22 responses

  1. Christopher™
    January 25, 2010

    As an ORU student during the 1980s, we viewed Wheaton as the most intellectual of Christian universities. ORU, on the other hand, was the idiot savant: occasionally genius-level brilliant… but saddled with a healthy dose of crazy.

    I find it fascinating that Wheaton would have issues with any professor that didn’t take the Adam and Eve story absolutely literally. It was in my freshman Old Testament Survey class at ORU that I learned that there were several ways to interpret the Genesis creation account–and that the Adam and Eve story was considered the “Naive Six-Day Theory.” You can imagine the gasps in the audience when this was uttered. And this was from a well-respected professor who had taught this class at ORU for many years.

    The irony is that it is precisely because of this ORU experience–learning that a good Christian could examine Scripture from a variety of different perspectives–that I was able to integrate my Christian faith with my gay identity many years later.

    This isn’t to say that the administration didn’t attempt to suffocate dissent in many other ways–they did–but even at a place like ORU, there were professors who were intellectually honest and progressive in their outlook.

    So, to hear that there’s a witch hunt at Wheaton in the 21st century… wow.

  2. Ben in Oakland
    January 25, 2010

    that’s because they still believe in witches.

    whether they still believe in burning them has yet to be determined.

  3. John
    January 25, 2010

    Wow! These people get college credit for answering anthropology course questions with Adam and Eve?

    How do any of their graduates get into graduate schools?

  4. Emily K
    January 25, 2010

    great article, Dave. Very telling.

    Evangelicals aren’t just losing my generation to a different political identity. They’re losing them to acceptance of queers, too.

  5. Dave Rattigan
    January 25, 2010

    Emily, I’ve been doing some research among alumni of my own alma mater, a conservative Pentecostal college in the UK, and I note the same trend – the younger generation are far more progressive (if not straightforwardly liberal, per se) on sexuality and other social issues.

    John, I think the answer to your question is that their students don’t get into graduate schools oftentimes. I find it baffling that conservative schools with such strict boundaries on doctrinal matters feel they can practice real scholarship with integrity.

  6. Charles
    January 25, 2010

    There is nothing wrong with being gay, and there never has been anything wrong with being gay. Fundamentalist Christianity simply has it wrong and is sinning big time by promoting prejudice against gays.
    Charles Cody, Wheaton 1973

  7. Marlene
    January 26, 2010

    The main problem with twits like Jones is the fact that authoritarianism does not allow for true learning and scholarship. Nothing but indoctrination and propaganda.

    Only through *questioning* does true understanding begin, and the old guard cannot fathom it, sadly.

    One *cannot* understand *any* book unless you examine it in its historical, cultural, and sociological context! And in the examination of books written in foreign languages (and ancient ones at that!), you have to take into context of when the book was translated and who was doing the translating!

  8. Ephilei
    January 26, 2010

    I have cousin alumnis of Wheaton. She got into grad school and is working on her phD without trouble. Her beliefs about Adam, Eve, and homosexuality don’t affect her math skills. Smart people believe all sorts of silly things and often it doesn’t affect their lives or others’ estimation of them.

    That said, I believe it’s disingenuous to believe “the Bible unambiguously condemns monogamous same-sex relationships.” Seeing as there is no monogamous same-sex relationship in the Bible (according to heterosexists) and the Bible can’t “clearly” condemn something it never mentions. The only possible condemnation is an ambiguous one. Anyone who differs is deceiving themselves.

  9. Dave Rattigan
    January 27, 2010

    Ephilei, I think universities are quite cautious admitting graduates from conservative colleges for theological and biblical studies, at least. This complaint by a conservative evangelical Bible scholar sparked quite a discussion late last year.

  10. Ephilei
    January 27, 2010

    All I have is anecdotal evidence. My cousin was accepted by William and Mary after Wheaton. A friend of mine from our slightly less conservative Christian college to Vanderbilt (chemistry). Generally, most colleges are poor educators and universities know that. Most Christian happen to be among those poor educators, tho Wheaton’s an exception (my college was not). There are plenty of fundamentalist Christians who are extremely intelligent. My guess is that looking at IQ scores, religious fundamentalism is not an indicator. But hey, I’m always open to being proven wrong.

  11. Dave Rattigan
    January 27, 2010

    I don’t dispute your points. It makes sense that a college like Wheaton would give just as good an education in subjects like math as anywhere.

    I just know that in my own field of interest (and the subject of my degree), theology and biblical studies, an education from a conservative college isn’t taken as seriously as from a secular or liberal college. It doesn’t surprise me – how can real scholarship exist when your conclusions are prescribed in advance by the institution?

  12. David Roberts
    January 27, 2010

    It is my understanding, though hardly authoritative, that Wheaton offers a good education. That said, I’m not sure how one could do that and not maintain some sort of mental Chinese wall between the theology and say studies in biology, biochemistry or genetics. The entire basis for those fields is grounded in our understanding of Darwinian evolution. If you take that away, little would really make sense in any of them.

    So that is an interesting problem. How does one take the Genesis story of creation literally and still obtain a degree in one of these disciplines? And how can one teach both alongside each other and maintain intellectual integrity?

  13. Ephilei
    January 28, 2010

    Ah! Now I understand what you’re saying. Yes, my degree in religion won’t be seen as valuable by secular universities because it was a Christian college. I agree.

    That’s a good question. Surely there’s not a satisfactory answer. My response is something along the lines of “Because they don’t think too hard about it.” But you can learn a lot of facts without knowing their origin. Take genetics. Before genes we even discovered, we knew a lot about them without knowing their origins. Similarly, a creationist is perfectly capable of isolating and splicing genes. She doesn’t need to know where they came from, just what’s in front of her. In computers, this is called a layer of abstraction. I work with computers all day yet there’s much I don’t understand about their origins and fundamentals. That didn’t bother my boss when he hired me because was correct that it wouldn’t affect my job performance (much). Me and the geneticist would have a greater appreciation and better skills by knowing more, but there’s still plenty we can do only knowing part of the picture. Sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes it is.

  14. David Roberts
    January 28, 2010

    The computer analogy breaks down in that you don’t necessarily need to know the earlier stages of the technology to do your job. In genetics, the fact that old data stored in the DNA follows a scheme that only makes sense when you realize that it came from traits which were not useful to earlier lines, etc (I am not studied in this field) means something. I suppose one could do the equivalent of “grunt work” in genetics without an understanding of that, but I’m not sure there would be many insight based advances coming from that person.

    This reminds me of a visit to the dentist at about age 14. The dentist was a fundamentalist Christian, and he was discussing my soon to be removed wisdom teeth. He was explaining why they don’t often come in correctly, are often stunted, etc, and then remarked that “they tell us that’s because of evolution.” He said it with a mixture of humor and light contempt. I suppose that is one of those areas where it would make little difference what one’s understanding of Genesis was.

    On the other hand, we should remember these issues when someone (with ADF in the lead no doubt) brings suit against a school for “not respecting their beliefs” by insisting that they answer correctly when tested on material that requires answers that don’t include Adam and Eve. It seems to me that the creation account is meant to convey that God is the maker of everything, not a detailed dissertation on how He did it.

  15. Christian Independent
    January 30, 2010

    @Dave Rattigan – Dave, your point on conservative seminaries i true. I briefly considered Liberty’s seminary program in my former conservative days and they had a list of doctrines (about 15 theological statements listed on a form) that you HAD to agree with BEFORE you were allowed entrance to the seminary. What’s the point of scholarship and learning if you believe exactly the same thing at the end of your education that you did at the beginning? It’s a sad thing to see.

    Just as a note, the funny thing about this issue with Wheaton is that among more conservative schools and Bible colleges, Wheaton is seen as a liberal sell-out!! That gives you a little insight as to how backwards these more conservative schools are. How they are accredited I will never know.

  16. gordo
    January 30, 2010

    How they are accredited I will never know.

    They created their own accredidation agency – it is bogus, but their students don’t find that out until they graduate and try to get into grad school or get a job.


  17. Christian Independent
    January 30, 2010

    Gordo, it is true that some of them use TRACS, but schools like Wheaton, Liberty University, Gordon College, and a lot of Bible Colleges our there ARE accredited by regional accrediting agencies. If they weren’t then they wouldn’t attract students who were looking to do graduate level work unless they were going to do it strictly in theological studies. But, even then, most conservative schools at the graduate level (ones who are both accredited and nonaccredited – including seminaries) still require an undergrad degree from an accredited college/university. So while it’s true that there are other accrediting agencies out there, most of the well-known ones are regionally accredited and recognized by the Dept. of Education. My point is that if you look at the curriculum of a lot of Bible colleges, it’s amazing that the accrediting organizations set the standards so low for how much of a general education that one is required to get. Typically, one does 48-51 credits of Bible classes in a Bible school, thus greatly reducing general electives and classes in the humanities or sciences. Basically, these schools include in their curriculums the bare minimum number of these courses and then max out the rest with Bible courses. I just think that a college education should require a greater number of courses from the humanities and sciences. Not only is this in the best interest of the students who will graduate, but it would go a long way toward reducing the ignorance of the graduates of these bible schools in areas other than conservative understandings of the bible. Shouldn’t we as a society have a higher standard for those upon whom we grant the status of a university graduate? Is it really wise or fair for us to say a person is a college educated individual when their education in math, history, biology, philosophy, psychology, and political science etc. hardly surpasses that of a high school graduate in areas outside the bible? I think the DEA needs to upgrade their standards and if bible colleges don’t adapt, then they lose their accreditation. I one of those people who realized too late that I lost out a lot on having reduced courseloads in areas outside of my religion major. Thankfully, I had enough psychology classes from state school to get into a masters program, but others aren’t so lucky! :(

  18. Laura
    February 3, 2010

    As a recent Wheaton alum, I’d like to qualify the previous post.

    Wheaton is a liberal arts college which highly values its identity as such. It is not a “Bible college.” It does require students in all disciplines to take a minimal level of biblical studies and theology courses, but these are nowhere near the 48-51 credit hours mentioned in the previous post.

    When I was at Wheaton (2002-2006), most students not majoring in Bible/Theology were required to take 14 hours (4 classes – one per year) in that department. We were certainly required to take far more “gen ed” hours in the humanities than in Bible/Theology. Of course many students may choose to take additional Bible/Theology courses as electives, however.

    I haven’t looked into the academic requirements at Bible colleges, or any other Christian colleges or universities, so I can’t vouch for them – perhaps they do require an unusually large number of Bible credits. But I believe there is quite a difference between the academic philosophies of liberal arts colleges such as Wheaton and schools who define themselves specifically as Bible colleges (and who therefore may require more classes in Bible/Theology).

    Also, while I have not (yet) gone to graduate school, I have many, many Wheaton classmates who have gone on to study at prestigious universities, including a number at Ivy League institutions. I have not known a Wheaton degree to be a severe impediment to their acceptance at any of these institutions. Again, there may be a difference in this regard between a degree from an academically rigorous liberal arts college like Wheaton and a smaller or less rigorous Bible college; and it may depend on the academic discipline being pursued.

    As a final note, it was my experience that there is a keen difference between Wheaton’s administration (which is what your article here is primarily critiquing; and whose views tend to be much narrower) and its professors and students (who tend to have much broader views). And it’s a norm for students (myself included) to enter Wheaton with a much narrower and very conservative worldview due to the families and communities we were raised in, but to leave Wheaton with much more liberal – or at least more moderate and nuanced – views.

    Again, my comments are specific to Wheaton, as was the original article, and I do not purport to reflect trends or realities on other Christian college campuses. I am only concerned that Wheaton is presented accurately.

  19. Dave Rattigan
    February 4, 2010

    Thanks, Laura.

  20. Christopher™
    February 5, 2010

    As a final note, it was my experience that there is a keen difference between Wheaton’s administration (which is what your article here is primarily critiquing; and whose views tend to be much narrower) and its professors and students (who tend to have much broader views). And it’s a norm for students (myself included) to enter Wheaton with a much narrower and very conservative worldview due to the families and communities we were raised in, but to leave Wheaton with much more liberal – or at least more moderate and nuanced – views.

    This was exactly my experience at ORU as well.

    ORU’s administration was disliked and generally distrusted by many students and professors during my time there in the 1980s. Case in point: the ORU administration was notorious for canceling concerts at the last minute if they didn’t like the look of the performers, so when the Christian punk band Undercover came to play during my senior year, we had a network of students keep tabs on the whereabouts of the Dean of Men, who was notoriously judgmental and homophobic. They made sure he was always on the opposite side of the campus relative to guitarist Gym Nicholson, who had pretty wild-looking hair, which the administration insisted on retouching in a photograph in the student newspaper so not to offend the delicate sensibilities of Oral Roberts’ long-time financial supporters.

    While the ORU campus was definitely a conservative atmosphere, there were several professors who were much more progressive. One even later attended a friend of mine’s gay commitment ceremony at the risk of his job, and when the administration demanded student counselors to reveal private conversations if any “Honor Code” violations were expressed, many counselors quietly refused, and some resigned.

    The ultimate irony is that my progressive shift on a number of theological positions was a direct result of my ORU experience. It doesn’t surprise me that Wheaton’s environment is similar. Whenever you have an overriding cultural mindset into which people feel forced to acquiesce, you will get pushback–especially in an academic environment, where the purpose of education is to evaluate all points of view.

  21. Current Wheaton Student
    February 8, 2010

    I am a student currently enrolled at Wheaton College. I am majoring in Environmental Studies.
    To those referring to the large amount of Bible credits Wheaton requires, I’d urge you to do some research before making such comments. Wheaton requires only 12-14 hours of Bible/ Theology classes (three and a half semesters total).
    To those wondering as to how a Wheaton student can reconcile his or her faith with scientific research, I’d refer you to the Wheaton College Community Covenant. Importantly absent is an official stance on Evolution or one approach to the Genesis/Creation narrative. In my classes we have VERY FEW students who are completely for the seven day creation theory. Many believe in a day-age theory (that is, a “day” doesn’t necessarily mean 24 hours, it could mean billions of years) or some other related theory. In fact, in one course, we were actively discussing the idea that perhaps the Genesis story is a myth put in place to give early Christians and Jews some means of understanding a process that is too complex and cosmic for humans to understand.

    Also in referring to the Community Covenant: The main goal of establishing the Covenant is to create a list of standards for community life. Upon brief examination of the covenant, one finds standards including “to cultivate a campus atmosphere that encourages spiritual, moral and intellectual growth”, upholding one another, respect of property and life, and demonstration of “love, joy, peace, patience” among other virtues. The covenant condemns lying, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. I find it refreshing that an institution upholds such behaviors that should be common courtesy. My friends at other Universities are finding that their fellow students have a complete disregard for some of these values. While the covenant does forbid smoking, drinking and homosexual behavior, it nowhere says that homosexuality is a crime or will send someone directly to hell.
    In my experience, people often see what Wheaton College forbids rather than the standards that Wheaton upholds. The community covenant that all Wheaton students, faculty and staff (yes that includes maintenance staff and cafeteria workers) sign and uphold can be found here: http://wheaton.edu/welcome/aboutus_community.html

    About our qualifications as a Liberal Arts Institution (NOT BIBLE COLLEGE):

    We are accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, a secular group.

    US News and World Report ranks us as the number 56 liberal arts college in the country.
    Princeton Review includes us in the 371 best colleges
    We are one of only 40 schools included in Loren Pope’s Colleges that Change lives
    60% of the class of 2013 graduated in the top 10% of their high school class.
    Right after graduation, 60% of alums get jobs, 27% are enrolled in a graduate school, 2% join the military and 11% go on other paths (including missions, Peace Corps etc…)

    I hope that my insight has proven useful.

  22. Ephilei
    February 9, 2010


    I think that’s a common dynamic at academic institutions. Administration is typically controlled by a board made up of alumni age 40-80 whereas profs are typically 30-60 and students 18-25, so the admin is several decades more conservative than the profs who are several decades more conservative than students.

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