Opinion: Is Philadelphia Biblical University Dancing with Satan?

The Gutenberg Bible
The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Updated 5/1/12: Added to references section blog articles by Thom Turner and Jamie Gleason on the name change.

Introduction

In 2001 I left my home in Westerlo (New York) and took up residence in Souder Dormitory at Philadelphia College of Bible (PCB). The next year the name would change to Philadelphia Biblical University (PBU). In 2005 I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Biblical Studies[1]. In 2008 I returned to PBU as an employee in the Technology Services (aka Information Technology) Department and continue to work there till the present time.

Yesterday word was officially released that PBU has proposed a name change[2] and this has, rightly, caused consternation within the alumni community specifically, but also within the evangelical community generally. My title is a bit hyperbolic, but the underlying question is valid – “What is happening at PBU? Are they abandoning the Christian faith?”

I’d like to take the opportunity to answer these questions from my perspective as an alumni, a local church leader, and an employee of PBU.

Not a Fan

I’d like to start by qualifying that this isn’t a puff piece for PBU. I’m not a huge advocate of the name change. When I was made aware the name change was coming down the pike I wrote Dr. Williams and suggested against it. I didn’t know the name at the time and when I learned the name I wasn’t particularly happy with it either. So, I’m not in love with the idea or the name.
On the other hand, I am not opposed to the name change nor do I think it is indicative of PBU losing its way. I hope you will take the time to hear me out as I explain why…

Sidebar on Leadership:

I don’t always agree with the decisions Dr. Williams (or administration) makes regarding PBU…but working with a church for several years now I also realize that no one always agrees with the decisions of leadership. Part of a leader’s job is to make hard decisions folks won’t agree with…and both action and inaction will result in criticism and praise. As such, when I don’t disagree with an action by administration I try to make my opinion known to appropriate individuals and discuss it as given the opportunity but when the decision is made, I support it – even if it was not the decision I would have made.[3]

They Got Rid of the Bible Major!

Before we talk about the proposed name change, lets talk about PBU’s decision to drop the requirement to major in Bible. For years and years the distinctive of PBU was that we required every student to graduate with a degree in biblical studies. You might major in social work, education, counseling, or so on and you would receive a degree in that major – but you also had to graduate with a biblical studies degree.

Recently this all changed. There is no longer a biblical studies degree requirement – but this doesn’t mean that students no longer study the Bible. Prior to dropping the degree requirement students all took 36 credits in biblical studies to earn their degree – now they take 30.

The fear of many is that PBU is losing its distinctiveness and its biblical foundation. There are many liberal arts Christian colleges which offer a Christian education that includes 6-12 credits in biblical studies. But this is not what PBU is doing – it is still requiring a significant load of biblical studies credits for each student, but without the degree requirement.

So why the change? Why not just leave the extra two courses in there and make everyone get a bible degree? It is so close! The answer is found in the way Pennsylvania requires higher education to divvy up courses for double majors.

If a student goes for a single major they need 120 credits. If they go for a dual-major they need 150 credits.[4] It doesn’t matter if the student needs only 130 credits to fulfill the actual requirements for the dual degree – the state still requires them to take a minimum of 150 credits. By removing the degree requirement this allows PBU to reduce the number of courses the PBU student needs to graduate while still providing them with a very significant biblical education. This means a student may take less “filler” credits before graduation – which for some students can be a significant reprieve (in time and finances).

All that said – let me explain the reason why I am actually a big fan of the dropping of the bible degree requirement: balance. As a student at PCB/PBU and as someone who has worked with many PBU students in various capacities I know how much work goes into being a student at PBU…and it is a lot. I believe that removing the dual degree requirement increases the ability of students to manage and grow in their whole lives. Knowledge acquisition is not the end-all of education – character formation is also essential. Unfortunately, the academic load at PBU has at times facilitated knowledge acquisition without all of the necessary character formation – or even pushing students in the wrong direction in formation (e.g. workaholism).

Students will still need to grasp the opportunity – but the removal of the dual degree requirement will open up opportunities to develop deeper friendships, to spend time eating healthier, sleeping better, and perhaps spending some time in one-on-one counseling to work through personal issues[5]…and finally, and for me most exciting, there is a larger opportunity for PBU students to be involved in local churches – not just in service but also in relationship.

Ohh, and one more thing…the bible degree isn’t gone. Any student can choose to get a dual degree and anyone who is studying a ministry specific area (e.g. pastoral, youth min.) must still get a bible degree. Only students who are primarily seeking an education in a non-biblical area don’t have to dual major but they still have to take a significant courseload of biblical studies courses.

From Biblical to Cairn?

If I was President of the United States…ohh wait, I don’t want that job, it is absolutely impossible to please everybody or even a majority of people most of the time. If I was President of Philadelphia Biblical University[6] I wouldn’t have proposed a name change…Well, two things about that right off the bat:

  1. Without being in Todd’s shoes I can’t tell you if I’d have proposed a name change. I assume I wouldn’t have at this time, but I haven’t been part of the discussions, prayers, or decisions which have led us to this point.
  2. I’m not the President, and when it comes down to it there has to be one and then there has to be a bunch of followers, who are hopefully listened to, but in the end are still followers. A President should listen to his followers, his team, his comrades…but his team needs to follow when he leads.

Still, unity does not mean uniformity. So let me share with you my hesitations about the name change:

  1. We just made a big change (dropping the bible degree requirement) which caused us bad press and is still misunderstood. Making another big change will cause more bad press at a rough-ish time (e.g. the economy still ain’t great folks!).
  2. I understand folks don’t understand all that PBU entails, but I think we can change how people perceive us without changing our name…I want to spend more time on web marketing.[7]
  3. A name change is expensive in both finances and employee man hours. While most folks probably aren’t thinking, “Wow, it is going to be a lot of work for IT to see the name change through.” Let me tell you – it is going to be a MEGA MEGA MEGA load of work. Yes, I have nightmares. Yes, TS is currently understaffed and yes, this summer was already looking insanely busy – so no, I don’t want to do a name change right now.
  4. A name change may divert attention from deeper issues (e.g. interdepartmental relationships, financial stewardship, student care, technological improvements, employee care, and so on). I think the University has made some great strides over the years in areas every institution struggles in – but I fear that the emphasis on the name change may redirect our attention off of more substantial opportunities for positive change.
  5. I think Cairn is unfamiliar and difficult to spell. When I first heard it I thought, “Karen University?” Then I was wondering, “How do I spell it?” “Kairn.” “Caern.” “Karyn.” It isn’t all that intuitive. This brings up some significant concerns regarding our web presence. “Yes sir, please go to www.cairn.edu…No, not caern.edu, cairn. No, not karen.edu, cairn.edu.” And so on.

I’ll admit – the name has been growing on me. I’d heard the name some days before the announcement by Todd to faculty and staff on Tuesday (4/17/12) and really hadn’t liked it…but Todd did a good job of selling it at the faculty/staff meeting and while I’m still not a huge fan of the name, I’m not going to fight it. Especially since the Hebrew word for the same idea is “Hoth” and while I had thought maybe using the Hebrew could be a better idea – “Hoth” is like a planet from Star Wars or something…[8]

Now, I know most folks have probably stopped reading by this point…but let me briefly add on why changing the University’s name is potentially positive:

  • We aren’t in Philadelphia and when articles such as “Philadelphia Closes 2011 with Highest Per-Capita Murder Rate in the U.S.” it may not be the most beneficial association when trying to convince parents that PBU is a safe and hospitable environment for their dearest beloved child(ren).
  • We are a biblical university that offers educational opportunities to folks entering vocational ministry as well as those entering the mainstream workforce…but the term biblical university is widely associated with an institution that educates only vocational ministers. This is problematic b/c our distinctive is in large part that an individual can get an excellent education in a mainstream profession while also getting a deep foundation in the Scriptures. We are a place for students who want to be pastors, missionaries, and other christian vocational leaders – but we are also a place for students who are Christians but aren’t interested in vocational ministry – e.g. many social workers, educators, scientists, counselors, and so on.[9]
  • There are other reasons, but I don’t care about them that much, so I’ll skip them…

Conclusion

It is important for Christians to evaluate what their institutions are doing. Questioning the decision to drop the bible major requirement and to change the name are mature and thoughtful questions and should be asked. I have thought about these items for some time and discussed these topics with a number of individuals – including alumni and members of the evangelical community. I hope that my processing and thoughts on these matters can help you in your journey of processing this as well.

I would also note that, to me, there are more fundamental areas to look at for the integrity of an institution – whether that be a higher education, parachurch, or church institution. Look at any institutions constituency and you will find its true quality. Is there gossip amongst the constituency? Is there lying? Immorality? Ineptitude? Or is there integrity? Honesty? Love? Commitment? Look for the fruits of the Spirit in the lives of the constituency – or the absence thereof. This is the best thermometer we have for any institutions health.

I don’t think dropping the bible degree requirement or changing the University’s name indicate PBU is going apostate…but these changes also don’t mean it isn’t. The duty of the employees, of the students, of the alumni, and of the larger evangelical community is to walk well by the power of the Spirit and question deeply the weaknesses which appear within us.[10]

P.S.

Yeah, I wrote this beginning around 3 a.m. on 4/19…definitely not reviewed or approved by PBU. =)

Additional Resources

I have compiled a list of additional resources which may be helpful to folks desiring to learn more about what is happening at PBU. Please let me know if you are aware of additional resources which may be of use. Note: I tend to curate and aggregate resources, I’m not one for filtering – unless the article is of poor quality. The presence of articles here does not indicate that I endorse the contents of the articles, but simply that they provide substantial content for thought, discussion, and perhaps ranting.

  1. Dr. Todd Williams. “What Will and Will Not Change.” – April 19th, 2012. – Dr. Williams, President of PBU, has posted a video and article explaining the proposed name change.
  2. J.R. Hughes. “Petition: To leave the name of the school as Philadelphia Biblical University.” – A petition that is open to all to sign who oppose the proposed name change.
  3. Steve Weir. “I’m Changing My Name.” – April 18th, 2012. – Steve Weir, a PBU alumnus, former employee, and now Communications Director for Grace Point Church writes his thoughts on the name change.
  4. Davey Ermold. “on…cairn?…university…” – April 19th, 2012. – Davey Ermold, another PBU alumnus, provides his thoughts on the proposed name change…Davey has experienced a shift from support of the PBU direction to increasingly questioning the direction – brought to a culmination in this decision.
  5. Ricky Ragone. “_______________ ____________________ University?” – Ricky Ragone is yet another PBU alumnus, who also happens to be from my hometown in NY! Some good thoughts here as Ricky wrestled over time with the announcement of the name change.
  6. Dr. Todd Williams. “Centered on Christ and His Word.” – Thanks to Ricky for mentioning this article in his post above. This is a solid article by Dr. Williams discussing the decision to drop the bible degree requirement.
  7. Rev. William Smith. “What’s In a Name?” – April 19th, 2012 – Bill Smith, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Bristol and an alumnus of PBU shares his thoughts on the proposed name change.
  8. Zak Fixler. “What is Queen?” – A thoughtful post by Zak, a current PBU student on the proposed PBU name change.
  9. Carrie Givens. “We None of Us Deserve Forgiveness.” – April 19th, 2012. – Carrie was a classmate while I was at PBU and now is my co-worker (though in different departments). In addition to her work for the Communciations / Marketing Department she also teaches classes. She offers some thoughtful insider reflections on the proposed name change.
  10. Thom Turner. “Being an Alumnus 101.”  – Thom, who overlapped several years as a student during my undergraduate studies offers a somewhat scathing critique of criticism of the University for the name change.
  11. Jamie Gleason. “My (Not So Fetal) Position.” – Jamie is a graduate of PBU then returned as an employee working first in Resident Life (now Student Life), then Admissions, and currently Alumni Relations. He provides his thoughts on the name change from the perspectives of different University constituents.
  1. [1] My emphasis was Pastoral Studies.
  2. [2] The name change has not yet occurred. It is a proposed name which must face several additional hurtles before becoming official, if it does become so.
  3. [3] And it is possible for folks to disagree without either side being wrong or stupid. Look at the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas found in Acts.
  4. [4] Don’t quote me on that…I wasn’t able to look up the exact number that is required for a dual degree, the point is it is significant more than for a single degree.
  5. [5] PBU offers free counseling to its students through the Oasis Counseling Center. Oasis was instrumental in assisting me in my life as an undergraduate student. It is also available to the public at $25/hr.
  6. [6] No, I’m not vying for that position either, no worries Todd…I’m not gunning for your seat.
  7. [7] I’ve been knee deep in this for the last year or so…and want to do so much more.
  8. [8] Though Cairn is also an obscure telepathic race in Star Trek…
  9. [9] The goal, thus, is not to flee from being biblical but rather to emphasize that we are not only vocationally biblical…and also that biblical knowledge is only for the vocational. Biblical knowledge is an asset to every person, and thus PBU (or maybe Cairn) provides a unique opportunity to anyone seeking a college degree – a solid education in many academic areas coupled with knowledge and character formation from the Scriptures.
  10. [10] The day we find no area in need of improvement should be the day we die and are glorified…not a moment before.

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25 Comments on "Opinion: Is Philadelphia Biblical University Dancing with Satan?"

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Jeremy Walter
Guest

Great thoughts – best summary of opinions I’ve read yet. One question though … in Dr. Williams’ email to alumni, he said:

“…This proposal is a result of a request from the Board in October 2011 for a recommendation regarding the idea of a name change.”

So did he initiate the name change, or was he only acting on the request of the board? There’s a big difference there, I believe. Thanks.

Josh
Guest

Hey Dave,

I liked your point about there being too many big changes in a short period of time, in addition to several other points you made.

Are you worried, however, about being so vocal regarding your disapproval on a public website while you are still employed by the University? I’m not saying you need to be, but am just curious.

Everyone has some pretty serious opinions on this change, and I think you did a great job explaining your point of view. Let’s just trust that the University’s leadership is seeking God’s will throughout all of this.

Candy L. Barr
Guest
This whole name change seems like revisionist history rewrite. Like changing BC to BCE which means Before Common Era and AD to ACE, After Common Era. This is what the state of Ohio did to get Christ out of history just a bit more. So Cairn sounds like a rewrite to me. Makes us a little softer and less offensive to those who want all references to Christ, Bible, Christianity taken out of general circulation. As a former PCB graduate, I was fine with PBU. I cannot extend a welcome to Cairn. No one other than the students who go there will no what it means. Particularly non-Christians. But of course, we don’t want to offend anyone…isn’t that the point of all of this? Or maybe this name change and dropping the Bible major is all part of keep federal dollars flowing in the way of student loans and grants?… Read more »
Jeremy Walter
Guest
Jim and Candy – you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, as I hope you realize that others are entitled to theirs. But allow me to ask just one thing: that you consider your public words with prayer and grace. I truly don’t believe this is a move to make the University “softer” or “less offensive.” The University is not a Bible College .. it hasn’t been one for a long time. As a business admin graduate from Lancaster, PA, had I not lived so close to PBU, I would have no idea they offered anything other than a Bible degree. This is the crux of the problem the University is facing: to people outside the PBU community and network, they have no idea they can get an educators, music, social work, or business administration degree. That’s damaging, and I think that’s the reason the trustees asked Todd Williams to consider… Read more »
RANDY
Guest

YOU POINT ON SPELLING IS SPOT ON
S IT EASY TO SPELL?
However, the next question is “when they do recall it, is it easy enough to spell that they can immediately find your listing?” You want to stay away from challenging spellings and pronunciations. Calling your restaurant “Phine Phoods” is just asking for trouble — how is your customer going to know to look under “p” instead of “f” in the phone book? And if your last name is Piccalopoupoulis, you may be better off creating a fictitious business name. A good rule of thumb to follow is to pay attention to what happens when you tell other people your name — if you are always having to SPELL or PRONOUNCE it slowly, it will be hard for people remember and find later on.

http://www.dbaform.com/Articles-4.htm

William R. Smith
Guest

First of all, a very good job, Dave. Exceptionally done and balanced. I like your honesty and thoroughness. In regards to Candy, I didn’t see her comments as offensive as you and Jeremy apparently did. We have to be careful that we don’t communicate the idea that unless people agree with us, their opinions are unwelcome or less worthy of being aired. She has every right to reject the name and based on her concerns. Now it is up to the university to address those concerns not shoot them down as being negative, unloving or not with grace. Just as you can justify being gullible, as you put it. She can justify from Scripture being careful. The university needs to welcome and encourage the criticism and answer it. Only then can the critics either embrace or just agree to disagree.

William Smith
Guest

No problem, Dave. Thanks for responding. No need to recant or remove. I just read Candy’s comments very differently, I suppose, than you both did. That doesn’t mean that I’m right and you are wrong. I just didn’t perceive an overly negative spirit in her.

William Smith
Guest
In further defense of Candy and what I mean by being careful: Test the spirits to see what sort they are (1 John 4:1) — not gullibly assume they are all of God The Bereans were praised by Paul because they searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul preached was true (they didn’t gullibly assume he did) The apostasy that is to come as prophesied in 2 Timothy 3 and other passages would suggest that we be on watch for such. Not just believe the best even of those who are currently in the fold. You can’t depart from something you weren’t once a part of. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts (1 Thess. 2:4). — the concern that this may be an effort to please man… Read more »
William Smith
Guest
No problem, Dave. I said my peace on it. The reason I posted the passages I did was not to cause any distress but to explain my position and perhaps why I didn’t see things the way others seemed to see them. I do thank you for the back and forth and thank everyone here for their thoughts. By the way, I wasn’t able to comment on Weir’s post (not sure why) but found it very offensive. To label all that oppose the name change as haters, that is using the world’s tactic of stopping the free exercise of speech by others (seeking to shut them down by name-calling) rather than dialoging on the subject. Also, to insinuate that they would rather continue watching an R rated movie on Netflix that they were metaphorically doing (all at the same time) rather than hear him out, is equally offensive. I read… Read more »
Sara James
Guest

I’ve said so many “heavier” things about this topic on Facebook, but here I just want to say that I don’t think Cairn is that obscure of a word to pronounce. There’s a breed of dog called Cairn terrier that can be referenced for those “How do you spell that?” moments. 😉

William Smith
Guest

By the way, this “hater” (i.e. Steve Weir) likes the rest of the blogs that you posted. Those that I don’t agree with are full of grace and thoughtful and I can respect their opinion as they demonstrate respect for another’s. Not sure why you posted that other one, though. I’m done commenting and will leave room for others to respond. Thanks again, Dave for your thoughts and for posting the thoughts of others for me to read several opinions from both perspectives.

Carrie
Guest
Bill – If I may defend Steve (who I’ve known since our college days), I would like to do so. I’m sure if he read this, he himself would apologize to you for coming off offensively. Knowing Steve, I feel that both his use of the term “haters” and his Netflix movie comment were said with tongue in cheek. Of note to me, as a peer of Steve from our days at PBU, the “R rated movie on Netflix” is a sarcastic dig to the many of us who might be saying that PBU’s student life standards have “gone down the tubes,” but complained vociferously 10 years ago when there was a blanket rule saying the R rated movies were bad, but PG-13 okay, with no allowance for assessment of the content of a film using biblical wisdom. I’m sorry that Steve’s comments offended you, and I am glad that… Read more »
Thomas
Guest

Glad to hear you thought my post was only “somewhat scathing,” haha. I think your post is spot on in terms of the proper reaction to have when you disagree. If we take seriously the notion that PBI/PCB/PBU/Cairn is a community then we need to approach this like a community: with mutual respect for opinions instead of leaving diatribes on Facebook walls. Thanks for showing mutual respect.

Theodore Vance
Guest

As PCB alumnus and former faculty member of Moody Bible Institute, my POV is that Moody did not have problems getting enough students, and its Aviation program was wanted more persons than got in. And they didn’t have to put Aviation in the title. What everyone needs to know is that the college/university is not about some Karen, but about the Bible. The Bible is central to all learning. And the doctrinal/Biblical position should not be watered down to have faculty in too many non-Bible areas.

Elizabeth Ann
Guest

I am trying to research what kind of school this is. I see that they teach spiritual formation which is aka contemplative prayer
They have also had Tony Campolo speak there in 2010. Has this school become emergent? If someone can please give me some information I would be very appreciative. I have been praying about sending my son there.

Dan Plack
Guest

DAve, since Cairn University is not a Bible school, why didn’t they just change the name to something like (…………..) Christian University?

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