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.


Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.


Dr. Allen C. Guelzo graduated in 1975 and joined the President’s Advisory Council in 2012. He spoke at the inauguration of Dr. Todd J. Williams as University President in 2008. He is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era where he serves as Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College. In addition, he is the author of a number of books on topics related to Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and Jonathan Edwards.

Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. (1 Samuel 7:12, KJV)

There is a cairn of stones, high in the Canadian arctic, which marks the path of Sir John Franklin’s famous expedition in 1845. There is another cairn of stones on the southern coast of Australia, to memorialize Capt. Matthew Flinders, who first explored the outlines of what was then the mystery continent. Throughout Scandinavia, the bleak northern landscapes are dotted with cairns to mark out pathways for travelers. And near where I live, the local municipality built a cairn beside the nearest connecting highway to remind passers-by of the Welsh roots of the place’s earliest settlers.

These cairns tell various stories – of remembrance, of direction, of discovery. In Samuel’s case, his stone was literally an even ha-ezer – a stone of help. Samuel had confronted the people of Israel with this offer: “If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, …he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” And they did return; and the Lord did deliver them. And partly in celebration, and partly as a permanent reminder in case the Israelites were inclined to renege on their pledge, the stone of help was set up. This was what moved Robert Robinson, an English convert of George Whitefield’s, to say:

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.1

This even ha-ezer was a dramatic and visible marker of what the people of God had been brought through, and a constant reminder of where they must go in the future.

I remember a place called Philadelphia College of Bible. It was short on the kinds of educational amenities college students today take for granted. But even then, in 1971, PCB had come a long way from what it was fifty-eight years before, when it was founded as the Bible Institute of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia School of the Bible. And at every turn in the road, there had been a change of name – Philadelphia Bible Institute in 1951, Philadelphia College of Bible in 1958 (when it obtained authorization to award a Bachelor of Science degree). I was long gone when the college made its most momentous move – out of Philadelphia, to Langhorne–but that was also eventually marked by a change of name, when the school became Philadelphia Biblical University.

Standing at the crossroads of 2012, which anticipates our centennial and the dramatic expansion of our curriculum, we pause for another moment of reflection, of remembrance, of taking bearings ahead. We have never erected literal cairns of stones at such moments, but we have done the equivalent in the various name-changes we have made. So we build again, in metaphor, with a new name–Cairn University. It reminds us of what the pioneers – William Pettingill, W.W. Rugh, C.I. Scofield – did; it is a stone of help that speaks of the divine strength which has protected and nurtured us; and it is a pointer in the direction we are going. We have never stood still. We have never rested on any laurels. We have never been content with the average. We do not mark time. “Occupy til I come,” is the Savior’s injunction, “Press forward toward the high mark of God’s calling.” And build at every turn a cairn, a stone of help. Cairn University. Hither by thy help I’m come.

All scripture quotations from New American Standard Bible.
1Text from Village Hymns (1824), compiled by New England revival preacher and hymn-writer, Asahel Nettleton.

Next Page: Saritha Petthongpoon


  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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