Asbury University Chooses the Bible and Institutional Integrity Over the Spirit of the Age
By David Prince|March 5th, 2020
The headline in the Lexington Herald-Leader reads, “Asbury University confronts student anger, pain over dismissal of LGBTQ-affirming professors”. According to the article, two professors, Jon Roller and Jill Campbell, had contracts that were not renewed. The article quotes Derek Chilton saying there was “no reason for the non-renewal other than ‘being LGBTQ affirming.’ ”
If the accusation is true, and I have heard no one dispute the charge of the professors being LGBTQ affirming, then another way to state it would be that two professors had their contracts non-renewed because they were violating the University’s Statement on Human Sexuality. Here are some excerpts from the clear and straightforward statement:
A faithful interpretation of Scripture affirms the principle that sexual purity honors God and that all forms of sexual intimacy that occur outside the covenant of heterosexual marriage are sinful distortions of the holiness and beauty for which God intended. As members of a larger community, we recognize that stewarding one’s expression of sexual intimacy is a trust that reaches beyond ourselves, extending even to those who may disagree with our beliefs. Therefore, we understand our responsibility to uphold biblical truth in our belief and practice, but in a way that reflects the grace that holiness produces.
We believe that the sin of sexual immorality (e.g., pre-marital sexual behavior, adultery for the heterosexually married person, polygamy, polyandry, pornography, incest, and all forms of same-sex practice) is about the behavior. As sinful fallen creatures, we are all tempted to sin, however, we do not claim those areas of temptation as right and good – and worthy of embrace and celebration. Rather, we unashamedly insist that by the grace of God we are called to live within the biblical boundaries of our sexuality, and are empowered to live in obedience with God’s will and alignment with His purposes as revealed in Scripture. We do not surrender the biblical standard of sexual purity to the prevailing secular culture, nor the definition of “male” and “female” to mean something more or different than a individual’s sex at birth. At the same time, we do pledge to extend compassion and care, providing accountability and assistance as we support all members of our community— students, staff and faculty—in their desire to live consistently with the Christian teaching on human sexuality as described above.
The statement is abundantly clear, firm, and kind. Like it or not, the university makes it plain that they have no plans to surrender the biblical testimony and historic witness of the church to the current iteration of the sexual revolution.
The Herald-Leader article also quotes Bill Medford, an Asbury graduate, saying it was well understood that the university was far more conservative than the seminary which is on campus but operates independently from the university. I am not sure what period of the seminary he is referring to, but current Asbury Seminary president Timothy Tennant has made his position on the LGBTQ issue crystal clear.
We are constantly being told that we have two factions in the church, both of which believe that they are being faithful and who sincerely hold certain positions which have been labeled “conservative” and “progressive.”…However, the two groups should never be called “conservative” and “progressive” and they should never be viewed as equivalent groups. What we actually have is a group (however imperfectly) which is committed to historic Christianity. The second group (however imperfectly) is committed to a re-imagined church. One, however flawed, is committed to the recovery and defense of historic Christian orthodoxy. The other, however nice and erudite, has not demonstrated a robust commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy. Thus, we actually have two groups; one orthodox and one heterodox….
The orthodox group stands with the Apostles, the prophets, the martyrs and the biblical witness as revealed in Scripture. . . . But, take heart, in a generation this group [heterodox] will be long gone and orthodoxy will still be preaching the gospel, baptizing new believers, believing the Bible, worshipping the Triune God, planting new churches and looking for the return of Christ. So, be encouraged: Do not lose heart. Keep the faith. Keep Loving. Remember the Gospel. Preach the Word. This present storm will pass and the gospel will prevail. I, for one, am going to stand with the Apostles.
I pray the newly elected president of Asbury University, Kevin Brown, will also refuse to surrender the biblical witness of the Christian university in the Wesleyan tradition to the spirit of the age. I am thankful for the gospel witness of this university and seminary just down the road from my old Kentucky home.
The two questions before Asbury were, (1) Will Asbury University remain Christian? (2) Will Asbury University function with institutional integrity? Thankfully, the answer to both questions in this situation was yes.
One social media comment by a former student was that Asbury must, “Get WOKE or go BROKE.” It is a catchy slogan, but it simply does not accord with reality. In the world of the Christian university and seminary, studies show that theologically conservative schools are marked by growth and theologically liberal ones tend to shrink. Of the ten largest seminaries in the world, half are Southern Baptist, and all are theologically conservative. At the end of the day, if the Christian university or seminary merely parrots the messaging of the world, why pay money to hear what you hear every day free of charge?
All Christian institutions will be forced to clarify where they stand on these issues of sexuality (and that is a good thing), but we must keep a proper perspective on why they will be forced? NPR once asked me to do an interview about LGBTQ and the church. I was asked my view on the issue and the follow-up question was, “Why are evangelicals so obsessed with issues of sexuality?” I reminded the host who asked for the interview and asked the question. I also assured him I’d be pleased to talk with him about any topic at any time. I am still waiting for that next call.
LGBTQ is not being singled out by churches and institutions who hold to the historic biblical witness but rather by those who seek to legitimize it as normative in the church and Christian academy. Other sins, which must be unapologetically called what they are as well do not have constituencies seeking normalization and affirmation. For instance, there is no organized effort seeking ordination for adulterers or gluttons. If that happens, then Christian churches and institutions will respond accordingly.
Let us be clear, the Bible-believing church and academy does not believe that sexual sin is beyond the scope of the gospel or carries a greater moral weight than a host of other sins. Nevertheless, we rightly resist without equivocation, when anyone suggests that we stop calling sin, sin, and instead start calling it sacred. We cannot, and must not do that, because to do so would be to abandon the gospel and refuse to love our neighbors.
About the Author: David Prince David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today
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