CT Reports on Shifts within Inter-Varsity

When I was in college the BSU (Baptist Student Union) was the place to meet nice Christian girls, Crusade was for evangelistic-minded types, Navigators was for spiritual discipline, and Inter-Varsity (IV) was for intellectuals. IV was clearly associated with the historic, confessional Protestant (evangelical) faith. Now, however, according to a story in Christianity Today, posted today, by Colin Hansen, things seem to be changing within IV. I wasn’t aware of it, but IV adopted the “Bear Trap Statement” in 1960, taking a clearly Protestant evangelical stand for justification. More recently, however, in the wake of Evangelicals and Catholics Together,  IV adopted another, more ambiguous statement which, as Doug Sweeney notes in the story, any Roman Catholic could sign. Moves to include Roman Catholics into IV have provoked a split at George Washington University (led by students from Mark Dever’s congregation in DC). If you’ve got college students in your family or congregation and if they’re involved in the local IV chapter, you might ask about what’s being taught in their IV chapter. Here’s hoping that RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) will open a chapter at a campus near you.

Hansen also notes the NPP and the Federal Vision really are forming bridges for Roman Catholics to Rome. He interviews Taylor Marshall, a former evangelical turned Romanist. This phenomenon has been noted on the HB for some time. See below.

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  1. None of this should be surprising. Just a few months ago, if I remember rightly, the Pope re-iterated the classic Roman Catholic position that Protestant churches are not true churches of Christ. Now we have InterVarsity apparently watering down its doctrinal statement on justification, which I’m sure Rome will be only too happy to take advantage of. It seems like another case of an organization wanting to be bigger instead of better – quantity over quality. The Reformed Church must do two things: (1) pray; and (2) continue to work diligently to strengthen our own doctrinal positions so that God’s grace in justification may be even more greatly exalted.

  2. In my view, the most dangerous challenge to the one true church, the church of all the elect, is an insurgent and expansionistic Rome. Unfortunately, to use the words of Machen in another situation, “that assertion will not pass unchallenged” today.

    Richard, in answer to your question, the answer is “yes”: According to a 2007 statement by Rome, Reformed churches are not true churches.


    Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?


    According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense. [/quote]

    Here is the original document:


    Here also is some official “commentary”:


    And Pope Ratzinger’s own comment on this:


  3. I know InterVarsity Press probably has no official connection with Inter-Varisty, but given the moves in that press, as well as the changes in Eerdmans and Baker over the last couple of decades, this really comes as no surprise.

  4. NT Wright and the FV serve as conduits to Rome? Well, who would have guessed given the chest pounding insistance we heard from these brave souls that they were constantly claiming to stand both feet firmly planted in the ‘Reformed tradition’.

  5. Richard
    We looked in to that but could not find any local PCA church willing to help us get one started ( and a PCA church must be the sponser of the RUF chapter).

    • Darn! The “Christian” organizations on campus seem pretty second-rate to me–and the most “respectable” one is IV. I’d like to light a fire-cracker under some of the PCA churches.

  6. When I was in IV in the mid-90’s the stats were that only a small portion of those who were involved with IV (and this means small group leaders, chapter leaders, etc.) actually would become active members in a the church upon graduation. It turns out that many students confounded their college experience with “true” Christianity and the church. So when they graduated and tried to go back to the church after 4+ year absence,* they became quickly disillusioned.

    * While the official position of IV was that you should be active in the church, they meant go for the service without becoming actually submitting to the church, because your true allegiance was supposed to be to IV, and the church could wait. In fact when my wife and I got “too involved” in our church we were accused of abandoning IV and our commitments.

  7. Dr. Clark:

    Thanks for posting the CT article. I saw this last night and glad you caught it. All the more reason for Reformation folks to batten down the hatches, stow for heavy seas, put a 005 degree angle to the bow, lock, load and get target acquisition, and steam into “harm’s way.”

    In short, engage the enemy when practicable and soonest.

    Psalm 44.1-8. Vs. 5: “Through You we will push down our enemies; Through You we will trample those who rise up against us.”

    How? Preaching, teaching, ministry of the sacraments, church and self-discipline, prayer, courageous witness, and some good, hearty Psalm-singing (predominantly, not an exclusive, but an “almost exclusive” Psalmodist).

    Also, writing, radio…and God help us, TV if there were donors for it.

    Thanks for posting. Timely. Relevant to the Packer and FV posts of recent vintage.

  8. That order of Union-Crusade-Intervarsity sounds about right. Though I would humbly confess that I wish that during college I had applied your insight from the “Office Hours” programs that Christian men ought to think of marrying a Christian woman as “marrying up.”

    The one thing I remember about folks wavering on the doctrines of the Gospel during my time in Crusade and Intervarsity was that we seemed to struggle with a high sense of academic materialism about ourselves, even leaning toward Barthian tendencies. We’re surrounded by a lot of books that say a variety of things; we want to look smart; therefore we should apply these things to our understanding of the Christian life. This academic materialism no doubt accounts for college students’ investigations into faith traditions or denominations that are less than admirable.

    From what I understand, from past experience but also from recent reading about Crusade and Intervarsity after graduation from college, this problem of academic materialism is most obvious in Intervarsity, but also apparent in Crusade. I just read a book, “The Legacy of John Paul II: An Evangelical Assessment,” that mentions Bill Bright’s ecumenical appreciation for the pope. Since Colin Hansen put out “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” which mentions Crusade staffers’ investigations into Calvinism, my current best guess is that there’s a tension in Crusade between learning the orthodoxy of the Gospel and struggling with the books, as it were.

    I wish I had taken the time to find an RUF chapter as an alternative to Campus Crusade and Intervarsity during my college years. I myself would recommend RUF to college kids – lots of good stuff that they’ll find there. Though I would also humbly confess that RUF fans can certainly struggle with academic materialism too, though not necessarily of the Barthian variety. What can I say? We Calvinists like our libraries. But to draw from the Westminster Larger Catechism, I would just chalk up the RUF struggle to the imperfection of sanctification that riseth in believers.

  9. When I was involved with RUF, campus ministers were encouraged by the leadership to keep students from getting involved in church and to use their gifts in RUF. So, I’m not sure how different RUF is “on the ground” than IV. Though the teaching is generally better, generally some stripe of Reformed, and generally the students come out with a better understanding of their faith, from what I have observed.

    • Hi Steve,

      This is a little discouraging, but my impression of RUF is that such an approach would be contrary to their philosophy since the RUF campus directors are ordained PCA ministers (TEs) who have a call to serve a local church by working on campus. Isn’t the very point of RUF to get kids connected to the local church and to help keep them there? I’m pretty sure that’s what Rod Mays would say.

      • That (what you said) is the “official” position, but there is a tension between getting kids into church, and getting them involved in RUF. While RUF may do a better job of getting kids into church than some of the other campus ministries, it does not seem to do a very good job of trying to integrate them into the wider church body. IOW, Going to church is important. Getting involved in church is something that can wait till after you graduate. And by getting involved, I mean teaching sunday school, participating in other church events, etc. I think the overall effect is that RUF and the church end up being somewhat in competition with each other. Granted the campus ministers are ordained, which to me makes no sense. They baptise very rarely if at all, would probably be fired if they administered communion to their students on campus, and typically (from what I have seen) have little or no accountability to or even contact with the elders of the churches that support them. What is the point of being ordained then?

        • Steve,

          Don’t you think that this might vary from place to place? Because of where I’ve lived and because of my age, I’ve not had a lot of direct contact with RUF on the ground, but the problems you’ve seen are able to be remedied, aren’t they? Wouldn’t be a matter of sessions and TEs doing a better job of coordinating and intentionally integrating RUF into the life of the church?

          In this respect, I’m hopeful that the new program at RTS/C will help. We also expect to continue training men for pastoral ministry here who will go into RUF with a high view of the visible church and the means of grace.

          Maybe someone would like to donate copies of RRC to all the RUF leaders in the country?


  10. As one who recently had a university experience of both IV and RUF, I can affirm that there was a clear push towards involvement in a local PCA church by the RUF campus director, at least on my campus.

    Also, Dr. Clark, your post is spot on in its assessment of IV. A number of my good friends in IV were staunch Roman Catholics, and had little problem fitting in the group.

    In fact, the major emphasis in my time at IV (as a member and then a leader) was on the small group ‘community’, and the gospel was portrayed as a memorized spiel about the effect that Jesus had on the individual. The word “justification” was not used (Neither was grace, for that matter.) A far cry from Lloyd-Jones et al.

  11. Hi Dr. Clark,

    I’m an avid reader of your blog, a member of my local Christian Reformed Church, identify as confessionally Reformed, and serve full-time as campus staff with InterVarsity — so I feel I really need to speak out here and defend IV.

    We are and always have been an evangelical campus mission. We strongly encourage our students to attend and become involved in local church communities — and for our leadership (at least in the Midwest) we require it. I acknowledge that a weakness in our ministry model is helping students understand and appreciate multi-generational church participation — but I will say that the students my colleagues and I have discipled on this particular college campus clearly understand the importance and many of my current students and alumni are currently active in their local churches (often Reformed churches), as well. Our strength is and continues to be combining a calling and effective strategy for campus evangelism with a robust encouragement of discipleship of the mind. In the Midwest for many InterVarsity staff, this is within a Reformed framework.

    Echoing S’s comment, the “on the ground” weakness in terms of local church participation is no less prevalent among denominational ministries like RUF and BSU. I would further contend that IV’s strength in evangelism — many of our chapters consist of 1/3 or more seekers — cannot be duplicated to the same extent within denominational ministries. Many criticisms against IV, Crusade, and similar ministries for producing students who do not value local church involvement is based on observations of our students who came to faith only in college through our ministries and may have graduated before we could adequately disciple our students to appreciate multigenerational local church ministry. Furthermore, many of our seeker students may come from nominal Roman Catholic backgrounds — we wholeheartedly welcome these students as part of InterVarsity along their spiritual journeys and do not encourage denominational proselytizing unless they come to a personal disagreement of conscience with their church on their own. We treat them no differently from our students from liberal mainline, Lutheran, Methodist, or Anglican backgrounds. This type of evangelism and discipleship is simply not possible within the boundaries of any single denomination.

    On campuses where RUF has planted, they often draw a similar crowd that would be interested in InterVarsity (the more intellectual crowd) and this has often been to the detriment to the size and health of InterVarsity chapters. What is perhaps damaged the most is the evangelistic climate on these campuses. For the most part, the PCA’s decision to launch RUF (which I think, once the dust settles, is beneficial to the kingdom) is an affirmation of our ministry model.

    I find your desire for RUF to grow — almost directly to the detriment of InterVarsity campus ministry — very hurtful and frankly, not very kingdom-minded in terms of engaging the secular academy and reaching the lost. Hansen’s excuse for “journalism” is a very one-sided hack job.


    • Hi Calvin,

      First, I’m sorry that you’re feelings are hurt. You should Carl Trueman’s essay on emotive language in theoligical dialogue.

      Second, are claiming that the 2000 statement is better than the “Bear Trap” statement? What about the relocation of the “alone.” It’s true that we’re justified by faith in Christ alone, but the Reformation faith is that we’re justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Dropping the first “alone” is problematic.

      Third, I don’t apologize for advocating confessionally Reformed ecclesiastically based college ministry. IV has never been ecclesiastically based. I’m a Kuyperian insofar as I favor voluntary societies that do not compete directly with the church. I have no problem with IV functioning on campus, but I do have a problem if IV is leading kids down the Barthian path or if it is teaching kids that the Reformation was a mistake or a not big deal or that somehow we’ve matured beyond the Reformation.

      You’re from a confessional CRC so you know the Heidelberg Catechism, right? What does HC 21 say? What does HC 60 say? What does HC 80? say? Are these things for which IV stands unequivocally? I’m glad that you’re IV chapter is still solid but people ought to know what’s happening at GWU and elsewhere. My daughter visited an IV chapter meeting recently at a major West Coast university and she observed the same thing that the GWU students saw. I thought it was probably a one- off but I guess it isn’t.

      As to kingdom-mindedness, well, I’m a Kuyperian but not a neo- Kuyperian. I don’t know what IV has to do with the kingdom other than to say that there are doubtless members of the kingdom active in it. As I understand the kingdom, the only institutional representation of the kingdom on this earth is the visible, institutional church. Jesus did not give the keys of the kingdom to campus ministry. Inter-Varsity is a bible study, it’s a voluntary society but it’s not the institutional church. To be kingdom minded is to be churchly.

      • Hi Dr. Clark (please see response below in terms of the statement of faith).

        First, I meant “hurtful” moreso in the sense of “unhelpful” and “unedifying to the Body.” However, could you tell me more info about Carl’s article? I ran a quick e-journal search and couldn’t find anything. I’d love to read it.

        Second, the Bear Trap statement in 1960 was never InterVarsity’s doctrinal basis — the 2000 statement was InterVarsity’s only change to the doctrinal basis since 1941 while the Bear Trap statement was a supplementary document approved unanimously by all InterVarsity staff in 1960. The 1941 basis contained nothing on the doctrine of justification so, yes, the 2000 statement was an upgrade over it. Hansen’s article and a lot of activity on the blogosphere have grossly misrepresented doctrinal trends within InterVarsity. As I state in the comment below, InterVarsity has always gone with a minimalistic, “essentials only” doctrinal basis because it is so central to our identity as a “big tent” evangelical organization committed to campus evangelization across denominational lines. We require every student leader and every guest speaker to annually affirm it so ANY tightening of the statement is done with the utmost caution and deliberation. Again, the 2000 statement represented a STRENGTHENING of InterVarsity’s stance on justification by faith alone — a doctrine every InterVarsity staff worker I know affirms and one that all staff in 1960 unanimously and publicly affirmed through the Bear Trap Statement. Both our 1941-2000 and our 2000-present doctrinal bases are available online at:


        Third — I suppose just as I don’t apologize for attending a confessionally Reformed church and beloning to a confessionally Reformed denomination, you shouldn’t have to apologize for advocating for confessionally Reformed campus ministry or teaching at a confessionally Reformed seminary. However, I do think advocating the advancement of such a campus ministry while simultaneously wishing detriment to another evangelical one that is clearly doing God-honoring work on many secular college campuses is unhelpful to the overall body of Christ and hurtful to God.

        As I understand it (this could be a rabbit trail so you can *briefly* correct me if I’m mistaken), the origins of HC 80 are somewhat less than “canonical” and in most confessionally Reformed circles is no longer held to with the same historic antagonism. HC 21 could easily be unequivocally affirmed by all InterVarsity staff and student leaders as its content is more than adequately covered in our doctrinal basis. As for HC 60, I have a hard time seeing a case for viewing imputation and propitiation as strict essentials to partnership in campus evangelism though I personally affirm both doctrines and teach both to my students. Any faculty member on a secular campus able to affirm InterVarsity’s 2000 doctrinal basis without reservation is easily a partner for the gospel and I trust that, were you on the field, you would agree with me fully on this. Additionally — very few of our students could articulate the doctrine expressed in HC 60 — but isn’t this what we want for a campus ministry focused on evangelism… and isn’t this also the case for most students at Christian colleges, as well?

        I can’t speak for conditions at your daughter’s university or, for that matter, at GWU. I’m not sure if you were referring to overall lack of doctrinal soundness or being overly accommodating to Roman Catholics to the point of abandoning the goals of the Reformation. I certainly hope it was neither — but, as I’m sure you’re aware, in such a large, broadly-based evangelical organization, there’s quite a lot of variance in styles and doctrine while within the bounds of our doctrinal basis. I can say confidently that as a whole, nationally our movement is doing great work to advance the gospel along doctrinally solid lines that you would have no issues with and that our brothers and sisters at RUF and in denominations like the PCA and URC can and should rejoice in.

        Finally, I suppose we need to define “ecclesiastically based” though InterVarsity makes no claim to be. Aside from RUF’s origins in and continued ties to a denomination, RUF’s “on the ground” connection with local churches is not necessarily any stronger than an InterVarsity chapter’s. I say this with the utmost respect for my friends and partners in RUF and they would probably also acknowledge that the organizational autonomy of RUF chapters has been an integral source to the movement’s vitality. Is denominational affiliation a pre-requisite for membership in the institutional, visible Church? What about the countless non-denominational, congregational-ruled evangelical churches throughout the country, many of which ordain or commission InterVarsity staff? What about seminaries that are not denominationally governed, including your own? They may not possess “keys” to the kingdom — but they’re certainly instruments for bringing people into it and equipping people within it — just as InterVarsity is. By “kingdom-minded,” I meant an orientation toward the advancement of the gospel and the values of the kingdom.

        Let me put it this way. Let’s say you and some fellow scholar/friend/partners from down the road at (gulp) Talbot, (gulp) Master’s, and (gulp) the more conservative half of Fuller got together and through fervent prayer and inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit were all convicted to discern some common goals between all of you and work toward them. I imagine among them would be evangelism and perhaps some form of mercy ministry. Now say all of you decided to collectively work toward the evangelization of a specific unreached people group and began to work together. At about this point, suppose an outsider from your original core wanted to join you. The original group would have to devise some sort of doctrinal litmus test of essentials all of you agreed upon specifically for this endeavor. I imagine the list you came up with would be fairly similar to InterVarsity’s current doctrinal basis. I also imagine that once established through a painstaking process of tit-for-tat and debating every syntactical and semantic nuance, any additional changes would be rare and would require the utmost caution and deliberation. However, wouldn’t the collective witness of this awkward and uneasy coalition — its unity and partnership — be an incredible testament to the gospel? In the case of InterVarsity — isn’t such a coalition also able to serve and advance a gospel-driven agenda in many places where institutional-church-based-Presbyterian-governed-confesionally-Reformed-ministries cannot go? And isn’t a coherent witness and mission of redemption for the secular academy a worthy endeavor?

        As Christians who take our affirmation of “one holy catholic and apostolic church” seriously… and also who take the values of the Reformation seriously — I believe we need to affirm the importance of the “evangelical coalition” — that is, Bible-believing Christians committed to the spread of the gospel and the opposition of theological liberalism and anti-intellectual, anti-engagement fundamentalism. As Reformed Christians within this loosely defined coalition I believe we are called to be prophetic within it, and also for evangelicals to be prophetic to the global Church as a whole.

  12. Back to the real issue at hand from the CT article and your post though as related to InterVarsity’s doctrinal basis…

    What both failed to realize is the purpose behind our doctrinal basis was to create a minimally encumbering statement for the purpose of engaging the campus and evangelizing in a broadly evangelical way. Historically this was directly in opposition to rampant theological liberalism since the 1920s. In fact, if you check Justin Taylor’s links or the original source documents or our president Alec Hill’s response, you’ll see that the newer IV doctrinal basis is in fact STRONGER on its stance of justification than the previous one. A further comparison between our doctrinal basis and those of Campus Crusade and the Navigators shows that ours is actually the strongest among the three organizations and comes to closest to directly espousing “justification by faith alone”: a position every staff worker I know in all three organization holds to.


    I hope all of your readers are able to recognize the purpose behind our broader statements of faith and why, in order to accomplish our missions, we prefer not forcing our students and ministry partners to hold to a tighter statement of faith including many doctrines we ourselves as staff may hold to (e.g., predestination, imputation). See our intentional use of “entire trustworthiness” instead of explicit inerrancy or infallibility for the purpose of forging a true evangelical and evangelistic alliance. Every time we tighten our statement of faith it must be done with much deliberation and with the express intent of edifying our ministry. It makes no sense for an interdenominational parachurch organization to craft a statement of faith as comprehensive as the PCA’s.

    In my experience, our use of “justification” in the same breath as “faith” and “alone” has been more than sufficient to deter Roman Catholic students who are not interested in beginning an evangelical faith journey.

    Finally, for an example of a strongly Reformed product of InterVarsity’s ministry who understands our value of “majoring in the majors” — in an era when our doctrinal basis statement of justification was weaker than it is now, no less — check out an online article based on an interview with Tim Keller (who I’m hoping will speak at in our defense sometime soon):


    • Hi Calvin,

      I appreciate all the good things that Intervarsity and Intervarsity Press has done over the years. There’s been much good fruit!

      But (there’s not always a “but!”, but this time there is) I was really and deeply disappointed when I learned that Intervarsity endorsed and affirmed egalitarianism as one of their non-negotiable doctrines.

      Were you aware of that?

      • Hi Truth,

        I’m open to “buts” and I myself have quite a few “buts” with InterVarsity ministry and practice, too! I do continue to love my work and the organization I work for and think that there should be much to rejoice in by both Reformed folks and the larger body of Christ so thanks for the affirmation!

        As for egalitarianism, InterVarsity is very explicit about *not* endorsing or requiring affirmation of an ecclesiastical stance on female leadership in the Church and certainly would never make a stance on anthropological egalitarianism/complementarianism. As a broadly evangelical, inter-denominational movement with doctrinal bases and values that are intentionally minimalistic in order to unite on what we believe are essentials, to endorse any position on either issue would be very much out of character for us.

        But (ha, here’s my but) as far as I understand, all staff are required to theoretically affirm openness to being supervised by a woman and an understanding that all positions within InterVarsity are open to women — including field staff. This has earned us some criticism by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and by the very occasional male staff who has resigned after some time on the field with us because personnel changes caused him to be supervised by a woman. (disclaimer: right now I am speaking on behalf of Calvin Chen, an employee of InterVarsity, but I am not speaking on behalf of InterVarsity itself).

        I do believe that the practice of InterVarsity on the field is fully compatible with biblical complementarianism as espoused by the CBMW. In fact, speaking at InterVarsity’s Urbana Missions Conference and serving on the mission field in non-ecclesial and evangelistic contexts are both preaching and teaching roles that many CBMW board members explicitly and specifically endorse and encourage for women as biblically appropriate and affirmed ways to serve the body of Christ.

  13. Name that Quote:

    “The infallibility of the Bible, the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross, the necessity of the new birth, the incarnation, the full deity of Jesus, there’s no compromising on those things,” he said. “Other truths, which tend to be what makes you a Baptist or a Pentecostal or a Presbyterian or this or that, those other things are not unimportant. But the core is the core. You ought to be collegial and open-minded to other Christians who differ on the secondary. I learned that from InterVarsity.”

    Rob Bell? Scot McKnight?

    In fact, the above quote is from Tim Keller.


    • ” infallibility of the Bible, the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross, the necessity of the new birth, the incarnation, the full deity of Jesus”

      These are all marks of true Christians, but stringing them along like a bunch of slogans is not inspiring, to me. What does Tim Keller really understand about this things? What do people who hear them understand about these things?

      • I remain puzzled by evangelicals like Keller who seem to try too hard in sloganeering. Why don’t they just publicly call for a confession the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed? Or would that not be “sexy” enough for their listeners?

        • I’m puzzled that you don’t like Keller’s stringing together of slogans, in modern language as you think that will confuse people. And yet you somehow think the Creeds, which is also a bunch of slogans, are perfectly clear for everyone to read without any chance of misunderstanding?

      • My apologies, Darren. It was a poor attempt at being facetious. I was simply trying to illustrate that Keller was apparently influenced by InterVarsity and came out clearly in the reformed camp.

        Thanks for the link!

  14. Thanks for the thoughts Calvin and Eric, who have taken up a lot of the good thoughts already. I also work for IV as a campus staff, and am confessionally reformed. IV will be the first to say that we don’t beleive we have it all figured out, so i don’t mean to be playing defense here. I think there are some valuable things to be thought through and discussed on this issue. I’ll start by saying that there was some misinformation given in the first post, and your stats must be from some other Christian campus organization because the vast majority of students involved in IV in college do go on to serve in local churches after college. This may not hold true for other orgs, but does for us and i think shows a bit about our values.
    But i wanted to say that we in IV are working hard on creating models of what a parachurch ought to be. We are not the church, so, as Calvin already stated;

    “…failed to realize is the purpose behind our doctrinal basis was to create a minimally encumbering statement for the purpose of engaging the campus and evangelizing in a broadly evangelical way.”

    That’s not wrong here. Our purpose is different than a local congregations’ is. Where i work we have a statement that says “we are an evangelistic extension of the local church to engage the campus with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The churches in the city where i work in Wisconsin can say “Yes, we are reaching the campus with the gospel, and we are doing it through IV.” That’s what we are. A doorway into th church and for the church into the campus. It’s a terrible idea to create a church “on campus” comprised of all college students. Where is your discipleship? Where is your growth? What is your mission? These students involved in IV are also being raised up in their local congregations during college, and when they graduate college they are such a gift to their new church as a result of IV’s training and nurture. I’ve heard about it from pastors, seminary professors, parents, and missionary agencies hudreds of times over. I love the Church, and i’ve come to find that the place to have the greatest positive impact for Her is InterVarsity.

  15. Can one be a fan of the Heidelblog and InterVarsity? I hope so. I love the HB, but I also have friends who came to Christ AND the visible, institutional church thru the ministry of IVF. I think Calvin Chen’s remarks are right on, and point out the unfortunate tendency of some confessionally Reformed folks to always want to believe the worst.

    • Stephen,

      I assume that I’m among those whom you are accusing of always believing the worst.

      All I did is report what is in the CT essay. What Colin reports does fit with my experience over the last 25 years. On principle I think I’m bound to support ecclesiastically based, confessionally Reformed college ministry. That doesn’t mean that I wish IV ill.

      I don’t understand why some folk are so thin-skinned about this? No one has denied that IV has done good things but there’s no use in sticking one’s head in the sand if there are problems. Clearly there are problems at GWU and apparently elsewhere.

      Let’s say that IV’s existence is completely justifiable, let’s say that it’s become influenced by broad evangelicalism, that it has been influenced by the evangelical appropriation of Barth and by the broad evangelical movement away from the Reformation solas, isn’t in IV’s best interest to face these issues squarely? Isn’t in the interest of parents to know what what is happening with IV and to know that IV may not be what it was when they were in school 25 years ago?

      • Hi Scott,

        I won’t assume the worst about you and assume you meant “doesn’t meant I *don’t* wish IV well.” 🙂

        I very much acknowledge and respect your position on supporting ecclesiastically-based, confessionally-Reformed college ministry. I do hope you can acknowledge that “on the ground” — often the actual ecclesiastical connection between such a ministry and the local church can be just as weak or even weaker than that of an inter-denominational para-church ministry like one of InterVarsity’s. (I say this with nothing but respect for the good work my partners in RUF are doing).

        In principle I think I’m bound to support college ministry on secular campuses that is evangelistically oriented, evangelistically effective, and committed to effective partnership among evangelicals for the renewal of the campus. Maybe we can both hope that RUF, similar ministries, and certainly doctrinally Reformed churches near college campuses will grow in these areas and that InterVarsity as a whole can grow in its doctrinal soundness and commitment to the solas.

        By the way, I’m very committed to teaching all 5 solas to my students and feature them prominently in both historic and doctrinal importance in my discipleship curriculum by the 5th semester or so of a student’s involvement in my chapter. I also believe that all 5 solas are expressed, to an extent, in IV’s doctrinal basis though we could adhere to them more firmly or discuss them more often.

        I’d also like to report a bit about “on the ground” conditions within IV as compared to 25 years ago for these same parents — and thank you for encouraging parents to care about the spiritual and theological formation their children are receiving at secular campuses. Parents often entrust parachurch organizations like IV to this task — many often becoming our donors in the process — to which we are grateful and appreciate parenting that takes their children’s spiritual formation so seriously. As a whole, IV is much more doctrinally unified today than it was 25 years ago because of an increase in the number of staff relative to our number of students. This trend has largely been necessitated by generational shifts resulting in a more consumeristic, more postmodern, and less independent but somehow more individualistic average incoming student (don’t ask me why!). Twenty-five years ago the average InterVarsity chapter consisted of about 30 students, saw their staff worker a few times a month, and most doctrinal guidance they received consisted of our even more minimalistic doctrinal basis, partnership with their local churches of various stripes. Many of these were dispensational community Bible churches but really.. it could’ve been anything. Thankfully, InterVarsity Press classics such as Knowing God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by JI Packer and Basic Christianity by John Stott were also prominent influences in their theological formation. However, because InterVarsity was so loosely governed and consisted of such a loose evangelical coalition, the doctrinal variance within our organization was, I believe, much wider than it is today. Today, the average InterVarsity staff worker is attached only to one campus and sees students on that campus several times a week. I believe this has, as a whole, brought about much more unified (and solid) doctrine — though I will acknowledge there is still much we should improve on while hopefully not compromising on our strengths.

        So, to answer your final question, it’s absolutely in the interest of parents to know the doctrine and practice of the campus ministries that their children are involved in. And like broad evangelicalism as a whole, there is an amount of theological variance in our organization just like there is within the E-Free or the Evangelical Covenant Church that may make some Reformed parents uncomfortable. Their kids may be worshipping alongside Southern Baptists, evangelical Methodists, and yes practicing Roman Catholics all committed to a faith journey along evangelical lines as described in our statement of faith. I can gladly report that for the most part in the Midwest — the staff and student leaders are doctrinally sound and most parents from Reformed backgrounds should be very comfortable with our discipleship of their children. Their children will certainly grow in their faith, their ability to share it, their understanding of lower-case ‘c’ catholic Christianity, and the larger body of Christ.

        I trust and know InterVarsity well enough that in terms of doctrine and practice I would still trust us more on any given campus for my kids than other campus ministries though there would certainly be situations and campuses where I’d advise them to look elsewhere (including to RUF).

        As an aside and in reference to the RUF/PCA discussion above — does anyone know if the PCA has looked into RUF chapters being sponsored by URC, OPC, or RPCNA churches? I can understand how this wouldn’t be possible with the CRC, RCA, EPC, etc — but there really shouldn’t be that much to keep the former type of partnership from happening.

        • Calvin, I’m a bit curious about your characterization of IV as being more unified, and seemingly in a sort of “young, restless, and reformed” direction. If that is the case, then I’d agree it is a better direction than before, even if I side with Scott that ecclesiology is much more important than evangelicalism recognizes.

          However, your sunny report is harder for me to buy into given my own on-the-ground experience with IV, as well as that of friends at at a number of (very prominent) campuses. At one, a friend had to leave for being “too Calvinistic.” At another, a friend was ejected from IV for requesting more depth in the Bible studies. At another, IV is intentionally racially segregated (though maybe slightly less so now than 5 years ago), even as social justice is a big part of the agenda. Repeatedly, I’ve seen students at IV pulling students away from the church; at yet another campus, IV presumed to baptize — a clear indication that the line between parachurch and church is disappearing. I have no doubt that there are some very sound IV chapters, but I hope it’s understandable why I am skeptical that this is overwhelmingly the case.

  16. Calvin

    Thanks for the heads up. I fixed the typo.

    I’m glad that you’re advocating the solas. That’s great. College kids also need a doctrine of the church.

    If RUF is failing to live up to it’s principles, then that’s a real failure but it’s not the fault of the principles. IV isn’t an ecclesiastical entity. It can’t advocate a particular doctrine of the church, a particular doctrine of sacraments etc.

    I worry that just contributes to the continued churchlessness of evangelicalism.

  17. I see the concern, but i for one am extremely grateful for InterVarsity overall giving students a deep appreciation for ecclesiology and thereby contributing to the ministry of the church militant. We have bad examples, yes, but overall IV’s ministry is stemming the tide, rather than contrinuting to the continued churchlessness of evangelicalism.

    • Hi Scott and Darren,

      Like Andy, I completely agree with both you that there are bad examples within IV that lead to poor ecclesiology… and both of us agree that ecclesiology is far more important than most evangelicals recognize. Andy and I are actually among staff working hard within IV toward close partnership with local churches that teach sound ecclesiology and proper sacramental theology — and administration — to our students to complement our strengths in evangelism and engagement. Like Andy, from my vantage point there is an overall trend within IV of stemming the tide rather than exacerbating churchlessness. We realize there are some poor examples within our organization and, trust us, protest vehemently when we learn of these.


      Obviously I don’t know the specifics of each situation you mention. My first name and fairly public denominational affiliation may provide you with a bit of a hint of the climate in this neck of the woods. To read what I say as IV nationally moving in a “young, restless, and reformed” direction is overreaching a bit… Reformed theology has been an increasing voice within American evangelicalism for some time and I would say that, at the very least, trends within InterVarsity have followed this for as long if not longer while doctrine has clearly been strengthening within broadly evangelical parameters. A student being asked to leave purely for being “too Calvinistic” is hard for me to imagine as a confessionally Reformed staff member, but may have been a misunderstanding on both sides? (e.g., student leaders knowing only a caricature of Calvinism and/or the student in question advocating for the group’s firm adherence to double predestination, imputation, etc.)

      Our strength in depth of Bible study is something we pride ourselves in very much (sometimes to the point of hubris) so I find the other friend’s ejection puzzling, though as a student-led movement there is variance here, too. We have campuses with multiple chapters, many of which work specifically in contexts of targeted evangelism such as fraternity and sorority students, athletes, international students, and, yes, ethnic-minority students. These chapters all have some shared fellowship and activities but also work separately in their respective contexts — this is much more effective on a campus with 40,000 students who self-segregate along the lines described.

      I have heard of a few isolated incidents of sacramental use/abuse at IV chapters and have been absolutely appalled. The staff members I know involved with one of these are no longer with our organization. Another incident years before I came on staff involved a local pastor who worked closely with an IV chapter who baptized some students while away together at an IV camp — a gray area where hopefully our movement will not venture again for the sake of edification and to work closer alongside the visible, institutional church (words and opinions of Calvin Chen and not necessarily, though hopefully, of InterVarsity).

      • Calvin,

        Could you substantiate your claims of a “deep appreciation for ecclesiology” with evidence from IV’s teaching and evangelism materials, mp3s, or other media?

        Is there a church body in authority or oversight of the IV organization? What is the official process for disciplining an errant staff member? What are the official mechanisms of accountability for staff?

        These are just some questions I have when I read these sorts of discussions.

        • Hi Joy,

          Most readers of this blog probably disagree with congregational polity but acknowledge that it is the position and model held to by many we could and should work with to advance the gospel. All of us would probably prefer working with a Conservative Congregationalist any day over a liberal member of the PCUSA.

          Unless we can eliminate congregationalism and denominationalism from Christendom, it is not possible to ask institutions like Wheaton College or Gordon-Conwell or even Westminster California to submit to a single cohesive church body while maintaining their missions of Christian education and seeking to bless the larger body. Such is with InterVarsity. All of us are governed by inter-denominational boards of trustees and all trustees of all of our respective organizations/institutions are leaders of their respective churches. The vast majority of American evangelicals belong to congregationally-governed churches and within this framework the idea of direct oversight or discipline for doctrinal errors is somewhat foreign and difficult to enforce.

          InterVarsity is unified by its doctrinal basis, vision, purpose, and values which must be annually affirmed by all staff and student leaders (which for staff also includes the IFES statement of faith which includes justification by faith alone…). There is absolutely no room for disagreement with these boundaries and there is also a fairly strong collective ethos built around them and most staff who do not fit in to this ethos leave voluntarily fairly quickly. To be honest I’m unfamiliar with doctrinal disciplinary procedures since I’ve rarely heard of them — something I’m not necessarily a fan of but something that has, for the most part, worked for us for decades and something we can’t change anytime soon. As a national movement of hundreds of individually student-led chapters, rarely does anyone claim to speak authoritatively on behalf of InterVarsity beyond what is conveyed in our vision, purpose, values, and doctrinal basis. However…

          From our core values:
          “We partner with churches in campus ministry and equip students, faculty and staff to be lifelong active members in local congregations.”

          From a statement by our president in 2003:
          “All InterVarsity staff are required to be under the spiritual authority and nurture of a local church. ”

          Both available at:
          (click on the ‘church’ link to read the president’s statement)

          Re: Kyle:
          If this staff worker is still working for InterVarsity I’d love to contact him or her on your behalf — you can send me their contact info at calvin_chen at ivstaff dot org. I can imagine an InterVarsity staff worker advising a student to choose between a church’s college-aged Bible study and one of IV’s simply to avoid duplication and to be an effective steward of his or her time. Many churches we partner closely with offer their own college-aged Bible studies, as well, but advise our students to seek to minimize duplication. Being told you had no “right to subvert” sounds extremely foreign to the IV ethos and I’d be surprised if this person is still on staff. By the way, Andy L and I share the same regional director here in the Midwest within IV who is a member of the PCA.

          • Hey Calvin, seeing that your experience (and Andy’s) with IV is in the midwest, while mine was in New England and the West Coast, perhaps the differences are partially a product of regional cultures?

            I understand the wisdom in not duplicating resources. But when a church is enraptured with a glorious vision of God through confession of the Reformed faith, I have a hard time understanding why it should prefer to leave college students with IV’s lowest-common-denominator approach over being able to teach the fullness and grandeur of its historic theology, piety, and practice. I’m not denying that IV has done a lot of good. But I’m contesting that IV is the better/preferred/more effective mode of ministry for college students. In at least some cases, couldn’t it be IV which is the duplication?

            btw, I’ve repeatedly found myself working with the PCUSA. At least there, I’ve been able to teach the confession without apology. I don’t think I could get away with that at IV.

            • Hi Darren,

              Yes absolutely regional differences within IV are fairly substantial although our collective ethos is pretty uniform, too. The Reformed influence in the Midwest is definitely much stronger and always has been probably due to proximity to Western Michigan and in the last few decades through Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (one of IV’s 5 partner seminaries).

              With my staff friends in California I’ve often detected a knee-jerk reaction against (caricatured) Calvinism — possibly due to proximity to John MacArthur’s influence?

              Yes absolutely I think there can be cases where IV is duplication and if a student only has time for one I will tell them to participate in a local church. However, anyone ‘on the ground’ with us will tell you that we are an extremely effective onramp for the local church that for the most part, the local church does not duplicate and there’s almost always room for more onramps.

              No one on this blog is denying the effectiveness of our context-specific evangelistic strategy — discipleship to appreciate the Church is a separate issue and a potential product of our ministry model when incorrectly deployed that I’m willing to deal with. One thing we provide that the local church and any denomination cannot is a mission for engaging the American secular academy as a collective entity. The academy is certainly one of the “powers and authorities” of our world right now and — again, short of completely eliminating denominationalism and congregationalism from the Christian landscape — campus parachurch orgs provide the closest thing to a collective Christian (evangelical) witness to that entity — and among the campus parachurch orgs InterVarsity is most committed to this.

              I’ve heard a lot of positive things about working with the PCUSA along confessional and/or evangelical lines from friends on the West Coast. I teach doctrine from a historic standpoint in discipleship and bring in the confessions and creeds and doctrines from them, though I usually make a disclaimer of whether I’m wearing a Reformed hat or a broadly evangelical hat in these situations (especially with students who come from a clearly non-Reformed background). The reality as I shared above is that usually it’s the 5th semester or later of time spent with a student before I get here, and I don’t see a need to apologize for a discipleship strategy that emphasizes interacting first with the Gospel (and the Gospels) and addressing some spiritual health issues before moving on to heavier doctrine.

            • Calvin, I’m curious how you phrase it:
              “a discipleship strategy that emphasizes interacting first with the Gospel (and the Gospels) and addressing some spiritual health issues before moving on to heavier doctrine.”

              I don’t view so-called heavier doctrines, or reformed distinctives as an addition to the Gospel at all. My ministry philosophy is the Gospel from first to last. The reformed perspective in my opinion is the most Biblically faithful and fruitful presentation of the Gospel. Otherwise, the distinctives would hardly be worth preserving, no? Is there really any spiritual health or heavier doctrine worth talking about apart from the hinge of the good news?

              Heh, so why wait for the 5th semester? I’d rather show Christ from Genesis and the Psalms and Proverbs from day one. And I did with the grade schoolers (why wait for college?). At a PCUSA church.

    • “…a deep appreciation for ecclesiology and thereby contributing to the ministry of the church militant.”
      I was once rebuked by a IV staff-worker because the church I attended (PCA) started a college-aged Bible study. We were basically told we didn’t have a right to subvert the large/small groups of the local IV chapter with our own college group because IV was supposed to be our college group. I’m struggling to see how this attitude propagates a deep appreciation for ecclesiology.

  18. Just to clarify, by “proper sacramental theology — and administration” I meant being administered to… not administering…

    But I think you guys knew that

  19. “Here’s hoping that RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) will open a chapter at a campus near you.”
    For what it’s worth this doesn’t seem very likely. We had a group of 15-20 interested college students, the approbation of our Presbytery and when we contacted the head of RUF we were basically told, “Come back when you have $100,000.” I have not been impressed with the PCA’s planting models (namely MNA and RUF).

    • That’s because a new CM will have a 74k salary package and about 25k for a ministry budget. I know of other guys who needed way more than that because of the expenses of the location or just the requirements of the local RUF committee. I remember one guy had to have something like 350k in the bank and another 150k promised before they would let him start up. Honestly, and if there are campus ministers reading this they’ll hate me and say I’m wrong, a campus minister at a small or new work should have no problem holding a part time job and doing campus ministry until his fundraising stabilizes. The PCA is very fearful of setting out on a mission without all the money in the bank. I understand their desire to make sure their pastors are cared for, but surely one can be responsible and also trust that God will provide. I think the PCA machinery sometimes gets in the way of its ministry.

  20. Being on the mission field in the U.S. is hard. For some reason, it is seen as illegitimate and people have a tough time supporting it, even when there is a higher percentage of Christians in Africa than among college seniors in the U.S. This is a main reason IV exists as a missions movement on colleges and universities.

  21. wow 74k.. Andy wanna jump ship?

    (completely kidding if our supervisors happen to be reading this)

    though that would probably mean we’d have to fundraise all of that.. blech.

    • @ Calvin,
      “One thing we provide that the local church and any denomination cannot is a mission for engaging the American secular academy as a collective entity.”

      Will you elaborate either here or via email?

      • Hi Kyle,

        I mean this in a two-fold sense. First, American academia functions in many ways as a singular context, culture, and entity. Professors from flagship state universities, elite private schools, and commuter campuses know of each other and can transition from one culture to another. In some ways it is insulated, but in others this culture and context is one of the most influential in America — it influences the way all of us think and it educates the cultural, political, and financial movers and shakers.

        Christian orthodoxy as an entity or culture does not have a cohesive strategy to engage this entity — the academy. To give up on it and say that secular academia cannot give glory to God is fundamentalism at its worst (and frankly, not very Calvinist…). Enter an organization like InterVarsity that has a strategy to engage this entity on behalf of Christian orthodoxy on a national level — including representation on multiple campuses and an academic press.

        Secondly, we have analogous structures that are recognizable to the University — especially as student organizations. Just as College Republicans or Democrats or a student newspaper or music ensemble is student led and a recognized entity by the University that has access to University resources, an InterVarsity chapter is recognized by the University and student-led. At a secular university, no matter how close a local church is physically to the campus (or even on the campus), with rare exceptions it does not recognizably function within the realm of the University’s language and structures.

  22. @ Darren

    Hm there’s no reply link under your comment, hopefully you get this.

    You’re right sorry that was poor semantics on my part. The “heavier doctrines” and Reformed distinctives are equally part of the Gospel.

    I meant that my priority is for students to engage with the Gospel and that if Reformed distinctives aren’t part of that initially, I’m ok with it — I just want people interacting with God’s Word honestly.

    In evangelism and discipleship, pedagogy and doctrinal fidelity are both important. A preacher could preach the most doctrinally sound sermon ever but if he’s way over his congregation’s heads it would be useless.

    Especially in an inter-denominational climate with many students who do not come from Reformed backgrounds, to bring up Reformed distinctives before they’ve really ever interacted with God and his Word is useless and often causes immediate alarm — and then they stop coming and interacting with God and his Word at all. Bottom line is that students don’t need to identify a doctrine as “Reformed” until they’ve interacted with “Gospel” and decided they want more of it.

    • Hey Calvin,
      I think we’re thinking of different things. I’m not at all suggesting that we dump something on people that will be way over their heads. I’m not sure which “Reformed distinctives” you’re thinking of that would do that. If you’re talking about infralapsarianism vs. supralapsarianism, that isn’t even on the list.

      What I’m thinking of is things like distinguishing law and gospel (or as Tim Keller puts it, Christianity from legalism or license); showing how all of Scripture points us to Christ — the cross and resurrection; understanding how to rest Biblically in order how to work Biblically; hoping in what is certain, eternal and unfading; opening eyes to see the grandeur of our Triune God in all things. You might describe it as what the Christian life means (again in Keller’s words) as a grace narrative instead of a personal moral performance narrative. As I said, it’s the Gospel from first to last.

      You might rightly recognize that these are not necessarily “reformed’ concerns that I listed, but something that any Biblically sound evangelical should be concerned with. But there are reformed angles which I think clarify and strengthen these things (ecclesiology included). Like the seasoning that flavors the dish, I’d compare the reformed slant with what gives the most exquisite and delicate taste, while others may be blander, and some simply clash. I don’t have to explain the recipe from day one, but the seasoning is always there.

      I disagree that we can do the Gospel without somebody’s seasonings. If all we give is “Jesus died for your sins” in the fire-and-brimstone or the ticket-to-Disney versions, we’re not likely to attract much interest where I am… people are jaded to that and it doesn’t challenge anyone. But I’ve repeatedly seen minds and hearts expanded as reformed slants on the Gospel have challenged reigning paradigms even of what Christianity is.

      Yes, pedagogy is important. I’ve been doing this with grade schoolers (yes, of varying backgrounds) for almost 6 years now; surely we can figure out how to do it with college students? Granted, I’ve made my share of mistakes. I still do. But if 8 year olds can wrestle with Christ in the OT and what it means to feed on him; if junior highers can be wowed by things like predestination, or the better word that Christ’s blood speaks over the blood of Abel; if high schoolers can gain a rudimentary grasp of how the covenants fit together, maybe college students are capable of chewing on more than 4 spiritual laws in wrestling with the Gospel. Oh, and I don’t remember identifying to the kids any doctrine as “reformed.” I show it to them from the Bible.

  23. Darren,
    4 spiritual laws? We’re still picking on the wrong organization! But seriously, thanks for your post. I agree whole-heartedly with a fist pump. Just remember Tim Keller learned much of his “grace narrative” ideology from InterVarsity and that InterVarsity created, according to Keller, the best gospel diagram in evangelicalism. I really don’t mean to fightin’ words, i just want to point out again that there is overall a great disparity between IV and other Christian parachurch organizations that keep getting brought up here. My students definitely do wrestle with the things you mentioned in your last paragraph. We’ll see what happens when the dust settles at George Washington University, this thing isn’t over yet as we still hold to the Bear Trap Statement.

    • Okay, I guess, bringing up 4 spiritual laws was a bit facetious. If IV where you’re at is seriously teaching Christ from all of Scripture, rightly handling law and gospel, then praise God!

      I’m still not convinced that you guys are the norm. When RUF began a series of Christ in Genesis, it was rather unique on campus. I doubt that the IV staffers here have a robust understanding of the covenants to handle something like it (or the doctrinal agreement to pursue it).

  24. Cool, “Christ in Genesis” is one of the topics my student leaders are voting on for our studies next semester! It will go well both with our doctrines class going through Berkhof’s manual and our desire to preach Christ to the thousands of unbelievers who hear and see us on campus every week. I agree that Calvin and i are not the norm in IV necessarily, and never have been in IV. But i am convinced that InterVarsity’s witness on campuses is far more of a contribution to The Church than a hindrance to Her.

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