January 17, 2011

Is NIUUnchanged?” Redux- NIU Students Engage the Issues, Part One

The previous article on current events at Northland International University (NIU) stirred a great deal of attention and discussion, both public and private. That article is Is NIU “Unchanged?” NBBC Position Statement on Contemporary Issues in Christianity and was the fourth in a series about the new direction, trajectory of and practices at NIU.

In the Is NIU “Unchanged” discussion thread two NIU students, Phil Palmer and Ethan Kimbrough, posted comments in which they offered their view of what is unfolding at their school. Both Phil and Ethan were sincere in their comments and we can all appreciate the good spirit with which these young men expressed themselves. Their concerns and comments were primarily directed to Brother James Floyd.* Both Brother Floyd and I shared some reaction to their comments. The comments submitted by Phil and Ethan and our responses cover a fairly wide cross-section of issues with NIU. I believe those interactions contain elements that will be beneficial to every reader who is interested in and/or concerned with the new direction and practices at NIU.

Today we will review Phil Palmer’s comment and the responses to him. Because of the length of Phil’s two part comments in the original thread I will provide a direct link to it for those who wishes to read it in full. Later, in a separate article, we will consider Ethan’s comment and our response to him.

I believe there is value in reviewing and discussing what these two young men raised and the responses they were provided. This is why I am converting that thread discussion to the main page for your consideration. The opening comment from James Floyd follows, which elicited the response from NIU student Phil Palmer. Brother Floyd wrote,

Lou, Thanks for the article. I was concerned by the video in that they were using the skit** as a way to then talk about what Northland is. It came across that they are willing to engage culture to reach the lost. This is code language for compromise. I remember skits and parodies that were done at times in the past at Northland that would have raised a few eyebrows had they been recorded and put on the internet. There were times where students went a little too far with their society recruiting skits, but this is unacceptable. I would be more upset if I didn’t know Dr. Kimbrough. I appreciated his ministry at Northland while I was there. I’m sure that he felt that there was nothing wrong with the skit, but it looks very bad from the outside looking in. I understand that this is not an actual chapel service, but it does convey that Northland has changed. I had a hard time making out what the young man was saying toward the end, but it sounded like more of the same hype and philosophy that Matt Olsen and others are putting forward.
NIU sophomore, Phil Palmer, submitted a two part comment, which can be viewed in it’s entirety here, which was Phil’s reaction to Brother Floyd’s comment above. Brother Floyd and I responded to Phil as follows, with my response imediately below, preceding Brother Floyd’s.
Phil, Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’ve had some discussions with a particular pastor, whom I appreciate, along the lines of your core point(s). I’d like to share some thoughts from these discussions.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I hear you saying that NIU is standing true on matters of philosophy and principle but changing on matters of application and that changes in application shouldn’t be of any great concern. You are saying that NIU’s philosophy has not changed, but its practice has. Since many people define “philosophy” as “that which I believe which impacts what I do,” one is led to wonder if what Northland’s philosophy has changed because it seems evident to a great many that what Northland is doing has changed.

If the positional statements that Northland once published were being followed today there would be a difference in what is being practiced (inclusion of Southern Baptists, allowances for contemporary music and those that promote it, dance or “stage movement” in a “chapel” service). Northland’s published position statements have been public indicators of the expected philosophy and practice of the institution. It seems evident to those who read them and then read, listen to (or see) what’s being said today that things have changed.

You seem to be saying the changes are a matter of “practice” and that we shouldn’t really be concerned about that because the cause of the gospel is of greater consequence than a few seemingly insignificant practices.

Phil, you realize, I trust, that Peter’s unwillingness to eat with the gentiles while in Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14) (“they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel”) was a matter of practice and not a matter of philosophy. His practice was so wrong that the gospel was at stake. You realize, I trust, that Aaron and the children of Israel said that they were worshipping Jehovah while they built a golden calf. There unorthodox practice (building what God called an idol) was destroying the orthodoxy of their position. You realize that Ananias and Saphira believed in giving but their practice was so tainted as to cause their death. The church in Corinth was challenged to come to the Lord’s table in a “worthy manner,” (practice) as well as to come believing in the substitutionary sacrifice of God’s Son.

Plain and simple, practice matters! It is not just the “meditation of our heart,” (Psalm 19:14) but the “words of our mouth” (Psalm 49:3) that needs to be “acceptable” in God’s sight.
You seem to be arguing that the priority of the gospel ought to be a license for conduct that many believe unbecoming the gospel. A theme and influence that is becoming common place from some men in IFB circles.
Next is Brother Floyd’s reply to Phil.
Phil, I appreciate your comments. Here is my response.

1. The problem is that men like MacArthur and Holland put forth a Lordship view of salvation. You have to ask yourself if men can work together in ministry while some put forth this view and others teach salvation without adding in things like discipleship and a decision for total commitment before being saved. There are those of us who have trouble working with those who hold flawed views on soteriology. You must be careful to watch out for error no matter how subtle. I’ve seen some people confused to the point of frustration by those proclaiming a so called “Lordship gospel.” Why muddy the clear waters of the gospel just for the sake of unity?

Northland basically approves of John MacArthur and Rick Holland along with much of their work or Rick Holland would not have been allowed to speak in chapel. The same can be said for Wayne Simien. He also fits with their new direction.

2. Rick’s invitation shows that Northland values what he has to say. Many people like Rick use a “focus on Christ” in the gospels to justify their views on lordship salvation or things like reformed theology. You should consider Rick Holland's overall body of work and decide if you agree with him or not at that point. Anyone can sound good for one sermon. Some are also very good at hiding their more controversial beliefs.

3. I listened to Wayne Simien’s message and he said some good things, but he does present a view that is consistent with Northland’s new direction. Be careful to understand what it means to “advance the kingdom.” It can mean different things. Some use this to justify compromise. They say that we should engage the culture around us in order to further the kingdom of Christ.
I say that you should be Christ-like and let the world notice that you are different. Don’t be so worried about culture as it can steal your focus from things that matter.
4. I’d say that Northland’s philosophy has changed. Their change in actions point to their change in philosophy/beliefs. It is undeniable. I have talked with Matt Olson on this. Northland is doing exactly what it wants to do. The application/philosophy argument lacks relevance.
The real issue is that there is disagreement in fundamentalism over Lordship Salvation, Calvinistic soteriology, and biblical separation.
People need to decide where they stand on these issues and move forward with the courage to be what they really are.
Next time we will review the thread commentary and discussion with Ethan Kimbrough.


*James Floyd graduated from Northland in 2000 with a degree in Biblical Counseling. He has been involved in church planting work and is now serving in the discipleship ministry of his home church.

**NIU students and staff dance to the Broadway play, WICKED.

Previous articles in the series:
Is NIU “Unchanged?”: The NBBC Position Statement on Contemporary Issues in Christianity

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

Northland Int’l. University’s Convergence with Evangelicalism: What Does it Mean for Impressionable Students?

Northland Int’l University Presents Executive Pastor of Grace Community Church to It’s Student Body

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