College Presidents Answer Key Questions on Scripture, Sexuality, and Women in Ministry
By Chris Moon
Most Restoration Movement colleges and universities remain committed to a high view of Scripture and maintain a biblical view of human sexuality—even as American culture values the Bible less than ever.
In a Christian Standard survey of college presidents aligned with Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, 16 presidents shared their institution’s views on the topics of biblical inerrancy, human sexuality, and women in ministry.
Some of them said the Bible was “inerrant.” Others chose to use such words as “infallible,” “inspired,” or “God-breathed” to describe Scripture.
Many made it clear the Bible is a core part of their school’s identity and mission.
The presidents also expressed support for a biblical view of human sexuality. They continue to view homosexual activity as sinful and appeared to reject the tenets of the transgender movement.
The colleges’ views on women in ministry were mixed. Some maintained the role of preacher and elder were reserved for men. Others took no position on the topic and said those doctrinal positions were for local churches, not the colleges, to decide.
The Christian Standard survey was sparked by ongoing debate in American culture and the church about gender and human sexuality.
Are Restoration Movement schools drifting from their historic theological moorings in response to cultural pressure?
“From what I know of our schools and leaders of our schools . . . we’re hanging true to who we are,” said Kevin Ingram, president of Manhattan Christian College.
And hanging true in believing the Bible is true—that it accurately points to God and to his plan of salvation—is of central importance.
“If there’s unity there, that’s significant for everything,” said Derek Voorhees, president of Boise Bible College.
Not all college presidents were unified in their willingness to answer questions about their school’s positions on biblical inerrancy, human sexuality, and women in ministry.
Christian Standard’s survey was sent to the presidents of 23 colleges and universities. Seven declined to respond despite multiple requests. (See “Why Some College Presidents Were Hesitant to Respond.”)
Instead, some of them signed onto a joint statement—issued by a group of 20 college presidents in the Restoration Movement—that expressed their solidarity with one another. The joint statement itself was a response to Christian Standard’s survey. (The joint statement can be found at the end of our “Full Responses” article.)
The presidents were concerned a discussion about hot-button topics like human sexuality and women in ministry would be divisive. The joint statement declared the presidents’ desire for “healthy doctrinal conversations” grounded in biblical authority, humility, and discernment.
The statement, however, did not directly address any of Christian Standard’s survey questions.
AMERICAN CULTURE AND THE BIBLE
Christian Standard’s survey comes as the American church grapples with a persistent cultural push against biblical values.
A 2022 Gallup poll reported “a record-low 20 percent of Americans now say the Bible is the literal word of God.” That was down from 24 percent in 2017.
Meanwhile, the number of people who consider the Bible to be mere fables and moral precepts grew to a new high of 29 percent.
A Gallup News story that accompanied the poll said, “Belief in a literal Bible is declining, part of a general pattern of declining religiosity among the adult American population.”
The report noted the way Americans interpret the Bible affects public policy: “Gallup’s data show that the use of a literal interpretation of the Bible as the basis or justification for social policy positions will likely resonate only with a declining minority of the overall U.S. population.”
Meanwhile, within the American church, the debate over human sexuality and women in ministry continues to reverberate.
For example, the United Methodist Church continues to fracture because of issues related to homosexuality. And Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church was among five removed this year from the Southern Baptist Convention after a debate about female ordination.
‘AN UNSETTLED ISSUE’
Restoration Movement churches and colleges long have had diverse views about women in ministry, which was borne out by Christian Standard’s survey on that question.
Six of the 16 colleges that responded take the position that the roles of elder or preacher in a local church are reserved for qualified men. The remaining 10 either have no policy on the subject or were open to women serving in a variety of ministry roles.
Some presidents said decisions about women serving in ministry should remain in the hands of the local church. They said their colleges would train men as well as women in preaching.
For at least one president, the topic seemed a tiresome one.
“Christian Standard has been wrestling with this issue for more than 130 years (an entire year—1892—was devoted to it),” wrote Frank Weller, president of Great Lakes Christian College, in his survey response. “Can we all agree that it is an unsettled issue that correctly belongs in the ‘in matters of opinion’ column?”
MALE AND FEMALE
On the issue of human sexuality, the 16 respondents were unified in expressing a biblical view of sex and sexuality. In various ways, the presidents affirmed homosexual acts are sinful and marriage is between one man and one woman.
Multiple presidents were direct in their support of the male-female binary—and against the growing transgender movement.
Kentucky Christian University president Terry Allcorn pointed to the 2021–2022 KCU student handbook. It reads, “A member of the University community who wishes to express a gender other than his or her sex is understood to be rejecting the truth and the image of God within that person. Biblical Christianity requires the body of Christ to compassionately dwell in the truth and assist those we love in doing the same (Eph. 4:15).”
Allcorn said an updated version of the handbook was planned for the fall 2023 semester, but “there are no revisions occurring concerning the topics at hand.”
In his response, Milligan University president Bill Greer noted that a group of alumni from his institution protested recently, pushing for Milligan to soften its position on homosexuality and transgenderism.
A page on the college’s website is dedicated to the issue. On it, the university declares “sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed solely within a faithful, covenant marriage, which is monogamous, permanent, heterosexual, and characterized by the self-giving love of Jesus Christ.”
The page includes a list of frequently asked questions-and-answers.
“I appreciate the CS sharing this as it demonstrates our beliefs in action,” Greer said.
INERRANT, IN OTHER WORDS
Meanwhile, college presidents expressed a high view of Scripture in a variety of ways.
Christian Standard’s survey asked whether the colleges believed in biblical “inerrancy.” Some colleges don’t use that word in their official descriptions of the Bible.
But in answering the survey questions and in subsequent interviews, many presidents supported the idea Scripture contained no errors in its original manuscripts. Some said that if any errors occurred in the copying of those manuscripts, those errors were minor—and the transmission process still was superintended by God to bring about his purposes for his Word.
An official doctrinal statement by Dallas Christian College proclaims, “the Bible alone is the divinely inspired Word of God . . . and is expressly and historically true in the commonly accepted meaning of the terms.”
In an interview with Christian Standard, DCC president Brian Smith added his own commentary to the college’s official statement.
“While they don’t use the word ‘inerrancy,’ they mean the word ‘inerrancy,’” he said.
As a theologian, Smith said he personally believed Scripture contains no errors.
Other colleges describe Scripture as the “infallible” Word of God. To be “infallible” means something is incapable of producing error.
Still others say they prefer to use “Bible words for Bible things.” Scripture is “God-breathed,” some said—a reference to 2 Timothy 3:16.
“I would agree that the Bible is truthful,” said John Baxter, president of NationsUniversity. “That word represents the absence of errors.”
The word inerrant is a relatively recent term coined in the 19th century to combat a more liberal interpretation of Scripture, Baxter said.
“We understand the history of this term and agree with the need to oppose the liberal theology of that era and continuing to the present day,” he said.
‘CENTRAL TO WHO WE ARE’
At Ozark Christian College, Scripture is “infallible” and the “final authority in all matters of faith and practice,” according to the college’s statement of faith.
President Matt Proctor came to the point: “To answer the question directly, we believe Scripture to be inerrant.”
Perhaps more explicitly, Proctor said the issue of biblical authority is of such importance at Ozark that he preached a sermon about it during the first weekly chapel service last school year. Proctor said he used the words inerrant and infallible as he delivered his message.
“That’s pretty foundational to us,” Proctor said.
Meanwhile, the faculty at Kentucky Christian University affirm the school’s “faith covenant” every year by signing it; that covenant includes a statement that Scripture is the “only infallible, authoritative Word of God.”
The stakes are high.
To drift from its high view of Scripture is to allow culture to begin to dictate the university’s beliefs, said KCU president Terry Allcorn.
“To me, it’s central to who we are and how we define ourselves,” he said. “We’re pretty public about that.”
AGAINST THE DRIFT
In Christian Standard’s survey and subsequent interviews, multiple presidents stressed that their colleges—like KCU—require faculty to reaffirm their agreement with the colleges’ doctrinal positions each year as they renew their teaching contracts.
The idea is to ensure the instruction does not drift from each school’s theological roots. Maintaining a high view of Scripture across an entire institution requires vigilance, some presidents said.
One president told the story of having a sit-down conversation with a faculty member whose views were changing on doctrinal issues. Others had witnessed the dismissal of faculty over such things.
“We do realize how easy it is for the slide to take place, particularly on issues of inerrancy and things,” said John Maurice, president of Mid-Atlantic Christian University.
MACU has a stringent interview process for its biblical studies faculty, Maurice said—“not just on inerrancy, but how do you interpret Genesis? Are there more authors than one for the book of Isaiah?”
A NEEDED ALIGNMENT
Maintaining doctrinal alignment among faculty is only one part of the equation, however.
A college also can feel extreme pressure to soften its doctrinal positions when funding gets tight.
Many colleges receive most of their funding from student tuition dollars, said Lincoln Christian University president Silas McCormick. A college might be tempted to tweak its doctrinal positions to attract more students with a greater variety of beliefs.
LCU recently grappled with that question as declining enrollment and funding forced the university to trim its program offerings and sell off a portion of its campus.
McCormick said the college preferred to “fail faithfully” rather than change its original mission to train up Christian workers.
But the scenario hits on a concern McCormick has with the Restoration Movement. Its colleges are too reliant on tuition dollars. Churches and individual donors could do more.
“We’re not as a movement, by and large, putting our money behind that,” he said.
A college that gets 80 percent of its financial support from students with still-developing doctrinal views may look at things differently than a college that gets 80 percent of its funding from churches that share its high view of Scripture.
“Which [college] has more freedom to remain true?” McCormick asked.
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Also see the sidebar, “Why Some College Presidents Were Hesitant to Respond.”
Additionally, the full responses from college presidents to Christian Standard’s survey are available at ChristianStandard.com/full-responses. The joint statement signed by 20 college presidents can be found at the end of that file.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.