Friday, March 29, 2013

Is NIU fundamental?

“Blunt discussions of faults are not the same as attacks. I know that you believe this—you advertise your own blog as “fundamentalism by blunt instrument.” You’re certainly not afraid of tackling issues and naming names, even to the point of telling parents and pastors (bluntly!) ‘Don’t send your kids to Northland.’ While I know that decisions of Northland International University have provoked controversy, I don’t think that anyone has decided that that NIU is no longer a fundamentalist institution—and I don’t believe that you perceive yourself as attacking them.”

The above is a paragraph by Dr. Kevin Bauder in a posting over at SI (it can be found here). I do wish to look at what Dr. Bauder brings up, and that is, Is NIU still a fundamentalist institution? Now, just because someone claims to be a fundamentalist (or anything else for that matter) doesn’t make them a fundamentalist (or whatever they are claiming). Putting on a façade doesn’t make the case either, any more than someone living in a garage, decorating themselves with auto parts makes them a Buick.

So let’s look at what has placed NIU into this controversy. You can find plenty of material at Lou Martuneac’s blog, In Defense of the Gospel (found here). Don Johnson at his blog, An Oxgoad, eh (here), and at the FBFI’s blog Proclaim & Defend (here) has also addressed some the NIU controversy. I too have touched on this controversy (here).

I wish to list here some things that have occurred at NIU over the past 2 ½ years (which are addressed in more detail in various blog articles at the sites mentioned above) to consider for the above mentioned question.

Ø  October 2010 Rick Holland speaks at chapel at NIU (Rick Holland at the time was on staff at John MacArthur’s church and was the leader of the Resolved Conference which was a rock concert with a spiritual emphasis put on by MacArthur’s church. It seems to have died with last year’s conference).

Ø  November 2010 Wayne Simien, former NBA star speaks in chapel as a result of a NIU student interning at Simien’s sport camp in KS. This sports camp is non-denominational and includes dance camp for girls.

Ø  Fall of 2010 Dr. Wynne Kimbrough, dean of students, and a few students do a song from the Broadway musical, Wicked, in chapel.

Ø  Summer 2011 Dr. Bruce Ware from Southern Seminary is in for a block course to the D.Min. students. Dr. Bruce Ware espouses progressive dispensationalism.

Ø  July 2012 Dr. Matt Olson attends an SGM (sovereign grace ministries) church in Philadelphia, and on his blog site publicly commends this church, the NIU alumni who attend and specifically, Greg Dietrich, who is on staff with NIU and attending this church

Ø  December 2012 Matt Olson attends Rick Holland’s new ministry, a church in the Kansas City area. Commending Rick Holland on the services, especially a concert on Saturday night (according to the church’s website’s calendar the only concert was an Enfield concert; Enfield is the Christian rock band out of John MacArthur’s church that was the music driving the Resolved Conferences that Holland oversaw)

Ø  February 2013 Matt Olson and about 40 students attend the I am redeemed CCM concert in Oshkosh to recruit students for NIU

All this begs the question; is this demonstrative of a fundamentalist institution? Do fundamentalists recruit students at rock concerts? Do fundamentalists attend evangelical churches and charismatic churches and promote both? Do fundamentalists have evangelicals preach in their chapels? Do fundamentalists promote camps that teach our daughters to dance? Do fundamentalists reproduce Broadway musicals in chapel, even if done in parody?

Personally, to answer the above questions, I give an unequivocal, NO! Some may argue that NIU still has a fundamental orthodoxy and that is true. However, from our orthodoxy flows our orthopraxis and orthopathy. Dr. Matt Olson has started to introduce a different –praxis (heteropraxis?) and –pathy (heteropathy?), ones that are at odds with the orthodoxy. This tension will have to be relieved. Either the –praxis and –pathy will revert or the –doxy will change as well.

Now certainly Dr. Matt Olson and the trustees of NIU are entitled to move the institution in any direction which they desire but with that change may they also be men of integrity enough to say they are changing direction and abandoning their previous position. Dr. Olson has yet to answer the questions surrounding the promotion of a charismatic church in direct contradiction to their stated position against charismaticism. What Dr. Matt Olson has initiated over the past 2 ½ years is clearly a direction change. Just talk to any alumni or former student who was last a student prior to the above mentioned events and you will find them saying things such as, “that was never allowed when I went there.” We are hiding our heads in the sand if we try to say that nothing is changing at NIU.

Change can be good. I’m not against change. I’m 51 years old, my first dress clothes date back to the mid 70’s…change is good. Change can also be bad. I would argue that the direction change that Dr. Matt Olson has taken NIU is not a good direction. He has put in motion a change that will lead NIU squarely into evangelicalism.

For those who always wish to bring up the perennial question, have you contacted Dr. Matt Olson? Yes, I have, on numerous occasions starting back in the fall of 2010 after he had Rick Holland and Wayne Simien. I was summarily dismissed. Dr. Matt Olson was not in the least bit concerned over my concerns and was not at all troubled if the school lost our constituency. Now, I have mentioned this at times in comments elsewhere, that all of this at NIU has a direct bearing on my ministry. There have been four students from our church go to NBBC/NIU. Three have graduated; one is out working right now. One of those graduates worked for over 10 years on campus. That person did not renew their contract for the 2011/2012 school year for the very concerns mentioned above that had occurred up to that point in time. So, yes, this is indeed impacting me, though I have never been on the campus. As a church we have severed having any ties with NIU. They are no longer on our list of recommended colleges for our young person or anyone. This is not fun. This grieves me very much. Thankfully our church family is united in this. We haven’t left NIU. NIU has left us.

Addendum: NIU just introduced their latest recruiting tool: Redeemed, a rock band (the link is here) Here is also a link to a video presentation of this group here
So, another question, does a fundamentalist institution use a rock band for recruiting students? Answer: NO! Northland has left the station that was once fundamentalism and has arrived at a new station, which is an old station, called evangelicalism. Clearly NIU is not where it once was, a tragedy, truly a tragedy.

See also: Removing the question mark, we're evangelical


Gary said...


Thanks for this perceptive article. You nailed it!! Contrary to Matt Olson's assertions, the school has made a major trajectory change in several, associations, practices, and so forth. Changes in doctrinal matters will be next, if that hasn't already begun. They are already accommodating speakers who promote Reformed Theology. Sadly, history tells us that once such changes occur, institutions or churches never return. I am afraid that our only recourse is to write Ichabod on the epitaph of this once Fundamental institution.

Brian said...

Thanks for stopping by and posting, Gary. It is tragic what we are seeing unfold at NIU. Even sadder is the drone of applause by so many who claim the fundamentalist moniker at what is taking place there.

Jon Gleason said...

Good article, Brian.

"Dr. Matt Olson has started to introduce a different –praxis (heteropraxis?) and –pathy (heteropathy?), ones that are at odds with the orthodoxy. This tension will have to be relieved. Either the –praxis and –pathy will revert or the –doxy will change as well."

That pretty well sums it up. Formally, the doctrine will remain orthodox, but effectually, it will change in emphasis.

But some will insist there is no change, or that the changes are good. And ten years from now, Northland will be no different from Moody or Liberty or Biola, and those people will still tell us it is "fundamentalist."

Maybe they are right that Northland isn't drifting from fundamentalism. Maybe it is fundamentalism that has drifted from its moorings.

Lou Martuneac said...

"We haven’t left NIU. NIU has left us."

Who moved? Exactly. Thanks for contributing your perspective. Lord willing, the undecided have seen enough. Benefit of the doubt is no longer given.


Brian said...

Thanks Jon and Lou, for coming by and posting.
Jon, I would say that as far as who is moving, yes, there are segments of fundamentalism that are moving/have moved. You have the fringe right who have moved and you have the fringe left who have moved. I would argue that this has been an ongoing movement within fundamentalism. Fundamentalism/Christianity has always seen those who desire movement toward something else for one reason or another.
I note that NIU has moved because the fundamentalism that I and my church espouse has not changed. The positions this church held with the first young person went to NBBC are still the positions of this church; ones which were either in agreement with NBBC or compatible with NBBC. That is not the case now, sadly.
We do have history on our side as you note other institutions who have gone down this similar path. Oh, to learn from history and not repeat the mistakes!

Brian said...

As if what's been presented is not enough, just visit the NIU website and scroll down to the April 2 announcement of their rock band, Redeemed, and look over the band's schedule for this semester. See any fundamentalist churches in the list? Answer: NO. Stop pretending that Matt Olson and NIU are really fundamental and just "going through a stage." They have left fundamentalism, and there's no indication they are coming back.

Brian said...

To Anonymous who submitted a comment:
First, discuss the issues at hand in the article. And second, put your name on the comment. The anonymous option is for those who cannot comment using any of the other options, so you are to put your name on the comment and own up to your words.
Address specifics in the article with which you take issue and do it without name calling, innuendos, feigned piety, etc., etc., and your comment will see the daylight, otherwise they will be trashed.
I will address on thing you mention, I more than anyone else on this planet know whether or not I grieve my Heavenly Father with the words I say, the articles I publish, and the actions I perform, since He resides in me every moment of every day since I first trusted in Christ in 1974. I have immediate "feedback" just as you do if you too are a believer.

Andy said...

Lou Martuniac's latest artice on NIU shines a spotlight on the reasons behind all the changes! Northland from its very beginning was never the bastion of fundamentalism we were led to believe it was for many many years. You can read it here:

Those of us who have taken a beating for warning about the changes at NIU for the last 3 years deserve an apology. Sadly, the facts have proven us to be right all along.

Brian said...

I will post a two part comment. First,
I thank you for stopping by and commenting. I am aware of Lou’s article and I will comment further here on Don Sailer in general.

“This movement out of the fringe and back into historic, fundamentalist Christianity is a breath of fresh air. I know, because as the grandson of the founder of Northland, I took this step in the early 80s. Sure, Northland's leadership at the time called me names, such as "new evangelical." But I knew that I was actually walking down the path of historic fundamentalism. More importantly, I knew I was obeying God and no longer calling "unclean" what God had called "clean." It wasn't that hard of a step because the Patz family was never in the camp that Harold Patz led Northland into. BJU style fundamentalism was not our history as a family! And separating from Billy Graham was unheard of.”

This is part of Don Sailer’s comment that I wish to focus on as we consider NIU and its direction. Don S has repeatedly and in several venues said this, that NIU was really just going back to what the early Patz family really were. Now I can’t speak for or about the Patz family because I don’t know them or their detailed history. I only know what has been on NIU website concerning their history. Now with that said, I do want to address some things. Don S. has stated that he took the step of departure in the early 80’s. Dr. Les Ollila came to NBBC in 1982. Don S states that in the early 80’s he departed NBBC’s then stated position. Now, this begs the question, if the Patz family really wasn’t all that “fundamental” to begin with and Les Ollila came from a not so “fundamental” organization to be president, just what did Don S leave that would cause some at NBBC to call him “new evangelical” as he claims? One would think that IF Dr. Les Ollila quickly and forcefully changed the direction of NBBC to a strong, militant fundamentalism that the Patz family would have been up in arms and Les would have been out on his ear. And I say quickly and forcefully since Doc O came in 1982 and this Don S took his step of departure in the early 80’s.
Also interesting is that Don S lays this shift at NBBC at the feet of his uncle Harold Patz when he states, “It wasn't that hard of a step because the Patz family was never in the camp that Harold Patz led Northland into. BJU style fundamentalism was not our history as a family!” Yet this same Harold Patz is right there with Matt Olson with this direction change (here is a video on NIU’s YouTube page; the date is Feb. 18, 2013. Here is the video). As Harold Patz testifies, he has been a part of both the camp and the college since their early days.

Brian said...

Now part two,
I say all this because this seems to indicate some inconsistencies with Don Sailer’s comments, at least to me.
These are from Matt Olson’s blog site;
Now, is Don Sailer also stating that some of the Patz family who were of “BJU style fundamentalism” are now coming to the same conclusion he did back in the early 80’s and what others of the Patz family were all along?
I’m sorry, I am a bit skeptical about Don Sailer all of a sudden appearing on the scene with his statements about NIU. Especially since he has himself stated that he’s not had much interaction with NIU since he left.
Here’s some of his statements left at SI;
I am not an insider.
I am not well-connected to the leaders at Northland.
I have never spoken with Matt Olson.
I did not disdain BJU style fundamentalism.
I don’t have insider information from the leaders of Northland.

I am a grandson of the founder.
I do know what the Patz family believed about fellowship and unity with other denominations.
I do know that Northland was a reflection of Harold Patz’s beliefs and not those of the family in general.
I am hopeful with regard to Northland's "reconnecting" with alumni.

All this would lead me to also ask, has Harold Patz made amends with Don Sailer? Since, Harold Patz was the man instrumental in initially changing the direction of NBBC, presumably with Dr. Ollila coming on as president, and was there when Don Sailer was labeled “new evangelical” and now this same Harold Patz is onboard with the direction change of NIU under Matt Olson; it would now be understandable for amends to be made between uncle and nephew.

Jon Gleason said...

Brian, Don Sailer is, I am sure, very committed to the Lord in many ways. He is also, and has been for years, militantly anti-separatist, and his version of fundamentalist / evangelical history over the last 100 years is, shall we say, different.

In this case, I don't think we should put much credence in what he says. An institution is going the way he wants it to. He's got some historical family connection to it. This is his opportunity to draw attention to himself and his own militant anti-separation agenda.

I don't think he has inside info as to what is happening at Northland. I don't think he is any more knowledgeable about what the real decision makers are doing there than, say, Mike Harding or Don Johnson or you. It's just it is going the way he likes, and he's got a family connection, and he's playing it for all he's worth.

My opinion, only, and I could be wrong. But I see nothing substantive that says to me, "This guy knows what NIU is trying to do."

More likely, NO ONE knows what NIU is trying to do. To post stuff, then take it down, over and over again, smacks of one of two things: Either blatant dishonesty or great internal confusion / differing visions and philosophies.

The most charitable interpretation, and in fact to me the most likely one, is not that there is a blatant desire to deceive, but that there are two views in tension internally at NIU. Someone wants the school to put on a very new face. Someone else doesn't want that, or at least wants it to move slowly. They are trying to figure it out and making themselves look dishonest in the process.

And I don't think Don Sailer knows any more about it than anyone else.

I could be wrong, of course. It's happened before.

Lou Martuneac said...


This is an excellent article: documented and precise.

Like you I contacted Dr. Olson very early on in my research on the changes at NIU. I actually sent him the first major article in 2010 seven days in advance of its publication for his personal review. I received one reply in which he suggested (unnamed) factual inaccuracies. I immediately offered to edit and revise any items that he could show me were inaccurate, but he never responded. Recent emails to his attention have gone unanswered. So much for those who ask if we have contacted Dr. Olson.

Btw, I have heard from other pastors who like you were brushed aside by Matt Olson personally when they contacted him.


Lou Martuneac said...

I should mention that Chris Anderson is the pastor of Tri-County Bible Church, in Madison, Ohio. He operated his My Two Cents blog, which he is closing in favor of a new blog. The irony here is that while Chris produces what I would liken to conservative music he is in involved himself in a CCM/Rock type event, with Matt Olson in the example I gave above. Mixed message?


Brian said...

Jon, I agree with your thoughts on Don Sailer.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting to both of you, Jon and Lou.

Lou Martuneac said...


You wrote, "Either blatant dishonesty or great internal confusion / differing visions and philosophies."

My sources (plural) confirm the latter, but there has been some dishonesty along the way. Those who have a differing vision for NIU have likely come to realize their protests are futile. The Day of Prayer CCM fiasco and the Redeemed CCM video confirmed for any who had hope that Matt Olson will not relent or repent, and therefore these will be leaving as many others have already.


Lou Martuneac said...


December 2012 Matt Olson attends Rick Holland's new ministry, a church in the Kansas City area.”

Rick Holland was the founder and executive director of Resolved. Matt being at Holland’s church was essentially returning a favor with his (Olson) having hosted Rick Holland at NIU in October 2010. Rick Holland speaking in NIU’s chapel was the result of the trip that Olson, Ollila, Horn and McLachlan took to CA to meet with John MacArthur, Phil Johnson and Rick Holland.

I did not hear about the KC event. I was, however, contacted by a man in
Colorado about the 2013 Rocky Mountain Baptist Youth Conference in which Matt Olson and Chris Anderson were the keynote speakers. This man was at the event, so I was being given firsthand eyewitness information. He told me that during the worship time a sizeable number of young attendees walked out because of the CCM/Rock music that as being played. He wrote to me,

I saw several people leave once the Worship Team started to lead singing on Thursday night. Some of the staff from Tri-City Baptist told me that others were offended and left. I couldn't tell you how many. I was also told that the youth pastor from Tri-City Baptist is planning on sending letters of apology to participating churches for the worship team's music.


Brian said...

To Benjamin, your comment will not be posted. Please, try addressing the issues presented and stop the patronizing tone in order to avoid the actual problems being discussed.