6 Ways to Find Out What Your Child’s Christian University is Actually Teaching

If you’re paying big money – or thinking of paying big money – for your child to attend a Christian college because you think it will help them avoid indoctrination into the cultural Marxism that is happening at secular campuses, think again

I believe that there is a deceptive bait and switch happening on some Christian college campuses right now. (Although the official communication stream from Point Loma, for example, seems to be pretty up front in its advocacy of Critical Race Theory ideas.) And, I believe, this is having a damaging effect on the faith of many Christian university students. Christian parents need to take the time to pull back the curtain and see what's really happening behind the scenes.

To the outside world – parents and alumni – some Christian universities give the appearance that they are staying true to historic Christianity. For example, Biola University has been a leading voice in apologetics for 3 decades. They employ many very fine faculty who are standing true to the historic Christian faith. The University’s statement of faith is unchanged since its founding. The school’s president frequently mentions this fact at public events, as well as the school’s requirement of 30 units of Bible courses in order to reinforce the narrative that the school hasn’t changed its doctrinal fidelity. 

Yes, some Christian universities are publicly standing strong. And, many of these same schools have also implemented large-scale “diversity and inclusion” programs, incorporating those principles into their courses. The question then arises, how do they define the terms "diversity and inclusion" and how are these principles playing out in the university's classes, policies and chapels?

This raises the question: “How can I know what my kids are REALLY being taught at the Christian university that I'm sending all my hard-earned money to?” As a Christian university parent and alumni myself, here are six things that I think can help Christian parents gauge the current cultural climate and value system being taught to your student in the name of Jesus. And if you’re looking for a college for your high school student, some of these tips will apply to you as well.

1. Watch the university’s chapel services. 

You probably only need to watch the services from this fall term. That will likely give you some insights into the messaging that the university is sending to the students in light of the current racial unrest.

Here are a couple of recent chapel messages from Biola University as examples. While these speakers don’t explicitly broadcast, “Hey, this is Liberation Theology," they do introduce students to some of the major contours and terminology of the framework under the banner of “love for neighbor.” This kind of messaging conditions unsuspecting students to frameworks that have the potential to cause them to drift out of historic Christianity and into deep theological errors. Undergraduate students simply do not have the theological sophistication that's needed to engage in the level of discernment required to sift through these rather complex ideas.

[UPDATE: I have received word from Biola that missteps were made in some of their recent chapels and that speakers would be more closely vetted moving forward.]

That's not to suggest that every chapel presented at a Christian university is filled with sub-Christian teaching. Some of the chapels might be more solid. But it does become concerning when frameworks like Progressive theology, liberation theology, or secular social justice are dropped into a chapel message. Should students be thinking critically about everything they hear? Ideally, yes. But many haven't been discipled enough to even know what to look for. So, if it's coming from the lips of something who is being put up front by trusted leaders, they are likely going to accept it as "truth."

As you are watching a chapel service, here are some questions to ask:

  • Where did this chapel speaker go to seminary? Or what seminary does this speaker teach at?

  • What books has the chapel speaker written? How are those books reviewed on amazon?

  • Who are the people that the chapel speaker is quoting? (This may give you insight into the voices that have shaped their theology.)

  • How much Scripture do they incorporate into their message? Do they actually read the Scripture or simply re-tell it?

  • Do they exegete more than just one verse? Are they interpreting Scriptures in light of the surrounding context? Or, are they just jumping to applications about our current cultural moment?

  • Are the chapel speakers using terms like “white privilege,” “anti-racism,” and other terms in the Critical Race Theory vocabulary? 

If you want to probe deeper (and have the time), you could consider going on to the university's YouTube channel and do a simple search for the terms "racial reconciliation" or "reconciliation" and see what comes up. You could potentially then Google search some of the names of speakers the school has platformed, if they aren't familiar to you. For example, a simple search on Biola’s public YouTube channel shows that the University has platformed a few thought leaders from a Critical Race Theory orientation. Here are just two examples:

Lisa Sharon Harper (author, The Very Good Gospel)

  • Here is a link to Dr. Neil Shenvi's helpful review of Harper's book.

Alexander Jun (Professor at Azusa Pacific University)

This message was part of Biola's annual SCORR conference on racial reconciliation. See if you think there is any Critical Race Theory concepts embedded here.

2. Ask your student to send you a copy of their course syllabi.

Reading through a course syllabus can be quite informative. Sometimes it can give you significant data about how the prof is approaching the class. Sometimes it doesn't. And everything needs context. But it can be helpful at times. Pay particular attention to the textbook lists. Take the time to read reviews of key texts on amazon. (Be aware that your child may not be super enthused about sharing the course syllabus with you. So, that may need some negotiation.)

I have received multiple letters in recent weeks from students at Christian universities being required to engage with content from books like White Fragility and The Color of Compromise in Bible courses. If that's happening, you may want to send a respectful letter to the prof asking how the material is being presented in the course. (And please, keep it respectful. Don't assume the worst.) It could very well be that the prof is using it as a launching point for a discussion to help students think critically about these leading cultural voices.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is this information being presented in a positive way, as if it's truth?

  • Or, is it for the purpose of worldview critique?

  • If so, are students being properly equipped before engaging with the material about how to think critically about the claims of Critical Race Theory as an analytical, or possibly even a worldview, framework?

If your student is being required to read these kinds of books, you might consider taking the time to read these books as well, so you can discuss the ideas with your student. Some may need help to process what they are learning. Many of the letters I am receiving from students are expressing increased shame surrounding the color of their skin, but they are struggling to know how to talk about it.

3. Research your child's profs (or future profs). 

Universities always have faculty bio pages. Read through the bios for your student’s profs. If available, download the prof's CV (an academic resume) because it often gives a more complete picture than what is on the public bio page.

Here are some questions to ask as you read it:

  • Where did they do their PhD?

  • What was their doctoral research on? It can be especially revealing sometimes to skim read people’s doctoral dissertations.

  • What kinds of academic papers have they published?

You could also consider doing a Google search on your student’s profs. Have any of them been involved in doctrinal controversy? Also see if you can find their social media accounts, especially Twitter. Skim through their public posts, especially from May and June of this year. What do you notice? 

NOTE: I’m not suggesting that you publicly dox profs or shame them. The purpose of these inquiries is to try and get behind the Admissions and Marketing picture and figure out what’s really going on at the University so that you can write an informed and gracious letter of concern to the University's administrators. More about that at the end of this post.

Also consider looking into the University’s Provost. That may give you insight into the kinds of profs he/she may prefer to hire. For example, the current Provost at Biola wrote her doctoral dissertation on how to integrate “diversity” policies into a dominantly white evangelical college. It’s an interesting read if you have an hour or two.

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4. Follow popular school-related accounts on Instagram. 

Popular, often anonymous, student-run Instagram accounts can give you a more authentic insight into the University's culture. I'm not talking about the official university-run accounts, although you should probably follow those, too. Those tend to be sanitized for parents and alumni to present a certain picture of the university. But if you want to get behind the University's marketing department, these independent accounts can sometimes provide some insight.

For example, there is an informal student gossip account on Instagram called, Biiola_Tea. Students send in gossip (aka "tea") and then the moderator posts those screen caps. The “Tea Guy” (as I call him) has posted a few recent complaints from students about chapel messages being very “political” this semester.

A word of warning: Following these kinds of accounts may be a bit disillusioning for parents. Students at Christian universities don’t always talk or act very “Christian.” There are a lot of posts about fornication and use of the f-word.

5. Look on the school's web site for an explicit PUBLIC statement clarifying their position on social justice and Critical Race Theory. 

Let me say up front, most schools don't have this. Let me also say this: a statement condemning "all forms of racism" is not what I'm talking about. I want to point out a positive example of what I AM talking about and that is the recent statement on racism and social justice posted by Southern Evangelical Seminary.

Here is a critical question to ask about any public statement that the school has posted:

  • Does their statement have rigorous biblical support or just one or two Bible verses lifted from their context?

If the school doesn't have a PUBLIC statement clarifying their position on these issues, this MAY be an indicator that they already have staff and/or faculty who advocate for Critical Theory. (Notice that I said "may" not "is.") So it will be good to ask LOTS of questions. The incorporation of aspects of Critical Theory into Christian universities seems to be the norm, not the exception.

You could also look for the university's statement on "diversity and inclusion." For example, Biola University has an extended "Unity Amidst Diversity" statement on its web site. This carefully crafted document outlines a biblically-based framework for racial unity and cultural diversity. It's actually pretty good from a theological point of view. But it's also quite general. The big question is, how will these principles be implemented?

As part of Biola's "Strategic Plan" for implementing these values, the University plans to "increase the integration of diversity of thought within the curriculum." This is where things can get tricky. What kind of "diversity of thought" will be implemented? Not all "diversity of thought" falls within the framework of the historic Christian worldview. How wide will that window of "diversity of thought" be? And how transparent is the university being in terms of explaining the wideness of that thought diversity? These are critical questions to ask about any plan related to "diversity and inclusion."

For example, Biola has this public statement describing its Provost as "championing these efforts through the development of faculty advocates who will provide pedagogical and curricular consulting for respective disciplines." Given that the Provost's dissertation is fairly sympathetic to major features of Critical Theory (see above), it seems reasonable to at least ask the question: What, if any, principles and values of the Critical Theory framework will be used in faculty development and hiring choices? Because Biola's strategic plan isn't yet public, it's hard to say how these specific ideals will be implemented. That remains to be seen.

(As an aside, I do think there is a legitimate way to go about the project of diversity and inclusion in higher Christian education based on sound biblical interpretation. I'm not trying to vilify all efforts along these lines. I think there is genuine need for those efforts. But, I do think that far too often secular principles of diversity and inclusion are brought in by well-meaning Christian administrators without adequate worldview scrutiny.)

6. Talk to the department chair of your child's potential major. 

This is a tip for parents who are in the college hunt process. Taking time to talk to the department chair will give you a good idea of the worldview approach of the department. Ask direct questions, as well as open-ended questions.

Here are some examples:

  • What is your approach to the integration of this academic discipline and the Christian worldview? Can you give me a couple specific examples of how that plays out?

  • What courses will the student take that will lead him/her in a conversation about the integration of faith and the academic discipline?

  • What books will the student read that will connect this academic discipline to their Christian faith? (You could also vet those books.)

  • How do you see (or, Do you see) Critical Theory as playing a role in this academic discipline? What's the impact of social justice on this area of study?

Why Am I Writing This?

It is with a very heavy heart that I even write this post. I've "sat" on it for weeks, trying to talk myself out of it. My point here is not to simply call out Biola. But I am intentionally using Biola as an example because it has historically taken such a strong stand for solid Christian education. I have received enough letters from students – 18, 19, and 20 year olds – who are genuinely confused about what's happening at their Christian university. Some are experiencing depression and being emotionally damaged by the white-shaming they feel like they are experiencing. I feel compelled to speak up and be a voice for those who are afraid to speak up for themselves. These kids are literally scared of being labeled a “racist.”

I have been a public advocate for better, more productive discussions about racial unity. I want to have sophisticated, nuanced and respectful dialogue about these matters. I think racism is real. I think there is value in a biblically based approach to diversity and inclusion. I also think the framework of Critical Race Theory is grounded in key assumptions that depart from Scripture.

I have no interest in leading a witch hunt to “out” every Christian faculty person who has CRT sympathies. But, I do think there needs to be more transparency from university administrators about the ideological assumptions behind their course content, chapel speakers, and hiring practices. And white-shaming will not lead to racial unity. This is not the way!

So, what can you do?

Here are some tangible next steps. First, be sure to take the time to talk to your child about what they might be experiencing. Ask them if they ever get messages that make them feel ashamed of their skin color. Ask them if chapel speakers or profs ever send them messages about the need to "be silent and only listen."

If you start noticing reports that your student is receiving damaging messages from the university itself, then it might be time to begin a deeper investigation of the facts, as I have outlined above. Ideally, this should be done with your student's knowledge, and even active involvement. Having your parents follow your prof on social media might seem kinda creepy to them. At the same time, parents often are the ones paying the bills, and sometimes action must be taken even without the student's cooperation.

If you do uncover troubling data, write a thoughtful, and gracious, letter to the key administrators, including the President, the Provost, and possibly even the Board. In my own case, I have written three letters to the President at Biola expressing my concerns. I know he has received these letters.

You also need to be realistic. Don't expect anything to change any time soon. You will likely receive back a polite, carefully crafted letter thanking you for your concern with a statement that this will be looked into. But what you have to know is that this situation didn't happen overnight. It's likely taken about a decade to put these people and policies into place. What we are seeing now is that things are simply becoming more public.

Finally, (and I can't believe I'm saying this) I think some Christian parents may need to consider encouraging their children to consider an alternative educational path. Maybe they could to do a gap year at Impact 360 and then trade school. In my opinion, I am skeptical that much will change until schools lose enough money that it starts to matter to them. I know that some professions require a Bachelor's degree, like if you plan to become a teacher, doctor or lawyer. But just know what you're in for.

Help Me Gather More Data

If you are a current student, staff member or faculty at a Christian university, and you have personal (not secondary) seen positive change and increased racial unity at the school as result of diversity efforts, tell me about it. Or, have you experienced increased division and mistrust as a result of these policies? I genuinely want to know. You MUST include your name so that I can verify your story.

  • Have you seen increased trust, transparency and racial harmony at your university in the last 10 years?

  • Have you experienced race-based mistreatment at the university as a student, faculty or staff member? This includes behavior against white people.

  • Were you written up for racial harassment or some other race-based infraction?

  • Are students and staff who hold to traditional, conservative views free to express them without fear of sanctions or penalties?

  • Do you have documentation of an employment policy or gone through a training for racial diversity? What was the messaging? Did you notice positive change and increased trust and racial unity after the training?

Let's help each other to make informed decisions about where we educate our children.

© 2020 by Krista Bontrager