So @nlents and some of us have been looking at the history of BJU in light of some comments by their president. I wanted to get the facts straight, and perhaps get some nuance from @TedDavis, @deuteroKJ , and other scholars in the know.
President Pettit stated in a BJU chapel service in 2020,
“For example, we require every professor to confess this creed. In our science department with 23 plus PhDs with degrees from all over the world, they have to confess that they believe that God created the world. ‘I believe in the inspiration [of] the Bible, the creation of man by the direct act of God.’ We’ve even taken it a little bit further. You have to believe that God has created the world in six literal days. If you don’t believe that, then your employment is terminated immediately.”
Now, it is commonly perceived that BJU is a YEC institution, but is that really the case? Back in 1927 when BJU was founded, YEC was not a dominant view in fundamentalism. Most fundamentalists were old earth creationists, commonly subscribing to the “gap theory,” thinking there was a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. While most exegetes now reject that specific idea, one could put the gap in several other points in the narrative (e.g. between 1:2 and 1:3).
BJU even made a very positive statement about Gap Theory, which was on their website until early 2016.
The “gap theory” was popularized among fundamental Bible-believing Christians by C.I. Scofield in the notes to his reference Bible. Through over half of the twentieth century it remained a standard interpretation held by a number of leaders within biblical Fundamentalism. With the publication of The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris in February of 1961 and the subsequent birth of the modern creationist movement, there began a shift toward a more straightforward reading of Genesis 1 and the gap theory quickly fell out of favor. The “gap theory” is, in its simplest form, a biblically based belief that there is a time gap of indeterminate length between the first two verses of Genesis, after the original creation of the universe but before “day one” of Genesis 1:3.
Supporters of the gap theory point to Genesis 1:2 which says that the “earth was without form and void” and Isaiah 45:18 which says that the Lord “created [the earth] not in vain” and argue that there is a contradiction between the two statements. Some gap supporters also use Genesis 1:28 where Adam was instructed to “replenish the earth” to imply that there was a pre-adamic race. In recent years, young earth creationists have not found these arguments to be compelling evidence for a gap of millions or even thousands of years between the first two verses of Genesis. Nor have they found the theory helpful in explaining the fossil record from a biblical perspective. They point out that Genesis 1:28 literally means “to fill”; Isaiah 45:18 simply means that God’s plan for the earth was that it should be a home for man.
Many fundamentalists of past generations who espoused the gap theory did so out of a sincere attempt to properly interpret Scripture. They held a high view of the inspiration of the Bible and would be horrified to think that anyone today would consider them to be yielding any ground to evolutionists, an archenemy they opposed.
In conclusion, while the faculty of the Division of Natural Science at Bob Jones University understand the gap theory interpretation held by other sincere Bible-believing Christians, especially those of past generations, we see no necessity for it. We believe that the best way to understand both Scripture and the scientific evidence is in terms of an earth that is only 6 to 10 thousand years old. For this reason, none of our faculty either believes or teaches the gap theory.
So here is where it gets interesting. It turns out that the move to YEC was very very recent. See this comment from a BJU student:
I don’t know when/if the transition was made. I had a Bible professor in the late 70s who taught the Gap theory. I don’t know if the school had an official position then. I don’t remember any controversy. According to some who know better, he must’ve have held a theologically liberal view of the earth. Which is nonsense and these kind of assertions do nothing to strengthen the YEC position.
Stephen M. Davis, PhD
There is good reason to believe that Bob Jones Sr. (founder of BJU) was a gap theorist, or at minimum held that the view should be tolerated among fundamentalists. Any clearer documentation on this would be really helpful.
So now, it appears, that president Pettit would immediately terminate any science professor that holds to the predominant view of BJU when it was founded, and likely even the position of its founder.
How is that possible?
Turns out that the BJU Creed does not take a stand on the age of the Earth, but in 2014 BJU published several “position papers” including one that commits the institution to YEC. At the same time, AIG published the Tenets of Creation (TOC), and leadership at BJU signed on. Soon after in 2016, they took down the statement on Gap Theory.
So it seems that BJU has very recently taken a more hardline stance on YEC, moving from toleration of many OEC views, to insisting on YEC. This is such a departure from the position of their founders, that their president seems to be claiming that he would immediately fire any science professor that held to the position of BJU at its founding.
The recency of this sharp turn to YEC is important, as it indicates that something important. BJU is a YEC stronghold at the moment, but that isn’t inevitable, and retrenchment on YEC is not even consistent with its own founding mission as a fundamentalist university, as expressed in the BJU Creed, which does not take a stand on the age of the earth.