April 14, 2023

Bob Jones University: The Driving Force Behind the Departure From Its Historic Legacy

We have been discussing the current controversy at Bob Jones University (BJU). Previous articles include, 
In this article we will consider the forces behind Dr. Steve Pettit’s erasure of Bob Jones University’s historic fundamentalist, separatist foundation. We will consider the underlying theme driving these shifts.

The transformation of BJU did not begin with Steve Pettit. Surely some elements of change were evident prior to Pettit’s arrival. That said, without a doubt Pettit made it his business to erase the university's fundamentalist, separatist legacy as well as saturate the college and seminary with Reformed theology.

Erasing Biblical Separation

We've coined a phrase that in part sums the denigration of biblical separation at BJU. Steve Pettit and his executive administration's, "sacrifice of spiritual sanctification for secular pragmatism." We've seen a modernized version of Shakespeare and presentation of a Disney production. Steve Pettit opened the campus facilities for Catholic and New Evangelical groups to conduct conferences. The sponsorship of a sacrilegious Fashion Design Runway ShowThese things wouldn't raise an eyebrow at a secular or new evangelical school, but at BJU grave concerns naturally followed.

The most stark example of the school's rejection of separation took place in December 2021 when Steve Pettit entangled BJU with Franklin Graham's ecumenical movement. See- BJU Embraces Franklin Graham's Ecumenical MovementPettit raised over $23,000 for, and guided students into cooperative ministry with Franklin Graham, a new evangelical who gives Christian recognition to apostates, to the "enemies of the cross of Christ," (Phil. 3:18). These are but a few examples among many that typify what Dr. Bob Jones III described as, "embarrassing, antithetical things historically uncharacteristic things, which never would have happened in the past...."

Instead of looking to apply the best of what the Bible says in matters of personal holiness and "spiritual sanctification," to instill those things into the college's culture, Pettit sought to accommodate the preferences of immature young people through diminished separatism, worldly methods and ecumenical compromise. That mindset lead Pettit to recruiting, pandering and catering to students within non-separatist churches and conferences.

Steve Pettit and his executive administration err grievously with the doctrine of separation. They approach the biblical mandates for personal and ecclesiastical separation as if they are merely suggestions, open to novel interpretation, even ignored.1

Reformed Theology & New Calvinism
We will define each of these theological systems because they have been deeply infused into the university's fabric by Steve Pettit. Some readers may not be familiar with Reformed theology, New Calvinism and their inherent dangers. Following is a compilation of notes, from various sources, on these systems.

It is not possible to thoroughly discuss each, but we can provide enough to give readers the ability to recognize these systems and their inherent dangers to the New Testament church. And especially the danger to impressionable students who are coming under the influence of these doctrinal aberrations on the BJU campus. For further study we will provide links to articles that deep dive into these systems of thought.

In a previous article one man submitted the following observation,
As a 1983 grad, I fear the issue that has received little attention in the many writings on the internet is the school’s slide from a separatist stand under Pettit. This [biblical separation] is the historical stand of BJU....  they [Pettit and the executive administration] are redefining fundamentalism into believing in all the fundamentals of the faith, minus separation. This was the classic difference between fundamentalism and new evangelicalism.
Steve Pettit's mission from the president's office has largely been to diminish BJU's fundamentalist, separatist foundation in favor of a non-separatist compromising evangelicalism. The base was never going to stand for or go along with Steve Pettit's compromising evangelicalism. Most have departed en masse.

Reformed Theology
In Steve Pettit’s Break with the "Conservative" Base it was noted, "At the 2017 meeting organized by Tom Farrell there were a few pastors concerned that Steve Pettit had Dr. Michael Barrett (former faculty and committed covenant theologian) speak at the first Bible Conference he hosted."

Upon the arrival of Steve Pettit a pattern of joint ministry with Reformed ministries, conferences and men ensued. A proliferation of Reformed Theology at the university became abundantly clear. Read Dr. David Beale's FACTS article in which he cites numerous examples.
Under Dr. Pettit's administration, BJU students are allowed to bond with churches of denominations harboring apostasy. The following churches are among those...
  • Covenant Community, An Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)
  • Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, PCA
  • Second Presbyterian Church, PCA 

At the 2022 Foundations Conference and prior conferences the platforms were overwhelmingly dominated by Reformed, Covenant theologians.

  • Michael Barrett, 2016 Bible Conference
  • Ken Ham, 2017 Bible Conference
  • Stuart Scott and Tim Geiger, 2019 CoRE Conference
  • John Street and Mark Shaw, 2020 CoRE Conference
  • Joel Beeke and Steve Lawson, 2022 Foundations Conference

Recent hires include Stuart Scott (see Education bio) a committed Reformed theologian.

What is Reformed Theology?
Reformed Theology is a theological system of thought based upon Augustinian theology of the 4th century. Augustine, the founder of the Roman Catholic Church, based his doctrines on the Bible and substantial philosophical thinking of his day. As it follows a literal-historical-grammatical hermeneutic combined with allegorical interpretation that results in a misunderstood eschatology.

The Reformers recovered much truth which had been lost, for which we are thankful. The Reformers, however, never totally freed themselves from the allegorical, non-literal method of Origen and from the church/kingdom concept of Augustine (as reflected by the “kingdom now” proponents of today).  Most Reformed men deny the rapture and the millennial reign of Christ, and many embrace Preterism (the belief that most prophecies relating to the tribulation and second coming were fulfilled on or around 70 A.D.).

Reformed Theology is often identified with five-point Calvinism, although Luther and Calvin both taught that Christ died for the sins of all men without exception.  Thus, Calvin was not as Calvinistic as many who now bear his name. Today most men (though not all) who embrace Reformed Theology embrace Covenant Theology.

What is Covenant Theology?
Covenant Theology emphasizes two or three main covenants:  the covenant of grace, the covenant of works; some add the covenant of redemption. In contrast, Dispensational Theology focuses on the covenants which are specifically mentioned in Scripture such as the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenants.
"The traditional way of distinguishing the different approaches to [biblical] interpretation is to state that dispensationalists advocate a literal Interpretation of the Scriptures, while Covenant Theologians spiritualize certain prophetic passages.... It is our contention that Covenant Theology begins with a false premise that the unifying principle in Scripture is the covenant of grace. This covenant is plainly not taught in Scripture. This false premise leads to wrong conclusions about Israel and the Church and matters of prophetic interpretation. Covenant Theology imposes a system upon Scripture rather than finding its system in Scripture."2
The time when Covenant theology was taught at BJU as a competing view to Dispensationalism has passed. Several years ago students in the college and seminary began reporting that Reformed and in particular Covenant theology was being taught as the correct hermeneutic. Is this view being taught by every Bible professor? We do not know. What we do know, however, is that Steve Pettit is hiring Reformed theologians for the faculty, and conference speakers are almost exclusively Reformed.

For further reading see The Dangers of Reformed Theology by Brother George Zeller and Moderate Evangelicals by Dr. Clay Nuttall, "...an effort to build a bridge between standard dispensationalism and covenant theology...is impossible. The gulf between them is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean, and it is impossible to bridge the two."

What is New Calvinism?
New Calvinism is the old Calvinism in new clothing and is very popular among the younger generation.  New Calvinism is a system built largely upon a system of theology that combines: Reformed, Covenant, Puritan, and Augustinian theologies with present day, Post-Modern culture in an attempt to make Christianity seem more relevant to today’s Christian. It isrepackaged” in a form attractive to the Millennial and Z Generation.

It is quite ecumenical in its fellowship unions. It actually represents three groups that span the doctrines from strict following of Puritan/OT Law to a non-separation policy that accepts anyone who holds to the five key principles of Calvinism's TULIP.
  1. Relevance is a key goal of New Calvinism.
  2. New Calvinism seeks to create and redeem culture.
  3. New Calvinists are often worldly, especially in the areas of worship and music;  
  4. Many New Calvinists influenced by the Charismatic Movement believe some of the sign gifts are still operative today.
  5. Many New Calvinists hold to Lordship Salvation, which in addition to saving faith demands an upfront commitment from the lost to perform the good works (Eph. 2:10) expected of a born again Christian to become (justified) a born again Christian. Lordship Salvation changes the terms of the Gospel, corrupts "the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3) and "frustrates grace" (Gal. 2:21).
"The New Calvinism is not a resurgence but an entirely novel formula which strips the doctrine of its historic practice, and unites it with the world.... These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety." (Dr. Peter Masters, The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness.) For additional reading on New Calvinism see,

When we reflect on the definition of New Calvinism and note the radical shift in doctrine, practice and culture Steve Pettit engineered on campus we conclude he is a passionate advocate for the advancement of New Calvinism.  Steve Pettit stands alongside well known gurus of New Calvinism.3 New Calvinism is the driving force behind the departure from BJU's historic legacy.

Dr. Clay Nuttall wrote, "I am frequently asked why so many of our young men are following the pied pipers of theological error. Immature students are apt to be fooled quite easily by intellectual gurus."

What we did today is lay out the pathway that lead to the current crisis. Steve Pettit, with the support of the BJU executive committee, achieved a pernicious infusion of non-separatist evangelicalism, Reformed theology and New Calvinism into the university. 

Going forward BJU surviving Steve Pettit's presidency is questionable. Numerous times we have seen the tragic results of men coming to a fundamentalist school, attempt to transform it into a non-separatist evangelical school, and its closure soon followed- Pillsbury, TTU, Clearwater and Northland.

If Steve Pettit were to somehow remain in the president's office beyond May 5 he will be emboldened to continue transforming BJU into a Reformed new evangelical school and in no time either closes like those above or becomes the first cousin of Liberty and Cedarville.


Just Announced: The Board of Trustees of BJU elected a new Chairman, Sam Dawson. He has been a board member since 2001. What Dawson's election means for the university going forward is unclear.  His educational bio, however, contributes to a less than cautious optimism.

1) No two men in our circles have done more to undermine the scriptural principles of separation than Dave Doran and Kevin Bauder. Few are the doctrinal aberrations or worldly practices they would not tolerate, allow for, excuse or ignore to have cooperative fellowship or ministry with non-separatist evangelicals. Doran and Bauder have encouraged younger men to emulate their disobedience to the Lord’s commands. See, Dave Doran: Is There a Second Definition for Separation in Academic Contexts?  and 
Kevin Bauder Discussing Al Mohler's "Occasional Inconsistency?"

3) In addition to Dr. John MacArthur (pictured alongside Steve Pettit) advocates of New Calvinism include, but not limited to: John Piper, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Steve Lawson and most of the membership of both T4G and The Gospel Coalition.

Related Reading

Here is a series of 10 sermons by Michael Barrett on "Refuting Dispensationalism," preached in Faith Free Presbyterian Church while he was still teaching at BJU. Barrett paints Dispensationalism as a cult.


  1. Good brother, thank you for having the courage to tackle this mess. Our children attended and graduated from BJ over 20 years ago. Sadly, even then they were influenced for Calvinism. You mentioned Dr. Barrett as a speaker at Bible Conference and as a former faculty member. He was on the faculty when our children were students. I wondered then why he was there. My children told us of other faculty that were clearly Calvinistic, though perhaps a little more subtle about it. I knew of chapel speakers that were open in their Calvinism. That bothered me over 20 years ago. My children "discovered" Calvinism, John MacArthur, John Piper, etc. during those years. I don't say this to malign BJ. All in all, our children received an excellent Christian education while there and grew as believers. Thankfully, they are serving the Lord full time today. I don't defend Steve on these matters. He has taken the university down a path of ruin. But the seeds of that crop were already there. Steve has brought them to harvest. Our prayer is that BJ can be salvaged and be the bastion for the faith that it long has been. Only God can accomplish that through those willing to pay the hard and high price that is now before them.
    Thank you. I have remained anonymous in this comment for the sake of our children.

    1. Your input, from experience, is much appreciated. I did note above the seeds of ruin were there before Pettit’s arrival. He surely nurtured those for a terrible harvest of crisis the school now finds itself in.

      Lou Martuneac

  2. I cannot believe, as a former graduate, that no one could see the "path" the school was headed down. Dr. Pettit has actually pulled it out of what men think to what the LORD says.

    1. No point in my repeating here what I've written above. No disrespect intended, but if you believe Steve Pettit has acted according to what the Lord says then I believe what I citted by Dr. Nuttall above applies in your case- whether you're man, woman. young, old or in between.

      "I am frequently asked why so many of our young men are following the pied pipers of theological error. Immature students are apt to be fooled quite easily by intellectual gurus."

      Lou Martuneac