June 2, 2023

Archival Series: Will They Never Learn? "Every Failed School Veered From Its Conservative & Historic Base..."

 Today [June 8, 2020] I am drawing your attention to a message by Dr. Will Senn given at the FBFI Annual Fellowship on June 12, 2019. His message title was, What are the Qualities of True Christian Fellowship?You will appreciate the relevance of the latter part of his message as it has a direct bearing on our discussions about the changing face of Bob Jones University (BJU).

Where the message begins to move toward what is applicable to BJU begins at -20:50. Later the message hones in on specifics that precisely addresses what is happening at Bob Jones University (BJU). To appreciate the impact of what was said you must listen to the balance of Pastor Senn’s message from -17:20 through the end.

Dr. Will Senn
Dr. Senn begins closing his message with an illustration from a graduate class he was teaching at International Baptist College & Seminary (Spring 2019).  His concluding remarks are drawn from the students’ answers to the final exam he had given them. Their assignment was, “I am giving you five colleges where the doors are now closed…. You’re going to make an oral presentation…. Why did they close?” (-17:20) Dr. Senn’s assigned the final.
“Why did Clearwater close, Northland close, Pillsbury close, Calvary Baptist Seminary close, Tennessee Temple close…. why did they fall, what happened and what can we learn? I want you to do the research. I want us to learn something from history because it will have a current application and future application as it relates to our fellowship.”
Dr. Senn then assigned the students a second portion to the exam.  He said, “You’re going to take the lessons learned and I am going to ask you to put yourself in the context of addressing five current Christian schools where if you had the opportunity to talk to their boards what would you say to those board members from the lessons just learned?”

The five current schools assigned were: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Faith Baptist (Ankeny, IA), Maranatha Baptist University, Bob Jones University and International Baptist College & Seminary.

The student answers are as revealing as they are factually correct. Dr. Senn read samples of the reasons students arrived at for the five schools closing, for example:
    Guard against sports becoming the focus of the school, rather than the focus being disciple making, loving Christ and other type of school.
    Maintain sound doctrine; do not compromise to broaden the school’s base of support.
    The need for the school to solicit input and support of the pastor and churches that are sending their students to the school.
    Be true to your mission statement. Do not try to be something that you are not.
    Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have their own well established and attractive schools. They are not looking for new schools, but are content with their current choices.
    Sports programming can become overbearing and expensive especially if you seek to compete in higher divisions.

The excerpted student answers above (there were thirty in all) boiled down to a summary statement. Dr. Senn prefaced their summary, “Why these five schools collapsed and then what would you say to the other five schools that I love?” Their summary statement was,
Every failed school veered from its conservative and historic base to accommodate a new base…and each time it was the death knell of the school.
BJU president Dr. Steve Pettit was in the auditorium under the sound of Dr. Senn’s message. From that day to this it appears virtually none of those student admonitions made a dent with Steve Pettit and his mission for BJU. Does Steve Pettit think he can veer from the university’s base to accommodate the SBC and evangelicals and the university will survive it? If that is Steve’s plan then he is not learning from history the lesson that the five closed schools learned the hard way.

Drs. Horn & Pettit
During the tragedy that became Northland’s closure objective observers knew that Matt Olson, with Sam Horn “veered from its conservative and historic base to accommodate a new base.” Today, objective observers recognize that Steve Pettit and Sam Horn “veered from [BJU’s] conservative and historic base to accommodate a new base.” BJU’s “conservative and historic base” recognize what Pettit and Horn together have done. The base has been alienated, disenfranchised and their admonitions ignored.  Consequently much of the base has abandoned the school, plus the SBC and evangelical students Steve Pettit is trying to attract, “are not looking for new schools, but are content with their current choices.”

At this blog I have in various forms been writing statements like this, “For NIU the lesson from TTU [Clearwater, Calvary Seminary] and Pillsbury is the same, ‘You can’t come in and turn a hard right or left and expect to have your alumni with you’.”Today we can take that statement with some editing to read as follows, “For Bob Jones University the lesson from NIU, TTU, Pillsbury, Clearwater and Calvary Seminary is the same, “You can’t come in and turn a hard right or left and expect to have your alumni with you.”

Closing with Dr. Senn, 
“You can’t build that [SBC, evangelical] relationship fast enough. So what happens is you are pushing the good people out, the Calebs and Joshuas. And you start listening to the ten spies.”
BJU is well on its way to joining the five failed schools. You cannot alienate your core constituency and expect them to remain loyal. On its current trajectory BJU should not expect to survive Steve Pettits presidency.


Originally appeared June 2020 under the title, Why These Schools Collapsed & What Does It Mean for [BJU]?

Site Publisher Addendum, June 2023:
With Steve Pettit's departure from BJU and the university reeling in a crisis of his making we may soon hear the death knell and witness its failing like that of Pillsbury, TTU, Clearwater, Calvary Seminary and Northland. They never learn! In his Reflection article Pastor Travis Smith said,
"I have observed 'from the back pew, a repetition of the same failures at Bob Jones University that initiated the demise of CCC [Clearwater Christian College] and other Bible fundamental colleges. Unfortunately, led by the current president of the university and his administrators, the same compromised ideologies (and many of the same personalities) that drove those institutions to their demise are perpetuating the same at BJU. They have rejected the university’s fundamental Bible legacy and voided the disciplines that shaped and instilled Christian character in generations of graduates."

In March 2017 Evangelist Tom Farrell coordinated a meeting for a large number of conservative pastors to share their concerns with Steve Pettit over the direction he was taking BJU. Steve dismissed the importance of the meeting from the outset.

The Northland/BJU pattern is virtually the same, casting off its fundamentalism, separatist roots, and the common denominator is Sam Horn. BJU is learning what the colleges learned the hard way when they went down the road of embracing evangelicalism.  And that lesson is: You cannot turn a college to a hard right or hard left and expect to have your alumni with you. 

What tires objective observers is letters like those from Les Ollila and Matt Olson where they…use subjective imprecise language to quell any concerns…. Northland’s new trajectory has a historic parallel. The devastating effects of introducing Evangelicalism’s [non-separatist] philosophy and practices into a Fundamentalist setting are no starker than the demise of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College.

This is the predicted result of Matt Olson’s Experiment with the “new wave” of new evangelicalism. It was clear that the school would not survive Olson’s changes. Matt Olson and his team [Sam Horn] had pounded the nails into the coffin of a once fine, fundamental, Baptistic, separatist school. 

From the front pew it has been my sorrow to observe CCC’s decline over the past 13 years.  From a college with a strong following of biblical fundamental pastors and churches, CCC appeared to have lost her way.  Many reasons will be given for the doors of CCC closing.  Some will cite economics, a dwindling number of conservative churches, low student enrollment and competition from other colleges. Although all of the above no doubt contribute to the demise of CCC; I suggest from my vantage point that the leadership of the college over the past 10 years steered the college away from its founder’s purpose, philosophy and vision.