Bob Jones University

“The World’s Most Unusual University”

Founded by a Methodist evangelist from Alabama, Bob Jones University tried to maintain a basic unity with all conservative Evangelicals (Fundamentalists), but they were super nervous about any movement that could result in large scale defections of young people away from the views of the churches that supported the university. That pretty much explains their squelching of things such as tongues and Calvinism—the one appealing to the heart, the other to the head of vulnerable young adults. The school kept a lid on these things by a network of informers that were present everywhere. Each dormitory room of four persons had an assistant prayer captain. Three rooms were under a prayer captain. Each floor had two monitors, and each dorm had a graduate student serving as a resident. These folk had been carefully chosen because they had exhibited loyalty to the university.

Bob Jones and Calvinism

Back in the winter of 1966, a grad student friend of mine turned me in to the Director of Religious Activities because I had shared some Calvinistic thoughts with him. I think that the man meant well—he went on to become a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and I believe he is a true Christian. But as a result, I got a pink slip, which meant I had to report to Dr. Marvin Lewis. (Just six weeks before I had gone with Dr. Lewis as he held revival services at a Baptist church in North Carolina. I had been the singer.) 

When I walked in, Dr. Lewis asked me: “Bob, what’s this I hear about you and Calvinism?”

Well, dumb me, I blurted out: “Dr. Lewis, I think that Calvinism is the gospel, and the gospel is Calvinism.”

“Whaaat?!” he said and punched his intercom for Dr. Liverman, the Dean of Men. “Dr. Liverman, you need to come over here right now. We have a real problem on our hands.” Then he turned to me and said, “Bob, I thought of you like my own son.” I hung my head in shame.

Moments later, Dr. Liverman arrived, and Dr. Lewis explained what I had said. Dr. Liverman mused in my presence, “Maybe he meant that Calvinism is the gospel truth.”

Dr. Lewis then opined, “Why, that’s like saying immersion is the gospel.”

Which led Dr. Liverman to retort, “Well, Dr. Lewis, immersion does paint a beautiful picture of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord.”

As they went back and forth, I began to cry—I couldn’t help it. I really loved BJU and had no idea that I had dabbled with something so evil and deadly. In my tears, I asked them for help. “I love the school, and I don’t want to do anything bad, but what can I do? As I’ve read the Bible, it seems to be saying this. Please help me.”

And they did. Both recommended the same book, John R. Rice’s Predestined for Hell? No! (Got to watch how you punctuate that one) “Bob, you go get that book and read it. Dr. Rice will answer your questions. After you’ve read his book, you come back and talk if you have any more questions about Calvinism.” I dried my tears, went to the book store, bought the book and went back to my room. I finished it in a few hours, but I didn’t go back to talk. 

Some months later, I ordered some copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith and quietly began to sell them to fellow students at my cost. Everything was going well—I even met this beautiful girl one Sunday night—she has been my wife for thirty-six years. Nobody was mad; nobody was coming down on any of us. All was Quiet on the Western Front.

Then in the fall of 1967, Bob Jones, Jr. preached for a friend of his out in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Heart to Heart Hour Chapel. Trouble was brewing between the pastor and an assistant over Calvinism, and a church split was in progress. Dr. Bob Junior was livid and returned ready to kick keister. I’ll never forget his chapel message back in early November of 1967: “We don’t want any flower children here: no pansies and no tulip boys.” 

Within a couple of days, fifty to a hundred of us were rounded up, and the law was laid down by the administration. That night, seeing the hand writing on the wall, I called Dr. Nelson Bell, and he encouraged me to leave—it’s what his son-in-law, Billy Graham had done decades before—“That institution rivals anything outside of Mao’s China,” he warned me. 

Since I was not yet twenty-one, I could not withdraw myself, so the next day I called my parents. They were overjoyed, dropped everything, drove to Greenville and withdrew me. (My Dad was friends with the registrar at Presbyterian College, and they enrolled me there prior to arriving at Bob Jones.) But when all was said and done, dropping out in the middle of the semester and some courses not transferring, I lost forty-two semester hours!

Beyond the students, some of the faculty left that same year, too, one of whom was Robert L. Reymond, who went on to teach at Covenant Seminary—he’s now at Knox, D. James Kennedy’s seminary in Florida. I had been Dr. Reymond’s youth minister at a church that he was serving part time in rural Georgia. I probably learned more good theology in the eight or so hours we would spend on those round trips, travelling in his car on a weekend, than at any other short period of time in my life.

The whole Bob Jones episode was a part of God’s gracious plan for my life. They indoctrinated the student body, but so do many universities—just a whole lot more subtly. In spite of many things, I believe I got the beginning of a good education there. 

Bob Jones and Race

Bob Jones refused to fly the flag at half-mast for more than a few days when John F. Kennedy was killed, and this stunt made the South Carolina papers.  From its inception, Bob Jones University was committed to right wing politics, particularly on matters of race.  They had no African-American students there at all throughout the sixties—of course, neither did Presbyterian College until the year I graduated.  Segregation was still very much a way of life in South Carolina throughout the sixties.

Back in 1966, Bob Jones Junior spoke about race in chapel. With my own ears I heard him say the following:

“Blacks have never had a successful civilization.”

“Blacks were designed by God to be servants.”

“Blacks are only happy when they are in the role of a servant.”

I really think that’s what Robert Reynolds Jones and Mary Gaston Stollenwerck (Mrs. Jones Senior was from my mother’s hometown of Uniontown, Alabama.) taught their precocious and mischievous little boy to believe about how African-Americans felt regarding their condition in the old South. 

“Senior,” in spite of his being a man of his times, born in Alabama less than a decade after the end of Reconstruction, was a godly man who genuinely loved the Lord Jesus Christ and had something of a catholic spirit toward all those who looked to Christ for salvation and believed the Bible to be God’s Word.

“Junior,” on the other hand, was a brilliant man and a world-class performer; he had more cunning than Machiavelli and a strong spirit of control. Underneath, my guess is that he had a pretty bad temper to boot. A strangely contradictory man, he was a patron of the arts and loved the “finer things in life”—I have trouble believing —in spite of his Independent Baptist connections—that he didn’t enjoy rare vintage French wines—it just seemed to fit the man. In my imagination I can picture him now with his large amethyst and diamond ring, holding a Waterford Wexford crystal goblet full of a hundred and fifty dollar a bottle, Cabernet sauvignon, admiring a newly acquired painting by Peter Paul Rubens, wishing desperately he could share his tastes with a wider audience. He also had an earthy quality about him and could be as crude as Luther. Yet, when he put his mind to it, he could preach the gospel as eloquently as anyone. The trouble was, he rarely put his mind to it, and just “winged it” in his chapel talks. But he was always entertaining.

“The Third” seemed to be in the shadow of his limelight loving father and godly old grandfather, the heir apparent who was never quite trusted with the throne. My picture of him was of a very decent man who had been pushed into something he might never have chosen for himself. His father surrounded him with powerful and trusted advisors. After I was no longer a student there, I once walked up to his front door one Sunday night and rang the bell—something no student or faculty member would ever have dared to do uninvited. But he invited me in and was gracious to me. We had a good visit, and after sharing the information that he needed to know, I left. Then I went over to the “Dating Parlor” to visit with my fiancée before hitch-hiking back to Clinton where I was working on completing my undergraduate education.

“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end . . . Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.” But nobody ever got to “dance forever and a day” at Bob Jones, not even for a minute. Shucks, you couldn’t even square dance.

Bob Vincent