August 14, 2012

Questions Answered on the Changes at NIU: An Insider’s Report, Part Two

Previously, we posted Part One of this Q&A for your consideration. Today, we continue with more questions and answers surrounding various aspects of the change in trajectory of NIU, the former Northland Baptist Bible College.

Q10. Were you specifically told of a new direction or emphasis for music including a requirement to change accordingly?

NIU administrators were always challenging us to try new and creative approaches to fulfilling the college mission, but it seems to me that only in the last 2-3 years or so that I was there that the previously held student standards began to change more dramatically. New, more relaxed guidelines for dress and hair, loosening of some dorm restrictions, changing the word “rules” to “expectations,” the elimination of the demerit system, a ...

This seemed to coincide with Matt Olson’s declarations in chapel and in faculty meetings that “we will not separate over music,” his implication that the gospel is the ONLY really important thing, and his personal list of something like 30 issues in Fundamentalism that he did not agree with. I don’t know if he ever specifically listed all these issues (and some of these probably did need some revision; perhaps such things as certain practical dress code issues for students in the COLD north weather, for example).

Although several “music philosophy” meetings were held in the fall of 2010, my personal impression was that the direction of music standards and policies were already pretty much decided; the “meetings” seemed to me to be political protection so that ADMIN could always fall back and say they “consulted” the faculty as new directions were being considered.

I realize I am judging motives here, so I want to be careful, but I also want to say that during those music philosophy meetings I was very firm, very strong in my challenges to the president and the ADMIN (1) to take the high road, (2) to take a longer look at the ramifications of any loosening of music standards, (3) and to take more time to reconsider the counsel of conservative musicians as opposed to relying so heavily (in my opinion) on the input from students.

New directions were more set in place than discussed before being implemented. ADMIN of course has a certain right to make decisions, but in the area of music, I believed that most of the counsel the music department offered was not followed.

Q11. Why doesn’t the administration clarify their position in open, unvarnished terms?

Matt has stated clearly in chapels and staff meetings that we will no longer separate over music.” Of course that is still unclear, but it suggests that NIU is APPLYING their principles differently if they aren’t actually changing their philosophy. I don’t think he is willing to draw specific lines about this style or that group…I think he is very “customer conscious” and does not want to offend current students or potential students. That’s my opinion.

Q12. Many churches are increasingly disappointed with the level of music style sung from NIU’s traveling music team. Are you aware of this and do you have a comment regarding under whose directive and/or responsibility it was to train the traveling singers?

Be careful to distinguish between the ministry teams (which were primarily trained by folks outside the music dept) and the Northern Lights (which was trained and prepared via the music dept). The ministry teams were hand-picked for their personalities, spirituality, and good attitudes, not necessarily for their musical skills. AFTER the ministry teams were chosen, they had some coaching from music faculty who tried to help them prepare some musical selections. This is an important difference that perhaps many pastors and churches do not completely understand. The Northern Lights was a team which focused on musical ministry and was much more intensely rehearsed and groomed for traveling as a music team. Of course each year there are strengths and weaknesses as personnel changes, but overall, their musical choices (over the four different directors they had during my years at Northland) were technically well done, balanced in variety, and spiritually driven. They made some wonderful CD recordings into the mid-2000’s.

Q13. Was the music department dismantled for practical reasons or for philosophical differences?

Around Thanksgiving 2010, the administration called a meeting of all fine arts students (essentially music and speech students) to inform them that discussions were ongoing concerning music philosophy and the exciting prospects of strengthening the music area by making it more “global” in its methods. Dr. and Mrs. Suiter (head of Fine Arts) and Shelly Beeman (voice instructor) had resigned by then, and I believe the administration was using the opportunity to begin making some changes they had been contemplating. In other words, 50% of the full time music faculty resigned and left after fall semester, and the college was trying to regroup and put a positive look on the situation. Publicly, Dr. Suiter left because he didn’t feel qualified to go in the “global” direction that Matt seemed to want to go. In my opinion, the Suiters did indeed leave because they could not agree philosophically with the direction that Matt desired to go.

Miss Beeman coached voice students by online/Skype in order to help them complete the school year. To my knowledge, Shelly was not full time and was not regularly present on campus for the Winter 2011 semester.  I believe she returned to campus briefly a few times to assist some students with their voice recitals. But the other two music faculty members (and 1-2 other part time folks) and I took up the slack where we could.
Hearing some of the news occasionally from campus this school year, I am sure that I would be actively looking for another employment/ministry situation by this time in the school year.
Q14. NIU seems to be portraying a praise and worship style of music; is this true? If the pulpit ministry is the leading indicator of the strength of any given Bible school’s emphasis (from my perspective), and the laid back style in which the platform is presented (no ties or suit coats but turtle necks, choruses, no pulpit, discussion or conversational style of presenting a message, etc) do you see this?

This is the tough part to explain. Possibly Northland chapels have always been a little less formal than other schools because of their strong camp background/ministry.

Q15. If they believe that everything they are doing today is correct, have they made any steps to apologize to those who were there 10 or 15 years ago?

Indirectly, I believe that one of the top 2 or 3 issues regarding music choices has to do with a new view of associations. I don’t know where this is going to finally settle, but it is going to be an issue probably in many other areas besides music. In my opinion, if this is unsettled, they do not have to feel obligated to “apologize” until it IS settled.

Please continue to Part Three of this on-going series.

Site Publishers Commentary: There are colleges where students once were taught a conservative philosophy of music that focused on uplifting the Lord and not the performer or the personal listening tastes of the hearers. Today they have become an environment where music has no moral quality, style is supposedly unaddressed in the New Testament, and institutional standards are a hindrance. NIU is on that track!

For related reading see,

Is NIU UnChanged? NIU Students Engage the Issues, Part One

Is NIU UnChanged? NIU Students Engage the Issues, Part Two


  1. Brother Lou,

    This writer has an interesting article on Matt Olsen posted late yesterday.

    1. Thanks Andy. Read the article this morning and appreciate it. I have an article prepared on the same subject that I intend to publish as late as next Monday morning. I encourage my guests to read Don's expose.


  2. Lou,

    Thanks for posting these interviews. They confirm what many of of us saw in seed form 10 years ago, now coming to full harvest. Unfortunately, the laws of sowing and reaping apply to all kinds of sowing. Separation is under attack in many schools, by those with an essentials/non-essentials approach to NT Christianity. We desperately need a repentant spirit that leads us back to a whole-counsel-of-God approach to the practice of separation. Doctrinal reductionism is rampant in the leadership of many schools in fundamentalism. Pastors and parents beware!

    1. Pastor Rogers:

      I appreciate your heart and point. The mantra had had several versions such as "gospel driven separation, gospel centric fellowship, it's all about the gospel." Dave Doran was the first I read within our circles pushing this view. He also came up with separation in "academic contexts" to cover his invitation of non separatist evangelicals to his seminary and pulpit. He has (Bauder, Jordan) gone much further in cooperative ministry with Mark Dever.

      Like them Olson will tolerate, allow for, excuse or ignore a wide swath of aberrant theology, worldliness and ecumenical compromise ad long as he can agree on the gospel. And make no mistake about it: for Olson and the others their gospel rallying point is Calvinistic soteriology in the form of the works based Lordship Salvation interpretation of the gospel.