Philadelphia College of Bible Changes Its Name…Again
UPDATE: At 4:30 today, I received a call back from the president’s office at the university. Since I was not able to access their catalog from their web page (the links were all broken), the president’s assistant indicated she will send me an electronic version of the catalog so that I can determine what, if anything has changed with respect to what is taught at the university. Stay tuned!
I received an email from a very excited president of my old alma mater, Philadelphia College of Bible, which changed its name to Philadelphia Biblical University in 2000. The new name? Cairn University. Forgive me for not being excited.
Here’s some history for those who are not in the know. The school was initially founded in 1913 and C. I. Scofield had a hand in founding the school which, after two separate institutions merged, became Philadelphia Bible Institute in 1951. Initially, the school focused on training lay people for ministry with three-year diplomas.
As things progressed, while the emphasis remained the same with the included teachings that fell into the Dispensational category, the school eventually became a full-fledged Bible college in 1958. This allowed the school to offer actual degree programs to students who wanted to pursue serious training for the ministry. Eventually, the school received its full accreditation in 1967 from the Middle States Association.
I entered the school in 1977 after graduating from my local junior college with a two-year degree. Since I had my A.A. degree, the entire degree was accepted at Philadelphia College of Bible and I was only required to attend college at PCB for an additional two years after which I would receive my Bachelors degree in Bible. This occurred in 1979 and incidentally, this is the same year that the college ended its stay in downtown Center City Philadelphia, moving to just outside the city limits to a place called Langhorne Manor, PA. I and the rest of my graduating classmates were the last ones to graduate from the downtown campus.
In the year 2000, the school chose once again to change its name. No longer Philadelphia College of Bible, it became Philadelphia Biblical University. To me, that was a bit bothersome, however, I understood why the school chose to move in that direction with their new name. At least they kept the word “biblical” in the title somewhere.
However, recently, the mostly same group of individuals who voted to change the name of the school from Philadelphia College of Bible to Philadelphia Biblical University again voted to change the name. Now the name is, as noted above, Cairn University.
In the email I received from the university’s president – Dr. Todd Williams – he stated, in part, “I want to personally and enthusiastically announce to you that we have received official authorization on the name change. Philadelphia Biblical University is now Cairn University. On May 11, 2012, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change the name from PBU to Cairn. After completing a series of approval procedures with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we were notified that all requests and proposals related to the name change were approved.”
Wow, isn’t that exciting? They finally managed to rid themselves of that burdensome word “Bible” or “Biblical.” Whew, that must be a load off their minds. Of course I’m being sarcastic.
I put in a phone call to the president’s office and am still waiting for a return call. Not sure if one will be coming, but I’ll certainly keep trying.
In the meantime, I have done some research and noticed some interesting things. When I attended PCB, we had to sign a document stating that we would abide by the rules of the college and that we agreed with the Dispensational view of things. After all, the college was formed in part by C. I. Scofield who viewed things from that perspective, so it made sense that students who attended the school and were preparing for ministry would also need to see things from that perspective. Of course, what I just said gives rise to the phony accusation that people going to schools like PCB were simply spoon fed what they were supposed to believe with respect to things like Dispensationalism, no individual thinking required. This is bunk. I know, because I went there. Yes, we were expected to sign a document stating that we would abide by the rules of the college and that we agreed with the Dispensational view of things. However, there was a good amount of open discussion about it in the classes I attended. None of my professors rammed anything down anyone’s throats, nor did they look askance at you if you questioned part of the Dispensational view of things. It was good to compare Covenant Theology with Dispensationalism for instance.
We also took the time to learn about other things commonly taught and accepted during the events of the Reformation for instance. PCB was not a college where people were simply molded in one particular mold and expected to believe one way. There was wiggle room on numerous things. Of course, there are plenty of areas in Scripture where there is NO wiggle room and none should be given.
When PCB changed its name to Philadelphia Biblical University, I contacted them at that point and asked them about their views on Dispensationalism. Was it still taught? I was assured it was even though many books available through the on-campus bookstore sold books by the likes of Brian McLaren, Stephen Sizer, and others. I was assured that the on-campus bookstore, though on the property, was outsourced and run by someone not connected with the school. This made little sense to me. At the same time, I realize the value of reading books by McLaren, Sizer, and others if for no other reason than to learn what they are teaching. I was more concerned that the university I had graduated from had now become a bastion of liberalized reform.
In his email, Dr. Williams pointed out, “For nearly a century, we have remained committed to educating men and women to serve Christ. We have also remained steadfast in our central commitment to Scripture. This institution has remained steadfast and committed to these things while always looking forward, always reaching farther, always making changes that were strategic and in furtherance of our mission and vision.”
I hope that’s true. Yet, when I go to their website and read about the history of the college, nowhere do I read of C. I. Scofield and his involvement with the college’s history as well as the college’s early moorings with Dispensationalism. If you can find it on their page here, please let me know because I have apparently missed it.
It’s also interesting that Dr. Williams does what most of us do when it comes to trying to show the merits of something. He resorts to statistics or numbers in an attempt to validate what has occurred. “While I recognize that some are not in favor of this change, it should be noted that we heard from many alumni and members of the University community who are fully supportive, excited, and eager to see the change take place as part of the larger vision for the school and the future. There is room in the community for this kind of diversity of opinion on such an important matter. However, the Board has made the decision. We did so prayerfully and remain committed to our mission and vision.”
In other words, some alumni agree with the decision to change the name and others don’t. It is all moot now though. It’s been done. It is final, so there! I think it is ironic and even somewhat disingenuous that while Dr. Williams’ states that “There is room in the community for this kind of diversity of opinion on such an important matter,” he follows it immediately up with, “However, the Board has made the decision.” It’s over. End of story. Complaining will get you nowhere because “God” is on our side. Proof of that is the fact that all the trustees were unanimous. Really? The Pharisees and Sadducees were unanimous in their enmity toward Jesus. The Judaizers who harassed Paul were unanimous in their pursuit and assault of him. Unanimity does not translate to God’s will. It can, but does not have to always mean that. But the statistics make us feel better, don’t they? They provide us the reason for doing something, whether it’s the right thing or not.
Look, I can honestly say that I do not know if this was really God’s will or not to change the name of the university from Philadelphia Biblical University to Cairn University. I wasn’t there during the process. I wasn’t praying with the trustees who eventually – and unanimously – agreed that the name change was moving in the right direction. My problem is what I see, or at least, what I no longer see and that is the absence of the word “Bible/Biblical.” It jumps out at me and I cannot help that. The absence of this word in the name is deafening to me. It smacks of a desire to diminish the importance of Scripture, whether that is actual fact or not.
By the way, it doesn’t matter to me what you or anyone else thinks of Dispensationalism. It’s not my point to debate the merits or what others consider to be the lack of merits with Dispensationalism. What bothers me – and would likely bother YOU if you learned that the Bible college you graduated from no longer espoused what it espoused while you attended – is that the college now appears to be at the very least, downplaying their own history and association with C. I. Scofield and Dispensationalism in general. That, and of course, the absence of any reference to the Bible that used to exist boldly in the name.
The same thing happened to numerous other colleges and universities who began firmly grounded in God’s Word (regardless of whether or not Dispensationalism was an issue for them), and yet over time, they have wandered – some of them severely – from the straight and narrow. It’s a shame. It’s very sad and more than that, it is tragic. I’m quite certain that those who have no real history with the college will not see a problem (except for the possible problem of asking whether or not the Bible will have a less prominent role).
Now the college that I went to and graduated from in 1979 has changed its name to something that to the average person has absolutely NO meaning. Cairn University. When I first saw this new name, I mistakenly read “Cairo University.” But no, it’s CAIRN.
So what does THAT mean? Dr. Williams explains. “Throughout human history, men and women all over the world have piled stones to serve as memorials and markers. The stones marked boundaries and important events – ones worth remembering for generations to come.
“Stones are piled at trail crossings as well. They mark a road to be taken, a danger to be avoided, or a spring or well at which travelers can be refreshed.
“Man-made piles of stones, memorials of the past and markers for the path ahead, are called by many names in many languages. The English term is cairn.”
Okay, so now I know. The word “cairn” means a pile of stones as a memorial or marker. The university’s byline now reads: Walk a Different Path.
In a nutshell, here are the two problems I have with this new name (and I’ll set aside for now the issue of Dispensationalism), so that there is no confusion regarding my position:
- The fact that the university has chosen to eliminate the word “Bible” or “Biblical” from its name is very telling to me. The university still could have been named Cairn Biblical University, but the move away from using Bible or Biblical is, in my mind, treasonous, or at the very least, attempting to conform to the world’s viewpoint. There really is no excuse for it, in my opinion.
- The word “cairn” might refer to stones that are piled up as markers, however, there is still a problem because of the idolatry indicated in throughout the Bible and how it appeared to others.
In the Hebrew Bible particularly (the Old Testament), the use of “high places” for worship is prevalent. In fact, the use of the phrase “high places” became synonymous with idolatry. These high places were normally outside of the nearest town and were often atop of a high hill that overlooked the area surrounding it, including the town. They were very easy to spot by anyone from the town or by someone simply passing through the area.
Often, these high places were noted as places of worship because a wooden asherah pole (for the goddess Asherah) was often placed there. In other instances, stones would be piled up or one large stone would be set in place to signify a place of worship for a different idol.
ISBE (the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) presents this information regarding high places: “The most sacred objects were the upright stone pillars (matstsebhah), which seem to have been indispensable. (Probably the simplest “high places” were only a single upright stone.) They were regarded as the habitation of the deity, but, none the less, were usually many in number (a fact that in no way need implicate a plurality of deities).” 
So while yes, it is true that in the Bible, stones were used to mark a specific location, or as a direction to travelers, either as a memorial, or to point the way to another place, these types of stones were also used in the worship of idols.
In Dr. Williams’ reference to Joshua 3-4 and the setting up of stones after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, he notes that these stones were put there deliberately as a memorial to God. My question is how would anyone else know this except the Israelites and people who read the Bible? Obviously, it was a memorial to God placed their by them and this is something they would be sure to tell their children about in successive generations. Unless you knew though that a particular set of stone markers was there as a memorial to Jehovah, you simply wouldn’t know that. The reason you would not know that is because there were likely many memorials and altars created out of stones that were set in place for the express purpose of worshiping idols.
Since “cairn” refers to piles of rocks, wouldn’t it have been better to use the word “Rock” in the new name of the school? At least that could have provided some significance or potential reference to Jesus, the Rock. I’ve seen better names used with more immediate connection to something in the Flintstones cartoon, frankly.
Some might feel that I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but I would disagree. The reason I would disagree is because of the fact that the words “Bible” and “Biblical” have unceremoniously been excised from the name of the university that has used those names for nearly 100 years. It is almost as if the trustees have decided that it is far better to hide the word “Bible/Biblical” so as not to offend, or to accidentally push people away. We wouldn’t want that, would we? This is the exact same approach that too many churches take today, doing their best to hide Christianity under a bushel so that church itself becomes far more palatable to the average person. Of course, neither Jesus, His apostles (including Paul), or the writers of the New Testament did any such thing, did they? They did not mince words and presented the gospel and the truth of Scripture clearly and accurately so it could not be missed. Why do we think that if we are somehow snakelike with reference to how we present the gospel and other truths of Scripture, people will be far more inclined to hear it? It doesn’t work that way. Never has and never will. In fact, Jesus Himself said that anyone who is ashamed of Him, He will return the favor by being ashamed of them (cf. Mark 8:38).
When I went to PCB, there were only a number of degree programs offered. Once the school changed its name to Philadelphia Biblical University, other programs were offered, but the emphasis appeared to continue to be on the teaching of God’s Word.
With the removal of the word “Bible/Biblical” from the name of the university, unless someone is deliberately told, no one will really know or understand what the university stands for or what is taught there. That is tragic. As noted, it reminds me of churches who change their name by removing the word “Baptist” or “Bible” from their name in an effort to become broader in scope so that more people will likely at least visit and hopefully, they will be willing to stay.
The word “Bible” has become an offense to many today and with the removal of this word from the name, Philadelphia College of Bible – Philadelphia Biblical University – Cairn University seems to be suffering from the same thing way of thinking. Let’s not offend people. Let’s just tone down the name of the school, shall we? And all the trustees say “Aye.” So moved. Let it be done.
If you have not experienced this problem with your alma mater, then I’m quite sure you cannot relate at all. Imagine what it would feel like though to have gone to a school where you spent your hard-earned money and a few years of your life to obtain a degree that for all intents and purposes, does not have the same meaning as it did now when it was first awarded. Things have changed too much leaving me wondering if the very core of what the college was founded upon is still there to any appreciable degree?
As I have been writing this, I have put two more calls into the university in the hopes of speaking to someone who can provide some answers. I left a message on voice mail for the secretary of the office of the president of the college (as noted above, she did return my call with limited information). I called and left a message in another department and finally, I spoke with a secretary in the School of Divinity. The dean of that school was not available and the other individual who was in had just stepped out (like making a hasty getaway). I was promised that either he would call me back or the secretary would to make an appointment for me to talk with someone who could answer my questions.
It’s only 3:15 in the afternoon here so I may yet hear back from someone today. After all, we’re on the same coast. I’m hoping so because God forbid, I wouldn’t want someone to complain about me being critical of my alma mater without first having actually spoken to anyone at the school; this in spite of the fact that they communicated with me via email and have written up a good deal of information on their website!
In response to Dr. Williams’ email, I wrote him back. Whether or not he will ever receive and/or read it is another question entirely. Here is what I said:
“As an alumnus of Philadelphia College of Bible, all I can say is that it is absolutely wonderful you finally see the word “Bible” out of the name!
“Dr. Fred DeRuvo“
I will update this blog if/when I learn more information about the school and whether or not some of the things the college was founded upon are no longer part of the picture. Stay tuned.
 http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/high-place.html?p=2 (emphasis added)
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