Criticizing America’s Christian College
by Daniel Luzer
Wheaton College is arguably the most influential American Christian college. According to the Princeton Review’s The Best 351 Colleges, “If the integration of faith and learning is what you want out of a college, Wheaton is arguably the best school in the nation with a Christ-based worldview.” But if it’s evangelical, it’s not fundamentalist. Wheaton has always been a school that encouraged outside viewpoints and diverse thinking.
At least until recently. Late last year Andrew Chignell, a philosophy professor at Cornell University and Wheaton graduate, agreed to write a comprehensive feature article about Wheaton for the highly respected Christian publication Books & Culture.
And then Harold Smith, the president of Christianity Today International, the company that publishes Books & Culture, killed the article, without explanation. The publication had never prevented the publication of an approved article before. According to Inside Higher Ed:
Some observers believe the article was killed to avoid offending [outgoing Wheaton President Duane] Litfin while others speculate that the article was killed to avoid boxing the board into a corner in which it would feel the need to appoint a successor with views identical to Litfin’s.
The story behind Chignell’s piece raises questions about academic freedom. The article praised Wheaton President Duane Litfin, but also criticized his administration, particularly for his interventionist enforcement of the college’s religious outlook. Chignell explained that, with Litfin retiring, the college needs to seriously consider where it plans go in coming years. Wheaton College doesn’t want to be Oberlin College, the now very liberal Ohio college founded, like Wheaton, in the nineteenth century by evangelical protestant ministers.
But then, Wheaton doesn’t want to be Bob Jones University either. This makes some incidents at Wheaton under Litfin disturbing for alumni. There was, for instance, the case of philosophy professor Joshua Hochschild, dismissed from Wheaton after he converted to Catholicism. And there are continuing discussions at Wheaton about how to properly teach evolution or sexuality.
After Chignell’s article was killed by Books & Culture he published it on SoMA Review, a religion blog. One can read the article, along with the controversy surrounding its publication, here.