The Fight At Bryan College

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Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee was founded with a strong belief in Biblical creationism. Indeed, the college takes its name from William Jennings Bryan, the lawyer who opposed evolution in the high-profile Scopes trial. Many six-day creationists came to Bryan when society began to embrace Darwinian evolution as a possible understanding of origins.

Times are changing, however, and over the years more diverse views on the opening chapters of Genesis have crept in to the college campus. Many faculty, staff, and students are calling themselves “progressive evolutionists” or “theistic evolutionists.” An online poll conducted by Bryan’s campus newspaper asked, “What do you believe about the origins of the universe and man?” Forty percent of the respondents said that they believed God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days, while some twenty percent said they supported Intelligent Design. Forty percent, however, supported different theories including theistic and Darwinian evolution.

The administration of Bryan, in an effort to maintain its distinct Biblical heritage, is requiring professors and staff to sign a statement saying that they believe Adam and Eve were created in an instant by God and that humans share no ancestry with other life forms.

Fearing what the future might hold, faculty overwhelmingly issued the first no-confidence vote against their president in school history. The no-confidence vote against President Stephen Livesay was 30-2, with six abstentions. The faculty also voted 38-1 to ask the board of trustees for a one-year moratorium on signing contracts that include the creation clarification.

The board of trustees responded with a statement that affirms Livesay’s leadership, and rightfully so. At the conclusion of a recent debate on the college campus between Todd Wood (a young-earth creationist) and Darrell Falk (an evolutionary creationist), the college president stated, “Scripture always rises above everything else. Scripture rises above science. Science at some point will catch up with the Scripture.” Amen, Mr. President.

Bryan, of course, is not the first Christian college to be embroiled in this kind of debate. Cedarville University, Erskine College, and Campbellsville University have all struggled with whether their faculty adheres to their school’s historical statement of faith.

Bryan’s statement of faith, now 80 years old, isn’t allowed to be changed or amended. So the clarification announced by President Livesay has some in the Bryan community disturbed. Some who agree with the clarification believe that the administration has overstepped its bounds. Livesay and the board of trustees, however, believe that the clarification simply reinforces long-held views.

In more recent years, Bryan has been under attack because of its apparent accommodations. In 2010, for example, Ken Ham wrote a scathing article criticizing Bryan College because one of its graduates, Rachel Held Evans, wrote a book espousing evolutionary creation. Ham also criticized Bryan professor Brian Eisenback for teaching all origin and theory views in the classroom.

The words of student Kevin Clauson in the student newspaper bear repeating. “If an Evangelical Christian college wants to remain such, it must of necessity limit ‘academic freedom’ to some extent. This is more or less done through doctrinal statements that must be subscribed to. If the attitude was ‘believe whatever you wish – anything’, then there would be no way to guard the institution against error or even heresy.”

Board President Colonel John Haynes echoed the same sentiment when he stated, “When you review these things, the first thing you must do is go back to Scripture and make sure that what you’re saying is compatible with Scripture. Scripture judges you.” So the board president asked his critics, “Who moved?  Did Scripture move or did you move?”

Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that the New Testament authors assumed the historicity of the first Adam and argued from it. They recognized that the first Adam was just as literal as the last Adam. Indeed, Christ’s genealogy is traced back to Adam in Luke 3. And according to Romans 5:18-19, as well as I Corinthians 5:20-21, Adam was “one man” and his “one trespass” is just as factual as the cross and the resurrection.

Much more is a stake here than simply the tenure of faculty and whether teaching contracts will be renewed. The very heart of evangelical theology is at stake. Let us pray for the leadership of Bryan College as they seek to remain Biblical for such a time as this.

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One Response so far.

  1. Steve Paulson says:

    “Many faculty, staff, and students are calling themselves ‘progressive evolutionists’ or ‘theistic evolutionists.'”

    What is your basis for this claim? I graduated from and currently work at Bryan College and I do not know of any faculty or staff who would identify as such. There may be some among the students, perhaps–I do not know. But you say “many,” so you must have some number or percentage in mind…?

    The poll you referred to from the student newspaper was a public poll. There is no information regarding responses to that poll from within vs. outside of the BC community.

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