Honors, Grace, and Generosity

Yahweh and others have been too good to me.

Today I received two awards at Cedarville University’s 49th Annual Academic Honors Day Chapel.

The first: The Oxford University Press Award in Preseminary Bible, given to the graduating senior with the highest cumulative GPA in the preseminary major.

The second: The Daniel Award.

“Established in 2001 by David and Jean Heyd, this endowed award was created to honor their parents, Charles and E. LaRue Wilcox and Elmer and Kathy Heyd. The scholarship assists a graduating full-time male senior student who has been accepted by a conservative evangelical seminary. The recipient must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.3, demonstrate the spiritual qualifications and godly leadership skills necessary to excel in this ministry, and plan to serve as full-time pastor of a church. […] The Department of Biblical and Ministry Studies faculty select the recipients.”

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The first award got me a copy of The Contemporary Parallel New Testament (edited by Kohlenberger, III). The second award? $5,000 toward my seminary education. Barring any significant price hikes, that should cover the remainder of my tuition at Beeson Divinity School for the next 3.5 years!

 

Despite my standing critiques of Cedarville University, I must admit that my life would look radically different today had I not arrived here four years ago.

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As I look forward to the next stage of my life, I’m realizing more and more how much my life each day depends on the grace and generosity of others. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities – even the painful ones – I’ve been given to live, learn, and grow at Cedarville. I never would have imagined meeting so many wonderful, Christlike, and challenging people in the middle of cornfields in Southwest Ohio.

I’m thankful that God’s Kingdom transcends Cedarville,
but also that I’ve gotten to glimpse the Kingdom here.

Grace and Peace,

~Josh

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Oh Cedarville…

Have you ever been extremely frustrated with someone/thing you love?

That’s been my experience during my final year here at Cedarville University. See, I love this place. And that’s why I can’t stand it sometimes. There are still so many good and godly women and men here, so much potential for God’s Kingdom. And that’s why recent decisions made by Cedarville Admins and Trustees are so heartbreaking. I’ve written about this before (Open Letter).

The sources of my angst? I’ll give you the top three from my growing list of concerns.

The White Papers

I found out about these a year ago, when I had no idea of the storm that was brewing. I won’t spend time repeating what’s already been well said about the Papers here and here, but suffice it to say that if I turned in a White Paper as an undergraduate theological essay, I’d be getting a C- and a talk from my professor for my sub-par work. It’s patently obvious that Bib/Theo scholars were NOT consulted in the composition of these documents. Or, if they were, they were summarily ignored. And CU is making PhDs in Bib/Theo studies sign these things! Despicable.

This seems like a shameful attempt of reigning in the “creeping liberalism” of Cedarville’s Bible department. First, if you know any of the conservative evangelical CU Bible faculty, you’ll realize that this is some sort of sick joke. Second, at least proofread your documents to the standards of good scholarship! Even if I agreed with the White Papers’ attempts to silence debate and discussion on matters related to creation, justification, and omniscience, I would still be ashamed of their poor quality.

If you haven’t read Cedarville’s White Papers, they can finally be found here (to the right), on the University website. We had to petition and then wait a couple months before the Administration publicly posted the White Papers, even though they are supposed to describe the University’s official position on three important areas of doctrine!!! Did Cedarville ever intend on releasing these documents if students hadn’t petitioned Dr. Gredy and Dr. Cornman? Or were the White Papers just supposed to be a secret weapon to cleanse the Bible faculty? Apparently they were important enough to be used in the firing of Dr. Michael Pahl.

Michael Pahl

Dr. Pahl was hired before the 2011-12 school year. He moved his family (wife and four children) all the way from Canada to Cedarville, OH, persuaded that he was going to be a good fit for the Bible department at Cedarville University. After all, the CU hiring process is lengthy and it’s a very long way to move one’s family. After teaching for just two semesters, and closing on a 100 year-old farmhouse in town, he was fired for a doctrinal discrepancy related to his book, The Beginning and The End.

Keep in mind that the book was already in manuscript form when he was hired by CU, meaning that he wrote this book before he even knew he’d be working at a place that would have loved to see a shout out to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis somewhere, anywhere in the tome’s 106 pages. Furthermore, the hiring committee was made aware of Dr. Pahl’s forthcoming book, and he taught his sample lecture during the hiring process on Genesis and the creation accounts! But that wasn’t enough to save him from getting “reviewed” by an ad hoc panel and “released from his teaching duties.”

Thankfully, he’s remained on the school’s payroll this academic year, so that he and his family didn’t get sent back to Canada right away without work or housing. However, to the best of my knowledge, he is still looking for work.

“Dr. Pahl’s orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel are not in question, nor is his commitment to Scripture’s inspiration, authority and infallibility.  He is a promising scholar and a dedicated teacher, and he will be missed by his colleagues and students.  Nevertheless, the University has determined this decision to be in the best interests of its constituency at this time.”

What a shameful way to treat a gracious and godly immigrant family.

Carl Ruby

As if the previous two concerns weren’t enough, the University quickly got rid of Carl Ruby, the Vice President for Student Life, this January. Not only have the Administration and Trustees neglected to justify this decision, they refuse to admit that they made the decision in the first place!!! According to the University PR statements, we’re to believe that Carl Ruby, after 25 years of service to his alma mater, randomly decided in January that now would be a great time to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. Apparently he also thought it would be great to leave his office just five days after his resignation was announced for him!

What’s the other option? Moral or legal failure, right? Well, Dr. Gredy (acting CU President) himself denied this at the SGA Town Hall meeting last month, saying that Ruby’s resignation was not due to a personal/moral failure.

What’s left, then? Well, despite my University’s urging to “not connect the dots” on these matters, the unavoidable conclusion is that Dr. Ruby was FIRED and that CU Admins/Trustees are hesitant (and deceptively so) to admit that.

Compare this “official” answer from the Cedarville Alumni and Family Questions and Answers page:

“Why did Dr. Carl Ruby leave? 

“Dr. John Gredy, Provost, announced to the University family on January 10 that he and Dr. Ruby had come to a mutual understanding and that Dr. Ruby would conclude his service to Cedarville University. His last day in the office was shortly thereafter, although Dr. Ruby’s administrative contract continues through June 30. The University is committed to protecting the privacy of its employees so is not commenting publicly on the reasons for the decision.

“Sadly, much speculation and questions have arisen. The Board of Trustees at its January 25 meeting carefully reviewed the events surrounding the announcement that Dr. Carl Ruby would conclude his service. The Board acknowledged and expressed regret that the lack of clarity had made this transition even more difficult for the Cedarville University family. Nonetheless, the Board of Trustees supported the understanding between Dr. Ruby and the administration. The Board of Trustees expressed its gratitude to Dr. Ruby for his service.

“Dr. Ruby built a legacy at Cedarville, and he will be missed by many. The passions Dr. Ruby embraced were not simply his personal interests, but rather reflect core values of the Cedarville family. The University is committed to continuing these priorities.”

with this excerpt from the Dayton Daily News’ most recent piece on Cedarville:

“Tennessee Pastor Chris Williamson said he resigned from the school’s board of trustees after being “blindsided” by what he called the administration’s “mistreatment” of the vice president for student life, Carl Ruby, a popular 25-year veteran of Cedarville who resigned last month. […]

“And then, on Jan. 10, it was announced Ruby would “step down” effective June 30. But his last day on campus was Jan. 15, and hundreds of students showed their support by wearing red and lining his walk from his office to his car. Ruby’s departure was publicly called a resignation. But Williamson said he learned at a January trustees’ meeting, “it was a termination of employment.”

and with this excerpt from the New York Times piece on the Cedarville controversy:

“The Rev. Chris Williamson of Franklin, Tenn., who last month resigned from the Cedarville board of trustees, said that both the president and Dr. Ruby were considered problematic by the faction of trustees fearful of what they perceive as a creeping liberalism. “They were threatened by Carl’s approach not to theology but to ministry,” Mr. Williamson said, “in terms of his ministry to people struggling with gender identification, how he ministers to people on the margins.”

It would be frustrating enough if it were a secular organization committing these injustices. But to watch an organization which claims the name of Christ behave in such despicable ways? It’s intolerable.

I’m not the only one who’s frustrated by these things: consider Scot McKnight, Anthony LeDonne, LeDonne again, Michael Bird, Mark Goodacre, and James McGahey

No, this does not mean that everyone at Cedarville is dishonest, evil or misguided. In fact, there are plenty of godly women and men here. Women and men whom I’d like to defend, because I’ve seen how stressful and fearful this environment has become for them and their families.

But it’s the leadership here I’m worried about. And as often as the Bible urges respect for leaders, it holds the leaders of the God’s people accountable even more so, often with strong language. Don’t believe me? Go and read the prophets, focusing on their words for the priests and princes of Israel.

As Chris Williamson put it on his Twitter account:

“There’s nothing more dangerous to the cause of Christ than religious people with an ungodly agenda. #cedarville

(@gdk_chris; 12:49 PM – 1 Feb 13).

I couldn’t agree more. And that is why I’m calling the leadership of my University to repent, or to quit claiming to be Christ-centered in these matters.

God will not be mocked.

Open Letter to Cedarville Admins and Trustees

To my sisters and brothers in Christ, entrusted with the arduous task of leading and directing Cedarville University: greetings, grace, and peace.

Allow me to thank you all for your countless hours of service to this institution. I do not want to underestimate your care and concern for this place. In fact, I want to reassure you that I share your passion. Here at Cedarville I have been blessed with the opportunity of meeting, falling in love with, and marrying my wife. Even more importantly, at Cedarville I have fallen in love with the Gospel. Thanks to godly men and women here – whose vision of God, his Word, and his world I’ve been privileged to catch – my eyes have been opened to the richness, complexity, and scope of God’s redemptive mission.

I therefore raise the following concerns not as one who wants to malign Cedarville, disregard your wisdom, or perpetrate verbal violence. I raise them because I want Cedarville to contribute to God’s Kingdom to the fullest extent possible. I have invested four years of my life here as a CU Scholar, Getting Started Leader, Discipleship Leader, Student Grader, and Resident Assistant. I want future students, perhaps my own children someday, to be able to do the same. I want this University to thrive, inspiring true greatness for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

That is why certain events within the Cedarville community this past year have caused me such great concern. I say this as respectfully as possible: some of your decisions and actions seem to contradict the most precious lessons that I have learned at your institution about the Gospel.

Among other troubling things, including the harassment of those “godly men and women here – whose vision of God, his Word, and his world I’ve been privileged to catch,” I have observed the following:

As your younger brother in Christ, I am obligated to approach you peacefully. However, given the circumstances, it seems I am also obligated to approach you prophetically. Because of the biblical concept of shalom as true peace, I believe I can do both at the same time. For true peace is not the absence of conflict or strong words, but the longing of the prophets for the time and place where the image-bearers of Yahweh will be reconciled to one another, to all of creation, and to God himself. It is the relational fullness and completeness of God’s justice-based, truth-filled, and transparent Kingdom.

In the interests of shalom, then, I cry out for justice.

In the interests of shalom, I cry out for truth.

In the interests of shalom, I cry out for transparency.

For brevity’s sake, I’d like to distill my myriad concerns and frustrations into just two questions. After all, I’m just an undergraduate, and you do not owe me a thorough explanation of all the managerial minutiae behind your every move. However, you do owe me – along with current/future faculty, staff, students, and constituency – a thorough and impeccably honest explanation of Cedarville University’s Identity and Vision.

In the interests of shalom, justice, truth, and transparency, I cry out for answer to the following two questions:

  1. What is Cedarville University? 
  2. What does Cedarville University hope to become?

All of your actions and decisions mentioned above, from the harassment of my mentors and friends to the proposed cancellation of the Philosophy Major, point towards Cedarville University being and becoming a fundamentalist (euphemistically, a “conservative evangelical”) institution – silencing honest dialogue, erecting thick walls between “us” and “them,” and carving out our own niche instead of engaging the unified diversity of God’s kingdom.

After all, Dr. Ruby and Dr. Brown were two of Cedarville’s most prominent voices calling for a robust evangelicalism, for this self-proclaimed liberal arts university to embrace and embody both cultural and ideological diversity – in the hopes of becoming one of the most influential Christ-centered learning communities in the twenty-first century. 

I and many others came to Cedarville University to study, work, and teach because we find this vision extremely compelling. We find things like poorly-written White Papers, inadequately explained rejections/cancellations of valuable majors, and questionable, sudden changes in beloved personnel much less compelling.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt and not discuss at-length the many rumors and reports of shameful things like ad hoc and biased “review” panels, bullying, power plays, and gag orders. If the rumors be true, then perhaps someone much higher than I should call for your repentance, if not your resignations. Such is the high responsibility of having “For the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ” as your institutional motto.

However, I will ask you for one important thing: your honesty about where you want to take Cedarville University.

Here’s why: as the Administration and Board of Trustees, you have a certain right to decide whether or not Cedarville will be robustly evangelical or fundamentalist. We might strongly disagree about which of those two options is preferable, but at the end of the day you make that decision, not I.

However, you have no right to obfuscate or vacillate on these important matters of identity and vision. While I can’t tell you what direction to take this University, I can boldly ask that you decide and then very clearly and publicly announce your decision.

Even if I and many others disagree with your decision, we will respect you much more for your clarity. Trying to accomplish your goals behind the scenes has only resulted in confusion, damage, and pain to several individuals and families within the Cedarville community. In the wake of Dr. Pahl’s dismissal and the questionable resignations of Dr. Brown and Dr. Ruby, we need a clear statement, not a polished and vague press release. If you don’t plainly declare your position and objectives, then we will be forced to assume the worst regarding your motives.

After all, if achieving your goals involves getting rid of:

  • Michael Pahl, an outstanding biblical theologian of whom you were willing to say: “[his] orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel are not in question, nor is his commitment to Scripture’s inspiration, authority and infallibility.  He is a promising scholar and a dedicated teacher, and he will be missed by his colleagues and students.”
  • William Brown, the president and beloved face of Cedarville University for thousands of students.
  • and Carl Ruby, a man whose respect and admiration from students, faculty, and staff transcend cultural, theological, and political dispositions…a preeminent model of Christ-like service, love, patience, respect, grace, and wisdom…and a pioneer for open and honest dialogue for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

…then your goals are probably in need of revision, but they are most certainly in need of immediate clarification.

For the sake of our Messiah, Savior, Lord, and King whose crown our University bears on its seal, I appeal to you as your younger brother in the faith: publicly declare your vision for the future of Cedarville University. In the face of the growing angst, confusion, and frustration among students, alumni, faculty, staff, and constituency, explicitly state who you do and do not want working, teaching, and therefore studying at the University.

It is my prayer that, as a result of your honesty and transparency, Cedarville University might become a more peaceful and just community in the midst of God’s shalom-filled Kingdom.

For King and Kingdom,

Joshua Steele

Cedarville University Class of 2013

My Unforgettable Cedarville Experience

(The following is an expanded version of the speech I gave at this year’s CU Scholar Dessert Reception.)

The first thing I ever decided about Cedarville University was that I would not, under any circumstances, attend. Since my administrator’s son, Drew Flamm, worked in admissions at CU, I had been inundated since before I could remember with calls to become a yellow-jacket, and out of sheer stubbornness of heart, I refused.

Almost seven years later, and I stand before you all with the hopes of graduating next May. What changed? Well, for starters, God’s grace was, well, irresistible for even a stubborn high school student named Joshua Steele. While I don’t have time now to recount all the details, suffice it to say that receiving this scholarship was the final capstone of a tumultuous and miraculous college search process. I offer my sincerest thanks to the members of the selection committee. I stand before you now on nothing but a mountain of God’s grace, of which your generosity has been no small portion.

As I near the end of my Cedarville experience, two things have made my journey thus far particularly unforgettable and life-changing: Continue reading My Unforgettable Cedarville Experience