Home > History > Liberty circa the mid-Eighties 1

Liberty circa the mid-Eighties 1

I attended a Christian high school in the Lynchburg area, and during my time there the sponsoring church took a swing in a more Fundamentalist direction when our pastor left and the deacons hired a replacement who was a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College. Where we had been more or less of the truly independent strain of fundamentalists (where our pastors tended to be self-taught) or had been of the Bob Jones family, we gradually became a Jack Hyles church. This meant among other things that where before we had no real bias toward one college or another, there was now a tendency for the church to encourage the top-flight students to at least consider Hyles-Anderson.

During roughly the same time Jerry Falwell added a focus to the ministry at Thomas Road Baptist Church; where Thomas Road had previously been one of the fastest-growing churches in America, or one of the fastest-growing Sunday Schools in America, Jerry added an emphasis that Liberty be the fastest-growing college in America. This shift in focus included a building boom on Chandler’s Mountain/Liberty Mountain and a substantial scholarship program. This caused some tension inside our church and school; Hyles was the school of choice, but Liberty was more attractively priced (especially if the first two years were nearly free) and doctrinally sound.

We didn’t know it at the time, but Liberty was already parting ways at multiple levels with its fundamentalist roots. While the Liberty faculty generally had credible fundamentalist credentials, with lots of graduates of Cedarville, Dallas Theological Seminary, Tennessee Temple, Pensacola, Bob Jones, etc. not to mention a fair number of unaccredited Bible college graduates and the occasional truly gray diploma mill graduate, Liberty itself was a peer to Bob Jones and Tennessee Temple; students often chose between these schools in pairs, so rumors traveled more or less freely between the two schools. We later heard from Bob Jones that Daryl Hall and John Oates had played a concert in the convocation center (not true) and that Liberty faculty returning to Bob Jones for alumni weekends with Liberty stickers on their cars were disfellowshipped by letter and told never to return (unconfirmed).

Hyles, oddly, was in a different orbit within fundamentalism; students who were true believers in the Hyles point of view rarely ended up at Liberty, even if attracted by the price. Those who did rarely stayed. Bob Jones people often left Liberty for Bob Jones after a year or two; rarely did people do a year or two at BJU and then transfer to Liberty, despite the fact that this was an effective way to launder credits from an unaccredited institution and get an accredited degree.

This was something of a touchy subject in the fundamentalist-evangelical nexus; many programs at Bob Jones were top-flight, but graduates sometimes faced difficulties landing jobs or getting admitted to graduate school, while Liberty graduates supposedly had less trouble. Lack of accreditation was a badge of honor for BJU, and at least at some administrative level they considered themselves more distinctively Christian for not having being accredited by a secular accrediting body.

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