May 12, 2011 | Comments 50
EDITOR’S REMARKS: The article below was originally published in The Greenville News and later repeated in The Aquila Report. The article is by Ms. Nancy S. Campbell and Rev. Andrew K. Putnam. The article appeared just after the meeting of the Erskine Alumni Association on Saturday, April 30, 2011.
The article is an example of unreality – an I-wish-it-were-true-but-it-isn’t-but-perhaps-I-can-convince-you-that-it’s-true! The only way the sentiments expressed in this article correspond to any reality is if we have entered the realm of the Superman comic books where parallel universes intersect and a news article from an alternate universe where there is a faithful, evangelical Erskine College somehow is posted in The Greenville News in our universe.
This article is balderdash and wishful thinking. It is simply an attempt to sell the proposed bylaws to two constituencies that have been and still are at odds with one another, the ARP Church and the Alumni Association. Apart from a new President, who is indeed an evangelical Christian, not much has changed. Yes, a few people have been moved on; however, at this point, the administration and faculty are essentially the same as they were last year.
The Editor is amazed that Ms. Campbell and Rev. Putnam trot out the issue of academic freedom at Erskine at this time. The issue is not and has never been academic freedom. Even SACS now recognizes that there is no threat to academic freedom at Erskine. Rather, the issues are faithfulness to the stated goal for Erskine as evangelical Christian, integrity in upholding and advancing the mission, and personal responsibility to own the goal and faith. At Erskine College and Seminary, “academic freedom” has become a code word for a license to subvert and attack the Christian foundation and the evangelical underpinnings that define Erskine College as evangelically Christian and the Seminary as Associate Reformed Presbyterian, Reformed, and orthodox.
Have we forgotten that many Erskine Board members and Erskine College faculty members have admitted that they do NOT know what a Christian worldview looks like? Not only do many on he Erskine faculty members not know what a Christian worldview is, they probably do not know what evangelical Christianity is. Dr. Bill Crenshaw, the controversial English professor and self-proclaimed opponent of evangelical Christianity at Erskine, on March 21, 2011, posted on the secular alums’ Facebook site that two-thirds of the present Erskine faculty members are so at odds with the stated purpose and goals of Erskine as an evangelical Christian college that they could not be hired today. Fascinatingly, Dr. Crenshaw, in his classroom and on Facebook and blog posts, has nearly perfected the art of criticism and the demeaning of evangelical Christianity – and that from a professor at a college that has and still advertises itself as an evangelical Christian college. Is there a pastor in the ARP Church who would allow Dr. Crenshaw to teach a Sunday School class? Is there a pastor in the ARP Church who would present him for membership in his congregation? How does such an irony as this make Erskine a distinctively evangelical Christian college? So, why do Ms. Campbell and Rev. Putnam bring up the topic of academic freedom? What we have witnessed at Erskine is abuse of academic freedom under the ruse of intellectual inquiry in order to promote antipathy for and attacks on the Christian faith.
Well, have we also forgotten that ETS faculty is bitterly divided over the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible? Have we forgotten that ETS does not reflect fully the theological standards of the ARP Church? Have we forgotten why so many of our ministerial candidates have abandoned ETS for more faithful seminaries? In just a few days, the overwhelming majority of ministerial candidates who will graduate from seminary and take calls to congregations in the ARP Church will NOT be ETS graduates. They were not willing to trust ETS with their theological training despite the fact that they could have attended ETS virtually tuition free.
The relationship between the General Synod of the ARP Church and the Erskine Board of Trustees (EBOT) is still fractured. The antagonisms and divisions on the EBOT are still present. The long history of the EBOT’s failure at fiduciary responsibility and oversight of the college administration and the seminary administration continues to persist like an unrelenting plague. Indeed, that dark cloud is going to be difficult for the new President to dissipate.
This article by Ms. Campbell and Rev. Putnam is the worst kind of PR nonsense. At this point, Erskine College is being advertised as something that Erskine ain’t! Erskine ain’t evangelical Christian! It may be the goal of the new President, but that is not what Erskine is now. It is unthinkable that Erskine College is being advertised as a distinctively “Christian” college, and it is just as unthinkable that ETS is advertised as a faithfully Reformed and Presbyterian seminary that affirms the inerrancy of the Bible.
The following op-ed was published in the Greenville News, May 5, 2011:
Academic Freedom and Faith Are Not Enemies
Nancy S. Campbell, President, Erskine College Alumni Association, and
Andrew K. Putnam, Moderator-Elect, General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
In higher education, a perception exists that the academic inquiry found in an excellent liberal arts environment and a genuine commitment to Christian faith are essentially incompatible. However, in our roles for Erskine College and Seminary as president-elect of the Alumni Association and moderator-elect of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP) Church, we see these two elements as not only complementary, but essential components of the Erskine mission. Furthermore, we believe as with other important apparently opposing values, maintaining balance between them is worth the hard work—even when it means working through family feuds and differences.
A year ago, members of the Board of Trustees and alumni of Erskine were engaged in just such a dispute with the institution’s founding denomination, the ARP Church. Support of opposing views on these issues had polarized supporters to the point of breakdown.
That breakdown threatened to dismantle the board and resulted in a series of procedural and legal actions. These actions were both supported and opposed by many from within the denomination and the alumni. As expected, they also attracted the attention of the press and the institution’s accrediting associations.
With an agreement to keep the duly elected board in place, the legal action was dropped. This is where the story moves from the predictable to the notable. Over the past year, we have repeatedly witnessed genuine collaboration and commitment to achieving the wholeness that includes Christian faith and academic excellence.
Rather than allowing a stalemate to cripple Erskine, the original, intact board found common ground. First, the board unanimously appointed Dr. David A. Norman to succeed the retiring Dr. Randall T. Ruble as president. Not only was this decision unanimous, it took place within two short months of the height of differences. Next, the board created a bylaws committee comprised of trustees, alumni, faculty, ARP ministers, and members of other denominations to address accreditation recommendations and organizational concerns.
The two of us are serving on this bylaws committee. Our group has proposed a collaborative framework for the board and denomination to work together more effectively to place gifted leaders on the board. In addition to putting words on paper, we have witnessed notable progress in building collaboration between Erskine supporters across diverse, passionately held views.
What has propelled this progress? Dr. Norman’s inspiring vision of an institution where both authentic Christian liberal arts and genuine academic inquiry flourish.
While the board addressed its governance issues, excellence in education at Erskine continued as expected. For example, over the past year, 100 percent of Erskine students who applied to medical school (about ten percent of the graduating class) were accepted. Nearly half of the 2010 graduates continued their studies at graduate schools, several of them going directly to doctoral programs.
More recently, accrediting associations have recognized the institution’s atmosphere of academic freedom. Evidence of Erskine’s Christian influence appears not only across the campus in academics, arts, and athletics, but across the upstate and into the world in churches, businesses, government and non-profit organizations.
We view the events of the past year as a God-given learning opportunity. The time for assigning blame is well over. Erskine is focusing on the future. This past Friday, April 29, Erskine inaugurated Dr. Norman as its fifteenth president. We are grateful for the ways in which God has blessed Erskine, and we are excited about working toward the vision Dr. Norman describes for Erskine. We have an excellent faculty and collaboratively engaged alumni and denominational leaders.
Regardless of your connection to Erskine, we hope you’ll witness along with us how genuine academic excellence and authentic Christian faith are blended and balanced to prepare graduates who flourish as whole persons—intellectually, physically, and spiritually—to become leaders who are locally active and globally minded in guiding their families, careers, churches, and communities.