Carl Trueman, our friend and brother at Westminster Theological Seminary, has critiqued Union’s departure from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) on the grounds that our relationship with the CCCU has been “really pragmatic and only very superficially theological.” This is not entirely accurate. Here’s where he’s right and where he’s wrong.
Because we are followers of Jesus—and because he prayed for the unity of his body, the church—our impulse is to work for Christian unity (John 17:20-23). Nevertheless, this side of heaven, what professor Trueman calls “comprehensive confessional commitment” seems elusive. But that does not mean there can be no concord or communion between Baptists and Presbyterians and between Methodists and Catholics. We affirm with Christians down through ages: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.”
So despite our disagreement about some theological matters, we can celebrate and affirm certain essentials of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, while at the same time affirming our own particular denominational identities, until we all reach complete theological agreement when Jesus returns.
Since 1991, our relationship with the CCCU has been built on our common mission: “To advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.” For that reason we voluntarily joined in solidarity with 122 North American colleges and universities in the CCCU. In that same way both we and Westminster Theological Seminary join in common cause with organizations within the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), whose mission is “Enhancing Trust in Christ-Centered Churches and Ministries.” Neither of our institutions enjoys comprehensive confessional unity with all members of the ECFA, but we are unified in the focused mission of preserving the financial integrity of our institutions for the glory of Christ.
Thus, Professor Trueman is right to say that our relationship to the CCCU, like both of our relationships with the ECFA, is not built on comprehensive confessional commitment. But here’s where he errs, I think. Our relationship with the CCCU is not “really pragmatic and only very superficially theological” any more than Westminster’s relationship with the ECFA and financial responsibility is pragmatic and only superficially theological. We take the CCCU’s missional affirmation of Christ-centeredness and service to biblical truth very seriously. We believe that claiming Christ’s lordship over Christian higher education is, or should be, a robust theological claim.
That is why we have been so deeply disappointed over the last nearly two years in the CCCU leadership’s unwillingness to deal decisively with whether or not the organization will take a stand for traditional marriage. The good news that Jesus is Lord entails that we believe what he says wholeheartedly and follow him faithfully. In our view, one cannot consistently affirm his lordship and affirm the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. After all, every time Jesus dealt with questions about the sanctity of marriage, he himself affirmed that “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Matthew 19: 4). The prescription, “a man” and “a wife” in a “one flesh” union, proscribes same-sex marriage.
Union University is related to a number of different organizations, including regional accreditors like the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). But we have been associated with only one organization whose primary mission is to advocate for and to advance Christ-centered higher education. We believe that the CCCU leadership’s indecision to affirm exclusively what we take to be Jesus’ view of marriage hinders its ability to promote and defend distinctively Christ-centered higher education. Insofar as that support includes advocacy in Washington, D.C. for institutions of Christian higher education, we believe our association with the CCCU significantly weakens our collective voice for our distinctive mission, at a time when we are under increasing scrutiny. If defending our mission of biblical, Christ-centeredness is pragmatic, we plead guilty.
C. Ben Mitchell is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Union University where he also serves at Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy.