Banned in Wheaton

I'm going back to examine an interesting January article that got lost in the Get Religion shuffle. The article, published on the web site, explores the decision by an executive at Christianity Today, Inc. to cancel a planned article about Wheaton College that was set to be published in CTi's highbrow Books & Culture magazine.

Evaluating the work of the education web site and the Christian magazine, the grades (I've been grading papers) are:

-- = A

-- Books & Culture = F

You can read both articles here, including the banned article by Andrew Chignell, an associate professor of philosophy at Cornell University. Chignell graduated from Wheaton and his father taught there for more than two decades. Chignell has also posted a behind-the-scenes article about the battle over his original piece.

Chignell's banned article is a classic example of the insider/loving critic approach that so often infuriates evangelicals (and true believers of all stripes):

The goal here is to view Wheaton the way it views itself: as the preeminent religious college in the country and the training ground for generations of Christian leaders. To lay claim to such a responsibility, there has to be a willingness -- especially in a community founded on love of God and neighbor -- to honestly evaluate past administrations in the process of appointing new ones.

The article about this article, written by Scott Jaschik for, is a fair, balanced and thorough example of forensic journalism:

... [Chignell's] article was killed at the last minute by the president of Christianity Today International, a ministry founded by Billy Graham that publishes Books & Culture and many other periodicals. According to the editor of Books & Culture, no article has been blocked in its 15-year history and he stands behind the killed piece. Harold B. Smith, the president of Christianity Today International, declined via e-mail to say why he killed the piece, but confirmed that it was his decision.

CTi is based in Carol Stream, Illinois, a stone's throw from Wheaton. Both institutions share a commitment to a similar brand of biblically based and socially conservative evangelicalism pioneered by Billy Graham, who attended Wheaton (where The Billy Graham Center houses his archives) and was a visionary founder of Christianity Today magazine, which debuted in 1956. [NOTE: I have written for CT and other CTi publications.]

Now, some Christians want to throw stones at CTi for its decision to kill Chignell's article, which adopts a critical tone toward Duane Litfin, who has served as Wheaton's president for 17 years. Litfin told that he did nothing to stop publication of Chignell's piece:

Litfin, the Wheaton president, said that college officials "had zero contact" with Christianity Today International officials about the article. "Even if I had the ability to stifle the article, I would not have done so," he said. "It goes against the grain of everything I believe."

He added: "I disagree with the article, but I don't think the article is something we need protection from."

Apparently, CTi's Smith felt somebody or something needed protection. That's his privilege to make such decisions, but an explanation might help defuse this controversy. Stonewalling only makes things worse.

Plus, Billy Graham believed a magazine like Christianity Today could add intellectual heft to an evangelical movement best known for warmed hearts and revivalism. Smith's decision seems like a retreat from Graham's bold vision for Christian periodicals.

Meanwhile, this story has helped me find a great new web site. I'd never previously visited, which was founded in 2004. But I will visit the site from now on because I'm impressed with its even-handed and thoughtful coverage of this important (but neglected) dispute.

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