Can God Save a Fundamentalist School?

Most readers of The Gospel Coalition probably aren’t familiar with the story of Northland International University. In fact, many readers of this blog have probably never heard of Northland at all. But for more than 50 years God has been doing some amazing things in northeastern Wisconsin at Northland Mission Camp, then Northland Baptist Bible College, and now at Northland International University.

As the camp ministry grew and a small Bible college launched on the property, the school had a decided emphasis on the proclamation of the gospel and servant leadership. Along with that, however, the college was also connected to the fundamentalist movement. This connection led to an uncompromising position on separation from the world in nearly every way and a strong stance against certain types of music and ministry. Not only did the school take strict positions on many of these less-than-clear issues, but it also drew strict lines of separation from those who did not.

By the time I arrived on campus as a freshman in 1998, Northland was a pretty separated place. Most types of modern music were off limits, as were most movies, TV shows, and other popular media. In the classroom, we read books by authors like John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and John MacArthur, but they always came with a disclaimer. I spent my last two years on campus wrestling over the theological and exegetical foundations for these practices and felt like we needed to be somewhere more biblically and theologically robust. So in the summer of 2002, we packed up and moved to Minneapolis, where I started the apprenticeship program at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

But I knew this move would lead to a separation from Northland. While I certainly maintained relationships with many on campus, I assumed that I would never be able to have close ties to my alma mater. There was much about Northland to love: a unique emphasis on servant leadership; a humble administration, faculty, and staff; a strong love for the Word of God; and a radical commitment to world missions. But it seemed like the strict separatism and all that went along with it would keep me, and many other alumni from my generation, from having close relationships with Northland. It was a fundamentalist school in every meaningful sense of the word, and none of us expected that to change.

Deeper Root

But God was at work in ways many of us alumni never expected. The centrality of the gospel was taking deeper root at the school, and the results we have seen are encouraging. Over the course of three or four years, Northland underwent some important transformations, including receiving accreditation and changing some of the unnecessary rules. But more importantly, Northland became a place where the gospel is at the center, and rules and regulations are not.

In a recent letter, outgoing Northland president Matt Olson listed some of the changes the school underwent in the last few years. He explained:

  • Northland went from the exclusive use of the King James Version in the pulpit and classrooms to allowing other translations.
  • Northland went from a demerit system to a discipleship platform for our students. Yes, we still have rules: we still confront, and we still have consequences. We just believe we have a better and more biblical model now. It is built on relationships. We are always looking for better ways to accomplish our mission.
  • Northland went from practicing some forms of “secondary separation” to what we now understand to be a more biblical separation. Where we would not have had men like John MacArthur, Rick Holland, Ken Ham, Bruce Ware, or Mark Dever, we would now. We see no reason to separate from these men. We would consider them to be in the spirit of historic fundamentalism; they believe in the orthodox faith, will separate over it, and live godly lives.
  • Northland went from only allowing “traditional” styles of music to accepting more modern styles as well. A blend of traditional and current music is used in our programs and chapel.
  • We created an overarching name of Northland International University to give our students greater opportunities with the gospel worldwide. The change was driven by our passion to reach every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

To many TGC readers, these changes might sound obvious. But at Northland, they reflect something deeper. They reflect the way the gospel, rightly applied, will eventually work itself out at the institutional level. While some of the parallels break down, Michael Horton’s explanation of semper reformanda was applied at Northland: “It is not because the culture is always changing and we need to be up with the times, but because we are always in need of being re-oriented to the Word that stands over us, individually and collectively, that the church can never stand still.” In the same way, an institution must always be re-orienting itself to the Word and asking whether its practices and policies could reflect greater fidelity to the Word of God. And when this practice is taken seriously, great things can happen.

Now there is more hope for Northland than ever. Along with a renewed emphasis on the centrality of the gospel, the school is still committed to a unique emphasis on humble, servant leadership; strong love for the Word of God; and radical giving to world missions (in a 2009 survey, 44 percent of the student body planned to serve overseas). So Northland is worth knowing about and praying for. Especially now. The school is facing some significant challenges in the coming months. In just a few weeks, Olson will be moving on from his role as president of the school. Also, it is no secret that most Christian colleges live and die by their constituencies, and making changes means alienating some of those constituents.


I don’t pretend to speak for Northland. I have recently re-connected with some of the leaders at the school and teach an occasional course for their distance program. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything the school says and does. But I have seen the way a re-centering in the gospel can transform a school, and for that I praise God.

Some of my fellow Northland alumni are upset because the school did not change fast enough or pursue change in the way they would have done it. Others are upset because they thought nothing should change. Ever. Still others are upset because of Olson’s departure on the heels of many of these changes. To those alumni and friends, I would simply ask that you to grant the same grace to the institution that you would to a fellow Christian who is growing in grace. We will all make mistakes, and we all have room for growth.

We can all learn from the example of an institution that is willing to further submit itself to God’s Word—in spite of the criticism and challenges these changes will bring. So pray for Northland as it searches for a new president and be praying about God’s continued work there, knowing that when the gospel moves to the center, amazing things can happen to an individual, a church, and even a fundamentalist school.

  • MarkO

    Wow! What a gracious review of the situation at Northland. No doubt there is more beneath the surface regarding NIU’s shift toward the Gospel and Matt Olson’s dismissal than we can see.

    However, it is very encouraging to see them shedding the divisive modus operandi of so many fundamentalists (it is something I’ve seen firsthand). Hopefully NIU can sustain itself financially. We will pray so. Thank you for your fair approach to their situation.

  • Camp

    Chris, Thank you for the balanced and hopeful article. I find myself in the exact same place (after graduating from NIU in 2008) – not entirely embracing every theological nuance, yet seeing the amazing things God has done and is doing. I truly hope that historic fundamentalism and the evangelical, reformed community will see the similarities they share – realizing there is much overlap and room to work together to see the nations know Christ and confess his name.

  • Sam Hendrickson

    I actually am sympathetic to much of what the author wrote. However, I am curious how (in the author’s opinion as the school was lacking in Gospel centeredness) that so many went out and poured themselves into Gospel-centered lives. As I watch myself and others who think like me trying to go forward “in grace” not “law” I am struck by the fact that many of these so-called “law”-driven people (who we are trying not to be like) lived lonely lives in domestic and foreign ministry, pouring themselves into people’s lives, even losing their lives, or at least risking their lives, so that the Good News would take root in many people’s hearts. While I disagree mightily with much of what these “law” and “standards” people taught/did, I am overwhelmed and humbled to realize that God used them (even though they weren’t as “right” and as “grace-motivated” as me). Or maybe they were?

    • Hannah Anderson


    • Nate

      I completely agree.

    • Chris Bruno

      Thanks for the comment Sam. I was trying to work hard to make the good things about the old Northland clear. I am sorry that I wasn’t clearer.

    • Mike

      I find it almost funny when people claim that fundamentalists are more concerned with “law” than “grace,” when, in reality, most fundamentalists are dispensationalists (including Northland). Dispensationalists don’t even believe they are under the Law any way… but under “Grace” (Tit 2). Many reformed people call them “antinomian.” I just think it’s interesting…

    • Dee McDonald

      The same could apply to the Mormons using your logic Sam. Are we to believe they are going forward in grace?

      • Sam Hendrickson

        Well Dee,
        To be clear, one might wonder if a person who had made a remark such as the one you made had indeed read and understood my “logic” before making such an incautious remark. I was clear in my remark that previous grads did this toil and labor in love of people and [italics] love of Christ and His Good News [italics]. Mormons do not have the Good News of Christ, their labors and concerns notwithstanding. If you found that my remarks somehow in any way, shape or form could be made about Mormon missionary faith and practice, then should the rest of us wonder about your understanding of the Good News? I am sure you would not want us to make such a leap, and so we will not. I would hope to have the same courtesy accorded to my remarks. Grace and peace. Sam Hendrickson

  • Brandon

    Thanks for the post, Chris. And “Aloha” to you.

    God used Northland in my life in a bunch of ways, and it’s sad to see Dr. Olson having to step down. However, God’s will is always firm and steady when these situations don’t seem to be.

    Will it be saved? Maybe. If not, the kingdom was still very much helped through the years by it.

  • Dale

    Thank you for an EXCELLENT word and well-written article! As a graduate (’91) of NIU, the gospel-centeredness is more than encouraging to me. I wish I would have said my thoughts as well and as graciously as you did — way to instill hope and focus on Christ as we pray for the future of Northland. Thanks again. This alumni is grateful!

    • Dale

      Please change my last phrase to “This graduate is thankful!” Sorry for the grammatical error!

  • Hannah Anderson

    I grew up fundamentalist, attended a flagship school, and my husband now pastors a small country church that thinks they are fundamentalists. Like many of our peers, we were heavily influenced by the reformed resurgence and today find ourselves less tied to any movement in particular. Having said that, I worry that this article perpetuates some myths that are entirely unhelpful.

    First, it presumes that the gospel is not at work in fundamentalism–that strict applications are inherently law-based and could never be consistent with grace. But fundamentalism was where I first heard of God’s grace and sovereignty. Certainly, there’s baggage but what group doesn’t have that?

    Secondly, it seems predicated on the belief that there is something inherently different between conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Certainly in the last half-century,there was a split but both have roots in the fundamentalist/modernist convtrovery of the early 20th century. From a broader historical and sociological perspective, there is little that separates the two in the first place.

    And third, it seems to indicate that legalism is contained to a particular subgroup. This is very dangerous because it can lead us to be blind to our own legalism. There is a grace/law spectrum that runs through every movement and you will find people on both sides of it within the same context. The issues will differ (e.g. gender applications vs. music/dress standards) but the spectrum survives. Even liberals have their own form of legalism.

    Again, I am thrilled that Northland is moving toward a deeper commitment to the gospel, but I think it’s important that we avoid framing that process in terms of ecclesiological movements.

    • Pdacunha0

      Thank you so much Hannah for this comment. You are right on.
      Even though the writer really tried to be gracious, actually, to my view, he was not. I am still a fundamentalist (although I am reviewing some of my stands such as the extent of biblical separatism). And Jesuschrist IS my Lord and glorious Savior.
      THE one and only gospel was the one I believed by the pure and sovereign will of Almighty God!!!
      I was taught by my fundamentalist teacher/pastor/discipler that the Bible teaches I was elected from eternity to be saved by grace, through faith in the Name and shed blood of Christ Jesus. No merits of mine whatsoever.
      This is one of the doctrines I love the most, because it shows me His glory, His sovereignty, and His love for me!!!
      I was taught by and in fundamentalism to live the gospel. I was taught to live in and by grace. That’s what I also teach.
      The gospel is at the core of fundamentalism!!
      Now, many fundamentalmentalist are truly off with their extreme stands. They claim to love the Lord and His Word so much that they come to hate fellow children of God just because they think differently. So they do not love their Lord as much as they love their stands.
      Sadly, it seems this controversy will never disappear. Both sides are filled with pride, holier-than-thou attitudes, and profess to know the Bible better than the others.
      Northland has been an amazing school through the years!!!! And so has Bob Jones, and others. They just don’t believe the same as TGC affiliates. Both are guilty of the same sins. Those sins are the ones I am trying to step away from. I committed way too many of those sins myself through the years.
      It’s enough for me. All of us need the generous grace of our wonderful Lord.

  • Ethan Montesinos

    I am currently an undergraduate student at Moody Bible in Chicago. I am very encouraged to read this article because, though I don’t know NIU at all as an academic institution, I know one aspect of Northland quite intimately: their soccer program!

    I play soccer for MBI, and NIU is our regional rival. I can affirm the re-centering of the gospel that is spoken of in this article, for I have definitely seen it in a number of quality young men of God. Sure, there are sometimes those angers/attitudes that come out in sports, but rarely is NIU anything less than “above reproach.”

    I am humbled by reading this post, and I praise God for the work that is going on up there in Dunbar, WI. I am especially encouraged by the humility exhibited by their coach, Andrew Scott, and his emphasis on ministry that he has instilled in his team. I know one guy who is planning on doing sports ministry when he graduates, and another is moving to Europe to do missions work. Praise God for the work he has done there!

  • Jeff Straub

    Chris wrote:
    “with a renewed emphasis on the centrality of the gospel, the school is still committed to a unique emphasis on humble, servant leadership; strong love for the Word of God; and radical giving to world missions”


    I have known Northland virtually from its inception being acquainted with Jim Wooster ca. 1980. Two of the finest missionaries I know – John Nassett and Bud Rader are NI grads. At what point in its history was Northland NOT gospel centered? What you mean is that they recently adopted a “gospel only” focus with such things as polity, ecclesiology or praxis not a part of the consideration.

    Jeff Straub

    • Jason Stover

      Jeff–I can’t claim to speak to the author’s intent but I attended NIU at the same time he did. While it’s fair and accurate to say that there was much to be commended in chapel and in the classroom it was still a mixed bag at times. Tim Jordan, Dave Doran, etc. . . would come and bring the word and Christ was lifted up. But then the next week you’d have in the NBT guy and Tom Farrell talking about a Red Heifer. So at times the message was certainly mixed even from the pulpit. But more troubling was the disconnect between the pulpit/ classroom and the legalistic student life office. It was not a healthy atmosphere. In the last few years as I’ve returned to campus to speak I’ve been encouraged by the changes both in the student life department as well as a more consistent message in the chapel/ classroom. So I think it’s fair to describe it as a “re-centering” without discounting what was done in the past.

      • Rob Love

        That is a great description Jason. The gospel has always been present but not always at the center. I am grateful that in spite of some hurdles a great number of students were led by God to make the gospel the center of their lives and ministries. As Northland has set it’s focus on the grace of the gospel they have adopted a ministry philosophy that imitates that graciousness much more clearly.

      • bill provenzano

        Spot on, Jason. That is what I noticed as well, being there at the same time as you and Chris. It seems that there was a period where things just started to go south (as in – the school was morphing into something like the school 1,000 miles south-south-east of them).

    • G. A. Dietrich

      Jeff, I tend to agree with Chris on this…”a renewed emphasis.” That isn’t to say that gospel proclamation was void in it’s earlier years…but from my experience as a student the emphasis was always on two things; 1) servant leadership (not bad in and of itself) and 2) external conformity. I would not say my undergrad years at Northland were marked with the centrality of the gospel…again, there was gospel, but it was not central as some would want to think it was.

    • Chris Bruno

      Thanks for the interaction Jeff. I agree with Jason and Greg.
      I was trying to make all that was great about Northland clear. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough.


  • Jacob Galster

    Thanks for the post Chris. I graduated in 2011 and have been excited with the changes taking place. Dr. Olson himself wrote my recommendation letter for the M.Div program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. So he has been making strides. I don’t know what is going to happen or why Dr. Olson was asked to step down. I have my speculations but like you said we need to grant grace. Pray for the Olson as they seek the next step in their ministry.

  • Travis Ingram

    Can someone please explain to me why the gospel needs to be moved or centered? The gospel has not changed and will not change. If we believe the gospel must change in order to reach people for Christ then we are actually saying that what Christ did on Calvary is not enough and needs to be tweaked to what is accepable to this world. We must be very careful in the matter of change for the sake of being more “relevant” or compatible to the world. We are not of this world, but we are called to stand out from it. How can we do that if we look, act, and sing like it?

    • Tim


      You got it backwards. No one is talking about moving or centering the Gospel, but rather moving and centering ourselves around the Gospel.

    • LG

      You are misunderstanding the term gospel-centered. The idea is not that the gospel needs to be moved, but that WE must move OURSELVES to be more centered around the gospel.

      How can we stand out from the world if we sing like it? By singing about different things, and loving different things than the world does. How can we stand out if we look externally like the world? By being radically different in our love for one another, our bold proclamation of the gospel, our commitment to Christlikeness in our own lives, our passion for caring for the lost. Of course.

      • Marika


    • Andrew Blondo

      Hey Travis,
      What the author is stating, by saying that the gospel has become centered, is that it has become most important. Being gospel centered means that everything you do comes from that center. Centering the gospel is not that the gospel itself has changed but the importance of it in one’s life. We can get focused on our own pet peeves and forget that the gospel is our canon. Centering the gospel brings further importance on what Christ did. Gospel living embraces and rejoices in what Christ did and a person turns to it in a time of temptation every day. It does not in any form connote or denote that Christ is not enough, quite the contrary. It also is not about being relevant. Being gospel centered brings a stronger irrelevance to the way of the world. One, who is gospel centered, looks, acts and sings completely different. You may be confusing the crowd that seeks to be relevant and emergent with this crowd. These are two different groups.

      Personally what that means to me:
      Gospel centered thinking is strived for in how I love my wife, father my four boys, give to my church community, love my neighbor and resist the devil, my flesh and the world. To help understand this importance, I would suggest you to read The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges. The subtitle is Turning to the liberating power of the cross….every day.

  • G. A. Dietrich

    Thank you Chris for your labor in this gracious article. I am an alumnus x2 (BA ’03 & MA ’06) and a current employee. God has been doing some remarkable things at Northland in the last two years with a renewed focus on the gospel—we are trusting and praying that it continues.

  • David Morse

    I grew up within Fundamentalism, attended a school that would have been considered a “sister school” to Northland just a few hours south called Maranatha Baptist Bible College.

    Being a recent graduate of the school south, and having many friends who minister with NIU ministries in the summer, I can say firsthand that the changes at NIU are exciting and definitely seem appropriate. It would seem that with these changes the school would be on route to a flourishing ministry, yet I’m afraid that because of the power of the Fundamentalist constituency and their unwillingness to change (which mind you is rooted in their desire to “guard the purity of their doctrine”– most of the time), I have unfortunately said that NIU will die in the next 10 years.

    From afar, the school has already lost many students and as a recoil its sister school to the South has seemingly tried to make kneejerk changes in the opposite direction to keep from being lumped in with NIU. This is truly sad, as I saw many things at Maranatha changing for the better.

    Northland, because of its position and its location, size, and accredidation, lacks any appeal that many larger Evangelical universities have, and now they are running a different course than their Fundamentalist brothers and sisters (at least, that’s what the other Fundamentalists think and see the need to separate from them over).

    I think the title of this post is very accurate for the saving of NIU will come solely by the grace of God because there is little the ingenuity of man can do when Fundamentalist separatism is the axe that needs to be fought against.


    In the last 10 years (from my very limited and young viewpoint) I have seem to “fleeings” happening. One is from the theologically liberal and (I would contend) man centered, so called generic evangelical circle, and the other comes from the extremely theologically conservative and (I would contend equally) man centered Fundamentalist circle.

    The reformed resurgence (and even those less reformed like progressive dispensationalists trying to make sense of the continuity of the Scriptures) has allowed conservative evangelical crowd to grow like wildfire. Last year I described it to a group of peers like this. “5 years ago conservative was an adjective describing your evangelicalism, but now Conservative Evangelicalism is a noun and a movement.” My guess is that in the next 5 years there will be even greater gaps between these groups that I have previously mentioned, so that there is incredible distance between Fundamentalism, Conservative Evangelicalism, and Generic Evangelicalism.

    This is not to say that any one of these groups is perfect of course, but the centrality of the Gospel and commitment to the glory of God that I see within the Conservative Evangelical movement makes it one that has excited my generation and electrified us to take the Gospel.

    In the next 10 years we will see the true fruit of these things. It drives me to prayer because there is such potential among this generation because of the wisdom and teaching of the generations before us. Let us fan into flame the gifts within us so that Christ will be made famous throughout this world.

    I guess this was more like a blog post within a comment about NIU… sorry.

    • Kirk Miller

      For anyone else’s information, David Morse is a really close friend of mine. So, I say this knowing him personally.

      You full-heartedly appreciate NIU’s recent moves; but at the same time, from a sober judgment, you recognize that these moves, due to the resulting loss of constituency, might mean that NIU closes its doors in at least 10 years. –I think this is a fair, brief assessment of your opinion.

      I’m not disagreeing with you. You may be right. I don’t really know enough to say whether I think your wrong or not about NIU’s future. But let me present my two additional thoughts. You may agree with them; you may not.

      First, (for the sake of anyone else reading this) I grew up in Marinette, WI, a little over a mile away from NIU. I grew up in a diversity of denominations and would classify my upbringing as “broadly Christian,” probably mainline evangelical with some hints of Roman Catholic and liberal protestant. I didn’t know about Northland until high school; and when I finally had contact with them, I thought they were a bunch of crazy legalists, given my lack of exposure to Fundamentalism. Many christians that I knew growing up would have thought the same thing. We were not Northland’s constituency at all. But interestingly enough, I know of kids from the circle of mainline evangelicalism I grew up in that now go to Northland currently. And I know many individuals from that circle that now see Northland in a positive light, contrary to how they viewed them previously. If this represents a larger reality, although Northland is certainly loosing their old constituency, they may be gaining a new constituency at the same time. The changes are being noticed by the broadly evangelical circles in which I grew up around the NIU area. Again, you may be right. But, I guess I’m saying you may be wrong. (I know we both hope your wrong at least, haha!) So regarding NIU’s future, I’m not sure. I’m just throwing these observations out there for what they are worth.

      And second, although this might sound terrible to some people, I guess I’d rather see NIU attempt to make these changes and “die” in the process than stay where they were. I imagine some would disagree with me on this. That’s okay. I am incredibly refreshed by the changes NIU has been making, although I don’t know everything going on and I imagine I would disagree with some things they are doing. I’m quite ignorant about all of this; and I admit that. But, I’d rather see them at least attempt these changes even if they full-well know it will be their “death.”

      Let me know what you think, David. (Text me or something.)

      • David Morse


        I agree with both your statements to some extent although the numbers seem to indicate that they are losing far more quickly than they are gaining. From the outside, and the information that I have, the numbers have been spiraling downward for the past five years or so. I definitely hope that it does not shut down, but all indications would point to it not being able to sustain long enough to rebuild a new constituency.

  • gordon larson larsonslines

    Very happy for Northland. Readers, please remember that the writer is not as intimately acquainted with Northland as some of you are–so his statements were made accordingly. I know Northland was doing a wonderful “job” from her inception. Been there many times and know many grads. But they were aware of some areas that COULD change without changing the most important things (and many minor things remained unchanged that I would also change!?!?). These aren’t big changes–but they are threatening enough to some that it ended in Matt’s departure. I grieve for that.

  • JD Summers

    Chris, thanks for articulating what many alumni feel about the direction of NIU. Since I graduated in ’07 I have been encouraged to see how Dr. Olson has consistently sought to lead the school into a more consistent application of core convictions that have been there for a long time. I hope that the new leadership will be able to continue on this difficult but encouraging trajectory.

  • Trevor Minyard

    The real questions is:

    Will they cover a christian rap song in chapel?

    • Martin

      Kit’s comments are correct. It is misleading and improper to say Northland was defined by externals.

  • Kit Johnson

    I was at Northland from 1999-2005, and I suppose there were some people who were caught up in externals, but to say that Northland was legalistic or defined by externalism is inaccurate. In freshman orientation a clear distinction was made between the rules in the handbook and genuine holiness. We were told that many of the rules were there for the sake of deference and to make the instituition run smoothly, not that the handbook defined godliness. I would add that a defining characteristic of Northland was an emphasis on the heart. We were repeatedly told that external conformity means nothing apart from a heart that loves and worships God. That’s the opposite of legalism.
    I also think we need to be careful about creating separtion between concern for the gospel and concern for obedience. You can’t have one without the other. I’m not saying NIU is no longer concerned for obedience because I have no ability to evaluate that, just that we need to be careful about making a false distinction. People who love the gospel will be passionate about holiness and obedience.

    • Chris Bruno

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Kit. I think you might be overreading the first part. I was working hard not to say “legalism.” I also agree that Northland was defined by externalism. But do you really think the rule book was built around grace-driven holiness?
      You cannot deny that something changed. How would you quantify it, if you don’t think it wasn’t an application of the gospel?

      Thanks again,

      • Kit Johnson

        Chris, I was more responding to a comment than to your article in talking about legalism. Regarding the handbook, I guess I never saw it as a sanctification guide but as a set of institutional policies. Many of them had to do with building spiritual disciplines such as the devotions rules, but I don’t think it was intended to describe how to become holy. Regarding your last question, I haven’t been there for a few years, so I’m not sure if I am in a position to answer. I suppose a less conservative constituency would justify at least some of them.

      • Jim Russell

        Thanks for your input, Kit

    • Sam Hendrickson

      good stuff. I think what you said is too often overlooked, or looked at askance.

    • Pdacunha0

      Totally agree Kit. Thanks for saying it better than I.
      Institutional policies are NOT intended to be a guide to holiness. Northland has been always known to work with the heart of students.

    • Peter S

      Great observation! I went to a private Christian school that had a lot of institutional rules, although nothing as strict as what Northland had. The main things that students had a problem with were the curfew, the dress code and prohibitions on alcohol. They would always say that these rules were unbiblical and we used to joke that Jesus wouldn’t have been able to go to our school because he had a beard and long hair! But what a lot of my fellow students didn’t understand is exactly what you are pointing out. Institutional rules aren’t necessarily meant to reflect Biblical standards. The three rules I mentioned above had more to do with making parents feel comfortable sending their kids to school there than anything else. Now, it is important to make this distinction, not just at Freshman Orientation, but whenever these kinds of rules are discussed and enforced.

  • Brent

    Fantastic! I pray that PCC and BJU do the same. They need to shed their self-righteous legalism and isolationism and focus on Christ’s redeeming power over souls and communities.

    If we’re honest, when we hear Northland, Pensacola, or Bob Jones, the first thing we think of is not “gospel-centered”, but “strict rules”.

    Let the detox continue!

    • George

      Sad part is, I see the same self-righteousness and isolation in those that oppose fundamentalism. Same heart issue of man, different object of isolation.

      • Hannah Anderson

        Absolutely. Legalism is present in every movement because it is a human problem. At one point when my husband was pursuing a pastorate, several churches wouldn’t even look at his resume because he had gone to a fundamentalist school.

      • Andrew Lohr


        I recognize that “Can God save a fundamentalist school?” is a good line and a deliberate tease, not mere self-pride and contempt for brothers–“I thank God that I am not one of those fundamentalist separationists”–or, uh, is there an element of that? Not in the article, mostly, but in the headline?

      • Pdacunha0

        Precisely George. As a Fundamentalist I am considered a lesser kind of Christian by the “new reformed resurgence.”

        • Daniel H.

          First off, the title, I think, is not intended to mean that Fundamentalists aren’t Christians. There are Fundamentalists that aren’t Christians. The same is true of Evangelicals, even the Reformed type. I think one of the points of the title, and the author can clarify if he likes, is whether or not the school can continue to exist while abandoning its historic constituency. I believe that if the author thought the school was lost before its recent shift, he would have said as much.

          Secondly, believing and applying passages like Romans 14 is part of keeping the Gospel central. When we insist on our preferences as rules for others’ behaviors, then I believe we’ve missed the point of Paul’s theology and application. And when an institution shifts from a rulebook and a disciplinary system that is based on externals that derive from preference to a discipleship program that addresses the heart, I am glad. Romans 14 is understood and applied. I think this is a cause for us all to rejoice.

          Let’s not get caught up in debating who is the most legalistic or pious. That doesn’t even make sense, especially for those contending that we are more on the same side than opposing sides.

          • Pdacunha0

            Thanks Daniel.
            Revelation 4 and 5 shows that the Lamb will be worshipped by all of us in one glorious accord!!!!

    • Martin

      Agreed with George.

  • Nate

    Although I believe my personal stance is probably close to that of the author’s, I do not understand how a shift to a reformed less strict stance is a more Biblical, Gospel centered stance than a position of traditional fundamentalism. Even though I know firsthand how toxic strict traditionalism or legalism can be, the personal preference of going more modern with music, text, dress, or discipline system doesn’t make a person or institution any more Gospel centered than a preference of KJV only, hymn singing, girls only wear skirt preference makes a person more Godly. If the school was lacking a Gospel focus, than the administration could have easily changed that in a number of ways other than embracing other texts or going to modern music. In my opinion, the changes have clearly been more of a re-branding and not just as simple as being more “Gospel-centered”

    Agree, or disagree with the changes, I believe NIU is doing what they believe is right to give their students the best Biblical education possible. And as an institution that is their right/responsibility before God. But I believe they have entered into a trend that can easily water down Biblical teachings and Christianity over time. Secondarily, I also think from a financial business aspect they have alienated a good portion of their core market and could very likely struggle greatly in coming years. I will be praying for this school and I hope God blesses their efforts and the students that attend there.

    • Justin Nelson

      Couldn’t agree more.

    • Pdacunha0

      Very interesting, Nate. In this I will think: “In my opinion, the changes have clearly been more of a re-branding and not just as simple as being more “Gospel-centered”.

    • Jesse

      Exactly! That’s great to hear that a school decided to change some rules, how exactly does that mean they are coming closer to the Gospel? Was this school known for preaching salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, or not?

  • Lou Martuneac

    If I might from a fundamentalist, biblical separatist perspective, offer the following commentary.

    In regard to NIU on a doctrinal level- Matt Olson/NIU, in contradiction of its published Articles of Faith and Handbooks against the modern day Charismatic movement, praised a Charismatic church and its staff. NIU, through Matt Olson, NIU crossed doctrinal barriers, violated its own stated doctrinal positions.

    In areas of music and associations- again NIU/Matt Olson crossed lines established for the school still found in its current Handbook and Articles of Faith. Furthermore, the former Northland Baptist Bible College operated under a document titled, “NBBC Position Statement on Contemporary Issues in Christianity.” That document has a lengthy section on Music that includes a section that states, “Because of our conservative stance regarding music and performance, we do not endorse ‘Contemporary Christian’ artist who use worldly techniques in performing or recording their music.” Clearly, that line has been crossed numerous times in the last four years and by a wide margin, especially with the formation of NIU’s in-house CCM/Rock band “Redeemed.” To further exasperate the base was that in light of the obvious at NIU the word from Matt Olson was that NIU is “unchanged.”

    For these and more changes at NIU many of NIU’s alumni, students, parents, pastors, friends and supporters could no longer in good conscience support and defend the school they loved.

    In its history Northland has never been the perfect school, because there have never been perfect people at the helm. Until recent years, however, Northland was known for a set of specifics in doctrine and practice that one could rely on when they sent their young people and/or support. That school no longer exists. Northland has changed!

    Northland’s demise, if it to be so, is not without historic precedent: Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Tennessee Temple being stark examples of what hard shifts to the left of an institutions foundational principles, positions and practice may bring as a result.

    This is all so tragic for many of us to be witnessing what we believe will be the demise of a once fine fundamental Baptist biblical separatist Bible College.


    • Tim


    • Bob Loblaw

      Lou, don’t you think you’ve caused enough damage with your words on your own site?

  • Timothy A. Williams

    One wonders if the author and the Gospel Coalition feel that Fundamentalist institutions needs salvation any more than New Evangelical institutions need salvation. Surely, historically speaking, they never disagreed over the doctrines of salvation. Rather, they differed over the issues of separation. And,yes, both have been inconsistent in applying the biblical doctrines of salvation to both their lives as well as their institutions. I bemoan the past failures in both, and I rejoice whenever men are led to a deeper understanding of the gospel and its implications.

  • Tommy

    I love to see the changes taking place at Northland! I pray they continue to prioritize the gospel above all else, and that God brings new leadership to continue what Dr. Olson and others started.

  • Steve Miller

    Chris, the answer to your question “Can God Save a Fundamentalist School?” is categorically YES. God’s grace offers hope no matter how blindly legalistic and sinful any person or institution becomes. (We can all say “Thank you God” for that!)

    The real question “WILL God Save a Fundamentalist School?” If it depends at all upon Matt Olson’s continued influence at NIU, with Matt’s dismissal I’m afraid that the answer to this question has just become a little more clear as well.

  • B.J. Olivas

    I went to Maranatha Baptist Bible College back in da day. I met some cool people there and learned somethings along the way to help me spiritually but all in all I always wondered do we even need “Christian” colleges besides training Pastors, missionaries, etc. etc. In fact sometimes I think do we even really need them at all. It seems to me evangelicals and fundamentalist or whatever have their own tale on how the church should be run but as another poster said it is all man centered. Now I know God has used these colleges for his glory cuz He always does one way or the other in every situation. I’m not saying Christian schools or colleges are wicked or whatever. What I am saying is this the only way to train Pastors and Missionaries. Etc. It seems we have as Christians painted ourselves into a corner when picking Pastors for a church or deeming someone trained enough to go into a mission field or whatever and taking that responsibility from the church almost completely. I’m just going to throw that out there. Not trying to start controversies just speaking outside the box. So I’m not sure I’m worried if Northland can be saved or not. If God says it will it will and if He decides not then its not. And does it really matter anyways? Everyone is worried in fundamentalism about compromise and separation and everyone on the evangelical side seems to worry about legalistic thinking and being left behind in this modern world. I think this is wrong on both counts. Us sheep just yearn for the Lord’s feeding of the Word. To know how to live and conduct ourselves properly in this wicked world. How to raise our children being devoured by the influences in this world. How to fight temptation, how to keep a good testimony and reputation amongst our unsaved loved ones and friends. The only people who care if Northland is fundamental or not are those within the bubbled Christian community anyways. You think the guy on the corner cares about it or not? They don’t. So I’ve seen this debate going on amongst the blogs about Northland and think to myself, “jeepers if they would worry about the flock as much as they do the direction a college is going we would be much better off.” Personally I don’t give a flipping 3 dollar bill about denominations or fundamentalist or evangelical or whatever. I have liberty in Christ and so do you let’s exercise that and just biblically treat our brothers and sisters properly and treat the weaker brother with kindness and not be a stumbling block to them until they figure it out with the Holy Spirits help. I can see the concern of being too legalistic or worldly very clearly but if the flock was properly fed the proper way to live a Spirit led life and how to closely follow Jesus all this wouldn’t be necessary. So church we should point the finger at our selves for even allowing Satan to sow discord amongst us at all. To me both sides are filled with pride and deceiving themselves that they are “centering the gospel” or whatever. Now I know this might sound harsh but when I see my fellow believers getting crushed out here in the world by discouragement, temptation, addictions, poverty and every sort of hardship and tragedy the enemy throws at them, it makes me wonder what does it matter if Northland is fundamentalist or not. Cuz it really doesn’t the battle is hot outside the “bubble” ya know? And people is fallen in the streets wounded and why you guys the technicalities or what is “gospel centered” or not, the church is in ruins. So there it is off my chest and just needed to say that. I don’t want to offend anyone or be pious or self righteous but hopefully telling the truth in Love. Leave this garbage alone and let’s move on to the important things and don’t be thrown off course when outside the worlds on fire. Personally when we get caught up on these things I believe Satan laughs at us. Remember Ephesians 4:3-7

    • Jeremy Horneck

      Paragraphs, please?

      • Jeremy Horneck

        I was just saying it was hard to follow without anything to break up the text.

    • B.J. Olivas

      I’m a deeply sorry for not using paragraphs. I wasn’t an English major and like I said attended MBBC. Plz, overlook my grammatical errors. They were unintentional. Did you have any other comments on my comment? If you do plz reply. Again sorry if my post was offensive to you.

      • Andrew

        Don’t take offense, B.J. It was a helpful tip.

        If you want people to read what you’ve written in the comment section, make sure to break it up into short paragraphs. It matters less how accurately you do it than that you do it.

        With so much to skim through, people won’t put the effort into reading a big block of text with no white spaces. They just won’t. So what you right will go largely unread.

  • Dave

    Thanks for this article Chris. As a current D.Min student, I have found the focus of NIU refreshing and resolved. I trust that God will continue to show His grace to NIU. Thanks again.

  • Jim Floyd

    I view these changes as basically negative. They had a great thing before, it just needed a few tweaks in it’s implementation, not a total brand and positional overhaul. Northland is trying to brand itself to appeal to more conservative evangelical and or reformed minded clientele. Not only have standards relaxed but I am part of the group of the former students that don’t like the school’s embrace of people like MacArthur, Holland, Bruce Ware etc. They will do what they feel is right but many of us are tired of it and will let them go their own way agreeing to disagree. I do know that for many, this is a very hard thing to take being that they loved Northland so much. Not that we loved the strict rules and the peculiarities necessarily but the heart of the people and the sound stand for the truth even if separation had to come into play.

    Also, if gospel centeredness means rallying around a MacArthur style LS gospel then no thanks.

  • Jesse

    Why is it okay to make divisive posts that are titled “Can God save a Fundamentalist School?”… obviously implying that Fundamentalist schools are currently not “saved.” I understand this might boost readership, but there are more important things at stake, like Christian unity and testimony. Fundamentalist Christians are your Christian brothers and sisters. They are not the Pharisees of the Bible who hated and rejected Christ as some people have actually asserted. That kind of foolishness and arrogance should hopefully not be advanced by Christ-followers.

    I wonder sometimes if the people who think this way never actually step out into the unsaved world. I attended a liberal graduate school, and I quickly discovered how much I loved and appreciated my classmates who were Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, and Fundamentalist. We all had completely different standards and even church practices, but we loved each other and had amazing unity in Christ.

    Fundamentalist Christians are wonderful, devout Christians who preach the Gospel (just like Southern Baptists, Reformed, Conservative Evangelicals, etc). It is not a different Gospel or a less-true Gospel. They merely differ in practice.

    Both of my parents heard the Gospel through Fundamentalist ministries. And although I am not a Fundamentalist, I find it highly offensive that fellow believers would criticize an entire group of believers by insinuating they are not saved. And before anyone tries to say that this post did not intend to do that, please re-read the title, and remember that only the title was posted and re-posted on facebook for all of broader Christianity and all of our unsaved friends to see.

    There is nothing wrong with pointing out error and exhorting fellow believers (Paul did it all the time), but calling into question fellow believer’s Salvation (by saying they need to be more “Gospel-centered” or asking “can they be saved”) is not right and should not be tolerated among believers.

    Sorry for coming across harsh, but I fully and completely believe the author and other people who follow these types of movements are SAVED and merely need exhortation. I’m so thankful for the diversity of the body of Christ.

    • Jim

      I don’t think the author was using the word “saved” to describe the salvation of an unbeliever, nor was suggesting that Fundamentalist are unsaved. I’m having a difficult time understanding how you misunderstood that? The entire article was about whether a Fundamentalist school can survive, which is exactly what I thought the article was about before I read it.

      • Hannah Anderson

        But the author does equate the “saving” of Northland with a move away from typical fundamentalist positions. Which he also equates with being “gospel-centered.” The point is that there is an underlying assumption and judgment about where Northland WAS and where it is moving–that their move away from fundamentalism was the direct result of spiritual maturation because of the gospel. And that is highly problematic.

        • Bob Bixby


          Did you go to Northland? (I do not know. The question is not rhetorical.) I did. And I don’t see anything theologically problematic with saying, “there move from fundamentalism is a direct result of spiritual maturation because of the gospel” partly because not even fundamentalists are agreed on the definition of fundamentalism and partly because movements themselves are never permanent. Moving out of a movement (particularly one so rife with bizarre aberrations mixed in with, indeed as you assert, godly and good things is not bad. And it’s the gospel that propels said movement. Furthermore, when Chris talks about the gospel, he’s not talking about the “plan of salvation.” He’s talking about the fuller impact of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the sole Head of One Church. Most of fundamentalism has an unhealthy ecclesiology because of its disproportionate focus on what separates versus that which unites. In my view (as an alumnus), I am completely comfortable with saying that NIU’s move away from a sectarian practice of separation that precluded the possibility of hosting any speaker that was not in the small orb of fundamentalist Baptists of a BJU/MBBC flare is a very good move. And that good move is generated, I believe, by a maturing of thinking that is a result of the Good News of Jesus Christ, news that I’m still coming to grips with even though I first trustingly believed it when I was only 5 years old.

          • Hannah Anderson


            No, I’m a BJ grad and trust me, I’m very familiar with the sectarianism that is present in fundamentalism. Perhaps my issue is simply that this kind of sectarianism (while certainly anti-gospel) is not UNIQUE to fundamentalism. So while I don’t doubt that gospel-centeredness is the source of Northland’s willingness to re-consider their position on certain issues, I’m troubled by the author’s assumption that sectarianism is confined to the fundamentalist orbit. I’ve encountered the same level of separation within conservative evangelicalism–the issues are simply different.

            I suppose when the gospel is truly at the center, it will make you take a similar stand against sectarianism when you encounter in your new sphere of relationships. I’m not saying this won’t happen for NIU–just that it’s dangerous to position sectarianism as a “fundamentalist” problem because it will make you blind to it in other places.

  • Anthony Diehl

    Thanks for the article. I’m cheering heartily for Northland’s continued shift toward gospel centricity. I am an 05 grad currently enrolled at Southern Seminary in Louisville and I have followed with great delight the transition. I hope and pray Northlamd continues this trajectory.

  • Tim

    Certainly following any student handbook or institutional constitution is infinitely inadequate in keeping the standard that God expects. Relaxing the standard just allows more of God’s grace, The Gospel, to be at work in students’ lives. If you want your Christianity limited to the first 6 chapters of Romans, then go ahead and ditch the rule book altogether. Just don’t study chapter 7, because you won’t think your “schoolmaster” very gospel-centered.

  • Scott Cline

    I’m an NIU grad who identifies (on the levels in view, here) neither with where the school was, nor with where the school is. I actually identify with Anglicanism, mainly, and am part of a CREC congregation. I mention that in order to clarify that the following comments are not rooted in an interest to see the school stay where it was, nor are they rooted in an interest to see the school get where it’s going. My alma mater has shifted from one place I’m not to another place I’m not, so I’m not commenting out of vested interest either way.

    But I do have to scratch my head, again, at popular “gospel centered” talk.

    A number of commenters have already noted the apparent assumption that, since the network which currently uses the phrase “gospel centered” as every part of speech maintains a monopoly on actual gospel centeredness, and since Northland is shifting into that network, Northland must have been un-gospel0centered previously. Your response (which I appreciate) is that you don’t want to minimize any of the Old Northland’s good. That’s great, but the idea still stands in many other commenters’ minds (and maybe in yours), that for all Northland’s good, it really wasn’t as “gospel centered” as it ought to have been. And I just don’t agree.

    Again, I don’t identify with where Northland was, but that is for reasons other than some perceived insufficiency in “gospel centrism.”

    The gospel is no more at the center when it is at the center of few things than when it is at the center of many things, just as it is no more at the center when it is at the center of a modern evangelical’s life than when it is at the center of a Fundamentalist’s life.

    If some Christians believe, oh, say, that this or that style of music embodies sentiments incompatible with corporate worship, and you disagree, believing that said style of music embodies sentiments which are in fact compatible with corporate worship, or else believing that said style of music embodies no sentiments necessarily, then just say so, but don’t for one moment pretend that the difference between you and those other Christians consists in how “gospel centered” you are.

    But that’s just what you imply when you correlate a move toward this or that with a move toward “gospel centrism” with no further explanation.

    I could just as plausibly assert that Northland’s shift is driven by something ignoble. But instead of my doing that, and instead of your saying that it is the inevitable outworking of the gospel, why don’t we both just have the real conversations?

    Some of the things you call evidence of the gospel’s influence, others call worldliness; whereas, some of the things you call evidence of a lack of gospel influence, others call evidence of the gospel’s influence. That being the case, let’s all just keep that gospel card in our hands: we’ve all got it, so let’s not waste our time canceling out each other’s trumps–we have other cards to put on the table.

    Asserting that Northland’s cultural shifts are the outworkings of the gospel (without offering good evidence that that is the case) is just sneaking into the position of spiritual dominance in this conversation.

    This matters because we are saying things about former leaders. Now, I have no qualms about suggesting that a former leader was not as shaped by the gospel as some later leader, if that really is the case; but, I’d better be right about that, or I’m slandering that former leader. And differences on things like music, in and of themselves, simply do not warrant that suggestion.

    (By the way, if we really wanted to discuss which cultural trajectories are most likely to be outworkings of the gospel, we might draw evidence from much longer arcs in history. But that is another discussion.)

    Now don’t get me wrong: I think that some of the things Northland has shed were good things to shed. And I think a lot of other things, too: I think that Northland has shed some things it needed to shed, and also some things that it should not have shed, and that it has not shed some things that it needs to shed; I likewise think that it has adopted some things that it needed to adopt, and also some things that it should not have adopted, and that it has not adopted some things that it needs to adopt. So we can’t just talk as though the whole ball of wax is the outworking of the gospel–not up front, anyway: we need to have all the related conversations if we want to imply that former leaders were not as gospel-centered.

    I say all this–despite my being neither where the school was nor is–not only to vindicate sufficient “gospel-centeredness” in former NIU leaders and teachers, but also to point out the unhelpfulness of much “gospel centered” talk. That there is a correlation between “gospel centeredness” and uniquely contemporary evangelical practices is an incredible claim.

  • Scott Linnerud


    Thanks for the article. I appreciate your life and ministry. My prayer is that God’s sovereign plan includes NIU’s continued training of young minds with a gospel centered approach. Barb and I love the school and how God used it in our lives.

    Grace & Peace,

  • Kent Brandenburg

    Before I entered seminary 29 years ago, I learned various disciplines of theology: systematic, biblical, historical, practical. This post represents one I was warned about and then have observed since, that is, speculative theology. I also took logic class, and in one portion of the class we learned about “bandwagon,” which is what this post encourages.

    Was the gospel working its way out in C. H. Spurgeon in 1887 when he wrote, “At the present time it is a matter of notoriety that preachers of no mean repute defend the play-house, and do so because they have been seen there. Is it any wonder that church members forget their vows of consecration and run with the unholy in the ways of frivolity, when they hear that persons are tolerated in the pastorate who do the same?” What about the Puritan Vincent Alsop when he wrote “The Sinfulness of Strange Apparel”? Could God save Spurgeon and Alsop?

    Could he save A. W. Tozer, who wrote, “Evangelical Christianity is now tragically below the New Testament standard. Worldliness is an accepted part of our way of life. Our religious mood is social instead of spiritual. We have lost the art of worship. We are not producing saints. Our models are successful businessmen, celebrated athletes and theatrical personalities. We carry on our religious activities after the methods of the modern advertiser. Our homes have been turned into theaters. Our literature is shallow and our hymnody borders on sacrilege. And scarcely anyone appears to care.”

    Could he save Paul, who wrote that the grace of God that appeared to all men, teaches them to deny ungodliness and worldly lust?

    Is allowing in movies, rock music, and more television actually how we can tell God is saving? Is that a doctrine of grace?

  • Martin

    Let me echo what several others have said here but in more succint terms: This article is seriously flawed.

    The title and much of the content reeks of judgement and arrogance.

    It flippantly dismisses an entire group as backward idiots.

    It suggests the method of scripture interpreted by the old Northland as wrong or out of focus, but now it is doing it “correctly.” So, all of the previous graduates where taught incorrect scripture? All of the same graduates that became pastors and missionaries around the world were taught wrong?

    It states that rules and regulations were once at the center of Northland which is patently misleading – as others here have stated. In what way was NIU over the line with its focus on externals?

    The author suggests it was bad for Northland to practice separation, but then states he was going to separate himself from NIU.

    Question: Why would the previous constituency want to continue supporting Northland if this is the new kind of attitude towards them? If this is the attitude directed towards them and is coming out of the new “gospel centered” philosophy, why should they care about NIU anymore?

    To summarize, the mood from this article suggests the attitude that the we, the new way gets it right. Those supporting the old way, including Dr. Ollila, got it wrong and is now the reason for NIU’s troubles. It isn’t the recent radical, ah “Gospel Centered” changes that are the problem, it is the old traditionalists that are the problem.
    Yes, I may be overstating it compared to what the article actually verbalized, but I hope you get my point.

  • Marika

    Mr.Bruno where are the Scripture references that support these changes as being more Biblical and more Gospel-centered? or do you mean concentrating on salvation, while blotting out Scriptures on modesty and holy living? it’s not fundamentalism that is the issue. It’s Biblical, Word-supported living practices plus giving out the Gospel, that is so powerful. Biblical homes, men and women in their Biblical places in the home. Look up these issues in the KJV Bible, the most accurate English translation we have (Burgon, The Revision Revised; Strongs Concordance). Your article expresses your opinion, but not the Word of God. Why, I wonder? Because living inore obedience to God’s Written Word is distasteful to the flesh…

  • Backwoodsman

    I appreciate the variety that exists in the “holy catholic church.” Each denomination and school has its own distinctives, and it is not wrong for it to minister within the bounds of those distinctives, therefore maintaining its integrity. I appreciate the adoration of the Anglicans, the Bible-centeredness of the Baptists, the liturgy of the Lutherans, the precision of the Presbyterians, the “reformedness” of the Reformed, etc. It’s all good! Making changes where the word of God requires it is certainly the right thing to do. But a lot of times some claim to be “reforming” based on God’s word, when it is really based on their own personal preferences and/or how they perceive Christians should interact with the “culture”. There seems to be great pressure these days for everyone to become broadly evangelical. Some even seem to equate this with being “gospel-centered.” This is a mistake – it could even be a new kind of pharisaism. An institution can spend so much time “re-inventing” itself that it just doesn’t do anything else.
    The quote that Chris Bruno uses from the Horton article on “Semper Reformanda,” does not seem to fit the circumstances at NIU. Rather, this quote from the same article is more pertinent: “And usually it is “always reforming,” instead of “always being reformed.” In this view, the church is the active party, determining its own doctrine, worship, and discipline in the light of ever-changing cultural contexts. Progressivism becomes an end in itself and the church becomes a mirror of the world.” Observing what is written and practiced today, it is almost as if some think that when the Millennials were born, God erased the word “not” from Romans 12:2!
    I think we all just need to realize that there are many different families within the Family of God and that that is a good thing, something to be embraced, because it causes His kingdom to advance. Many of us may have been raised and nurtured in one “tradition,” but have since moved on to another. We don’t all have to be the same!

  • Jeremy

    Will we ever stop defining ourselves and others according to ‘movements’?

    Seriously, the devil is having a heyday as we argue over man-made labels. The terms ‘fundamentalist, evangelical, reformed, gospel-centred, etc, are meaningless at best. Just drop all labels and follow Jesus. Personal holiness and priorities will work themselves out when we focus on the Lord.

  • Lou Martuneac

    Two days ago (at another site) Dr. Rolland McCune ( made two very helpful observations about what has transpired at NIU. I reproduced them both at my blog and I would like to share with every reader here Dr. McCune’s wisdom and counsel.

    #1) News About Northland and Others:
    Permit an observation or two from a voice from the “old school” re: some of the recent fortunes in Fundamentalism and the predictable responses.

    When one (generic for “the one and the many”) embarks on a noticeable change in the “applications” and not the “policies/philosophy” (IMO a distinction without a real difference) of a Christian institution of whatever sort, reactions soon happen. The usual and immediate result is a division between the old guard and the more progressive individual/group. This occurs early on among alumni and sympathetic community, and is soon followed in the financial community. It also eventually extends to the student body to a degree. Meanwhile the administration assures everyone that “nothing has changed” substantively, we’ve prayed about, discussed it, and the Lord has consequently led.

    And the final culprit in cyber-land and elsewhere is “bad ‘ole narrow-minded, ultra hair-splitting separatist, unloving, unity-destroying” Fundamentalists/ism. Meanwhile the institution flounders and often dies.

    This recent scenario at Northland only replicates what has happened in the past decade or two. Other institutions (churches, schools, mission agencies and Fundamentalism itself) are presently in the same contractions. Some may survive by micro-change administration policies, or may do so by reason of age and accumulated financial resources, or may be merged into larger organizations. Others may try and carry on with a much more “slender apparatus” (Spurgeon’s phrase). In some cases a new institution may arise with the old faith but new (or greatly used) furniture. Unfortunately, in some instances the old institution will simply collapse and die.

    I’ve seen and heard it all before, several times; some of them up close and personal. I commend Maranatha Baptist Bible College for staying the course of the founding fathers’ vision and convictions. It is worthy of emulation.

    Jeremiah 6:16 is still the consummate dictum, abetted by the old adage that “what we really learn from history is …” I know that enrollment and its Siamese twin, finances, weigh heavily on Christian organizations, and there is no magical solution. But tampering, or the perception of tampering, with a goodly heritage, is deadly. (By the bye, the traditional “day of prayer” in schools often focused on financial needs. Only by petitioning the grace and mercy of God could their meager shoe-string budgets be met.)

    • Andrew

      At what site was McCune’s comment made?

  • Lou Martuneac

    #2) In Reply to a Question Dr. McCune replied as follows

    In my mind there should not be a time when practice deviates from principle. I don’t see Christian truth in a binary fashion if both doctrine and duty use the same authority; they should be in sync. I do not wish either to parse philosophy, policy and application. It all boils down to doctrine/principle and duty/application. The one is bound up with the other; they speak with one voice. This is because for the Christian and his God, truth is one and personal. God’s person and His actions and affirmations are co-extensive; He is both veritable and veracious, authentic and faithful, always true to Himself.

    For mankind this translates or comes across in similar fashion. Doctrinal truth and practical truth should not be bifurcated. Truth in application/practice is determined by biblical/doctrinal truth in propositions. If philosophy changes, so does application, and vice versa–if, of course, one wishes to be biblically consistent and use the same authority for both. So I don’t see how there can be “legitimate deviation” in application from a true, biblical philosophy “without improper compromise,” i.e., sinning.

    On a personal note, I am not aware of nor have I encountered charges of “changed application” while maintaining “a facade of remaining true to the policies/philosophies of institutions such as I have served.” However, I make no claim either to omniscience or infallibility. To paraphrase a bit: “your critics you have with you always.”

    My counsel to those who wish to “deviate” in ministry application from agreed-upon biblical, philosophical norms is to change the doctrine/philosophy as best you can in a biblically cosmetic spirit and course of action, and be clear about it. Otherwise withdraw from the position and face the music (i.e., criticism). You are bound to face it if you deviate anyway, so get ahead of the curve and face it honorably and honestly.

  • Isaac

    My suggestion for Northland is to relocate. Move closer to a major city–closest is Milwaukee. This will create more ministry opportunities and students will have more recreational options–what’s there to do in Dunbar? The Milwaukee-Chicago metropolitan area could use a conservative Christian undergraduate school. The only one in the area would be Moody. Or….maybe partner or MERGE with Moody! MBI is theologically conservative, they have a balanced approach to music (they have a sacred music major!), and have good ties with other conservative evangelical institutions. Moody Bible Institute of Milwaukee! I could see this happening!

    NIU, hire me for president! =)

  • Chris Bruno

    Thanks for all of the interaction. I am thankful for all of the positive responses, notes, and emails.

    In response to the critiques, I am glad to acknowledge there was much more that could be said.

    Let me give three quick replies similar to what I said above.
    1) The title is in no way linked to salvation from sin.
    2) The post was intended to tell a story for TGC readers, not make a detailed argument or apologetic for the “gospel-centered” movement. I realize some will interpret the changes differently.
    3) Some of you have read a lot into what I am saying about the old Northland. I have tried to say over and again all the good about it, but we all have to allow room for growth in any institution.

    I have an incredibly busy day heading into a men’s retreat this weekend (its only 6:25 am here in Hawaii), so won’t be able to be active on the comments here.

    Thanks again for all of the comments-I am so glad that this little post has encouraged many at Northland.

    • Daniel Gardner

      Chris, I am unfamiliar with Northland, but I come from a very fundamentalist background. I very much appreciate your obvious ‘humble orthodoxy’ (as Josh Harris would say) in dealing with this subject. I can see God’s grace in what you wrote and can sense your love for your (fundamentalist) brothers.

      As I look back on my life, how I wish I had expressed this same grace toward fellow Christians during the legalistic & judgmental phase of my life.


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  • Justin White

    I visited Northland when deciding which college to attend, and ended up at a very similar (in some ways a “sister”) school in the South. Having grown up in fundamentalism, attended a fundamentalist high school and college, I find the openness and humble attempts toward change that are happening at Northland both encouraging and needed.

    One glaring detail that I remember from choosing a college in the early 2000s from among the “fundamentalist” choices: None of them seemed to put forward a focus on the Gospel as being central to what they do. Each institution that I looked at seemed to be defined by three things: 1) their standards/rules (one school was known for being KJV only, another for allowing hand-holding on campus, etc.), 2) their location, and 3) their fields of study and extracurricular opportunities. Those were the things that were being branded at each institution.

    I believe that one great aspect of these changes at NIU could be that they want to be branded by Gospel centrality. I have read through the previous comments and understand that some are upset about a shift away from previous moral stances. But I would hope that we would all agree that the Gospel must be the foundation of a Christian institution, and everything else that goes on at that institution must flow out of that center.

    That is why I am encouraged by and excited about what I am reading that is happening at NIU. I pray that other schools that are similar begin to ask the same questions. May the Gospel permeate decisions and lives of these places.

    On a side note: it is discouraging to read seeming “attacks” on the author of this post or the decisions happening at NIU. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are endeavoring to follow after Him together, and I would hope that grace would reign in our comments and views. Thank you to those of you who disagree, but do so in a spirit of grace and love.

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  • Ben Guillot

    Only one word: AMEN! To God be the glory!

  • Pete Dixon

    “Can God save a ‘Christian Institution'”…I’m sure that title wouldn’t offend anyone…and I naturally would mean nothing negative in saying that perhaps by changing to agree more with me God might be able to save you…haha

    The first time I read this article I understood it to be saying the school needed to change to be saved (I thought salvation was the Gospel? but I might have Christianity all confused, haha.) Then again I also thought Fundamentalists were snake-handlers, but I googled that and this school, and am assuming I was mistaken! Sorry if non-Christians aren’t supposed to post on these things :/

  • Kathy Wilson

    As I read through these comments, I have not seen any from the perspective that I am coming from and will therefore add my “2 cents”. I was raised near NBBC, now NIU, just across the border in the Upper Peninsula of MI. Northland’s reputation in the community was based much more on their appearance than on the things of the heart or on their character and Christlikeness. We, for years would have loved to have Northland students attend and be involved in ministry in our church. We are a mere 20-25 minutes drive from the campus and theologically very much in agreement. As a graduate of Moody, I really appreciated their willingness to let us serve the city of Chicago in numerous ministries, denominations and situations, all while under the excellent teaching and theology of caring godly professors. My husband and I have served at our church for 16 years now. We are very grateful for Northland and from our perspective, the positive changes that they have made in the last few years. We have been praying unceasingly for them during this difficult time.

  • Becky S

    First, the credentials. :) I was raised fundamentalist. My dad is a fundamentalist pastor and leader in the GARBC. I graduated from a flagship fundy school and minister in a GARB church. While I agree with historical fundamentalism, I wouldn’t consider myself a fundamentalist. But having seen and experienced the wide swath of beliefs and practices within fundamentalism, I am growing both weary and concerned over the sweeping generalizations and misrepresentations that are becoming more prevalent when fundamentalism is discussed in the Evangelical marketplace.

    As it specifically relates to this article, Chris, you seem to be drawing a clear distinction between fundamentalism and gospel-centric ministry, as if where one is present, the other will not be. From my own experiences and from those of others who have commented here, such a universal dichotomy simply doesn’t exist. And to write articles like this potentially spreads half truths to those within broader evangelicalism who know nothing of the school or the things that have occured there over the last several years. It also further divides those gospel-centered, theologically sound fundamentalists (yes, they do exist) from non-fundamentalists who nonetheless hold to the tenets of historical fundamentalism.

    To set up such dichotomies feeds into the “reverse legalism” that is becoming more prevalent within the Reformed resurgence, and as someone who very often finds herself caught between several movements, it’s more than a little tiring.

  • Jim Russell

    Thanks, Chris. Excellent POV

  • Jim Russell
  • paul hadik

    I am a proud graduate of BJA and BJU. My parents worked there for 20 years. I loved every second. My son is finishing his Junior year at NIU. I am loving how much he is loving NIU.

    The rules at BJU are meant to be institutional. Dr. Bob made it clear every year that you could find thorns in any rose and BJ wasn’t perfect and the rules were not meant to be life standards. However, there were some (not all by any account) who stayed there too long or who were spiritually weak and liked being told how to live versus getting deep in Scripture.

    I suppose that is what I like about NIU. My son is being challenged to develop standards that he believes because he has studied the word and come to scriptural based conclusions, while sometimes at BJ we believed what we believed because we had always heard that is what we should believe.

    But for both sides; as many of us follow these arguments from far away (I live on a small island in Micronesia)where issues of dress and translation and music seem so trivial in a world where people are burdened and broken by sin we wonder if, in some circles, we have lost our way by defending practice instead of proclaiming salvation.

  • Jeremy

    Paul said

    “I live on a small island in Micronesia)where issues of dress and translation and music seem so trivial in a world where people are burdened and broken by sin ”

    So much truth here. Thank you

  • jhrussell


    I found this in Luke 9 this morning and wonder if the placement has any divine significance…” I used the KJV in deference to the brethren…


    Who Is the Greatest? //Mt. 18.1-5 • Mk. 9.33-37
    46 ¶ Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. Lk. 22.24
    47 And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him,
    48 and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me: Mt. 10.40 • Lk. 10.16 • Joh. 13.20 for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.

    He That Is Not against Us Is for Us // Mk. 9.38-40
    49 ¶ And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.
    50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.