How North Greenville Got the Gospel Wrong

**Update: There has been some confusion as to whom I am referring by using the general term “North Greenville” in the below post. In no way do I mean to implicate the faithful faculty, staff, students, and alumni in any cover-up. Rather, the Board of Trustees acted as head of the institution and in its name. As the head, their actions affected and represented the rest of the body. But there are many Gospel-loving folks working and studying at NGU who should not be lumped into the same category. I’ve left the post as it originally was, but keep in mind that by “North Greenville” I mean the “trustees” or the “institution proper,” in its official actions.**

One week ago a video surfaced showing the former President of my alma mater, North Greenville University, caught in a vacation home alone with a female university employee revealing what is at the very least an inappropriate relationship.

Last January, just prior to the spring semester, the university’s Board of Trustees suddenly announced that Dr. Jimmy Epting would take a sabbatical through the spring and retire at the end of the school year. The interim president cited health concerns as “the catalyst” for this decision. Later in the semester the university held a special chapel service to honor Epting and his years of service to the university. During the service Epting gave a farewell address, in which he reportedly remarked that God was just leading him in a new direction, and sang with his Gospel group, the President’s Quartet.

No hint of the President’s sin was ever mentioned until someone uploaded the incriminating video on August 26.

North Greenville is a South Carolina Baptist institution that prides itself on being the place where “Christ Makes the Difference.” And our Lord Jesus has made quite a difference in many lives through this university, including my own. I hold two degrees from the school and worked in the athletic department for three years. I should also point out that I have known the President’s family since I was in middle school. I grew up playing basketball with his two sons. His sweet wife has been a good friend to my mother and has never been anything but kind to me. So I write this post not as a foe of the university, but as a friend.

North Greenville got the Gospel wrong. 

To use Eden as an analogy, the President’s sin was that of eating the fruit. He believed the lie and the Liar. He wanted what was not for the taking and disobeyed our Lord in order to take it. He broke covenant and he broke trust.

The university’s sin was the sin of making clothes out of fig leaves. Much like Adam and Eve tried to cover the shame of their sin in the Garden, North Greenville leadership tried to cover up its hero’s sin and shame, hiding behind garments made out of “health concerns,” “new challenges,” and “it’s time.”

How did North Greenville get the Gospel wrong?

The Gospel confesses sin—that is, it says the same about sin that God does. North Greenville hid sin. It pretended it wasn’t there. It said nothing of it.

The Gospel tells the truth because God is truth. North Greenville leadership flat-out lied.

The Gospel has nothing to do with darkness, but runs to the light. North Greenville, when confronted with its leader’s disqualifying sin, walked into darkness with him and became complicit. The university became complicit when it covered up the President’s sin and the reason for his retirement and led the university to celebrate the man whom they knew had sinned grievously and not yet publicly confessed and repented. (And yes, the nature of his office and the sin require a public confession and repentance).

The Gospel trusts God to save. North Greenville tried to save itself. Even if we assume the best motives of the trustees—that they were in good faith trying to spare the university the pain of a public scandal and the potential for donations to drop off—the trustees were trusting in lies to save them instead of our Lord Jesus.

The Gospel says you cannot love God and money. North Greenville—in its effort to not obstruct the donor flow—chose to love money.

In the Gospel, it is God who justifies. North Greenville tried to justify itself. The Gospel says that we are loved and accepted because of Jesus. North Greenville said we are loved and accepted because we are (or appear to be) moral and upright.

The Gospel covers shame permanently with the blood of Christ. North Greenville temporarily covered its shame with wordplay, spin, and outright deception.

North Greenville has been used of God by preaching the Gospel far and wide. Sadly, in this situation, North Greenville did not believe the Gospel. It did not believe that only the blood of Jesus covers sin. It did not believe that if we confess our sin that Jesus is faithful and just to forgive our sin. It did not believe that there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. It believed the Liar.

In so doing, the university has thrown sludge upon the name of Christ.

It has also blackened its own eye. It has opened itself up to charges of high hypocrisy; it has expelled so many students over the years for much lesser offenses, but covered up (alleged) adultery in the Administration building.

North Greenville should stop hiding, stop spinning, and come clean. South Carolina Baptists are a gracious people; we have been forgiven our own grievous sins by our Lord Jesus. God is a gracious God who forgives stiff-necked people.

For the name of Christ, North Greenville should once again believe the Gospel, confess its sin, and walk in the light.

 

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12 thoughts on “How North Greenville Got the Gospel Wrong”

  1. I know an awful lot about the circumstances of which you write–being an employee of the university. I’ll assure you, you are making claims about something of you which you know next to nothing. It’s a good thing that the One who is the final Judge knows the details of which you are ignorant. You ought to be ashamed.

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    1. Dr. Johnson, first let me point to my reply to the comment below: I do not believe the entire university family (especially faculty and staff) to be complicit in the alleged cover-up. That is, I want to be clear that I don’t think you were involved. I think longtime faithful professors like you are the heroes of the university. I would love nothing more than to be wrong about this whole thing—I do not rejoice at the calamity of others. If that’s the case I would happily retract and repent.But which of these assertions is wrong? 1) There was an inappropriate relationship of some kind; 2) That relationship was the catalyst for the sabbatical/retirement; 3) The university stated that health concerns were the catalyst and treated the situation as such, complete with full honoring; 4) The university never hinted at the real reason until someone leaked the video. I realize that I am making an inference on #2, but with what has been made publicly available, it stands to pretty good reason. I love NGU and want great things for the university. But I think transparency and, where necessary, repentance is necessary to restore trust and move on to those great things. Thank you for your interaction and, more so, for your faithful service to NGU for many years.

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  2. i have read your post several times and wanted to say I think you are on the right track in, my opinion. But, you may have ran over some innocent people along the way.
    I agree with the conclusion that the cover up is the ongoing sin. However what i don’t understand is how you indicted the entire university. My question is, how many of the faculty or staff were in attendance of the trustee meeting? My sources say that none of the faculty or staff, including The interim president, were allowed to attend the trustee meetings when they were dealing with personnel matters. All personnel matters are handled with utmost confidentiality. For that reason those outside that circle can only know what they are told. The staff and faculty were told what the public was told. They had no evidence or details which would have enabled them to say anything different. Many feel as betrayed as alumni do but I don’t want to put everyone in the bus and shove them all over the cliff.

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    1. To clarify, I do not mean to indict the entire university (faculty, staff, students, alumni, etc.). Of course, most if not all, were unaware of the details. Rather, I am applying a principle of headship here. The trustees acted on behalf of the university and in the name of the university. They are the university’s stewards and representatives. That is why I used the general term, “North Greenville.” But I do not believe the entire university family is at fault here. I understand there is some confusion because of the term I used—and, as the writer, I bear the blame for that confusion. Hence, this clarification.

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      1. Rhett, I sincerely appreciate your deep concern for NGU and for the fact that you were not indicting the entire university. Indeed, I never thought that you were. My concern is with people assuming–yes, assuming–that the video reveals a cover up. There are several other factors that came into play that are not known to the public. All signs point to the fact that there was no attempt at a cover up. You are assuming that the board saw this video (and they did) and then decided to cover up what happened. Much more was going on here than you realize.

        Unless one knows what went on in those board meetings, one cannot with fairness assert that there was a cover up. I was in a three hour meeting with board members and the interim president yesterday in an environment where discussion could be more open, and the facts indicate that there was no cover up. We all need to temper our comments. My fear is that Satan is using people who are sincerely interested in righteousness to sabotage righteous efforts to deal with an unfortunate situation.

        Blessings, my friend!

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  3. Rhett, I work at NGU and hold two degrees. I have known Dr. Epting and his family since I was 17. I have a daughter who graduated and currently have two more daughters. I also, like Walter, would like to say that Dr. Pannell and the board have done a wonderful job working with the press and the entire NGU family. They have been forthcoming with information that has satisfied many strong believers. My question to you is “Did you in any way attempt to meet with Dr. Pannell or any leaders of the Board ( such as the Chairwoman or vice chair) prior to writing this article. As a brother in Christ it would have been more scriptural for you to go to the leadership and directly interview them before you wrote this piece which is inaccurate and hurtful to the body of Christ. Unfortunately we live in a day where Christians act much like the world. I would expect this attempt at Journalism to be different because you are a believer. You did not question the source or attempt to interview those who could have given you helpful information. By publishing this without attempting to verify the information is at the very least unchristian and plays into the hand of Satan. This article could be considered gossip. It seems that You might could see that you have not helped the kingdom because you did not go to your brothers and sisters in private and talk with them directly before publishing your opinion piece. It is no wonder why people have very little use for believers. I would also like you to comment on whether or not you attempted to contact Dr. Epting to discuss the accusation as would be proper biblical procedures. So in conclusion it could be said that we should get the speck out of our own eye before we attempt take the log out of our brothers eye. So who? You or North Greenville sinned? Or could it be both?

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  4. Dear Anonymous commenter: You don’t see your comment here because you did not put your name on it. To be fair to those you interact with, I’ll need your name before approving the comment to be posted. Thanks for understanding.

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  5. OK, I’m going to take a chance to try to act as a bridge between you folks here and the outside world. I live about 3 miles from NGU and don’t have an axe to grind one way or the other against the college. A healthy environment for us up here above Travelers Rest is just good business for the neighborhood, as it were. When this story broke, I was as surprised as anyone. After the Christianity Today article and 150,000 hits on that video, I wondered what in the world was really going on. A study of the timeline of events from Oct. of last year to when the story broke seems to indicate a massive coverup on someone’s part. I am sorry, Dr. Johnson and Ms. Styles but that is what it looks like and like it or not, it is the appearance of the thing that matters. A simple google search on Jimmy Epting will take you to some 40-50 bombastic websites where the consensus is that he is a massive hypocrite and NGU is a cult where a “holier-than-tho” environment thrives and students and teachers alike are kicked out for doing far less serious infractions than what Jimmy Epting is accused of doing. It does no good to criticize an honest blog or inquiry for harming the “body of Christ” when it is Epting and whatever “powers that be” at NGU that has done that – in spades. Let me give you an analog. Furman Unversity has a new president now but leadership was challenged back in 2013 when President Rod Smolla resigned for “personal reasons”. The facts were that his wife had “come out of the closet” and was in a relationship with the women’s golf coach, who is a woman. I am not being gossipy, these are the facts. The order of things was this: He wrote to the board of trustees, told them openly of the problem and asked for council. An open letter went to the Furman alumni association and everything was divulged and honest. Smolla’s wife left the employ of the university and so did the golf coach. A divorce happened fairly quickly but the court records are sealed. The tumult of what happened in his family led Smolla to resign. There was no Youtube video nor did the press go into a feeding frenzy to uncover a “scandal”. Furman suffered no loss of financial support and compassion was extended to Smolla and his entire family so that eveyone could go forward with life. Anybody get the similarity and more importantly, the differences here?? Surely there is a right way and a wrong way to handle these things and now the SCBC is withholding money until they get answers. Until then, NGU will be tried in the court of public opinion and everyone will look like they have egg on their faces.

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  6. Addendum: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.” – C.S Lewis

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