Fundamentalist Dead Zones

Oceanographers sometimes encounter “dead zones”: areas of seawater nearly void of aquatic life. Cellular telephone users also encounter dead zones: areas of landmasses nearly void of signal coverage. Christian fundamentalism has its own variety of dead zones: areas of humanity nearly void of Great Commission efforts. America’s secular college campuses are usually prime examples.

Historian George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University includes a vivid portrayal of the circumstances and events that led to such an untenable situation. It will suffice here to know that it was the fundamentalist/modernist conflict of the early 20th century that ultimately drove a lasting wedge between fundamentalism and America’s secular colleges, public and private. That division continues largely unreconciled today, to the continuing detriment of both.

Obviously this does not mean that fundamentalists are absent from secular campuses today. On the contrary: self-identified fundamentalists are present in large numbers as students, staff, and faculty members at secular campuses nationwide. What it does mean is that fundamentalism—as a distinct subgroup of broader Christian evangelicalism—long ago collectively renounced secular colleges. As secular campuses became less hospitable to Christianity, fundamentalism often uncharacteristically retreated.

A counterproductive “Us vs. Them” mentality ensued. Soon, physical separation became nearly as obligatory as philosophical separation, to the extent that one’s mere presence on a campus might be branded as incipient compromise. What had once been considered auspicious “mission fields” consequently became places widely avoided and scorned. The tumult on many campuses in the 1960’s and 1970’s only exacerbated the rift. At present, some rancorous fundamentalists persist in using epithets such as “Satan U” and “Devil State” when referring to secular campuses. The cumulative outcome is that today few fundamentalist ministries are actively striving to “Go therefore and make disciples” (Matt 28:19) on secular college campuses.

As a case study, the massive University of Minnesota is a typical example. For me, it is also a very personal one. As my collegiate alma mater, I spent four years at “the U” (as it is colloquially known throughout the state) in the 1980s. Since graduation, I have retained a keen interest in the school’s history, including the fluctuating impact of Christianity upon the campus over time. It is apparent that fundamentalism has not actively attempted to influence this campus with the gospel of Jesus Christ for several generations. How such a regrettable situation developed can be readily recounted.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the long, transformative presidency (1884-1911) of Cyrus Northrop, the U grew from a simple college of scarcely 300 students to a complex university enrolling 5,000. An unabashed evangelical, Northrop frequently shared his faith with the students. In The Basis of Belief: A Century of Drama and Debate at the University of Minnesota historian Steven J. Keillor provides several characteristic Northrop quotes. (Moreover, it is his fascinating account that provides many of the details from this period that follow.) Imagine the uproar if a state university president today were to proclaim to his or her students this challenge concerning Jesus Christ: “He must be more to you than an example. He is your Savior, if you accept Him. He is your King, if you will own Him. He is to be your Judge, whether you choose Him or not.”

As Northrop’s presidency was nearing its conclusion, the fundamentalist movement was gathering momentum. A series of twelve books titled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth was published between 1910 and 1915. These were intended to defend the essential Christian doctrines that were increasingly under attack by modernist theology. A showdown between orthodoxy and heterodoxy was looming.

At the U, subsequent administrations did not share Northrop’s evangelical aspirations for the students. A presumption of naturalism—rather than creationism—began to prevail in campus classrooms and laboratories. William Bell (W.B.) Riley, the longtime pastor of the First Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis and a prominent leader among northern fundamentalists, took notice and took action. He launched a personal campaign to expel the teaching of Darwinian evolution from the U.

Rebuffed in his efforts by unyielding professors, more than one university president, the Board of Regents, and finally the state legislature, Riley successfully garnered four opportunities to voice his opposition directly to the students. The first, in November of 1926, packed the gymnasium/auditorium of the U’s Armory building. The boisterous crowd of more than 3,000 included some who initially raucously heckled Riley—behavior that drew prompt apologies from the editors of the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper and from university president Lotus Coffman. Riley, however, was unflinching; he calmly finished his presentation, but his entreaty was largely dismissed. His three later appearances were in a much smaller venue to more appreciative audiences of only 300 to 400.

There is really little more to the story. Fundamentalism at the U was not beaten; it was more or less just brushed aside. Supporters had seen one of their chief stalwarts rise to confront a challenge to a Christian doctrine…with little appreciable effect. Their champion had endeavored to slay a giant; but instead of dutifully falling, the giant merely gave him a sidelong look, shrugged, turned, and walked away. That was not what had been expected. It was disheartening.

Whatever objectives they held for the university waned as a result. Across the country, dramas with similar denouements played out on several other campuses, but the best known clash by far occurred in a sweltering courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee during the summer of 1925, at the Scopes Trial. (Incidentally, it was Riley who enlisted William Jennings Bryan’s participation there.)

An abiding legacy of these now nearly century-old scuffles is that fundamentalism walked away from secular campuses—and from untold opportunities to proclaim the gospel—over a doctrine itself tangential to the gospel. In a momentous overreach, fundamentalism insisted that some who presumably did not accept Jesus as the Savior nonetheless countenance God as the Creator. But to what end? Belief in creationism is neither a precondition nor a substitute for saving faith; but inherent in saving faith is a belief in the Creator. In their attempt to “put the cart before the horse,” the horse slipped its reins. Rather than consequently redoubling efforts on secular campuses to declare the gospel, fundamentalism chose to separate from secular campuses over what were not unprecedented demonstrations of unbelief.

During the 1930’s campus ministries were commonly underfunded, understaffed, and underwhelming. This was soon to change. God was about to deploy a fresh cohort of men and women restless to contend for the souls of America’s college youth. A result was the trio of evangelical parachurch organizations still dominant in American campus ministry today: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, The Navigators, and Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). At the University of Minnesota each maintains an active evangelistic and discipleship ministry. A review of the student organizations at the U reveals that several smaller evangelical groups are also present. This begs a question: Where is fundamentalism?

In 2014 it is uncommon to find fundamentalist ministries reaching out to students on secular campuses with any regularity. At the U, The Gideons probably comes nearest this ideal, but this organization is disavowed by many fundamentalists for various reasons, and its presence is limited to the single annual day when it distributes New Testaments on campus. At the great majority of secular campuses in the United States fundamentalism’s presence is similarly lacking. A change is long overdue. Fundamentalism must cease being an unwilling “Jonah” to the “Nineveh” of secular campuses.

How can such a daunting reunification be initiated? Where might one even begin? These questions could be a source of considerable unproductive debate, or a fount of rousing solutions. Here are a few simple possibilities:

  • Pray for your local campus. Pray that the students and others there would be receptive to the Truth. Pray that your heart would be burdened to share the gospel with them. Ask God to make you see the campus as He sees it.
  • Learn about the “language,” culture, customs, and landmarks of your local campus. All campuses are unique in numerous ways, and a basic understanding of “your” campus will reap great benefits. Just as it would be foolish to travel to a foreign mission field without first studying the land and its people, the same is undeniably true in campus ministries.
  • Walk through the campus. Be observant. Talk to students and others along the way. Humbly listen.
  • Arrange to meet with the director(s) of an existing campus ministry. Introduce yourself with your personal testimony. Tell them that you desire their advice on how to reach the campus with the gospel. (They will undoubtedly perceive you as a valued ally.) Pick their brain(s). Again, humbly listen.
  • Schedule a first-time event that you can invite students to attend. Utilize what you have learned in your research to decide what type of event to hold. Be vigilant for times and ways to speak the Truth into the hearts of your attendees.

Perhaps it is naïve to dream of fundamentalism establishing ministries on secular campuses in significant numbers. The movement currently seems almost wholly oblivious to the abundant ministry opportunities available. Is it somehow inevitable that campus ministry is to be accomplished almost exclusively by evangelicals? Why is this situation tolerated by so many fundamentalists? An acute need exists for a new infusion of life into these glaring “dead zones.” My alma mater and so many others like it need more Christians of all convictions who are willing to go and boldly proclaim the very grace which they have received. My earnest prayer is that many more fundamentalists will echo the words of Isaiah and say in response, “Here I am! Send me.”

Larry Nelson 2015 bio


Larry Nelson is a graduate of Fourth Baptist Christian School (Plymouth, MN), holds a BA in history from the University of Minnesota, and has been employed in banking since 1990. He is a member of a Baptist church in the Minneapolis St. Paul area.

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There are 29 Comments

Steve Newman's picture

As one who was saved at a secular campus, discipled while going through school on a secular campus, and did hold Bible studies at the U of M for several years in the late 1980's / early 1990's; I don't know if I can completely agree with the author. We did attempt to go "campus ministry" to a certain degree. We did have a registered student organization (Campus Bible Fellowship), in spite of the fact that the U already then had non-sexual orientation discrimination language for student organizations. We saw students saved and ministered to international students. We have a graduate who is married to a professor at Central Seminary, for example. The ministry broke down when we attempted to try and see it handed over to a missionary who already had raised support. The missionary did not stay with it and it seemed to die out quickly.

The author is correct in that campus ministries can and should be very productive. There are great possibilities there! But I would encourage churches to start small and find a student or two who goes there and start a Bible study. Help them be a witness and testimony. As God opens doors, your local church can become much more involved.

I would disagree with the author that a campus ministry has to be big to be effective. Large campus ministries can be very ineffective in preparing young people for ministry or life after college, just as small ones can. The greatest way to see students grow is, as always, setting them up for a lifetime of service by integrating them into your local church!

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

I appreciate the effort on the article, but I've never heard of Larry Nelson before, so I read the bio at the bottom. I have to say, I have never met anyone who appreciates veiled bios. Just tell us who you are, and let us get to know you a little.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jim's picture

I know him and have known him for 15 years. He works with me at a major financial institution. I think he prefers to keep the name of his employer out of his profile. Larry graduated from 4th Baptist Christian School, and the U of Minnesota. He is actively involved in his local Baptist church in the Twin Cities. He is active in the 4th Baptist C/S alumni association. I can attest that he is a consistently committed Christian. He is a close friend of mine and is a tremendous encouragement to my spiritual life. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I sympathize with fund. movement's us vs. them response to the changes in American education. ... and with parents who are reluctant to have their children involved on secular campuses. Today's "typical" campus lifestyle is infamous, though of course not completely fair. Nobody pays much attention to the (apparent) few who are not participating.

In any case, it does tend to be an ideologically and morally unhealthy environment.

Whether it's a suitable place to pursue an education (which does depend on the individual's maturity level and so on)  is a separate question though from whether it's an important place to reach out.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Larry Nelson's picture

Steve Newman wrote:

"I would disagree with the author that a campus ministry has to be big to be effective."

Steve, I don't believe that campus ministries must be big to be effective. In fact, I would say that the most effective ones I know are relatively small. I mentioned in the article that there are three large organizations that are dominant in campus ministry, but I meant that in relation to their size & scope, but not particularly in their effectiveness.

"The greatest way to see students grow is, as always, setting them up for a lifetime of service by integrating them into your local church!"

I completely agree!  The best, most effective campus ministries do this, as they should!

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Jim wrote:

I know him and have known him for 15 years. He works with me at a major financial institution. I think he prefers to keep the name of his employer out of his profile. Larry graduated from 4th Baptist Christian School, and the U of Minnesota. He is actively involved in his local Baptist church in the Twin Cities. He is active in the 4th Baptist C/S alumni association. I can attest that he is a consistently committed Christian. He is a close friend of mine and is a tremendous encouragement to my spiritual life. 

Thanks Jim. I can certainly understand the potential issue with a secular employer. I was more curious about the school and church affiliations.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jim's picture

Steve Newman wrote:
I would disagree with the author that a campus ministry has to be big to be effective.

Help my tired eyes .... I read through Larry's article three times this AM and I don't see where he implies this!

Steve Newman's picture

Jim, I agree it doesn't say that a campus ministry has to be big to be effective.

But by inference, the author does compare fundamentalist works to Cru, Navigators, etc.  So isn't he saying there should be a fundamentalist institutional ministry like these by inference? Or am I misreading his intent?

Jim's picture

Steve Newman wrote:

Jim, I agree it doesn't say that a campus ministry has to be big to be effective.

But by inference, the author does compare fundamentalist works to Cru, Navigators, etc.  So isn't he saying there should be a fundamentalist institutional ministry like these by inference? Or am I misreading his intent?

You are. I talked to the author today (we work for the same financial institution)

Jim's picture

My own experience with campus ministries:

  • I was saved November 1969 while a Junior at the University of Cincinnati. A local fundamental Baptist church was heavily influencial ( a girl I was dating invited me to her church), but campus ministries sowed and watered (Hebrew Christian Union and Campus Crusade for Christ)
  • With regard to discipleship: The fundamental church was traditional in discipleship - no one on one personal contact but through adult SS and in the pew. A CCC staff member took me under his wing and met with me every weekday. As you can imagine the later was more effective.
  • I went to CCC retreats and fellowshipped on Tuesday night at CCC mtgs - as well as regularly attending church.
  • Church had elements that I found strange ... rants about mini-skirts come to mind (when it really was not an issue among church attendees)
  • Upon graduation I joined CCC staff. This involved 1 summer at Arrowhead Springs .... and 3 months of raising support. I was on campus at the University of Buffalo in November 1971 .. I was exactly 2 years old as a Christian
  • Observation: a 2 year old Christian does not have the Christian maturity to be in full time vocational ministry
  • CCC was heavily oriented around Dallas (dispensational) theology. Also some Talbot

Effective campus ministries need:

  • Young adults familiar with (and not intimidated with) the secular campus
  • With thorough theological training (probably MDiv level)
  • Working in teams of like individuals
  • With strong support of a local church ideally near the campus

 

Larry Nelson's picture

Jim wrote:

A ministry of Allen Park Baptist

http://www.cbfwsu.org/index.asp

 

 

Here is an excellent example of a fundamentalist campus ministry, and a model for others to follow!

Jim's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

Jim wrote:

 

A ministry of Allen Park Baptist

http://www.cbfwsu.org/index.asp

 

 

 

 

Here is an excellent example of a fundamentalist campus ministry, and a model for others to follow!

Yes and here's why:

  • Connected with a local church
  • A physical presence near the campus (a house)
  • A young staff member
  • And older volunteers

 

Jim's picture

http://campusbiblefellowship.org/

Started by Hal Miller in Iowa

Note: http://campusbiblefellowship.org/serve-with-cbfi:15054

 we  [church] don’t have enough workers to respond. WORKERS ARE DESPERATELY NEEDED!!! There is an immediate need to complement existing staff in South Bend, IN; Cleveland, OH; and to provide staff for an existing work in Toledo, OH. If you’re interested in a vital ministry which is both home and foreign in nature, please contact our Ministry Coordinator so that we might add you to our mailing list and keep you abreast of our Annual Training Seminars

 

AND

 

How’s this for a mission field: nearly 16 million collegians in America, 600,000 of whom are foreign students from almost every nation on earth? The reason the secular university campus is such a vital field for Christian ministry is that we can reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth at one time in one place and with one language—English. Today’s campuses present a unique phenomenon—Pentecost in reverse. The world has literally come to us, and they speak our tongue. Coupled with this, is the fact that students are in a very spiritually hostile environment at a time in their lives when they are forming their personal world views. One young man reared in a Christian home shared what he lost through the influence of various courses he took: “Through Biology I lost my faith in creation; through Religion, my faith in the Bible; through Sociology, my faith in the family; through Philosophy, my faith in God.” WE MUST REACH COLLEGIANS NOW!

Larry Nelson's picture

Jim wrote:

How’s this for a mission field: nearly 16 million collegians in America, 600,000 of whom are foreign students from almost every nation on earth? The reason the secular university campus is such a vital field for Christian ministry is that we can reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth at one time in one place and with one language—English. Today’s campuses present a unique phenomenon—Pentecost in reverse. The world has literally come to us, and they speak our tongue.

The University of Minnesota has 2,200 students (of its total enrollment of about 51,000) from China: http://www.mndaily.com/news/campus/2013/10/16/university-courts-chinese-...

 

 

 

Steve Pettit's picture

Thanks Larry for your burden for college ministry. I was saved in a secular college (The Citadel) and grew spiritually in that atmosphere. I became the national director of Cross Impact Ministries (www.crossimpact.org) in 2011. This ministry was established under another name 25 years ago at Clemson University through University Baptist Church. The name changed to Cross Impact around 2007. Our goal is to help local churches reach secular campuses. We have a two-fold focus: 1.) Revitalizing local church singles ministry 2.) Reaching out to secular campuses through a student organization (Cross Impact). We are not sending out missionaries. We are simply an equipping agency helping the local church go to campuses within their own backyard. We hold training sessions in individual local churches. We also have our 3rd Annual Local Church Leadership Training Conference in Indianapolis on March 25-27. There are currently 12 active Cross Impact chapters in the country. We are grateful for sister organizations like Campus Bible Fellowship and others. Please pray for all of us we try to fulfill the Great Commission in reaching secular campuses through local churches. 

Ron Bean's picture

Here's another:

http://www.campusoutreachdc.org/#/home

This has been effective with the large number of college campuses in the area. I appreciate their emphasis on small groups and one-on-one and the strong local church connection, not only in seeing the students attend the local church but in helping them connect with another local church when they leave.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Jay's picture

Jim wrote:

I suspect that raising support for missions to campus is more difficult than raising support to go to foreign country

That may be true, but I'd MUCH rather support a missionary to any of the major colleges/universities in NYS than someone going to __________________ overseas (or Canada / Mexico, for that matter).  There are several major post-high school institutions where I live - CUNY, SUNY, Vassar, Cul. Inst. of America, Marist, Fordham, St. John's, various community colleges, etc, and the need to reach those campuses is pressing.  I'm sure there's a CCC (or Cru, right?) or something like that, but still...there's too many people for even a hundred missionaries to reach.

Just putting that out there.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Steve Newman's picture

There have been some really good campus ministries mentioned. I was trained on CBF, went through their orientation, but God called into pastoral ministry. As I mentioned earlier, God allowed the work at the U of M to get to where we were a recognized organization, but then it did not keep going.

There were many, many, students from UW-River Falls from the 60's to the 80's, mainly under the ministry of the late Pastor Marv Johnson, that God saved and put into ministry (over 50!). I was one of the last of those. It is hard for the local church to keep supporting these ministries.

CBF has had some very good ministries over a lot of years.

IF I hear of missionaries looking to go to the college campuses, I, for one, as a pastor, would welcome them!

Jim's picture

Steve Newman wrote:
God allowed the work at the U of M to get to where we were a recognized organization, but then it did not keep going.

....

It is hard for the local church to keep supporting these ministries.

  • Why did U of M ministry not continue?
  • Why do you think it is hard for l/c to support these ministries?

Thanks

Steve Newman's picture

I think your bias toward your friend is showing. You have had negative comments toward everything I've wrote in this article.

The U of M ministry did not continue because the missionary left, from what I remember. I had left before that time. If you'd like his name, message me and I can get it for you.

I don't think it is hard for large, well financed churches to support these kind of ministries, but that's not the kind of church I was involved in. All the work was volunteer and it is a labor-intensive ministry.

 

Larry Nelson's picture

...but it's been my experience that fundamentalism is much more comfortable with armed forces ministries or even jail/prison ministries than with campus ministries.

Any thoughts or opinions on this?

TylerR's picture

Editor

My church is only 15 miles from University of Illinois - Springfield, and I never even thought about outreach to them. I hadn't even considered it before. Appreciate the wake-up call.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

L. Bolton's picture

I find this post quite interesting, because I am a member of a fundamental Baptist church in NE Minneapolis that actually DOES have a small, but active, campus ministry on the University of Minnesota. Maybe you already knew about us, but then again, maybe you didn't! Fourth Baptist Church planted Family Baptist Church, which planted All Nations Baptist Church (ANBC) back in 2005/2006 in NE Minneapolis. ANBC then started an on-campus student group at the U of MN called All Nations Christian Fellowship.

http://www.ancfumn.us/

http://sua.umn.edu/groups/directory/show.php?id=1791

Two quick comments about our "local church" campus ministry at the U of MN.

1) We follow the rules for campus groups, which (I believe) means that only U of MN students can serve as officers for the group. Our current officers basically attend or are members at our church. That said, if you want to interact with a really informed person about the philosophy and status of our outreach, you will want to contact our pastor (who is not listed on the campus website). I, myself, served as coordinator for this ministry for a number of years in the past.

2) If you visit our campus ministry website (which I see needs updating), we don't put up a big flag to warn students that we are trying to convert them with the Good News of Jesus Christ. That comes from us in person, with a handshake and a smile. We are a fundamental Baptist church, with solid roots in the same stream you also seem to come from. I, for one, am happy for our church's fundamental roots and beliefs, but you will not find a big "fundamentalist" flag on our church website either. We want to have as much real ministry we can, with people who walk in the doors, and so it is less than a priority to announce that we are "fundamentalist" in public venues, like the church website... but please don't anyone go off on a tangent about using or not using the term in public. This is about ministry, specifically about ministry at the U of MN.

Thanks,

 

L. Bolton

Plymouth, MN

Larry Nelson's picture

LAB wrote:

I find this post quite interesting, because I am a member of a fundamental Baptist church in NE Minneapolis that actually DOES have a small, but active, campus ministry on the University of Minnesota. Maybe you already knew about us, but then again, maybe you didn't! Fourth Baptist Church planted Family Baptist Church, which planted All Nations Baptist Church (ANBC) back in 2005/2006 in NE Minneapolis. ANBC then started an on-campus student group at the U of MN called All Nations Christian Fellowship.

http://www.ancfumn.us/

http://sua.umn.edu/groups/directory/show.php?id=1791

Two quick comments about our "local church" campus ministry at the U of MN.

1) We follow the rules for campus groups, which (I believe) means that only U of MN students can serve as officers for the group. Our current officers basically attend or are members at our church. That said, if you want to interact with a really informed person about the philosophy and status of our outreach, you will want to contact our pastor (who is not listed on the campus website). I, myself, served as coordinator for this ministry for a number of years in the past.

2) If you visit our campus ministry website (which I see needs updating), we don't put up a big flag to warn students that we are trying to convert them with the Good News of Jesus Christ. That comes from us in person, with a handshake and a smile. We are a fundamental Baptist church, with solid roots in the same stream you also seem to come from. I, for one, am happy for our church's fundamental roots and beliefs, but you will not find a big "fundamentalist" flag on our church website either. We want to have as much real ministry we can, with people who walk in the doors, and so it is less than a priority to announce that we are "fundamentalist" in public venues, like the church website... but please don't anyone go off on a tangent about using or not using the term in public. This is about ministry, specifically about ministry at the U of MN.

Thanks,

 

 

Thanks for the information, Luke.  This organization was "under the radar" for me: I was not aware that it was fundamentalist. (And I'm a graduate of Fourth Baptist Christian School, by the way: Class of 1981.)

I'm thrilled to know that some inroads are being made by fundamentalism at "the U."

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