A great question now looms over Christian higher education in America. Who shall stand and who shall fall? For every single Christian college, university, school and seminary, the answer to that question will soon become unmistakably clear.
The history of Christian schools abandoning the faith and turning their backs on the church is long, sad and full of lessons for today’s Christians. The university itself grew out of the Christian church and was based on the belief that all truth is God’s truth, and that faith and reason should operate in tandem. All this began to fall apart with the rise of the idea of autonomous human reason—human thinking freed from the authority of the Bible and the Christian worldview. In the medieval university, theology was the “queen of the sciences.” In most universities today, theology is not even taken seriously as a discipline.
In the United States, the earliest colleges and universities were established, first of all, for the training of Christian ministers in theological orthodoxy. That was true of Harvard College, founded in 1636, where the mission statement was clear: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.” Harvard was soon lost to Unitarianism and liberal theology. It, like most other prestigious universities, is now aggressively secular, even hostile to Christianity.
The majority of today’s Christian colleges and schools were established as alternatives to the trends toward liberalism and secularism in the educational world. Virtually all of these schools taught Christian truth, defended the Bible and sought to teach their students in the ways of Christ, including Biblical morality.
And yet, over the years, the same toxic temptations that seduced hundreds of schools to abandon the faith have led many supposedly Christian colleges to abandon truth, subvert orthodox Christian doctrine and compromise Biblical morality—and many are doing so, right under the noses of faithful Christians who little suspect what is happening. Many Christian families and churches actually have little idea what is being taught and advocated at some institutions of higher learning, to whom they are paying tuition bills and blindly entrusting their young people.
Today, higher education has become one of the major engines of social and moral revolution. The larger world of American higher education is actually openly hostile to Christian truth claims, and the doctrinal and moral commitments of Biblical Christianity are ridiculed and hated. Christians who hold to a Biblical understanding of sex, sexual morality, marriage and gender are now considered to be the enemies of human flourishing. Liberation, on most campuses, means liberation from the “oppressive” morality of the Bible.
Now we come to the moment of truth for today’s Christian college. Will you stand or will you fall? The Apostle Paul declares in Ephesians 6:14: “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth” (ESV).
Soon we will know which schools remain anchored in God’s Word and which schools will fall away.
The pressures are enormous. The larger society is moving quickly to consolidate and codify the sexual revolution and the LGBTQ movement as national policy. The academic world is even more liberal than the national culture, for now. Under the control of the moral liberationists, the rest of the culture is catching up fast.
The demands now come to Christian colleges, and they come like this: If you want us to consider your school as a legitimate institution of learning; if you want us to consider you intellectually respectable; if you want our financial support; if you want to play in our athletic tournaments; if you want to avoid the judgment we can pour out on you, then surrender your Biblical commitments and get with the program—and you had better do it fast.
The LGBTQ activists, working in concert with the Biden administration, are pushing toward what they see as a final victory. Their central legislative aim is the Equality Act, which would prohibit Christian schools from operating according to Biblical morality. President Biden has already signed executive orders on LGBTQ issues that are a direct attack on religious liberty. But add to this pressure the coercion coming from the athletic conferences, the elite donor class, local communities and the powerful, liberalizing tug of the larger academic culture.
Who will stand, and who will fall? We will know all too soon, and there will be plenty of heartbreak and sadness over the many losses.
I want to encourage Christian schools to stand, and to decide right now to stand. I understand the daunting pressures. Almost 30 years ago, I was elected president of a seminary that was large and respected—and very liberal. It was wildly out of step with the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it had been shifting to the left for decades. As it moved left, the secular world and the academic culture applauded.
But the conservative churches of the Southern Baptist Convention acted with remarkable courage to recapture and redirect their seminaries and pull them back to conservative Biblical doctrine, and to do so in a way that would last. In 1993, I was elected president of the denomination’s oldest seminary, and I was determined to return the school to Biblical fidelity and to hold it there. It was a struggle of immense difficulty. Basically, we had to exchange the large existing faculty for one that was new, hired because they were unreservedly committed to the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. Along with our denomination, we established new and necessary doctrinal requirements on issues such as Biblical sexuality and God’s definition of marriage. The larger academic world did everything it could to force us to surrender or compromise. They made every step toward orthodoxy as expensive as possible. But they could not stop it.
I write this in order to encourage schools to stand. We desperately need Christian schools, colleges and seminaries that will stand for Biblical truth and not fall. I assure you that it can be done. Don’t listen to the calls for compromise. Don’t believe that you cannot survive the onslaught from the academic elites. Don’t sell your school’s birthright for a bowl of secular applause.
Christian donors, don’t support schools that compromise Biblical truth. Parents, don’t send your children to schools that will undermine their faith. Denominations, hold your schools accountable or make them remove your name. The most dangerous institution on earth is one that claims to be Christian but actually undermines the faith.
Soon—very soon—we will know which institutions of higher learning shall stand and which shall fall. Make certain that the Christian school you love will stand, even if it must stand alone. ©2021 R. Albert Mohler Jr.
In addition to his role as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, R. Albert Mohler Jr. is an author, columnist and commentator.
Above: Southern Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.