SPECIAL REPORT: Cedarville University Controversy Escalates – Draws Broader Attention

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“Cedarville University Controversy Escalates – Draws Broader Attention”

There’s been a controversy raging at Cedarville University in Ohio for some time now, and on March 7th a major news source caught wind of the situation. In an article titled “Termination of 2 Tenured Bible Professors Leads to Unease at University in Ohio,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Cedarville’s firing of two tenured professors has “prompted the American Association of University Professors to open an investigation.”

The firing of the two professors, David Hoffeditz and David Mappes, took place last summer just a few months after new annual contracts had been issued by the University to the two professors. According to Hoffeditz, whom Lighthouse Trails spoke to on the 7th, neither professor received any warning that this action was going to happen. In a statement posted online by Hoffeditz, he said the following:

I was never able to view any evidence for the charges being leveled at me, denied the opportunity to listen to my accusers, or cross-examine them, and the Administration was permitted to submit accusation leveled at me by nameless witnesses. 1

Now, according to the Chronicle article, “a grievance panel at the institution [has] reached a split decision in favor of one of the fired professors [Hoffeditz], citing administrative missteps as part of its rationale.”

While the Chronicle focuses primarily on the firing and after affects of Hoffeditz and Mappes, a number of other events have taken place over the last year and a half that would indicate the problem is not isolated to the two professors fired last summer.

Cedarville University came to the attention of Lighthouse Trails Research in June of 2006, when we reported on Christian colleges and universities that had begun to incorporate Spiritual Formation into their schools. Cedarville was among those named. 2 Our report pointed to a Recommended Book List put out by Cedarville President, Dr. William (Bill) Brown. The list included the names of emergent leader Brian McLaren, New Age guru James Redfield (The Celestine Prophecy), Leonard Sweet (no longer on the list), and Philip Yancey.

In October of 2006, Lighthouse Trails issued a second report titled Cedarville University Heading Down the Contemplative Road?. The report focused on a 64-page handbook where contemplative Dallas Willard was quoted in two sidebar commentaries. The quotes came from Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Willard’s book carries a disturbing endorsement on the back cover – that of Sue Monk Kidd. Monk Kidd, once a conservative Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher now promotes panentheism and goddess worship. In her book, When the Heart Waits, she states:

There’s a bulb of truth buried in the human soul [everyone] that’s only God … the soul is more than something to win or save. It’s the seat and repository of the inner Divine, the God-image, the truest part of us.

In addition to Monk Kidd’s endorsement on the cover of Willard’s book, Willard favorably quotes Thomas Merton in his own book and helped to launch Richard Foster’s Renovare Spiritual Formation Study Bible. On Willard’s website, he recommends a number of contemplative panentheists and has also written the foreword to contemplative proponent Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence. Willard is currently very involved with the Spiritual Formation Forum, working with Richard Foster to bring the contemplative message to all who are open. There is a reason that Willard is connected to Monk Kidd, Barton, and Foster, and that is because they all resonate with each other.

During the course of the 2006-2007 school year, David Hoffeditz and David Mappes were not the only faculty dismissals that took place. According to a document by The Coalition of the Concerned (a group of retired and current faculty members who represent over 500 years of service to Cedarville), “five Department of Biblical Education faculty members [including Hoffeditz and Mappes] were either terminated or resigned at the conclusion of the 2006-07 academic year.” All five members were known to be theologically conservative. The Chronicle article reported that “a climate of fear at Cedarville” exists now and “many faculty members worry that tenure means little. “There is a general reluctance on the part of faculty to disagree” with the administration “for fear of retribution.”

R. Bartholomew, (’57, faculty emeritus) has created a website titled Cedarville Situation, in an effort to clarify and document both the terminations of these faculty members as well as the influence that non-biblical theologies (such as emergent) are having on the school. Bartholomew explains:

Essentially (though not inclusively) the doctrinal issue is between those who hold that truth cannot be known with certainty and those who hold that truth can indeed be known with certainty.

The Coalition of the Concerned describes this problem as a move toward a “non-foundational, post-conservative” view of evangelical Christianity. In essence, Bartholomew and the Coalition have identified the influence that the emerging church is having on Cedarville (and most other Christian higher learning institutions). To put it simply, emergent spirituality states that biblical doctrine cannot be defined in stable terms (i.e., it is always changing because culture, questions, the world is always changing). Thus there can be no certainty of truth or doctrine.

As is the case with so many Christian colleges and universities now, Cedarville University has faculty members who would be sympathetic to this emergent framed Christianity, and those faculty members who might oppose this from happening are often hesitant to speak up for fear of losing their positions or being reprimanded in some form.

This controversy at Cedarville came to a head recently after the school invited emerging church activist Shane Claiborne to speak at Cedarville on February 11th, then soon after cancelled the event. Lighthouse Trails reported in January of the Claiborne event and explained that proceeds from Claiborne’s book, The Irresistible Revolution, would be going in part to emerging church ministries such as Brian McLaren’s home church, mysticism proponent Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis) and other emerging type organizations that would not resonate with Cedarville’s historical theological standing. Unfortunately, Cedarville did not cancel a scheduled speaking engagement with Brad Kallenberg, author of Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age.

Christianity Today picked up on the story of Cedarville’s cancellation of Claiborne and quoted CU’s Vice President of Student Life Carl Ruby as saying that most of the opposition for the event came from off campus. The CT article stated that one Cedarville student believed his peers “were upset … because the administration was bowing to the will of various bloggers, thus sheltering them.” However, one source told Lighthouse Trails this week that there could be as many as 80% of the faculty at Cedarville that are against emerging spirituality and the non-foundational, postmodern approach to Christianity. But, as The Coalition for the Concerned stated, faculty and department heads “are often left out of the decision making process” (p. 3).

In our preparation for that January report, Lighthouse Trails spoke with Carl Ruby. He said he visited the Lighthouse Trails Research website and was very fond of many of the people we critique. Given the fact that all of the names we critique promote mantra-style mysticism and given the fact that Ruby told us he had no reservations about having someone like Claiborne speaking, we should be very concerned about the welfare of CU students. And based on what has happened to several of the faculty members, we perhaps should be very concerned about them too. With the rapid growth of contemplative and emerging spirituality within Christian colleges and universities today, what is taking place at Cedarville may be what will happen at other schools too where those professors who try to maintain biblical integrity could be standing soon in unemployment lines.

Related News and Documentation:

Cedarville University Bringing Emerging Church Activist to Campus

Cedarville University Cancels Shane Claiborne Event

SPECIAL COMMENTARY: Christianity Today Blames “Bloggers” for Resistance

The New Christians

The Cedarville Situation

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