An Open Letter from Dr. Matt Olson of Northland International University

Dear Friends in Ministry,

Thank you for your demonstration of true friendship over these past few months. So many of you have called, emailed, and written me. Yes, God has been doing great things. Yet, when He does, the pot gets stirred. Conflict often follows.

What God has been doing among us…

I thought it would be helpful for me to share a few thoughts concerning recent events at Northland as well as our process of thought. My prayer each day is that God would give us grace to work through our present opportunities and challenges in ways that fulfill His purposes for us and that please Him most. Never has there been a more exciting day to prepare this next generation for Great Commission living or to advance kingdom causes!

January 2008: I began praying for God to do “greater things” here at Northland. It seemed to me that the church as a whole had grown cold with the works of men and was crying out for the works of God to be manifest. I prayed to that end:

  1. For God to give us vision and clarity for what He wanted at Northland.
  2. For wisdom in navigating from where we were to where we needed to be.
  3. For boldness and grace—as we knew the process would be difficult.
  4. For abundant provision.
  5. For His name alone to be magnified.

In many ways God has been answering those prayers and has blessed Northland beyond our expectations. We felt, however, that this was only the beginning.

August 15, 2010: I began a forty day journey of fasting and prayer for the works of God to be manifested and for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I took this step of faith with some uncertainty—not really knowing how I would do or what God would do. I was certain that I was not content to coast through this final stretch of life and ministry without seeing God do something much more. I have been longing for “greater things.” Dr. Ollila, the administration, faculty, and staff joined me in this. I wish I could share all that has taken place. It has been an incredible time!

What I did not expect was the testing that would follow. Yet, now I realize this to be a familiar pattern in scripture and in history. So, we take it from the Lord and respond with strength and grace that He gives. Sometimes our motives and actions can be misunderstood and miscommunicated. I know that happens. I have always felt that the best response would be to communicate in a positive way. The following are a few points of clarification on what is happening at Northland:

1. The Way of Discipleship

We have superseded our demerit system with what we feel is a biblical model of discipleship. In reality, it is a re-commitment to a means of discipleship that has already been present at Northland. We just took away an artificial demerit system that was awkwardly laid on top of our student system of governance. Our standards and expectations remain the same. But, the way we confront and encourage is relational and the consequences practical. Quite honestly, it is a lot more work with this new way. But, it’s more biblical. And it already appears to be yielding better results. We see “The Way of Discipleship” in the spirit of Matthew 5 where Jesus “raised the bar” from the Old Testament law. We believe grace expects more—and deepens more. While we see our system as a “work in progress,” we have been very pleased with the responses of our students, faculty, and staff.

2. Our Music Philosophy

Philosophically, it is unchanged. Let me say it again…unchanged. What we have always been trying to do, and will continue to do into the future, is to make sure Northland’s practice of music (as with every aspect of the Christian life) is built principally on clear teachings from the Bible rather than on reactionary, extra-biblical reasoning that has proven to be troublingly insufficient when exported to cultures beyond American borders. We believe the Bible is sufficient to bring us to right and God-honoring positions regardless of time and culture. Even though we haven’t changed our music at a philosophical level, we are changing our music on a missional level. Where you will see changes is in our intent to expand our training to prepare students for worship and music globally. This only makes sense because, as you may have noticed, Northland International University has become more and more an international, global ministry with a passion to take the gospel where it is not proclaimed. Over 41% of the world’s population is still without a Gospel witness. This has become our students’ burden. Our Director of Fine Arts, Kevin Suiter, has recently informed us he does not believe he can take us forward in this way and thus has announced his plans to move on. We wish Kevin and Grace the best and thank them for the investments they have made here.

3. Our Guest Speakers

We invited two speakers that have generated some questions.

a. Rick Holland. Dr. Holland is the Executive Pastor at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where John MacArthur is senior pastor. Since we get many questions concerning John MacArthur and where he is in regard to fundamentalism, we decided that the best way to address this was to meet him face to face. In April of this year, Les Ollila, Doug McLachlan, Sam Horn, and I went to California and sat down with Dr. MacArthur, Rick Holland, and Phil Johnson (Executive Director of Grace to You). We had an excellent visit and found that while we did not agree on everything, we did agree on the most substantive issues of life and ministry. While we realize we function in different circles and with different constituencies, we appreciated what they were doing. I invited Rick to visit our campus to see what we were doing at Northland, meet with our Bible faculty, and speak in chapel. This was an opportunity to get to know one another and discuss significant issues of our day.

b. Bruce Ware. Dr. Ware is a professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. He is a well-recognized teacher and author. We have invited him to teach half of an advanced-degree seminar on a specialty subject our leading pastors need to be fully versed in. Why? Because Dr. Ware has written so skillfully and authoritatively on this particular topic. This seminar is for experienced, mature pastors who are presently in ministry. We see this as appropriate in the academic context and the type of thing we have done in the past for the very same reasons. In fact, most seminaries bring adjunct professors in to address key issues that they believe helpful. Never has this been intended as a move to align with any other group.

We did not see that having these speakers would be a significant problem. Biblically, we worked through a process of decision making and felt these choices and the context in which they were made were consistent with what we have always believed. Knowing now that these decisions might be confusing, misunderstood, or miscommunicated, we would likely have planned differently. We have no desire to distract from our focus here or on the field of ministry.

We affirm that Northland stands in the historic tradition of Fundamentalism and is committed to remain as an independent, Baptist, separatist institution. We will do our best to serve the local church, which we believe is the primary institution ordained of God to carry out the Great Commission. We respect the autonomy of the local church, the priesthood of the believer, and individual soul liberty. We know that other Fundamentalists will develop different applications based on biblical authority and the principles that flow from it. We will do our best to defer to our brothers in Christ but refuse to be swayed by party politics, threats, and pressures. While deference brings unity, the fear of man paralyzes our ability to serve Christ. In the spirit of Galatians 1, we will serve Christ.

Sometimes I have to smile when I think about the politics in college ministry. Early on I found that I had to just keep it simple: do the right thing, keep a right spirit, communicate the best I can, and leave the results to God. That is all I can do. That’s what I will do. I am not disappointed with differing views and opinions or even challenges that come from healthy critics. These help me grow. What I do think needs to be confronted in our movement is the lack of biblical process in responding to one another when we have questions or disagreements.

We must keep our focus. A friend of mine shared this with me, and I found it to be a great encouragement:

Stick with your work. Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not stop to stone the devil’s dogs; do not fool away your time chasing the devil’s rabbits. Do your work. Let liars lie, let sectarians quarrel, let critics malign, let enemies accuse, let the devil do his worst; but see to it nothing hinders you from fulfilling with joy the work God has given you. He has not commanded you to be admired or esteemed. He has never bidden you to defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood about yourself which Satan’s or God’s servants may start to peddle, or to track down every rumor that threatens your reputation. If you do these things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord. Keep at your work. Let your aim be as steady as a star. You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected, misunderstood, or assigned impure motives; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.”

If you have further questions or comments, please feel free to write or call me. I welcome that. We have never been more excited about our future than we are now. Doc O and I believe that God is moving in a very special way and that the evidence is seen in both the abundant blessing of God and in the attacks of the Devil. We have the greatest and most exciting opportunity in the world—preparing this next generation of servant leaders for Great Commission living. Pray with us as we move boldly forward for the cause of Christ.

Your friend and fellow servant,



[Louise Dan] Susan portrayed my concern accurately. I’ll take over so you can beat me up instead of her. People HAVE been impacted by NIU’s former music standards and former demerit system. I’m glad that they weren’t kicking people out over it, but I personally know people who have been negatively impacted by standards and systems that Olson is now saying are no longer needed. Students and staff were judged/disciplined/counseled/pressured on issues that Olson is calling a non-issue now. It may seem small to someone who WASN’T ever called into someone’s office to be confronted over Casting Crowns, but whether you were kicked out or just shamed in a teacher’s office, it was wrong.

It is a direct parallel to Dr. Bob’s discussion on Larry King about dropping the interracial ban. To him, it was no big deal. But he was oblivious to the many who had been terribly hurt by it. I was oblivious too, because I personally had not been hurt by it. At some point, you have to recognize that when you have disciplined someone for a BAD RULE, you can’t just claim, “Well, at least they were learning to obey authority.” The Bible sets limits on authorities and holds them to a higher standard. And when authorities make mistakes in the control they exercise, they have a responsibility to own up to the mistake and its impact.
Two things:

1. Comparing BJU’s open racism to NIU’s present situation is completely irrational.

2. There is a big difference between being oblivious, as you call it, and refusing to give an issue more attention than it deserves.


The bottom line here is that NIU’s leadership didn’t need to explain anything to anyone. The letter was clearly written to NIU’s ministry friends. The “haters”, to use a colloquial expression, were not the target audience here so I think that the letter was courteous, appropriate, and served the purpose of communicating what was going on “from the horse’s mouth” before the blogaholics turned it into something it wasn’t. Well, at least he tried. So I must say a quick thank you to the “fighting fundies” who have reminded me that being a “fundamentalist” these days has nothing to do with the fundamentals anymore, but is instead a silly scout badge to let everyone know whose side of the line you pitch your tent on, whether that line is biblically based or not.


Thank you Matt Walker for bringing Romans 14 into the discussion. I have been thinking about that passage because of events in my own church, and now with this situation, I am thinking more about the chapter.

Is it possible that those at NIU have not changed, but in light of Romans 14, there were things they did not do for the sake of not causing those around them to stumble? Now, thinking that people in the churches who support them are thinking more in line with what they were thinking, they thought they could do things in line with what they have been teaching for quite some time? So there is not as much change, but simply catching the practice up with the philosophy and teaching? I don’t know this is the case, but is this not a more charitable understanding of Dr. Olson’s letter?

Hey…..just two more for 250!

Straight Ahead People!


Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (; Regional Coordinator for IBL West (, Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

[Joel Tetreau] Hey…..just two more for 250!

Straight Ahead People!

Are we still going to page 20 before they close the thread? (My computer says we’re only on page 3.)

Does anyone know how NIU plans to implement their new discipline policies? Will they be doing fines for breaking rules, or simply calling people in for counseling sessions? Just curious how it “looks”. Does anyone who actually knows read here?


That IS old! What year was that taken from?

Never mind…I saw the original source…1988.

I understand the reason for at least some of the discussion surrounding the speakers. However, I cannot understand how anyone can stand up publicly and denounce NIU’s music. Folks, it is all unwarrented, and unbiblical I might add, speculation. No one has told us yet WHAT exactly is changing about the music. Nobody has documented any actual changes yet. All the eyewitness accounts have verified that the music presently sounds exactly the same as it did a month ago, or a decade ago. When it actually becomes different, or when someone who actually knows something comes out and talks about the specifics of the change, then we will have facts to analyze. Until then, this part of the ongoing accusation against NIU is WRONG!

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

People have had their lives ruined (at least in their perception) because, while involved at Northland, their music standards changed before Northland’s did
I wonder if you might enlarge on this. How were their lives “ruined (at least in their perception) because … their music standards changed before Northland’s did”?

And BTW, how have NIU’s changed? Do you know?

Would be nice to end the thread on a positive note…. but maybe not possible. There’s a new letter out from Dr. Olila at NIU. When it posts, we’ll be closing this thread.

FWIW, I do not believe there is no room in fundamentalist for honest speech from its leaders. But the internal politics of what remains of the movement does make the business of communication challenging.

But this is not unique to fundamentalism. All movements have constituencies and those constituencies react to perceived changes—as well as real ones. And institutions feel the tension of wanting to go directions they think they need to go while anticipating (or being surprised by…whichever, or both) reactions.

Anyway, all that to say I think it’s harder than it looks from the armchair.

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.