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My Response to Dr. Burrell's Response

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Last week, Dr. Dan Burrell began a series of posts entitled, "Challenges and Opportunities for Conservative Christian Colleges" in which he proposes to "explore the strengths and weaknesses of Christian colleges serving this generation of students."

On its surface, this sounds like a noble venture and one that could (and probably still might) prove useful in opening up avenues that may need to be discussed.

In Dr. Burrell's first post in this series, entitled Challenges and Opportunities for Conservative Christian Colleges - Part 1 - Transformation verses (sic) Conformity, Dr. Burrell began by addressing the issue that schools should be focused upon encouraging transformation in the lives of the students rather than just encouraging conformity. I agree with his main point, and said so in my first post (my exact words were "I agree that there should be more of an emphasis on transformation than just conformity.").

While I agree with the concept behind his first point, I was disappointed with some of the things that he said in supporting that as well as with the way that he linked BJU with schools like Texas Baptist College and Hyles-Anderson College in that post. I addressed some of my disappointments in a post a couple of days ago in a post entitled "Conservative Christian Colleges." In doing so, I also made a comment on Dr. Burrell's blog directing him to the post so that he could have a chance to respond. Well, earlier tonight I checked things out and discovered that he had responded to my comments - both in the comments section of my blog and the comments section of his blog (as well as writing a post to indicate that he had responded).

I will not reproduce either my original article or his comments here, since they are already linked above. I would, however, like to make some related comments and respond to some of his response tonight. I am leaving for the National Leadership Conference in Lansdale tomorrow and will probably not be available to comment while I am gone.

Before I get into the specifics of his response, I would like to make a few comments that I feel are important.

* I believe that this discussion can and should be a civil discussion. In light of that, I apologize for my use of the term "obnoxious" a couple of times in reference to a comment made by Dr. Burrell. I should have chosen a better word to describe my views of the comment in question.

* While this discussion may be of interest to the two of us in particular, I believe it is important that we consider the fact that many others are reading these words. (In fact, many more are reading this than I expected - you are a popular guy, Dan. I never knew how popular you were until I started to see the number of referral's that have come my way from your post.) It is because of the fact that others are reading this that I feel so strongly that we need to make some of the important distinctions that I called for in my first post. A comment on Dan's blog by a Norman Mayfield immediately after his reply to me reveals why I think this is so important.

Dr. Burrell I am very interested in your comments because I have several grandchildren that I have been praying would go to a Christian college. Can you name me a school that you think is doing a good job? If BJU is not the answer, is a state school any better? I have one granddaughter who went a state school here in Florida. Lived with her boyfriend all through school (Now they are marrried) she has a great job but has no interest in church and is very liberal politically. She was raised in an IFB church. What is the answer?

With the way that Dr. Burrell has painted BJU with the "broad brush" that he uses and included BJU with the more "radical" schools, he is leaving an impression about BJU that I feel is a false impression based more on stereotype and inaccuracy than of fact.

If someone is looking over and considering a school like BJU and comes upon Dr. Burrell's site, they are likely to leave with the same impression that Mr. Mayfield seems to have received - that BJU is not a viable option anymore, at least in Dr. Burrell's view. (And based on his response to that comment, perhaps to Dr. Burrell it is not.) I feel this would not do justice to BJU and would hope that no one allows his comments to influence them too strongly on this important decision in life.

* While I doubt anyone would make this mistake, I do want to clarify that the comments that I have made on my last post and that I will make on this post are my own comments and are not in any way an "official" response from BJU. As far as I know, BJU is not even aware of this discussion.

* In Dr. Burrell's original comments to me on his blog, he clarified a little regarding his intended targets of the critique.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I would tell you that the "under-the-covers" experience I recounted occurred at Hyles-Anderson. I'll just briefly state that while you might take umbrage with me inclusion of the likes of TBC and HAC with BJU, there are many "connections" between the schools including faculty and student recruiting pools. For example, I am largely using, for the sake of this discussion, colleges that have or do advertise in the Sword of the Lord which is probably the largest Independent Baptist circular of its kind.

I strongly disagree with his characterizing BJU as in the same category of these other schools, as I commented in response to this on his blog. I also disagree that there are really that many connections between the schools - at least not anymore. As far as their being a "connection" between the faculty, a look through BJU's Bulletin revealed one out of over 300 faculty members who had any kind of degree from HAC - Dr. Walter Freemont (a mostly retired teacher who stopped actively teaching when I was a Sophomore back in 1988-1989) - and that degree was an L.H.D. given years ago.

Now to some of the specifics of Dr. Burrell's reply to me.
* Regarding my concern of his "lumping" BJU in with schools like Texas Baptist College and Hyles-Anderson College, Dr. Burrell makes the following points (the full comments can be found in the comments section of my original post on this topic).

First, BJU is the oldest and most pre-eminent of the conservative Christian and Independent Baptist colleges I cited and most all of those which I didn't cite. Texas Baptist is run by a total Hyles sychophant (Bob Gray) and Hyles-Anderson proudly cited its BJU "heritage" while I was there in the late 70's and early 80's and I assume they haven't changed the names of the dorms named for various Jones' and Ma' Sunday, etc… Wendell Evans, the long-time president of HAC is a very proud of BJU and in years past, there were multiple BJU grads on faculty and staff. Quite a few kids transferred back and forth between the two institutions and I know of several HAC board members who sent their children to BJU.

The problem with this comment is that the evaluation he is giving is theoretically about "Challenges and Opportunities" and one would assume that those "Challenges and Opportunities" would be things that need to be dealt with today, not references to things that are 30 years in the past. Was there a closer relationship between BJU and HAC (for instance) in the 1970s? Sure. Things were a lot different back then. A lot of the Hyles "baggage" had not come to fruition yet, back then (for instance Sumner did not publish his "Saddest Story Ever Told" until 1989).

The current situation is vastly different, however. It was comments directed against BJU and PCC at a Hyles "Pastor's Conference" that led to the original PCC video. As I mentioned above, BJU has one faculty member out of over 300 that has any type of degree from BJU. Tthey have two with degrees from Southern Illinois University, does that mean that they are to be connected, too? As far as the other way around, Hyles' catalog mentions Dr. Evans, whom Dr. Burrell mentioned, as a graduate of BJU and three other full-time faculty members and one part-time faculty member. I find it interesting that, in light of his more recent post regarding the SBC, Dan wants to give the SBC a pass on the issues that he perceives as part of their past, yet does not extend that same courtesy regarding past "connections" BJU may have had with these other schools.

I still hold to my contention that Dr. Burrell is unfairly connecting BJU to these other schools and would be more accurate (and more helpful) if he had separated the more "far right" schools like TBC & HAC from the more "main stream" Fundamentalist schools like BJU, MBBC, and NBBC.

* Dr. Burrell replies to my comment about the difficulty of critiquing his comments due to his lumping of the schools together.
I had commented:
By lumping these significantly different schools together, he actually makes the discussion hard to critique because when refutation of a particular illustration is made, Dr. Burrell can claim, "Well, I wasn't speaking of that institution when I made that comment."

Dan Replies… That's a supposition without any basis in fact. I have not dodged any refutation of my theses using that line. I'm not going to claim exact applications in every situation and will offer broad generalizations based on experience and personal observations, but will use specific examples only as anecdotal support.

I should clarify that I was not claiming that Dr. Burrell was going to be dishonest here. I am sorry if it came across that way. I was indicating that the lumping tends to give the impression that the particular represent all the schools that are so lumped and when comments are made that this would not be true at X institution, the answer can be made that X institution was not in question with that example. But that the objection would need to be raised and the effect of the objection is deflected because, "well I wasn't talking about that institution." Until the objection is raised and answered, however, it gives the impression that the situation describes the situation at all the schools included.

The reality of the situation is that this is exactly what happened with the comment about fearing to read the Swindoll book for fear of getting kicked out of school for reading a New Evangelical author. Dr. Burrell responded by saying:
In the interest of full-disclosure, I would tell you that the "under-the-covers" experience I recounted occurred at Hyles-Anderson.

If I had not made a comment about this, would this clarification have been made or would people be left with the impression that BJU would kick someone out for reading Swindoll?

Dan goes on to comment regarding this particular comment.
However, in spite of the occasional gracious and independent professor, we both know that there was a general policy against reading what they described as "neo-" or "new" evangelicals.

I disagree with this assessment completely. As Andy Efting mentions in the comments on this blog, Dr. Berg recommended "Hand Me Another Brick" while he was teaching Principles of Leadership. Dr. Minnick highly praised "Rediscovering Expository Preaching" by MacArthur and his seminary profs. This is not an "occasional gracious and independent professor" - this is the Dean of Students and one of the most popular Bible teachers at the school. I was never told what I could or could not read while at BJU (profane things excluded, of course). If there was ever such a general policy against reading New Evangelicals, they did a lousy job of expressing this policy, at least when I was there starting in 1987. (Even if there was a general policy against reading them - which there was not - this is a long way from getting kicked out for reading them, btw.)

* In regards to my comment that "His comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the goals of these schools", Dr. Burrell comments:
I don't think so. It's not that I don't "understand" their goals. I disagree with how they want to reach those goals.

However, in the original post that had prompted my comments, Dr. Burrell had said,

In the end, most Christian college students would benefit from a structured and discipline environment, but one that has as its goal "transformation" and not "conformity."

I appreciate, however, this clarification in his reply:
There is an unhealthy emphasis on the role they assume they have in setting a standard (which, I believe, most rightly belongs to the church). There is inadequate emphasis on explaining the position and allowing debate to occur about their positions.

I do agree that this is a good question for discussion. "What roles should the schools have in setting a standard and how much debate and discussion is allowed in that setting of a standard?"

* In response to my comments regarding the institutional nature of some rules, Dr. Burrell makes a couple of comments that deserve comments.

Surely he is correct that he understands institutional rules because of the institutional rules that his own school must have. What prompted that comment, however, was his lumping together of institutional rules like "lights out" and "rising bell" with moral issues of "slipping out
and going to a concert.

I don't believe he is correct, however, when he states that "the method of rule enforcement in more than one school has turned good kids into rebels." I am not sure that someone else's wrong behavior can turn good kids into rebels. Of course, that discussion is a much more time- consuming discussion than I have time (or space) to get into for now.

I also found interesting the following comment that he made in response to this point.
But unlike Scripture, societal norms do change and a periodic re-examination of the rationale for some rules and how they are enforced might change the atmosphere and reputation of some Christian colleges/universities for the better.

It would seem to me that this is exactly what happens at BJU. There have been evaluations that eliminated the Family-style dinner every night and then later on Sundays. There have been evaluations that led to the dropping of ties after lunch and then after chapel. There have been evaluations that resulted in ending the requirement of hats for ladies on Sundays. There have been evaluations that resulted just in the last year or two that resulted in adjustments to the lights out situation. It seems that the re-examination is already occurring.

* In response to my comment about false assumptions, in particular the assumption that a disciplined environment equals not "enjoying" your college years, Dr. Burrell has indicated that he "made no such co-relation (sic) other than to relate what IS a common part of the thought process of students". Fair enough. I would hope that he would help to dispel that assumption made by the students, especially if he does not agree with the assumption. I apparently wrongly assumed that the comment "Guess which argument wins?" indicated he agreed with the argument.

*In response to my comment about a false dichotomy, his answers to the three parts indicate the following:

1. Regarding my comment that he was assuming the kids were going to do things anyway, he comments:

"There was no assumption made – it was an example and a hyperbolic one at that. I do believe that unnecessary rules indeed give good kids with good hearts and good values cause to behave rebelliously and it seems unnecessary to me. "

If he would change the word "cause" to "an excuse", I may not have a problem with this statement.

2. Regarding my comment that he was assuming the opposite of permissive is rebellion, he makes the following comment:

The opposite of permissiveness is not necessarily rebellion and I did not insinuate that. I would concur that rebellion is often caused by inconsistency. It is also caused by harshness, unreasonableness, unkindness and many other factors. None of us have the right to be rebellious against authority. At the same time, authority should wield it's power wisely taking care to not incite rebellion in its charges. Isn't this what Paul was referencing when he warned fathers to avoid "inciting" their children "to wrath"?

I can accept that comment. Upon reading his original comment, it seemed as if he was saying that because the one situation was strict instead of permissive it would breed rebellion.

3. Regarding my comment that "it is obnoxious ... to suggest that someone would be kicked out for reading Chuck Swindoll," he makes the following comment:

No Frank, it is realistic and I could prove it. Not simply at HAC or Texas Baptist, but at BJU, PCC and other places where I have the testimonies of students who were warned and/or reprimanded for reading "non-approved" books written by people that didn't fit their mold. In many cases, there is a clear double standard and I will actually cite some examples of that double standard when it comes to Southern Baptists in my next article.

I dispute this statement, as I already indicated above. For one thing, there is a change of terms involved here. He had earlier spoken of getting "kicked out" for reading Chuck Swindoll and now he speaks of being "warned" or "reprimanded". I still disagree that even the warning or reprimanding would happen at the AACCS schools, but even if it did, that is different than being kicked out for it.

Regarding the double standard that he mentions when it comes to Southern Baptists in his next article, without tackling the whole next article, I will comment that the "double standard" that he mentions is not as he presents it. The appearances at BJU by Ankerberg and Keyes were different situations. Ankerberg had spoken in chapel (I was there). Chapel is a religious service and so having a Southern Baptist at a religious service was an issue that needed to be corrected and Dr. Bob corrected the situation when he found out. When Alan Keyes spoke, it was at a convocation - an academic setting - so there was not an issue of being religiously allied with compromise or false teaching. .

I appreciate the gracious tone of Dr. Burrell's response and pray that I have responded in kind.

Just my thoughts,



Robert said...

I've been following the back and forth on the Christian college issue. It's nice to read a polite disagreement. Much more is learned from that kind than the yelling and screaming that "religious" discussions often become. I have numerous family ties to both BJ and HAC, and while your argument against lumping them together is true to the extent that they have some different attitudes and doctrinal divisions, they have very similar control mechanisms in place for the students.

Without taking a further position on the main issue, I've got two questions from reading your latest post. (Realizing that you are fleeing the state for a conference and may not be around to answer.)

1) You said, "having a Southern Baptist at a religious service was an issue that needed to be corrected." Is this really your position? You hold Southern Baptists in such contempt but have nothing to say about the Presbyterians or other non-IFB sepakers who preach in their religious services? I know you know this, being an alum and all, but Bob Jones Sr was not a Independent Baptist.

2) You described slipping out and going to a concert as a "moral issue." I hope that you're refering to the slipping out part rather than the concert part as the moral issue, but I'd wish that you would clarify that point.

Frank Sansone said...


Thank you for stopping by and contributing. I appreicate your comments.

I have not quite left yet, so I will make a quick reply here. If a longer reply is necessary, I may attempt it after I get back.

Both of your questions are good questions and I will try to give at least a quick answer to them.

1. Regarding your first question, I want to clarify something before I answer the rest of it.

I do not hold Southern Baptists "in contempt". My cousin and my uncle both are graduates of Liberty and both are involved in the Southern Baptist Convention. I applaud the strives that have been made in the SBC, but I would disagree with Dr. Burrell in that I do not feel that the SBC is now a Fundamental organization. The nature of a full discussion regarding the SBC is much more than I have time or inclination to address at this time. My short answer is that I believe that have definitely made many improvements, but I don't think that it would be an accurate understanding of Fundamentalism to count them now as Fundamentalists.

The aspect of the question that deals with the speakers who are non-IFB is important in that it helps to remind us of the fact that Fundamentalism has always been a "multi-denominational" movement. Stong Presbyterians like Machen or Methodists like Jones or Baptists like Shields stood together for the Gospel and the Fundamentals despite their denominational differences. The difference between having a Free Pres (for instance) speak at BJU and having a Southern Baptist speak at BJU is that while the Free Pres guys stand for the Fundamentals and practice Biblical separation.

The immediate issue with my comment, however, was that for BJU to have a Southern Baptist speaker at a religious service would indeed need to be an issue that needs to be addressed because of the position that BJU has taken against the compromise in the SBC (see David Beale's SBC: House on the Sand? for a more full understanding of their position on this issue.) In other words, even if I disagreed with their evaluation of the SBC (which I don't) I would still say that, for them, this would be an issue that needed to be corrected for their own consistency.) I hope that clarifies this point.

2. Regaring the question about the "moral issue," you are correct in your undersanding that I am referring to the "slipping out" nature of this statement.

Thank you again for your response. I hope that I have helped to clarify what I meant.

In Christ,

Pastor Frank Sansone