Cairn University – a Pile of Stones Used as a Marker
“The primary reason for taking up this change is to overcome the misperception that the University is a narrowly-focused school where students do not have the option of earning degrees other than the Bible.” – Todd J. Williams, Ph.D., president of (formerly) Philadelphia Biblical University
I’m revisiting this subject again, after having just received the newest magazine from what is now Cairn University. I was anxious to learn why the school’s name was changed from Philadelphia Biblical University to Cairn University. As I began reading the articles, the statement above from the current president told me what I needed to know.
You know, I would think that taking care of the perceived stated problem might have been best dealt with through advertising, as opposed to changing the name of the university once again and all the expenses that are associated with that huge move. One would think that the vehicle of advertising would be best suited to explain what Philadelphia Biblical University is all about, the many and types of degrees they offer, and shore up any loose ends with respect to the alleged perceived misconception regarding the name of the university and the belief that the name itself was simply not working. Isn’t that at least one of the things that advertising does? Surely in this case, one would think that simply spending money wisely to educate the uninitiated regarding the full scope of offerings at PBU would have been adequate enough. It appears that the Board of Trustees either did not think of this direction or felt they tried it and it did not work well enough.
Last month, after learning of this name change, I contacted the school and though I was not able to speak with Dr. Williams personally, I was eventually able to speak with the Dean of the School of Divinity, an individual by the name of Jonathan Masters. He was certainly a likeable gentleman and I appreciate the amount of time he gave me on the phone. That was kind of him. Unfortunately, he did not ease all of my fears and even increased at least one of them.
Philadelphia College of Bible was the name of the school when I attended and when the campus was in Center City, Philadelphia, located on Arch Street. The school then was proudly premillennial with an emphasis on Dispensationalism. This shouldn’t surprise anyone because one of the founders was none other than C. I. Scofield.
Not to get too in-depth here, but Dispensationalism at its root teaches that God has dealt differently with humanity through a number of various dispensations since Creation. The problem comes to the fore when people wrongly believe that C. I. Scofield taught that the path to salvation was different for Old Testament saints from New Testament saints. This, he did not do, and like others, I have done my best to explain the situation concerning the 1901 version of the Scofield Study Bible and others that came after that one, but some are so convinced that Dispensationalism teaches two forms of salvation, that nothing will convince them otherwise. They view the correction that took place after the 1901 release of the Scofield Study Bible as simply a huge cover-up. These people then view Dispensationalism the way most of us view members of cults. We all know how individuals within many cults will use the same terminology and even sound as though they agree with our meaning of a particular doctrine. It’s all for show though and when it really comes down to it, we learn that they mean something completely different from what we mean, but they have chosen to use similar terminology in the hopes of pulling the wool over our eyes. This is what many have come to believe about Dispensationalism.
There are Hyper-Dispensationalists who – in my opinion – have moved away from Scripture. Many books have been written by way of rebuttal to their arguments by people who are themselves Dispensationalists, yet it’s like talking to a brick wall. Nothing is accomplished.
I agree with many things that Calvin taught so to some, that would make me a “Calvinist.” The problem though is that I do not agree with everything Calvin taught, so what does that make me then? Some are what are termed Hyper-Calvinist. There are extremes in everything.
My point is simple. When we study God’s Word, we often label things that others have come up with or understood about God’s Word. Simply because they labeled something some way does not necessarily mean that they began a cult. It is simply that they labeled something so that people can all understand what that person is talking about. In spite of this, we constantly hear people arguing about the fact that some man-made word or phrase is not in Scripture, therefore it can’t be valid.
I realize that Dispensationalism has gotten a very bad rap in the past few decades and that is largely due to the fact that there is so much information about it that is simply wrong. Couple that with the fact that there are extremes of Dispensationalism (i.e. Hyper-dispensationalism), and people become convinced that there is something extra-biblical about it, therefore to them, it is seen as heresy.
No amount of explanation by John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, and a host of others attempting to prove what Dispensationalism is and what it is not has allowed the false charges to die. If anything, some believe that they must shout even louder because to them, it appears as though Dispensationalists are simply involved in sleight of hand, just as a member of a cult would do in presenting their version of salvation. It’s a shame, but it exists.
Today, there is no mention of C. I. Scofield on Cairn’s website (that I could find) and I never even came across the world “dispensation” as I scanned through various pages of text. During my conversation with the Dean of the School of Divinity, I was informed in response to a question I posed, that being a Dispensationalist was not a prerequisite for teaching at the university and that certainly used to be the case. In other words, it was not the deciding factor and if the subject did not come up at all during the hiring process that seemed to be fine.
I can understand, to a degree, the college wanting to place less emphasis on this area, however, to hire people who might potentially be Covenant Theologians is a stark move away from the principles upon which the university was founded nearly 100 years ago. I cannot imagine what my professors – Dr. McGahey, Cawood, MacCorkle, and a host of others – would think about this new twist. While I agree that there is room to de-emphasize Dispensationalism, I do not agree with the fact that it has essentially been wiped from all documents.
Dr. Williams – in his “From the President” section of the magazine – goes into great depth to point out how fastidious and spiritually committed the Board of Trustees are and how the name change did not happen overnight, but occurred after a long period of discussion and prayer.
Speaking of this board, Dr. Williams states, “They are committed to the mission and vision of the school and take their charge as Trustees seriously as a calling of God. Their willingness to look forward and make decisions that will position the University for greater impact is a blessing and benefit to the school. It is an honor to be counted among them and to participate with them in this important work in these historic days.” But what would the president of the university be expected to say? Surely, he’s not going to come out and say that he is supremely disappointed with them, would he? Even if this were the case, I would be inclined to think that if it bothered him that much, he would simply and quietly tender his resignation while publicly offering compliments and even superlatives to everyone he has had the privilege to work with, yada, yada, yada, etc. That’s usually the way it works.
This is essentially what another individual did years ago when I was still attending Philadelphia College of Bible and who at that time, was one of the Board of Trustees (if memory serves me). He left over a disagreement regarding the college’s PreTrib Rapture position, but assured everyone that things were great and there were no hard feelings, etc., yada, yada, yada. Now, years later, he has become a vocally condemning critic of the PreTrib Rapture position even going so far as to say that this position is one that he considers to be heretical.
I attended a church some years ago in which the Board of Deacons voted to purchase land outside the city limits. Growth where the church existed had become impossible. I remember the senior pastor telling the congregation all about it. I also recall him saying to the extent that while he had been in the pastorate for many years and had worked with numerous boards from all the churches he had been pastor, he had never worked with a board that was more spiritually attuned to God and His will than the one at the church then. To me, that is absolute fluff and even disingenuous. Out of all the other churches he worked with, was he really saying that the others were made up of spiritual dolts compared to the current church? Interestingly enough, he moved on a year or two later.
Again, what would the senior pastor of that church be expected to say? Now, over 20 years later, the land that was purchased outside the city is still empty. The church continues to exist where it is with absolutely no signs of relocating to the vacant property.
In essence, it was the senior pastor’s job to “sell” the idea to the congregation so that they would accept it and buy into the plans that the Board of Deacons believed were from God, hence the perceived need to highlight the tremendous spirituality of that particular board. Being so spiritual, how could they not hear and heed God’s direction? Opposing them means opposing God essentially.
I recall more than one sermon on giving and how those in the congregation should give up their once-a-week pizza and chips, donating that unspent amount to the church. I also know of some individuals who took out second mortgages on their homes and donated that amount to the church to facilitate the move up north. Wonder how they feel about that now given the fact that nothing has transpired? Did God misspeak or did the Board hear incorrectly? What happened? I’m guessing humanity got ahead of God and made determinations based solely on secular influences. Either that or God was in the process and the fact that the newly purchased land remains empty is part of His plan. That’s not the way the Board understood it at the time though.
Philadelphia Biblical University is now Cairn University. As far as I know, no one is asking for a handout because they changed their name. Certainly, donations are always welcome, but in this particular case, the name change was not predicated upon the desire or need for financial gain, at least not directly. Yet, it must be understood that based on the words of Dr. Williams, the university is obviously looking for greater enrollment, which means more money coming into the school through that enrollment.
Like the senior pastor of a church we attended years ago, the president at Cairn University has a job to do. That job in this instance is to break the news about the name change to the entire body of people associated with the university. He also has to do it in a way that shows unanimity with the Board of Trustees so that everyone can understand that God is in this new direction because it was unanimous. That really doesn’t prove anything to me, sorry.
But if we look closely at the statement at the top of this article from Dr. Williams himself, it is clear that the name change occurred solely due to a business decision. Now there is nothing wrong with making a business decision. In fact, if Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University; something I don’t think I will ever be able to get used to) was purely a secular business, then this would likely be a good and logical decision.
Notice that Dr. Williams states that the “primary reason” the name was changed from Philadelphia Biblical University to Cairn was due to the perceived limited scope of offerings at the university by those outside the institution. In other words, it appears as though the Board of Trustees felt that they were losing business by not attracting more students because those students were apparently not aware of all the offerings at the university. It is implied in the stated reason. Whether it is true or not (I have no idea and it would be interesting to know if/how the Board of Trustees knew of this), the reality is that somewhere, someone decided that a name change just might be the ticket to increased enrollment. It appears from the other articles in the magazine that this was at least in part arrived at by speaking with individuals at other (I’m assuming biblically-based) colleges and universities who also went through a name change for that very same reason: a need for increased enrollment.
This could well have been a problem for the university. Maybe they realized through this study or that one that the word “Bible” in the name limited them because of false perceptions from those who were looking for a college, but were put off by the seeming narrowness of what might have been offered in degree programs. You would think though that a person who was seriously interested in attending Philadelphia Biblical University would actually look through the catalog or on the website to see if the field they were looking for existed and was offered by the university, wouldn’t you?
As it stands right now (even before the name change), the university has this to offer:
- Liberal Arts, General Studies w/Concentrations in Pre-Law, Fine Arts, History, and more
- Business Administration, Accounting, M.B.A., M.S. in Organizational Leadership, and more
- Music Composition, Music Performance, Church Music, Music Education, and more
- Bachelor of Social Work, B.S.W. with TESOL
- Biblical Studies, Youth Ministry, Pre-Seminary, M.S. in Bible, Master of Divinity, and more
- Elementary, Secondary, Health/P.E., M.S. in Education, M.S.E.L.A., and more
- Discipleship Counseling, M.S. in Christian Counseling, Specialization in Marriage & Family Counseling, and more
- Israel & Archaeology, Urban Ministry, and more.
So the university essentially has seven schools or departments with an additional one-year program related to Israel. I’m not sure what other things the school plans to offer (and maybe they don’t know yet either), but considering the fact that every student is still required to take approximately 30 credit hours of Bible-related courses, I’m still trying to figure out why dropping the word “Bible/Biblical” from the name of the school was so important. Other than the fact that they believe enrollment was hindered, I still don’t know the answer to that question.
Reading through the magazine that, in the most current issue, has dedicated itself to discussing (and essentially defending) the reasons for the name change, I am struck with the realization that it all boils down to the belief that having the word “Bible” in the name somehow put the university in the unenviable position of losing out on student enrollment. To me – and I would be told that I am in the minority – this is a tragic reason for a name change.
Dr. Williams tells us that “Cairn is a strong, robust word that carries powerful imagery, and we intend to fill it with meaning.” I’m sorry, but that’s simply an asinine statement to make. Cairn is a word that is simply unknown by most of the population – from either the biblical or secular universe. Who came up with this name?! It is abysmal. When I first saw it, I thought “Why are they renaming the college ‘Cairo’ (as in Egypt)?” Now, when I say the name, I automatically think “carrot.” Others I spoke with automatically thought of a type of dog; a Cairn Terrier. (No wonder the university felt the need to dedicate an entire issue of their magazine to explaining the meaning of the word “cairn.”)
How do you “fill” a word with meaning unless it lacks meaning in the first place? They are going to have to spend precious time explaining to everyone just exactly what the word “cairn” actually means. A cairn is a pile of stones that points the way. It represents a marker. Okay, thank you. Next! Gee, if the folks at Philadelphia Biblical University wanted to come up with a name that was completely nondescript, that would require them to explain it repeatedly and still not have an adequate definition that is fully fleshed out, then this is the word. Maybe that’s what Dr. Williams means when he says they are going to fill it with meaning.
Are the people at the university on the defensive about the repercussions associated with this name change? To me, it appears to be the case. When I phoned them, it seems as though they were defensive. They had their statements available right near the phone as retorts for anyone who would phone to question or complain about the name change. I could tell they’d “been there, done that” on numerous occasions and they were probably getting tired of it. If they think they are going to lay the blame at the feet of the average person or the alumni, they should really think again.
Look, I am willing to admit (as I have done before) that my position could be way off the mark. I may be wrong and it may be that the Lord was really in the center of this decision to change the name. Only time will tell, really. In ten or twenty years (should the Lord tarry), what will the enrollment situation be at Cairn University? Will the Board of Trustees look back and say with certainty, “Yes, the Lord directed our decision about the name-change,” or will they look back and realize that changing the name didn’t really make that much difference at all and except for alienating the alumni, nothing much happened?
I’m saddened and I cannot help but be saddened. After nearly 100 years of having the word “Bible” or “Biblical” in the name of the college, it has been unceremoniously removed. It is gone.
Now the word “cairn” has taken its place in the name and a great deal of explanation needs to be provided so that people will understand what a “cairn” is all about. I think the Board of Trustees needs to be ashamed frankly because it appears to the world as though they were ashamed to keep the word “Bible/Biblical” in the name. That is the way it looks and the world will not wait around to hear about “cairn” and how the people at the university are filling that word with meaning.
If we consider the history of what is now Cairn University, it is clear that quite some time ago, Dispensationalism was in fact, de-emphasized. It has now been de-emphasized to a point that one of the founders of the school – C. I. Scofield – is no longer mentioned at all. As far as he goes, the college has no recollection of him. While C. I. Scofield was not a hand-picked apostle of the faith; one of the original twelve, he has something to say and something that I believe provides us with a greater degree of understanding of biblical truth.
Beyond this, believing that Dispensationalism is viable and biblically-based is no longer a prerequisite to having a place on the faculty rolls. In effect, a person who is a Covenant or Reformed Theologian could end up becoming an instructor at the university. Interestingly enough, Covenant and Reformed positions normally stand against Dispensationalism and visa versa.
So it is clear that Dispensationalism has been severely toned down to the point that it is nowhere mentioned (that I could find) in any statement of faith or in any specific course description. If someone were simply looking at the university’s statement of faith and course descriptions, there is absolutely no way that they would come away with the idea that Dispensationalism is even mentioned or taught at the school. For all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist.
Now, years later, the university has once again changed its name. Gone is the reference to the Bible, replaced with something that sounds very much like it could have come from the New Age.
I have to wonder what is next for the university. Even though students are still required to take roughly 30 units of biblical coursework, I cannot help but wonder if the university will begin to work on chipping away that particular current requirement over the next few years? Maybe the requirement will eventually be eradicated altogether, who knows? I’m sure the Board of Trustees would say that would never happen, but years ago, I would never have envisioned a day when Dispensationalism was – for all intents and purposes – no longer really part of the curriculum, nor would I have been able to see the day when the name would no longer contain the word “Bible/Biblical.” Yet, here is that day. I truly do not believe that the Board of Trustees or the president, staff, and faculty of the university honestly appreciate how much that hurts.
I wish Cairn University well. I really do. I honestly hope I’m wrong about things. I just don’t get that feeling at all, but I’m hoping. I’m more concerned than anything about the direction of the university so I will continue to pray for them, those who are leadership positions, and for the students and faculty. Will you join me in praying for them? I would appreciate it.
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