Monthly Archives: October 2013

Why Some Evangelical Colleges and Universities are Struggling Financially– While Other Schools are Doing Great

This last week brought contrasting bad news and great news. The bad news was that Bethel University, where I taught before I came to Creighton, had to lay off 15 faculty due to financial shortcomings. The contrasting great news was that a Creighton Alum had given over $50 million to bring our current fundraising for our college of business to over $93million.

Bethel is a close community, and I know that those layoffs are hard for everyone there. Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected. One of the faculty there posted a blog about the broader issue of why some evangelical schools are struggling financially, and his main conclusion is that the denomenations have stopped supporting the schools as they once did in the past

Dr. Gehrz writes of the Bethel situation, and draws broader concerns for evangelical higher ed as a whole:

“I have no doubt that similar days loom ahead for a significant number of our peer institutions in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, given reports like the one from Forbes magazine that graded American institutions of higher learning on their financial health: we were among the 74% of CCCU schools to receive a C or lower. By most accounts, we are among the top 10-15 Christian colleges: allowing for the possibility that that relatively high standing rested on much flimsier supports than we imagined, I fear that our situation augurs poorly for our consortium as a whole.”

It is likely that a lot of evangelical and bible colleges are facing similar struggles. Dr. Gehrz’ view is that an important reason for the financial difficulties of these schools is that their original supporting denominations no longer support them like they once did.

It is certainly true that denominations no longer support schools like they did. But that has more to do with the general demise of denominations than anything, in my opinion. Denominations as a brand identity have been intentionally dropped. You will be hard pressed, for example, to find evangelical free churches (granted they are not technically a denomination) which even have the name “evangelical free church” in its name or even in its info in the bulletin. It is quite easy for people to attend free churches for years not knowing the affiliation of the church. So brand identity dissipation is the first cause I would point to.

Second, there was a time when each denomination felt it important to produces its own pastors in their own seminary or Bible school. That is no longer the case for evangelical churches. For one thing, a majority of evangelical churches are nondenominational. In addition, a number of seminaries have no or at best a minimal affiliation to a particular denomination (Dallas, Fuller, Gordon-Conwell, etc). In addition to that, churches no longer care if their pastor was trained at their denominations seminary (see point one here– because few people in the church know what denomination they are anyway). A fourth point here is simply that a few of the seminaries have grown and established themselves as the big dogs in the pack, and attracted the most famous theologians– Fuller, Regent, Dallas, Gordon Conwell, Trinity, etc.

But another obvious reason why evangelical schools are struggling now is the same reason many schools are– they were getting used to regular 5-6% tuition increases each year in a booming economy before 2007 and they did a lot of updating and capital borrowing to compete with the rest of the pack. But like mortgage holders who got stuck holding the bag when the recession hit, their expectation that things would continue to go up up up were ill founded, and now reality is setting in, and their previous supporters and student-parents don’t have increasing equity in their house to borrow against anymore. Its not just that more and more students are deciding that they don’t want to pay the high costs of going to these evangelical schools, its that in many cases they cannot. However, its not clear that it makes financial sense anyway– in a number of recent studies, a lot of evangelical schools faired poorly when it came to analyses of their ROI (return on investment)– the degrees conferred by a lot of evangelical schools just weren’t door-openers, at least not opening the doors that such high costs would be expected to open. (see gehrz’s blog on the dismal financial state of evangelical colleges at the end of this post)

Endowments can’t overcome all problems, but if evangelical schools had better endowments, things would be different. But they don’t. Most of them have $5,500-12,500 endowment per student. Compare that with Princeton (1.85 million per student) Yale (1.43 million per) Harvard (1.3 mil per) or even little Grinnel (745,000per). Why the difference? Why don’t evangelicals endow their colleges? I think there are at least two obvious reasons. First, evangelicals don’t generally invest in things of this world, particularly higher education. Saving souls is first and foremost– and service to others is second– which leads us to the second problem that has led evangelical schools to have pitifully small endowments: their strong suites are programs like missions, ministry, teaching and nursing. There are occasional teachers who come up with a big philanthropic gift to a university, but they are few and far between. Pastors and Missionaries almost never do, and nurse philanthropists are quite uncommon, in my experience. These aren’t high-dollar career people that are being graduated from evangelical schools. Of course a few business people come through, and a few philosophy or psych majors end up ‘having’ to go into business to make a living, and make a very good living, and then give back.

Creighton University where I am at has a very strong college of business, and their alum have come back and given a lot of money. Creighton has produced a lot of graduates who happen to be very successful in business, and who also are huge supporters of Creighton and their mission. Generally speaking, if you look at most major philanthropy, it is coming from people who got wealthy in business more often than not. People don’t generally grow great amounts of wealth on a teachers, ministers or nurses salary.

So from my business perspective, what evangelicals should do, rather than expect their little churches to step up and fill the gap, is to focus more on producing students who are great at business who will make a lot of money and give back to mission. Evangelicals for too long have been focused on producing missionaries and ministers who need others to support them. Its time they start producing some of the producers who can support their institutions of higher education more fruitfully– namely, high quality business students who can be successful and then come back and share the benefits!

May God have Mercy on us all!

For Dr. Gehrz’s blogpost on the financial condition of evangelical colleges see his:

For more on Creighton’s recent fundraising campaign for their new Heider College of Business, see:


Southern Baptist Evangelicals Pulling Back from Politics and Culture Wars: Russell Moore

reagan evangelicalsIn the 1980s, evangelicals suddenly got political, and with promises that they’d be heard and their views would be implemented, they supported Ronald Reagan, who defeated the first president to ever publically call himself an evangelical, Jimmy Carter. These were the days when Jerry Falwell started the Moral Majority, and there was a push to revive the Christianity of our American forefathers. There was a wave of evangelical fervor to take back culture from liberals (George Bush #1 wouldn’t even say the “L” word).  Those were heady days.

Rush Limbaugh became extremely popular when Bill Clinton was in office, and it was hard for people to distiguish between Limbaugh’s political views and evangelical political views at times. There were always the lefties from the Sojourners movement, who had been evangelicals like Carter, but generally they weren’t to be trusted.

There have been a multitude of causes for evangelicals in the culture wars– abortion first, then violent video games and vulgar music (think Tipper Gore), gun rights, censorship, against drugs, for prayer in school, for states rights, against gay marriage…there were a series of causes for which to fight. But in most of these, evangelicals have not won.

Now, on the front page of the wall street journal, there is a story about the head of the Southern Baptists telling his people that they need to back off their culture war talk, and not alienate young evangelicals:

Russell Moore, is the 42-year-old leader of the Southern Baptists, and he is trying to tone down the activism and political talk which he feels is alienating younger members.   He is trying to rein in the evangelical political activism and culture wars which started nearly 35 years ago, and redirect his denomenations energy to “a Christian vision of justice and the Common Good”.  In contrast to his predecessor, Richard Land, who had compared Glen Beck to Billy Graham as “a person in spiritual motion” (Beck is mormon), Moore wrote the following in an essay called “God, the Gospel, and Glen Beck” (which, by the way, says that Glen Beck isn’t the problem, conservative Christians are causing their own problems):

“Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.”


Moore speaks for a lot of younger evangelicals when he writes these words, and that is, apparently, why he has taken the helm of the Southern Baptist Ship.  The southern Baptists have seen membership drop off in recent years, with many who were raised in that church feeling disenfranchised– not because they didn’t love Jesus or believe the Bible, but because they were not feeling convicted of the same political convictions as their fellow-southern-baptists.  They didn’t think that following Jesus necessarily meant being Tea-Party people.

Moore is no leftie, he is not going “soft”.  The gospel still plays a central role in his criticisms: “Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do.”


These are times of upheaval, change, transition and uncertainty.  In times like this we appreciate voices who speak authoritatively and clearly about things– cutting through the confusion to something decisive.  But if those voices aren’t clearly rooted in the gospel and kindness and love of Christ, then they are just more din and noise, not a solution.  I’m encouraged by Moore’s direction.

For Moore’s article on Glen Beck see:

May God have mercy on us all.

Woody Allen and Billy Graham

Today I was showing Celeste a video of Woody Allen interviewing Billy Graham in the 70’s. We started talking about whether or not Billy Graham’s evangelicalism had won the day over the fundamentalists who were against him in the 1950s-1980s. Billy Graham was quite controversial for his time. He was willing to meet with presidents who weren’t known to be evangelical, and he was very nondenomenational and downplayed theological details which some felt compromised the gospel.graham[

Those critical of Billy Graham felt he was not paying enough attention to the fundamentals of the faith. He was watering down the gospel to get crowds to fill up the many football stadiums that he preached at. Graham started in the Fundamentalist movement, but was ostracized eventually by it for welcoming and partnering with Catholics and more liberal Christians to his crusades in the 1940s. graham-crusade
There has been a shift today in evangelical culture. Today Billy Graham’s evangelicalism is not to the evangelical liberal side for being too willing to reach out to contemporary culture, but to the center or even right in evangelical circles. Today evangelicals write books on creation-care (environmentalism) and they are taking on high-church practices and devotional tools. They are thinking about urban farming as a means of ushering in the kingdom on earth and spending a lot more time thinking about how to minister to the poor than how to hand out tracts.

graham crowd
Billy Graham might wish that todays evangelical’s spent more time sharing the ‘good news’ with their neighbors. He might be concerned that they have taken St. Francis’ popular saying “preach the gospel, and use words if necessary” a little too far, never explicitly sharing their faith in word, but only in deed.

There is no doubt in my mind that evangelicalism has at times been too gnostic in its focus on understanding doctrine precisely and correctly, sometimes to the detriment of living out the gospel in real difficult ways.  Comfortable evangelicalism, with occassional forrays out on the weekends to distribute tracts or have an awkward difficult conversation with someone we didn’t know well about the eternal state of their soul was the norm for many evangelicals growing up. 

While there is certainly a problem with not being ‘able to give an account of the hope that lives within you’, there is even a bigger problem with having an account of the hope, but not much actual empirical evidence in the way you live you life of the commitment you have. 

May God help us to balance our lives with our words.  And thank God for Billy Graham!