By way of introduction, Berea College is a small, private liberal-arts school that is nestled at the gateway to Appalachia. It prides itself on upholding traditional Appalachian values, while continuing to engage in an ever-changing global landscape. Berea College offers a priceless education to those who are unable to foot the bill themselves. Founded upon Christian principles, the college both claims and constantly redefines that title.
Berea openly claims a “Christian self-understanding” per their website. Its founder, John G. Fee, was a minister who preached “impartial love” in his life and work. As I have understood it, Fee never claimed any particular church denomination. In fact Fee was so free-thinking he clipped out pages of his Bible that were troublesome, leaving Bereans with the historic “Fee’s Bible.” Needless to say, Fee was highly unorthodox. It is also important to remember that Berea College was founded during the Civil War as an interracial college and very associated with abolitionist movements. From the get-go, Berea’s Christian identity has been peppered with social justice initiatives.
(As an aside, I am not suggesting that social justice causes are anti-Christian. There certainly are evidences and commands in the Bible which call believers to a life of service towards others for the glory of the Lord. What I am saying is that using Christianity as a means to get to an end of social justice is a misuse of the term “Christian”.)
Fast-forwarding over a hundred years of history, Berea College now embraces a very fluid understanding of Christianity. With many interfaith programs and initiatives, Christians on campus are expected to – in what Berea calls the nature of Christianity – tolerate and accept all religions and non-religions represented on campus. The Campus Christian Center emphasizes “spiritual life” rather than the Gospel. Though Berea’s motto – “God has made of one blood all peoples of the Earth” – is taken from Scripture (Acts 17:26), the Scriptures are constantly challenged and scrutinized in the classroom.
(Perhaps another aside is appropriate. I do think that people should challenge and scrutinize their beliefs and religious texts. As Tim Keller says, be skeptical of your skepticism. All I am saying is that a treatment of the Bible as God’s infallible, inspired Word is not common at Berea. I suppose I am writing these posts from the point of view of Bible-believing Christians and what they might be shocked to know about Berea College’s approach to Christianity.)
It is difficult to capture the disparity between Berea’s Christian identity and the Bible’s Christ-identity in words. More than anything, I noticed a lifestyle at Berea which frequently added to, subtracted from, or altered Scripture to fit one’s academic and social needs.
I’m going to leave you hanging. You’ll have to come back for more to see what I’m talking about!