My alma mater and the flagship educational institution of American Fundamentalism, Bob Jones University, has just announced the appointment of Steve Pettit as the fifth president of BJU. I received this news with gladness both for BJU and for Steve Pettit and I feel a sense of sobriety as I consider all that this appointment means. I hope that you will join me in praying that God will give Pettit a spirit of wisdom and of courage as he faces what lies before him in this role.
My purpose in writing this is twofold. First, I want to celebrate what I believe was a wise decision by the board of BJU. Second, I want to raise some matters that I hope will be given prayerful consideration by the new president and administration.
I believe that God has blessed Bob Jones University in bringing this to pass. Following are a few observations about what this appointment means for the BJU community.
First, for the first time in 87 years, the president of Bob Jones University is not a Jones. It is appropriate at this point to praise our God for the vision of Bob Jones, Sr. and for the way in which God has used him, his son, his grandson, and his great-grandson in the role of president of the university. It would be impossible to calculate the impact this family has had on millions of lives over the last century. They are not perfect. They have failed in some ways. So have we all. But God has used them in so many lives for his glory and in that I rejoice!
Second, BJU has, in a sense, returned to her roots. Bob Jones, Sr. was first an Evangelist of historic note. Steve Pettit is many things, but he is first an Evangelist. I rejoice to consider what God will do with a Calvinist Evangelist at the helm of Bob Jones University.
Third, Steve Pettit has a broad base of friends all around the world. His evangelistic team has not only preached the gospel across the globe, but has developed scores of young Christian leaders. I suspect that Pettit’s role will not be to cut costs, but to energise Fundamentalists from a broad range of circles and camps and build up the student body numbers again.
Fourth, this is the blending of various brands. Pettit is well known for other things: his music, his team, his preaching, his evangelism, and his work with Northland Camps. Pettit is not a “young Fundamentalist,” but he is an exemplar of all that is best in “old Fundamentalism” and I’m rejoicing today to consider the opportunities this role will give him for influencing the broad stream of Fundamentalism for the glory of God.
Finally, an inevitable result of this new role is that Steve Pettit is no longer merely an evangelist. For better or for worse, he is now a politician with the job of bringing together vastly disparate groups and perspectives in the context of an institution that is rooted (some would say mired) in Fundamentalist tradition. If there’s one way to make friends in Fundamentalism, it is to partner with people in evangelising the lost. If there is one way to make enemies in Fundamentalism, it is to be the president of Bob Jones University. This will change things. It will change who he is. It will change how we see him. And this brings us to the second matter I wanted to address.
Reading my comments about and feedback to Bob Jones University in the last year or so could give someone the impression that I’m one of the “haters.” My comments here express, I hope, my deep-seated affection for Bob Jones University and how God has used her in my life and the lives of so many others. I am a third-generation BJU attendee with family among both the current student body and the faculty/staff of the university. But that has not stopped me from adding my voice, at times, to the voice of those who have protested what they see as injustice in the actions and attitudes of the university. Nor will it.
When I graduated from Bob Jones University, then president Dr. Bob Jones III solemnly charged me and my class to hold BJU accountable and it is my love for the university that causes me to do so. Along these lines, I want to set out a few matters that I would like to see Steve Pettit consider in his new role as president of Bob Jones University.
First, I fervently hope and pray that Steve Pettit will be the one to bring a radical shift in the culture of BJU regarding domestic violence and sexual abuse. I long to see the GRACE investigation finalised and action taken to bring change where needed and to facilitate healing for those who have been sinned against. I look forward to the day when I can be confident that sexual abuse is being handled both legally and ethically at BJU. Consistently.
Second, I long to see the culture of rules at BJU replaced by a culture of love that is rooted in the grace of God in the gospel. To be clear, I am not pitting rules against grace. The two are not opposed. But I am suggesting that a culture of rules will naturally crowd out a culture of love. Steve Pettit gets the gospel. Northland International University gets the gospel. I pray that Pettit will develop a culture at BJU that is more aligned with the gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Third, I look forward to the day when the secular world sees BJU as odd because it is good, humble, and joyful, rather than seeing it as odd because it is bigoted, cultish, and abusive. I recognise that the public stereotype of BJU isn’t always fair. But sometimes—far too often—it is fair. BJU did have overtly racist policies until 2000. BJU did cancel the GRACE investigation. BJU does have a string of well-documented administrative injustices toward staff and students. BJU did publicly attack John MacArthur unjustly. BJU did say to Billy Graham “Billy, if you leave and throw your life away at a little country Bible school, the chances are you’ll never be heard of. At best, all you can amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks.” These sorts of things are not easily forgotten. Nor should they be. Repentance should be followed by a radical shift in the thinking that led to these transgressions. I look forward to the day when BJU is hated for the offence of the cross rather than the offence of sin and pride. May we see this day under the leadership of Steve Pettit.
Fourth, I long for the day when Bob Jones University once again embodies the most famous statement of her founder, Bob Jones, Sr., when he said “Do right til the stars fall!” I want to see the day when guys are just guys and God is great. I long for the day when the gospel of Jesus Christ is far more important than identification as a Fundamentalist. When fear of God is a bigger consideration than who is friends with who. I’ve rejoiced to see the glimmers of this dawn over the last fifteen years and pray now that the dawn will explode into the light of day.
Fifth, I pray with all my heart that Bob Jones University will have the courage under Steve Pettit to “come out of the closet” theologically. BJU knows KJV-onlyism is heresy. May she have the courage and fortitude to say so plainly and publicly. Vastly more important, BJU knows that “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else” (Charles Spurgeon). May she have the courage to throw in her lot with those who have rejected the cancerous semi-Pelagian heresy that riddles the body of Christ in our day.
We bloggers are often criticised for criticising too much. The point is fair. My heart in this post has been to take part in the celebration of this appointment, but to do so thoughtfully. To do so in a way that takes the serious issues at hand into consideration. It would be disingenuous to criticise liberally without speaking a word of praise and celebration where one is due. And today such a word is truly due.
Praise be to God for the appointment of Steve Pettit as president of BJU! May we each uphold him more often in prayer than we do in criticism. And may we never treat the two as mutually exclusive.
Grace to you.