation of compromise and abandonment of faithful teachings. While in seminary at Bethel, I sat in a class where heretical views were advocated for as acceptable. Years ago the seminary graduated an openly gay student, effectually endorsing him for ministry. Bethel as a whole has had professors who have taught views including but not limited to the teaching that God doesn’t know the future. This past year Bethel hosted both a Snoop Dog concert and a seminar about the dangers of masculinity, talk about irony. This is only the tip of the iceberg. So why write such strong words? Because the trajectory of Bethel has been clear for years, and yet they advertise themselves as faithful to unsuspecting students and parents. The farther they go, the stronger the language needs to be to both call them to repentance and to alert parents and prospective students about Bethel’s current course.
Teachers, and by extension schools, are held to a higher standard. As a preacher-teacher, I know that I will stand before God and be judged by a stricter standard because of the authority my position possesses. The same is true of universities and their professors. Parents send their children to Christian schools to be built up in the faith, and often what they receive is much less. When a professor, who should know better, endorses a bill which would limit the impact of the gospel in our state, strong words are necessary. It’s easy to shrug our shoulders and say, “That’s just Bethel being Bethel.” At some point, love demands we speak the truth.
The future of the local church is at stake. We are at a watershed moment in our culture. The pressure for the Christian church to compromise on the issue of homosexuality is crushing. How we respond will determine the direction of Christianity in Minnesota and the entire country. Christian schools exist to train up the next generation of Christian leaders. But what we are training them to do? There is more at stake here than just religious freedom and counseling rights for today. What is at stake is the future faithful witness of Christ’s church in our community for decades to come.
Reform only happens through conflict. It doesn’t take much for a school to drift away from the faith. Most private schools in America started as Christian, and most of them followed the same course of compromise with theological liberalism. As that liberalism spread most of them are no longer Christian. This is a well-documented reality in James Burtchaell’s book The Dying of the Light. Schools like Harvard and Princeton started as faithful Christian schools, and now they are openly hostile to Christ. This does not happen overnight. Drift happens slowly, as people refuse to speak up and ignore the obvious. The only way to counter this drift from faithfulness is for faithful Christians to speak up. My alma mater, Southern Seminary, went from being faithful to unfaithful back to faithfulness. They were so unfaithful at one point there were swinger couples openly on campus. How did it change? Local pastors sounded the alarm and year-by-year they faithfully worked to retake the seminary. And God rewarded their sacrifice and faithfulness. These pastors used strong words because they understood the importance of Christian education.
Gospel-love toward homosexuals is at stake. If this bill passes, it will put up further barriers preventing Christians from reaching homosexuals with the gospel. Will that stop us? No. If no product or service can be sold in Minnesota that advocates for the change of homosexual/transgender behavior or feelings, then every Christian book which addresses this topic could be considered illegal. From the faithful testimonies of Christians who have come out of that lifestyle, like Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yaun, to the biblical counseling books that sit on my bookshelf, all of these could be impacted by this bill. Christians show love by pointing people to the life found in Christ. Life is given through repentance and faith. This is conversion. If HF 12 becomes law, it criminalizes expressions of Christian love toward those who may need it most. How can any Christian support that? When it comes to issues of defending the gospel and showing love to the lost, strong words are warranted. This is doubly true when those bearing the name of Christ use their position to thwart the gospel. Jesus reserved his harshest words for religious people who stood in the way of the gospel (Matt. 23.1-36; John 8.39-47), and I think we should all want to be more like him. If only, Jesus would have gotten the message that harsh words aren’t very Christlike.
As I stated in my first post, I pray for Mr. Johnson and Bethel. I take no joy in calling them out, but as a preacher of God’s word in their community, it is a demand of my job. I hope Bethel responds with a clear rejection of HF 12. If they do so, then I will be there cheering them on and supporting them however I can. That is my prayer, and it is what I strive toward.
By: Levi J. Secord