BJU: Can’t Beat the Real Thing


BJU Seminary. Photo: Wikipedia, by Hi540. CCBYSA40

A relatively unknown Greenville pastor, Joshua Crockett, recently ascended to what would have been, in the latter half of the twentieth century, one of the most prominent positions in Fundamentalism—the presidency of Bob Jones University. Thankfully, with the exception of a few on the fringes, most seem to be satisfied with his choice, or at least they are willing to give him a chance.

As he begins his presidency, Crockett should ask himself two questions. First, what can I learn from my predecessor? Second, how can I “strengthen the things which remain”?1

The second question is easy: Bring back the Chancellor! No one has done more for BJU than Bob Jones, III—his whole life has been spent serving and promoting the school. Crockett should give “honor to whom honor” is due.2

Why has Jones’ picture not appeared in recent yearbooks? Why has he not been featured more in chapel and at Bible Conferences? As BJU approaches its 100th year, the new President would do well to embrace the people and philosophies which created “the world’s most unusual university.”

Thankfully, Jones intervened as the school began drifting from its historic principles. To his credit, he expressed concerns about the university—unlike his counterparts at Tennessee Temple University and Northland International University who refused to raise the flag when their schools were drifting towards oblivion. Hopefully, Crockett will utilize the Chancellor as an advisor and not treat him like an inconvenient icon of BJU’s past.

What one word do you associate with Bob Jones University? Most who attended BJU between 1960 and 2000 would respond: “Separation.” A faithful alumnus could then divide this word into two categories: ecclesiastical and personal separation. This is BJU’s brand. The only way to get rid of this reputation would be to change the school’s name.

One of the greatest marketing failures of the 1980s was New Coke. One critic of New Coke said: “If you’re trying to make your product more like Pepsi, then I’ll just drink Pepsi.” This was the essential downfall of the Steve Pettit presidency at BJU. If BJU emulates places like The Masters University or Cedarville University, people will still reject BJU either because of its stigma of separation or because it has lost its trademark of separation.

No one should attribute ill motives to Pettit. There is no doubt that he has a heart for discipleship, expositional preaching, apologetics, and godly manliness—all good things for BJU. However, in his implementation of these, he chose at times to ignore the BJU way.

Pettit changed the formula at BJU by broadening its ecclesiastical associations. For instance, he complemented John MacArthur on Twitter3 and made peace with Billy Graham on Facebook.4 Under Pettit, BJU participated in Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child—Franklin Graham’s ministry.5 The approved church list for BJU students was expanded under Pettit to include denominations that had been off-limits for years.

These moves on Pettit’s part did not escape the notice of BJU’s traditional supporters, especially when former BJU Professor David Beale updated his magnum opus In Pursuit of Purity. Originally published by BJU’s Unusual Publications, Beale’s book was the BJU-approved history of Fundamentalism and a required textbook at BJU. In his 2021 edition, retitled Christian Fundamentalism in America: The Story of the Rest from 1857 to 2020, a single sentence sent shockwaves through BJU’s universe: “After being the premier fundamentalist academic institution for eighty-seven years, BJU elected Dr. Steve Pettit in 2014, as the president who steered the University out of separatist Fundamentalism into the inclusive, Broad Evangelical movement.”6 As the scholar who literally wrote the book on Fundamentalism, his assessment carried much weight.

Criticisms against Pettit spiked when a fashion show at BJU appeared online with a young man strutting down a hallowed hall converted into a catwalk.7 His dress resembled drag. He wore a crown of thorns. Pettit hesitated to deal with the situation. Critics demanded to know who had approved it. The show led to a wider scrutiny of the Fine Arts Department for featuring Broadway and Disney shows/styles in its Artist Series productions. Such controversies likely led to the recent dismissal of BJU’s long-time Fine Arts Department Chair.

The fashion show and pictures of BJU students (especially athletes) wearing less modest clothing than in the past8 led many to conclude that Pettit was tearing down BJU’s wall of personal separation as well as ecclesiastical separation.

These concerns found their voice in a letter never meant for public consumption. The Foundations Baptist Fellowship International, historically one of BJU’s strongest supporters, wrote a critical letter to the BJU Board of Trustees. It was leaked to the public by Pettit backers, but this backfired on them in at least four ways. First, it is never positive to be known as a leaker. Second, the FBFI was able to broadcast its concerns while noting that its letter was never meant for the general public. Third, the letter rallied others to the cause of “righting the ship” at BJU. Fourth, the most prominent endorsee of this letter was the Chancellor. Largely silent up to this point, it was now clear that Jones disagreed with Pettit’s leadership. A stock email that Jones sent to people confirmed his qualms with the new direction of BJU.9

Separation is not the only word that described old-school BJU. Another is soul-winning. In times past, Jones regularly reminded students in chapel: “The most sobering reality in the world today is that people are dying and going to hell today.” Back then, Stratton Hall was brimming with “Preacher Boys” vociferously singing: “‘Souls for Jesus’ is our battle cry, ‘Souls for Jesus,’ we’ll fight until we die! We never will give in, while souls are lost in sin! ‘Souls for Jesus’ is our battle cry!”

Crockett checks all of the boxes as a member of mainstream Fundamentalism.10 Those who have recently felt estranged from the university should give BJU another try. BJU’s future depends upon a return to its roots, not a rebranding. Like Coke, if a “New BJU” emerges, it will not be BJU at all.


My thoughts, for what they are worth.

It’s clear that a brand shift occurred over the last couple of decades at BJU.

It’s not obvious to me that that the old brand is viable in today’s Christian higher education market. It’s also not obvious to me that BJU ought to return to that brand even if it can thrive in that niche. I’m not going to say that it shouldn’t or can’t, either, though.

How would I know?

This much I’m convinced of: There is more than one way to do Christian University. These institutions don’t have a narrowly defined set of purposes and approaches straight from the Bible. We have raised them up to indirectly serve biblical purposes. There’s a pretty wide range of approaches available, with various tradeoffs.

I’m convinced, too, that institutions do not have to keep doing things the way they have always done them. They do not have to be chained to their past. As far as ‘branding’ goes, maybe it’s good to at least be bungee-corded to their past. It’s good to have some personality.

But everything changes. That is not, in itself, a bad thing.

I wish Crocket and Pettit both good success in the ministries they serve and lead, and I hope BJU continues to help the Body of Christ in both special and not-special ways in the years ahead.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Yet Crocket recently earned his doctorate from Liberty University. Why?

Wally Morris
Huntington, IN

Mr Cauthorne missed much in this article. He was obviously in the camp to oust Petit. What he clearly misses is that the faculty, administration, alumni and students were behind Dr. Petit. Even the Board unanimously extended Petit's contract on November 17, 2022 for an additional 3 years, stating, "We are excited about BJU’s future under Dr. Pettit’s leadership. BJU is uniquely positioned in today’s world to deliver its mission centered on life-changing Christian education for today’s students. We stand together with Dr. Pettit and our faculty and staff in commitment to our mission, seeking the Lord’s favor, as we look to our 100th anniversary and beyond."

A small faction within fundamentalism, which contributes very little to the student body or funding, had a problem with it. While historically, the FBFI has held much sway over the University, in practical terms, it contributes little to the University today. While the letter was never meant for public consumption, it appears that it wasn't even meant for the FBFI or those it claims signed the letter. I know board members of the FBFI that resigned over the letter that was sent to the Board because they were not aligned to the letter.

I personally, had one on one discussions with faculty members who had well over 40 years of service at the University, who expressed to me that they did not want the University to go back to the days of the 1980's and 1990's and that they expressed that the faculty was overwhelmingly supportive of Petit, despite some of the missteps.

Petit had missteps. No doubt. And he also owned up to them. But so did Stephen, the III, Jr. and even Sr. There were cries when I was there in the 1980's and 1990's about the University drifting over decisions that Jr. or the III were making. Most of the complaints resonated in the walls of old fundamentalism, but not with the current students or supporters.

I think there is a tepid wait and see attitude with Crockett. I know the student body is not excited, but they viewed it as the better choice considering many of the other names floated out there. There is not much "bench strength" left in fundamentalism. Even the stalwarts will agree with that. The historic roots of fundamentalism is dwindling. It no longer contributes to the base of support for the school. The school needs to figure out how to grow into a new model, that sheds the fundamentalism that should die, and seeks to not build walls around itself, while not compromising on the true fundamentals. As you notice in Cauthorne's article above, none of the compromise was on the fundamentals. It was on the dress of the sports teams (which by the way are more conservative than Maranatha's and other schools), churches that parents elect to raise their children in, Samaritan's purse, a tweet from MacArthur, putting Jones III in a corner, Billy Graham. These are all old-school secondary, tertiary issues. Ones that the younger generation are tired of, have grown weary of listening to, and are not aligned to in practice.

I wasn't aware that evangelistic cooperation with liberal churches (the Graham philosophy which continues today) was an "old-school secondary, tertiary" issue. I wasn't aware that because a new generation doesn't like a topic we therefore must avoid that topic. I wasn't aware that we determine personal clothing standards by comparing ourselves with other people. According to some people, BJU's "new model" should essentially become conservative, Evangelical and avoid all that uncomfortable separation.

Wally Morris
Huntington, IN

Wally, they are. I will give you a clear example, since I am very close to the school.

BJU allowed students to attend Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. A reformed church who holds to the Westminister Confession of Faith. A church that under prior leadership, student were not to attend. They were placed on the White List. Has Second Presbyterian Church preached anything bad? They hold to the Cambridge Declaration, Chicago Statement of Innerancy, Danvers and Nashville statement. Some alumni and some in the FBFI raised alarm bells. Were the alarm bells related to anything that Second Presbyterian Church taught or holds to? No, the concerns were:

  • Part of the PCA (secondary)
  • Dr. Richard Philips is a adjunct professor and member of the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary (secondary)
  • Westminister Theological Seminary has a lax dress code and allows alcoholic beverages (tertiary)

There are students who attend BJU who were members of Second Presbyterian Church and students who were Presbyterians who are members of the PCA. The issue is not that they are Presbyterian, as Presbyterian churchs have been on the "White List" for all of the schools existence. The school had Presbyterian speakers in the pulpit regularly (Ian Paisley and others). So the issue wasn't Presbyterian or that Second Presbyterian taught anything that was in conflict with the original fundamentals of fundamentalism. It was that it wasn't separated in other ways. So yes, secondary separation, no matter how you slice it.

I fall roughly closer to David than the new President of WMUU, theologically speaking, and a couple of thoughts come to mind. First, what are the Biblical examples of secondary separation? I am drawing a blank.

Regarding the modesty issue, my side note is that I think "fundagelicals" in general are reaping the harvest of framing the issue in terms of passages like 1 Timothy 2:9, taking a passage which is talking about the opulence of dress and trying to "shoehorn" it to be about how well it covers. Smart people see right through that.

So long and short of it is that you've got to, IMO, go to passages like Leviticus 18 and ask what phrases like "uncover nakedness" meant in those days, and then ask whether we would have the same response today. My take is yes--the application I make is somewhere midway between denim jumpers and Lulemon tights for most attire--but doing the hard work to ask "is this how people really think?" doesn't seem to be being done, and our communities are suffering for it.

Something of a diversion, I know, but at least tangentially appropriate here.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

I know very little about the new president...and that may work to his advantage, as no one yet knows how he is going to lead or the direction in which the school will go. I'm cautiously optimistic.

<quote>As you notice in Cauthorne's article above, none of the compromise was on the fundamentals. It was on the dress of the sports teams (which by the way are more conservative than Maranatha's and other schools), churches that parents elect to raise their children in, Samaritan's purse, a tweet from MacArthur, putting Jones III in a corner, Billy Graham. These are all old-school secondary, tertiary issues. Ones that the younger generation are tired of, have grown weary of listening to, and are not aligned to in practice.</quote>

These things may not be fundamentals directly, but still important issues. I don't know how young people could be tired or grown weary regarding teaching on modesty or separation, because I think there is precious little teaching on it right now, anywhere. I certainly understand how they would not be in alignment, because no one is dealing with it any more, at least hardly ever. I am aware of an issue, something that I don't want to go into much detail publicly for various reasons, but one in which it would really help if the church in general had more teaching on Biblical separation. What I'm seeing are people aligning themselves with ministries that have no spiritual discernment at all and basically committing some of the grave errors that the Billy Graham crusades did in funneling people into very compromised and apostate churches. The problems with the Billy Graham philosophy of evangelicalism have not gone away.

To Bert's question, I think Paul's rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2 is an example of the potential beginning of secondary separation. It was Peter's actions, not his doctrine, that necessitated the rebuke by Paul. If Peter (and Barnabas for that matter) had continued in that gospel denying practice, Paul would have had no choice but to separate from them (cf., 2 Thes 3:6).

Andy, wasn't Paul rebuking Peter for failing to have fellowship with Gentile believers? Secondary separation, on the flip side, is about having fellowship with those who extend fellowship to nonbelievers. I don't see the connection here.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Secondary separation is separating from believers whose practice (not their doctrine) compromises the gospel. Your example of having fellowship with those who extend fellowship to nonbelievers is just one example of it.


For sure separation is important. One thing, that I think that many at the school appreciated in regards to Petit, was his focus on holiness and discipleship. There was definitely a focus on growth in holiness by focusing on God and as a result practices in your life will align to God, vs. layers of separation to keep yourself "clean" and holy. There is no doubt that separation is a key to holiness, but the generation today is tired of the layers and layers of separation that had been created. Did it create problems? Sure, you could point to problems. But I also remember when BJ III spoke at Furman and the uproar that created.

Prohibiting people from going to Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville because of the concerns noted by people, is not really a healthy form of separation. There were too many separation elements like this, that it caused a younger generation to really be suspect of separation. Which then caused people to lack the important types of separation.

My take on that is that Peter was sinning in one or both of two ways:

  1. By having fellowship with men who denied the Gospel by insisting on Jewish customs as a condition of being in Christ.
  2. By refusing fellowship to men who were in Christ, but Gentiles who did not consent to the demands of the Judiazers.

Neither seems to be an example of secondary separation, IMO. Now part of the lack of examples, to be sure, is that in Biblical times, the main issue was that wolves had crept in among the sheep, so that's primary separation, but I still think that if secondary separation were a Biblical imperative, we would have some examples that are crystal clear.

And really, with "six degrees of separation" and all, trying to impose secondary separation tends to be a bit arbitrary in its application. You end up picking and choosing those central issues.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

The man will be 85 this August!

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

What was always shocking to me is that while Dr. Jones III was sending out the letter noted above in October 2022, the board unanimously voted to extend Petits contract another 3 years in November 2022. They even publicly stated that they stood in unison with Dr. Petit, while at the same time Dr. Jones was sending out letters with the terms antithetical. I know it seems that this controversy was about Dr. Petit in direct conflict with historic fundamentalism, but I am not sure it was that simple. There was a fight going on between one side of fundamentalism and another. Members quit both the FBFI and the BJU board over this issue, on both sides of the fence. An extremely large group of graduates across a diverse age group were upset about the board pressuring Petit. Faculty, including long time faculty members who served under mainly University leaders were pushing against a segment of the board, as were the students and student leadership. Letters signed by a long list of pastors who helmed churches that were historically supportive of BJU in the past wrote letters to the board asking them to support Petit. The core of the issue was:

  • Churches on the school's white list
  • The fashion show
  • Asking Trevor Lawrence to speak to the students in the sports program
  • The dress code in the schools sports program and the expansion of the program into the NCAA

There were other elements, but that seemed to be the core. And it was a fight between a group that wanted the school to stay "fixed". A group that had historical roots at the school, but who were for many parts not actually sending kids to the school anymore because of their age. And a group that saw the change as a breath of fresh air for the school. One that viewed the board as being out of touch with the students, faculty and parents, and had been insular for decades. A group that were the ones sending the kids to the school and significantly financially supporting the University. A group that welcomed that Dr. Petit actually sat with students and intimately involved in their lives, unlike administrations in the past who separated themselves from the students.

I personally was very concerned about the fashion show, but I chalk it up as a serious mistake that took place and not indicative of the direction of the school. I am less concerned about the other changes, because to be honest the staying "fixed" approach would have led to a fairly rapid death for the school. It will be seen what happens next. If the school begins to shift back to the 90's, I fear it will just die. There are not enough hardcore separatist in the 18-21 year old age group that is looking to pay $150K for that type of an education. And the individuals are looking for the unique education that BJU provides today and willing to pay the $150K, will leave the school in droves. To be honest, and with the discussion I have had with students, if it does start to shift back to the 90's they will just go to PCC. Way better campus and way, way cheaper. I think those who are calling for BJU to be unique, have missed the fact that it is unique today. It is not a Covenant, Liberty, Cedarville, PCC. It had its own flavor.

First, with the lead article, C. D. gets some things right (and from parts I know about personally) some things wrong.

My friend David Szweda also gets some things quite wrong about what happened.

What does it really matter? Why rehash this? As my daughter said once when she was about ten, "You can't rewind in life." (She was schooled using the ABeka vhs tapes).

Events happened, decisions were made, other follow on decisions were made. We can't change anything about those decisions now.

It is a mistake for anyone to be "triumphalist" about this, if their side "won." It is mistake to constantly rehash and bemoan the mistakes (if your side "lost"). Time will tell whether the current situation is workable and successful. I hope it is successful.

I know some of the key figures in leadership at BJU very well. I just was sitting at a table with one of them this evening, and sat next to another one in a service last night. I know Josh a little bit. I am hopeful that they can make BJU into a strong, viable fundamentalist school. It doesn't have to be exactly what it was like in the 70s (my era). Things change.

But I guarantee you if we are constantly carping about the past and old fights we won't go forward.

My dad told me once, "Don't look back unless you want to go that way." I think it's time to look forward.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Regardless of who thinks who is right or wrong, I know both sides want to see the school succeed. I don't know Josh Crockett personally, but much of my family does. Many are long time members of Morningside in Greenville. I have attended Morningside many times, as have my children. I will be there again in a few weeks, as one of my family members will be getting married in the church. I know his brother Nathan, who is also a member at Morningside and a faculty member at BJU. I have nothing but good things to say about Josh, and I have only heard good things about him. I wish him the best and will pray for him. He has a lot on his shoulders. I personally hope he can move the school forward, while holding onto the core aspects of BJU, including separation.

One thing that was highlighted amongst this struggle, is that there is a passionate alumni base. A significant number of "sideline" alumni banded together in the thousands to voice their support. This "band" of alumni, raised enough funds in one week to pay off all of the debt for the Seniors, that was preventing them from graduating. What it showed was that there was an untapped alumni base. Something the school has not been very good at all in tapping into. I truly hope the school can leverage this momentum in tapping into the alumni, I think an engaged alumni, regardless of any sides, is good for the school.