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Spring 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 1 · pp. 13–20 

The Bible College: Whose Vision Is It?

Carlin Weinhauer

The Bible is the most important document in the world. It is the record of God speaking to men and women through the ages. A person cannot be considered truly educated without a working knowledge of the contents of the Bible. The Bible addresses with divine inspiration the ultimate issues of existence and life. Any postsecondary institution that will provide passionate academic instruction in the content of the Bible is an institution that can significantly influence the rising generation for God through its students. While educational opportunities have proliferated providing instruction in how to make a living, it is the Bible college and similar institutions that provide instruction on how to develop a life worth living.

As long as the Bible college serves the vision birthed in its constituency by God and his Word, the college will not only be sustained but will prosper.

Dallas Willard argues,

The multitudes of theories, facts, and techniques that have emerged in recent centuries have not the least logical bearing upon the ultimate issues of existence and life. In this respect they only serve to distract and confuse a people already harassed witless by their slogans, scientific advances, “labor-saving” devices, and a blizzard of promises about when and how “happiness” is going to be achieved. {14} Vague references to “particles and progress” do not provide a coherent picture of life. 1

To this Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon add, “We cannot understand the world until we are transformed into persons who can use the language of faith to describe the world right.” 2

The Bible provides a coherent picture in the language of faith as to what life can be and should be in any age, regardless of modernity issues or cultural and economic realities. Education is a process whereby one generation passes on its faith language and understanding of life’s values and ultimate issues to the next generation. A Bible college, offering education in the name of God and on behalf of the church, is called upon by its Christian constituency to make sure this transfer takes place. Obviously, the local church is also engaged in this same process, but it is the Bible college where extended time and commitment to reflecting on the Scriptures can take place in a faith friendly academic environment.

CASTING THE VISION

In every generation there must again be a people of God who will give credence to and support for the Bible college. The vision for a Bible college rises from the people of God who take the Word of God as the primary source of spiritual life in the ways and the will of God for themselves and for the Church. This may be a group of disparate people somewhat scattered, but together they are wholly committed to men and women studying what God has said in the Bible. It may be people in a larger single church or in a group of churches within or outside a denomination who are committed to providing in a college setting the study and dissemination of what God has revealed in his Word. Without this “constituency vision” on the part of the people of God who care about college level instruction in the Bible, a Bible college cannot be sustained long-term.

Historically, it has been this constituency vision that provided the impetus for a Bible college to be established and sustained. Constituency relations are an essential reality for Bible college administrators and faculty. It involves feeding constituency vision and feeding off that vision. While any Bible college president longs for guaranteed funding, the more probable truth of the matter is continued immersion in the constituency where vision for the task is frequently reborn and funded.

A Bible college cannot remain strong in terms of funds or students without constant and energetic interaction with its constituency. While this is time-consuming, it is not time wasted. The vision cast by a {15} constituency, whether verbalized or implied, must be a vision caught and assimilated by Bible college administrators and faculty. Most constituencies speak loud enough for a willing college leadership to hear. Vision and funding and future possibilities suffer when they are not heard.

SUSTAINING THE VISION

Students

No real or implied mandate can be maintained for continuing the educational process without students. When this is the case, constituency vision for the college remains merely a dream. Without students a Bible college is a nonentity. There is no need for faculty, facilities, or funds if student enrollments cannot be sustained. Students attract students. Therefore frequently restating the vision mandated by the constituency of the college can enlist current students to share that vision within their circles of influence. Potential students will attend where students they know are excited about attending.

Alumni homes are a significant seedbed for the nurture of future students. Stories regarding Bible college life and studies create interest in young people to follow in the footsteps of parents. This is especially the case when the benefits of ultimate-life-issue education are evident in the home. Second and third generation students attending a Bible college are a significant statement to others who are considering whether to attend. Alumni functions at the college or away from the college enhance loyalty and increased student interest from alumni homes.

College alumni can also make a significant impact on potential students in their local church by speaking of the benefit they received attending Bible college. Bible college alumni need encouragement from their college and opportunities from church leaders to be fully engaged in their church as volunteers or wherever possible as staff. All of this being the case, it becomes obvious the alumni of a Bible college must be continuously informed and inspired in the significant role they play in sustaining vision for their school.

Student Attrition

It is difficult to fill a pail containing a hole in it. Student enrollments are not easy to maintain, let alone expand, when student attrition is seriously depleting the student body. Attending for one year or even less, due to misplaced expectations by students or Bible college staff, undermines the future viability of a college.

For some students, Bible college attendance is a first academic experience living away from home. In this case the college is an extension of {16} the home and church where the student grew up. Others continue to live at home and remain active in their church while attending Bible college. Granted, many attend Bible college from non-Christian homes. However, the Christian home and church community generating the vision for the college have engendered expectations in prospective students progressing toward Bible college attendance.

If there is a serious discrepancy between the educational expectations of the sending constituency and that of the receiving college, student attrition will occur. It should go without saying, when Bible is in the name, the Bible should be the predominate focus of that institution.

Faculty and Support Staff

The educating ethos of a college is shaped by faculty and support staff. If that ethos is not cradled in the vision of the constituency, a breech of trust occurs and disintegration takes place. This usually takes place over time, even years, but take place it will.

Specifically a mutuality of vision and expected outcomes must exist between teaching faculty and college constituency. The constituency counts for too much to only be humored, or in a worst-case scenario, ignored in these matters. The Bible is finally a layperson’s book. The role of constituency lay leadership in matters of faith and practice must not be trivialized. Laypeople who love the Bible respond positively to faculty who love the Bible, to faculty who are lifelong learners and obviously down the road in their personal pilgrimage with a sustained commitment to Jesus Christ.

“Ivory tower faculty,” disengaged from the constituency do not promote the well being of a Bible college. Jesus Christ is the heart and soul of the Bible. Jesus pursued teaching of the disciples in the communities and synagogues of Palestine. There were “come apart” times but peripatetic teaching within the life of the community was the style of schooling received by the disciples. Jesus’ exposure in the community also translated into large crowds attending his more general teaching times. Faculty access to churches and the general constituency is not easily achieved. But this must not be allowed to minimize its importance and commitment for creatively finding ways to achieve access.

Jesus was passionate in teaching and compassionate in life situations. What student is going to become excited about attending a Bible college if the faculty has little passion for the words from God and the proclamation of those words? Theological studies must not only be central but vibrant and winsome in presentation.

For some Bible colleges, in a quest to be more relevant, increasing {17} curricular time is spent in the study of sociological and psychological models for an understanding of life’s ultimate issues. It appears that in the application of some of these courses, ways are sought whereby sinful habits can be managed rather than counsel given calling for confession and repentance. These studies, thought valuable in secular educational circles and now in many Bible colleges, may prove to be a detour the church and the Bible college can ill afford to traverse.

In a similar vein focusing on the church, E. Glenn Wagner laments,

Our problem in today’s church runs deeper than a mere infatuation with the latest technique or craze. For the past few decades we have increasingly turned away from biblical and theological models and clamored after sociological and psychological ones. While we continue to insist that the Bible is our final rule of faith and practice, in reality we rely on more “practical” tools fashioned in the world’s business or academia. 3

If and when this occurs in the Bible college, both the college and the visioning constituency suffer from unfulfilled expectations.

In even stronger terms David F. Wells warns that we must not allow the God of the Bible to be ground down by this secular influence. Where that does occur, Wells writes, God becomes

less threatening, more comfortable, more tame. He is rarely perceived as the God of the outside who, in his awesome greatness, summons his people to worship, to hear that Word of truth that they cannot find within themselves or their world, to become agents of righteousness in a world that scorns this righteousness as alien and contrary. . . . [Unfortunately the] church has succumbed to the seductions of our therapeutic culture, and in that context it seems quite natural to favor the relational dimension over the moral dimension, mysticism over character, pluralistic religious equality over the uniqueness of the Christian faith.” 4

Faculty and support staff must embrace and be the carriers of the constituency vision for their Bible college, coalescing together in passionate commitment to the God of our Bible and the Bible of our God. Colleges come and go. God’s people and the church will remain until Jesus comes. As long as the Bible college serves the vision birthed in its {18} constituency by God and his Word, the college will not only be sustained but will prosper.

VALUES ACCRUED FROM SUSTAINING VISION FOR THE BIBLE COLLEGE

First, students soaked in the teaching of Scripture will foster biblical ways of ministry in their churches. The allurement of church growth by any means and at any expense is not as attractive to one familiar with the call to prayer and the study of God’s Word in Acts 6, and the caring, sharing fellowship of Acts 2. Corporate terms such as executive, board, manager, and career ladder do not ring true as New Testament concepts. The Bible college student’s model for leadership tends toward eldership and shepherding rather than the one-minute manager, director, or chief executive officer.

Secondly, Bible college students are prepared for living biblically in the marketplace. The modern enticement to address ultimate life issues in sociological, psychological, and even technological terms is not only unbiblical, it is dehumanizing. While answers offered in these disciplines can swell the ego, the soul continues to shrivel. Hauerwas and Willimon, speaking about individuals who truly know God, say,

They are thereby given a power to be free from the strong social forces, prejudices, and conventions that determine the lives of so many who do not know such a story. Our enemies, our wider society, our past, cannot define us or determine the significance of who we are, since God in Christ has already done that for us. 5

Society at large can be a benefactor of the focus, interest, and well being of a graduate who knows who they are in Christ.

Thirdly, the Bible college attracts a large number of recent graduates of secondary school and others somewhat older, but also on a search for how and where they are expecting to live life. For the Christian student the Bible college can serve as a valuable incubator in this quest. Studying the Word of God on a more regular basis than previously experienced, a student’s world begins to open up to significant possibilities in lifetime Christian ministry or in lifetime Christian living in a career of choice. Exposure to other students with similar faith commitments and day-to-day personal growth in the Scriptures provides a student with invaluable guidance largely unavailable to students in secular postsecondary institutions. The reality of this process can be measured in the {19} scores of Bible college students now serving their generation with passion and faithfulness to God in most every walk of life.

Fourth, a number of Bible college graduates hold significant shepherding responsibilities in the church worldwide. Years ago the District Superintendent for the Great Lakes District of the Evangelical Free Church of America was heard to say, in effect,

Give me a pastor who has attended Bible college and seminary and I will give you an effective pastor. A Bible college education will provide the pastor with something important to say throughout a lifetime of ministry. A seminary education will aid the pastor in saying it well.

The superintendent’s comments, though anecdotal, were sufficiently true in that district to be said with passion. A person taking advantage of the biblical and theological offerings in a Bible college is a person prepared for a long journey in the same direction for a life of ministry.

CONCLUSION

The proverbial chicken and egg question may be asked: whether it is the Christian constituency functioning primarily at the local church level or the Bible college administration and faculty functioning at the college level who are charged with casting and sustaining vision for Bible college education. The Christian constituency posited in the church came first and is first.

Without a visioning, student-sending, faculty-affirming, and funding constituency there is little future for a Bible college. No doubt, a Bible college administration and faculty can grant helpful assistance to a diverse Christian constituency in communicating and even providing some clarification and shape to a visioning mandate. However, behind a flourishing Bible college there is the vision of the constituency that continues to carry the college forward.

At its best it is a vision deeply rooted in the Word of God, alive in the local church, filled with faith and hope for the future of God’s people. At its worst it is a vision tarnished by years of neglect and a growing apprehension over whether the Bible is all that important. In the first case the constituency will demand a faculty that reflects a similar vision. In the second case there is hope that renewal will and does take place in the constituency or college before Ichabod becomes a reality for both. {20}

NOTES

  1. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 93.
  2. Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1989), 28.
  3. E. Glenn Wagner, Escape from Church, Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 56.
  4. David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 136.
  5. Hauerwas and Willimon, 67.
Carlin E. Weinhauer (Ph.D. University of Alberta 1979) has been pastor since 1984 of Willingdon Church, Burnaby, British Columbia. Previous to that he served fifteen years as faculty and administrator at Briercrest Bible College, Caronport, Saskatchewan.

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