the separatism of Bob Jones Sr.

In some of our recent discussion, Pastor Tracy Pennock asserts that Bob Jones, Sr., was not a separatist but rather followed the pattern of John R. Rice when it came to so-called ‘secondary separation’. I have argued that he is misinformed concerning Bob Jones, Sr.

This evening, I discovered an unlikely ally in making my point: Christianity Today.

In an article entitled “Campus Crusader for Christ“, Collin Hansen reviews the book, Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America by John G. Turner.

Note in particular this paragraph on the first page of the review:

Before long, cracks began to show in the conservative Protestant alliance. Much has been written about Graham’s break with Jones after the 1957 New York City crusade, but Bright’s split with fundamentalism was similarly painful. Bright joined Graham on the platform for his 1958 crusade in San Francisco. Vonette [Mrs. Bright] declined the invitation, still unsure about whether to support Graham. Afterward, Bob Jones Sr. wrote all alumni from his school who worked for Crusade and told them to choose between Bright and their alma mater. The crisis was enough to threaten the viability of Crusade, which drew heavily from Bob Jones University. Turner observes that Jones and Bright both cared about evangelism and doctrinal purity. But Jones cared more about purity, and Bright cared more about evangelism. [Emphasis mine.]

I think the quote speaks for itself.

Over to you, Tracy…



  1. tjp says:

    Bro. Don,

    Thanks for letting me know about this post. I’m not sure why my e-mail isn’t working. I’ll look into it.

    The quote you cull from CT is a good one, but I think it suggests more than is the case. I’ll explain a little more later on, perhaps tomorrow. Right now I have to give my dog a haircut.

    Have a good one.

  2. tjp says:

    Bro. Don,

    I’ve heard some interesting takes on Dr. Bob, Sr.’s, views on separation over the years. What I find disheartening, though, is that many B. J. fans have simply re-made Jones, Sr., into the image of Jones, Jr. and the III. Yet Dr. Bob, Sr., was no secondary separationist, as his offspring unfortunately became, having succumbed to the radical theories of Charles Woodbridge. In fact, the facts, and the personal testimony of Dr. Bob, Sr., are against such a radical makeover.

    That Dr. Bob was for separation is true, and it appears from his convictions and conduct he refused to cooperate DIRECTLY with modernists. Yet he would, on a case-by-case basis, and as wisdom and prudence would dictate, cooperate with other brothers who were themselves either lightly or indirectly connected with modernists.

    To be sure there were times Dr. Bob, Sr., separated from other Christians, but it was never on the basis of some disfigured doctrine of secondary separation. It was either on the basis of a direct Biblical command or on the basis of wisdom and prudence. But He never looked to an exaggerated separatism to support his practice.

    Again, purity was a BIG thing for Dr. Bob, but it was a purity of doctrine for which he strove. As far as I can tell, he never made a good man’s association with an unseparated brother a matter of first importance. Nor did he automatically distance himself from every brother who had less than careful associations. That nuttiness came later under Jr. and the III.

    Below is a long citation from Dr. Rice’s book, “Come Out or Stay In.” I think it pretty well explains Dr. Bob Sr’s position on separation, which your quotation doesn’t make clear. In fact, the citation quotes him rather extensively. I may be wrong here, but I don’t think you’ll find Dr. Bob, Sr., to be much of a secondary separationist.



    Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., gave me a tract some years ago quoting “Letters From Bob Jones, Jr., Acting President of Bob Jones College and Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., Founder of Bob Jones College.” In the first letter, dated September 4, 1939, Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., withdrew from the local Methodist church in Cleveland, Tennessee, after they had a modernistic preacher visiting in the pulpit. He asked for his certificate of discharge from Broad Street Methodist Church. The second letter, dated a day later, is by Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., and to the same Methodist pastor, M. A. Stevenson of the Broad Street Methodist Church. The first three paragraphs of that letter follow:

    “For a number of years I went up and down the country preaching the Gospel of the grace of God and fighting for old-time evangelical orthodoxy, yet at the same time I was supporting with my money and influence the entire program of the Methodist Church, knowing the Methodist Church is honeycombed with ‘modernism.’ I did this without realizing that I was inconsistent.

    “A few year sago I read prayerfully the Second Epistle of John, which epistle teaches plainly that if a person brings a message contrary to the Gospel, and a Christian even bids this person ‘God speed,’ such a Christian is a partaker of the sin of the false teacher. I became greatly convicted and saw clearly that I could no longer support the entire program of the Methodist Church and live a consistent Christian life.

    “Naturally I did not wish to leave my Church in which I have held membership for years and into which I have put more people than any other minister my age, and in which I have hundreds of close personal friends, both laymen and ministers. So, I decided to remain in the denomination and endeavor to pursue a consistent course by supporting that which is orthodox and by refusing to support that which is not in harmony with the doctrines of Methodism and the teaching of the Word of God. My position has caused me a great deal of embarrassment. However, for a number of years I have been following my plan and have felt that I was consistent.”

    In the closing paragraph of this long letter, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., said:

    “If you invited Dr. Smart to come to your pulpit as a Bible teacher, knowing what he believes and teaches, I should like to have you mail me in the enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope the church certificates of Mrs. Jones and myself. I shall try to find a Methodist church where the pastor does not only preach the Gospel himself, but also protects his people as far as possible from heretical and unsound messages. I am the founder of a college that is uncompromising in its orthodoxy. I must be consistent, and I must be true to what I learned in a prayerful study of the Second Epistle of John.”

    Please not that Dr. Bob, Sr., who had been in the Methodist church all these years and choosing particular causes he could support and refusing to support certain institutions and programs which were modernistic, had ‘decided to remain in the denomination and endeavor to pursue a consistent course by supporting that which is orthodox and by refusing to support that which is not in harmony with the doctrines of Methodism and the teaching of the Word of God.’

    And in the last paragraph of his letter, I call your attention to the statement where Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., said, ‘I shall try to find a Methodist church where the pastor does not only preach the Gospel himself, but also protects his people as far as possible from heretical and unsound messages.’

    Then, in a letter dated March 26, 1940, to Dr. L. E. Hoppe, a presiding elder in the Methodist church, Dr. Bob Jones said:

    ‘Having a wide experience, naturally, I am familiar with the growing modernistic trend, however, I have kept consistently in mind that the Articles of Religion are still in the Discipline, so naturally I kept hoping that there would be some way for me to remain an ordained minister in the Methodist Church and at the same time be true to my conscience. A number of years ago I explained to may pastor that I could not support some of the causes for which collections were raised in my local church. I told him that I would support the causes that may conscience approved. Up until I asked Dr. Stevenson for my certificate from Broad Street Church, I have been able to preserve my conscience under this plan.’

    Then, in the same long letter, in another paragraph, Dr. Jones said:

    ‘When I saw that I could not conscientiously lend my influence to the pulpit of Broad Street Church, I did the only thing a conscientious Christian could do as I understood it and that was withdraw my membership. It has been my purpose to try to find some good orthodox Methodist church where the preacher fights for orthodoxy and protects his pulpit as far as possible from heterodoxy and if at any time for any technical reasons he should not be able to protect his pulpit from heterodoxy, then he will at least live up to his ordination vows and drive away strange and erroneous doctrines by denouncing the heterodoxy.’

    But meantime the Methodist discipline in 1939 had been changed, which as Dr. Bob Jones says, ‘. . . makes it mandatory for me as a local elder to hold my membership in a church in the community where I reside.’ Then Dr. Bob said, ‘In other words, it is impossible under this set-up and under your interpretation of paragraph 285 for me to remain an ordained minister in the Methodist Church and preserve my conscience.’

    Then in a paragraph later he said, ‘I am not surrendering my membership as a laymen in the Methodist Church. Unless the Discipline should be changed, I can place this certificate in the hands of some good uncompromising, orthodox Methodist pastor and be enrolled in a church outside of the community where I reside.’

    Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., told me that he put his membership in the Trinity Methodist Church in Los Angeles where Dr. Bob Shuler was pastor and told Dr. Shuler, “Place the membership there and forget it.’ So Dr. Bob, Sr., was militant in his stand for fundamental doctrine and militant in separating from modernists, but he did not teach nor believe in secondary separation and did not believe that one should separate from someone simply because he was still in a major denomination that had some modernism. Neither in his practice nor in his teaching was he what is called a ‘secondary separationist.’

    Let us say then that the so-called ‘secondary separation’ teaching is a modern invention, is not taught in the Bible and was not the practice of great Christian leaders down through the years.

  3. Tracy, thank you for your comment. A couple of quick responses for now.

    1. Look at the dates on those letters. 1939. 1940. A lot of water went under the bridge between then and 1958. You can’t view this in isolation. The practice in the 40s and early 50s was just as you say, and it was universal among fundamentalist people I would say until the Billy Graham crisis brought everything into focus. The quote I offered you from the CT article above marks an entire shift in practice that was necessitated by the refusal of the new evangelicals to separate from modernists.

    For you to insist that the practice of the 1940s is the norm, or even the formal philosophy of Bob Jones, Sr., is to have an extremely warped view of history.

    2. No fundamentalists have invented a doctrine of secondary separation — only pseudo-fundamentalists. All separation is primary. When a doctrine or a practice by some professing believer is sufficiently egregious, faithful believers will part company with them.

    I recognize that ‘sufficiently’ is a subjective term! That is where a great deal of our difficulties lie.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. tjp:

    Your assertion that Bob Jones, Sr. “never made a good man’s association with an unseparated brother a matter of first importance” can only stand up against a very limited portion of the facts.

    I think you’ve committed the error of only admitting evidence (i.e., the statements of Jones, Sr. from the 1930s and 40s) which supports your own presupposition (that Jones Sr didn’t advocate ’secondary separation’), and I think you really should consider further evidence.

    Yes, Jones Sr does not appear to have followed a ‘secondary separation’ during the 1930s and 40s, but for you to insist that he “never” changed his position inaccurately portrays him as a static character who does not ever change, as though he were some minor character in a fiction plot and not a living human.

    I think if you look at what happened with the relationships between the Joneses and the NAE, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Campus Crusade (as Turner explores), you’ll see that Jones Sr did change, and that he changed into the position which you dislike today.

    To support this, let’s look at what Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America by John G. Turner actually says.

    In the middle of his discussion of the break between the Joneses and Bright, Turner has the following:

    The dispute simmered over the summer. In August, Bob Jones Sr. wrote all of the BJU graduates and students working with Crusade. Most received the letters while attending Crusade’s staff training event on Lake Minnetonka in Mound, Minnesota, where the organization had recently moved its summer headquarters. Jones reminded them that “we did not boost Campus Crusade until we had the assurance that Campus Crusade stood exactly where Bob Jones University stands.” He went on to “apologize for recommending that you become a part of the work of Campus Crusade” and insisted that “you cannot consistently go on with Campus Crusade until the head of Campus Crusade openly reverses the position which he has recently taken.” BJU alumnae recall receiving threats that if they remained on Crusade staff their alma mater would cut them off from the university and not recommend them for pastorates. Jones warned Dave Coterill, a BJU student at the training event, “if you are planning to go ahead with Campus Crusade. . . . Do not come back to school, because we are not going to have any of that propaganda on Bob Jones University campus.” [Turner, pp. 81-82.]

    Now, what was the position Jones Sr wanted Bill Bright to renounce? Specifically, it was Bright’s association with Billy Graham:

    Bright made the trip to San Francisco, where he observed Graham’s Cow Palace meetings and admired Graham’s preaching and the response it generated. Graham invited the Brights to sit on the platform with him. They hesitated. Bill decided to accept the invitation, but Vonette, still unsure about whether Graham or Jones was correct, sat in the crowd instead. Jones, Sr. whom Weniger and Riffe kept well informed of events in San Francisco, quickly got wind of Bright’s action and wrote him demanding an explanation. Bright answered by insisting that his “stand against liberalism and modernism in all their varied forms has not been altered one iota.” He reaffirmed his opposition to ecumenical sponsorship but noted that the “sponsorship of Billy Graham by the Council of Churches in New York City to which so many of us have objected so strenuously does not exist in San Francisco.” Bright maintained that “Billy’s position has been changed since his New York campaign.” Jones, of course, took issue with Bright’s statement, which ultimately was not an accurate interpretation of Graham’s trajectory. Furthermore, he saw it as a personal betrayal. “Bill,” he lamented, “your letter has made me sick at heart.” “You are the last man on earth,” he explained, “that I would have thought would have betrayed Bob Jones University in this battle as you seem to have done.” He threatened to write all of the BJU alumni on Crusade staff “and tell them how I feel about this situation.” He insisted that Bright clarify his position and informed Bright that he had to choose between BJU and Billy Graham. “There are no two sides to this proposition,” Jones threw down the gauntlet. “You have to be either on one side or the other, and you have taken the Billy Graham sponsorship side.” [Turner, p. 80]

    tjp, you are welcome to hold whatever opinion you like about ‘secondary separation,’ but to insist that Bob Jones Sr never called for it is simply inaccurate.

  5. Tracy, just a note… Duncan is my genius first-born. Today we’re tag-teaming!

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3