Fundamentalist U by Adam Laats

“…an evangelical Christian community of disciples and scholars who seek to advance the work of God…”

“...a University that fosters wisdom, faith and service through excellent academic programs within a Christ-centered community.”

“...liberal arts community serving God's kingdom by cultivating thoughtful scholars...”

These are just a few snippets from some school mission statements I have worked for in my career. They are heavy and quite wordy, but they all say the same thing: the Christian faith is the foundation of our school. Writing a verbose mission statement is one thing, executing your mission statement is an entirely different thing. Why is it so difficult? Simply put, Christian institutions have a hard time defining what “Christian faith” means.

Fundamentalist U by Adam Laats is a unifying work on disunity. Christian universities were mainly built on a foundation of disagreements, be it a disagreement with a specific doctrine, a disagreement with modern education, or a disagreement on the direction of American culture. The heart of Christian higher education is built upon a sense of rebellion. As whole, the history of Christian higher education has been better defined by it antagonistic ideals than it Christian ideals

Laats layouts the rocky history of fundamentalist schools such a Bob Jones University, Moody Bible Institute, Biola University and the like. Each school faced a near continuous line of criticisms from students, alumni, donors, church leaders, faculty and even other administrators. With every criticism, schools had to double down on their holy image.

Administrators condemned alcohol, sex, dancing, playing cards, going to the movies, and (at many times) thinking independently. As society shifted and culture changed, Christian schools were slow to change. Their rebellious nature taught them to only to be reactive and never proactive.

I have lived and breathed Christian higher education for over a decade and half now. I am in the trenches of these fights. I think someone from the outside would be amazed that Christian higher education has been so successful for so long when the foundation seems so shaky. Thus I think this book could have benefitted from a little more positive conversation. A lot has gone wrong, but what has gone right?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a great history lesson and I think it is vital to understand this history.