Perspectives on Cairn

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Faculty, staff, administrators, students, and alumni have all been impacted by the University name change. Dr. W. Sherrill Babb, Mrs. Elizabeth Mason Givens, Dr. Jonathan Master, Dr. Allen Guelzo, and Saritha Petthongpoon share their thoughts on the University’s new name and their insights on the opportunities it brings.


Jonathan L. Master, Ph.D.

Dean, School of Divinity

Dr. Jonathan Master graduated in 1998. His father, Dr. John Master is a Professor Emeritus at the University and has served on the faculty since 1987. Jonathan was an adjunct faculty member from 2004-2006 and returned full-time in 2011. As Director of the Center for University Studies, he has overseen the targeted development of the Center’s activities and offerings, and has brought scholars, theologians, and artists to campus as a part of the Center’s Lecture Series. This spring he was appointed Dean of the School of Divinity.

The Bible applies to all of life. And how could it not? Since God has revealed Himself to humanity in the Scriptures, grasping what He has said is the key to making sense of everything else – ourselves as human beings, and the world which we inhabit. God holds all of it together.

For nearly 100 years, students at this institution have been shown this. Generations of professors have carefully taught that an understanding of the Bible will change the way students look at their lives; it will change their relationships; it will change the way they serve; it will change their understanding of God, history, creation. Our students have been taught that the Bible applies to all of life.

As our institution has grown, this core conviction about the Bible has been tested. Some wondered whether a Bible education really was compatible with a music education; whether a study of social work could be combined with a study of the Scriptures; or how a business education fit with a biblical education. With each change and expansion, questions were raised about the relationship between the core study of the Bible and the study of some other aspect of life and vocation. Since the Bible has always remained central to our students’ course of study, we have moved forward into these new fields with confidence, knowing that the Bible alone was strong enough to hold the center of all that our students would learn.

Along the way, we have often been viewed as merely a training ground for those select few who allegedly needed to know the Bible well – professional ministers, teachers, and missionaries. Students who wanted to study more broadly were supposed to go elsewhere in order to pursue disconnected fields of interest. We have never believed this internally, of course, and our alumni have stood as a perpetual witness against this narrow, constricted view. Their faithful presence at the highest levels of so many fields continually testified to the broad value of a biblical education. Yet the false perception persisted nonetheless.

By embracing this new name, we are firmly rejecting that false choice between biblical education and complete education. We are making it clear that a core curriculum with at least thirty hours of Bible is not only for those with a vocational interest in studying theology. Biblical education can apply to all the academic disciplines.

This new name is particularly exciting for those of us in the School of Divinity. For us, the name is not a retreat, but a forward advance. We are not giving up power, we are gaining a platform. This name enables us to emphatically declare to prospective students, to the academic community, and to the world at large what we have always known to be true – biblical study can and should inform all other study. We know that to understand the enduring truths about humanity – sin and salvation, goodness and truth – we must look to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word.

The name “Cairn” speaks of a boundary marker and a memorial – a reminder of the past and a guide for the future. This is an ideal image for us. We are charged to continue to proclaim God’s faithfulness in the past, and to hold up His Word as our guide for the days to come. We do this in the knowledge that the Bible applies to all of life. And we also know that God, by His grace, will continue to use His Word to shed light on our path as we study together in this remarkable University.

Next Page: Dr. Allen Guelzo


  1. I find it funny, or sad, the amount of rejection a name change is getting when the university just removed the requirement for everyone to have a bible degree. It would seem priorities lie more in the appearance of a biblical institution than in a functional one (if indeed the functionality of a biblical university is in a degree; Which I believe it is not)

    Although I may not quite agree with the choice of “Cairn”; for logistics and functional reasons, I find the name change fitting. To the public Jesus always hid behind a veil and spoke in parables. When someone would ask Him about God He would respond with a story about a mustard seed or a man beaten and left on the side of the road. He did not walk into an area and announce “Here I am, the son of God!” Instead He pulled away and let others come to Him.

    We are blessed because we are not left on the outside of Jesus’s circle, we have a personal view into the lives of the disciples as well who sought for answers to the confusing messages Christ gave. It is here with those who truly sought Him that He shared the secrets of what the mysteries meant.

    Now that we are “Cairn University” I believe we can follow our savior’s example to a greater degree than before. Now with the word Cairn there is a veil, almost the same veil that Christ used with His parables. Those on the outside must seek the answer (and those who seek will find) and those who enroll, like the disciples, will be given the true meaning behind the analogy.

    Yes, I loose a valuable conversation starter, or a shallow way to acknowledge Christ in saying “I go to Philadelphia Biblical University” but if I truly care about those whom I share Christ with I can witness to them no matter what school or occupation I venture through (allowing I still follow Christ in my choice of occupation or school).

    In closing; The appearance of an individual or institution should further the goal(s) of said entity. Christ had a goal and to reach it became a man of no reputation and dressed in a non-attractive yet non-repulsing way. PBU is either very attractive (from parents wishing to safeguard their children from the “evils” of secular school to public school graduates wishing to find more out of their education) or it is one of the most repulsing names that could be chosen. It would be like if an institution named themselves after a four letter swear word, knowing it would keep those sensitive Christians out. The name Cairn brings with it a clean slate on which the basis of true relationships can be built. It neither appears to be marketing itself to the Christian America nor does it attempt to dissuade the agnostic from searching for truth. In short, I, as a music and Bible major from Cairn University, approve of the change.

    Thank you for your time.

  2. Hmmm . . . so, “what do these stones mean?”

    I so love this question that centers the story of Joshua and those twelve stones, set by the Jordan River.

    “What do these stones mean?” (Joshua 4)

    I have read the passage again and again, recalling, too, how Jacob also set up pillars and gathered stones to mark the place where he learned of God’s faithfulness and promised his faithfulness to God — and how Joshua set up another stone to mark the moment of Israel’s reconciliation and how, later, Samuel marked, with a stone, the very place where God heard their cry and helped them. There they lie on the ground, stone after stone after stone, each one telling a story.

    So, then, what do these stones mean?

    I think of the other stones, too. As the gospel spread in the Early Church, stones were laid from Ethiopia to Persia to Europe, as people of faith built and re-built churches, created stone paths, built bridges in Gods name, and set up place markers, all to remind everyone that God was at work throughout the world, caring, healing, rescuing, and transforming. Such stones are still being laid around the globe today and they still hold a message.

    Do we really know what these stones mean?

    I have thought about this all gain as I (and others) have placed figurative “stones” in place, if not actual stones. There are, behind us, along the trails of our lives, mounds of service projects, sacrificial gifts, degrees of learning, signs of wonder, and beautiful sculptures. There are pillars of hymns and songs, acts of leadership, baptisms, celebrations, weddings, funerals, prayerful retreats, and tearful reunions. There are cairns of laughing and weeping, shared burdens, spiritual renewal, faithful and prayerful work, and printed words of grace. All these mark the times and places where God’s presence was known. All these have been set in place by faithful hands in order to adorn the world and to visibly remind others, with each step, that God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being. These stones speak out, though without words.

    What is the meaning of such stones?

    Naturally, as we move forward, both the metaphorical and actual stones, like the stones of Jacob, Joshua, and Samuel, cannot help but prompt the incessant questioning. It is no accident that the question comes repeatedly even now. The inquiry comes by design, it would seem. In the Old Testament, the task of persistent questioning arises again and again and is a great responsibility that is assigned, importantly, to the young. In other words, by the placing of stones (or the celebration of Passover or the offering at the Temple or learning of the commandments), the older ones deliberately prompt and challenge and expect the young to do what they do best: to ask repetitive questions.

    – “What do you mean by this service?” (Ex. 12:26)
    – “What is the meaning of the testimonies and statutes and ordinances (Duet. 6:20)
    – “What do these stones mean to you?” (Joshua 4)

    These questions are so integral to the life of the community. In Scripture and still now, the young look at the stones that others have laid and ask the big questions — about meaning and truth and direction. The stones are placed for just this purpose, in fact, to move young hearts to wonder and to ask good questions. What a great reason for stones this is – to move young learners to give voice to the deepest, most meaningful questions of life and then to hear the answers, wonderfully told!

    For the people of God, then, the laying of stones has often been a beautiful thing, a lovingly intentional prompt for the young who were always curious and ready to learn. It’s importance to the young is so clear that we might too quickly assume that the reason for stones is ultimately for the leading and education of the young. We might easily and wrongly believe that the setting of stones is solely to prompt the young to learn what they were supposed to learn about the grand truth of things, the breadth of God’s love, the wisdom of God’s guidance, and the faithfulness of God’s presence. That would be a natural mistake. After all, that is, in part, what the stones were meant to do. They were meant to cry out, to lead the young along the way, and to provide a cairn that marks the path for the young. That is just not the end of the story.

    If we look more closely at the Old Testament accounts, we might notice that there is more to see. In the days of Joshua and ever since, it has not usually been the young, but the older ones who have most needed this pile of stones, this cairn that marks the way, and the rocks that cry out. It is the older ones and future older ones, who have more years to remember and so most need place markers to be set in place. And it is those who walk further along the path who need to hear the question far more than the young need to ask it.

    So, do these stones still mean anything to you?

    The cairn was a visible sign of great significance to God’s people, especially for the older. It was set in place by the Jordan so that the older ones who had grown up in the wilderness would have to continually stop and answer questions about the presence of God. It was carefully arranged so that the future teachers, social workers, pastors, missionaries, musicians, lay-teachers, counselors, parents, civic leaders, planters, harvesters, merchants, cooks, garment makers, and citizens would look at a pile of stones, hear a question, and pause to consider God’s calling. It was sculpted so that the toddlers, tweens, teens, young adults, middle aged and seniors would regularly turn from the routine demands of their days, the exhausting urgencies of commitments, and the business of life and have essential conversations about the Lord’s faithfulness.

    What do these stones mean?

    These stones speak without words, provoke the most critical questions, and cry out answers. God is with us and we belong to God. God is faithful and leads us powerfully and truly. God’s love pours out for the sake of he world and calls us to live in his loving mercy. God speaks to us and holds us forever.

    I really do like the stones – the cairn – that prompts (or at least can prompt) the very questions and answers that our spirits and all the world are aching to hear.

  3. I just finished reading Dr. Guelzo’s remarks and I am glad I listened to the Lord’s prompting me to do so. I have not been in favor of the name change prior to this. Also, thank you, Dr. Guelzo, I now know what “raise my Ebenezer” means. I can see that this name change is part of the unfolding plan of God for the University. I also read Dr. Babb’s remarks as well as Mrs. Givens and all three have helped me understand this change and its importance. May God continue to bless His school, and all its people as we serve Him at and through Cairn University, to the world He has called us to impact with the Gospel.

  4. Thanks for this perspective. When I first heard of the change I HATED it. I have a better understanding of it now. Still, I can’t say I’m thrilled by it. I could waste our time by going into all the reasons I like the word Biblical in the name but I’m sure you considered them. One thing I am sure of is this, I trust you, Dr. Babb. If you agree to this change then who am I to whine about it.
    One interesting thing is that when I was interviewed for a job at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel last year they were very impressed by my PCB education. It’s what put me over the top and I got the job.

    So, I do remain,
    a proud graduate of
    Philadelphia College of Bible

    Thank you for all you do Dr. Babb,

    Brent S. Biegel

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