Summary: I’ve been blogging in order to raise awareness of Cedarville University’s recent dismissal of Dr. Michael Pahl from his teaching post. Using the University’s statement on Dr. Pahl, I’ve raised some uncomfortable questions that I believe need to be asked in this situation. For example:
- Why were the five accolades attached to Dr. Pahl above (in the statement, orthodox, gospel, Scripture, scholar, teacher) not enough to keep him on the teaching faculty of Cedarville University?
- Don’t we want promising scholars and dedicated teachers who are committed to the gospel, to Scripture, and to orthodoxy at Cedarville University? If not, why not?
I’m writing today because the responses I’ve gotten to those posts and questions have been mixed. Some think I’m doing something that is both righteous and necessary, respectfully raising awareness and asking uncomfortable-yet-necessary questions. Others think I’m being un-biblical and disrespectful in my approach, and that I should handle these matters privately (cf. Matt 18:15-22 and such).
Clearly, I’m a bit biased toward the first reaction. It’s always more pleasant to think of your actions as both righteous and necessary, after all. However, that doesn’t negate the careful line to walk in this situation. Several things must be held in Christ-honoring tension, such as boldness and respect, honesty and love, persistence and patience, a hunger for justice and an even stronger craving for God’s perfect shalom peace.
I’ve been personally challenged by Dr. Pahl’s recent blog post. How, in the face of injustice, are we to hold David’s cries for vengeance in Psalm 54 in tension with Paul’s calls for peace in Romans 12:14, 17a? Consider this quote from Dr. Pahl’s conclusion:
When we experience injustice, then, we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We cry out to God in our suffering, even in the raw depths of our agony, trusting God to walk with us through the suffering, entrusting our vindication to God in his timing and his way. We speak truth to ourselves and to others, even to those who have committed the injustice, even to those in power, naming sin and evil for what it is. We resist evil by refusing to engage in evil acts ourselves; we resist violence done to us by refusing to engage in violence ourselves, whether violent actions or violent words. Instead, we engage in acts of self-giving, life-giving love for the other. And through it all we remind ourselves of our own sin, now forgiven, as we see the sin of others against us, waiting to be forgiven.
His words above, along with Dr. Tim Gombis’ words in “The Logic of Religious Violence” are at the front of mind as I pursue these issues.
Christians, however, must draw upon God’s grace to remain in the shape of the cross even when our survival appears to be at stake, or when things appear to be out of control in our culture. Remaining in the shape of the cross (refusing to retaliate, returning evil with good, loving those who hate us, controlling ourselves to speak kindly to those with whom we disagree) embodies faith in the resurrection and trust in God’s sovereignty. [...] Let’s remember that cruciformity is the only way of hope and promise for those who confess loyalty to the Lord Christ. The way of violence (rhetorical and physical) is only and always the way of death.
If anyone suggests that I somehow hate Cedarville University and am merely trying to damage its reputation, that simply is not true. On the contrary, I have a deep love for Cedarville. I have been richly blessed by God during my time here, and it is my sincere hope that the students who come after me have the chance to grow and thrive even more than I have. If you don’t believe me, please read my previous post, “My Unforgettable Cedarville Experience.”
Dr. Pahl’s dismissal, therefore, concerns me precisely because I care about Cedarville University. While I do not want to respond to what I believe is injustice with rhetorical violence of my own, I also do not want to ignore the dismissal of a godly professor over one of the best books I have ever read (The Beginning and The End, with its remarkably non-incendiary handling of two of the most vitriolic areas of Christian doctrine).
Furthermore, I do not believe that the principles of Matthew 18:15-22 directly apply in this situation. This is not an interpersonal conflict I have with a brother or sister in Christ, this is an institution’s action which I believe to be both unjust and troubling.
Yes, Cedarville University is a very visible Christ-centered learning community, and it should be treated with respect and dignity. I do not want to needlessly damage its reputation, especially in the eyes of non-believers. However, Cedarville is an organization, and as such it needs to be held to a high standard when it comes to things like truth, justice, and transparency…especially because it claims to be a Christ-centered community!
In closing, two things:
- If godly professors like Dr. Pahl can write a book the quality of The Beginning and the End, and even be praised (in the statement regarding his dismissal, no less) as orthodox and committed to Scripture, the gospel, promising scholarship, and dedicated teaching, and still be relieved from teaching duties, then no faculty member is safe. This move does not seem to promote the gospel, God's kingdom, or even academic freedom...it instead promotes a culture of fear and "us" vs. "them." That's why we need things like truth and transparency after something like this happens.
If students like myself cannot respectfully-yet-openly question such events out of concern for not only professors like Dr. Pahl, but for the entire institution's future and health, something is wrong. And if we are instead punished, censored, or encouraged toward indifference, something is profoundly wrong.
Please hold me accountable to my desires to honor Christ in this endeavor. He is my King and deserves my full allegiance. And please, if you claim the name of Christ, care about matters such as this.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel