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Exodus at a bible-beating school

Look at this implosion.

Nearly a third of the faculty members at a small evangelical Christian college in Virginia are reportedly leaving the school following disputes with its president over theology and academic freedom.

Christianity Today reports that five full-time faculty members have announced they will not be returning to Patrick Henry College in Purcellville next year. Nine professors have left in the past year, as well as four senior executives in the past 18 months. The departing professors accuse outgoing PHC president Michael Farris of squelching academic freedom on campus and disparaging Calvinist theology.

Theology professor Todd Bates, who is a Calvinist, claims Farris told him “a person of the reformed position … cannot in good conscience sign the [school’s] statement of faith.” In July, Farris will be replaced as president by Dr. Graham Walker, who was formerly the vice president for academic affairs and dean of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Farris says he is surprised the disgruntled professors would leave PHC even though they knew he would no longer be president. Farris, the founding president of the school, will continue with PHC in the role of chancellor.

One of the items on the ten-point statement of faith is the entertaining “Satan exists as a personal, malevolent being who acts as tempter and accuser, for whom Hell, the place of eternal punishment, was prepared, where all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.”

Patrick Henry College, btw, is unaccredited (surprise!), according to the Christianity Today article, and the rash of departures may have an impact on the college’s attempt to achieve accreditation if the administrators don’t figure out how to stop the bleeding.

It doesn’t sound like there’s ever going to be a lot of room for intellectual debate on the campus when it comes to religion. Look at the food fight.

According to the school’s statement of doctrinal neutrality, Patrick Henry College “welcomes all people who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and “does not take sides on certain doctrinal matters that often separate … believers.” The statement reads: “The College itself is neutral on the doctrinal distinctives which go beyond the points covered in our Statement of Faith and are outside the mission of the College.”

Farris, a Baptist minister, has publicly expressed views that have shocked some professors and students. “He said St. Augustine was in hell,” said Root. “I heard it with my own ears.” Other professors and students said Farris has repeatedly disparaged Calvinist theology.

“There is a sense that you face antagonism as someone who is theologically Reformed,” said Bates, who sparred with Farris over a speech he was planning to deliver at the college’s annual Faith and Reason Lecture, and again over the use of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology textbook. According to Bates, Farris considered it “too Reformed.”

“We are put in a hard position,” said Bates. “We’re told this is an open dialogue, but if you engage in open dialogue, you’re in trouble. It’s infuriating because you’re an academic and want to engage in ideas.”

Bates said that at a meeting with Farris, “He told me that a person of the Reformed position to which I hold cannot in good conscience sign the statement of faith. When I responded that I failed to see the discrepancy between the two, he replied, ‘I define the statement of faith.'”

Whew. Get them into a WWE wrestling ring.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding