Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ten Questions to Ask When Evaluating a Christian College

As a former professor at an evangelical Christian university, I am sometimes asked by concerned parents to recommend a good Christian college for them to consider for their children. Because the spiritual health of specific colleges and universities can change radically over time, and because there can be a wide diversity of views even among different academic departments on the same campus, it is not always possible to provide specific recommendations.

What I can provide are questions you can ask if you or your teens are seeking to find a biblically-faithful college or university. Don’t just rely on marketing materials produced by the college or university! Those materials will invariably stress how the institution integrates the Christian faith with learning in everything it does. These marketing materials may or may not reflect the actual situation on the campus. At the Christian university where I taught, the marketing materials became more and more explicitly Christian while the actual Christian faithfulness of the university was getting less and less.

If you know the right questions to ask, you can cut through the PR and gain a more accurate perception of what is actually going on. The following questions are a good place to start.

1. What are the statements of faith and behavioral expectations that all faculty, staff, and board members must sign and agree to abide by?

Official standards of doctrine and behavior can be dead letters if they aren’t enforced. However, they are an important place to start. Check to see if the official statements include all the standards and behavioral expectations you think are non-negotiable. If they don’t, that’s a red flag. If the official standards are ambiguous, it’s likely intentional. For example, a university that says it is “historically evangelical” without spelling out exactly what its employees must currently believe is likely no longer evangelical in practice. Also check to see whether faculty, staff, and board members must actually affirm that they agree and will follow the standards they sign. If they are merely asked to respect and understand the standards, that is another red flag.

2. How many members of the theology or Bible departments belong to the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS)?

ETS is the primary professional society for theologically conservative academics. Among other things, it requires its members to agree that the Bible is without error. ETS is not perfect, and in recent decades, it has not consistently policed the orthodoxy of its own members. Nevertheless, if the theology or Bible professors of the college you are looking at are not members of ETS, that is likely a warning sign. At the university where I taught, the theology professors prided themselves on not joining ETS because they would have had to affirm that the Bible is without error.

3. How many members of the philosophy department belong to the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS)?

EPS is the main professional society for theologically conservative philosophers, and like ETS, it requires its members to affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. EPS also isn’t perfect, but it provides one way to gauge the doctrinal orthodoxy of the philosophers at a Christian college. Although not many students major in philosophy at most colleges, the philosophy faculty can be active in teaching students in general education courses that focus on faith-learning integration. So if the philosophy faculty isn’t solid, that is not a good sign.

4. How many members of the science faculty (especially the biology faculty) are skeptical of Darwinian evolution or supportive of the idea that nature shows clear evidence of intelligent design?  

Although Christians have a range of views on evolution (and on related topics, such as the age of the earth), faculty beliefs about evolution and intelligent design can be an indicator of beliefs on many other topics, such as God’s providence and sovereignty over history, the existence of an immaterial soul, the nature and extent of scientific authority, the nature and extent of biblical authority, the legitimacy of dissenting views in science, and how students who disagree with evolution will be treated. If all or most of the science faculty at a college embrace Darwinian evolution and/or reject the idea of intelligent design, you might want to think twice about sending your child there, especially if they are wanting to study science.

5. Does the college offer chapel services, and is attendance by students required?

Mandatory chapel is another typical indicator of how serious the college or university is about its Christian commitment. If chapel services are voluntary or have been dispensed with altogether, that is a warning sign.

6. How many speakers at chapel or official university-sponsored events during the past academic year addressed each of the following topics: (a) the trustworthiness and/or historical accuracy of the Bible; (b) biblical standards against sex outside of marriage and for sexual chastity and faithfulness; (c) biblical standards against transgenderism and homosexuality; (d) Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life, including abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia; (e) the persecution of Christians both inside and outside of the United States, and the importance of defending religious liberty; (f) positive Christian teaching on racial equality and reconciliation as well as critiques of unbiblical ideas such as “Critical Race Theory” and calls for racial/ethnic separatism and superiority (from both left and right).

Before actually attending a college, it can be hard to know what is taught in the classrooms there. But the topics addressed by speakers at official campus events will tell you a lot about the viewpoints dominant among the faculty and administration. If campus speakers are not regularly being brought in to explain and defend key Christian beliefs under attack in our culture, that is another huge warning sign. Also pay attention to the point of view of the speakers being brought in. Just because campus speakers are addressing one of the topics above does not mean they are doing so in a way consistent with biblical teaching. When it comes to other topics, especially political topics where Christians disagree (for example, the best way to fight poverty, or American foreign policy), pay attention to whether the university hosts Christian speakers with a range of views, including those on the politically conservative side of the spectrum.

7. Does the campus health center provide (a) abortion referrals, (b) referrals to Planned Parenthood, (c) referrals to LGBTQ groups, or (d) contraceptives to unmarried students?

Whatever the college’s publicly-stated standards, don’t assume that those standards are followed by the campus health center. You need to ask some pointed question about the types of services and referrals offered. You might also ask about the kind of counseling offered for students who are confused about their gender identity. Will the counseling seek to affirm a student’s gender confusion or will it help to bring a student out of their confusion? If you expect to entrust your child to the care of a college, you need to know what will happen if your child ends up facing a medical, spiritual, or mental health issue.

8. What student clubs has the college approved?

The student clubs allowed on a Christian college campus will reveal a lot. For example, does the college have a club that promotes the agenda of the LGTBQ movement? More positively, does the college have a club devoted to pro-life issues or apologetics (such as a chapter of the national apologetics ministry Ratio Christi)? You might also want to look at the student newspaper

9. What books are assigned in courses?

On your campus visit, you might want to stop by the campus bookstore and skim the books assigned in courses (or explore this online, if that option is available for the campus bookstore). College is about investigating and evaluating a variety of views, and so just because some of the books are not biblically sound does not mean it was wrong to assign them. However, if you consistently see books that only present information and viewpoints outside of what you consider orthodox, that is a big warning sign. If students are only permitted to study unorthodox viewpoints and are never assigned materials from biblically-faithful thinkers, then that is another warning sign.

10. What are the policies regulating student speech?

Christians are called to treat people with dignity and respect, and it is fine to expect members of the campus community to treat each other according to Christian standards. At the same time,  a good college education requires a lot of free and unhindered discussion. It is hard to learn if you are always afraid of running afoul of a campus speech code or being accused of a “microaggression.” When looking at campus policies regulating speech, pay attention to open-ended or ambiguous standards that might end up shutting down legitimate speech by students. Also pay attention to the level of proof required to prove a violation; the due process rights provided to an accused student; and whether a student’s comments can be punished merely because of someone else’s disagreement or subjective feelings of hurt rather than a more objective standard. 

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.