Patrick Henry College, a rural Virginia school of only three hundred students, has been making big news lately. This very conservative Christian school only has sixteen faculty members and five of their professors left this month. Others are thinking about leaving soon. What is the problem? The faculty is having trouble with the president’s understanding of what a liberal arts college does with the liberal arts.

The founder and president of Patrick Henry College is Michael P. Ferris, a fairly well-known conservative attorney with a long-standing commitment to, and legal defense of, home schooling. Indeed, Patrick Henry College aims at home school graduates as their target audience. Ferris expresses deep commitment to teaching a “biblical world view” and openly desires to train graduates who will become movers and shakers in the culture. (World magazine has featured news on the school on several occasions.) Some Patrick Henry students have even interned with noteworthy conservative political leaders such as Karl Rove, Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. The problem at Patrick Henry College is that Michael P. Ferris understands the idea of a “biblical world view” in the narrowest of ways. Professor Todd M. Bates, who quoted St. Augustine in a formal campus lecture, was threatened by the president and then fired (the faculty is non-tenured) for not repenting of his mistake. Religion critic Martin Marty reported this week that in Patrick Henry College’s vision of liberal arts St. Augustine is ruled off campus and in hell as a pagan!

Dr. Marty further refers to “the single-minded and even obsessive character of this training school for tomorrow’s right wing leadership.” I believe home schooling is a serious and worthy option for Christian families. I also believe Michael Ferris has no understanding of classical Christianity and the role of a nuanced and wisely developed “biblical world view.” What makes this issue important is that there are large numbers of conservative Christians who find this type of emphasis compelling. We must teach the Bible, and as Protestants we should believe that it has authority for all of faith and practice, but Michael Ferris’ position is really a brand of fundamentalism that is neither Protestant nor Christian. And it will never build a liberal arts environment in which a healthy approach to public policy can be advanced. I believe this school is on the margins of American society and hope it remains there. If it has any real influence in Washington it will not be for good in the big picture. Until conservatives distance themselves from this kind of approach they will never be taken seriously or have a real contribution to make to society and culture.

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  1. A. B. Caneday May 30, 2006 at 7:56 am

    I have read several articles and accounts of the controversy at Patrick Henry College. All point out the great tragedy. How disappointing it is that those who rise to administrative levels are so regularly the least qualified.
    Power, such as President Ferris posssessed, in the hands of one individual is dangerous. The more mature I become the more convinced I am that Christian institutions set themselves on a pathway of demise by following the world’s model of leadership by placing such power in the hands of one individual who all too regularly becomes infatuated with personal aggrandizement and personal agendas that manifest narrowness of mind. Regularly, administrators set out to subvert the very individuals they and the institution most sorely need. Such seems to be the case at Patrick Henry.

  2. K. Darrell May 30, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    I listened to Mr Ferris on NPR last week. I do not know much about the situation, so I will with hold judgement, but I slightly disagree re: their potential cultural influence. It seems that it is often the “fringe” that sets the discussion, albeit tempered, in the next generation. Just think of the rise of home schooling, the homosexual movement, feminism, and a host of other issues that are now mainstream. Although theonomy is not popularly accepted, think of how common it is discuss Christianity, politics, and the law. The theonomists paved the way.
    So, technically, yes, Ferris and company will not have direct influence, but they are changing the nature of the discussion, so their indirect influence is great, I believe.

  3. Jeff Nicolajsen June 2, 2006 at 12:36 am

    I am a simple sinful man with a heart for Christ.
    I too listen to Mr.Ferris last we in Montana. I think you need to know the facts before you can pass judgement here. For who are we to judge. As the Church has done may time in her history.
    Great thing are done by God working throught one man. Check out that book the Bible… not once can I remember a “Board of Director” creating the Ark, parting the Red Sea or killing a Giant. It was a humble men used as a vessel to do great tasks.
    Micheal Ferris has a vision to mold Solomons for generations to come,
    to lead a country that once Trusted in God rather than committees.

  4. Dale Stapler June 15, 2006 at 9:59 pm

    Dear Mr. Armstrong,
    You have completely undermined your credibility to comment on the PHC situation by not even knowing how to correctly spell the name of Michael Farris. I know people on both sides of the issue and can say that you have presented a wildly oversimplified description along with your uninformed, yet harsh and judgmental opinion. In the future, you would be more believable if you would discuss topics about which you have firsthand knowledge.
    The recent PHC controversy is sadly an example of what happens when Christians strain gnats but swallow camels — and there have probably been several camels swallowed on both sides! The people involved – those at PHC as well as those who are leaving – need our prayers. A more constructive approach for all of us would be to pray for God to provide healing, forgiveness, and wisdom to those professors, administrators, board members, students, and their families.

  5. Matt January 1, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    I am a proud supporter of Mr. Ferris. I am a member of HSLDA, NCFCA, and am aiming to attend PHC. He is a strong man who will stick to his principles, and amke sure that the students attending his school are being taught good doctrine and learn to apply good principles and not be “of the world.”

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