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Back to Biola

January 24th, 2005 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Biola has published an analysis and response to the NY Times Magazine piece of a few months ago that highlighted Biola. My brother wrote then that the Times write-up was an "accurate reflection of the tension between faith and secularism in the evangelical college experience." The Biola response mostly agrees with this analysis. Peters writes, "As it turned out, many Biolans were pleasantly surprised by the article. Shapiro’s treatment — though secularly biased — was thoughtful, her tone friendly. The thrust of the article is the tensions that exist at a school that, on one hand, is firmly committed to the tenets of evangelical Christianity and, on the other, is seeking to engage the larger world with those beliefs."

The defense, which is well-worth reading, also features friends and fellow-bloggers Jonathan and Dr. Reynolds opining on the Times' treatement of home-schoolers and homosexuality, respectively.

Though Peters claims that "many Biolans were pleasantly surprised," the Alumnus in this corner remains non-plussed about Shapiro's treatment of Biola. Call me biased if you will, but it is now practically impossible to discuss Biola's culture without mentioning the Torrey Honors Institute. Well known enough to be satirized by an Intramural Football team (the THI Bulldogs, a group of non-THI students who wore costumes when "playing") and offering the only regular plays on campus, THI's presence was remarkably absent from the article. This was especially surprising considering Shapiro stayed on the floor of a THI member and interviewed two THI students. Regarding Shapiro's write up of his interview, Timothy Caroll (one of those THI students) writes: "I feel that in general she glossed over everything I had to say about the school and how well it was doing even in light of what could be seen as hindrances, and instead focused on the interesting specimen of humanoids that inhabit this quint little plot of land in the middle of the LA metropolis" (from a personal email).

Perhaps most frustrating, however, was the ambiguous treatment of Detweiler's RTF class. The opening sequence presents Detweiler as exposing his class to "secular" music and art in order to make them aware of "where God exists in the music crossing this globe." Detweiler's insistence that art is not propaganda is an idea prevelant in Biola circles, at least the (non-artistic!) circles I am in. However, it's not clear whether Detweiler is actually rejecting exclusivism, as Shapiro makes it seem. His comments that "The spread of indigenous cultural music is pushing hard against exclusivism. Christ is going to be a tough sell in this world, and I don't think [the students] are ready for it" could be understood as a rejection of exclusivism, or a comment about the students ability to defend exclusivism. Shapiro clearly interprets it in the former way, as is evident from the way she ends her article: "On some level, [Brittany and Nicole] seemed already to know what Craig Detweiler is trying to teach, and what is evident in the often open-ended, messy tales of the Bible: that the most compelling tales unfold when you don't start out with the answer."

If being cloistered is Scylla, Shapiro represents Detweiler (and by extension, Biola) as being sucked in to Charibdis--a rejection of exclusivism in favor of acceptance and the ability to relate to the culture. Shapiro speaks favorably of Detweiler, but (1) it's not clear if this is an accurate representation of Detweiler's (ambiguous!) position, and (2), if it is, it gets on to a fight that is happening within Biola's and the broader evangelical culture over whether the best way to reach the culture is through "relating" to the culture, or through "withdrawing" from it. It's a false dilemma, to be sure, but if I had to choose, exclusivism and tension with the culture will get my choice 10 times out of 10. If I remember right, Nancey Pearcey's latest work highlights statistics that indicate that churches that are markedly different than the surrounding culture grow faster than those that attempt to "reach the culture where it is at." One thinks of the Orthodox Church and it's (much balleyhooed!) growth amongst college age students.

At any rate, I would highly recommend Biola's response for a fair assessment of Shapiro's position and a reasonable explanation of Biola's treatment of homosexuals.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.