April 27, 2015

May the “Northland Heart” Perpetuate

After a while, one runs out of adjectives to describe the tragedy of Northland. This recent news of SBTS’s decision NOT to bring the school under its wings after all is yet another embarrassing blow to the ministry.* I was not expecting the Southern Baptist support to be an improvement anyway, but their rejection of accepting the school as a gift seems to affirm the hopelessness of bringing the college into financial and ministry solvency.

One grief is added to another for those of us who felt a deep loyalty to what the school stood for in its best years. Was the school ever perfect? None of us believed that. But the overall direction, humility, and sincere attempt to be Biblical were consistent qualities over most of its existence.

The rapid ruin of the school brings to mind images of the Hindenburg. The fact that the disaster might have been prevented or at least delayed had there been honesty and a willingness at the top level 4-5 years ago (cf. Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:8) to hear counsel from scores of pastors, alumni, and staff brings to mind images of the Titanic.

I hope no one will respond by saying “well, fundamentalist/conservative Baptist ministries are failing everywhere because they have become irrelevant, old-fashioned, or legalistic.” Northland and most of its supporting churches had much life and refreshing ministry as evidence of its heart and faithfulness to the Scriptures. I saw this first hand for over 12 years and continue to see this in Northland alumni in our own local church and school ministry.

These images may seem overinflated to those watching Northland Baptist Bible Colleges demise from the outside. However, Northland had a lot of wonderful ministry for most of its years as an independent Baptist college. Thousands of people who have been trained, inspired, and encouraged by the school’s ministry are now seemingly watching the last faint pulses of the “Northland Heart.”

Hopefully, alumni and former faculty and staff who have transplanted the “Northland Heart” into themselves, and into their ministries and will perpetuate that kind of Biblical attitude till the Lord returns.
“Lord, in your mercy please bless and protect other schools and their leadership, which are doing your work with integrity and a right heart!” 
No doubt there will be last-gasp attempts to salvage the ministry, but unless the LORD by some miracle sends wholesale revival, R.I.P. Northland Baptist Bible College.

Dr. Dana F. Everson

Previous articles by Dr. Everson, on the tragedy that has become NIU:

For Dr. Eversons philosophy of music please see Sound Rootshis dissertation in book form.


  1. Thank you Bro. Everson. There is no satisfaction in viewing the demise of a once greatly used ministry. There is no satisfaction in seeing your voice of warning go unheeded, ignored and then come to pass. The OT prophets grieved over the unheeded warnings they gave. For those who served, were trained during the "golden years" rejoice in that heritage you have and as Bro. Everson has so well articulated, carry that with you as you serve our Lord today. Northland may be gone physically, but the heart will live on in those lives that were touched and changed by the power of God that was once present on that campus.

    1. Brian, on all that, many agree. I think Dr.Everson's reference to 1 Kings 12:8 is most approprioate and fitting. Interesting how the Scripture is as applicable today as it was then.

    2. Dana Everson4/29/2015 10:22 AM

      Absolutely Brian!
      NO pleasure in seeing the weakening/faltering of a ministry! There are many excellent examples of folks who are contributing, creative, and productive in their ministries today who watched their own beloved institutions fail in later years, yet transplanted the fervor and flavor of the best years into their own lives and ministries. May we all (starting with ME) be humble before HIm Who gives grace to the humble. May we all be grateful for what ever good things God gives us that we can use to better serve Him. And may we kindly but firmly pass on the lessons we learn.

  2. As a former student at Pillsbury(1988-89) and a current Christian college educator who has watched the unraveling of fundamentalist educational institutions over the last decade, a few things appear clear to me. For the sake of transparency I should clarify I am Anglican by affiliation these days, and not in the fundamentalist Baptist orbit.

    First, changing the music standards at Northland was clearly a bad choice for a fundamentalist school that needed to retain its base of support. What exactly was gained by this exchange of traditional Baptist hymns for modern praise choruses? Very little, and the cost has been immense. This was ill-conceived.

    Second, it is clear that fundamentalism has suffered from a dearth of good, judicious leadership among pastors and educators. That has been its Achilles heel in my opinion. The demise of the IFB movement has little if anything to with the KJV, dress codes, music choices or supposedly outdated lifestyle standards. Where has been the needed balance between cranky personalities on the one side, and naive advocates of misguided change on the other?

    Third, rather than seek acceptance within the young, restless and reformed movement, IFB churches and schools should strengthen their ties to their own natural heritage within Anabaptist pietism. The Mennonites provide a good model of a movement that is secure in its identity, and remains comfortable in its own skin.

    Fourth, given their location, why has Northland not pioneered degree offerings in camp ministry, outdoor education, and environmental studies? They should have done this years ago. Their campus is ideally situated for such degree programs, but I see none of them among their options.

    I hope, through creative brainstorming, good leadership, and some generous giving, that Northland can regain its footing. I personally would love to see the IFB movement prosper. My own college classes have been praying for our brothers and sisters at places like Northland and Tennessee Temple. They have an important place in the American religious landscape. But it will require a renewed respect for their own heritage, and a recovery of their traditional vision, in order to regain the support of their base. The money and the potential students are still out there. But any school, in order to survive, has to know its marketplace niche.

    -Paul Owen

    1. Brother Owen:

      I appreciate that you’ve shared your opinion here. I’ve received several grateful responses for your transparency and civility. Just a brief reaction to a few items you noted.

      …changing the music standards…. What exactly was gained by this exchange of traditional Baptist hymns for modern praise choruses?”

      The music standard change was the most visible “change” that Matt Olson put in place. Yet, he steadfastly insisted “we are unchanged.” See-

      Is NIU “Unchanged?” NBBC Position Statement on Contemporary Issues in Christianity

      What was not at first as apparent as the music shift was the doctrinal shifts. Olson made decisions for the college that were contrary to the plain language in the NIU Handbook(s) and its Articles of Faith. I documented and detailed many of these “changes” at NIU. NIU’s outreach to and cooperative ministry with modern day Charismatic ministries was among the most egregious actions Olson took at NIU. See-

      Is NIU Opposed to and Rejec[ting of] the Modern day Charismatic Movement?

      I hope, through creative brainstorming, good leadership, and some generous giving, that Northland can regain its footing.”

      For Northland, regrettably, that time is past. The former Northland Baptist Bible College is IMO a modern day tragedy. An avoidable tragedy if the former leadership had a mindset such as you articulated here. A ministry of warning from numerous sources went unheeded. Dr. Everson’s reference to 1 Kings 12:8 is highly applicable in the demise of a once fine independent, separatist Baptist college.

      But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him..”

      Kind regards,


    2. Dana Everson4/29/2015 11:36 AM

      Mr Owen: What gracious and thought-provoking comments you have made!

      I think music gets targeted because people perceive music as TOTALLY subjective; that it has no absolutes and no moral character. Music is hastily placed in the category of the adiaphora, so it is becomes a soft spot and vulnerable to those who wish to effect changes in a ministry. There is some truth to the cliche' "the first thing to go bad in a ministry is the music". Since "everyone is an expert on music" and since "everyone is entitled to their own tastes", it is an easier place to start an argument for change than in the theology department.

      But even more critical than the music changes was HOW those changes were effected. In my opinion, there was not enough consideration/input from pastors of supporting churches, direct discussion with music faculty (who should have been considered as credible counselors), and communication and discussion among all members of the administration who would all be affected by these changes. Again, these are my perceptions from where I stood. At one point I literally begged the leadership (2010-11 school year) to take the high road musically, and to take more time to consider what effects these changes might bring on students and on the supporting churches.

      Any school's board and administration have a perfect right to determine their mission, their standards, and their methods. They have the right to establish their philosophy and practice. However, is it right or even good business practice to "change the rules in the middle of the game" leaving students, faculty, supporting pastors confused about the institution's stand? Is it fair to faculty who signed on under a certain doctrinal and policy environment to change that environment in the middle of a school year or worse, to change that environment subtly over several years because an administrator has an agenda for change? These are some questions that STILL have not been answered to the satisfaction of many folks who have followed the Northland situation with concern.

      Again, thank you for your observations and input...they will cause me to think further about several issues.
      Dana Everson

    3. Thank you for the kind words. I find it curious that this alliance with the YRR was sought out by fundamentalists, when on the face of it the two movements could not be more incompatible:
      1) The YRR frown on the use of the KJV, and are mostly ESV and NIV advocates.
      2) The YRR advocate modern worship styles, which are incompatible in tone with traditional Baptist hymnody.
      3) The YRR advocate cultural accommodation in terms of music, dress codes, and the décor of church buildings/meeting places.
      4) The YRR movement is based on the principle of interdenominational cooperation between groups of differing and incompatible theologies.
      5) The YRR intentionally blends charismatic and Reformed theologies and (especially) musical tastes (which were at odds in older generations). The SGM churches have been at the epicenter of the YRR movement.
      6) The YRR advocates a casual atmosphere in worship settings, and glibness in dress codes (speakers wearing wrinkled jeans, and shabby, plaid, untucked shirts or t-shirts, with hand in pocket to display casualness while preaching).
      7) The YRR generally avoid the practices and images of old-fashioned prayer meetings, revival meetings, and altar calls.
      8) The YRR openly teach the Calvinistic doctrines of grace, rather than traditional IFB nuances of soteriology (which usually steer between the Calvinist and Arminian camps).
      9) The YRR promotes a very "this-worldly," culture-engaging brand of Christianity, rather than a world-denying faith which warns people to flee the evils of modernity, placing its hope on the imminent return of Christ. This is why you will find scarcely any pretribulationists among the YRR.

      All of these things strike at the very heart of historic IFB identity, and it amazes me that this would not be obvious to people at the helm of fundamentalist schools. Again, this is by no means the only problem, but it has been a contributing factor. What IFB institutions clearly need to do is to "strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die" (Rev. 3:2) rather than attempt to morph into something foreign to their own history and identity.

    4. I appreciate the discussion of the Young, Restless and Reformed (YRR) movement, people. The comments have thus far been spot on. I am reminded of the article by Dr. Peter Masters from 2009,

      The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness: An alarmed assessment by Dr. Masters of the ‘new Calvinism’ promoted among young people in the USA

      New Calvinists do not hesitate to override the instinctual Christian conscience, counselling people to become friends of the world…. The new Calvinism is not a resurgence but an entirely novel formula which strips the doctrine of its historic practice, and unites it with the world…. A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every -error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety.

      Six years ago Dr. Masters saw what was shaping up, and warned of the coming tragedies the YRR group would bring into the NT Church. Sadly, it has largely been the younger, impressionable people in and around IFB circles that fell into the trap of the YRR culture. Former president, Matt Olson, sought to remake NIU into the very kind of YRR institution that Masters so eloquently and pointedly warned of.

      NIU is the most recent, stark and prolific slide away from, in particular, authentic biblical separatism.

      I encourage everyone to read the article above by Dr. Masters.


  3. I agree 100% about the assessment regarding leadership within the IFB. Pillsbury, TT, and NIU all suffered under poor, inept, & naïve leadership. All three were once imbedded in the IFB world, but then one at a time, each tried to widen their circle. In doing so they alienated the customers that allowed them to exist in the first place. This meant that neither the previous base nor the new customers they were trying to reach trusted the organization enough to buy their product. They ignored basic business principles 101. Neither one learned from the other and each still tried to do the same thing, failing in each case.

    The YRR Calvinists at NIU thought they were going to come in and show everyone how to do ministry right and they had plenty of support - amongst primarily the younger generation. They were naïve and silly. One way they were naïve is that the majority of the support they were receiving was from college age kids or young parents - neither of which have college-age children or pockets big enough to make donations, the very things you need to build a college. You can't have a college without students and students = cash. Paul Owen's description of "naïve advocates of misguided change" is spot on.

    What is interesting to me is that if NIU's enrollment for next year was so low that SBTS gave back the "gift," what does that say about the current student body and their confidence about was to be the Boyce/NIU merger next year? I've read that the enrollment numbers were "pathetic" and that enrollment was around 11. Whatever the number was it was obviously low enough for Mohler to pull the plug. I don't know the exact number of students this year, but after eliminating the number of seniors surely there are more than 11. Not all remaining students would come back anyway for various reasons, but still, seems funny to me that even amongst the current student body there wasn't a high enough level of interest. If anyone wants to correct on this, please do so.

    1. Silliness does seem to abound these days. Take for instance the way the YRR identify and "solve" a problem. One of their heroes will talk about the missionary enterprise and how there is one mission that we are all on, and immediately the YRR go on a crusade to remove the 's' from the end of the word "missions." There, problem solved. No one should say "missions" any longer, as now it is more accurately "mission," or "missional." If you dare say "missions" you are ostracized as an old fuddy-duddy who isn't keeping up with the times. Such picking at semantic nits gives them a feeling of accomplishment without actually accomplishing anything.

    2. Fwiw, the number of 11 was confirmed to me by a very reliable source over a week ago. I do not recall for sure, but I believe he meant that there were 11 new enrolling. In any event, once Matt Olson had completely aliented the (vast majority) alumni, supporting churhes, pastors and friends, the school and camp were finished. Very sad to see this.

  4. When Paul said, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" in I Corinthians 9:22, he was speaking of cultural "things." When men try to become "all things to all men" doctrinally, they become nothing to no one. The latter is what defines Gospel Centrism and its new wave of New Evangelicalism. Northland got involved in an experiment regarding biblical separatism that utterly failed because their new separatism was duplicitous and unscriptural.

    1. Well said, Dr. Ketchum. We are witnesing a new wave of New Evangelicalism, which has made serious inroads into our circles. And the chief apologist among us for the new wave has been Dr. Kevin Bauder.

  5. Thank you for the clarification about the 11 new enrolled number. Yes, that number is "pathetic," a word used by another writer. Since NIU/Boyce was effectively starting over from scratch with their academic offerings plus many other parts of their program still in development that number is not surprising. The new (& improved??) version of NIU/Boyce had not enough time to gain any kind of traction with whatever constituent base they were going to have.

    The 11 number then is not at all surprising. If I was Southern and saw that number I would've pulled the plug too.

    Having said that, I maintain that Southern was wrong in how it handled its pull-out from NIU. By everything I've read, Mohler should've been much more transparent with NIU earlier on in the gifting & receiving process.

  6. So sad..... but everything rises and falls on leadership.
    Southern business acumen is reprehensible.

  7. Just received e-mail that on 4/26/2015 the NIU board voted to close the doors.

    1. Yes, thank you. Will make mention shortly. Sad, not unexpected, but was avoidable.