In an age when many supposed evangelicals are drifting from their biblical moorings, the relatively new captain of evangelical flagship, Wheaton College, is affirming his commitment to core beliefs. In a so-called “Green Paper” distributed to students, faculty and staff, Wheaton President Philip Ryken stated his support for key doctrines like the inerrancy of Scripture and “Jesus Christ as the only Savior.”
“Academic institutions that go into spiritual decline typically retain the form of Christianity for a long time before falling into apostasy,” Ryken wrote. “But even before this happens, they make fatal compromises with unbiblical theology.”
So true. Case in point – Harvard University, or Princeton, or Yale. May Wheaton never follow in those footsteps.
In the paper, Ryken also affirmed his belief in hell. More precisely, he affirmed “God’s terrible, eternal wrath against sin.” Given that Wheaton graduate and evangelical celebrity Rob Bell appears to deny this doctrine, this was encouraging, as well. Ryken also addressed evolution, stating that college is committed to “Adam and Eve as the historical parents of the entire human race.”
Though Wheaton increasingly has faced opposition for its stand against homosexuality, the Green Paper reflected an unswerving commitment to a biblical sexual ethic. “…(W)e believe that homosexual relations – like all sexual relations outside of marriage as biblically defined – are sinful,” Ryken wrote.
No doubt, the pressure on Wheaton to cave on this issue will get more and more intense. Just this year, a group of Wheaton alumni who affirm gay identity launched OneWheaton to promote their cause. And, this October, OneWheaton is planning a series of events to coincide with Wheaton’s Homecoming. These include attending the college’s football game donning OneWheaton T-shirts, and hosting a concert near campus with recently-out recording artist Jennifer Knapp. God help Wheaton as it seeks to respond in truth and love.
Ryken also rightly challenges the college community to recapture a passion for souls, which is waning among evangelicals. He asks, “Has the evangelical church lost some of its fervor for evangelizing the lost?” Clearly it has.
Scott Moreau, a missions professor at Wheaton College, said in a New York Times article that two decades ago half of his graduate students named building churches abroad as their top priority. “Today, it might be 10%,” Moreau says. “Fighting trafficking, orphanage work, HIV-AIDS, poverty – that is probably 50%.” I agree with Ryken that “we must never forget that people are lost without the gospel . . .” Social action without evangelization accomplishes little.
The only red flag I detected in the new document is its paragraph on “political challenges.” Ryken writes:
“ Wheaton College is variously perceived as too liberal or else too conservative politically. Furthermore, some constituents and observers have trouble distinguishing between political and theological liberalism or conservatism. This is part of a wider trend (on both the right and the left) of pursuing cultural influence for the church by means of political power. Arguably, one of Wheaton’s strengths is its breadth of biblically-grounded thought on social and political issues . . .”
I understand and can appreciate the difference between political and theological liberalism and conservatism. If I didn’t, I couldn’t attend the church I do, where the majority is theologically conservative, but tends to lean Left politically. But, just because theological and political liberalism and conservatism are different doesn’t mean they aren’t connected. They are. Nor are they equally valid. Liberalism is based on thoroughly unbiblical premises that the state is our father, not God; that suffering is caused by inequality, not sin; and that salvation is achieved by government intervention and redistribution, not Christ.
Now, I do not believe the Kingdom of God will advance by political means. But, I am concerned by what I detect is a failure by some Wheaton professors to integrate their politics with correct theology. I don’t agree with Ryken’s assertion that one of Wheaton’s strengths is its “breadth” of thought on political and social issues. In fact, one of its most glaring weaknesses is that some of its faculty hold positions that are incongruous with a biblical worldview. When the chair of the Education Department asserts that Bill Ayers and company “have enlightened us” and that Marxism is “not necessarily” unbiblical, that’s a serious problem.
Of course, the Green Paper is intended to be a provisional document to spark discussion. Ryken has appointed a 10-person task force of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to review and revise the paper. He also is inviting the Wheaton community to respond to the paper via email ([email protected]). The task force will present its findings in an executive report due the end of January.