Cedarville University and the New Evangelicalism

Today’s parents and pastors face a difficult situation when the time comes for finding the right college to send their young people to. So many different things are considered in this important decision: cost, location, quality of education, facilities, size of the school, programs offered, and extra-curricular activities, to name a few. Although the responsibility for educating our young people ultimately rests with our homes and local churches, a college education can either greatly enhance that preparation or do the exact opposite.

There is an old saying that says “as the schools go, so go the churches.” What do you want your church to be and look like? Look at what, how, and where your young people are being trained, and that will give you a pretty good idea of the direction you can expect your church to be going in the future. One school that can have particular appeal to young people is Cedarville University. It boasts many great things in regard to the previous list, and has had a history of being a Christian college which fundamental churches could entrust their students to. But is it the same institution now as it was in the 1950s and 60s? Is it a place that fundamentalists should entrust their students to that will support and enhance the beliefs and convictions they hold dear?

If you look at the history of the church, the plague of liberalism and apostasy was often brought into Bible believing institutions by graduates of schools who were trained in the “modern” views of the Bible. This resulted in a great battle between fundamentalists (Bible-believers) and liberals for control of denominations, schools, and mission boards. Fundamentalists separated from entangling alliances with such unbelief in order to establish a pure testimony that would honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

New Evangelicalism
In the 1940s and 50s there arose a group of individuals who were dissatisfied with their fundamentalist heritage. They felt that fundamentalists had lost the battles because of an insistence upon their doctrinal convictions; their aggressive, militant defense of doctrine; and their practice of separating their churches and organizations from those tainted by or given over to unbelief. These individuals named themselves the “new evangelicals,” and fundamentalists pointed out that while they did not carry the plague of apostasy, they had a virus that could easily bring about the pestilence. That virus was a willingness to have working relationships with liberal individuals and organizations. New evangelicalism was considered a dangerous and more difficult foe as it had the trappings of fundamentalism but rejected complete obedience to the Bible’s command to “come out from among them, and be ye separate…and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor 6:17).

New evangelicalism is promoted in many ways. Evangelists such as Billy Graham cooperate with liberals in evangelistic meetings. Organizations such as World Vision exist solely to alleviate worldwide human suffering. Ecumenical efforts such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together and Promise Keepers have been established. Issues of personal morality such as smoking, social drinking, dancing, jazz and rock music, theater attendance, tattoos, and even homosexuality and lesbianism have become accepted practices and behaviors in evangelical circles.

Enter Cedarville University
Cedarville University was originally a Presbyterian college that was turned over in 1953 to a group of Baptists affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). They wanted a liberal arts college that was separated from unbelief and compromise. They wanted young people to return to their churches trained and committed to a militant defense of the faith and total separation from both liberalism and new evangelicalism.

Institutions never stay the same: change will occur, either suddenly or gradually over time. Cedarville is no different; over the course of the last thirty or so years it has slowly dulled its militancy and made subtle compromises in its associations. It has been infected by the virus of new evangelicalism and this can be seen in four areas: the speakers it utilizes in chapel, the music it promotes on campus, the ministry emphasis it teaches, and the associations it has made.

New Evangelical Speakers
The individuals a college invites to speak to its faculty, staff, and student body play an important role in molding and educating a student. Such speakers are viewed as “special” and thus gain a positive reception. All that an individual is known for and involved in follows him wherever he goes. Thus, inviting an individual to speak isn’t quite so innocent or free from outside connections as one may think. An educational institution has the preacher come to do more than present a message from Scripture; the school also sets its stamp of approval upon the speaker’s overall character and direction. By doing this the school sends a message to its students: “what this individual says and does is good—learn from him.” What kind of speakers does Cedarville have in its chapels?

Warren Wiersbe has been a regular speaker at Cedarville since the late 1960s. He is an effective communicator, has pastored several churches, authored dozens of books, and served for ten years as general director and Bible teacher for Back to the Bible Ministries. His close ties with Cedarville have brought him to its pulpit numerous times. Cedarville president Paul Dixon says that Wiersbe “best exemplifies what Cedarville College stands for.” However, Wiersbe’s new evangelical tendencies and connections are clearly seen by his willingness to speak at the Billy Graham Training Center. He obviously does not object to connecting his name and influence with Billy Graham, who as previously noted has no problem entering into direct partnerships with apostate liberals for the sake of broadening ministry opportunities.

A second individual to consider is Joseph Stowell III, current president of Moody Bible Institute. He has also been a regular speaker at Cedarville. Is Stowell a fundamentalist? One need only note his frequent participation in and support of Promise Keepers to conclude that he is not. Promise Keepers actively seeks to “break down” all denominational barriers whether they are Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic. Additionally, Stowell authored a chapter in This We Believe, repudiating militancy and separatism throughout it.

A brief survey of other speakers invited to the Cedarville pulpit shows the anti-fundamentalist attitude of the school. John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church and President of the Master’s College, rejects ecclesiastical separation and speaks in a wide variety of venues. Bruce Wilkinson, founder of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, is a frequent Promise Keepers’ speaker. Knute Larson, pastor of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio, regularly speaks for and associates with area Churches of God. Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, is a popular Cedarville speaker and frequently speaks in a variety of new evangelical settings. Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, has Charismatic leanings. Southern Baptists such as Paige Patterson, former SBC president, and Jack Kwok, Ohio’s Southern Baptist Representative also speak at Cedarville. These are some of the individuals your young people would have put before them as examples of what a God-honoring ministry looks like. Everything about the speakers is viewed as correct and good by the students who will soon be in and lead your churches.

New Evangelical Music
For some time evangelicals have sought to “Christianize” worldly music by keeping the music but replacing the words. Rock music seeks to cater to the fleshly and sensual, and fundamentalists have rightly rejected any attempts to use Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). Separation in music must be practiced just as separation in doctrine must be, for music reveals one’s faith. Fundamentalism rightly reacts against compromise in doctrine; it must also react against compromises made in music. Salvation results in a changed life, and if one attempts to use worldly music to try to save people from the world, the end results will be “Christians” who are worldly.

What kind of music does Cedarville University seek to inculcate in your students and eventually your churches? Again, a brief survey reveals a commitment to not only CCM, but also secular jazz, swing, and pop.

Larnelle Harris is a Cedarville regular. He is featured at Billy Graham crusades, at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, where Robert Schuller is pastor, and for the charismatic TBN network. Michael Card visited last December. He has produced an album with Roman Catholic monk John Michael Talbot and has described the reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants that has occurred because of the album. The group Jars of Clay performed last November. An advertising blurb says of one of their albums, “In this album, Jars of Clay reconnects itself to the passions and convictions, the sorrows and the joys that permeate the human condition of faith and faithfulness. ‘When you listen to this record, I hope you don’t hear the noisy vocabulary of religion. I hope you hear music that is because of faith rather than about it.’” This remark by one of the band members shows the new evangelical emphasis of experience over doctrine. Cedarville’s own Jazz Singers perform jazz and swing selections, and has artists such as Jubilant Sykes perform. Among others, Sykes performs songs by rock musicians Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

Some may say that this is an area of “personal liberty.” An important thing to consider after reviewing these individuals and groups is that a failure in this area of personal separation has immediate effects in the area of ecclesiastical separation, those whom your church is identified with.

The Ministry Training of New Evangelicalism
As a Christian college, Cedarville desires to not only prepare its students for effectiveness in their chosen vocations, but also for effectiveness in their service for Christ. In its Bible Institute days, the school trained young people in the areas of evangelism and personal discipleship and taught that carrying out the Great Commission meant planting churches. New evangelicalism accused fundamentalism of leaving out the “social” aspects of the gospel. Has Cedarville been affected by this?

In the University’s Social Work Program, a controlling belief is that Christians should work to make people better off and redeem communities and social institutions. It is involved in Habitat for Humanity, an organization that is ecumenical and dedicated to the social gospel of the Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. Cedarville promotes a program of World Vision called Women of Vision, that seeks to improve the life situation of women and children everywhere by meeting their needs. Cedarville wants to involve not only students in these endeavors, but churches as well. The Bible nowhere says that churches and believers are to be involved in these types of activities.

The Organizations of New Evangelicalism
Cedarville is actively involved in promoting Promise Keepers. It does so by inviting PK speakers to chapel, and broadcasting the conference on its radio station in an effort to give PK wider exposure.

Cedarville recently entered into a partnering agreement with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Southern Baptist men are on the University’s board of trustees, and administrators, faculty, and staff attend SBC churches in Ohio. Cedarville’s current president, Paul Dixon, has said that “we aim to serve the broader constituency of conservative Christian young people, their parents, and their churches.”

A Logical Conclusion
What kind of a college should a fundamentalist pastor and parent want to send their young people to for a Christian education? If fundamentalists want their young people to be grounded in biblical doctrine, have a commitment to spreading and defending its truths, and be so jealous for Bible truth that he would separate from unbelief and compromise, it only makes sense to recommend a college that has those same commitments. Remember, “as the schools go, so go the churches.”

Cedarville University is not a school a fundamentalist should send young people to, for the school will not train them to be fundamentalists. Rather, they will be taught new evangelicalism by the preachers that are brought in, the music that is utilized, and the ministries they are encouraged to participate in.

Some undoubtedly may object to this conclusion—“Cedarville has never said that it is new evangelical.” When I was in seminary, I often struggled with identifying a certain kind of Hebrew verb. My professor counseled me, “Dan, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.” Cedarville looks like a new evangelical school and acts like a new evangelical school, and is a new evangelical school. It is no place for fundamentalists to send their young people.

March 2003


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