From the author:

This article is a brief departure from my daily devotional commentaries; however, it is a necessary one to sound a warning knell to some of my readers. I am not publishing this piece to stir up controversy or heap sorrow upon sorrow. Yet, I dare not be silent when my beloved alma mater has come to what may be the final crossroads that I have long warned was inevitable.

Recent and shameful events at Bob Jones University (BJU), my alma mater, have brought to mind an article I penned in June 2015 on the eve of the closure of Clearwater Christian College (CCC). Therefore, I am republishing a brief revision of that article, not to heap sorrow upon the alumni of CCC but to serve as a reminder to Bob Jones University and other fundamental Bible colleges:  

Forget your fundamental legacy and reject your base, and you guarantee your demise.

(The following was penned in June 2015 and has been edited for this post.)

Although I am not an alumnus of Clearwater Christian College (CCC), my heart was heavy on June 6, 2015, after it was announced that the college would close its doors at the end of that month. CCC’s closing followed in the wake of several former conservative fundamental Christian institutions [Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Northland University, Tennessee Temple University – to name a few examples].  I have a distant knowledge of the changes in administration and philosophy that drove those institutions to extinction; however, as a pastor in Tampa Bay for 38 years, I had the sorrow of watching the demise of Clearwater Christian College from the proverbial “front pew.”

CCC was a small, nondenominational liberal arts Bible College founded by Dr. Arthur Steele (1920-2011), who was a successful businessman, an officer in the Corps of Engineers in World War II, a seminary graduate, professor, and college president before he had a vision for a fundamental Bible college on the West Coast of Florida. In his mid-70s, Dr. Steele set his heart on finding a man who would assume the helm of his small college of 200 students and steer her into a new era while maintaining the college’s unique, nondenominational, biblically fundamental stripe.

Dr. Steele found his successor in Washington, DC [Dr. George Youstra and his wife Pat were part of the Reagan administration from 1981-1987].  Dr. Youstra (a graduate of Bob Jones University and former faculty and administrator at BJU) resigned as the special assistant to the secretary of education on January 2, 1987, and assumed the presidency of CCC. Under Dr. Youstra’s leadership, the college enjoyed 15 years of consecutive growth. At its peak, the student body numbered nearly 700, necessitating renovations to existing buildings and the construction of new dorms and classrooms.

Like his predecessor, Dr. Youstra exhibited a kind, gracious, self-sacrificing spirit reflected in the administration, faculty, and student body. Under his leadership, CCC became a prominent educational Christian institution and earned the respect and admiration of fundamental pastors, churches, and families [the church I pastor had as many as 17 students enrolled at one point during Dr. Youstra’s tenure. In addition, Hillsdale enjoyed the ministries of several faculty and students over the years].

CCC reflected a fundamental biblical worldview in its philosophy and practice.  Serving as a board member for a few years, I witnessed firsthand Dr. Youstra’s leadership and his ready response to the pastors’ concerns. In the summer of 2002, he transitioned to president emeritus and was a part-time professor of graduate studies while his wife Pat continued as a professor until her retirement.

Lessons learned: “From the front pew,” it became my sorrow to observe CCC’s decline.

As CCC strayed from its legacy as a fundamental Bible institution, it did so at the sacrifice of the support and following of pastors and churches. Many would cite factors that contributed to the doors of the college closing. Some will mention economics, a dwindling number of conservative churches, low student enrollment, and competition from other Bible colleges. Although all of the above undoubtedly contributed to CCC’s demise, I suggest the death knell of the institution was its leadership steering the college from its founder’s purpose, philosophy, and vision.

Rather than an institution dedicated to educating, challenging, and equipping young people to be “soldiers of Christ,” CCC evolved to a pragmatic philosophy of accommodation. Void of institutional integrity, the college leadership strayed from its founding principles, lowered its standards, and adopted and adapted CCM music in its chapels and athletic events.

I continue to sorrow eight years later because the beautiful campus by the Bay is no longer there.

A Current Application to Bob Jones University

I have observed “from the back pew,” a repetition of the same failures at Bob Jones University that initiated the demise of CCC and other Bible fundamental colleges. Unfortunately, led by the current president of the university and his administrators, the same compromised ideologies (and many of the same personalities) that drove those institutions to their demise are perpetuating the same at BJU. They have rejected the university’s fundamental Bible legacy and voided the disciplines that shaped and instilled Christian character in generations of graduates.

A Message from the “Back Pew”

I speak for scores of conservative, Bible-fundamental pastors and thousands of graduates who long to see BJU survive and thrive. We long to see the fire of an unapologetic passion for Truth thundering from the pulpit rather than the catering to carnality that has characterized the past two decades. We long to see BJU’s board demonstrate integrity, confess that the school has strayed from its separatist legacy, and return the university to its founding principles. But, finally, we cannot support the school if its leadership continues to reject and is ashamed of BJU’s unapologetic, Bible-fundamental heritage as a separatist institution. Warning:

Forget your fundamental legacy and reject your base, and you guarantee your demise.

With the heavy heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith
Senior Pastor
Alumnus of Bob Jones University

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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