March 12, 2015

An Anecdotal Answer to the Demise of Fundamentalist Schools

In my previous article, There He Goes Again, Redefining Fundamentalism we considered Dr. Kevin Bauder’s recent article, “Another One Bites the Dust.” We found it,
Pastor Marc Monte
unfortunate that Dr. Bauder could not resist his penchant for trashing what he describes as the ‘King James Only orbit.’  It appears to this avid Bauder reader that the good professor harbors unreasonable angst toward fellow fundamentalists who hold to a view of manuscript evidences different from his own.  His classification, ‘King James Only orbit,’ paints with a broad brush, thereby unfairly dismissing legitimate theological positions within that orbit.” (There He Goes Again, Redefining Fundamentalism)
Today, let’s consider how asking “why?” leads to understanding, and understanding is a good thing.  The rapid demise of some fundamentalist schools leaves the faithful asking “why?” and several observers have recently sought to answer the question.

Dr. Bauder’s article, “Another One Bites the Dust,” presents at least six answers to the question of why our generation is witnessing the demise of formerly venerable, fundamentalist institutions.  All of his observations deserve thoughtful consideration.  One among them, however, demands our focused attention.

Dr. Bauder states “Critics of change are quick to argue that these institutions have collapsed because they abandoned their historic commitments and alienated their constituencies.”  While he doesn’t elaborate on the concerns of the “critics,” his acknowledging of their position at least presents inquiring fundamentalists with a place to begin.

While all of Dr. Bauder’s reasons for the death of fundamentalist schools have merit, the idea of fundamentalist schools changing and alienating their constituency demands far greater exploration than given in his article.

This author admits that such a claim is difficult to quantify.  No one has conducted solid research to numerically back the conclusion.  The lack of quantifiable research, however, does not dismiss the concern.  In addressing the issue, therefore, this author will draw primarily from his long-standing connections within the fundamentalist realm, making observations that are anecdotal, but none-the-less vital in understanding the current situation.

Historically, fundamentalists founded schools as a conservative reaction to change within the educational structures of their day.  Bob Jones University, for example, had its beginnings when Bob Jones Sr. became concerned with the changes taking place in theological schools contemporary to his era.  The conservative, fundamentalist position became a resonant rallying cry for supporters of that institution.  The same could be said, in one degree or another, for other fundamentalist institutions.  Regardless of the motives of their founders, they all offered a bastion for conservative fundamentalists who were resistant to both cultural and theological change.  These people became the schools’ core constituency.  In turn, the schools turned out thousands of pastors, many of whom are still in America’s pulpits, who mirrored the rock-ribbed convictions of their schools.  Such pastors and churches became feeders to the schools championing their convictions.  And the whole scheme worked marvelously—until the schools changed.

The advent of marketing changed everything.  Schools second-guessed their positions in the light of secular marketers who warned that their models were not culturally sustainable.  This author was a student at Bob Jones University (1985-1989) when, on the advice of a marketing firm, the university dropped its moniker, The World’s Most Unusual University, in exchange for the more happy and positive motto, The Opportunity Place.  While such a change is substantially innocuous, it signaled a willingness to chase after marketing schemes that demand the downplaying of conservative convictions.  And the core constituency winced, but largely continued their support. 

Without going into great detail (other authors have amply addressed this), Northland Baptist Bible College traveled the same road, but at a much accelerated pace.  In the case of Northland, they traveled so far and so fast that the core constituency abandoned ship at an astonishingly rapid rate—hastening the school’s demise.*  While anecdotal (because we lack exact research numbers), this author believes few would argue against this point.  The anecdotal argument, then, is that when a school abandons its core positions—separation, music, standards, associations, conservative theology—
the base notices, and they withdraw support because they were trained to do so by the institutions that have now betrayed them.
In a friendly exchange with an administrator from my alma mater, he pointed out that I have tended, from time to time, to write articles of concern with regard to the drift within fundamentalism.  He expressed concern that such concentration likely increased my personal stress level.  He was, incidentally, correct!  My response was something like this, “Well, I’m just doing what I was trained to do at BJU in the 1980’s.  His reply:  a wry smile and the words, “I know.”  I intend this anecdote only to illustrate that the base was trained to oppose change interpreted as compromise.  So when the schools make changes that some interpret as compromise, the reaction of the base should come as no surprise.

Dr. Bauder also makes the salient point that the “number of Bible colleges based in local churches has probably never been higher” and that these schools “siphon students away from more mainstream and responsible schools.  His assertion is correct, but it begs the question, “Why have these schools arisen?”  The answer, anecdotally of course, is pastoral dissatisfaction with the change in direction of “mainstream and responsible schools.”

Would all of the recently deceased schools have flourished had they not alienated their base of support?  Possibly so, but likely not.  Institutions rise and fall.  Every dog has his day.  The key, however, is this:  the left-leaning changes in now defunct fundamentalist schools certainly hastened their eventual demise.  And it is likely that some would have survived if they had remained true to the visions and convictions of their founders.  The lesson, of course, is simple:  Be what God originally called you to be.  Get your marching orders from the Bible, not the latest marketing company.  And base your practices on Scripture, not the hottest youth culture trends.  It’s simple.  But, for some, it wasn’t so easy.  And it proved to be the death knell of once venerable institutions.

Pastor Marc Monte
Faith Baptist Church, Avon, IN

*Sample Articles on Northland’s Demise:
Is the NBBC Position Statement still in force…? NBBC was so ‘Baptistic’ that when the NBBC Position Statement was written they found it necessary to offer an explanation for having in Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. and Dr. Bob, III. Today, NIU presents non-Baptists and Southern Baptists in the classroom and chapel pulpit who…do not want to be identified as fundamental Baptists or with Fundamentalism. Yet NIU’s president and chancellor insist the university ‘is unchanged’.”
With this video and accompanying pages at NIU’s web site the downward spiral of compromise of a once fine school continues. For some NIU has hit bottom.”
How can NIU include a member of a Charismatic church on its payroll when the [NIU] application for and renewal of employment requires opposition to and rejection of the Charismatic Movement?”

Compromise is almost never towards the conservative, never toward giving God the benefit of the doubt. Under Matt Olson NIU has compromised its historic foundations, current NIU handbooks and Articles of Faith. His destiny seems to be to become a hero to the younger generation. He will not accept the caution and counsel of many seasoned men who have tried to appeal to his senses, his conscience, and his theology.”


  1. "Get your marching orders from the Bible, not the latest marketing company. And base your practices on Scripture, not the hottest youth culture trends. " I especially like this comment in its application to NIU.

    Dana Everson

  2. It is one thing to let your marketing to tell the market who you are, where you are going, and what you stand for.

    It is another thing to let the market tell you who you are, where you should be going, and what you stand for.

    In NIU's case, they chose to do more of the latter and less of the former.