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During the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s, Christian evangelist Bob Jones, Sr.

grew increasingly concerned about the secularization of higher education and the influence of religious liberalism in denominational colleges.

In the spring, a similar competition sponsored by the American Association of Christian Schools, and hosted by BJU since 1977, brings thousands of national finalists to the university from around the country.

In 2005, 120 of the finalists from previous years returned to BJU as freshmen.

Children of church members were attending college, only to reject the faith of their parents.

Jones later recalled that in 1924, his friend William Jennings Bryan had leaned over to him at a Bible conference service in Winona Lake, Indiana, and said, "If schools and colleges do not quit teaching evolution as a fact, we are going to become a nation of atheists." While he himself was not a college graduate, Jones grew determined to found a college, and on September 12, 1927, he opened Bob Jones College in Panama City, with 88 students.

Negative publicity caused by the dispute precipitated a decline in BJU enrollment of about 10% in the years 1956–59, and seven members of the university board (of about a hundred) also resigned in support of Graham, including Graham himself and two of his staff members.

Nevertheless, Jones's move to Cleveland proved extraordinarily advantageous.

Bankrupt at the nadir of the Depression, without a home, and with barely enough money to move its library and office furniture, the college became in thirteen years the largest liberal arts college in Tennessee.

From 1971 to 1975, BJU admitted only married blacks, although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had already determined in 1970 that "private schools with racially discriminatory admissions policies" were not entitled to federal tax exemption. 160 [1976]), which prohibited racial exclusion in private schools. Bush to the university, Bob Jones III dropped the university's interracial dating rule, announcing the change on CNN's Larry King Live. That year BJU enrolled students from fifty states and nearly fifty countries, representing diverse ethnicities and cultures, and the BJU administration declared itself "committed to maintaining on the campus the racial and cultural diversity and harmony characteristic of the true Church of Jesus Christ throughout the world".

In 1975, the University Board of Trustees authorized a change in policy to admit black students, a move that occurred shortly before the announcement of the Supreme Court decision in Runyon v. In 2005, Stephen Jones, great-grandson of the founder, became BJU's president on the same day that he received his Ph. In his first meeting with the University cabinet in 2014, the fifth president Steve Pettit said he believed it was appropriate for BJU to regain its tax-exempt status because BJU no longer held its earlier positions about race.

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