Crisis of Faith Statements
Christian historian George Marsden says this type of situation is perennial. In cases where two or more parties both affirm a statement and still have different interpretations of what that statement really intends, trustees may try to "rein the faculty in," he said.
But Joe Ricke, professor of English at Taylor University and author of an essay published inThe Christian College Phenomenonentited "The Hesitants Among Us: The Tightrope Act of Christian Scholarship," says it does not work to say that white papers simply restate positions implied in a doctrinal statement.
"If that's really true, you don't need a white paper," he said.
However, times may arise when faith statements actually need clarification or revision, Ream says. Just as important as the content of any revisions, he says, is the manner in which they are generated.
"In essence, they should arise initially from significant stakeholders in the community and then be brought to relevant members of the larger community for their input and approval," he said.
Hoekema agrees. "These are questions of interpretation," he said. "Whether you're in a Lutheran or Catholic institution, or a Baptist or Pentecostal college," he said, "people whose academic specialty bears on these questions should not just be permitted, but should be encouraged to raise questions to keep the debate going."
Editor's note: This article has been updated and expanded.