A recent article has raised some questions about the new Biblically Consistent Curriculum policy at Cedarville University. I requested this policy be written to guide our entire academic division, and I announced that desire publicly on October 19, 2016. Cedarville had several individual policies in different departments and has generally operated this way, but we lacked a central policy in the academic division that could help guide new faculty. On occasion, I have defended our faculty from external questions about curriculum choices, and I felt a comprehensive policy would be helpful to provide future internal guidance and external clarity. The academic division developed the policy with input from academic leadership and held two town hall meetings in late February for internal discussion.
Upon reading the recent article, one person commented to me that he thought the story sounded like something straight from the “Babylon Bee.” Perhaps the “Bee” would have titled it, “Christian University Reads Bible and Seeks to Apply It.” That such a desire is newsworthy demonstrates the sad state of so-called “Christian education” in our country. Others who saw the article immediately feared legalism, and I want to put their fears to rest — especially those who may not be as familiar with this place that I love so much.
Let me reassure you that we believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone and that once saved, we do not pursue a life of legalistic boxes to be checked, but a life that loves Christ and seeks to please Him in all we do. Our behavior should be motivated by love — not rules.
Clarity brings freedom. Cedarville University wants to be clear, strategic, wise, thoughtful, and biblical in our curriculum choices. This desire flows from our 1,000 days vision, which includes academic excellence and our efforts at “Transforming Minds in a Fallen World.” In light of this, allow me to address a few concerns from others that have come across my desk.
We will still show Michelangelo’s David, along with other historic works depicting “artistic bareness” as we educate students in the humanities and art history. Yet, we will have strategic thought and defensible logic behind each of those choices. We have not ruled out movies based on a flawed, secular ratings system, but “generally” do not desire rated “R” movies as class assignments. Some “PG-13” or other rated movies may be equally unwise. We simply want strategic, biblical thought behind our choices, recognizing there is a difference between what a university assigns in class as a requirement and what an individual may choose to view personally.
We have not ruled out all play scripts with profanity or difficult themes, but we do desire wisdom and thoughtfulness in script choices and appropriate modifications to those scripts so that what we publicly display on the stage glorifies God and represents Cedarville well. We will continue to read fiction works that depict the depravity of humanity, but we do not wish our students to engage in sin while reading about it, so we will choose wisely and avoid pornographic or explicit material. We recognize a difference in appropriate curriculum between general education courses and upper-level courses, especially when studying the arts.
Perhaps most amusingly, yes, we will teach about world wars in history classes and continue to encourage our students to read the Song of Solomon … along with every other book of the Bible as we challenge them to have a daily time with the Lord. I suspect some of these questions were meant more for comic value than out of serious concern, and I did crack a smile at them. So please forgive my desire to defend our world-class education and faculty against even the absurd.
We want our faculty and staff to be as 1 Chronicles 12:32 describes the men of Issachar, “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” This policy provides guidance that brings freedom and administrative protection from external critique to the faculty of Cedarville University as they seek to invest both academically and spiritually into the lives of students. I want academic excellence, a commitment to our mission, and content pleasing to the Lord in every area of our campus. I have included a copy of the internal academic policy below. My heart’s passion is that we accomplish our goal of hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We live in difficult times culturally. Parents and students can trust that at Cedarville University, Christ-centered is more than a phrase in our mission statement—it’s a motto directing the content of every class. We must educate with academic excellence, preparing students to understand, encounter, and critique many worldviews while standing for the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.
Cedarville University Faculty Handbook, Section 4.1: Biblically Consistent Curriculum
Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement affirms, “we believe that every believer should walk by the Spirit and engage in practices that stimulate spiritual maturity.” To that end, “Christians are…to flee evil influences and practices, which hinder a Spirit-filled life.” The Community Covenant provides a framework within which spiritual maturity can be pursued by employees and encouraged in our students: “we covenant together to be people of integrity and self-control, truthful in our speech, honest in our conduct, and morally pure in both thought and action.” Further, the Cedarville General Workplace Standards establishes specific principles within which employees should operate, “As a community of born-again believers, we believe that pleasing and glorifying God in all that we do and say is an expression of our gratitude to God’s grace and love in our lives.” As such, all that we do should be designed to bring Him glory as demonstrated in “our commitment to moral purity in thought and action.” These guidelines for work and life are institutional standards based on the belief that Scripture is the foundation upon which we can pursue righteous living.(II Timothy 3:16-17) Scripture is replete with guidelines for Christian living, because God knew how susceptible humans are to temptation. It reminds the Christian “to keep oneself unstained from the world.”(James 1:27) “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”(Psalm 119:9) “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.”(Psalm 101:3) Finally, Phil. 4:8 provides a rubric for evaluating what is appropriate in the Christian life:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.(ESV)
The above guidelines not only apply to the individual lives of faculty employed by the university, but also to what is examined and taught in the classroom or through co-curricular activities. The application of these principles to courses or events on campus is not always easy. Students will often be exposed to assumptions, philosophies, and ideologies within various fields that run counter to the truth of God’s Word. To operate effectively within the field in which these students intend to work, they must both know these unbiblical systems and ideas as well as be able to critique them. In some cases, the very study of a particular field involves the examination of images or writing that is conducive to temptation. Cedarville does its students no favors by insulating them from everything that is false, pagan, or immodest in this world. Nonetheless, Cedarville’s faculty must evaluate these demands based upon the standards of Scripture. Paul, in Romans 12:2, exhorts followers of Christ to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The Philippians 4:8 passage articulates the imperative for Cedarville to be distinctive in the education it provides. What is acceptable in most classrooms may not be at Cedarville. The lines of propriety must be drawn with an eye toward what is pure, not simply what is just.
This policy is not designed to restrict the free discussion of ideologies, philosophies, or schools of thought that may or may not run counter to biblical truth. Rather, this policy is focused on images, movies, songs, plays, or writing that may be considered “adult” in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students. While it is true that Cedarville cannot prepare its students for cultural engagement without exposing them to aspects of the culture that are depraved, it is also true that every institution must draw lines that it will not transgress. Cedarville chooses to draw its lines in a fashion that best comports with the clear teaching of Scripture and, where it must err, err on the side of preventing the placement of temptation or unwholesome material in front of students. In cases where Scripture is not clear, Cedarville University has established institutional preferences. While these guidelines do not pretend to be equivalent to Scripture, they are not intended to be legalistic either. Freedom only exists within boundaries. This policy provides clear boundaries for employees as well as context for students and their parents regarding the type of community they are entering when they enroll at Cedarville.
In general, faculty will avoid material that is pornographic (“prurient, twisted, addictive, evil, and exploitive use of nudity to titillate or tempt”) or erotic (“overt sexual connotation”). “Artistic bareness” may be appropriate in courses studying art, for example, as such images are designed to convey “ideal proportion, human philosophy and religious beliefs, and human emotion and vulnerability.” The use of such images should be handled judiciously, recognizing that each person faces different struggles when it comes to the ability to view them without stumbling. The decision should not be based on what some can tolerate or on the world’s standard of what is acceptable, but on what some cannot or should not tolerate. It should be based on the standards of Scripture as outlined in this policy, and each faculty member should be able to articulate how the use of such material is in line with passages like Philippians 4:8. In all cases, faculty should make loving accommodation for those students who do not wish to view the images in such a fashion that allows for the objectives of the course to be met.
Faculty must also be cognizant of what reading and writing assignments they require of students. Passages that are clearly pornographic, erotic, obscene, or graphic must be avoided. While it may be important to expose students to various genres of writing, examples need to be selected to avoid inappropriate material. Sometimes the genre is not as important as the theme or content in determining assignments. In those circumstances, faculty should consider what topics are appropriate for students to engage directly and what topics should be discussed without exposure due to their graphic or erotic nature. Faculty are responsible for what they assign to their students in the same way that they are responsible for what they say to their students.(James 3:1)
Movies need to be carefully selected in curricular and co-curricular settings. Movies shown for a class should be prescreened by faculty for objectionable material. Excerpts can be used that do not include inappropriate material. Required assignments involving movies or movie segments should be made recognizing that students have varying levels of conviction about material and varying struggles with regard to temptation. Faculty should provide accommodations to those students who do not wish to view the material because they deem it objectionable. As a general rule, “R” rated movies will not be shown. PG-13, PG, and unrated movies should be evaluated based on language, sexual content, graphic violence, and nudity. Faculty should consider how the movie selected measures up to the standards of Philippians 4:8. Excerpts could be shown that do not include the objectionable material. Movies that are shown as part of Academic events that could include individuals from the public should be reviewed by the Vice President of Academics. The standard for events involving the public may be higher because the movie, in this case, will be a reflection of the standards of the institution.
Similar guidelines apply to plays and productions produced by the institution on campus. Since these productions are closely associated with the university in the minds of public attendees, it is very important that the scripts chosen not leave attenders confused as to the standards of the institution. Scripts with swearing must be avoided or modified. Plays with morals or teachings that run counter to the Scriptural standard should be evaluated for what value they bring to the campus. Given the broader audience and consistent with current practice, all play scripts selected should be approved by the VPA.
In all cases where material is potentially objectionable or problematic, faculty should model biblical critique for their students. Questions such as the following are helpful in working through the value of these materials with students:
- What is valuable in this image, movie, song, play, or writing?
- What is an appropriate biblical critique of the objectionable material?
- What worldview is expressed and how does it compare with a biblical worldview?
- What are the gray areas that Scripture does not speak to directly and how should Christians analyze them?
- How should we be sensitive to that brother or sister who may struggle with this material?
Faculty should take into account that standards for required material may be higher than for optional events. Students who have a conviction about certain material or are struggling with a particular temptation can easily opt out of optional events. Such students are put in a predicament by required assignments that involve problematic material. Faculty should provide and make students aware of accommodations when material involved is potentially problematic. In all cases, faculty are wise to run material and media by their dean or chair prior to presenting it to students if it approaches the category of “unacceptable.” Before God and the administration, faculty are accountable for their choices, and deans and chairs for their oversight of this material.
 Doctrinal Statement, Cedarville University, Section 8, https://www.cedarville.edu/About/Doctrinal-Statement.aspx.
 Faculty and Staff Community Covenant, Cedarville University, https://www.cedarville.edu/Job-Openings/Faculty-Staff-Community-Covenant.aspx.
 General Workplace Standards, Cedarville University, https://www.cedarville.edu/Job-Openings/Workplace-Standards.aspx.
 Quotes taken from “The Teaching of Art and Literature at Cedarville University” and “Statement on Nudity in the Arts and Our Classroom Policy,” Course Documents for Introduction to Humanities, Cedarville University.