August 19, 2012

Is Northland International University “Opposed to and Reject[ing of] the Modern Charismatic Movement?”

Beginning in October 2010 IDOTG has exposed and addressed a number of significant changes at Northland International University (NIU) the former Northland Baptist Bible College (NBBC). Most recent was the Q&A Interview Series with former NIU faculty member Dr. Dana Everson. Today, we are going to consider another change in trajectory for NIU by President Matt Olson.  Dr. Olson has moved beyond issues of music, discipline and legalism into compromise of doctrinal and institutional fidelity. On July 2, 2012 from his personal blog Dr. Olson wrote, 
I have great confidence in this next generation. They get what matters most. This was evidenced in my visit Sunday to Grace Bible Church in Philadelphia, where Ian McConnell serves as the pastor for preaching and vision. It was great to connect with some Northland alumni at Grace as well. Danny Adams (and his wife Becky [Dillabaugh]) serves as the the [sic] pastor for children’s ministries. Jesse Trach is currently an elder in training and being evaluated for pastoral ministry and Nathan Branine is attending Grace while making much of Jesus in the Philadelphia school systems. Come the beginning of September Greg Dietrich and his wife will be relocating to Philadelphia to attend Grace and work remotely for us at Northland.1
A first read the paragraph seems harmless until you review the doctrinal statement of the Grace Bible Church.  There you find that among its, Beliefs: We are evangelical, Reformed, and continuationist.”2

Continuationist” is a contemporary term for those who believe and teach that the 1st century church sign gifts of tongues, prophecy, miracles and healings have continued without interruption. The “continuationst” believes the sign gifts are presently active and should be sought after today. This teaching has been gaining traction in some circles of Fundamentalism.3

The Grace Bible Church site lists itself as one of the family of Sovereign Grace Churches.  C. J. Mahaney is a charismatic and co-founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). Mahaney, like John Piper is another who believes the 1st century sign gifts are in operation today.  The Grace Bible Church links to SGM where you will read that, One of the primary connections among Sovereign Grace churches is our commitment to a common Statement of Faith, which we summarize as evangelical, Reformed, and charismatic.”4
Is it possible Matt Olson unwittingly endorsed the Grace Bible Church legitimizing sign gifts theology of the Charismatic Movement? 
Let us consider whether or not NIUs board of directors faces a serious doctrinal problem?  Each of the following paragraphs appear in Northlands 2012-2013 Undergraduate and 2011-2013 Northland Graduate School Academic Catalogs.5
“The university’s position is not to cooperate with any organization or movement that is connected with apostasy or that places less than primary emphasis on the authority of the Word of God. Northland International University does not accept the philosophy, position, or practice of the National Council of Churches in America or the World Council of Churches. Furthermore, Northland is opposed to Liberalism, Neo-Orthodoxy, New Evangelicalism, Hyper-Calvinism, and the Charismatic Movement.” (Ecclesiastical Separation, p.9.)
“We believe God has given spiritual gifts to Christians to serve in and through the local church. Every believer has at least one gift, and the use of the gifts is always for the ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God. Among the gifts listed in the Bible, we believe that sign gifts (miracles, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy) were temporary in nature and given to the church in its infant state before the completion of the canon of Scripture. Therefore, we reject the modern Charismatic Movement and the confusion it has brought. (Romans 12:6–8; I Corinthians 12:1–11, 13:8; Ephesians 4:11–12)” (Articles of Faith, p. 12.)
“Thus we cannot accept the position reflected in the Ecumenical Movement, Neo-Orthodoxy, New Evangelicalism, or the various branches of the Charismatic Movement.  We believe cooperation should be limited to those of like precious faith. (Romans 16:17; I Corinthians 6:19-20; II Corinthians 6:14-17; I Thessalonians 5:22; II Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15; I John 2:15, 17; II John 9, 10.) (Articles of Faith, p. 12.)
We have three statements from the Northland Graduate School Academic Catalog that unequivocally opposes and rejects the Charismatic Movement signs and wonders teaching.  The academic catalog explicitly rejects cooperation with the Charismatic Movement.  Yet, Matt Olson has honored the men and embraced the ministry of a church within the Sovereign Grace, Charismatic Movement. If he made a genuine mistake he needs to realize that his blog article has created a great deal of confusion and dismay for his own constituency and take immediate steps to clarify NIUs position on the Charismatic Movement.

There is, however, another consideration. A current Northland staff member (Greg Dietrich) will remain employed by Northland while in Philadelphia and a member of this church. Northland will pay salary to a man who will be actively participating in and under the authority of a church that is advancing the Charismatic Movement.6

At present my understanding is that every Fall during In-service meetings NIU staff and faculty are asked to sign a statement affirming they read the Handbook and their acceptance of it. The Handbook includes general information, policies and the doctrinal statement of the school. Matt Olson himself would have been required to sign this agreement when he came on board at Northland.  I believe students have an exit process when they graduate in which they reaffirm their agreement with NIU’s doctrinal statement.

Any school and its board has the right to set their standards and statement of faith.  Unless something has changed faculty, staff, and students must sign their agreement with the doctrinal statement, which includes rejection of the Charismatic Movement. Have the employment requirements changed? Has the language on the Charismatic Movement been revised or removed from the Articles of Faith and Handbook?
How can NIU include a member of a Charismatic church on its payroll when the application for and renewal of employment requires opposition to and rejection of the Charismatic Movement?
Not so long ago Matt Olson and Les Ollila insisted NIU is unchanged in philosophy of music and theology. On Northlands music philosophy Matt Olson wrote, Philosophically, it is unchanged.  Let me say it again...unchanged. (An Open Letter from Dr. Matt Olson of NIU, Nov. 2010.) Dr. Ollila wrote,
As we have attempted to responsibly adjust the way the vision and philosophy is applied in certain settings at our institution, the foundational principles and historic theological positions to which we have always been committed remain unchanged. (Is Northland Changing? A Chancellors Perspective from Dr. Les Ollila, Dec. 2010. [bold added])
Historically changes in music and association eventually lead to a change in doctrine or reveal a doctrinal change that has already taken place. This has happened at NIU. It began partially through new associations with non-separatist so-called conservative evangelicals.7

The NBBC Position Statement on Contemporary Issues in Christianity, NIU’s Handbooks and Articles of Faith state that Charismatic theology is opposed and rejected by the University. Today, Northlands president enthusiastically lauds a church and NIU graduates who are Reformed and charismatic.
“We believe God has given spiritual gifts to Christians to serve in and through the local church. Every believer has at least one gift, and the use of the gifts is always for the ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God. Among the gifts listed in the Bible, we believe that sign gifts have ceased for today. Therefore, we reject the modern Charismatic Movement and the confusion it has brought. (Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:1–11, 13:8; Ephesians 4:11–12).... Thus, we cannot accept the position reflected in the Ecumenical Movement, Neo-Orthodoxy, New Evangelicalism or the various branches of the Charismatic Movement.8
Sign gifts have ceased...we reject the modern Charismatic movement,” was the position of the former NBBC, but apparently NOT anymore.  Dr. Olson wrote that the Grace Bible Church, a Charismatic church, and these Northland graduates give himconfidence in the next generation...they get what matters most.” That is no mild or grudging acceptance of the Charismatic church and NIU graduates serving there. Charismatics, get what matters most?” 
This is a major change of a historic theological position.”  
Matt Olsons statements on the Grace Bible Church are a clear contradiction of published NIU doctrinal positions on the Charismatic Movement.   Do the NIU Articles of Faith stand for something or will they be pushed aside? In my opinion, it is fair to ask Matt Olson, any NIU administrator and board member:

Does Northland International University Stand “Opposed to and Reject the modern Charismatic Movement?”

The NIU board of directors has a decision to make: Insist Matt Olson 1) Correct the mistake he has made in regard to NIUs position on the Charismatic Movement or in his capacity as NIU president, live by NIU’s stated doctrinal positions. 2)Ignore or revise NIUs current position on Charismatic theology to allow for cooperative fellowship and efforts with Charismatic ministries such as Matt Olson has initiated.

What Should You Expect if Your Young Person is Enrolled at NIU?
Current NIU Student's FaceBook

NIU’s recent changes have shown us that its student body will be taught and influenced to tolerate, accept and/or embrace CCM’s “rock” styling, Calvinistic theology,9 the “Lordship Salvation” interpretation of the gospel10 and Charismatic sign gifts.  These things have made inroads at NIU. Matt Olson has yoked the university to ministries, opened the university’s classrooms and chapel to guest speakers who believe, preach and defend these views. 

If the parents and/or pastor of a local church reject those things, but has their young person attending NIU he/she may have already been influenced to embrace what Matt Olson is embracing.  Years of nurturing and teaching can be undone in just one semester under the kind of influence now wide spread at NIU.

NIU is becoming the 21st century equivalent of Tennessee Temple, Cedarville and Liberty University.

Open Questions to Dr. Olson and Ollila:

Dr. Olson: Can you state in unequivocal terms that your comments in regard to the Sovereign Grace Ministrys (Charismatic) Grace Bible Church and employment of Greg Dietrich are consistent with the explicit statements from the NIU Handbook and Articles of Faith?  In your capacity as NIU president do you:
1)Reject the modern Charismatic Movement and the confusion it has brought?
2) Are you: “Opposed to the Charismatic Movement?” 3) In doctrine is NIU “philosophically unchanged?” 4) Can you, in good conscience sign agreement with the NIU’s Handbook statements on Ecclesiastical Separation and the Articles of Faith on “spiritual gifts to Christians?”
In December 2010 Dr. Ollila stated that, “…the foundational principles and historic theological positions to which we have always been committed remain unchanged.” In light of NIU president Matt Olson’s lavish praise of a Charismatic Church and pastor, directing NIU funds to a graduate/employee who will put himself under the authority of a Charismatic ministry, 
Dr. Ollila: Do you stand by your Dec. 2010 Chancellor’s Perspective that NIU’s “historical theological positions…remain unchanged?
These are questions that every concerned pastor and parent should be asking Dr. Olson and Dr. Ollila. In his 2010 Open Letter Dr. Olson wrote, If you have further questions or comments, please feel free to write or call me. I welcome that.” We trust they welcome an opportunity to acknowledge a mistake was made in regard to the Charismatic Grace Bible Church or affirm that NIU presently finds the modern Charismatic Movement (sign gifts) a legitimate theological position today.
Does the convergence with a Charismatic church exemplify the kind of “Great Commission Living” NIU is teaching and preparing its student for?
May the leadership of Northland International University be awakened to, repent of and reverse their course away from the new wave of New Evangelical compromise. I hope and pray that pastors, parents and college students will prayerfully consider how God would have them respond to the changes in philosophy, adjustments in application and deviation from historic theological positions of the former Northland Baptist Bible College.


Please continue this discussion at Part Two

Site Publisher Addendum:
Don Johnson of An Ox Goad, eh blog published on this subject August 13, 2012.  I highly recommend Getting What Matters Most for Don’s treatment of the subject.

Related Reading:

1) Confidence in the Next Generation, accessed August 12, 2012.

3) Because of their cooperative efforts with the so-called “conservative” evangelicals and consequent silence on the aberrant theology of their new friends in evangelicalism Kevin Bauder, Dave Doran, and Tim Jordan have also contributed to the influence of Charismatic theology in fundamental circles.

4) Sovereign Grace Ministries, accessed August 14, 2012. Of SGM Wikipedia notes: 
“The organization of over 70 member churches grew out of the charismatic renewal of the 1970s under the leadership of Catholic Charismatic Larry Tomczak and has its roots in the Gathering of Believers (now Covenant Life Church) in Maryland. It was formally established in 1982   CJ Mahaney and Larry Tomczak were the co-founders of both Covenant Life Church and People of Destiny International (PDI), the former name of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mahaney describes himself as a ‘former pothead.’  Both Mahaney and Tomczak withdrew from the Charismatic Catholic scene shortly before the creation of Covenant Life Church.”
5) Northland Graduate School Academic Catalog, accessed at the NIU website, August 14, 2012, bold added. Northland Undergraduate Catalog, p. 11.

6) At his personal blog 5Solas Greg Dietrich relates that he decided, to move back to Philadelphia and put ourselves under the care of the elders at Grace Bible Church....” Greg is placing himself under the authority of a Charismatic church.

7) NIU Presents Executive Pastor of Grace Community Church to Its Student Body

8) NIU Faculty & Staff Handbook, 2010-2011, p. 6. Articles of Faith, paragraph 12, Accessed Tuesday, August 14, 2012, bold added.)

9) Calvinism includes extra-biblical teachings such as: a Limited Atonement, regeneration prior to and apart from faith and double predestination. Some Calvinists do not embrace all of these.

10) Lordship Salvation is a works based message that corrupts the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3) and frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21.) See- Summaryof Lordship Salvation From a Single Page and Do Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, Believe, Preach and Defend the [Same] Gospel?


  1. The movement of Matt Olson/NIU is away from any historic understanding of fundamentalism and is at best evangelical. While other institutions (like Liberty, Cedarville, TTU) have taken many years to make this change, Matt is accomplishing this in just a couple of years. One wonders if the institution will even survive this shift. The 2011-2012 school year had a 20% or 25% drop in enrollment because of the changes already enacted, one does wonder if the doors will be closed at some point in the not too distant future.

  2. The theology of SGM (Reformed) is that which is pushing the acceptance/tolerance of all things SGM, whether it be the sign gifts or SGM's music arm. Discernment, let alone separation standards have been thrown out wholesale by so many so called fundamentalists because of theology. We need to get back to the Book and obey the clear teachings.

  3. Brian:

    You write, "While other institutions (like Liberty, Cedarville, TTU) have taken many years to make this change, Matt is accomplishing this in just a couple of years."

    I have heard this same comment from quite a few folks, and agree with it.


  4. The reaction I expect to see from NIU president Matt Olson is a declaration stating that there is a difference between those who “practice” tongues, and healing and those who “allow” for continuationism of the Charismatic sign gifts. Suggesting that, “After all, we don’t want to be too dogmatic, do we?”

    Earlier Matt Olson attacked the history of fundamentalism when he said that fundamentalism “has always been about the gospel.” That is a revisionist apologetic to allow for, tolerate and excuse aberrant theology and ecumenical compromise. It allows Matt to say a Charismatic church, “get[s] what matters most,” and ignore that the church and its pastor (an NIU graduate) are active in the “modern Charismatic Movement.”

    I suspect we are going to read of the same to legitimize Matt’s lauding of NIU graduates there who are actively engaged in the “modern Charismatic Movement.”

    His problem remains in that official NIU documents not allow for him and NIU to fellowship with a church or men in the modern Charismatic Movement.

    For Matt Olson and NIU to defend its fellowship with the charismatic Grace Bible Church and pay salary to an NIU staffer who is in membership there, the board of directors MUST disavow and eliminate several portions of the official Handbook and Articles of Faith, which I cited in this article.

    NIU’s move toward continuationism as a tolerable if not legitimate theological position is a MAJOR change and doctrinal shift for the former Northland Baptist Bible College.

    Individual pastors and parents would do well to personally ask Matt Olson, Les Ollila and the administration if they intend to maintain the trajectory away from Northland’s “historic theological position” to continue forming ties with the Charismatic Movement.


  5. Lou,
    Thank you for your research. Your concerns about Olson's tolerance of the Charismaticism of this church are well-founded. However, perhaps of equal and greater concern is that this church is EVERYTHING that fundamentalism has resolved to avoid over the past 80 years. It is at best thoroughly New Evangelical and at worst emergent. The very gospel that they supposedly exalt is compromised right on their website. They have a quote from Tim Keller (who I believe is an old-earth progressive creationist) that says that a lost person is saved by going through a process. This is to justify their "Missional"/"Incarnational" junk that we find no where in the Bible. This is a huge compromise for NIU on many important fronts.

    I knew this was coming for Northland when I went to the Heart Conference in 2009. Tim Jordan mocked all sorts of godly standards and presented a worship philosophy that was "anything goes". No correction was given by Olson or Ollila. The bookstore had on front and center display "The Purpose Driven Youth Ministry Training Kit" and the vast majority of the bookstore contained New Evangelical (at best) writings.
    This is sad, but we need to be aware so that some won't be led astray into this false kind of Christianity. Right now, NIU seems to exist as a bridge to take some from point "A" to point "B". Thanks again, Lou.


  6. Lou,

    I know it's a minor point, but did you notice the word change in the Grace Bible doctrinal statement from the SGM statment? Grace uses "continuationist." SGM uses "charistmatic." Wonder why? (I have my suspicions.)


  7. Among the informed we understand "continuationism" the sign gifts, prophecy, healing of the modern charismatic movement. Many others won't immediately make the connnection and may not see clarification. That is why is defined and equated the two in this article.

    Btw, "continuationism" is to the Charismatic movement what the term "Doctrines of Grace" is to Calvinism.


  8. Lou,

    My suspicion is they chose "continuationism" because it has a kinder, gentler sense. While it's less recognizable than "charismatic," it nevertheless sounds more moderate and less objectionable. Besides, the term "charismatic," conjures up all kinds of chaotic scenes and heresies.


  9. I guess this goes to further prove that Northland has changed and is continuing that change. I would love to see a halt and change of course. If that doesn't happen then they should at least admit their change and redo their doctrinal statement.

    It seems to be safe to say that now "Sovereign Grace" would better define them than any past description.

    Jim F

  10. Jim:

    I would love to see a halt and change of course.

    I think we all would, but IMO it is highly doubtful. Even if they did recognize they have drifted into New Evangelical like compromise, and genuinely repent of it, so much has been lost by the actions of Matt Olson, Les and the leadership they could never hope to recover the loss of confidence they have brought on themselves and the University. I think even the removal and replacement of Matt Olson would still not be enough to recover.

    Sadly, I think that time for course correction has past with the acceptance of the Charismatic Movement. Think of it- 36 years of consistency and steadfastness has been unraveled in less than two.

    Some might remember that Pillsbury tried a shift very similar to what Northland has been doing these past two years. Pillsbury attempted a course correction, but it was too late. Former supporters moved on and we know that Pillsbury ultimately closed.

    I suspect NIU days are numbered as well.


  11. I am stunned that someone of Olson's awareness would actually believe he can pass himself off as a Fundamentalist and accept any form of charismatic doctrine, even passively as one who accepts that others may believe in its possibility but not practice it.

    To even state that you, yourself, do not believe it but accept that it is within the range of acceptable doctrinal tolerance for others to either believe in its possible presence today but not practice it or even go so far as to practice it in some watered-down continuationist form, is simply a departure from Fundamentalism.

    In fact, that is categorically Neo-Evangelical, it isn't even traditional conservative Evangelical (but apparently today many conservative Evangelicals and Hypo-Fundamentalists wish to re-write history and pretend it is).

  12. Alex/All:

    It is hard to understand why, but there is no question in my mind that Matt Olson has turned the corner, departed from the best of what authentic Fundamentalism is, and is now acting as a non-separatist Evangelical. IMO, he has killed off what Northland once was. And with that he has killed off NIU. IMO, Northland will continue bleed out students and support and finally go the way of the former Pillsbury Baptist Bible College.

    Earlier I referenced NIU being on the same trajectory as the Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, which closed its door in 2008. At the time I wrote an article on Pillsbury's tragic closure.

    The potentially devastating effects of introducing Evangelical philosophy into a biblical Fundamentalist setting are no more stark than the demise of PBBC…. The Evangelical mood desires to loosen restrictions, blur lines, and blend a Christ/cultural mixture as the new balanced Christian way of life.”

    IMO, a repeat of events that lead to Pillsbury’s tragic demise are well under way at NIU. We will look back at the non-separatist evangelical philosophy and applications that Matt Olson has brought to the school as reason for what I believe will be it’s ultimate demise. The only unanswered question then as it remains today will be: Why did Les Ollila tolerate these radical changes?

    Please refer to,

    Discussion of the Closing of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College


  13. Interestingly enough, Swindoll's "Grace Awakening" is one of the many New Evangelical books that I saw on the NIU bookstore shelf three years ago.

  14. Lou,

    As a not-too-far-distant former NIU faculty/staff member, I wanted to point out that this change started taking place years ago - as soon as Matt Olsen took the office of President of the college. The changes were small and insignificant at first - a dress code change here, a music standard change there - and, all the while, we were being told jokingly from the pulpit, "Don't worry...we're not on a slippery slope." IMO, all of these little, subtle changes were leading up to the agenda that Dr. Olsen had in mind from the very beginning: to steer the school from its fundamentalist moorings. There is no money, no prestige in the fundamentalist circles. And, to top it off, many of these men have lost their children to Neo-Evangelicalism and seem to be searching for some sort of market where their kids will fit the mold. In short, this change has been brewing for years. What a travesty to lose what Northland once was: a place where students could be discipled and encouraged to live ABANDONED, separated lives; now, they are taught that those former ideas of abandonment are just "peripheral" issues. It is time for people to realize that NIU is not the Northland Baptist Bible College that existed under Dr. Les Ollila. It has changed, despite the constant decrees to the contrary.

  15. Dear Anon:

    Before I posted your comment above I contacted another former NIU faculty/staff member. He affirmed that the history you shared is accurate.

    Kind regards,


  16. Anon:

    If you would send me an email I would appreciate that. Your ID will not be compromised and I have thought for you to consider.


  17. To Anon,

    You stated, "there is no money in fundamentalism." I get what you are saying, however, in light of what is going on at NIU, there is definitely no money in their new position. They lost 20% of their enrollment between the 10-11 school year and the 11-12 school year and I would imagine may loose more this year as well as these changes are becoming deep seated and not some passing fad.
    No one benefits from the collapse of a once strong institution and we may well be seeing a repeat of PBBC in NIU in a few short years.

  18. Having graduated from Northland Baptist Bible College in the late 80s, the changes are so obvious. But even in my years things changed. The selection of books in the bookstore went from solid to simple .. from doctrinally great to evangelically mushy. This had more to do with the bringing on of staff that were from Life Action. So many of the staff brought on in my time at Northland were friends of Dr. Ollila and Marty Von. They first took classes, graduated from Northland, then were hired. Interesting too is the fact that the Alumni association was later headed up by staff ... alumni staff.. but staff non-the-less. Little by little .. change here, change there .. sad. So very sad.

  19. I went to school with Ian McConnell and have visited his church and was very uncomfortable with the doctrine and the standards of his church. I am saddened that a place like Northland has gone that direction. I am hurt to see another Christian college go the way of the world and heretical doctrine.