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Cedarville’s Great Mistake

I have tremendous respect for Cedarville University and its graduates. However, a recent article on Christianity Today‘s website about Cedarville’s recent actions against Shane Claiborne is extremely disappointing and damaging to its student population.

The controversy is this: Cedarville had scheduled “Christian social activist” Shane Claiborne to speak to their student population on Feb. 11. However, as Christianity Today reports, “a small but vocal number of bloggers saw the lecture as a step toward liberal theology” and Cedarville canceled the lecture. Here is how Christianity Today reports Cedarville’s response:

Carl Ruby, Cedarville’s vice president for student life, told CT that although there was “a high degree of receptivity on campus” to the Claiborne lecture, he decided to cancel the lecture to avoid risking conveying the wrong message about Cedarville’s doctrinal beliefs.

“There was a tension between my desire to use this event to challenge students to take a closer look at a very important social issue, and the need to protect Cedarville’s reputation as a conservative, Christ-centered university,” said Ruby. “There can’t be any confusion about our commitment to God’s Word and our historically conservative doctrinal position.

“Nearly all of the opposition to Claiborne’s visit came from off campus,” he said. “The reaction from both faculty and students has been along the lines of, ‘We are a university … We need to be having these kinds of conversations on campus if we are going to adequately equip the next generation of Christian leaders.’ “

I don’t pretend to know much about Shane, and I have not read his book. However, here is what I know: Shane was raised in Tennessee as a Christian and remains a follower of Jesus Christ (this is important!). His passion is not simply to know theology, but to live the type of life that Jesus lived. This caused him to live for a period of time in Calcutta with Mother Theresa serving in orphanages and leper colonies. It also caused him to serve Christ in the slums in Philadelphia. He lives amongst the people and provides services to them, including fixing up old houses. He does all of this based upon his understanding that the kingdom of God compels us to not only believe in Jesus but live a life consistent with Jesus.

So why do Cedarville’s actions disappoint me so much?

  • Unchristian Narrowness. Shane Claiborne is a Christian who is trying to live the Christian life and encourage others to do the same. But, because Shane does not dot every Cedarville doctrinal “i” and cross every Cedarville doctrinal “t,” he is not allowed to speak. It seems to me that Cedarville has created an extremely narrow view of people who are “acceptable Christians.” This is ultimately divisive to the body of Christ.
  • Ineffective Education. Cedarville’s mission is education: “Cedarville University is a Christ-centered learning community equipping students for lifelong leadership and service through an education marked by excellence and grounded in biblical truth.”

I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about educational theory, but it seems to me that, at the collegiate level, people learn by actually hearing opposing and controversial views. Cedarville has effectively taken a position that they do not value such educational diversity or freedom (let me clarify: Cedarville administration has taken this position, according to the CT quote above their faculty approved of Shane’s appearance!). So what has Cedarville actually taught by canceling this event? Closed-mindedness, intolerance, and exclusivity against other Christians.

Side note: Please don’t cite the “slippery slope argument” to support Cedarville. The slippery slope argument would say something like this: “what is next, should Cedarville allow a Muslim Imam to come to campus?” Shane is a brother in Christ who is trying to help poor people by serving them and telling them about Christ. That slope isn’t very steep. But to use another example, I sure hope Cedarville is teaching their science students the theory of evolution. Why? Not because I believe in evolution, I don’t. But if you want to prepare Christians in the science fields who can effectively engage the world outside the Christian college bubble, they had better understand the theory of evolution. This does not make Cedarville liberal, it makes them an educational institution preparing future Christians to engage the world!

  • Unbiblical Motivation. Notice the stated motivation from the Cedarville VP: reputation and avoiding criticism. Cedarville seems more concerned about their reputation to a few people outside the current Cedarville community than actually educating their students. I don’t know this for a fact, but don’t you think there is a strong probability that the few voices are Cedarville donors? They are, afterall, constructing a $14 million facility for Bible and Theology, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t cancel any events based upon what they read in my blog.

In my opinion, Cedarville University has missed a golden educational opportunity that might have actually encouraged some of their students to live like Jesus and spend a lifetime serving the poor from a Christian who is doing it and not from a text book. Apparently you can only live this lifestyle if you have the perfect doctrinal statement.

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    1. February 13, 2008 at 12:17 pm

      as a cedarville alum, i agree that this is a very disappointing turn. it had appeared that cedarville was moving in a good direction away from this type of narrow-minded action…

      i’m still hopeful that there is more to the story than we know, and perhaps we will see something in the coming days that sheds a little more light.

    2. Doug
      February 15, 2008 at 9:30 pm

      Given the long standing history of Cedarville and the fact that the decision was made after careful consideration by several mature spiritual leaders and that your blog was written based on one article in one magazine I feel we need to let some more facts come out, analyze them and then comment. Bandwagon jumping can be harmful.

    3. brianmcl
      February 15, 2008 at 10:36 pm

      I’m still concerned that it was made against the wishes of the faculty. I consider them spiritually mature leaders as well.

      The reason I commented that I based my thoughts on one article was to show that I had not read any other opinion previously so it was not a bandwagon. It was just my gut. I’m not even sure where the bandwagon is on this one.

    4. voice in the pew
      February 25, 2008 at 12:02 am

      My vote still goes with Cedarville. The facultiy is charged with instilling learining in the student, not making decisions about who should or should not come and speak. There are other places where this person can be heard.

    5. axisone
      April 27, 2008 at 8:04 am

      I’m a Cedarville student and was involved with this. The student body wasn’t happy when the event was cancelled. Some of us felt absolutely devastated because we thought that Cedarville was giving into outside pressure. It almost felt like a betrayal. Granted, I also know that the administration received some terrible emails and they were stretched to the limit. I still don’t think they should have cancelled the event.

      An interesting fact: Shane spoke at a local church, and it was completely packed. At least half the attendees were from Cedarville.

    6. Kevin
      May 7, 2011 at 10:28 pm

      Momma Theresa isn’t a New Testament, Bible believing Christian. She’s a catholic, and a universalist. It’s hypocritical to think one can live like God incarnate (that’s the real Jesus of the New Testament) Shane uses a false religionist like Momma Theresa as an “example”?? If that’s Shane’s influence, any biblical discernment would discount anything that Shane would teach. Does Shane tell about the lost estate of men, going to hell due to sin, and that Jesus died to save them? Evangelizing the lost is number one in the Christian life, everthing else comes later. A lifetime serving the poor isn’t any more righteous than those that serve God at the workplace, and at real, local, New Testament churches. It would be nice is Shane would tell of his efforts evangelizing as he does good deeds. Seeing good deeds never saves people, the gospel must be preached, the death, burial, and the ressurection.

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    1. February 12, 2008 at 4:30 pm
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