Today, I’ve beenvisiting Liberty University. Considering the fact that my first visit to the campus was less than nine months ago, I must way that my perspective has changed a great deal.
I often joke that I grew up on the branch of the fundamentalist “tree” that produced most of the “nuts”. For years, I heard Liberty University mockingly referred to as “Liberalty University.” My only impressions of the school came from a sole visit to their tiny former campus in 1976 when I was fifteen years old and attending the A.C.E. National Competition, the public profile ofJerry Falwell and the scuttlebutt I heard from others. I had multiple students attend over the years and I’d hired folks from LU, but my impressions were consistently second hand.
The last 24 hours have reminded me of how wrong I had been in many of my impressions. Let me give you some of the things I’ve noticed and appreciate…
Our students enjoy college life. Last night, I took my son (who is a freshman at LU) and about two dozen other kids from my former church in West Palm Beach, Northside students and a few of their dates and friends out for Pizza. Free pizza is always a good draw for college students. I was struck by their comraderie and conversations. They joked, laughed, shared and ate. Nathan (my son) told me of a girl he’d met online via Facebook and had been witnessing to for several days. His friends jumped in with suggestions and before long, a major discussion on apologetics was being held. (BTW, Nathan told me this morning that he had led that same girl to Christ via instant messaging last night.) I’ll be honest…my own college experiences did not have that level of friendship and fellowship. The school’s I attended would never have even permitted that kind of social interaction off campus. There was constant pressure to turn others in for rules violation. There was constant nervousness about breaking some rule or violating some policy. In contrast, these kids just enjoyed being together and hanging out and the freedom they enjoyed did not make them more or less spiritual than any other college kids I’ve ever taught or met.
Jerry Falwell IS Mr. Liberty University. He speaks at convocation (Chapel) nearly every week. He still dresses like an old fundamentalist preacher and in today’s chapel — he sure sounded like one too. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him warn the students about the dangers of the Emergent Church movement by speaking for over 40 minutes on the topic. He was gracious, but pointed. He even named names. While he was at it, I heard him cite Jonathan Edwards, Bob Ketchum, John Rice, Bob Jones, Sr and other old-school fundamentalists. Interesting. On one rabbit-trail, he spoke of the dangers of a movement that sees nothing wrong with foul language, use of alcohol and use of tobacco and told of his own rules and policies about the topics. No “liberalness” there, I can assure you. Few people feel “neutral” about Jerry Falwell, but love him or hate him, he’s an amazing leader, fund-raiser and visionary who has a passion for Jesus Christ. He stands for orthodox Christianity without apology and he’s got a 50-plus year of public ministry with no major scandals besmirching his private or public life.
The vision of Liberty University is also noteworthy. The place is a bee-hive of activity. There are thousands and thousands of students swarming all over the Liberty Mountain(s). Building projects are going on all over the place. New programs are being announced constantly. Kids arefanning out around the world every break taking the gospel on the road. There’s a passion for ministry that is palpable on campus and off.
Speaking of perspective, I’m glad LU still has chapel regularly — 3 days a week in fact (a lot of schools have gone to 1 day a week.) Today, it was interesting to note that the thousands of students (I’m guessing 8,000-9,000) in the Vines Center were led in worship by a contemporary band that engaged students in a medley of meaty and historic hymns in a very solemn, yet more contemporary arrangement that was powerful and hardly shallow (as many like to describe praise and worship music). I saw as many students paying attention in chapel per capita as any college I’ve spoken at or attended. Not everyone was listening closely — but I’ve never been a place where folks do. They don’t wear suits and ties (and I was glad that I didn’t have to either). But their worship was earnest and the message was challenging and important.
I’m not trying to promote LU. (In the interest of full disclosure, I teach distance classes for the Seminary.) It’s not for everyone and like every school I’ve ever visited, it has weaknesses. But a lot of what I’ve heard from my fundamentalist brethren over the years about LU has simply been wrong, mean, gossipy or all three. It looks like next year we could have as many as three dozen of our kids at LU and I’m happy for them. We’ve got students at other good schools as well and I’m happy for them also. But the next time you hear someone trash a Christian college, I’d highly recommend that you pay it a visit before you swallow what is said.