Note: A few weeks back, we introduced our readers to Professor Gerald Eichhoefer who, until December of 2004, was a faculty member at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois. Then, the administration of this small evangelical college fired him as punishment for seeking to protect Greenville's students from spiritual destruction.
For two years prior to December of 2004, in addition to his duties as a professor of computer science, Jerry had been working to expose wolves who, under cover of faculty status in Greenville's Department of Philosophy and Religion, had been undermining the faith of their students. Jerry's work publicly opposing the department and its supporters infuriated the powers that be. Here, then, is the paper Jerry wrote that led to his termination.
David and I both think it's outstanding and hope you'll take the time to read it.
Loss of Faith at Greenville College
Response to Dr. Rick McPeak
by Gerald Eichhoefer, Ph.D.
Mary Chism, a senior at Greenville College and daughter of Professor Jack Chism, publicly announced that she is no longer a Christian in her February 20th editorial in the student newspaper, the Papyrus. Before attending Greenville Mary was an active member of the Greenville College Free Methodist Church, a Bible Quizzer and a pillar in her youth group. Her father Jack, who was my undergraduate roommate at Greenville, is a strong evangelical Christian who recently survived a nearly fatal bout with acute leukemia. Jack led one of his hospital nurses to Christ as he was receiving chemotherapy.
In her editorial Mary summarizes the collapse of her faith:
In her editorial Mary summarizes the collapse of her faith:
I've been a Christian for a very long time. In high school I was a pillar of my youth group. More than anything, I just wanted to live for Christ, and it made a big difference in my life. In college I found it harder to grow spiritually. I would often pray that God would draw me to Him, and I sought out new ways to get closer to God, but I just kept backsliding. Instead of feeling closer to God, I just kept forgetting about Him. It didn't help that I could no longer share Jesus with my friends - pretty much everyone at GC (Greenville College) was already a Christian anyway (I thought). I knew that none of my problems were God's fault; I just wasn't trying hard enough, or giving enough of myself to Him. But it just got less meaningful, and more often than not, I found myself going through the motions of worship, without really caring. Through all this, however, my faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God never wavered. I might not have been doing a good job spiritually, but I was sure that Jesus was still there, holding my hand.
Then I got a taste of postmodernism. Without even knowing what postmodernism was, I realized that I didn't know as much as I had thought. It occurred to me that it was possible that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. One thought led to another, snowballing into a big wad of uncertainty. With terror I watched my faith shudder and topple like a tower of Jenga blocks. I wasn't a Christian anymore.
I also discovered that many of my friends were going through very similar journeys, and that there are a lot more non-Christians on this campus than I thought.
It is apparent that Mary underwent a process of emotional and intellectual alienation from her faith that began when she entered Greenville College. She came to Greenville with a strong faith, a strong church background and the support of her friends and family. Unfortunately, the things she experienced as a Greenville College student eroded rather than strengthened her spiritual life and evangelical beliefs. Mary is bright, somewhat unconventional, and very hard working. She is the sort of person who should profit from a Christian college experience. Many other Greenville students are in the same predicament that she is. What's happening here?
Dr. Rick McPeak is the Administrative Pastor of St. Paul's Free Methodist Church, which is run by Greenville College religion professors. He wrote an article in the March 6th Papyrus entitled "Response to Mary Chism's Editorial." He is a senior religion professor, director of the college's Youth Ministry program, and principal author of the "Theological Assumptions" section of the Greenville College Faculty Handbook. Dr. McPeak speaks with authority because he is the foremost interpreter of Greenville College's new official theological position. Dr. McPeak has enormous influence with students and he teaches History of Western Christianity, American Christianity, Methods in Theology, Historic Methodism, World Religions, Foundations of Christian Doctrine, Philosophy of Youth Ministry, and Methods of Wesleyan Theology. He is also the Chair of the college Assessment Committee, which evaluates every program on campus. His influence extends beyond the Greenville College community through the Religion and Youth Ministry majors he has trained, and through his speaking engagements. For example, he is the featured speaker for Family Camp this summer at the Sky Lodge Christian Camp, a ministry of the North Central Conference of the Free Methodist Church. We must pay attention to what he has to say.
His response to Mary's loss of faith consists of five major points. In the first two he says that we should:
"Embrace the humility that such a predicament forces on oneself. We must realize that if a previously held position can be dislodged, then our current opinion might also be shown inadequate in the future..." and "Remember that reality transcends all religions and theological achievements... [He warns against]The idea that if one "loses faith" through letting go of orthodox or fundamental belief, he has nothing for which to live or hope results in the despair that many experience when the journey of truth (and, yes, faith) obliterates our world view."
In brief, McPeak says that Mary might change her mind again and move on. Then he says that the despair Mary and others experience when their worldviews are obliterated is caused by too much attachment to orthodox Christian beliefs. His next point addresses authentic truth seeking in the context of community:
A faith-based academic community has to remember that the risks of education are real and painful, and in spite of that, it must continue to embrace the challenge of open inquiry. In so doing it retains both its mission and its integrity. Believers and unbelievers alike are welcome at the academic table of dialogue. This dialogue is guided by the principles of human operation of cognition, both logical and illogical. As a community of faith we recognize that their operations, when conducted fully, reflect the image of God in which all humankind is created. Anything short of this - even in the name of faith in Jesus Christ - is essentially non-Christian. Mary Chism is a member of our community - one who is doing something fully authentic and truth seeking. In this manner she serves as a model for us. To the extent that her search for enlightenment is authentic, it is Christ. For the message we receive from the apostles that they pass on to us is that, "God is light and in him is no darkness at all." I John 1:5.
In brief, McPeak says that fully authentic truth seeking based upon open enquiry is risky and painful, even in a faith-based community like Greenville College. He says that the process is necessary, however, because anything less is non-Christian. He says that neither belief nor disbelief is the essence of our community. McPeak believes that Mary Chism modeled the real essence of the Greenville College community, fully authentic truth-seeking, when she rejected her Christian faith. This makes sense because he understands salvation in terms of enlightenment.
In the remainder of his article McPeak provides some encouraging words for the community and reminds us of God's grace. He tells us that "faith cannot be removed from mystery." He exhorts us to "have the faith to trust this grace that because it situates itself outside our individual consciousness can transcend our control, our faith, and our doubt."
In the spirit of open enquiry Dr. McPeak so greatly values, I want to sit down with him at the "academic table of dialogue" by means of this paper. As an evangelical Christian I do not share some of his theological assumptions and we may even mean different things such words as "evangelical." These differences set the stage for constructive dialogue. I intend to raise questions which are both troubling and significant, authentic questions to use McPeak's terminology. The intellectual tools I bring with me to this discussion were forged in a variety of contexts. These include extensive work as a computer consultant and supercomputer analyst, a Ph.D. in Philosophy and some graduate study in several other disciplines, including Theology. I was forced to think very hard about transformational processes when I led the small think tank team that began the design of Space Station artificial intelligence for NASA. I presently teach computer science courses and a general education course at Greenville College.
Here are some questions that come to mind as I think about Mary Chism's predicament. What if the principles of human cognition McPeak refers to in his response to her were used to control the outcome of the process rather than involve Mary and other students in authentic truth seeking? What if Mary is personally authentic in her truth seeking, but she has been manipulated? Would this change the way we understand the risky and painful outcomes that result from the process?
There are strong reasons for believing that the transformation process Mary Chism and many hundreds of Greenville College students have experiences is essentially manipulative rather than authentically truth seeking. Furthermore, I don't think the process is based upon a profound understanding of Christianity, but on a terrible mistake. Let me put my reasons on the table for rational consideration. This dialogue is essential for our community.
To understand why the process is fundamentally manipulative it is necessary to see how it is described in academic and professional circles. The process consists of deliberate interventions to introduce dissonance into the spiritual lives of students in order to disequilibrate their faith and belief structures. This is supposed to induce spiritual growth. When something is disequilibrated it loses its balance or equilibrium and collapses. Mary Chism gives a classic description of severe dissonance leading to disequilibration when she writes: "It occurred to me that it was possible that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. One thought led to another, snowballing into a big wad of uncertainty. With terror I watched my faith shudder and topple like a tower of Jenga blocks."
This process is explained in detail in four documents that have been used to explain and justify its use at Greenville College. They are: James Fowler's Stages of Faith' [Harper Collins, 1995], James Fowler's Becoming an Adult, Becoming a Christian [John-Bass, 2000], Greenville College President Dr. V. James Mannoia's The Christian Liberal Arts [Rowman&Littlefield, 2000], and the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities' [CCCU] research proposal FAITHFUL CHANGE: PROMOTING SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT IN COLLEGE STUDENTS.
In a nutshell, students are "transformed" as they progress to "higher and higher" stages of "faith" as John Fowler defines it. I call this kind of faith "Fowler faith." A transition to a "higher" level or stage begins when students encounter things which seriously conflict with the beliefs and attitudes which make up their present level of Fowler faith. Dr. Mannoia calls this conflict and disharmony dissonance. If the dissonance is severe enough students are disequilibrated and their faith structures collapse. The idea is that new structures emerge at the next higher stage with new beliefs and attitudes and that this new stage eventually collapses and will be replaced, and so on. The intent of the disequilibration process is to tear down student faith structures and rebuild them at "higher" stages.
The CCCU website contains a summary of the stages of Fowler Faith provided by Gay Holcomb, a Research Associate at Asbury College who is involved with the Faithful Change project:
Conversations with the subjects usually place them in one of six stages of faith as identified by James Fowler...[Skipping stages 1 and 2, GWE] Stage 3 is Synthetic-Conventional Faith. Individuals in this stage rely heavily on the expectations of external authorities since they have not yet individualized and solidified their beliefs. In short, their faith consists largely of borrowed beliefs. By Stage 4, Individuative-Reflective Faith, individuals have established their own identities and are able to reflect and think critically. It is in this stage that they "own" their beliefs. Stage 5 is Conjunctive Faith and Stage 6 is Universalizing Faith, both of which are rarely ever reached before mid-life. From the research that has been done so far, it appears that most freshmen enter college at stage 3. Unfortunately, not everyone transitions to Stage 4 by graduation. According to Holcomb, part of the intent for the Faithful Change study is to determine how best to facilitate the transition to Stage 4. [http://www.cccu.org/projects/projectID.16/project_specific.asp]
A major goal of the Faithful Change project is to figure out ways to rush students to Stage 4 before they graduate from CCCU colleges. The beliefs that students "own" at Stage 4 are characterized as skeptical and relativistic. Stage four is not a happy place.
Dr. Mannoia describes this dangerous and threatening stage in his book:
The students begin to miss those "tablets in the sky" and ask, "Will no one tell me if I am right? Can I never be sure? Am I alone?" As Sharon Parks has pointed out, the transformation of a person's sense of truth involves "threat, bewilderment, confusion, frustration, fear, loss...There is an element of 'shipwreck'. [CLA, p. 67 includes quotes from Perry and Parks]
A Youth Ministry major expressed this loss and bewilderment to me several years ago:
We studied worship and well, Dr. Eichhoefer, I was, you know, kind of Charismatic when I got here [At the word "Charismatic" the student's hands slightly lifted and then quickly dropped them down] I lost my Charismatic worship, Dr. Eichhoefer, but I later found something else to replace it, and now it's all OK, Dr. Eichhoefer...[Toward the end of the conversation] Then we all [religion majors] had to do the Jesus thing [a series of experiences intended to instill a "multi-perspectival" image of Jesus], Dr. Eichhoefer, you know, all of the religion majors had to do the Jesus thing. That was when I lost Jesus, Dr. Eichhoefer, and oh, Dr. Eichhoefer, I haven't found anything to replace Jesus, Dr. Eichhoefer, and it hurts so bad! I haven't been able to find anything to replace Jesus, and it hurts so bad.[Repeated] I love my religion professors, and I am a better person than I was before, Dr. Eichhoefer, and I am thankful for my professors, they are good people, but it hurts so bad! [Eichhoefer, Notes on Conversation]
Not long after the conversation this student was hired as a youth pastor based upon Greenville College credentials. The student clearly believed that the loss of Jesus was the result of an authentic process and that suffering was the reasonable price to pay for enlightenment. I did not detect any reservation about continuing in youth ministry because of lost belief. Recall Dr. McPeak's comment on Mary Chism's loss: To the extent that her search for enlightenment is authentic, it is Christ.
Mary Chism and numerous other Greenville students can likely be classified as Stage 4. Mary and her peers represent success stories for the disequilibration process, not unfortunate accidents. Mary Chism is getting attention because she is articulate and wrote an editorial. Stories similar to Mary's are legion - they are told countless times in private but not documented. I believe many of these students have personally and honestly sought after truth. Unfortunately, an environment deliberately designed to disequilibrate students must intentionally undermine certain points of view. It cannot present diverse points of view without bias. Only an environment designed for authentic truth seeking through free and open enquiry can do so. New college students generally have only Sunday school or youth group understandings of their faith. In the face of the sophisticated beliefs of disequilibrating professors with Ph.D.s students will regard their own beliefs as crude and inadequate and likely conclude that they must reject their beliefs in order to be authentic truth seekers.
This frankly troubles me because I try to intellectually challenge students in ways which respect them as free rational beings who have a deeply grounded right to have their own opinions and beliefs. It's often hard to challenge without unintentionally intellectually intimidating them. In a liberal arts environment I have at most the right to persuade. I cannot imagine that I have the right to remove student beliefs by overwhelming their belief structures using dissonance and disequilibration! I could do that, but only at the cost of abandoning a liberal arts philosophy of education, loosing my self-respect and failing to respect my students as free persons.
Dr. Mannoia tells us that some students never get past their skeptical stage to reach a higher level. [CLA, p. 57] They remain "shipwrecked" for the rest of their lives. He does not want this to happen and appeals to community and role modeling to guide the students: "The principle of constructive dissonance must never be isolated from the principle of community. Building a classroom environment in which there is a community of trust is crucial for the challenge of dissonance to be constructive... Community creates an atmosphere in which students can question." [CLA, p. 140] Furthermore, "At each step along the way, the "next stage" of development must be modeled attractively, even while the student's present stage is challenged. [CLA, p. 140, italics mine] "For the teacher, functioning simultaneously as the creator of both cognitive dissonance and personal community is the genius of good teaching. So... modeling is essential too" [CLA, p. 140]
What kind of modeling is necessary to prepare students for the developmental process?
To answer this we must understand several things. First, how does James Fowler understands faith? Second, what will student faith look like at "higher" stages? Third, what is the final goal of the process? To answer the first question, Fowler defines "faith" as a "generic feature of the human struggle to find and maintain meaning ... that may or may not find religious expression." [Stages of Faith, p. 91] This is what I mean when I use "Fowler faith." Atheists, Christians, Hindus, Occultists, Nature Worshipers, Communists, Agnostics and Muslims all have Fowler faith. This means that students who successfully participate in Greenville's transformation process must understand faith in terms that are not specifically Christian or even theistic. Mary Chism's move from a stage three Christian to a stage four non-Christian must be interpreted as spiritual growth in terms of Fowler faith even if she became an atheist or agnostic.
What does Fowler faith look like at higher stages? To answer this question we must first understand what metaphorical interpretations are because we will constantly refer to them. This is not difficult to understand using an example. If I say that God is my fortress, I do not mean that He is a castle made of stone, but that He provides me with protection like a fortress does. God is metaphorically, but not literally, a fortress. The fortress metaphor is powerful and meaningful, but it can only go so far because it is just a metaphor. A literal fortress, for example, has a particular size and was built by workmen. These things are not true of God and the fortress metaphor, though useful, breaks down.
Consider the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the ultimate basis for our hope for forgiveness and eternal fellowship with God. Evangelical Christians affirm the bodily Resurrection - that Jesus literally rose from the dead. The Resurrection is a literal historical event which grounds our hope by demonstrating God's faithfulness and His power over sin and death. Some people believe that the Resurrection is just a compelling idea Jesus' followers invented after he died and that he did not actually rise from the dead. Those who believe this are said to interpret the Resurrection metaphorically or believe in a metaphorical Resurrection. Whatever meaning they give to the Resurrection has to be consistent with the fact that it did not actually happen. This raises the question of whether we need a literal Resurrection or only a compelling idea to ground our eternal hope. I will discuss that issue later.
Both the CCCU Faithful Change proposal and James Fowler provide examples which illustrate the move to metaphorical understanding as students grow out of their evangelical faith. The CCCU [Christian Council of Colleges and Universities] quotes a student who serves as an example of a successful outcome because he followed his spiritual journey to a higher stage of "more profound levels of spiritual development" when he enrolled at a CCCU college:
I came into college kind of rigid in what I believed... [It was in] my sophomore year where I made the decision that I was going to take seriously the stuff I was learning as a religion major which contrasted [with] a lot of the traditional Christian thing that I would have understood from the camp I was at and from some of my own traditions. Like being willing to honestly say OK There's things in the Bible that don't make sense...talking about OK Jesus might not have been the biological son of God...being able to view the Bible more as a metaphor than literal...[FCRP, pp. 10-11.]
This student's journey included reinterpretation of some of his basic evangelical beliefs, including the Virgin Birth [Jesus as biological son of God], as purely metaphorical.
Fowler quotes a young woman at level four. She speaks about Jesus' miracles: "The important thing is the meanings that are being conveyed in the stories from another cultural time. These meanings are valuable and indispensable. But they are separable, in some sense, from the outmoded, mythical worldviews that contain them in the Bible." [BABC, p. 50] These examples illustrate that some basic Christian doctrines that evangelicals Christians interpret literally must only be taken metaphorically at higher levels of Fowler faith. Logically, Christians who became disequilibrated because they no longer believed in the Resurrection would have to claim at least some metaphorical belief in order to be able to call themselves "more profound" Christians rather than ex-Christians.
Our third question is, "What is the final goal of the process?" Fowler explains the highest stage of Fowler faith, universalizing faith, by quoting Gandhi quoting the Hindu Scripture the Bhagavad-Gita: "When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession which, when thwarted, burns anger... He is forever free who has broken out of the ego-cage of I and mine to be united to the Lord of Love. This is the supreme state. Attain thou this and pass from death to immortality." [BABC, p. 57]. According to Hindu believers who follow the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita, powerful meditation techniques must be used in order to break the strong bonds of attachment we have to sense objects and achieve the supreme state.
In summary, to successfully follow the path of Fowler faith Greenville College [and other CCCU] students must be prepared to replace their evangelical Christian understanding of faith with Fowler faith. They must also move to metaphorical interpretations of some important Christian doctrines and they must develop meditation techniques. These, and many other things I have not mentioned, can be "modeled in community" for students to keep them moving to higher levels of Fowler faith.
Dr. McPeak and other religion professors have required participation in what they label "community building exercises" in some required courses. One such exercise is a carefully constructed ritual designed to induce a liminal or threshold experience for Greenville students. Liminal experiences are used to move initiates from one social role to another. Initiates are often physically and figuratively placed outside of normal social reality. They enter the ritual with one social role and exit with another. Coming of age rites for males in some cultures, for example, induce liminal experiences by means of vision quests, special taboos, and hardship. The purpose of the religion course ritual is to create a temporary "community" which models the beliefs and attitudes we identified above so that students can internalize them. This is process is not primarily reflective and rational - it subliminally and subconsciously induces transformation.
The rite created by Dr. McPeak requires students to sit together in small groups in a circle for thirty or so hours [divided over multiple sessions] reading aloud from M. Scott Peck's The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace [Touchstone, 1988]. Here are some pivotal excerpts:
The process begins with the bald assertion "In and through community lies the salvation of the world." [DD, p. 17] Thereafter students instruct themselves to go beyond democracy into consensus [no loyal opposition], drop their defenses, and go beyond pseudo communities and generalizations like "Jesus saves us from our sins." The self must be emptied and expectations, preconceptions and theology left behind. We must understand that attempts to convert others are really just attempts to "relieve my discomfort" with their differences. In order to do this we must sacrifice our desires and achieve emptiness. Human evolution will proceed as we transform ourselves through deeper levels of consciousness and growth through greater emptiness. We grow spiritually by moving along Fowler's stages of faith. We must go beyond the belief that "it is necessary for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior rather than Buddha or Mao or Socrates." "At some point we achieve a mystical moment where we see others as part of the same unity, the oneness of the world." "We must pursue a sophisticated form of meditation like Zen 'No Mind' and become contemplatives who have no need to even believe in God [belief in life can be substituted]." "We must ultimately undergo the de-centralization of the ego and become like Jesus." [DD, pp. 17, 63, 68, 89, 95, 96, 130, 152, 165, 172, 187, 191, 192, 193, 210, 212, 215]
Part of this ritual vividly addresses the need students have to understand Jesus Christ in a way which is compatible with Fowler faith and which emphasizes the importance of meditation. The liminal ritual illustrates what it was like for Jesus himself to exercise a meditative skill and enter emptiness to achieve self control in the presence of a Canaanite woman who wanted to see him. Here is an excerpt from that section of the reading:
He could see by her dress that she was no Israelite, but a foreigner, a filthy, untouchable Canaanite. Jesus recoiled in disgust. She began to babble in an atrocious accent. Waves of fury filled Jesus. What right did she have to interrupt one of his few precious moments of peace? He was tempted to no longer recoil but to jump forward and slap her, kick her, drive her away in his rage. But the habit of exercising emptiness won. [DD, p. 215]
Many of the faculty members at Greenville are evangelical Christians like me and many of us are uncomfortable, to say the least, with the disequilibration process. Oddly enough, we and our beliefs are understood to play a role in disequilibrating students!
Fall 2000 there was a special Faithful Change project meeting where some of us were officially introduced to Fowler's theory. We were informed that most of our students come to Greenville with stage three, [dualistic/evangelical] faith, which is a pre-adult level. We were told that we had the challenging problem of moving large numbers of students to stage four. The Religion Department Chair then informed the group that our problem was even worse. Our problem, he said, is not just with the students - it is with the faculty. He said that most Greenville College faculty members are also at level three or below. This, he said, presents us with a very difficult problem as we try to raise students to higher levels than their professors. A discussion leader explained that people could be launched to higher levels by observing the mistakes made by people at lower levels. In other words, people like the majority of the Greenville faculty serve as bad object lessons because of the things they say and do as a result of their immature levels of faith.
I highly value community. I don't, however, see why evangelical Christians who support the college as students, faculty, parents, staff, trustees, pastors and donors should even want to be a part of a community that automatically classifies them as second class citizens. It is utterly appalling to talk of incorporating evangelical faculty members into the college's spiritual transformation process as bad examples! This is a caste system based upon self proclaimed levels of religious enlightenment.
This is all I have to say about the first part of my thesis: There are strong reasons for believing that the transformation process Mary Chism and many hundreds of Greenville College students have experiences is essentially manipulative rather than authentically truth seeking. It's time to move on the second part: Furthermore, the process is not based upon a profound understanding of Christianity, but on a terrible mistake.
The terrible mistake I am referring to is the belief that it is really possible to preserve the meaning of certain Christian doctrines like the Resurrection by separating the meaning from the historical facts and then denying the ultimate importance of the facts. This can be done in two ways, either by simply denying a literal bodily Resurrection or by personally "believing in" a literal bodily Resurrection without believing and teaching that it is an essential doctrine. From Fowler's perspective, former Evangelicals can continue to grow spiritually after loss of evangelical beliefs by reinterpreting essential Christian doctrines metaphorically. For example, disequilibrated former Evangelicals might "convert" to Liberal Christianity, Atheism, Agnosticism, Buddhism, etc. From Fowler's perspective, the essence of spiritual development is measured in terms of Fowler faith stages, not particular religions. If Mary Chism looses all hope as a result of her loss of Christian faith, however, she will not be able to "progress" spiritually along any path at all, including the Fowler faith path. She will be permanently shipwrecked in a state of despair.
Recall that McPeak, who profoundly agrees with Fowler, advises Mary:
"Remember that reality transcends all religions and theological achievements... [He warns against]The idea that if one "loses faith" through letting go of orthodox or fundamental belief, he has nothing for which to live or hope results in the despair that many experience when the journey of truth (and, yes, faith) obliterates our world view."
McPeak's advice fails on two scores. First, of course there is more to reality than Christian theology reveals to us. Only God knows everything. But our theology does include truths of ultimate importance for human beings, like the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead. Former evangelical Christians who have been disequilibrated and lost their belief in a literal resurrection will face severe difficulties holding on to hope as they continue through life. When Mary Chism was an evangelical Christian she was taught that hope and ultimate redemption were possible because of the Resurrection.
Second, there is a major problem with the path McPeak's "journey of truth" is supposed to take after orthodoxy is lost. The Faithful Change document and Fowler only provide examples of disequilibrated students who preserve hope by moving to metaphorical interpretations. The problem with this solution is revealed when a purely metaphorical interpretation of the Resurrection faces, as it must, the reality of what literally happened if Jesus did not rise from the dead. What really would have happened in that case is supremely important: Jesus' corpse rotted or was exposed to be eaten by animals and the people who claimed to meet the resurrected Jesus were either lying or deceived. Consider, for example, the interpretation of the Resurrection offered by Liberal New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann. Scholar Gerd Theissen explains Ludemann's theory:
The tradition of the empty tomb is an unhistorical apologetic legend. The two appearances to Peter and Paul as individuals, which he attempts to interpret psychologically, are the foundation for Easter faith: he explains Peter's vision in terms of a mourning process blocked by Jesus' sudden death, a process in which Peter is overcoming his guilt feelings towards the Lord whom he has betrayed. In the persecutor Paul an unconscious fascination with Jesus which has previously been repressed breaks through. All the other visions are dependent on these primary visions and - as in the case of the vision of the 500 - can be explained only by mass suggestion. [Theissen, The Historical Jesus, SCM, 1998, p. 482]
The hope a person can reasonably derive from the Resurrection is one thing if it is based upon Peter's real conversation with the resurrected Jesus Christ, and a radically different thing if Peter was merely hallucinating while Jesus' corpse rotted. In the first case hope is legitimated by a powerful act of God - in the second case hope is fabricated out of psychological illness, self deception and ignorance. I see no reasonable middle ground between these two interpretations. They exist in different universes. Some say they personally believe in the Resurrection, but that belief in the Resurrection is theologically optional. This interpretation does not qualify as a middle ground which is still genuinely orthodox, but as a profound denial of orthodoxy. This is because anyone who believes that a real bodily Resurrection is optional must believe that nothing essential will be lost by denying it. Such people cannot claim any of the powerful hope and joy that depend upon real events. Our Christian hope derives from the fact that Jesus has demonstrated His power over death by actually bodily rising from the dead! If he has not, we must base our hope instead upon hallucinations. That is pathological. It follows that, in order to claim to be orthodox, a professor must not only believe in a bodily Resurrection, but teach and believe that it is theologically essential.
It is a terrible burden to create meaning without any support from the facts. This is what Huck Finn calls "believing a thing when you know it ain't so." After a while metaphorical Resurrection faith begins to look like self-deception. Eventually metaphorical miracles begin to sour as people realize that the profound truths they have discovered are about themselves, not about God. The truth is that they are knowingly using pretend miracle stories to make themselves feel good. This is at best therapy, not Christian faith. At some point reflective persons will finally realize that the god upon whom they base their hopes has never really demonstrated that he heals or resurrects. It is a short step from there to the conclusion that there is no ultimate reality behind the metaphorical cobwebs they are spinning to preserve their hope. At this point Liberal Christians at high levels of Fowler faith must face the second death of meaning. This is a well-worn path. Consider Gerd Ludemann, the liberal theologian whose reinterpretation of the Resurrection we considered above. His "sophisticated" faith finally collapsed. He then wrote this letter to Jesus:
Dear Lord Jesus, That is how I have addressed you since my childhood and that is what I have said for years as a grace before meals ('Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest...'). I have kept saying another prayer ('Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me') every evening as a magical formula, although I didn't really know why I was doing so. But it is precisely for that reason that calling you 'Lord Jesus' has left such a deep impression on me. Praying to you like this as the Lord Jesus also continued in later times out of habit, thoughtlessness and anxiety, although I had long known that you were quite different from what was brought home to me by my parents, my teachers and my pastor. You've become quite strange to me as a person whom I can address. For you didn't say or do most of the things which the Bible tell us that you said or did. Moreover, you aren't the one depicted by the Bible and the church tradition. You weren't without sin and you aren't God's Son. You didn't at all want to die for the sins of the world. And what was particularly painful for me; you didn't institute the Eucharist which for years I celebrated every Sunday in memory of you. ... But none of this is any use; you too died, in the prime of life. You too drank the cup of death, indeed had to drink it - in a way that you didn't foresee. Despite profound experiences with your God, whom you called a Father to be trusted and from whom you expected almost everything, your hopes for the future also died. They clashed with brutal reality. At the last on the cross you had to learn what it means to become a godforsaken victim. And had your followers, who were understandably inspired by you, not proclaimed belief in your resurrection, all your words and deeds would have been blown away like leaves in the wind. Moreover had they not proclaimed your imminent return for judgment and eternal salvation, the whole structure of Christian thought would soon have collapsed on itself. ... But your return did not happen, because your resurrection did not even take place, but was only a pious wish. That is certain, because your body rotted in the tomb, if it was put in the tomb at all and was not devoured by vultures and jackals. Certainly your followers used belief in the resurrection and your return to prevent despair after the shock of Good Friday, but today? Christians still - or today again - cling to your resurrection, though many have long since left behind the original meaning of resurrection. It is conceded that your body was not revived, and people prefer to talk of your being with God. At the same time bishops, educated church functionaries and Christian intellectuals, who sometimes even include professors of theology, think it is important to maintain the confession of the resurrection, regardless of what may be understood by it. But this intellectual confusion is bound to come to grief and calls for ruthless enlightenment. No authentic religion can be built on projections, wishes, and visions, not even if it appears in such a powerful form as that of the Christian church, which has even exalted you to be Lord of the worlds and the coming judge. But you are no the Lord of the worlds, as your followers declared you to be on the basis of your resurrection, nor did you want to be. ... ... But above all I now know that in my attempts to attach myself to you and understand you as the basis of my life, I was still secretly living from Easter, from your Easter image, which is based on the church's dogma. But that has long since collapsed and with it also your own authority for me. ... Professors of theology and bishops want at almost any price to avoid these conclusions, which follow... from the humbug of your 'resurrection' and the impossibility of ethics on the basis of your preaching... [Extracted from a copy of the letter I received from a theologian at Oxford who was scheduled to debate Ludemann. He received a copy from the BBC.]
The deliberate disequilibration process which expects evangelical students to convert to metaphorical understandings of essential doctrines is often a spiritually fatal game St. Paul affirms this. He is not willing to separate the meaning of the Resurrection from the historical facts. He goes so far as to say: "And if Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins ... we are to be pitied more than all men." [I Cor. 15:17, 19, NIV] He says that, if Christ has not been raised we should "eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." [I Cor. 15:17, 19, NIV] Paul quotes Menander's famous Greek comedy Thais: "Bad company corrupts good character" and tells Christians who keep company with people who claim to be believers and deny the Resurrection to "Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning: for there are some who are ignorant of God - I say this to your shame." [I Cor. 15:32-34, NIV]. Paul's warning is to protect the Christian community from those who claim the status of teachers, but replace the gospel of Jesus Christ with some other gospel. Those who believe they can disequilibrate faith and then resurrect it on the metaphorical level are playing God and inviting the second death of meaning - they are not advancing students spiritually. They are over their heads. No one has the right to do that.
I do not agree with Dr. McPeak that the painful risks we encounter at Greenville College result from our desire to embrace the challenge of open inquiry. Open inquiry is not our great risk. In his 02-19-20 Faculty Forum entitled: "COR 102 - What's Really Happening?" The Greenville Religion Department Chair summarized his vision of the primary calling of the Religion Department. I believe he unwittingly identified the cause of our risk and pain instead. He explained the motive behind mandatory activities in religion classes:
"Our job is to create disequilibration - that is what we are called to do!"
Sorry Mary ...
By the way, what is happening at the CCCU is rather odd. The authors of the Faithful Change proposal want the disequilibration process to spread across the entire evangelical world:
"We believe the new spiritual information, strategically disseminated, will have a wide-ranging effect and long-lasting impact on societal institutions such as higher education (both religious and secular), religious organizations and chaplaincy programs (Christian and non-Christian), and non-profits." [FCRP, Preface].
This is odd because the CCCU is largely made up of evangelical colleges and universities and the document identifies rejection of basic evangelical beliefs as an indication of profound spiritual growth! Since the CCCU wields major influence on nearly every Christian college in North America and many overseas colleges, we need to take this extremely seriously. Has the CCCU completely lost it, or is someone asleep at the wheel?
* * *
Brief Selection Topics for Future Research and Discussion:
Abnormal Growth: Theological Outcomes of Targeted Believe Disequilibration vs. Life Experience Challenges
Abnormal Growth: Effects of Forced Disequilibration to Accelerate Fowler Stage Transitions
Racial Bias: Consequences of Belief Disequilibration for African American Students and Churches
Ministry: Motivation for Missions and Fowler's Universalism
Personhood: Forced Disequilibration and Ego Boundary Violation
Personhood: Stress Bonding between Students and the Professors Who Disequilibrate The [Stockholm Syndrome]
Theology: Fowler Faith Verses Saving Faith
Ethics: Lack of Full Disclosure of Disequilibration Methodology to Evangelical Constituencies
About the Author - Dr.Gerald Eichhoefer is Chair of the Information Science and Technology Department at Greenville College. He is Professor of Computer Science and has previously held academic positions in Computer Science and Philosophy. He is a member of the Faculty Council and Course Coordinator for the second level interdisciplinary Foundation of Science course. He has pursued graduate work in Astrodynamics, Mathematics and Theology, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy. Dr. Eichhoefer has received three Templeton Foundation awards in Science and Religion and he has held professional positions which include: Joint Venture Technical Coordinator for international joint ventures, Senior Supercomputer Analyst, and a Staff position at a think tank. He has written numerous internal corporate documents addressing such topics supercomputing, thermodynamic models of spacecraft, artificial intelligence, and distributed computing. He has also published an introductory Philosophy text. Dr. Eichhoefer can be reached at Evangelical Voice, P.O. Box 397, Greenville, Ill, 62246 or at [email@example.com].