Communicating Compatibility in Christian Higher Education, Part 3
Over 325,000 students are enrolled in the evangelical colleges of the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities. The institutions exist primarily to help students see that there need not be a divide between the world of the academy and the life of faith. This is Part 3 of a series that addresses various issues at the junction of this Y-shaped intersection. Here we discuss a particular student and his response to Ken Ham’s view of a failing Christian college.
Earlier this year, Ken Ham in his State of the Nation address singled out Calvin College and one of its professors for what he considered to be inappropriate statements about biblical hermeneutics.
Most of us who are associated with Christian higher education would regard Calvin as the gold standard to which we all aspire. This institution takes Scripture very seriously. At Calvin, Christian scholars in general--not just students--come from around the country (and the world) to learn what it means to be a person who walks faithfully with God. If all Christian colleges were as rigorous in their academic and scriptural faithfulness as Calvin College, our countries would be much better places.
Mr. Ham singled out Calvin College as being scripturally unfaithful. In summarizing Calvin's perspective on Scripture, he said "you might as well throw the whole thing away…." In a later post he went on to also say that Calvin College is:
One of many institutions that continues to contribute to the undermining of biblical authority in our culture. They will have much to answer for when Christian educators stand before the Lord one day—and they will be held accountable.
It is hard for me to imagine any opinion about Calvin College further from the truth than that which is implied by Mr. Ham in this statement.
It is not surprising that many Calvin College students were displeased to hear their institution denigrated in Mr. Ham's State of the Nation address. One student, a college freshman at the time, Daniel Camacho, did what all responsible individuals ought to do when they think unwarranted statements have been made. He wrote a letter to the editor of his school newspaper.
Choosing not to be diplomatic, Daniel indicated that Mr. Ham’s address included “lies, inaccuracies, and caricatures…” Like everyone, college freshmen make mistakes. This wording, in my opinion, was a mistake
I have had the privilege of spending my career as a college professor. Working with young people as they leave the security of their homes and transition into a life governed by their own choices is not only a great privilege, but a great responsibility. The way we handle their questions and respond to their opinions plays no small role in influencing the perspective through which they will view the rest of their lives. How we handle their mistakes is critical. We who are educators and mentors ought not to belittle our students, especially in public.
If I had been Daniel’s professor, and if I had been asked, I would have encouraged him to reword this section. I would have asked him to consider saying something like: “it is hard for me to imagine any set of statements further from the truth…”, but accusing Mr. Ham of lying is likely unfounded because it accuses him of knowingly telling untruths. We know what he said, and we know it is untrue, but personally, I doubt that Mr. Ham knew his statements were untrue. So instead of saying that Mr. Ham was lying, let’s find a way of saying what needs to be said in a manner that can be more easily documented.
So Daniel made a mistake. However, the rest of Daniel’s letter was extremely well written. Everyone -- even Mr. Ham -- would need to acknowledge that Daniel’s arguments are logically laid out and articulately presented. Consider this for example:
The Calvin Community should pray for this man and his followers.
You know what I think is wrong with society? You know what I think is compromising the Church? It’s the ideology of Ken Ham. His rigid black-and-white beliefs and the lack of charity parallel the mentality of the new atheists, including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. In fact, I believe these two streams are twin mutations of modernity. It is either faith or reason. It is either religion or science. They both share a rhetoric of fear, making exaggerated claims about how the other side is taking over the nation and world. No wonder all of their followers are massively paranoid.
You know why a lot of people are throwing away the Bible today? It is because of people like Ken Ham and his twins. People are being forced to decide if the Bible is divine or human.
Whether you agree with Mr. Camacho or not, his ability to express his thinking clearly is enough to light up the eyes of any college professor. What more could one ask of a freshman than this? If he’s wrong, give him gentle guidance so that he can find that out for himself. Give him time. Gently lead him towards the literature which contains profound thinking which will enlighten his mind. Help him move to the next stage, but at the very least acknowledge that this young man makes interesting points in an engaging fashion.
When Daniel clicked on the “send” button after drafting his letter to his college newspaper, he had no idea that what he had written would be seen by anyone other than his fellow students and professors. Imagine his surprise then when he learned that Mr. Ham himself had read his letter and critiqued it before a national audience!
In establishing his interaction with this young man, this could have been a teaching moment for Mr. Ham. Instead he publically chastised Daniel and made the following especially strange comment:
It reminds me of a child who throws stones at others and then ducks behind the woodshed so he can’t be held accountable
It is difficult to teach a student from the woodshed and Daniel was hardly hiding behind it. So how did Mr. Ham use this teaching moment? He challenged this young student to a debate and he insisted that Daniel document his statements.
Daniel, far from hiding, proceeded to elaborate on his thoughts, (thus providing the documentation that Mr. Ham sought) and sent them in a letter to Mr. Ham. Mr. Ham has not responded to Daniel, and there has been no public opportunity for this college freshman to respond to his all-too-public thrashing by Ken Ham.
Christian education ought not to work that way. BioLogos exists to seek harmony between science and evangelical Christianity. We are especially concerned that the voices of young people be heard. They will be the ones to carry Christianity into the future. Daniel is considering being a pastor. Please pray that his unfortunate woodshed experience will not deter him from the task ahead.
In our next post on this matter, we will print Daniel’s letter to Mr. Ham.
Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.