The Dilemma of Dr. Pahl, Part II: Balancing the Doctrinal Statement

This is part two of a three-part essay, addressing philosophical and academic problems with the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Dr. Michael Pahl.

At the beginning of this school year, Dr. Michael Pahl was relieved of his teaching duties  at Cedarville University. The administration cited Dr. Pahl’s inability to fully agree with “each and every position of Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement.” 

While doctrinal disagreement would be a good reason to terminate a professor from a school like Cedarville, augmenting and reinterpreting the doctrinal guidelines to exclude an admittedly orthodox position for the “best interests of its constituency” tips a crucial balance between academic freedom and the proliferation of a specific theological point of view.

If you haven’t already read it, please board my train of thought with Part One. The thoughts that begin Part II follow directly from the end of Part I.

Part II: Balancing the Doctrinal Statement

The balance between correct presuppositions and academic freedom is very delicate. If a university controls not just their basic theological starting point, but also begins to dictate acceptable views (and methods of defending those views), the ideal of liberal arts education will eventually cease to exist.

I believe Cedarville is facing this danger in the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Michael Pahl. While (for legal reasons) the details of Dr. Pahl’s dismissal aren’t public knowledge, there are still reasons to be concerned. The official statement reads:

…he is unable to concur fully with each and every position of Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement…

but also reads:

…Dr. Pahl’s orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel are not in question, nor is his commitment to Scripture’s inspiration, authority and infallibility…

By using these words, the administration admits that the doctrinal statement does not define the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. This admittance keeps Cedarville from becoming a cult.

This is good.

However, the administration explicitly labels Dr. Pahl as orthodox, while noting that he cannot concur fully with the doctrinal statement. This would imply that there are parts of Christian orthodoxy which Cedarville’s administration is not willing to explore.

More disturbing is the fact that by all accounts (except the official one), Dr. Pahl does not disagree with the doctrinal statement. The doctrinal statement states:

 “We believe in the literal 6-day account of creation, that the creation of man lies in the special, immediate, and formative acts of God and not from previously existing forms of life.

Dr. Pahl assents to all of those doctrinal positions as they are presented. If you doubt this, read Dr. Pahl’s recent blog post regarding his views on origins. He clearly states, as the doctrinal statement requires:

God created all things—God himself and not merely some impersonal forces or natural laws.

Dr. Pahl’s other statements in that post about the exact time and exact method of creation are not inconsistent with the doctrinal statement, as it stands.*

In this article, Christianity Today cites additional information:

“I hold to a historical Adam and Eve, though not on exegetical grounds,” Pahl wrote in his defense to trustees, which CT obtained. “My reasons are more theological in nature….” Later, when explaining his take on Paul’s use of Adam and Genesis, Pahl stated, “Once again we are in an area of academic freedom as the doctrinal statement does not mandate specific exegesis of specific biblical passages.”

The only evidence of disagreement between Cedarville and Michael Pahl comes in an unpublished, not-officially-available theological “white paper” written by the administration of Cedarville University. One sentences in this lopsided, awkwardly written addendum to the doctrinal statement stands out:

As stated by Wayne Grudem, in relation to Genesis 2:23: “these texts are so explicit that it would be very difficult for someone to hold the complete truthfulness of Scripture and still hold that human beings are the result of a long evolutionary process.”

If the administration takes the estimable Grudem’s word as law, and if this white paper is circuitously applied, this statement could be construed to mean that “anyone who does not interpret Genesis 2:23 as an explicit argument for the historicity of Adam and Eve cannot concur fully with the doctrinal statement.” Then and only then could Dr. Pahl have been in disagreement with the University’s stated (but unpublished) doctrinal standards. (see my note at the bottom for more information)

At this point, let us evaluate where this train has taken us. If Dr. Pahl was indeed removed for disagreeing with the doctrinal positions of the University, that means that Cedarville can hold its faculty responsible for:

What they believe…

…about an interpretation

…of one theologian’s opinion

…about the proper exegesis

…of one passage of scripture

…and why.

I don’t think it’s inappropriate to call these expectations ridiculous, even supposing that the entire faculty knew about the white paper that includes these dubious stipulations. According to this piece by Dr. Cornman, Academic Vice-President, “the elements of the white papers are all either explicit or implicit in the doctrinal statement.” Whether or not the elements of the papers are implicit in the doctrinal statement, it certainly does not seem like the intended application of the elements of the white papers are at all implicit in the doctrinal statement.

If they were, no white papers would be necessary.

*Addendum: Dr. Pahl agrees with CU’s doctrinal statement if faculty are expected to affirm it in a normal way. It was widely believed (and even presumably repeated to Dr. Pahl at the time of his hiring) that that the doctrinal statement was in need of revision and update, and that Cedarville no longer mandated an unquestioning and utter adherence to each and every phrase therein. After all, it is blatantly obvious that there would be few people within the Cedarville community, including administration and trustees, who would unquestioningly and utterly agree with each and every phrase of other portions of the doctrinal statement (and white papers) in the way Dr. Pahl was expected to unquestioningly and utterly agree with every facet of the white paper on Creation and the somewhat foggy implications of  point #4 of the doctrinal statement.

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