Jesus Against the Scribal Elite

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Concerning the Controversy related to Cedarville University - Le Donne

I got a chance to meet Michael Pahl at a conference recently. He is a very fine scholar with an exemplary publication record. I don’t know him well, but he impressed me as an affable, professional, and easy-going personality. Whenever you see a person fired because of ideological reasons, there is a tendency to wonder if there might have been a personality conflict under the surface. Because, surely, no administration would railroad a person’s career over matters related to the genre of Genesis One!

In this case, it is unthinkable that President Brown's actions had anything to do with Michael’s character. Indeed, the class Michael has demonstrated during this controversy should speak volumes about his character. [ADDITION: Since the initial posting of this entry, I have learned through the grapevine (which is always accurate) that President Brown has resigned his post... I am not in a position to guess the reason for this.]

Now, I’m not sure which issues in Pahl’s book created difficulty for Dr. William E. Brown of Cedarville University. But I do know something about official statements that disseminate information following a controversy. This statement is as follows (I’ve underlined a few phrases that I find interesting).
Dr. Michael Pahl has been relieved of his teaching duties because he is unable to concur fully with each and every position of Cedarville University's doctrinal statement. This decision was made following a review by the University administration and trustees prompted by Dr. Pahl's recent book, The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis's Stories and Revelation's Visions.  
Dr. Pahl's orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel are not in question, nor is his commitment to Scripture's inspiration, authority and infallibility. He is a promising scholar and a dedicated teacher, and will be missed by his colleagues and students. Nevertheless, the University has determined this decision to be in the best interests of its constituency at this time.
I have not spoken with Michael since this statement was published. Michael, to my knowledge, has not spoken out of turn in any way shape or form. But this is not necessary. Reading between the lines is really not all that difficult. This statement clearly indicates that Cedarville University has taken a reactionary position to the ongoing culture wars in North America. Notice that the belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is number one on their list of doctrines. Notice also that the belief in God is secondary on this list.

I have found that one’s primary theological position dramatically influences one’s subsequent positions (notice the wording of position number four in this doctrinal statement). The wording of this doctrinal statement reflects the positions championed by the famous liberal theologian B.B. Warfield of Princeton. Ironically, Cedarville has followed Warfield's invention of the doctrine of inerrancy, but retreated from Warfield's reading of Genesis. I find it quite troubling that the administration and trustees of Cedarville would elevate a doctrine invented by a Princeton professor over the belief in Almighty God.

Or could it be that the administration and board of trustees at Cedarville University are not aware that they have inherited their worldview from a Darwin-sympathizing Presbyterian?

Notice that, in the official statement of Dr. Pahl’s dismissal, there is a clear indication that the constituency and trustees hold sway over the interpretation of the doctrines listed. They are in a position of power to decide who "concurs fully" with their worldview and who does not. If I were a parent considering Cedarville University for my children, I would be very concerned that the worship of media and money has been placed in idolatrous prominence over the worship of God. I would be concerned, further, that an administration, board of trustees, and constituency that demotes the belief in God to second place might not be the best arbiters of Christian doctrine.

Admittedly, I am an outsider looking in. – But, if I were to consider investing the lives of my children to such an institution, I would be deeply concerned that these “arbiters” care so very little about the theological contributions of qualified church leaders like Dr. Michael Pahl.


  1. I wonder, if this was not an election year, would we see so much of these going on...?

  2. as a graduate of that university, i do wonder if dispensationalism and his view on the book of Revelation also played into the decision to fire him. Doug

  3. NB: For a more detailed discussion of the emergence of inerrancy, see my intro chapter in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity.


  4. Bowing to the decision of those who have power and money, but unfortunately little understanding of Scripture, seems to be happening not only in colleges, universities, and seminaries, but happening in churches as well.

    Reading some of what the early church fathers believed and wrote about, or reading some of what Stone and the Campbell's wrote I suspect many colleges, universities, and seminaries would not accept faculty holding similar views today. Where has debate, freedom of thought, and respect for disagreement gone? It seems like we are on a road similar to the 1920's!

    I pray Dr. Pahl will find a place where he is free to explore understanding Scriptures while still holding to a high view of the text.

    Thanks for an "outsider's" view.

  5. I'm not sure that being listed second makes belief in God secondary. The trustees of the school are responsible for it. There isn't anyone better to determine if an employee is compliant.

    If the trustees are worried about toeing the line of the statement of faith, I do wonder how they view item 12. Is belief sufficient or do you actually have to do your utmost to spread the gospel? If so, what are you doing teaching a college class to believers?

  6. Your comment of inerrancy over belief stopped me cold. I just finished reading an article about Billy Graham and the "cult" of Mormonism on the heals of his (his son's) endorsement of Gov. Romney. Ironically, I can't help but think it is the Evangelical Right that has become the cult.

    If disagreement with a doctrinal statement are ABOVE orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel, and if refusal to put the statement first and orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel second are grounds for exile, how are we to think otherwise?

    Christian schools and universities will continue to die a slow death as their slavery to the "donor" and whatever the donor's beliefs are, out weighs the Gospel itself.

  7. Thanks for these thoughts, Anthony. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Pahl and his family.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Anthony. I was not aware of this situation. I will be sure to mention on my blog as well.

  9. May I ask an impertinent question? You guys (Chris and Anthony) are scholars doing scholarly work. I use your work, and while I don't agree with everything you do, I respect you as scholars. I don't know about Pahl's work; perhaps I would respect his too. But why are you all persisting in making this argument about theology instead of scholarship? You charge Cedarville U. with idololatry, you question their theological consistency, etc. It's one theology vs. another. But you guys are scholars. Why not make this simply about academic freedom, and how REAL universities have it and pretend universities fire faculty for theological offenses (real or imagined, it doesn't matter). All these firings are an embarrassment to the name "university." That's what this should be about, not whether your theology is better than theirs. It's all internecine bickering, and I think it's unbecoming of scholars doing real scholarly work.

    1. Not impertinent at all. The short answer is that Cedarville (alongside many, many other similar institutions) have a long history of anti-intellectualism. Thus the charge of "no academic freedom" falls on deaf ears. It just so happens that the sin of ideological hegemony carries theological baggage as well. Placing the finger on this aspect of the problem raises awareness with the decision makers in such contexts. Moreover, I do not think that scholarly integrity and theological integrity need to distinct entities.

    2. ...need to BE distinct entities.


  10. Is any of this actually surprising from Cedarville? It has been a young-earth creationist haven for decades.

  11. Seems there is much more going on at CU. Dr Ruby, VP Student Body, has also been fired. A few trustees may be leaving also. Dr Gredy, Provost seems to be behind many of these decisions. As an alumni, I find this all quite distressing.


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