I stole this blog post title from my Philadelphia College of Bible and Dallas Seminary classmate friend Jim McGahey, who posted it today as his Facebook status. As college alumni, we were informed today that our college has now been officially renamed “Cairn University.” Jim’s father was my favorite professor there (who performed the wedding for Diana and me), and though he likely did not roll over in his grave, he may well have at least shuddered.
A slogan at the school when I attended was, “Everyone at PCB majors in Bible.” Of course there were majors like music, social work, education, pastoral studies, missions, etc… but everyone got a B.S. degree in Bible, as the goal of the school was to train young adults for ministry careers. Now, it has become a true university in the sense of education for a variety of careers – all in the context of a biblical worldview.
The first thought people have when they hear the name change is that likely someone of the last name of “Cairn” gave some huge endowment to the school. No, that does not tend to happen much to schools like this! Rather, the name has to do with the meaning of the word “cairn” – which is some version of a “memorial pile of rocks.” I’ll let the school explain it from their communication:
What is a cairn?
Throughout human history, men and women all over the world have piled stones to serve as memorials and markers. The stones marked boundaries and important events – ones worth remembering for generations to come.
Stones are piled at trail crossings as well. They mark a road to be taken, a danger to be avoided, or a spring or well at which travelers can be refreshed.
Man-made piles of stones, memorials of the past and markers for the path ahead, are called by many names in many languages. The English term is cairn.
Why Cairn University?
The University’s new name is tied to who we are and what we do. It is a strong, unique word with a powerful visual appeal and dual meaning. Everywhere they are found, cairns both bear witness and point the way.
After crossing the Jordan River on dry ground, the children of Israel were commanded to pile stones for a high purpose. When the coming generation asked for the meaning of the stones, they could then be reminded of the great faithfulness of God. The stones stood as a silent memorial and an ongoing testimony. The University’s verse is Lamentations 3:23 which testifies to God’s great faithfulness.
Jeremiah instructs the people of God to place markers and set down guideposts as they went into exile so that they might know the way to return. These piles of stones provide direction. The Scriptural call, “This is the way, walk in it,” is a powerful one. “Walk a Different Path” is our call to students to think, and learn, and serve biblically. Their very lives are to bear witness and point the way for others.
It is a general truism that people don’t like change – I know this painfully from 30 years of being a pastor! I’m gathering that quite a few alumni are not excited by this and in fact worry about how the change may factor – near or far – into a declension of historic biblical values. Theological liberalism does not start in the seats of churches. It begins in the colleges and universities and seminaries, and is then taught to the students who become the leaders who bring the infection home to the churches. That is not happening at PCB / PBU / Cairn U … at this time.
I don’t personally know the current university president, but I sent him this note today:
I do not fault you for the name change that reflects a broader mission. I like the imagery. I don’t like the difficult sound of it – I’ve yet to meet a person who did not have to have the word “cairn” repeated several times … spelled out; and few catch the imagery without explanation.
Here is my word to you: I’ve had more than a few church youth go to <college illustration A> and lose their faith because the profs there have none themselves. If in 25 years this happens to Cairn, I swear to you that I will come to your board meeting at age 82, with my cane, and I will whack everyone in that room for letting this happen! I’m as serious as the heart attack this will likely cause me in the transaction of the deed. But I would be dying for a worthy cause.
I know you have no intent … cannot envision such slippage … but it will happen unless you choose every board member and every faculty member carefully for their full commitment to Scripture. May that process be YOUR CAIRN – reminding you of the past and guiding to the future. There WILL BE pressures to move away from this solid mooring within the biblical harbor of objective truth; when you do, it will be the slippery slope that lands you in the dustbin with <college illustration A>, <college illustration B>, and a host of others infamously grounded upon the shoals of a former legacy.
While I applaud the semantic and etymological significance of the name, I do think it’s a bit much for most people, especially since the word is rarely used in American English (though it appears frequently in Scottish and Irish writings). And I absolutely LOVE the mental image of you beating people with a cane. If and when you get to that point, I will pronounce you as having entered your dotage.
And here I was expecting to read about Joules graduating from Canine College…how disappointing.
Joules is sooooo far beyond the need for canine education. She is truly the greatest dog of all time!