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“We’re changing. We’re not changing.” Northland’s Statement

Les Ollila

In my opinion, round two from Northland’s public relations attempt is much more clarifying and helpful. The second letter comes from Les Ollila (Chancellor) and is a follow-up to Matt Olson’s (President) open letter which I felt to be unsuccessful at best. In Is Northland Changing? A Chancellor’s Perspective Les Ollila responds with a solid no and yes.

As I said in my previous post, I think that change can be good and, in the case of what I see at NIU, these particular changes are commendable. I claimed that Northland was in a quaqmire because they were trying to say that they were changing while insisting that they weren’t changing. It appears to be political and disingenuous because representing the truth of the situation is very hard. The fact is that they are changing, but they haven’t changed. I argued in my last post that they should just admit it. I am not so deluded as to think that my posts have any kind of influence, but they have certainly listened to some good criticism, because round two gets much closer to the mark.

I would like to make some broad generalizations about ministerial philosophy and specific analysis of the Olson/Ollila letters. There are some people that always read me negatively no matter how I say it, but I hope that most will read this as an attempt to help the discussion going on in these circles.

Proposition #1. Change is not always bad. Sometimes change is good.

Fundamentalists, particularly, have difficulty with this basic reality. As I said in my first critique of Northland’s public relation attempt:

Fundamentalists have so long confused intransigence for steadfastness that they have to resort to announcing change by saying there is no change.

Matt Olson

But change is our calling. We are supposed to change. We are supposed to adjust, adapt, correct, and tweak our philosophy and practice according to, as Ollila said in the article, the light that we currently have. To insist that change is wrong is to confuse intransigence for steadfastness and can only mean that one has embrace a philosophy of pride or ignorance, if not both.

Proposition #2: Change does not necessarily  mean a change of species.

A sheep may change, but it doesn’t mean that it has become a wolf. A caterpillar changes, but not into a snake. It stays what it is essentially. This is Northland’s legitimate claim. Thus, when they say that they have not changed they are trying to say that they are essentially who they have always been. However, you have some extreme fundamentalists crying, “Wolf!” when the sheep has merely knocked off some badly matted, manure-encrusted hair. There’s been a noticeable change, granted, but not in substance. And there is a large fundamentalist demographic that can’t tell wool from matted hair. The communication problem becomes one of trying to say “We have not changed,” while acknowledging, “We have changed.” And because substance is more important, they are more keen to emphasize what they have not changed. Not only that, they’d like to convey that the “adjustments” we “see happening” are consistent with who they have always been in substance.

I’m cool with that. And from my vantage point I can confirm that with my own personal experience. I have long attested that my own personal philosophy was implanted at Northland and I felt frustrated as a graduate that they did not seem to appreciate the product of their influence on the many graduates who went on from Northland to the left fringes of fundamentalism. But as I reflect on it, Northland’s problem has always been in communicating the “We’re changing. We’re not changing” message. This leads me to the third proposition.

Proposition #3: “Adjustments” and “corrections” in both the English language and common experience are changes.

I am personally in favor of plain speech so I could quibble with the fact that Les Ollila goes to great pains to refer to the changes at Northland as “adjustments” and “corrections” instead of changes, but that really is a quibble because he knows and we all know that “adjustments” and “correction” are a gentle way of saying, “We’re changing.”

Les Ollila used the words “adjustments” and “corrections” to describe “what we see happening at Northland” and what we might “perceive as news” which, he says, “really isn’t news at all.” It borders on the silly because there have been two very public letters about “perceived news” that I personally had barely any perception of until I got the letters in the first place.  For most people “adjustments” implies that something was previously maladjusted (at least in the eyes of the adjustor) and “correction” implies that something was previously incorrect. Clearly, these adjustments were worth writing home about, so to speak.

Now, in my mind, what is definitely not news is that at fundamentalist schools there have been some maladjustments and incorrect postures concerning various issues and twenty years ago Northland was certainly among them. Ridiculous applications of separation and insensible views on music were just a few of the things that needed “correcting.” I also knew that Les Ollila was personally unhappy with those incorrect positions. Those maladjustments and incorrect postures have been debilitating to the bible college movement and to the rational and biblical section of fundamentalism in American evangelicalism for years. I agreed with Les Ollila then and applaud him now when he says,

As we have attempted to responsibly adjust the way the vision and philosophy is applied in certain settings at our institution, the foundational principles and historic theological positions to which we have always been committed remain unchanged.  These adjustments reflect our desire to be faithful to a vision and to truth in ways that keep vision and truth in front of a new generation facing new challenges in ministry.(Emphasis mine)

But the adjustments are, indeed, newsworthy for a number of people and they are significant enough that many people, including some like myself who are enthusiastic about the non-changes, see the adjustments and corrections as — here comes the blasphemous, red-letter word that’s creating all kinds of nightmares for them from the unreasonable right — changes.

But it is not irrational to assume that it is also true that “the foundational principles and historic theological positions to which we have always been committed remain unchanged.” And here is where Ollila finds himself in a kerfuffle that is similar to the one he was in twenty years ago when he and Doug McLachlan attempted to make a “healthy corrective” to the fundamentalism of that day. He rightly (in my mind) compares the ballyhoo today to the one that erupted in response to McLachlan’s “Authentic Fundamentalism” twenty years ago.

The problem they are dealing with, however, is that “adjustments” and “corrections” are still changes. Let’s be real. And maybe they are learning as an institution that straight-shooting is better. And the truth comes out. In the previous letter Matt Olson unfortunately gave many people the impression that they were surprised by the backlash. (I must say that I personally think that was an uncharitable interpretation although I do believe he gave reason for people to interpret him that way). Now the Chancellor writes that, though he is saddened, he is “not surprised.” The fact that this comes as no surprise (and he’s speaking the truth here surely) is that he knows that most people perceive “adjustments” and “corrections” to be changes. Because, in fact, they are.

Proposition #4. Mature people are not afraid of changes.

I think that the genius of the follow-up letter is that Les Ollila has the advantage of coming across as a patriarchal gray head that gives the rest of us a smack on the hand for being all atwitter about nothing. He actually makes the best case Northland has done in a long time in claiming that what they are doing now is what they have always been doing and he does it in such a way that fends off simplistic rebuttals. Kudos. Take this, for example:

Throughout Northland’s history we’ve tried to be as biblical as we knew how — given the light the Holy Spirit made available to us at the moment.  Even so, we are human.  We haven’t always done it perfectly, and we’ve made mistakes along the way. But when we’ve been wrong, we’ve made corrections. We will continue to do that as long as we keep maturing in the faith as a team.

In other words, a mark of maturity is the humble recognition that we need to change. Granted, Les Ollila studiously avoids the word “change,” speaking as he is to a fundamentalist constituency that perceives of change to be akin to apostasy, but he says “we’ve made mistakes along the way” and “we’ve made corrections.” The chancellor has given his perspective: maturity is not afraid of change. And, for added good measure, he sagely prophesies more change: “We will continue to do that as long as we keep maturing.”

There was one part of that letter that was particularly poignant to me. Les Ollila said,

Some years ago, Dr. Doug McLachlan and I teamed together to reach out to a group of younger men who were growing increasingly disillusioned with Fundamentalism. We heard their frustrations first hand as we ministered around the country in pastors’ conferences and meetings. It was out of such experiences that Doug’s book Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism was born. God used that book to help encourage many young men to remain committed to the true and biblical essence of historic Fundamentalism. Over the years several hundred of them have come through our graduate program. When Doug published Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism , there were a few who expressed genuine, heartfelt concern. There were also critics who wrongly interpreted the intent of the book and, consequently, assumed Fundamentalism was being compromised. Almost two decades later, the results speak for themselves. Some may doubt those results, but I know of many young men who are now serving in churches or on mission fields or leading ministries—who might otherwise have departed for New Evangelicalism—in part because of what Dr. McLachlan had the courage to say. Though some warned that his book was a departure from historic Fundamentalism, it was in fact a refreshing and healthy corrective to the Fundamentalism of my day. It is my belief that the future will reveal the same to be true of some of the adjustments that Dr. Olson has had the courage to implement under his leadership. Time will prove this out.

I was one of those young men. I listened to Doug McLachlan’s lectures in the classroom before they became part of the simple little book that became “Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism.” I remember people clamoring about the change back then, a change that Les Ollila refers to as “a healthy corrective.” I was part of the first wave of graduates that imbibed that philosophy but went out into a fundamentalism and evangelicalism in which we could not find a home. There was no emerging middle.

I was intimately involved in a decision that Northland made five years ago to withdraw from a conference in which Rick Holland was speaking. I was one of the scheduled speakers and though I was just an independent, local church pastor I had to respond to a flood of inquiries about the rationale behind my decision. The letter I responded to in that post was also sent to Matt Olson and Les Ollila. Their decision-making process at that time was much more complicated than mine because they represented an institution with constituencies. I was mistakenly thought of by them as having been among the many that harshly criticized them at the time for their decision. Since then they have come to realize that I was not a part of that. I stayed out of the public commotion except to explain my own actions because I was navigating new waters for myself at the time. It was, however, a time when graduate was acting along the lines of the culture of his alma mater while the alma mater lagged under the weight of complex relations in an environment that believed that intransigence was biblical steadfastness, a culture hostile to “adjustments.”

Five years later, Rick Holland has been a guest speaker at the alma mater, a very commendable and notable “correction” along with their in-the-main commendable “adjustments” to their music philosophy and other thing. And they are publicly learning how to cope with the expression of these adjustments to a diverse constituency.

Ollila’s more plain speech cuts bait. Detractors will find the evidence that Northland is unapologetically on a trajectory toward compromise. On the other hand, many of us who actually sat under his teaching are smiling. We liked the Chancellor’s perspective twenty years ago and we like it now. And the chancellor did what a chancellor is supposed to do. He backed up the president.

I think Les Ollila made it clear. It no longer seems like a quagmire. It’s a statement:

We’re changing. We’re not changing.

Here’s one former student that is saying, “Bravo!”

65 Responses

  1. Bob…I’m with you!

  2. Happy about the direction. Greatful for Dr. O’s note.

    Straight Ahead!


  3. Bob, we often disagree, but we don’t disagree about wanting plain speech.

    My problem with “we’re changing, we’re not changing” is “were you a hypocrit before, then?” and “if yes, why were you deceiving me then and sending your ministry teams out our way… just to get students under false pretenses?”

    If the current changes represent the long-standing philosophy, then I have to say, I’ve been had for some time with respect to where Northland has been all these years.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Don,

      How have you been had? How have they deceived you?

      Speak plainly.

    • Don,

      But this is exactly the problem with your supposition: change does not have to mean that the previous position was wrong or hypocritical. This is precisely what Dr. Ollila is saying–timeless truths will apply to different situations in different ways. So as culture changes, the specific applications will of needs change. So no hypocrisy, merely continuous adjustment of application to maintain constant application of God’s truth to the present.

      Why must we always fear change so?

    • Don,
      Northland has always endeavored to understand the context in which they minister and to adjust their training of young people to minister in that context. The context for the application of absolute truth and eternal values is temporal. It changes generationally and culturally – and keeps changing. Without adjustments and changes, we, and the truth we hold dear, will be “had” by our culture as time passes. You have not been “had” by Northland. You failed to know and understand that Northland’s desire has always been to clarify God’s position amidst the quagmire of a changing world. This world will have our lunch if we think the intransigence Bob has well defined is steadfastness. The attackers of the faith change their tactics and definitions generationally. When we simply increase the volume of what we said a generation ago, it is the faith and its ministry that will be “had.” There is no hypocrisy here. Rather, a wise and (as I see it) biblical consistency.

      Keep Pursuing,
      Bill Phillips
      Heb. 12:3

  4. Don, Doc O answered your question: “Throughout Northland’s history we’ve tried to be as biblical as we knew how — given the light the Holy Spirit made available to us at the moment. Even so, we are human. We haven’t always done it perfectly, and we’ve made mistakes along the way. But when we’ve been wrong, we’ve made corrections. We will continue to do that as long as we keep maturing in the faith as a team.” They were neither hypocrites nor deceitful.

    At one point, they did their best to be biblical with the knowledge and opportunities they had. Now they are trying their best to be biblical with knowledge and opportunities they currently have. It’s grievous even to see accusations of hypocrisy and sinful deceitfulness being launched. God have mercy on all of us when we (whether as individuals, ministries or institutions) cannot grow and change, seeking to follow Christ and obey His Word, without others questioning our motives for decades back.

  5. Well, folks we are not talking that long ago… these changes are quite drastic and not typical of the Northland I thought I was dealing with just last year. What has shifted culturally in one year or so to legitimize drastic change?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. From an official NIU document the following appears:

    John MacArthur
    We have no institutional ties with Dr. MacArthur. We disagree with his view of church polity, but see value in his writings and in his expository preaching. We disagree with his neo-evangelical associations.”

    NIU disagrees with John MacArthur’s “neo-evangelical associations.” Yet, NIU officials (Olson, Ollila, Horn, McLachlan) arranged and flew to California to meet with John MacArthur, Phil Johnson and Rick Holland. Resulting in establishing “institutional ties” with the invitation to MacArthur’s executive pastor, Rick Holland, to speak in NIU’s chapel to the undergraduates.

    Who changed? It wasn’t MacArthur!


  7. Don and Lou,

    What is the difference between having a man like Holland in your pulpit and using books by MacArthur or other non neofundamentalists?

    Could either of you actually present a consistent case for once? Are you going to reject every school like you have apparently Northland?

    • James,

      I am going to appeal to Don and Lou to not answer this because….

      1. It gets us slightly off track.
      2. There really is a difference between recommending a book and having a man come into speak. I’d challenge any school in the world to prove that they make no distinction between the two. So, though you may not like Don’s and Lou’s reasoning the fact that they claim there is a distinction is not problematic for thoughtful people even in secular environments. I obviously disagree with Don and Lou that having the likes of Rick Holland is a problem; I simply do not want to allow a disrespectful dismissal of a position that was the public position of Northland for many years on the faulty premise that there is no difference in recommending a person’s book and having them speak. Furthermore, I would add that the fact that the speaker was in a chapel (a devotional setting) versus an academic setting renders the claim that there is no distinction between recommending a book and having the man speak even weaker.

  8. Don,
    As a graduate from the early part of this century, let me make this plain. These changes has been in the works for a while. They just moved slowly. The things stated by both Dr Os were no news at all to me because they simply stated things the way they really were when i was there.

    • David, thanks. But that does make my point, I think, because the impression we had out here in the hinterlands was that Northland was a school that espoused the ‘old’ philosophy.

      That’s what bothers me about this line of argumentation… it really speaks to an integrity problem. If this was the philosophy all along, and these changes are consistent with that philosophy, then someone was giving out what amounts to false advertising.

      I would be a lot happier if someone just said, “You know, some of the ways we did things in the past were wrong, so we have decided to change.” It wouldn’t make me agree with the changes, but it would make me more comfortable with the situation.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • Don,
        I can understand and respect that. I guess I misunderstood exactly what you were saying.

  9. That is fine Bob. I don’t want to distract them from the real issue.

  10. Thanks for your great comments Bob. I have had conversations with my dad about all this nonsense since I was in high school and believe me if this was a true “departure”, as it is being treated, I’d have noticed.

  11. Several years ago when we (Positive Action for Christ) had Rick Holland speak at our conference we received pushback from several individuals and institutions (including Northland). It was an eye-opening time for me on many levels.

    I was very disappointed and surprised in the position of my alma mater. I was surprised because their decision to pull Les as a speaker at the conference didn’t seem to jive with what I had heard and witnessed in the ten years I was at Northland.

    What was particularly troubling in the years that followed the critical feedback we received was that those who were concerned enough to call as “friends” and express their disappointment and implore us to not have Rick speak rarely if ever contacted us afterwards…even when we chose to not have another conference beyond that first one.

    I’ve just concluded that regardless of what decisions an institution makes there will always be people who take shots at you, so you might as well speak plainly as you strive to make right decisions.

    I for one am very pleased with this most recent letter from Les Ollila. Having visited with Matt on several occasions I am equally happy with Northland’s renewed emphasis on discipleship and decision to have godly men like Rick and others speak. All of this most recent communication seems much more consistent with the people I knew at Northland.

    • I wonder if the change Olson and Ollia have described is fundamentally about the leadership’s posture toward the school’s constituency(ies). I’m not sure Northland’s ever marketed themselves as the bastion of a particular set of standards or applications, as others have. Northland always (more or less at various points in the last 20 years) seemed a bit different from other schools. But I think we could say that they’ve contextualized themselves to fit the expectations of a particular current in the broad stream of American evangelicalism.

      The leaders seem to be communicating that this form of contextualization will not continue to be their practice as they move forward. Maybe we could think of it as a missionary changing fields from Mexico to Tajikistan. The principles stay the same, but some of the cultural forms or ministry emphases are going to change. Or maybe it’s better to think of this in terms of a church in America adjusting particular applications of biblical principles as the demographic makeup of the surrounding community changes.

      That’s not to say that any or all of the applicational changes are right or wrong, and it doesn’t address all the issues from the past that you and Bob have noted. That’s a separate conversation. And I don’t know if Ollila and Olson would accept this characterization, but it seems plausible, at least to me.

      • Your first paragraph seems to indicate that the motive for this most recent contextualization could be for marketing purposes.

        I would argue that for the most part when we hear the word “constituency” that is synonymous with “market.” Institutions–who generally have a product or service that they are selling–would probably say something more like, a “constituency” is a group of people God has called us to minister to.

        But, what happens when time or change causes such a wide gap in philosophy between you and your constituency that something has to give? What happens if your constituency is too small to support your ministry in terms of dollars? What happens when you see another constituency growing while yours is shrinking and you happen to have more in common with that other constituency?

        Being an idealist, I would wish for an institution to resist the pressure of being shaped by any constituency, but alas they are institutions.

  12. Steven,

    So you are admitting that Dr. Ollila has been heading a certain direction for several years and has just now gone public with his direction? Do you consider this to be ethical given the fact that much of his constituency since your teen years would not have been comfortable with this direction?

    Also, just a suggestion, but referring to the concerns of those who disagree with you as “nonsense” really doesn’t help a conversation.

  13. I hate the word constituency because it gives the impression that someone owes somebody something.

  14. Steven,

    While acknowledging that you hate the word, the term can simply refer to “any body of supporters.”

    However, I wonder if it is unreasonable to think that Dr. Olilla does owe people something. Over many years pastors and parents have promoted Northland to young people that they were influencing. They promoted Northland based on Northland’s public positions and practices. There was an agreement between them and Northland. Northland agreed to provide a service with certain positions and practices intact. Parents paid the school bills and pastors helped too (in various ways).

    Students and parents of students owe money and other realities to Northland. Northland owes them a quality education in the environment that has been advertised.

    Dr. Ollila, Dr. Olson, and all of the Northland family certainly owe much to many people. They owe integrity, transparency, committment, kindness, and the list could go on.

    We are all debtors and we should all be open to examination, especially when we have thousands of supporters and much influence over many churches through the servants we have trained.

    I would be interested in you answering my two questions in my previous comment.

    Thanks for considering and grace to you.

    • 1. I don’t speak for my dad or for NIU so any “answers” that you need or want, for that matter, will not come from me. I was stating what I believe and have observed, so if you want to know MY position I’ll be happy to share.

      • Steven,

        My apologies if I’ve been unclear, but I wasn’t asking you to answer for Dr. Olilla or NIU about anything. My questions related to whether or not you believe that the current position of NIU is one that they were headed in for several years and, if the answer to that is yes, do you believe their way of moving there was ethical.

        I hope you’ll answer that, but if you don’t I definitely want to take you up on your offer of “if you you want to know MY position I’ll be happy to share.”

        Looking what you’ll have to post.


      • In answer to your questions:

        I, and let me stress I, believe that the PHILOSOPHICAL direction NIU is headed is the same direction that it has been since ’83. I also believe that NIU’s pattern of deferrence may have been misinterpreted as “likemindedness” with some other’s direction in PRACTICE. A ridiculous example of this was a time when a pastor told my dad that he wouldnt be supporting NBBC if he didnt hear, from my dad’s mouth, Northland’s OFFICIAL position on Santa Claus. (I wish I were making that up, and, for the record, I have never seen any documentation regarding the kindly old fellow) I believe that this misinterpretation of NIU’s deferrence may be contributing to the FEELING that NIU has “pulled the wool”, so to speak. Now your question regarding the methods. I can say this: I know my dad to be a Godly and trustworthy man. Period. In MY opinion this could have been handled 20 different ways, but the backlash would probably have been the same in each of those 20 scenarios. My experience is that someone will ALWAYS have something to say. Many of you who are pastors probably know better than I that some people simply can not be pleased. No matter what you do they snipe, complain, and criticize, but you, as their loving shepherd, go on doing what you believe in your heart that God wants you to do, and you do it in the most biblical and loving way that you know how.

        Stan, I am sorry this reply took so long. I am in the middle of exam week, but I hope I have answered your questions. I am nobody Stan, just a lowly government teacher who probably shouldn’t even weigh in on these matters.

  15. Shannon, I think we’re seeing what happens.

    Steven, I get where you’re coming from. I think Shannon’s right, and obviously there has to be some level of appeal in an institution to influences and expectations. NIU doesn’t strictly “owe” the pastor of Faith Baptist Church of Oneidesaukewashakee, Wisconsin anything, but if they want him to keep sending a couple students a year, they need to avoid raising his concerns about which way NIU’s toes are pointing.

    I think of it this way as a pastor: If I perceive particular applications of truth that are unhelpful to the congregation, immediate change may not be most helpful to them. They need to be taught, and I need to be patient for God to accomplish the heart change that we all need. In some sense, the congregation is my “constituency.” Changing the application immediately may be stupid, or depending on the issue, it may be necessary. NEVER changing the application probably points to gutlessness or incompetence on my part.

    • I see what you are saying Ben, but from what little I have read between here and sharper iron I dont really get the impression that it is the pastors that send students that are concerned. because as a constituency they seem to be pleased. The ones that seem to be “concerned” are the ones who wouldnt be included in NIU’s cnstituency anyway. Dr. Doran put it much more succinctly on sharper iron, but the point is the same. “Clouds without rain”. Thanks Dr. Doran. well put.

      • I agree with that analysis. I would add, however, that Northland is needing to make new friends because, having catered so long to the extreme right fringe of their constituency (and one can’t deny that they at the very least gave that impression because people like Don are saying that they thought they were essentially alike), they were confusing some of us who really do not want that kind of fundamentalism at all. I think this is going to be a little bumpy for NIU in the short run but they will get a new and expanded constituency. I hope.

      • Steven, I can’t speak for anyone else but me, but let me be clear. We have a small church and have only sent off a handful of students. All of them have gone to BJU, but we would have been happy to send them to Northland up until now. We have never had a BJU ministry team in to promote BJU at our church. We have had two Northland teams in. We have kept Northland literature on our literature tables. I think we have been supportive of the ministry there based on what we knew about it.

        I think it is likely that some students may have ended up at Northland eventually from our ministry. If we had been able to have a larger ministry (not due to lack of effort), we most likely would have sent some by now.

        The reason our young people have tended to head to BJU over Northland is, I suppose, because BJU is my and my wife’s alma mater and we are happy with their ministry. As a result our young people have tended to appreciate our influence (and my own kids had no choice). But be assured that we have promoted Northland as well and would have been happy with such a choice by a young person from our church up till now.

        I say this to debunk Dave’s point. I suppose some of the critics never have and never would have sent students to Northland. But don’t assume that just because that is true of some that it is true of all.

        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

      • Don, You have to do what you think is best for you, your family, and your church. I wish you the best.

      • Jeremy, I think don was talking to me. ha ha But thank you for your perspective.

      • Jeremy, I think that Don was speaking to me ha ha, but thanks for your input. Don, do what you have to do.

      • So Don, does your church support Northland in any way? I’ll assume that you maybe gave a love offering to the traveling team, but aside from that you indicate that you put brochures on a table. Anything else?

        If not, then why should Northland care what you think? Really. Since we’re talking about constituencies I think it’s fair to say that you never were part of theirs to begin with.

        Maybe when the dust settles on all of this it will simply reveal those who were true supporters and those who were lying in wait to throw stones.

  16. Steven, Are you Dr. Ollila’s son?

  17. Jeremy, yes I am his son. By the way, I read some of your comments on sharper iron. You seem angry. My advice, if you care, is to calm down a smidge.

  18. Note to All:

    Here is my opinion of what is in the future for NIU. It has now become much different in philosophy and practice than what it has been known for by reputation. Different from how NBBC official documents once defined its stands on various issues in Christian circles. I think there are many pastors and parents who see what has unfolded, been revealed about NIU’s new alliances and direction and did not sign on for what NIU has become.

    Since NIU is becoming a clone of schools like MacArthur’s Masters why would a young person want to bury him/herself in the Northwood when he/she can get the same in sunny CA and nicer facilities?

    Finally, again IMO we need look no further than the demise of Pillsbury to see what is awaiting Northland. NIU is on the same trajectory as Pillsbury. Just as with Pillsbury NIU’s long time constituency/supporters feel a sense of betrayal and will take their allegiances and young people elsewhere. Same will be true for the Northland’s camp ministry.

    Sad, but that is what I see for NIU.


    • I’m sure I don’t have all the details, but I’m still not seeing actions that warrant the phrase “much different in philosophy and practice.”

      I can tell you from my little side of the pond, that as much as there are many men who see these actions as disappointing and maybe “going too far”, there is a whole other group of up-and-coming men WITHIN Fundamentalism that will welcome some updated thought on what it means to be a Christian today, and how said Christians interact with the world and other Christians who think a little differently than they do.

      I can’t tell the future, but if anything I see NIU becoming a place that “young fundamentalists” will be able to interact with more forthrightly.

      I don’t know what brought about Pillsbury’s demise. But though I know much about Northland and Maranatha, I knew next-to-nothing about Pillsbury. But for NIU to go down to 180 students in even 5 years would require some serious bungling by the administration. Much more bungling (in my opinion) than a name change, a questionable speaker, and 2 letters could ever hope to account for.

  19. Don, you wrote:

    “The reason our young people have tended to head to BJU over Northland is, I suppose, because BJU is my and my wife’s alma mater and we are happy with their ministry.”

    So if we set aside the right/wrong principial issues for a moment and look simply at the pragmatics, then this would make sense for Northland if the alumni like the non-change/change thing. Right?

  20. I’d be interested to know from people like Lou and Don what specific changes Northland has made that cause you to think they have betrayed their constituency?

    Is it that they allow ladies to wear pants? Or, is it that they are teaching the principle of deference as it relates to music instead of having a check list?
    Is it that they had Rick Holland come into speak? Or is it that they are trying a new system of discipleship instead of the demerit system?

    Can someone help me understand what is it that has people accusing Northland of betrayal and predicting their demise?

    • Hi Shannon, I’ll respond to both your questions here… this ‘threaded’ comment system is … ah … interesting.

      You said above:

      If not, then why should Northland care what you think? Really. Since we’re talking about constituencies I think it’s fair to say that you never were part of theirs to begin with.

      Maybe I’m not part of their constituency. But they asked me if their teams could come. It appears they wanted me to be part of their constituency. There are also personal relationships with some of the administration/faculty. I don’t know what to make of it, but even if you judge that I am not part of their constituency, I am pretty sure there are lots of pastors who have been in that category who are of my opinion on these matters.

      I think they do care about that constituency, that’s why the letters were sent out. They are trying to reassure us that nothing is really changing…

      As for what specific changes…

      Surely not pants! I am with them on that. I am somewhat miffed with my alma mater’s wishy washy position on the issue. So lay that one to rest.

      No, it is the invitations to Holland, Ware, and Simien and others (apparently) to speak.

      And I certainly haven’t come to any conclusions about this, but these decisions do leave me very concerned. I am opposed to the decisions themselves and uncertain what I want to say about Northland in the future. Time will tell.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  21. Shannon:

    Do you have a copy of the Northland Baptist Bible College Position Statement on Contemporary Issues in Christianity?

    If you request one from NIU and read it, you’ll have a good handle on the answers to your questions.


  22. In other words, “WE are asking the questions around here”.

  23. Oops. Shannon asked, you complained, so my previous is for both of you.

    • I didn’t complain. I just observed that while you are demanding forthrightness and immediate answers from others, you reserve the right to tell others to, in essence, go figure it out what YOU mean by themselves.

  24. These school leaders should just answer some simple questions.

    Why did you gentlemen buy some airline tickets, book some hotel rooms, and fly to Southern California to meet with John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, Rick Holland, and perhaps some others?

    What was the purpose of this personal meeting?

    What was discussed?

    What was the outcome?

    What was the thinking behind then inviting Rick Holland to speak on your campus?

    Does NIU agree with the Lordship Gospel as articulated and zealously promoted by John MacArthur?

    What is the position of NIU with regard to Reformed Soteriology, Limited Atonement, and the logic of regeneration preceding faith? All are characteristics of MacArthur theology.

    You have met with men holding certain controversial doctrines and involved with schools whose graduates have raised some concerns and divisiveness here on the West coast. You flew all the way out here to Southern California to have a discussion.
    The information and answers requested should not be construed as contentious but only normal considering the duty we all have of Christian transparency in ministry. There should be no duty of confidentiality that should supersede that under these circumstances.

    It should be noted that Doug MacLachlan, Chancellor of Central Baptist Seminary, spoke at the Masters Seminary Chapel recently. It may have been during this visit mentioned above. So perhaps this visit was scheduled for some time.

    • Bob:

      Like I mentioned to you over at SharperIron…if you want these questions answered then just call Dr. Olson and Dr. Ollila. They will talk to you.

      It appears though you really don’t care because you keep posting the same questions with no indication that you have attempted to contact anyone (but the blogosphere) for answers.

      I promise you, even if Dr. Olson or Dr. Ollila were to read your posts they are not going to post on a blog. Give them a call, 715.324.6900.

      • What makes you think I have not called? I have also sent a letter as the call would not be taken.

        I am asking on here so as to get public and clear answers.

        I am 71 years of age, a retired professor of law, a former professor of theology, and a present Pastor. If I can blog why can’t they? Is it beneath them?

      • The reason I didn’t think you called is that you have never drawn attention to the fact that you called and your call would not be taken. Honestly, either you didn’t call the right place or flat out didn’t try…I know both of these men well and have conversed with Matt Olson in depth over these issues. I don’t think he would talk to one person and not another.

        And to the point of why they can’t blog? Well I don’t think it is an issue of if they can or not, but it is an issue of stewardship for them. What little free time they have I am guessing that they have better things to do then to cruise the internet looking for people to respond to. It is not their obligation.

      • G.A. Dietrich,

        You clearly are the apologist for NIU and you spin well, but I sympathize with Bob T.’s point. It is ironic that NIU does want to cast its image as cutting edge missiologically, for example, but that the leadership gives the impression that they are hostile toward blogging. In fact, they’ve verbalized it. But it’s the culture and a school that prides itself on missions should know that.

        You don’t mean it this way, but your passionate defense of the institution comes across as an old-school fundamentalist foot soldier loyally fighting for his ivory-tower protected heroes while demanding an unreasonable requirement to the challengers and treating the challengers as if they are the ones who are unreasonable.

        You sanctimoniously insist that every critic call your leaders. Seriously?

        You don’t know this, but if you were to line up one hundred pastors, ninety of them would say that NIU is notoriously bad at returning phone calls. This may be being rectified over the past two years or so, but it is a long-standing assumption that NIU is bad at communication. I get around outside the bubble, my friend.

        As to blogging. The NIU leadership may do what they want, but I don’t think it helps for you to suggest that it’s because they are better stewards than others who do blog. There are lots of leaders who blog and interact on blogs, including president of seminary and pastor Dave Doran. We all appreciate his stewardship of time.

        I don’t think that they should blog if they don’t want to, but I think that some guys like you need to realize that the real friends of NIU aren’t the lemmings, but the pastors and alumni who live all the time with the real reputation of the school and earnestly desire its success versus the inside-the-bubble-self-affirming support group that live in the Northland community.

        Real leaders listen to their critics and surround themselves with people who are going to give them the harsh reality. You can spin all you want for the leadership there, but in the end you have to accept the fact that most of us think they put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us and none of us lives life thinking that the world owes us a personal phone call when we make very public statements.

        Having said that, I have interacted with Matt Olson about these things and will continue the conversation. It has been pointed, gracious, and blunt. And friendly. I love the man! I am more enthused about his leadership now than I have ever been and I am more excited about NIU than ever before. I don’t doubt either Matt’s or Les’ sincerity, spirituality, or courage.

        But if I were in their office I’d say that since they made such a public announcement via the internet and a huge blog about going to the Master’s Seminary that they should field the questions in the same venue that they made the announcement. It’s a common sense thing that everybody can see except those who are in the NIU community. Missiologically speaking it makes sense to adapt to the new culture.

        But whatever they do, I’m still going to be a friend of the institution and of the men who lead it. I think this is all a very good trend and if the self-appointed defenders would quit moralizing the critics and hyperventilating because their champions are not being pedastalized the whole process would move on much more efficiently. And it would be better PR for Northland.

      • Bob B:

        You have done well to put words into my mouth and misinterpret what I have written. I’m not sure what you see as spin here, I am simply trying to redirect some of the rant that I read. My point and purpose is to say go to the source, go to the source, go to the source. Instead of speculating and ranting, if you want answers you go to where you can get those answers. I know that you of all people know this and have done this.

        You asked “You sanctimoniously insist that every critic call your leaders. Seriously?” Well I would say that if you take an issue with them, public or private, and have questions then yes. I merely responded to Bob T. on here because he virtually did a cut and paste from his SI post.

        I am well outside the bubble myself, while I am also in the “bubble.” I’m not sure where your 90% comes from with failed communication but I would guess there is nothing scientific to that number. A lack of communication is one thing, but to make up statistics is another.

        Can you point to where I said that the NIU leadership were better stewards because they are not on the blogs? I think you have read well beyond what I said. Notice that I am on the blogs and for me it is not an issue of stewardship, I have the time.

        At the end of the day I don’t feel I am spinning anything. You say I am but give it to me specifically.

        Again, the point is to communicate the idea that an email or a phone to people (anyone you have questions with, not just this NIU situation) is better than a rant on any blog. This is not a “I support this person or I support that person” kind of thing for me. You have done the right thing by interacting directly with individuals and that is what I am merely trying to point other people to do and to set the expectation that you probably won’t get any answers, especially from Matt Olson or Les Ollila by asking them on a blog.

        To my knowledge NIU did not in themselves directly make any announcement through any blog, they don’t have a blog. An email that was sent to the NIU constituency and was copied and pasted into someone else’s blog. They did not do this, it was taken from them and done. Whether it was done by permission or not is not known to me. Now, it was an open letter which does invite a response from those that wish to respond, either publicly or privately. However, I don’t know that it warrants a public response every time.

        I am a friend of the institution just like you, this is obvious through what you read. I would just rather see people be responsible verses reactionary and gracious instead of malicious.

        Thanks for the conversation.

      • G. A. Dietrich

        I apologize for coming across harsher than I intended or even feel for that matter. I did say, however, that you “you don’t mean it this way, but….” And, I acknowledge that I did say you “sanctimoniously” insist that critics call the school. But I’ve seen you do that on several blogs.

        Obviously, I have no scientific evidence about the 90 percent. That was obvious hyperbole. Reputation is never a scientific thing. But I’ve been in ministry almost twenty years and in literally hundreds of churches so you can dismiss what I have observed if you want. Sometimes reputations aren’t fair. People only see one side (i.e. I know of plenty of people who have sized me up a certain way that is not fair), and it sometimes takes a long time to live down a reputation. NIU has to intensify it’s communication efforts because some people feel betrayed. It’s a simple as that.

        Plus, it’s unfair to the leaders to make everybody call them. There’s no way they can answer everybody’s call and then when they don’t they’ll get criticized for snubbing. I’m just saying it’s bad advice. Nobody wins.

        If guys like you who say that they talk with the leaders all the time would start articulating the NIU perspective a lot more it would help everybody out. Communication, said Hesselgrave, is the missionary problem par excellence.

        It’s NIU’s problem. The two letters just began to address it; they need to keep it up.

  25. Yesterday I saw Chris Wallace interview Justice Breyer of the US Supremes. He is a liberal justice who holds to the Roscoe Pound social Jurisprudence philosophy. When asked some specific questions he pulled out a copy of the Constitution in booklet form and said he holds to the values that are there by the founding fathers but the issue is the application of the values. Of course he does not hold to interpreting the constitution according to original intent. However, his explanation gives the impression he does but the problem is application.

    Does not the above look familiar? I come on here and see a letter from a person of good reputation and well respected that is saying the values at NIU are unchanged only the application is changing. Well, thats part of how a change in principles or values processes. So what is it that has changed and why?

  26. This whole discussion is why many of us are not willing to even try to hold on to the name “fundamentalist.” It is a waste of time and effort.

    I knew Les Olila over 25 years ago (he wouldn’t remember me, I was an unimportant college kid), and it was clear then that, although clearly a fundamentalist, he was not like the other guys who “espoused the ‘old’ philosophy.”

    17 or 18 years ago the Northland crew put out the “Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism” book. That also made it clear that these guys weren’t holding to every tic of the “old” philosophy.

    No doubt they were trying to keep their feet (or at least a foot) in the “old” pond (which I don’t understand). We sometimes called them BJU North. However, they were clearly trying to make some changes.

    Another name that some of us took to calling them was the “Happy Fundamentalists” to distinguish them from the . . . well you know.

    Now, some of you “old philosophy” guys can debate ’till kingdom come (actually, till the not yet becomes the completely already) whether the changes they were trying to make were good or bad. However, you had to be asleep to think that this was the party of the status quo.

  27. To clarify — 25 years ago I was an unimportant college kid, but I wasn’t enrolled at NBBC.

  28. Am I the only one who can smell “the slippery slope” argument dripping off of Bob T’s post? I for one can see the day when some of these guys seperate themselves right out of the real world and into a world where they can only cooperate with themselves.

    • You’re really not that threatened are you? Or is it just an inability to handle issues factually without attacking others? Who are “these guys” you mention? Anyone who asks questions?

      I have not mentioned anything about separation or action of any kind. I have requested information. They call it discovery. You seek to discover all the facts and intents involved.

  29. Not threatened at all bob. Not at all. “these guys” are the guys that ask questions to cause division not to get information. Do you want information or do you just want attention? If you are so interested in information why don’t you go talk to Dr. Ollila and Dr. Olson yourself and report your findings? We’d all be interested to see what you find out. Or are you hoping, just hoping that one of them will respond to you just so you can be the guy that found sasquatch

  30. “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1st Tim. 1:15)

    With this truth about me at the absolute forefront of my mind I offer this observation: “I thank God that I baptized none of you…” (1st Cor 1:14).

    The majority of this dialog is so…SO…SAD – from Dr. Olson’s letter to now it leaves me more and more breathless. I don’t see this kind of tenor either in terms of spirit or content or position in the things written or preached by the brethren at the Niagara Bible Conferences.

    May we exalt Christ; preach Him crucified and risen from the dead to the glory of God; and expend at least as much energy on reaching the lost as we do on these sorts of things.

  31. John, I agree with most of what you are saying and yes some of these posts have been discouraging to read, but I believe that many of us have condoned, by our silence, the actions of these types of men. These men who will cry out against john McArthur and anyone associated with him, but have no problem joining hands with the heretiçal kjvo crowd. The men who rape the Bible by forcing intimacy between it and their positions. And when someone finally has enough and calls them out, they get bailed out by someone with great intentions who is trying to keep the peace. Well some battles are worth fighting and I think that when these men bring accusations and insinuations into the public arena they should be challenged in that same arena.

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