An Open Letter on Steve Pettit’s Presidency

I usually stay out of BJU politics these days, but this is an important issue. I forwarded this to the chairman of the board, and it is an answer from what I perceive (based on social media) to be the issues at hand. For a better understanding of the political machinations in this particular situation I would recommend Eric Hutton’s open letter, as it outlines among other things, his own interactions with board members. Hutton (among other accounts) provides both an answer to serious allegations by a blogger who I will not name here (to allow him the obscurity his work deserves), that there is a campaign to “pressure the board” into action, when the entire move against Steve Pettit appears to be the result of an underhanded political machinations, and scheming. Some external pressure seems appropriate in response to cast light onto what is done under the cover of darkness, Hutton’s letter is a good read.

In this case, I wrote in part because most discussions seem to be how Pettit leaving the school will affect enrollment, this is an issue, but I believe there are other issues. I have forwarded this previously to the chairman of the board and noted it should be shared with other board members. Anyone wishing a PDF copy, please message me, as this blog is not active (but has not been officially replaced yet). This includes my own interpretation of the events in Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in my own times (always dangerous), and what I consider to be the over-riding issues: the reasons some want to see Steve Pettit dismissed are precisely why he should be retained.

To Whom it may concern,

I graduated from BJU in 1996 with my BA, 1998 with my MA in Bible and 2005 with my M Div. Growing up in the Fundamentalism of the 90s and early 2000s was an interesting experience, as many of the issues that Fundamentalists of that era focused on, increasingly, were as relevant to the faith as the phonograph. I do not mean that the faith was irrelevant and required change, but rather, instead of focusing on the legitimate concerns arising from the advances of a secular culture that was increasingly hostile to the truth of the Gospel (or to objective truth of any kind), we were worried about the concerns of the 1950s and 1960s era Fundamentalist/Evangelical controversy. Were there issues with Evangelicalism of that period? Certainly, but then we had problems in our own backyard, yet we never took those problems as seriously as we did the sins of our neighbors. One never saw Fundamentalists brooding over Dr. Bob Jones Senior’s segregationist views or the various moral and doctrinal failures of J Frank Norris and Jack Hyles as one did the presence of Bishop Pike on Billy Graham’s platform.  The difference between the heresies of theological traditionalism (the modern day counterparts to the Ebionites Paul addressed in Galatians) do not seem to justify a different response from the heresies of the theological liberals (the modern day counterparts of the gnostics John addressed in his first epistle).

Does this imply Fundamentalism was simply a mistake? No, for God is providentially at work within His church, and therefore the different movements of Church history exist at His pleasure and allowance. There are no longer any English Separatists or French Huguenots, yet in their proper time they served important purposes for God’s kingdom. In some cases, however, a movement tries to maintain itself as distinct when it’s original purpose fades; the Donatists (likened by Dr. Earnest Pickering to Fundamentalism) being an example of why this is dangerous. There were valid concerns at the time when the Fundamentalist-Evangelical split began, but over time, many of those valid concerns have faded; following the publication of Francis Schaeffer’s The Great Evangelical Disaster, Evangelicalism underwent something of a course correction and we should acknowledge that correction as a positive thing. Ironically, the Southern resurgence succeeded where the forerunners of the Fundamentalist Baptist groups failed in righting the Northern Baptist convention.

I do believe BJU has something to offer; Fundamentalists and Evangelicals both have their strengths and weaknesses. Evangelicals, due to studies in Europe in the 50s and 60s seem to have been influenced by the same tradition of subjectivist epistemologies that were responsible for theological liberalism. Furthermore, there is a growing tendency towards Kuyper’s Neocalvinism rather than the more balanced approach offered by thinkers such as Warfield; we provide a corrective to these imbalances. Yet, Evangelicals provide a corrective towards fundamentalism’s tendency towards anti-intellectualism or our tendency to treat the traditions of men as if they were the commandments of God. Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism may be converging, in God’s providence, because we are better with each other than we were apart. Partisanship (on both sides) was as significant as doctrine in the early days of that conflict, but partisanship seems to be all that is left at this point. “I am of the FBFI,” “I am of the BBF,” “I am of the GARBC” or “I am of the SBC” has become the types of factions Paul warns against in the early chapters of first Corinthians. What is Bob Jones if it becomes something other than one school among others, and perhaps one which needs some reform both in its culture and pedagogy?

But should we be concerned that Dr. Pettit is changing longstanding rules? These changes also seem necessary. While going through some training at BJU, I had to listen to a tape describing the philosophy underlying the creation of the student handbook. The speaker noted the intent of the rules was to serve as a guardrail to prevent students from violating the law of God; and I often shudder when I realize how close this was to the Pharisaical insistence upon building a “hedge” around the law. Too many former students have noted that they became convinced that their standing before God was rooted in their actions, not in the completed work of Christ. We should admit that Fundamentalism has been guilty of being modern-day pharisees and repent of that trend rather than to try to defend policies rooted in something other than a Christian view that the Just shall live—not merely enter into the church—on the basis of faith. Paul warned the Galatians, in contrast to Pharisees not Libertines, that what is begun by the Spirit cannot be completed by the Flesh (here he refers to human means as opposed to the way this is used later in Romans—see Donald Guthrie’s discussion of the term flesh in New Testament Theology). The rulebook at BJU is seen as necessary to prevent the infection from a secular society, but have we forgotten that it is not that which goes into the body, but that which comes out from the heart that defiles us? So many of my parent’s generation were turned off to Christianity because many fundamentalists were so busy at laughing, scorning and rebuffing the hippies that we never reached out to them, addressing their existential angst. Nor did those few who did reach out to these lost souls, such as Francis Schaeffer, compromise the faith in the process.

Yes, there are some BJ constituents who will be unhappy with change; Paul did not coddle the concerns of the Judaizers, he confronted them. Much the same is needed here. The next generation is facing the great spiritual dangers and temptations of a post-Christian culture. Much like ancient Rome, we face pressure to abandon the faith to remain a part of the civil society. There are answers to these charges but answering those charges must include acknowledging the sins and failings of the past, and focusing on the needs of the present.

To perhaps condense a long letter, the reasons that some might wish to remove Steve Pettit from his post are precisely the reasons why he needs to be retained. Please share this with the board at large; this should be treated as an open letter.

In Him,

Kevin R Short