October 7, 2019

This is Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile,” and Neither is Bob Jones University

In 1988 General Motors introduced a new redesign for Oldsmobile’s Cutlass Supreme. Significant styling changes were made to attract a younger generation seeking a sleek, sporty new look. The slogan for the refresh was, “This is Not Your Father’s OldsmobileThis is the New Generation Oldsmobile.”  The campaign and redesign(s) never really took hold.  There were some successes, but the brand was squeezed out by other GM and competitors’ models. Oldsmobile, after 106 years in business, shut down forever in 2004.

And so it is with Bob Jones University. The school today, “Is not your father’s BJU.” Pastor Travis Smith (1977 BJU Alumni) in A Failure to Stay the Course, writes,
“For more than 15 years I have observed a pattern of change at Bob Jones University that is all too familiar.  Like a ship slowly, imperceptibly drifting from its course, the University is adrift from the disciplines that shaped the character of generations of Christian students in its past.”1
Dr. Steve Pettit inherited and ushered in changes that have created controversy at the consternation of many alumni, friends, pastors and churches.
  • A modernized “casual” dress code, that strays from modesty for Christian young women. 
  • Faculty members, Drs. Lonnie Polson and Jeffrey Stegall, serve as pastor and music director respectively of a Southern Baptist Church.2
  • Dr. Pettit participating in a local Presbyterian Church of America: Here We Stand: Greenville Conference on Reformed Theology (Oct. 11-13, 2019). 
  • In October 2018 Dr. Horn shared a conference platform in joint ministry with two Southern Baptist pastors.3
  • High profile evangelical speakers including Ken Ham and Tim Tebow.
  • Dr. Billy Kim and the Korean Children’s Choir on campus.4
  • Cantus Mens Vocal Ensemble performed on campus.5
These things strongly suggest BJU has evaporated as a separatist school.
“Some leaders operate on the principle that they will use speakers who are well-known even though they may be shaky in their convictions in some areas-because they have special abilities that are helpful and thus can be a blessing to their congregations. The wisdom, however, of following this course of action is very doubtful…. But a man is more than his pulpit message. He brings to the pulpit a lifetime of associations, actions and perhaps writings. He comes as a total person. Is he in his total ministry the type of person you would want the young people at the separatist college to emulate? If he is a compromiser, his example would be harmful, and the college president would be at fault for setting him up as such. The separatist cause is not advanced by featuring non-separatists.” (Dr. Ernest Pickering: Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, Implementing Separatist Convictions, Whom to Invite to Your Platform, p. 229.)
We have seen above BJU VP Sam Horn in cooperative ministry with SBC pastors, BJU retaining/hiring SBC ministers. Would these have been common at your father’s BJU?  Dr. David O. Beale, long time BJU faculty member wrote, S.B.C. House on the Sand? It was published by BJU’s Unusual Press (1985).
“Outwardly, the SBC appears to be continuing its Baptist tradition, with conservatism gaining in strength. Inwardly, however, the deadly diseases of apostasy and compromise run rampant and unchecked. Although Southern Baptist conservatives have discovered the presence of the malignant cancer of apostasy in the body, they have refused a complete diagnosis and removal of that cancer until it is now terminal. Conservative voices within the SBC are not expressing, nor have they expressed since J. Frank Norris’s day, any real commitment to removing the cancer completely. At best, contemporary conservatives are officially expressing only a desire that truth receive a hearing alongside error.” (p. 187.)
“Someone argues, ‘But we shall turn the SBC colleges, seminaries and other institutions over to the liberal unbelievers?’ The truth is that you have already done that…The cancer has permeated every area of the body, and no Bible believer should continue to feed it.” (p. 190).
“Another may argue, ‘I will stay in the SBC and fight from within. At least I will be an inside voice.’ The simple truth is that you only stay in because you feel more loyalty to a denomination than to Christ and the Bible. As long as you are ‘within’ associated directly or indirectly with apostasy you are in no position to ‘contend for the faith’ (Jude 3).” (p. 190).
Sam Horn, Steve Pettit, and others may argue they are reaching out to so-called “conservative” SBC churches; in reality they are compromising, if not rejecting, BJU’s legacy as a separatist institution. Are they trying to court the favor of those churches and recruit their students? The SBC cooperative program sustains apostasy within the SBC and its seminaries in particular. BJU retaining an SBC pastor and music minister aligns the University “indirectly with [the] apostasy” of the SBC. This would never have happened at your father’s BJU.

Does BJU Believe it Can Succeed Where All Those before Failed?
The history of smaller colleges like Tennessee Temple, Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Clearwater Christian College, Calvary Baptist Seminary and Northland International University, formerly Northland Baptist Bible College, should be fresh in mind. New leadership made changes taking those schools far from their foundational moorings. Alumni and friends were alienated, and the schools folded.7

As BJU’s new trajectory steadily alienates supporting pastors and alumni they will lose much of its constituency. The school may not remain viable. Alumni have contacted Dr. Pettit with their concerns over the school’s change of direction.  They get a cordial hearing, but the administration and board appear determined to continue down this path.

BJU has shed a significant percentage of its student population highs. To attract a new student segment BJU has advertised in Christianity Today (CT).  Why would BJU seek a student population through New-Evangelicalism’s flagship publication? Why would BJU invest advertising dollars in CT, which props up New-Evangelicalism? This would never happen at “your father’s BJU.”

For decades the propagation of Calvinism and Lordship Salvation was not allowed in classroom lectures or dorm room debates. Today, however, Calvinism and Lordship Salvation have found a welcoming space at BJU. In recent weeks two separate pulpit committees interviewed several BJU graduates. Each of these candidates (5) proclaimed they are Calvinistic in their theology and that they agree with the Lordship Salvation (John MacArthur) interpretation of the gospel. They were, of course, passed over. The obvious question was: How did they come out of BJU with those core doctrinal positions?

Again from Pastor Travis Smith,
It is with sorrow I confess, while many of the University’s alumni have stayed the course, the board, administration, and faculty have not. The erosion and decay of BJU has manifested itself openly.  The institutional drift has taken the University far from its distinctive moorings.  I fear Bob Jones University is too far gone and what was once the flagship of Bible fundamentalism is a shadow of her past.”8
What we have considered above begs the questions: “Is BJU trying to become a small fish in the big evangelical pond?  Was being a big fish in a small fundamentalist pond not satisfactory?”

BJU has become a marginalized shell of its former self.  Steve Pettit’s redesign has transformed the school into something that is, “Not Your Father’s BJU.”  You can’t come into an institution and take a hard right or hard left and expect to have your alumni with you. Continuing its current trajectory BJU will continue to diminish, and very possibly as with the Oldsmobile brand, it will go away.


See the next article for a Continuation of this discussion.

1) A Failure to Stay the Course

2) White Oak Baptist Church, “A Southern Baptist Church.” At the BJU site neither of their bio pages makes any mention of their positions at this Southern Baptist Church.

3) BJU’s Rejection of Ecclesiastical Separation: Is This Northland All Over Again?
Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary's annual E3 Pastors Conference, October 2018. Guest speakers included two Southern Baptist Convention pastors Dr. Richard Caldwell, Dr. Rick Holland...and BJU Executive VP Dr. Sam Horn. Sam Horn has a history with the SBC, John MacArthur, The Master’s Seminary and Rick Holland. Sam Horn’s involvement at NIU contributed to its demise. Is it not reasonable to wonder if Sam Horn has planted seeds of compromise at BJU?
4) At the FBFI’s Proclaim & Defend blog Dr. Bob Jones, III took responsibility for and explained the rationale for Dr. Kim and the children’s choir appearance on campus. Nevertheless, the optics of Billy Kim on the BJU campus were, at the time, terrible.

5) Cantus appeared January 2015Cantus is partly comprised of practicing homosexuals.

6) Dr. Beale wrote, “…the deadly diseases of apostasy and compromise run rampant and unchecked.” The SBC went through a great upheaval in the 1980’s.  A so-called “purging” was led by men like Adrian Rogers and Charles Stanley in response to the apostasy that had crept in and taken over SBC schools. How does one claim a purging of the SBC took place when today a compromising, non-separatist occupies the president’s office of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention?  Need we be reminded that SBTS president R. Al Mohler was chairman for the Louisville Billy Graham crusade (2001), Mohler signed the Manhattan Declaration (2009), Mohler honored liberal theologian Duke K. McCall (2009), Mohler met with Rick Warren at Saddleback with the SBTS executive committee (2013), Mohler joined hands with the Mormon Church (2013). Examples like Mohler leave the idea of a purging highly suspect. Updating: It has been reported that earlier this year (2019) Dr. Mohler quietly requested his name be removed from the Manhattan Declaration. 

J. D. Greear is the current president of the SBC. The church he pastors, a mega-church, does not even identify as Baptist. It is simply Summit Church.

The 1980’s purge in the SBC opened the door for another movement and divide within the convention, especially its schools.  That movement was the rise of Calvinism. The Southern Baptist Founders Conference was established in 1982. (The organization was renamed Founders Ministries in 1998.) Early speakers, the primary advocates of modern day Calvinism, included “Al Mohler, Timothy George, John Piper, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, Tom Nettles, Ligon Duncan.” (Ernest C. Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen, A Quiet Revolution: A Chronicle of Beginnings of Reformation in The Southern Baptist Convention, p. 57.)

7) What Do Northland, Pillsbury, Clearwater and TTU Have in Common?