An Open Letter to Dr. Stephen Jones

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Dear Stephen,

Because we occupy rather distinct corners of the Lord’s vineyard, it has been some time since I have given much thought to you or to the university that you lead. My attention was riveted a few weeks ago, however, by a public clamor that was being raised against Bob Jones University. It is not necessary to rehearse the details of that commotion here, except to say that it brought certain matters to my attention.

First, it made me aware that your ministry (by which I mean both yours personally and the university’s institutionally) is facing sustained and sometimes very harsh public censure. Second, it alerted me to the fact that, while your critics are of different kinds, the most vocal detractors will be satisfied with nothing short of the complete collapse of Bob Jones University. Third, it made me aware that some of the most vitriolic criticisms are being leveled through venues in which careful analysis and personal accountability are notably absent—namely, venues such as Internet weblogs and social media services.

While I am not close enough to Bob Jones University to judge much of what takes place in the institution, many of the criticisms themselves simply lacked credibility. Both the vehemence and the virtual incoherence of the critics left me thinking of a lynch mob. The degree of their speculation about what you must have known or done behind closed doors was—well, it was hardly the mark of fair-mindedness or even-handedness.

On the contrary, as I have thought about what has taken place at Bob Jones University over the past fifteen years, I find many reasons to rejoice. Beginning under your father’s presidency, the ministry seems to have followed a trajectory of moderation and increasing responsibility. It is a trajectory of which I sincerely approve.

Prior to the last decade, my exposure to the work of Bob Jones University was limited. What there was of it was mostly second hand. Just over ten years ago, however, I began to meet some of your professors at academic meetings. I was frankly impressed at the high level of academic and spiritual competence that they brought to their task. The opportunity to trade ideas with these men has become a true pleasure. I look forward to the occasions when our paths will cross. Because I know them, I can infer that the level of classroom instruction at Bob Jones University is always good and often superior. I cannot think of a single discipline in which a student would receive inferior instruction.

We’ve had a few of your graduates in our seminary. They have been sharp men. They know how to think. They speak and write clearly and charitably. They are gentlemen who know how to treat people kindly. They are a million miles away from the caricature that some of your critics attempt to draw.

Furthermore, I know that you’ve taken steps to ensure improvement in the academic and spiritual atmosphere of Bob Jones University. I know some of the people whom you have brought to your faculty—people who had no previous connection to the Bob Jones orbit. I know them to be bright, talented, and committed Christians who will challenge their students at many levels. Their influence, and the influence of people like them, will certainly strengthen the university.

One factor for which I am very grateful is the increased sensitivity of the university and its administration to counsel from outside. This sensitivity was evident in your father’s administration, for example, when he changed the policy on interracial dating. Within your world, that act took tremendous courage, but your father rose to the occasion, and he did it as gracefully as anyone could under the circumstances.

Under your administration, the university has continued to respond, for example, by issuing a formal apology for wrongs that were done under the old policy. The apology itself was a good thing. Better still was the sensitivity it displayed for godly counsel.

Of course, there is a difference between the counsel of friends and the fulminations of a mob. I do not believe that you are obligated to respond to every Facebook group or Internet petition. In fact, the more extreme your critics become, the more difficulty you must find it to hear whatever truth may be in their words. For my part, I would be disappointed if you were to change a policy every time somebody wears red for a day.

Nevertheless, I am glad of the improvements that the university is making. The decision to go after regional accreditation is a big one. Of course it took courage to acknowledge that some past commitments were overstated—but the process can only help and improve Bob Jones University in the future. This is a good move that will help your graduates in tangible ways.

As for the moves to allow ROTC and intercollegiate sports, I confess that these are of less interest to me personally. Still, I think that they are good decisions. ROTC in particular will prepare some students for leadership in the military—and our nation can only benefit from the presence of strong, ethical Christians in positions of command.

In short, I want you to know that I am deeply grateful for the trajectory that Bob Jones University has pursued over the past fifteen years. You can thank your critics for getting me to reflect upon the good things that have happened (and are still happening) at BJU. Personally, I would actually feel more comfortable recommending the university to prospective students today than ever before.

I want to do more than that. While I haven’t the means to become a huge supporter, I am sending a financial gift for the ministry of the university. If my word of encouragement carries any weight, then I would urge others to do the same. Be assured of my prayers for the ongoing prosperity and integrity of the ministry. Thank you for your careful, thoughtful leadership over Bob Jones University.

Sincerely,

Kevin T. Bauder

Praise the Savior Now and Ever
Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-c.600), tr. Augustus Nelson (1863-1949)

Praise the Savior now and ever;
Praise Him, all beneath the skies;
Prostrate lying, suff’ring, dying
On the cross, a sacrifice.
Vict’ry gaining, life obtaining,
Now in glory He doth rise.

Man’s work faileth, Christ’s availeth;
He is all our righteousness;
He, our Savior, has forever
Set us free from dire distress.
Through His merit we inherit
Light and peace and happiness.

Sin’s bonds severed, we’re delivered,
Christ has bruised the serpent’s head;
Death no longer is the stronger,
Hell itself is captive led.
Christ has risen from death’s prison,
O’er the tomb He light has shed.

For His favor, praise forever,
Unto God the Father sing;
Praise the Savior, praise Him ever,
Son of God, our Lord and King.
Praise the Spirit, through Christ’s merit,
He doth us salvation bring.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

Aaron Blumer's picture
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Refreshing

Thanks for that.
Seems like "Nick of Time" is doing a lot of commending lately--not always of other fundamentalists, either.

My memories of BJU don't suggest the school needed to do much changing... though some, certainly. I think it does a man good to have to sleep with a tie on. (To those unfamiliar w/BJ, that's a joke--we didn't sleep in ties)
The race & dating thing always was a head scratcher. And I could have done without the degree of emphasis on "us vs. them" and "loyalty to fundamentalism" in the ministerial class.

I often feel like both college and sem. short changed me on leadership training... but looking back, would it have done me any good at the time? Unless you're a natural born leader, I think you probably have to have some painful failures before you're ready to actually pay attention to that sort of thing.
There should be a "Remedial Leadership Training" course of some sort for guys who now know they need it.

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Thanks

Thank you, Dr. Bauder. As an alumnus of BJU, I am aware of both strengths and weaknesses. I benefitted greatly from my training at BJU, and high quality academics has always been one of the strengths. Unflinching commitment to Christ and the Bible is another strength, along with willingness to sacrifice for what is true and right. I could list other strengths as well.

It is harder to evaluate weaknesses. Since no institution is perfect, what may be seen as an insstitutional weakness may be simply a human weakness shared by all believers, who are, after all, still members of Adam's fallen race.

I, too, am encouraged to see serious efforts to identify and eliminate weaknesses, and augment strengths. I am encouraged to see a greater humility and openness to constructive criticism. I pray often for Stephen Jones and BJU, that God will keep them strong, and help them to continue the good work which they have done. I believe BJU's best days may yet be ahead.

An evaluation like yours is both refreshing and encouraging. BJU has a host of critics. Some is deserved, some is mistaken, and some betrays a bitter spirit that manifests greater problems within the heart of the critic than the ones being criricised.

Perhaps some criticism is simply jealousy because of BJU's success, of the type often directed to the USA because we have become the world's greatest nation in most measurable ways. The problem with success however, is the dange of letting it go to one's head. I think that has happened at BJU in the past. I believe that is now receding. If BJU will walk humbly before God, who knows what future Divine blessings they may yet enjoy?

G. N. Barkman

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BJU and where it's going

Along with what the other men have said, I have to agree that while there have been some weaknesses (including some I saw as glaring while I was there), I will always treasure BJU's strengths more than I will remember the weaknesses. I still appreciate the emphasis both on academics and teaching students to live godly lives, AND the obvious effort on the part of many (if not most) of the staff while I was there to model it, not just teach it.

BJU has taken some hard knocks, some well-deserved, others not so much, but it looks to me as if the university continues to try to improve itself, and as I see it, they are succeeding. I hope they will never stop striving to do so and will continue to be a great influence in the future lives of those who attend, and will help them go on to even greater service for Christ.

Dave Barnhart

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Three degrees from BJU

This ol' spud in Idaho has received three degrees from BJU: a BA in Christian Missions, an MA in Theology, and then an M.Div. And I am grateful for it all. I highly respect some of the teachers and students that I interacted with during all those years.

My wife graduated as a "top ten scholar" from Boise State University in Idaho. As a nurse, her number one recommendation to girls interested in nursing is this: Go to Bob Jones University for your training.

And as a nudge of encouragement toward Stephen Jones, if more Christians in America followed the example of his graciousness, the state of Christianity would be improved in this country.

et

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This letter speaks so highly

This letter speaks so highly of Central Baptist Seminary and Dr. Bauder. It is needed. In life, we cannot let frustrations, misunderstandings, and hurts turn into bitterness - it defiles many.

How is Stephen doing? I have not heard and update in a while.

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How is Stephen Doing?

As of the end of January, not well. He is still on medical leave of absence, and going to various specialists to try to get whatever accurate diagnosis and medical help that may be available. He needs our prayers.

G. N. Barkman

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Minnows

This letter was encouraging in many ways and I trust that it will be an encouragement to Stephen Jones. BJU is changing for the good with small, slow steps. We recently attended a student-produced Vespers that addressed a number of issues in a direct way including BJU past errors regarding black students and the inability of people (like PC's) to be aware of the spiritual needs around them. We attended with a friend who had not been on campus for a long time and who had had some of those "bitter experiences" that had kept him/her at a distance. They were personally encouraged and reminded us that when a train is going in the wrong direction, it takes some time to stop and turn around.

Dr. Bauder really nailed the whiners on Facebook. They remind me of the old saying, "I could take being swallowed by a whale...it's being nibbled at by minnows that is irritating."

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Rob Fall's picture
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Tue, 6/2/09
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This is

what happens when you stop fighting the last war.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

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Balance

Thanks Dr. Bauder for the balanced wisdom in this letter. True friends of an institution can give criticism in a helpful way. I have a sense that many of BJU's problems over the years come from excesses in the character of the first few leaders. One thing I've learned is that leadership style has a lasting impact in ways we can't always predict. I think BJU is determined to balance and right the ship.

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Thanks Kevin

Kevin,

As you know I have a great love and appreciation for BJU. I think the majority of the improvements will help the school move forward. Many of these changes have come about as a collaboration between Bob III and his son. They have developed a "culture of appropriate change" as opposed to change for the sake of change. I am the first to acknowledge that BJU has made serious mistakes in its long history. Yet, I have made serious mistakes in our church as a pastor. After 27 years at Troy I have learned a few things and endeavor earnestly not to repeat those mistakes. I pray that the best days for BJU and their students are ahead of them.

I want to thank you for writing such a kind and gracious letter for all to read. It speaks well of you and Central Seminary. As far as the "Occupy BJU" crowd is concerned, I have no sympathy for their tactics, attitude, or agenda.

Mike Harding

Pastor Mike Harding

Joel Tetreau's picture
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my turn

You don't have to agree with everything about a ministry or its leaders to either love them or appreciate them. When I was 23 because I did not agree with everything about the leadership of the University, I had determined I didn't like or appreciate BJU. My dad went there, we escaped Greenville when I was five – They are more strict on a variety of issues than I am – certainly they must be idiots -God be praised! I had that attitude because I was very immature for someone so mature!

Well - at 33, I had finished most of my doctorate work, I had ten years of ministry below my belt and had visited the University on a few occasions for sake of ministry. On one of those visits while eating in the cafeteria Dr. Bob Jr. looked at me, and with that booming voice said, "You have to be Jerry's Boy!" That was hilarious - I said, "Yes sir, Jerry is my father!" I began to understand better (a little bit) what it means to lead a ministry team and campus that could fill two aircraft carriers! I renewed my relationship with the 3rd. (I have a picture of me sitting in his lap when I was 6 - this was on the Memphis Bell or Memphis Queen - an old steamer that runs up and down the Mississippi - Dad had the 3rd when he was the principle of a Christian School in Memphis - Thrifthaven Christian School - Dr. Britt was the pastor in those days). At one of the last Mid-America Conf of Preaching while in a Th.M program at DBTS in the 90's, I had met Stephen who is close in age to myself. I was impressed the first time I met with his maturity and grace.

Now at 43 as a Type B fundamentalist I love the University. The last time I sat in chapel I wept as I heard five thousand voices quote that doctrinal creed. The simplicity and beauty and power of God’s Truth was a benediction. I’ll never forget it. Dr. Bob nor Stephen have come out and endorsed my Type B paradigm/taxonomy - and I'm not holding my breath expecting that. In one sense if the school continues to reach out to a variety of fundamentalist (Type A's, B's and C's) I'm actually thrilled. However BJU is producing a large crop of what I call Type B fundamentalists! It means that the University is a place you can trust your young people to have the freedom to study the Scriptures and come out believing what they believe the Scriptures demand - if that leads you to become a Free Presbyterian then so be it. If you come out being something of a Bible Church guy - great. If you leave the University determined that there is one covenant of grace, well, stand in the shadow of that covenant. If you leave believing in Baptist-dispensationalism, then excellent! Honestly I don't know of another institution that allows that kind of diversity within the fundamentalist orbs.

I have 20+ years of ministry experience and so now I look at the University with amazement - It's frankly amazing that a school that old has kept the faith when it comes to orthodoxy. Frankly BJ and Moody are unusual in that most of the schools that have been around that long have long ago ditched theological integrity. It is true that on a few philosophical points or within ministry management BJ may not be exactly where I'm at but that's OK because my guess is I'm not exactly where God is and I'll not presume who is closer to God on the issues BJ and I are not in perfect agreement on. I'm not going to consider that point too deeply because I'm very sure in more than one area the University is closer to the right view than I am. I happen to love the 3rd and Stephen very much. They are men of integrity and they are gracious brothers in the Lord. A clear example of that has been the admission of past institutional failure on policy and the willingness to open themselves up to peer review. The seminary produces sharp guys who are committed to Truth and Love. Frankly I no longer bump into graduates that are "full of themselves" because they graduated from BJ. There may have been a few like that in the past, but the present students and graduates of the University that I bump into are normal people - quick, enjoyable, serious when they need to be serous, a great sense of humor and real. Frankly they are refreshing.

My oldest son will study at Arizona State University in the fall - he will pursue a civil/structural engineering degree. My other two sons are both considering BJ as a potential place to study. We would be thrilled to once again have a Tetreau on the campus of BJU. I’ve studied in five institutions yet never had a real chance to study at BJ. At some point in time I’d love to take a refresher course on counseling and I think I’ll probably do that in Greenville SC when the time comes….if they’ll have me. We've had both Dr. Bob and Stephen in our pulpit here at SVBC - our congregation loves them both and we are praying that God will touch our brother Stephen's health and continue to give Dr. Bob strength in the days to come.

One more point - there may be a time as a leader or a parent you may disagree with a point or two about the University - two thoughts – First, are you going to find a place for your youngster to study where you have perfect agreement? Second, you know they will answer their mail! On a few occasions I have shared a concern or two with our friends there and they always answered as quickly as they can and often they will give you the institutional reason that they do this or that. They are respectful and frankly I have found them to be "easily entreated."

So….for the record I appreciate Kevin’s open letter of appreciation for our friends in Greenville. I for one share his gratitude. BJU continues to be a great ally in the work of our Lord’s vineyard.

Straight Ahead!
jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Baptist Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

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Joining the encouragement

As a person who holds two degrees from BJU and is slowly working on a third, I can only say that my years at BJU were among the best I've experienced in what is now close to 50 years of earthly life. As a graduate assistant, I was a part-time member of the administration while working on a master's degree. I saw first-hand a strong commitment to Scripture, integrity, and consistency.

While BJU is not perfect and never will be, it has trained some of the world's greatest ministry leaders. As a mission board leader, I rarely travel to a place that has escaped BJU's influence. In spite of the global impact BJU has made, every time I have been in the presence of Dr. Bob Jones, III, I have found him to be as humble, down-to-earth, warm, and friendly as anyone I know.

While Stephen Jones is not someone I really know on a personal level, he appears to be sincerely seeking to provide biblical leadership and thoughtful, God-honoring change. He is also doing so in the midst of debilitating physical trials. He needs our prayers and our encouragement.

Thank you, Dr. Bauder, for using your influence as a means to provide such encouragement. It truly stands as a stark and welcomed contrast to the criticism that is being hurled by people who often have little firsthand knowledge of what they are criticizing and sometimes place greater confidence in secular media sources than they do their own brothers and sisters in the faith. May your words provide them with both a rebuke and an example.

Scott Aniol's picture
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Thanks

This was an admirable example to all of us and reflected my heart and many other alumni who recognize the weaknesses (who doesn't have them?) but appreciate the strengths even more. Thanks to you, Kevin.

Scott Aniol 
Executive Director Religious Affections Ministries
Instructor of Worship, Southwestern Baptist

Bill Roach's picture
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A Breath of Fresh Air...

Thank you, Dr. Bauder for reminding us that gratitude is an important part of a man's soul. Thank you also for pointing out that a trajectory of a ministry is a vital piece of the evaluation.

I am extremely thankful for my days at BJU. The teaching, the love, and the discipline I received, set me on a "trajectory" that by God's grace continues to be "worked out and completed" by the Holy Spirit.

The article is a great encouragement to all of us to remember that each man, church, or ministry will have weaknesses. And that an honest evaluation of ourselves of those weaknesses, and a loving spirit towards the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters in Christ will be an effective way to expand God's Kingdom.

May this be one of many such articles.

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Straight Shooting

Human nature controls far too many of us; those who belong to Christ. Your article is an encouragement to God's people to think and respond in a way that would please our Lord. Keep shooting straight !

Bob Rogish

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