August 24, 2019

Bob Jones University: It’s a Question of Doctrine

Dr. Steve Pettit
Today I am drawing your attention to a chapel message given at Bob Jones University (BJU) by its president Dr. Steve Pettit. The message was preached in BJU’s chapel on January 26, 2015.  Following are excerpts transcribed from the recorded message.

“What is the race? It is the whole of the Christian life of faith….  (4:15) When you start [the race] in faith you need to run and finish in faith…. (6:35) The race has to be faithfully run to the finish.” (10:15) Dr. Pettit goes on to say there is, “justification, sanctification and a glorification.” (11:12) Then, however, he said this, “If you lose, if you don’t finish you lose everything, you lose your soul.” (11:40)

Later in the message he references Old Testament saints from Hebrews 11 saying, “These Old Testament saints received God’s approval, they all died in faith, they were loyal, they persevered in their faith.” (19:10) He said, “If you run and don’t win then you are truly the biggest losers.” (21:35)
We run the race, we cross the finish line, and so what’s the prize? What is the award? Well, there are different viewpoints.  Some would have the viewpoint that the awards are crowns in Heaven. But as I read the book of Hebrews and see the whole gist of the book and the flow of the book, I don’t believe its referring to crowns in Heaven. I think it is referring to Heaven itself.” (22:10) 
“Now, there’s almost a dilemma that immediately arises up.  Fact is I’ve already had some statements on this to me. Because it almost gives the impression that you’re saying that you can lose your salvation, and I have not really said that at all. What I would like to say is…God’s people have to continue in the faith. They must persevere because perseverance is the testimony of the reality of your faith.” (23:30) 
“It’s almost like you have two rails as you’re running down this road, this Christian life.  One is I’m saved, but the other one is I’m not saved yet. I’m not in glory. It’s like you could say it this way, ‘I am in the race, but I have to keep on running, I’m not saved yet, I’m not in glory’.” (25:45)1 For the complete sermon audio see footnotes.
At the time a number of pastors were genuinely concerned with the message content and contacted Dr. Pettit about it.  With what did their concern lie?  For example Dr. Pettit said, “If you lose, if you don’t finish you lose everything, you lose your soul.” (11:40)  That theme is common among the advocates of Calvinism. For example,
John Piper
“There is no doubt that Jesus saw a measure of real, lived-out obedience to the will of God as necessary for final salvation.... What God will require at the judgment is not our perfection, but sufficient fruit to show that the tree had life-in our case, divine life.” (John Piper, What Does Jesus Demand of the World, pp. 160, 211.
“Endurance in faith is a condition for future salvation. Only those who endure in faith will be saved for eternity.” (R. C. Sproul, Grace Unknown, p. 198.)
“Not only is holiness the goal of your redemption, it is necessary for your redemption…. we are commanded to be holy, saved to be holy, and, in fact, we must be holy if we are to inherit eternal life.” (Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness, pp. 26, 30 italics his, bold mine.)
Dr. Pettit was teaching Calvinism’s 5th point of TULIP, which is “Perseverance of the Saints.”  That a saint will persevere, will finish the race faithfully, he will not fail. Steve Pettit’s message is virtually identical to that of Piper, Sproul, DeYoung cited above and MacArthur’s below. 
“The doctrine of the believer’s security is tied to the believer’s persevering faith…. the most important element in all the range of salvation doctrines is this issue of the perseverance of the saints.  It is, in the end, what makes salvation salvation because it is forever…. Any idea of salvation that leaves out security is a distortion of the truth.  And any idea of security that leaves out perseverance is a distortion of the truth.” (John MacArthur, “Perseverance of the Saints,” Part 2. September 5, 2004.)
“The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere. . . . It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of the [sic] their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere. Consequently the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance.” (John MacArthur, “Perseverance of the Saints.” The Master’s Seminary Journal4, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 5-24.)
What we’ve read means, “Perseverance is [being] articulated as the only way to ensure ‘final salvation’, i.e., glorification.” (In Defense of the GospelBiblical Answers to Lordship Salvation [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 273.) Does what weve considered thus far make Dr. Pettit a 5-point Calvinist?  It does not! Like any other man only he can answer as to whether or not he accepts or rejects any of Calvinisms five points (TULIP).

Here I would like to examine a portion of the current BJU Position Statements: Calvinism, Arminianism and Reformed Theology. Under the subsection, With Regard to the Doctrine of Soteriology, paragraph one, this statement appears, “God offers this salvation freely to all men who are willing to repent and turn from their sins (Acts 3:19, 17:30) and place their full faith and trust in the atonement Christ made by His finished work on the Cross (Luke 24:46-48, Heb. 9:11-15, 10:10-14).”

An essential feature of Lordship Salvation’s interpretation of the gospel is encapsulated in that single sentence. Lordship’s gospel demands of the sinner faith in Christ, plus commitment of life, to turn from (stop) sinning and start obeying in “exchange” for salvation.   
“This is what Jesus meant when He spoke of taking up one’s own cross to follow Him. And that is why he demanded that we count the cost carefully. He was calling for an exchange of all that we are for all that He is. He was demanding implicit obedience—unconditional surrender to His lordship.” (Dr. John MacArthur: The Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith, p. 202. Italics added)
Dr. John Van Gelderen explained why it is confusing to tell sinners they need to turn from their sins,
“Jesus said, ‘They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:31-32). Sick people do not turn from their sickness to a physician. If they could turn from sickness, they would no longer need a physician. Rather, sick people turn to a physician for deliverance from their sickness. Similarly, sinners cannot turn from their sin(s) to Christ. If they could, they would not need a Savior. Sinners must turn to Christ, the Great Physician, for deliverance from their sin and its consequence.”2
Dr. Ernest Pickering (1928-2000) recognized Lordship Salvation as a departure from the biblical plan of salvation. Following are two excerpts from Dr. Pickering’s review of John MacArthur’s original edition of The Gospel According to Jesus.

“John MacArthur is a sincere servant of the Lord, of that we have no doubt.... We believe in his advocacy of the so-called lordship salvation he is wrong. He desperately desires to see holiness, lasting fruit, and continuing faithfulness in the lives of Christian people. This reviewer and we believe all sincere church leaders desire the same.... But the remedy for this condition is not found in changing the terms of the gospel.”
“One of the chief objections to the notion of ‘lordship salvation’ is that it adds to the gospel of grace. It requires something of the sinner which the Scriptures do not require. The message of salvation by grace proclaims to the sinner that they may receive eternal life by faith alone whereas the message of ‘lordship salvation’ tells sinners they must be willing to give up whatever is in their life that is displeasing to God.” (Ernest Pickering, Lordship Salvation: An Examination of John MacArthur’s Book, The Gospel According to Jesus.)
Lordship Salvation demands a commitment of one’s life, and a promise of surrender to the lordship of Christ in an up-front exchange for the reception of salvation (justification). Calvinism’s perseverance is keeping that promise, but if you fail, “if you don’t finish you lose everything, you lose your soul.” (Steve Pettit: What Does it Mean to Run the Race?)

Teaching that a soul, justified by faith, must perform the good works expected of a born again believer, throughout his lifetime to inherit eternal life (glorification) in Heaven at death is works salvation. That is “Lordship Salvation.”3

When Dr. Pettit told the BJU student body “If you lose, if you don’t finish you lose everything, you lose your soul” his message essentially left one of two conclusions for the students. First, although you have been justified, born again by faith in Jesus Christ, if you do not run the race of sanctification faithfully until death, you do not enter Heaven, you never see glorification.  Second, you were never saved in the first place.

The chapel sermon we’ve considered was not given by a mere guest speaker.  This was Dr. Steve Pettit, the president of BJU, teaching an element of Calvinism.  The BJU Position Statement legitimizes an integral part of Lordship Salvation.  This is a very serious matter because, “Lordship Salvation tears at the very heart of the gospel; it corrupts ‘the simplicity that is in Christ’ (2 Cor. 11:3), it is a man-centered message that frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21).” (In Defense of the GospelBiblical Answers to Lordship Salvation [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 49.)

Calvinism and Lordship Salvation has made inroads into schools and churches that aforetime rejected this teaching. When a university president and that school's position statement bring elements of Calvinism and Lordship Salvation to the student body one might wonder if those teachings have been adopted as acceptable or possibly official doctrinal positions of the university.

The BJU Student Handbook (2018-2019) states, “The BJU Creed highlights the fundamentals of the faith. Based on these essentials, we strive to maintain unity among the student body. In the interest of this unity and in love and respect for each other, there is to be no proselytizing based on theological interpretations, such as Calvinism and Arminianism.” (p. 8). Yet BJU president Steve Pettit was preaching Calvinisms Perseverance of the Saints, “proselytizing Calvinism,” if you will, to the student body.

What Should you, as a Parent or Pastor, Do?
If you have questions, ask. You may reach out to Dr. Pettit, Dr. Horn or any Bible faculty to ask what their position(s) are on Calvinism, Lordship Salvation, Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. You might ask, “Which of the 5-points of Calvinism (TULIP) or Doctrines of Grace, do you accept as legitimate or reject?” Ask their view of each of the 5-points in turn: Total Inability, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints. You should also ask,
  • Do you believe regeneration comes before belief or at the moment of saving belief?
  • Is faith the fruit of regeneration or is regeneration the fruit of faith?
  • Explain why the Bible says Christ will preserve you in Jesus Christ (Jude 1) and God will keep you from falling (Jude 24), but the only use of perseverance refers to praying for the saints Eph. 6:18?  
This is hard because we love BJU and all it has contributed over the years. Seeing what has happened to many of our schools (Pillsbury, TTU, Calvary, Clearwater, Northland4) is disappointing. Dr. Pettit’s message, “What Does it Mean to Run the Race may signal a shift in the doctrinal stance of BJU. It pains us greatly that circumstances dictate an article like this could even be written.  It would, however, be a pity for pastors and families sending their young people to BJU thinking it is the same as it once was for them if it is not, if the university has changed.

1) For the complete recorded sermon, see- What Does it Mean to Run the Race?
Defined briefly: Lordship Salvation is a position on the gospel in which “saving faith” is considered reliance upon the finished work of Jesus Christ. Lordship views “saving faith” as incomplete without an accompanying resolve to ‘forsake sin’ and to ‘start obeying.’ Lordship’s ‘sine qua non’ (indispensable condition) that must be met to fully define ‘saving faith,’ for salvation, is a commitment to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Christ in submissive obedience. In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation, [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 48.


  1. Brian Ernsberger8/24/2019 12:35 PM

    Unfortunately, this is just one more item in a growing laundry list of compromise and acceptance of evangelicalism by BJU under Dr. Pettit's leadership. This path looks all to similar to the one NIU took and we know where that path lead NIU. BJU has pick up a few people from NIU who were present during its downward path, which causes me great concern. And yes, for those who may wonder, I have expressed my concerns to Dr. Pettit in a couple of letters but to no avail. He will receive yet another letter and depending upon his response he may receive one last letter.
    The acceptance of Reformed/Covenant Theology and its soteriology (Calvinism) within the sound, Baptist Fundamentalist movement will spell its death knell. A normal hermeneutic (as note in the late Dr. Clay Nuttall's book by that name) and the selective allegorizing of RT/CT are not compatible. They cannot stand side by side and coexist within the church.

  2. Following comment submitted by Pastor Brian Ernsberger.
    Thank you, Lou, for posting this article. Sadly, this is just one more item in a growing laundry list of compromise and acceptance of evangelicalism that has been the Dr. Pettit presidency of BJU. Having visited the campus of BJU forty-two years ago for the first time and then becoming a student two years later, it is heart wrenching to see this once fine institution of Christian learning, this bastion of sound, sane Fundamentalism going down the same path as NIU did. Oh, the specific steps are different but the path is the same and the end result will be the same; a departure from its founding principles. This is the legacy of Christian higher learning in America, a good start but eventual departure from the truth as the generations build and time removes succeeding generations from the soundness of the beginning. Compromise eventually comes for one or several reasons, rationalizing takes center stage for the inevitable changes and soon the institution is just an empty shell of its former self.

    I know you have mentioned it and I too have done so, yes, I’ve expressed my growing concerns to Dr. Pettit about what has been taking place and I know others have as well. But the concerns seem to be falling on tone deaf ears. Dr. Pettit has remained locked in what he is doing, just like Dr. Olson did at NIU when many of us expressed our concerns about what was going on back in 2010 and subsequent years. I was tossed overboard by Dr. Olson, told to go ahead and leave, my support was no longer wanted. It didn’t matter that my church had had three graduate from there and a fourth who had one more year in order to complete his degree. Never mind the connection, the link between WA and WI, we were no longer wanted. I believe the same is happening at my alma mater, that at some point in the near future, I will hear similar words from Dr. Pettit.