November 29, 2010

Our Children Learn Not Only What We Teach Them, but by What We Tolerate

In its history Northland International University (NIU), the former Northland Baptist Bible College, has not been in a situation requiring a strong call to separate. In the early days Northland was a refreshing voice because of it’s good conservative stands, refreshing Northwood’s feel, friendly campus, servant’s heart, with a love for revival and the Lord Jesus Christ. Students were being discipled with a demerits system in place and properly emphasized for correction and growth. There are many fine pastors and Christian workers serving the Lord today because of Northland’s ministry to them.

Our children learn not only what we teach them, but by what we tolerate.”

According to NIU alumni Dr. Les Ollila (NIU Chancellor) said that over and over to the student body. With decisions made in recent weeks at Northland a new kind of teaching and tolerance has come to the campus.

In 2005, because of Rick Holland’s inclusion as a speaker, Dr. Ollila pulled out of the God-Focused conference. It is believed that NIU president Matt Olson insisted Ollila withdraw. Just five years later Dr. Ollila along with Matt Olson, Sam Horn and Doug McLachlan reach out to and travel across the country to meet with John MacArthur, Rick Holland and Phil Johnson. Then Ollila/Olson/NIU have this same man (Rick Holland) speak in chapel to impressionable young people.

What changed between 2005 and 2010? It wasn’t Rick Holland. He is today what he was in 2005: an advocate for Lordship Salvation1 and the founder of the Resolved Conference, which merges preaching with the world’s CCM/rock culture and extreme Charismatic style worship.2 NIU embracing MacArthur, Johnson and putting Rick Holland in its chapel pulpit confirms they are willing to teach Lordship Salvation, teach/tolerate a neutered form of biblical separatism, tolerate and allow for the worldly culture of events such as the Resolved Conference.

Regrettably, in just five years, Les Ollila has changed. NIU is being transformed by its president, Matt Olson, and administration decisions. With and because of their change the historical trajectory of NIU has been radically altered.

With the changes at NIU many share concerns over ministry, direction and leanings of NIU. There is a declining interest in maintaining fellowship by many former alums, good Christian leaders and lay workers. Many who have some relationship with NIU are contacting the administration to express their concerns. Others will quietly pull away and encourage their young people to look elsewhere for a Christian college. Now unfortunately, because NIU’s administration wants it both ways their friendship base will have to change just to maintain status quo not to mention growth.

Many alumni view what Northland is doing today as completely contrary to what was taught not long ago. Students were told that they will become in the future based on two things: the friends you have and the books you read. Is it any wonder they have done what they have? If you live long enough, you will have to change your friends or change your doctrine. NIU is changing its friends for new ones in Evangelicalism. Certain doctrines, separatism in particular, is not far from being compromised for the sake of their new friends.

Why do men who claim a heritage and commitment to separatist Fundamentalism take the initiative to reach out to evangelicals who openly repudiate biblical separation in principle and in application? Is it possible that these alleged fundamental separatists want to retain the label they are comfortable with, but have lost the will to contend, to wage the battle for fidelity to the God-given mandates? Is it possible they will redefine the principles and application of separation to accommodate the need to tolerate, allow for and excuse aberrant doctrine and ecumenism for the sake of fellowship with evangelicals?

Have self-described fundamental separatists decided to move toward a safe, non-confrontational middle ground at the expense of fidelity to the Word of God on separation to be accepted and respected by evangelicals?

So called “conservative” evangelicals have not and show no inclination of moving toward a Fundamentalist’s commitment to biblical separation. Someone is moving, someone is changing, and it isn’t the evangelicals.

With recent revelations we are learning a great deal about Northland’s new trajectory. NIU will try to placate alumni and donors while it moves further away from its historic stand. Matt Olson’s recent open letter to Friends in Ministry was just such an attempt that in the opinion of many was an abject failure. If Northland maintains this new direction and discussions among concerned persons are any indication of a national response, I fear Northland’s best days are behind it and the worst is yet to come.

Northland’s new trajectory has a historic parallel. The devastating effects of introducing Evangelicalism’s philosophy and practices into a biblical Fundamentalist setting are no more stark than the demise of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College.3


For previous articles in this series see-

NIU’s Convergence With Evangelicalism: What Does It Mean for Impressionable Students?

NIU Presents Executive Pastor of Grace Community Church to It’s Student Body

1) An Example of Lordship Salvation’s Man-Centered Message

2) The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness, by Dr. Peter Masters

3) Discussion Over the Closing of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College
Although Pillsbury struggled for a number of years to recover itself from the devastating effects of hob-nobbing with Evangelicalism, it never really dealt with (in any real tangible way) its ruined reputation. Although it was repeatedly brought before them by many friends of the college, they never really did what was necessary to regain the trust of the pastors and parents who send students.”


  1. Lou-

    Do you happen to know why Northland's new name does not contain the words "Baptist" or "Bible" anymore? And when did they change their name and why?


  2. Jan:

    I believe the name change was April 2009.

    I don't know for sure why the name was changed. One video suggest it was all about the Great Commission. It may have to do with funding for the college.

    It may have been to put the college, the graduate school and its Center for Global Studies under one umbrella.

    One things is for sure, the new changes at Northland have removed it from its heritage as an Independent Fundamental Baptist Bible college.


  3. Jan/All:

    Following is Greg Linscott commenting on the NIU name change from April 10, 2009.

    I remember hearing a lot of comments 15-20 years ago about Cedarville not having “Baptist” in their main name. Same when Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary dropped “Baptist” to become Cornerstone University (and later Seminary). And, FWIW, though Northland is not what those schools are today, neither were those schools what they are today at their inceptions.

    I listened to the video they posted about the name change. I hear their explanation. I am not sure that it is justified, however. They have had multiple ministry fronts virtually since they began the school (when they ran it with the camp). I am not hearing a great deal about expanding the scope of their academic programs (which is what one typically associates with a university concept). Perhaps they will.

    I am more concerned with the diminished role of the word “Baptist,” myself. Though it is there, it is much less prominent, and the direction is not encouraging. While I don’t think that this renders the school worthy of relegation the ranks of compromise, I am not sure why it should be made more obscure. “Northland International University” is much more ambiguous- not only in the absence of “Baptist,” but of the overall uniqueness of the institution through its history. Names are not everything, I know- but their choices do indicate things like purpose and priority. They do communicate. “Westminster Theological Seminary” - all 3 words tell you something about the school (even if they don't retain "Presbyterian" or “Reformed” per se). “Brigham Young University” associates with the ideals of its namesake. On we could go.

    Is this an indicator that advancing (independent, Fundamentalist) Baptist ideals is becoming less of a priority, or that it is willing to expand its constituency beyond those ideals? I am not saying that it is- but the fact that the label is comparatively obscured to its past prominence is not heartening.

    A push toward being identified as an “International University” vs. a “Baptist Bible College” is communicating something.* I liken it to a church taking on an over-encompassing “Ministries” moniker. Advantages may be gained- but I am concerned with what is lost or at least comparatively obscured.

    My (LM) reaction: And now we are seeing what the new name is communicating.

  4. “Northland International University” is much more ambiguous-

    Yep. And I think it is safe to say it reflects a different kind of thinking going on in the inner chambers.

    John MacArthur also renamed the Los Angeles Baptist College to something much less Baptistic, which did not sit well with a lot of folks in the GARB at the time.

    There is quite a lot of name changing going on in churches since Rick Warren's PD movement got hold, and those name changes are all in the same ambiguous direction. They still tell you they are a church, but that's all the information you have anymore. Anything denominational is gone. The new move is definitely toward ambiguity for seemingly helpful reasons. I don't think it is as helpful as they would like it to be.

    And this name change was as late as last year, when this Rick Holland thing happened 5 years ago?


  5. Time Line:

    In 2005 Les Ollila pulled out of the conference because Rick Holland was also a speaker.

    The name change took place in April 2009.

    In April 2010 Olson, Ollila, Horn and McLachlan initiated contact and went to MacArthur's church to met with MacArthur, Holland and Johnson.

    This semester Northland had Rick Holland speaking to the undergraduates in its chapel. There have been several more changes at Northland in who its puts in its pulpit/chapel, classrooms, music philosophy, etc.

    On the music issue Matt Olson, in his public e-mail, did acknowledge that Dr. Kevin Suiter (Fine Arts Director) was resigning because of the changes NIU has made in its music programs. There are, however, three faculty members, including Dr. Suiter, leaving Northland.

    Changes at NIU are real and in a direction of compromising the good stands Northland Baptist Bible College was once known for.