As last week's mailbag showed, many people have fond memories of how they grew intellectually and spiritually at Christian colleges. Regent University's Terry Lindvall, for example, wrote that he "learned to swim in the deep rough waters of culture with Christian lifeguards around. The faculty of Southern California College in the wild late '60s not only gave my slippery feet a solid foundation, but remain my friends and colleagues today."
But many correspondents, while writing warmly about the past, reported a cold front coming in. Many Christian colleges are doing a superb job, yet issues raised by letter-writers may help parents and prospective students formulate discerning questions as they tour colleges this fall. (On this page I am not giving names of particular colleges critiqued; our goal on WORLD's news/editorial pages is to make specific charges only when we have checked them out ourselves. Readers seeking detail about particular schools may go to the new College Forum section of our WORLD website, www.worldmag.com. Those who wish to add their own comments may send e-mail messages to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The major concern of many writers was curriculum. One correspondent described a college to which he has sent both his daughters, but wrote that it now is "in the midst of weakening its curriculum in order to keep up with the fads (or feds)! Instead of building on its unique niche, it is diluting its traditional Western literature with the ethno-gender nonsense of today."
Donald Hoyt of the Evangelical Alliance Mission was among many to note that some Christian colleges "have secularized themselves ... many times the doctrinal statements of these schools are compromised in the classroom."
The saddest stories came from students whose hopes were destroyed. Erin Ross from Factoryville, Pa., wrote of how two years ago she left home "excited at the prospect of attending a Christian college, after spending most of my life in public school. Finally, I thought, I would be able to discuss openly my faith in the classroom; finally, I would be taught by people who shared that faith."
Erin found, however, a college where Christianity was interpreted in line with "all the liberal notions of the world.... The bottom line was not, 'What does God's Word have to say about this?' but rather, 'How can we fit this worldly philosophy before us into what the Bible says?' If the two could not be reconciled, it seemed that the Bible was usually questioned."
What questions should parents and students ask to lessen their risk? John Alexander of Madison, Wis., suggested a useful litmus test: "Every course taught will meet two criteria. First, Jesus Christ is recognized and worshiped as the source of all wisdom and knowledge (including the content of the academic course). Second, the Bible is the basic text upon which all other textbooks and reference books are studied, analyzed, and evaluated."
Here's another good question suggested by one young Christian college professor: "How do you teach differently here than you do in a secular environment?" When she asked that question at one evangelical college, the answer was mystified looks and, "We don't." At another Christian college, she learned that "literary critical approaches (feminism, Marxism, etc.) are applied to Scripture exactly the same way they are applied to non-inspired literature, with no assumption of inerrancy or inspiration."
The writer offered some wise advice: Parents "need to talk to people who aren't being paid to represent the school. The best people would be students and former students who love the Lord deeply, are solidly committed to the Word, and aren't afraid to speak the truth. These will not tend to be the students some schools will send you to!"
She continued, "If possible, you should sit in on classes (not just one day).... Be so careful about glib answers: Of course we're creationists (but they might well mean, we believe God created the world through evolution)." She recommends looking at textbooks and talking with professors: "Maybe some of the teachers would give you papers students have written in their classes; these can be very revealing of what the professors value. Don't send the kids to your alma mater because it was so good when you were there-it takes very little time for liberalism to permeate a school."
Of course, the choice for many students and parents is between non-Christian schools already permeated with liberalism, and Christian schools that are still at least in principle, and usually in reality, committed to Scripture. That's a big difference.