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In the early 1990s, Liberty University (LU) had sunk into a $110 million debt, been placed on academic probation, and was tottering on the verge of bankruptcy. Its workaholic founder Jerry Falwell, somehow managing to divide his time between roles as school chancellor, megachurch pastor, and national politics mouthpiece, faced the possibility of forfeiting his dream of training up "Champions for Christ."

The financial turning point for the Lynchburg, Virginia, university came in 1997, when Falwell received a multimillion dollar infusion from insurance titan Arthur L. Williams Jr. Ten years later, in May 2007, Falwell, 73, collapsed at his desk and died, with the school's turnaround under way but incomplete.

Now, two years later, under the leadership of Falwell's two sons, Jerry Jr. and Jonathan, LU and Thomas Road Baptist Church have visibly improved. And their leaders are nothing like their father or each other. This year, Jerry Jr., 47, and Jonathan, 43, guided Liberty to two unprecedented milestones: capping enrollment at 11,520 on-campus students, and a school budget that is debt-free.

While the sons fiercely defend their father's memory, they have a pragmatic streak. Both use different strategies from their lightning-rod father to ensure that Liberty will grow in its influence beyond enrollment numbers and budgets to impact the church and the world.

An Evangelical Brigham Young

The late Falwell established Liberty in 1971 as a small fundamentalist Baptist Bible college. While students are still required to take Bible, theology, and evangelism courses—and to attend chapel services three times a week—the school aims to reposition itself as the nation's premier evangelical liberal arts school. (U.S. News and World ...

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Liberty Unbound
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In the Magazine

September 2009

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