Opinion: Is Philadelphia Biblical University Dancing with Satan?
- Updated 5/1/12: Added to references section blog articles by Thom Turner and Jamie Gleason on the name change.
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. 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 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.
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. 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…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 I wouldn’t have proposed a name change…Well, two things about that right off the bat:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
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.
- There are other reasons, but I don’t care about them that much, so I’ll skip them…
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.
Yeah, I wrote this beginning around 3 a.m. on 4/19…definitely not reviewed or approved by PBU. =)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Zak Fixler. “What is Queen?” – A thoughtful post by Zak, a current PBU student on the proposed PBU name change.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- My emphasis was Pastoral Studies.↩
- 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.↩
- 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.↩
- 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.↩
- 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.↩
- No, I’m not vying for that position either, no worries Todd…I’m not gunning for your seat.↩
- I’ve been knee deep in this for the last year or so…and want to do so much more.↩
- Though Cairn is also an obscure telepathic race in Star Trek…↩
- 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.↩
- The day we find no area in need of improvement should be the day we die and are glorified…not a moment before.↩