Cultural Accommodation, the Growing Danger for Christian Education

"Faced with shrinking enrollment and finances, Christian colleges face the stark reality of deciding how much they are willing to change in order to continue their ministries. The fundamental question is “Where is the line which we cannot cross in order to stay open?” - Proclaim & Defend

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Aaron Blumer's picture


From the article...

Why do I mention pride? Because I suspect that behind some of the changes we see in Christian colleges in the effort to attract students and to keep their ministries viable is the problem of pride. Failure, even if it’s not our fault, is embarrassing. Therefore we engage in a multitude of activities and changes in order not to fail, in order to keep the college ministry and church ministry open.

I would suggest that there is a kinder analysis. Failure is more than embarrassing. It's failure. Whatever your mission is, that you have poured your labors and funds and time into, you care about accomplishing it and automatically care about succeeding. If you don't, you're just playing at it.

But the post raises some good questions. How do you decide what you can let go in order to continue to do your work? Much comes down to a) philosophy of education and b) where you see your institution fitting into the overall picture of Christian vocation and local church partnership. Many seem to expect a school to be all things. Maybe it's better off focusing on doing a few things really well.

The Canada example in the post is especially interesting. When you are trying to run a distinctively Christian educational institution in a society that is hostile to distinctively Christian lifestyle requirements, what do you do? It sounds like more than accreditation was on the line in the example... the government threatened to deny its right to confer degrees? If I have that straight, then giving "let's not require it; let's just believe and teach it" sounds to me like a strategy worth trying.

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.

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding paragraph #2, how precisely would we know, without violating medical privacy laws and regulations, whether "60% of these students take medication for depression"?  The overall rate for people ages 20 to 39 is 7.8%, according to the APA.  If true, this would be remarkable, and if made public, it would most likely be criminal.  Wally, I'm going to have to suggest you take a close look at your sources on all of this.   There are very real issues that we can deal with, but that does not excuse swallowing every line of "nonsense" someone feeds us.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


I assumed there must have been some kind of study behind those particular stats. But I'm not sure what the mental health of one student body proves, other than that, yes, there are some pretty messed up schools... Maybe some where the medical staff are way overprescribing some things! 

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.

JBL's picture

There is a sentiment out there that bemoans the current state of worldliness in Christian colleges and pines for a more pure student body.  I understand that a more pure student body is pleasing to our sense of Christian aesthetics - but practically, what does this achieve?  How is the church made better that such institutions exist?

I submit:

  1. The Christian College is not a biblically mandated institution.
  2. Even in the complete breakdown of the Christian college structure, pastors, missionaries, and teachers can still be trained.  Guess who might do the training?  The church!  This is actually a biblically prescribed method.
  3. Regardless of the cultural climate, young people will be tempted to sin and question their faith.  In fact, all people, at all times are tempted to do so.  Yes, many of our young people will fall.  Many will learn their faith may not be real, and many will be deceived.  All this is God ordained.  I would rather our young people find this out sooner rather than later.
  4. My observation of pastors and missionaries who have come up solely through the fundamental Christian education system has been lukewarm, at best.  Don't get me wrong, there are more than a few gems.  However, I can't help but notice that many of the strongest pastors and missionaries I have encountered were saved post collegiate education and then received biblical training for their calling.   

I have a harder time nowadays buying into the idea that the aesthetic state of our Christian colleges is something that is necessary or indispensable to the health of churches or to the work of Christ.

John B. Lee

dmyers's picture

Not defending any and all changes that might be "necessary" to stay open, but I have at least two problems with the article.

I'd suggest that pride can also be a (or the) primary reason for intransigent refusal to make changes on non-moral and even silly issues, or even on moral issues where the institution has had it wrong for decades and everyone knows it.  In the former category, an institution can be proud of silly rules because they supposedly make the institution distinctive.  Or they can stick with an immoral, scripturally bankrupt rule (interracial dating, anyone?) long after the leaders know good and well that the policy is indefensible, because admitting error requires humility -- and the more serious the error the more humility is required.  

Second issue is this quote:  "You end up with Christian colleges accepting students who are bisexual, transgendered, homosexual, tolerant of alcoholic beverages, very casual in their clothing and music standards, and addicted to their cell phones."  Because tolerance of alcohol (assuming legal age), casual clothing, and (undefined) music standards are issues of the same biblical seriousness as sexual immorality and the bad theology that sanctions such?  C'mon.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Yeah, pride can always be a factor in any and all positions on any issue. We're just so prone to it.

I'm not sure he meant to say everything in his "students gone wrong" list is on the same level of seriousness, but agree that lumping them like that is not ideal... because it can give that impression, maybe unintentionally.

From earlier post: John, what do you mean by "aesthetic state"? I was understanding you up to that point I think.

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.

Ron Bean's picture

Christian colleges are faced with shrinking enrollments and finances.

Some of these schools have made changes and many assume those changes are to reverse the trend.

Do those who are expressing concern with the changes have solutions of their own for the problems?

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

Don Johnson's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

Christian colleges are faced with shrinking enrollments and finances.

Some of these schools have made changes and many assume those changes are to reverse the trend.

Do those who are expressing concern with the changes have solutions of their own for the problems?

Your first sentence is true. There are many reasons for it.

Your second sentence is hypothetical. I doubt that it reverses the trend because in general, all colleges, secular as well, are facing shrinking enrollment. News flash! The Baby Boomers all graduated. One can also assume that the changes will not reverse the trend. Time will tell.

Ultimately, to me, the main problem is not an enrollment problem but a constituency problem. The colleges were built to serve a constituency within Christendom. If they no longer serve their constituency, their reason to exist disappears. They might as well close the doors and save on prolonging the agony.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ron Bean's picture

I don't understand what is hypothetical about my second statement. 

-Some of these schools are changing. Some are not.

-Some people assume the changes are a reaction to the shrinking trend and/or an attempt to reverse it. That's what I got from the opening statement in the P and D article.

You're absolutely correct in that the constituency is shrinking. It is also changing. 

I spent this weekend with someone who hadn't se foot on the BJU campus for close to 30 years. We spent some time on campus followed with long conversations about the changes there. We agreed that many of the BJU alumni had changed and that the constituency for the school that included them had changed as well. There are graduates of BJU whose cultural view hasn't changed and others who have. Christian Day Schools are not the deep well they used to be. In my (our) day the BJU culture was one that may have been "unusual" but was not totally foreign to us. in 2019 those standards we knew are "most unusual" to todays students who are coming fromm Christian schools, home schools, and public schools and want to attend BJU. 

The challenge is what changes can be implemented without violating clear Biblical teaching? We also need to avoid the groundless fear that is generated by extreme slippery slope fallacies. 

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

Susan R's picture


I'm sure we've all heard it said, "If you can compromise on your convictions, they weren't convictions."

I think Mr. Morris' conclusion: "The growing danger for Christian colleges (and other Christian ministries) is that we are slowly moving toward a decision point about what we are willing to do in order to keep the ministry functioning." is valid, but is this a new dilemma? Every generation of Christians worries about compromise and apostasy in their churches and institutions. What we must do is be humble enough to evaluate 1) if the stands we take are truly Biblical 2) how to remain faithful to our closely held beliefs.

I also agree with much of Mr. Lee's comment, in that if we are considering how to stay true to Biblical mandates in our institutions, we should also consider if the institutions themselves should exist because of a Biblical mandate. 

That said, I don't think it's wrong for us to create something new or fix problems in ways that aren't explicitly mandated. Many Christian schools and colleges exist because parents wanted to send their kids someplace 'safe' so they can receive an education amongst like-minded people in a more spiritually nurturing atmosphere. There's not a thing wrong with that desire, or the implementation of Christian schools and colleges as a solution. But if that is no longer possible because of legislation and new cultural dynamics, then other options should be discussed and weighed.

I also think we need to stop being so concerned with 'success' and 'failure'. Failure can be a good thing, because it tells us something is not working, and it gives us the opportunity to fix it. Without failure we'd all be lighting our homes with candles and riding horses to work.

JBL's picture

One of the takeaways I had from the P&D post was that Christian schools are harmed by the presence of students who either are not Christian or have weak practical application of their faith.  These individual students either need to receive the gospel or be discipled.  I'm not as sure, however, as to why their presence harms the school.  The school is ostensibly preparing their students for ministry.  And this is a BIG part of what ministry is -  dealing with clear cut rebellion and heresy within the ranks of the body of Christ.  If the Christian college model of training students to enter the ministry is to succeed, the school needs leaders who can deal with this and give model examples of response.  I would see that their presence represents an opportunity if nothing else.

There are two perceived negatives of having significant numbers of either unregenerate or uncommitted (in terms of being a disciple of Christ) in the student body.  The first, and probably more tangible is the idea that their influence will negatively harm the "stronger" students.  And maybe that is true.  However many of these students are vying for a ministerial position in a few years. 

My feeling is this - if a person cannot withstand the temptation to succumb to negative peer pressure or heresy in an academic setting, he has no chance in a ministerial setting.  If those students more prone to wander are weeded out in advance of obtaining a ministerial position, better for the church and the individual.  I know it's harsh, but this is the reality.  I don't see the untoward peer pressure as a negative, but as a potential strength.

The other perceived negative of worldly and uncommitted students is the damaging of the marketing position of the school.  As Christians, we do dream of some imagined ideal institution where everyone is sold out to follow Christ and everyone will encourage one another and everyone will leave stronger in the faith.  To answer Aaron's question, this is the "Christian aesthetics" ideal to which I was referring.  But it's just an ideal.  Look behind the curtain, and you'll never find things as rosy as that external veneer.  Even the most "pure" schools will have unregenerate, scoffers, doubters, and waverers.  Sins that are not allowed publicly are still practiced privately, and with gusto.  It's this way because even the church is this way.  This too, is reality.  

Bottom line - faith does not need an incubator, it needs testing.  It needs to be tried (James 1:2-4).  My view is, the more the training mimics the real world, the better.  Students coming out of that environment know what they are made out of, what they can withstand, and know their weaknesses and strengths.  This information is invaluable for those entering the ministry.  With all that being said, I don't want the next generation of pastors to come from settings where their faith is NOT tried or tested against the world.  Too much is at stake.

John B. Lee

Mike Harding's picture


Thank you for your article.  As a board member and executive committee member at BJU, I read your article with interest and introspection.  I am committed personally to the success of good Christian Colleges.  The challenges indeed are great and will be even greater in the future. Appropriate change is a good thing. 

Change-Nothing will ultimately result in Amishness.  We are strengthening the doctrinal and philosophical stand of BJU.  I have personally observed this in my tenure.  Some of the cultural changes were necessary and some are questionable.  These cultural changes are more subjective by nature and are often based on wisdom issues with a healthy dose of Romans 14-15 as well as 1 Cor 8-10.  I have about 20 students from our church at BJU and about 10 students at other conservative Christian colleges.  I am pleased overall with the spiritual progress I see with our students.  I have about 20 college students who are local and living at home.  Overall, they are doing well on account of their faithfulness to our church and the good homes who care for them.

Pastor Mike Harding

TylerR's picture


Good article. Well said. These are difficult times for any Christian institution. I suspect many universities will have to consider abandoning accreditation, in the future, and focus on ministry education. 

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?