Note: This article was previously published online by the Secular Student Alliance. This slightly-revised version is reproduced here with permission.
On most college and university campuses, the face of Christianity you see is embodied in local churches, campus ministries, or parachurch organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ or InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. While these groups broadly promote Christian apologetics and a Christian worldview, none do so as fully as Summit Ministries. It is not surprising that most people have never heard of Summit or of its founder, Dr. David Noebel (though the Internet Infidels have: see David Noebel). Summit has flown under the radar since its inception in 1962. Even in Christian circles, Summit was not well known until 1989, when Doc Noebel was interviewed on one of Dr. James Dobson’s radio talk shows. With that, Summit quietly joined and now plays an important role in the so-called culture war.
Summit is located at the base of Pike’s Peak in Manitou Springs, a suburb of Colorado Springs, Colorado (ironically, a city that is also home to Internet Infidels, Inc.). Nestled in a residential area, the “Summit Hotel” is their base of operations. The hotel has the capability to house about 180 students, which is usually filled to capacity during their two-week sessions. With eight or nine sessions, that means approximately 1,500 students’ pass through their doors each summer. All are of high school or college age. Students attend because of interest in what Summit has to teach, or their Christian high school requires it, or because a family member had heard about it or attended in previous years. Students also have the opportunity to return in the future as counselors, who are vital members of the support staff that handle the day to day operations of Summit.
The cornerstone of Summit’s philosophy can be summed up with two Bible verses. Colossians 2:8 states, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Stated another way, Summit exists to strengthen a Christian’s faith, to assure them that there is a rational foundation for their beliefs, to show that Christianity is a comprehensive, consistent worldview, and to explain the “dangers” of non-Christian and anti-Christian worldviews in society and the schools.
A unique opportunity arose for me to see Summit’s philosophy up-close and in action in the summer of 2000. For two weeks, I was a guest at the Summit Hotel and labored alongside students from across the country under the tutorage of Doc Noebel and his faculty. My opportunity to attend Summit was due to Chuck Edwards, one of the faculty members. He had come to the U of MN campus earlier that spring during a book distribution program and we were able to sit down for an afternoon to talk about Humanist Manifesto 2000 and secular humanism in general. We ended up talking about Summit, and after later consulting with Doc, they were able to offer me a generous scholarship from the normal cost of $575 to attend.
Doc Noebel’s background includes being a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin Madison, a college professor and president, and candidate for U.S. Congress. He currently is a member of the American Philosophical Association, the Society of Christian Philosophers, the National Association of Scholars and the semisecret Council for National Policy. Doc’s credentials do not preclude a wide variety of Christian intellectuals from assisting him through the summer. Many are well-known in Christian intellectual and apologetic circles, as well as the creationist and intelligent design movements. Philip Johnson, Dr. Ron Nash, Dr. J.P. Moreland, Dr. Duane Gish, Dr. Frank Beckwith and Dr. Del Tackett are just a few members of the faculty. During the first few days there, it was asserted that the two weeks we would spend under their guidance was equivalent to a year or two at a university.
Much of what the faculty lectured on was closely related to Doc’s main thesis, which can be found in his series of lectures and mammoth book Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth, as well as Clergy in the Classroom: The Religion of Secular Humanism. Basically stated, everyone has a worldview. A worldview is a set of beliefs or ideas that someone has. Each person’s worldview gives way to their assumptions about our purpose in life, the origin of life and if there is an afterlife. Since these worldviews are so integral to how a person sees the world, they are also religious in nature. There are 11 aspects in a worldview: Theology, Philosophy, Ethics, Science, Psychology, Sociology, Law, Politics, Economics, History and Culture. These 11 aspects allows students to gain an outline of the five “religious” worldviews Doc sees as prominent in our society: Secular Humanism, Marxism/Leninism, Postmodernism, Cosmic Humanism and Biblical Christianity.
According to the chart we received, secular humanists have a theology of atheism and a philosophy of naturalism. We’re ethical relativists and our science is based on Darwinian Evolution, formal logic, Newtonian physics and the Industrial age. Our psychology is Monistic Self-Actualization, our sociology is a nontraditional family, world state government, ethical society church and we enforce positive law. Our politics lean towards world government, we are mostly socialists, believe in historical evolution and our culture is man-centered neoclassical to postimpressionism. A humanist’s “Old Testament” is A Common Faith by Dewey and the “New Testament” is Humanist Manifesto I, II and 2000.
Doc would spend an hour each evening lecturing to us. He spent half of those nights talking about secular humanism. He set the groundwork for his talks on secular humanism by describing the theological, economic, political and educational spectrums. He explained what sorts of ideas were contained on the ‘left’ and ‘right’ side of the four spectrums. Within the educational spectrum is where secular humanism fit in. Doc explained that when it comes to education, liberalism is simply a buzzword for secular humanism. He illustrated the secular humanist domination of the educational system by means of an analogy of a baseball team: A student is a batter when entering into the field of higher education, facing the humanist baseball team. Pitching against the student is “the most influential educator of the 20th Century” John Dewey. His catcher is Isaac Asimov. Paul Kurtz plays first base, Corliss Lamont is on second, followed by shortstop Julian Huxley and third baseman Bertrand Russell. Playing left field is Richard Dawkins, Margaret Sanger has center, and right field is Carl Rogers. The designated hitter is Mary Calderone and utility players include Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, the various “Humanists of the Year,” and all signers of the three Humanist Manifestos. Ted Turner is the manager, and sponsors for the humanist baseball team include the American Humanist Association, the Sex Information Education Council of the United States and the League for International Democracy. In the grandstands cheering are numerous humanist organizations such as the National Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation and the MacArthur Foundation. With Dewey on the mound, Doc raved, no wonder Christian students were losing their faith once going to college.
Doc sees many developments in history as advances for secular humanists. Harvard Divinity school going Unitarian in 1805; Karl Marx and The Communist Manifesto; Darwin and The Origin of Species and Nietzsche and his philosophy. In more recent years, the humanist-influenced Supreme Court decided in 1962, in Engel v. Vitale, to throw prayer out of school, followed by the Bible in 1963 with Abington School District v. Schempp. 1973 gave us Roe v. Wade and 1980 saw the Court throwing the Ten Commandments out in Stone v. Graham. 1987 was Edwards v. Aguillard when God was taken out of the schools and 1994 allowed homosexuality in via Romer v. Evans. Beyond the influence that our courts have on public life, he sees the more insidious sway of secular humanism.
Some years in the past, in Superior WI, third graders were asked to recite a “World Pledge.” The pledge goes as follows:
I pledge allegiance to the world
To care for earth, sea, and air
To honor every living thing
With peace and justice everywhere!
Although Doc could not cite who or what organization made up this pledge, he assured students that was a pledge written by a secular humanist, since what was written in Humanist Manifesto 2000 is similar to the pledge. The teachers in our schools “are raising the own destroyers of our civilization.” Not only are we in the schools, but key homosexual activists are all secular humanists, since the starter of the ‘homosexual revolution’ was Alfred Kinsey. Doc claims we are also the main promoters of abortion across the country, since we, along with Planned Parenthood, want to reduce the world’s population to 600 million. Due to the denial of authority that is inherent in our beliefs, we have the audacity to determine what is right and wrong, outside of God.
The religious nature of secular humanism was also expounded upon. Doc cites how Julian Huxley read a passage by Lord Morley stating, “The next great task of science is to create a religion for humanity,” and taking up that challenge, developed “evolutionary humanism.” And we are now supposedly even closer to Huxley’s dream of a religion of science. Doc pointed out how the first Humanist Church was established in 1929 in New York City; John Dewey came out with A Common Faith in 1934 which declared that humanism has “all the elements for a religious faith” and the Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins cited secular humanism as a religion. In the 1978 preface to Humanist Manifesto I & II, Paul Kurtz called secular humanism a “religious” point of view, although in the Winter 86-87 issue of Free Inquiry, he laments the religious tax exemption of the American Humanist Association. The Dallas Morning News has advertisements in its religion section for the North Texas Church of Freethought. We even have an eschatology, following Carl Sagan’s idea to replant the human population on Ophiuchus 4.8 billion miles away when the sun explodes.
One of the bigger evidences Doc cites is the fact that institutions of higher education across the country have listed humanist groups under the heading of ‘religious groups.’ His use of how humanist groups are classified is questionable. For example, Doc noted in a 1995 visit on campus that the University of Minnesota Atheists and Humanists was listed as a “Religious Affiliated” group. After returning to campus in 1999, UMAH was no longer under that category, instead was listed as a ‘Political and Social Action” group. It’s unclear why it was originally listed with religious groups on campus. Many freethought groups purposely seek out a religious classification on their campuses, not because they view themselves as religious, but because they feel they’ll get the most exposure there. Doc claimed the change was due to his earlier visit, even though the president of UMAH at that time had never heard of Noebel and had made the switch only because he did not feel it correctly represented the group. All of this put together, Doc asserted, is overwhelming proof that secular humanism is a religion as well as a powerful force that has infiltrated the institutions of our nation. The secular humanist opposition and threat to Biblical Christianity are real. It is not that the ideas of secular humanism are better than Christianity, Doc mused, but that humanists have done a better job of spreading our “false philosophy.”
Although Summit revolved around Doc’s main thesis, other topics relating to various worldviews were examined. Summit’s semirigorous schedule allowed for a mix of classes, praise and worship, free time, discussions, sports time and small groups which all culminated in a graduation ceremony the night before we left. The main activities all occurred in Summit’s large classroom, which formerly was the hotel’s ballroom. Day in and day out, students would sit in rows, first segregated by age and then by sex. The oldest students would be in front and the seats were alternated boy/girl. Most lectures from the faculty or guest speakers occurred in the morning or early afternoon. Students were expected to remain attentive and take notes. To further that end, Summit provided us with a massive 450 page three ring binder, which contains a plethora of information.
The binder was divided into nine sections. “General Information” gave us codes of conduct and basic information about Summit. “Worldview Analysis” was devoted to the study of the above-mentioned worldviews, a specific “Pseudo-Christian Cult” known as Mormonism and articles from The Washington Times and Human Events which delved into communist subversion during the Cold War. “Leadership” was a short section on the attitudes a Christian leader should have and what the Bible says about leadership. One speaker asserted “Look what non Christians can do and have done…think what we can do with the power of the Holy Spirit behind us!” “Evolution vs. Creationism” included notes from Dr. Duane Gish from the Institute for Creation Research. He spent most of his time attempting to disprove the fossil record, which somehow magically proves creationism. “The Home Front” dove into the worldviews that the entertainment culture churns out and included a list of fifteen reasons you should abstain from sex until marriage. “Interdisciplinary Christian Topics” covered the Christian view of law and government, the Christian heritage of our nation and the inspiration of the scriptures. The “Fruits of Moral Relativism” contained information about the debate over abortion, lecture notes regarding if belief in God is rational and numerous articles supporting the assertion that a “homosexual revolution” is sweeping through America. “Christianity in Action” had notes on how to witness, some Christian legal resources and a list of 7 steps to becoming an effective Christian at college. Twenty-eight “Fact Sheets” made up the back of the binder. They covered topics as wide ranging as abortion, the Cosmic Humanist Worldview, Economics, Feminism, Humanism in Action, Pornography and Welfare. Each fact sheet has ‘key quotes,’ ‘key sources,’ ‘key organization,’ and ‘key verses’ about each topic.
A mood of “Christian nationalism” was strongly felt throughout Summit. In front of the hotel, the Stars and Stripes fly alongside a Christian flag. Our morning routine would include prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance to our nation’s flag, and then a pledge to the Christian one. The Christian pledge was very similar to the American one: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.” Speakers would also expound on the Judeo-Christian roots of our nation. Dr. Del Tackett, an Executive Vice President from Focus on the Family, discussed how people in modern day America are trying to revise history concerning the founding fathers and cornerstone documents to remove the Christian God from them. If this is successful, he warns that Christians will lose their zeal and passion for our nation and our culture. After all, if there is no Christian heritage here in America, there is no longer any reason for Christians to love our country.
Of course, Summit was not all work and no play. Three times a week was “Sports Time,” which involved us going to a nearby park and having the afternoon to play various sports, or just hang around and talk. We also had picnics, free time to go into town, a chance to climb up Pike’s Peak as well as the options of playing paintball, going on a zoo tour, as well as visiting Focus on the Family and the Air Force Academy. During many of these more casual times, I had the chance to engage my classmates in discussion on a wide range of topics. We talked about things as varied as creation vs. evolution to God’s omniscience and our free will to where humanist values and virtues are derived from. Despite the caricature of a closed-minded Bible thumper sometimes ascribed to Christians, very little of that was present at Summit. The students I met there were all thoughtful individuals who seemed to be genuinely interested in learning about what was out there. They realized that they were only getting one side on many issues, and were not simply taking in and believing everything the faculty taught.
There seemed to be a general consensus among the students I talked to that we were being inundated with information. Speaker after speaker would spew information at us, giving us references, but not putting things in context. The information we took notes on initially may have sounded like ‘proof’ (and made for a good sound bite) that there is a new-age conspiracy or that evolutionists are suppressing creationist data, but a minimal amount of digging would show most of their ‘facts’ to be misinterpretations or outright distortions of the truth. Especially when discussing secular humanism and creation v. evolution, there was extensive use of primary source documentation, but with much of it taken out of context. Quotes from Steven Jay Gould showing that he does not accept evolution as a scientific theory, the Torcaso v. Watkins case and the “rotting corpse of Christianity” quote from John Dunphy in The Humanist magazine, are just a few of the examples of misrepresentations by the Summit faculty. In addition, speakers trivialized the 11th Article of the Treaty of Tripoli, distorted the link between biological evolution and origins of life, misled students about what sort of organizations receive a 501(c)3 tax exemption and trotted out old myths linking homosexuality to pedophilia. I did have opportunities in and out of class to give students a more contextual understanding of what was being said and filled in a few of the blanks that the faculty members left out of their talks.
While the faculty spends their summers teaching high school and college age kids in Manitou Springs, Summit’s programs extend far beyond the hotel they are housed in. They have composed a video-based curriculum based off of Doc’s Understanding the Times book as well as content from the summer sessions. This video curriculum can be used in Christian high schools, bible studies or special church seminars. Summit also has created “Lightbearer’s Christian Worldview Curriculum” directed towards students in middle school and early high school years and are now working on a elementary school version. Their focus is not just on younger generations, they have “Adult/Educator Conferences” that are held at the Navigator’s compound every spring. “Worldview Weekends” are two-day conferences held across the country with speakers like Doc Noebel, David Barton from Wallbuilders, Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis and apologists like Josh McDowell (see also Josh McDowell). With these combined curricula, Summit one day envisions educating 10,000 students a summer and 100,000 a year.
Students for America is one other noteworthy organization. Run by Chuck Edwards, the faculty member that arranged for me to attend Summit, Students for America is a foundation dedicated to renewing America’s universities through developing student leaders on campus. A new “book blitz” they’ve implemented was first tested out on the U of MN. Students for America contacted a local campus ministry, Maranatha, and through them, began handing out free copies of Philip Johnson’s Reason in the Balance to students and staff for a two-week period. Ads were placed in the school’s newspaper, and a copy of the book was dropped off in the President’s office. The culmination of the 1,500-book giveaway was a talk to a crowd of over 200 by a proponent of “intelligent design.” Since the project was a success, Summit and Students for America will be extending it and attempting to have a “book blitz” on six campuses across the nation each school year. Doc Noebel will also possibly have a parallel book give away project on Christian campuses. In this case, it would be the update to Battle for the Mind, a book originally written by Tim LaHaye. Renamed Mind Siege, the cooperative venture between LaHaye and Doc was released in January of 2001 and contains more current information about the supposed secular humanist conspiracy.
Many times, secularists look at the broad spectrum of the religious right with some confusion. There are organizations involved with attempting to influence the political process, some are focused on strengthening the Christian family, others work to disseminate their views on history and science and still more exist simply to evangelize. But none of these organizations are able to change the hearts and minds of people as Summit can. Ministries such as Summit are feeding the souls of Christians in our nation and convincing them to be on fire for their faith. Summit’s effectiveness comes from their ability to have a believer walk away, reassured, reaffirmed and confident about their beliefs. They are encouraging the next generation of Christians to rise up and take a place in society. Summit is providing the many facets of organized Christianity with people willing to lead and those willing to be led. Students who graduate from Summit are going to be the ones that will be fighting against church state separation, the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools, equal rights for all, civil and religious liberties in general and many other issues vital in creating a strong, secular culture. Activism, especially at the high school and university level is particularly important to refute the false teachings of Summit and her many sister organizations. As we embark on a new phase within the freethought movement, we must be knowledgeable of who it is we’re facing across the divide and where their ideas are coming from. Summit is a ministry working to create radical change in our society and culture, and we must be wary not to allow them to reap what they have sown.
For more information, see the unofficial information site for the Council for National Policy, an article by Doc Noebel on Columbine, People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, “The Strategies of Christian Fundamentalism,” The Fantasy World of Tim LaHaye, and information on the so-called “The Wedge Strategy,” the plan that “seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.”