Thursday, September 17, 2020

It's OUR Mountain Too


I am a proud Liberty University Alumni.

I loved my school in her success and I love her more now when she has suffered a wound. This is my school. That’s my mountain.

I know its God’s school. I know its Dr. Falwell’s school. But a little piece of it is mine as well.

I’m from the generation who came to this mountain before she had world class dorms, and world class food services, and world class educational facilities. She had a football team that practiced out at Treasure Island and played in Municipal Stadium. Williams Stadium was land we didn’t even own yet when I arrived on campus.

My freshman English classes were held in a single wide mobile office trailer out where the old guard shack used to be…roughly where the bookstore is now.

We didn’t get financial aid back then, so I worked thirty-five hours a week at Advance Auto Parts in Hills Plaza and repaired cars in my spare time. We lived four to a room in rooms built for two. We rode buses to Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening because we weren’t allowed to go to any other church.

I played on the very first hockey team we ever had. We skated on a frozen retention pond in the ravine, where the Vine Center would one day stand. We played games in Roanoke.

Liberty was just a vision back then. Financially so shaky that we’d go home at Christmas wondering if there’d be a school to come back to in January. We did prayer walks. We wept with Doc. We believed that this place would one day be all that he promised us it would. It would happen long after we had left this sacred soil, but our kids, or our grandchildren, would attend college here where we once did, only in the buildings he saw in his soul.

My grandmother lived on a fixed income of $6600 per year for the last ten years of her life. But she was so proud of me for going to Liberty and studying to be a pastor, that she sent $20 per month before I was even out of high school to support this place. She thought that somehow it would be credited to me one day and I had to explain to her “Mom-mom…that money goes to the college. If you want to help me, send it directly to me.” And she did. A card showed up every month or so…maybe six weeks, in my campus mailbox. Always at exactly the right time. Her beautiful cursive handwriting adorning the envelope…only a little less beautiful and worn by arthritis which made it harder to hold the pen. There would be a note and a crisp Twenty-dollar bill. The note full of scripture and assurances that she loved me, she was proud of me, and she was praying for me.

My grandmother once scraped together enough money to buy a memorial brick in the old religion hall. A couple of years ago, I was working for the university when they tore the building down and I walked through there a few times trying to find that brick. My grandmother’s “widow’s mites” were poured into this school. My hopes and dreams were birthed here.

When I was in high school, the only college I wanted to attend was Liberty. Dr. Falwell was my hero. He was a visionary. He was exciting. He was a patriot. He preached an unswerving message of the cross and didn’t pull punches or mince words. I loved him. We all did. All of us “Jerry’s Kids.”

I learned life altering lessons here. I sat under solid, old school preaching, and learned actual, tested and tried theology. I learned to pray into the wee hours in the lobby of dorm five with my best friend Greg St. Clair.

I preached sermons to empty chairs in the education hall after classes were over. I dreamed of the same big God Dr. Falwell served and got his vision from. I was changed here. I became a man here. Emotionally and, especially…spiritually.

I was educated in theology and doctrine. I was taught to test the spirits. To compare scripture with scripture. To not accept any old teaching that came down the pike, simply because it sounded nice. I was taught to rightly divide the word of truth. That God can use anybody, but especially somebody who is prepared. Deeply, thoroughly, prepared.

And Liberty prepared me. We had a dress code I bristled against, but it taught me to submit to authority and look sharp. We had early classes with unforgiving professors who didn’t abide excuses. But they made me appreciate the early morning and manage my time better. We lived in tight quarters, but they made it impossible to be a loner and I met the best friends of my life in those years.

It took me a long time to graduate. Life threw me some curves and it took a while to reach home. But I did. And as I did, I was solidified as a Christian. I knew the how and why of my Faith. I knew what it meant… not just what it felt like.

My classmates went on to start churches and Christian schools and be strong, stalwart, Champions for Christ. We didn’t bend to the culture…we stood against its push.

Now?

My beloved Liberty has wandered so far from Dr. Falwell’s original vision. Sure maybe we have the buildings and the facilities and the sports teams and we’re flush with cash. But spiritually…we are not even close anymore, to what he wanted for us on this mountain. We are no longer pushing back against the culture. We are shaping the gospel to fit the culture. The neo-evangelicalism that is pervasive at the Baylors of the world has it’s foot in the door at LU and unless we act right now…we are heading for the same fate. Christian on the sign on the highway, but pagan in our soul.

Not everything wrong with the spiritual atmosphere at LU can be blamed directly on LU. The students coming to Liberty now aren’t the same kids we were 40 years ago. They don’t come here to be pastors or Christian schoolteachers. They come for a liberal arts education with some Jesus sprinkled on top. They come here from far more theologically liberal homes where emotion is doctrine and the difference between solid theology and heresy is a blurred line. Liberty can only work with the raw materials sent to us.

But where Dr. Falwell would have said “You’re here and we’re going to indoctrinate you against the culture of the day"…the current iteration of Liberty says “You’re here and we’re going to shape our spiritual life here on campus to the culture out there.” “We’re going to tickle your ears and feed your emotions and we’re going to imply that actual doctrinal education and theological discourse is somehow stuffy and old, and the only thing that matters is the emotionalism that we see on the You Tube channel of the latest flock star." The uber pastors with entourages who come here as forty somethings dressed as twenty somethings trying to pull a fast one on the kids…because they see them as kids. Easy marks. They preach platitudes not sermons. They couldn’t do an actual exegete if their lives literally depended on it. The names read like a most-wanted list for biblical heresy: Lentz, Stanley, Wilkerson, McManus… Posers and preeners, who crack jokes, emote, tell warm stories, and couldn’t find their way through an actual theological discussion without a roadmap and a flashlight. Narcissistic showmen who spew out-of-context scripture references like a Pez dispenser. And anyone with even a basic grasp of systematic theology can blow holes in their teaching like tearing a tissue.

On top of these questionable (I’m being kind) teachers, we’ve now been invaded by the Critical Race Theory, woke culture. A godless lie that heaps burdens on innocent backs and itself breeds a more subtle racism in the name of abolishing racism.

Two weeks ago, there was a “BLM-lite” march on campus. They claimed not to be associated with the Marxist radical group BLM, but they held up their signs and chanted the names of their heroes…including a sexual predator named Jacob Blake.
And some of them knelt.

I assure you, if you knelt on this campus while Dr. Falwell was alive, your bus ticket home would have been on your bed in your dorm room before you got back there.  And some of our leadership stood with them.

The problem is large on Liberty Mountain. It’s a lack of theological grounding. A lack of deep education and the absences of peer-reviewed presentations. Somehow, someone made their own tape measure and declared themselves ten feet tall. Bad teaching after bad teaching had slithered its way into convo and the only thing worse than the fact that it wasn’t recognized as bad teaching, is that it was invited to come here.

We are not training young champions for Christ anymore. Not by the real meaning of that term. A champion was a knight who entered battle to defend the honor of his King. He was sharp. He was ready. He was fierce. We are not training warriors who defend their King. They no longer no how to wield the sword, how to use the shield. And they don’t even know when their King has been offended.

The world has come in and dictated Liberty’s spiritual life and atmosphere. It sounds nice. It’s a nice optic to have bus loads of students picking up trash in Miller Park with LU T-shirts on. But as one anonymous staffer told me, those same kids couldn’t explain salvation to a child. The know platitudes but they could not defend the faith. The believe in hell as a concept but not as a reality. Evangelicalism they know…evangelism…they’ve never heard of it or practiced it. Doing alms and service days in the community are fine. But that’s not what Jesus meant when He said “The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few. Pray that God sends harvesters into the fields.” Not trash pickers. Not bottled water deliverers. Harvesters.

The alumni who have responded to my writing and my program this week and last are upset. Our hearts are broken. We want change. It’s not a person we want changed…it’s a process. We want the school Dr. Falwell built. We want people making spiritual decisions who understand the roots that alumni have here. The blood sweat and tears that we literally shed on this mountain. We want solid theology, not the midway at the county fair.

I have literally recruited dozens of people to Liberty. Adults who wanted to complete their degree online, and young adults going off to college for the first time. Whenever a friend asked me about Liberty, and should they send their kids there I always answered with a resounding “yes.”

Now, for the first time, I cannot endorse my school. My daughter will finish here because we live here but she grew frustrated with the spiritual atmosphere and accepts that LU will never be what I told her it was for me. She seeks God but can’t hear Him over the circus clowns and self-absorbed “flavor of the month” guest speaker at Convo.

Liberty doesn’t need our money. They are swimming in cash. But they need our references. They need perpetual families coming here generation after generation. Nothing is worse for a college, especially a Christian college, than an alumni base that has lost faith in their alma mater and can no longer recruit for her.
Liberty has come to that crossroads.

I have spoken to pastors who no longer recommend their young people come here. And one alumnus who pastors a church and wants to get his PhD. But as he told me, “I won’t give them any more of my money until they fix the problems and get us back to Dr. Falwell’s Liberty.

Whoever has made the decisions about convo, and about the Christian atmosphere at Liberty must take a good long look at the history of this college. They must value that heritage instead of trying to rewrite it. Take the woke liberalism and paper thin, shallow theology and toss it in the trash. Get us back to what Liberty was. Otherwise, as Doctor Falwell said himself on many occasions… “If we ever get away from who we were when we started, I’d rather they burn it to the ground then let it live as something it wasn’t supposed to be. Better a smoldering rubble than a campus that has lost its way.”

We have lost our way.

Instead of resisting the culture like a seawall, and growing mature, doctrinally well educated, theologically sounds adults, we have shaped our spiritual programs (including the mandatory religious academic training) to go with the cultural flow. Our campus spiritual life has become a glorified campus outreach at a nearly secular college.

The alumni have spoken. They deserve to be heard. Because this is our mountain too.


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