Welcome Week continues for more than 500 incoming OBU students who moved in Saturday. Our thoughts are with them, and with all the students, faculty, staff, and administrators preparing to begin a new academic year.
If you've been on Bison Hill during August the past 8 or 10 years, you probably know about a little book by Arthur F. Holmes called The Idea of a Christian College. I know the faculty has held the book in high esteem for some time -- perhaps since its publication in 1975. I don't know when it became required reading for Welcome Week. But for some number of years, a small-group faculty-led discussion of the book has been a critical component of the Welcome Week experience.
Such is the case again this year. Eleven faculty and staff from across the university are leading new students in a discussion of The Idea of a Christian College. From every indication we have, these professors are all outstanding. Given the composition of the list, I'd say there was absolutely no way Provost Norman or any of the new fundamentalist deans had anything to do with putting Welcome Week together -- and that can only be a good thing. No need for the indoctrination to begin before the first day. Let's at least wait til the freshmen get to "Apologetics" 101.
Actually, Holmes makes a compelling argument that the Christian college is not the church and thus does not have a role to play in "defending the faith." The emphasis is on how to integrate faith with learning. Holmes thus allows for not only empirical knowledge, but also revelatory knowledge. Christian professors should model and strive to help form a faith that can withstand the most rigorous intellectual scrutiny.
Considering his thoroughly conservative outlook, Holmes offers a strong defense of academic freedom. With freedom comes responsibility, of course, but it occurs to me that the new sheriffs at OBU would probably have preferred to use a book with a watered-down definition of academic freedom that the new SBC elites could approve to give the illusion of legitimacy to the SBC's "academic" functions and institutions.
Faculty are discussing Holmes's book this week and emphasizing three key concepts: the integration of faith and learning, academic freedom, and Christian worldview. We've already pointed out how the concept of "Christian worldview" can be easily manipulated into a naive fundamentalism. But given the extremely high quality and integrity of the people involved and the apparent fact that the faculty and student life staff are still steering the ship (at least as far as Welcome Week is concerned), we're encouraged.
As Welcome Week gives way to the first semester of college for the Class of 2016, our hope is that "all truth is God's truth" is more than a slogan at OBU. We know that against vocal opposition, the new administration has imported trappings of the overly dogmatic post-Takeover faux-academic fundamentalism to Bison Hill. But as long as OBU can remain the kind of college Art Holmes envisioned, that fundamentalism will not take root. If we're lucky, those who propagate it will soon realize that they are unwelcome. Let's help them realize it sooner rather than later so that the early Whitlock years will be remembered as a sad but short chapter rather than a decisive turn toward ignorance and irrelevance.
And let's hope that President Whitlock cares more about his legacy in the eyes of OBU students and faculty than SBC elites. But make no mistake: he can't have it both ways. The new fundamentalists have made that impossible. Whitlock will have to choose.