A recent survey reveals that many students want to see APU pursue Christ, but not all agree as to how.
In the fall of 2019, Francis Chan preached his final sermon at APU. He delivered a fiery, convicting discourse to the student body, proclaiming that many students had placed their thoughts and opinions above the word of God. It quickly became one of his most popular sermons on YouTube, with a republished version garnering well over 700,000 views.
The sermon started off casually. “Okay,” Chan said behind a nervous smile, “I was thinking this morning, ‘I have been preaching at APU chapel before a lot of you were born’ … I think it’s a record. I expect something for that!”
Despite the colloquial start, Chan’s tone descended and the audience grew quiet: “But this will be my last chapel message. My family and I are going to move to Asia in February.”
In the moments that followed, Chan spoke from his heart, using 2 Corinthians 4:2-4 as his central passage. Delivering what he called “an open statement of truth,” Chan cried out, “We like to hide certain things about God, because we think, ‘Well, I don’t want to tell them about his judgment … But that’s not the way Jesus taught! Jesus would get in front of a crowd … and say, ‘Hey! I’m about to leave here and get nailed to a cross. Unless you are willing to just ditch your life and pick up the cross next to me … then don’t bother following me!’”
Self-denial, submission and sacrifice were prominent themes of this sermon, and Chan didn’t just stop there. Moving away from Christians in general, Chan began speaking to APU students directly, warning them of the blindness that Satan places on people’s eyes.
“Sometimes we drift and we don’t realize it,” he solemnly stated. “I can say … there have been changes here … where [the Bible] used to be revered more than it is now. And people used to just [say], ‘Okay, whatever that book says!’ And now there has been this rise of our own feelings and opinions … and this book is slowly drifting,” Chan passionately preached.
“A lot of you believe what you just want to believe,” he emphatically continued. “Think of something you believe right now in this book that you don’t want to believe?”
Following this indicting sermon, ZU News polled students and asked them for their thoughts. Brandon Jackson, a former public relations major, stated that he agreed with the sermon, asserting that humanity’s sinfulness causes us to automatically bear our thoughts above those of the Lord. However, not everyone agreed.
Ivy Lu, a former communication studies student, commented that Chan’s claims were exaggerated. She claimed to have known of APU students who conceptualized their own thoughts as higher than Scripture, but this was not consistent with the majority.
What is the truth about the state of APU? If we assume this sermon applied in 2019, then do Chan’s pronouncements still ring true? Or, were they innocuous claims that current students and faculty should ignore?
In early November, ZU Magazine conducted a survey of APU students, asking them questions about the state of the university’s Christian identity. The following is a description of our findings.
97.2% of respondents to the survey were Christians; 72.2% were female, 25% were male and 2.8% were non-binary. The majority of students were non-denominational, with Baptists coming in second, and 80.6% were active members of a church body.
When asked if they believed APU should require a statement of faith from all incoming students, 91.7% said no.
“In my own experience, I came to APU with the purpose of furthering and growing in my faith,” one anonymous student explained. “When I first came … I found it liberating that I was not forced to do something that I found myself uncomfortable with. If I were required to submit a statement of faith during my freshman year, it would be unlikely that I would be a student at APU.”
“I believe that this restricts the kind of people who can attend APU,” another commenter stated. “This goes against everything Jesus did in His time on earth.” This sentiment was shared by many more students.
On the other end of the spectrum, one respondent commented, “We are a Christian school [sic] the whole point of going to a [Christian] school is because you want to have an education that is Christ [centered]. I did not know APU is so soft and willing to go against its mission statement; but, I guess when money talks, money talks.”
In courses such as Christian Life, Faith and Ministry, chapel is always a big topic of discussion. In our research, we found that about 70% of our student body feels properly represented in chapel by means of the sermons preached, styles of music played and types of worship experiences offered.
Our findings revealed that 64.7% of our student population has attended chapel this semester or intentionally watched it online. This means that 35.3% of students have not interacted with this element of the university’s spiritual life. For an undergraduate population of about 3,200, this translates to 1,130 students missing out on chapel.
“It seems like every week another row of chairs is removed from chapel,” Kynnady Andreetta, a junior public relations major, commented in an interview.
In relation to decreasing attendance, Andreetta also expressed great gratitude toward all those who work to put on chapel services, particularly the pastors who labor in preaching. Our pastors “have shown up when there are 500 people or 50 people, and I know that must be hard behind the scenes to see that decrease in attendance,” she stated.
Tangentially, over 90% of students affirmed that most of their peers simply let online chapel play in the background while they give their attention to other tasks. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that 27.8% of respondents denied chapel as having an integral role in the maintenance of Christianity at APU. Despite these statistics, 86.1% of students agree that APU should not get rid of chapel.
“I believe that chapel has been a place for people to worship Christ and listen to some great sermons,” a student wrote. “However, I do believe that there have been some chapels where the person speaking has nothing to do with what chapel should be about.”
Another student said, “I think they need to put it back on East campus. I haven’t been able to attend because I can’t make it back from West in time for my class on East.” The good news here is that chapel will be moving back to East Campus this spring, according to a recent email released by the Office of Corporate Worship.
When it came to the topic of general education coursework in theology and biblical studies, students’ reviews were mixed. 44% of respondents reported their courses within the School of Theology as being beneficial to their relationship with Christ.
13.9% of students expressed that they were concerned about certain things they had been taught in these courses. Another 19.4% were undecided if professors were affirmatively teaching outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy—by orthodoxy, we specifically have the Nicene Creed and other such unifying documents in mind.
“Heresies in our theology [courses] come a dime a dozen,” a respondent starkly wrote.
“I have been spared from some of the wild stuff being taught in these courses, but some of the stuff I have heard from my peers is concerning,” another student said.
A third respondent explained that many students will say they are concerned about the legitimacy of the school’s teachings “because APU’s theology [department] is inclusive of context, cultures, and interpretations, which threatens the white man’s theology (which is inherently racist and sexist).”
When it came to pressing social issues, the results were similarly divisive.
When asked if they believed APU should affirm and support same-sex relationships among students, the university was split into thirds: one-third said yes, another third said no and the final third was undecided. When asked about APU affirming and supporting the LGBTQ+ community at large, the results were similar.
“With many social issues, such as LGBTQ+, abortion, pronouns, etc., I believe that many people have put their thoughts and opinions above Scripture—even I have been tempted to do it. But, at the end of the day, as Christians, we must go by what Scripture says,” said one commenter. In light of Francis Chan’s final sermon at APU in which he claimed most students place their thoughts above Scripture, about 70% of students would agree with these assumptions.
One of the university’s intercultural competence requirements gives students the option to enroll in a human diversity course that seeks to “focus on groups that have been assigned subordinate positions because of race, religion, country of origin, disability, age, language, or gender.” But a student enrolled in the course raised the question: “Why am I having to learn about the LGBTQ+ community at a Christian institution?,” further emphasizing that “the lessons I’m forced to interact with don’t abide by the law of Scripture.”
Another striking statistic was found when students were asked if they believed that Scripture permitted a woman to be ordained for pastoral ministry. According to APU’s statement of evangelical commitment, the university holds to “an affirmation of both men and women in all leadership at all levels of the Church.” This belief indeed extends into the life of the university, where many of its campus pastors are women. Yet, not all students share this affirmation. Only 55% of respondents said yes to this query, with 19% saying no and 25% remaining undecided.
Our question about the continuation of spiritual gifts saw even greater levels of skepticism, with 41.6% of students believing that the miraculous spiritual gifts are active in the church today. Such gifts are apostleship, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy and healing. Of this percentage, 8.3% said they affirmed all gifts but apostleship.
The final set of questions bore timely results. About 80% of students said they came to APU with the university’s Christian heritage as a main influence. Of these students, only 42.9% said APU had met their expectations as a Christian institution. Bear in mind, 97.2% of our respondents were confessing Christians, yet only 83.3% of them noted they believe Jesus is the only way unto salvation.
“To what extent do you agree with this statement?: APU is getting stronger in its Christian identity,” one of our final questions inquired. 43% either disagreed or strongly disagreed that APU’s Christian identity is getting firmer. 13% agreed or strongly agreed, and the remaining 41% were neutral on the matter.
One of APU’s graduate students who has attended the school for five years now said, “I’ve come across a lot of amazing professors that know the truth is in the word, but there [are] a lot of societal norms that I have seen APU choose to acknowledge even though these norms contradict the school’s mission statement and what they claim to stand for.”
For most APU students, their university’s pursuit of the mark of Christ is essential, but they define this pursuit in different ways. Upon being asked how APU can become more Christlike, one student fiercely declared, “First it has to purge the theology department and most of the chapel staff. I know just as many people who have lost faith due to the theology department than have been helped by this school.”
Another student simply commented, “Love everybody,” then later stated, “If APU students could cut the s*** and stop prioritizing their own world views and desires over the actual lived experiences of others then that would look more Christlike to me.”
In a similar manner, one respondent advised, “Have a more inclusive theology. Take after the [theology department]—maybe they know a little more about this (makes sense huh?).”
Other students, perhaps just as passionate about their university’s pursuit of God, said things like this: “Getting more students involved in groups that support their faith.” Another, “Making a continual pursuit of Christ the center of daily life and focus.” Yet another, “I think especially for the administration, really going back to the Word and making sure that everything that is being taught is in accordance with the Bible.”
Though much more can and will be said about the state of APU’s Christian identity, we will conclude as one student powerfully exhorted our community, “Seek humility.”