My Olivet, our Olivet: wolves among the sheep

I look back on my time at Olivet Nazarene University and there are many things to be thankful for — chief among them that it was there that I met my beautiful wife, Mary Ann!  And of course I also prepared for my vocation with a computer science bachelor’s degree there.

Today though, I’m writing to warn those heading off to a Christian college — or more especially their parents — of spiritual dangers you might experience at a Christian college, based on my experiences at Olivet Nazarene University.

As background, I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene, and Olivet Nazarene University has a reputation among Nazarenes as the most conservative of the Nazarene colleges.  My supposition was that since it was our denominational college, whatever was taught must be biblical truth.

I started attending ONU in the fall of 1993.  I believe the first class I ever went to as a Freshman was the 7:30am Bible I: Introduction to the Old Testament class taught by Russ Lovett, our beloved Bible professor.

In this class, Lovett attacked a simple faith that believes God’s Word is true and to be obeyed, suggesting things such as this:

  • The Old Testament prophets were likely written to appear that they were foretelling the future, having actually been written after the events they “foretell”
  • We should not necessarily take the book of Acts as an example to be followed

(The Acts one may have been from Bible II: Introduction to the New Testament, a follow-on class to Bible I.) There were other examples, but these two stick with me.

I was brought up short.  Prof. Lovett’s teaching was contrary to everything I’d ever believed about God’s revealed truth, His trustworthiness, and the authority of the Scriptures.  I felt foolish:  I had thought that I could understand and trust God’s Word, and that it had authority over my life.  While Prof. Lovett never said in so many words that we can’t trust God’s Word or that it has no authority over our lives, I “learned” that you can’t really know what the Bible means nor how it should be applied without consulting experts.

As another data point, one of the textbooks we used, Introduction to the Old Testament by John Drane (Harper & Row, 1987) was written from a perspective of unbelief. Here are some examples to give a taste of the spiritual tone of the book:

  • From a section titled Were the patriarchs real people?

    One of the major preoccupations of Old Testament scholars for the greater part of the twentieth century has been the question of how the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can be related to the history of Old Testament times. A hundred years ago, the stories were commonly regarded either as fiction, or as the vaguely remembered exploits of tribes — even at times of ancient gods and goddesses — personified to become the story of just a few individuals. On this view, the patriarchs could not be regarded as real people, but as representations of various social and religious movements in the millenium before Israel became a nation in the true sense.
    As the twentieth century has progressed, however, there has been a marked change of opinion on the subject, largely due to the discoveries of archaeologists…
    (p.42)

  • From a section titled The patriarchs and their God

    To us, it seems natural to want to relate Abraham to the social world of his day. But the central interest in the book of Genesis is not in the movements of nomads and refugees in the ancient world: it is in Abraham’s experience of God. His move from Haran was not determined by political and social issues; it was the result of a challenge and a promise made to him by God. Nor was this an experience unique to Abraham. It was also the common experience of his successors, Isaac and Jacob — not to mention the conviction of the rest of the Old Testament, that a personal experience of God was vital for the very survival of the whole nation of Israel. One of the reasons for our difficulty in placing the patriarchs historically is just the fact that the stories told about them are of a personal nature, telling how they met God in every circumstance of life.
    For them, God was not a remote, impersonal force…
    (p.46)

    For them, God was not a remote, impersonal force?

  • From a section about the judges:

    Every one of the stories about the judges is used to illustrate and give substance to this theological understanding of Israel’s fortunes. For this reason, it has often been suggested that the narrative is less than accurate as history. Given the personal nature of much of the story, it is obviously impossible either to prove or disprove that. But the overall picture that emerges appears to be true to life.
    (p. 70)

    Impossible either to prove or disprove that? Appears to be true to life?

The whole book reeks of holding the Bible at arms’ length, not trusting anything Scripture says.  The Old Testament Scriptures point us to Christ! This is what Jesus explained to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, what Philip taught the Ethiopian eunuch starting in Isaiah… Yet Drane spends all his time picking little bits of dirt off the pages of Scripture and never introduces us to the living God. He is a blind leader, and Bible I taught us to cultivate spiritual blindness.

At the time, I was not prepared to speak up against the errors being taught. I did ask Prof. Lovett questions at first, and he explained that sometimes students (especially religion majors?) come in with firm ideas about the Bible and refuse to be open-minded and willing to learn.  He so gently (we loved Prof. Lovett!  He was so personable!) scorned their arrogance, obstinacy, and backwoods smallness of mind.

Having no instruction in my duty to hold on to the Word of God rather than the word of man, and seeing Prof. Lovett as one of the highest authorities around regarding spiritual truth, I fell for the lie. I neither stood against error nor warned my classmates. I made no challenge as my faith and that of my classmates was attacked. This was sheer folly, to enter battle unprepared, unarmed.

I didn’t know there could be a battle. This was home territory, I thought!

God has been gracious, and He has brought me back to a simple faith that trusts God’s Word and desires to submit to God’s authority in all of my life.  The Bible teaching at Olivet was an impediment, not a help, in this.  I stumbled and came back — how many fellow students stumbled and have not come back?

Who is teaching Bible at Olivet now?  Are they still teaching tender students disbelief and skepticism of the Word of Life?

Is Olivet the only Christian college where wolves devour the sheep? What about Covenant College? Taylor University? The college your children are off to this fall?

Fathers and mothers, let’s prepare our children to know good from evil and model for them a courage in exposing the evil and clinging to the good.  Then they will be strong on the day of battle — even if the battle is on home territory. And may the Lord use their courage to save other sheep who were asleep in the day of battle.

And Lord help our Christian colleges.  May God raise up shepherds who will defend the sheep against the wolves.

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