October 17, 2011

Where Have All The Bible Colleges Gone?

We should begin with this question: “Is the day of the Bible college over?”  In the past, this phenomenal movement produced huge numbers of ministry servants who then flooded the mission fields and filled the pulpits of our land.  Many of those people have already retired or have been promoted to Glory and received a “well done” from the Master.  A lot of well-known mission fields benefited from the service of these men and women who have left a major mark on mission history.  Men trained in Bible colleges were used of God to build some of the largest and most effective local churches we have known.

It has been argued by some that the quality of Bible college students is no longer sufficient for the day we live in.  The culture may be different today, but the Word of God has not changed; and that was the heart of the Bible college movement.  Most of these institutions came into existence for the sole purpose of training pastors and missionaries.  Theirs was meant to be a foundational training, and there always were institutions that could provide advanced training for those who chose specialized service.  The idea that a Bible college education was not good enough to prepare people for ministry is seriously flawed, if not downright arrogant!  A look at the thousands of servants who were trained, and the ministries that have been established, definitely settles this question.

This is not about the fact that some of those schools failed; the same is true of every movement.  Even our Lord had one disciple who flunked the course!  Not every Bible college graduate made a serious mark on the ministry, but the same is true of any level of training.  A degree, after all, is no guarantee of success.

As the years have passed, many Bible colleges have faded from the scene.  There are a lot of reasons for this: some were poorly constructed and failed because of finances, leadership, and constituency.  Some of them merged with other schools, while others left their original goal of training missionaries and pastors and broadened into other fields.  Many in this category continued their new direction until they were no longer even Bible colleges, either in practice or in name.  They had every right to follow this path, but the progression demands some honesty.  If a school is no longer a Bible college, or doesn’t really want to be one, then the right thing to do is to move on.  If they are not Baptist, if their main driving ministry is not the Bible, then the best thing to do is to openly confess their new goals.

Confusion arises, however, because of those who claim to hold onto the old even though they have chosen a new direction.  To claim that they still are now what they had been leaves much to be desired. 

There is nothing wrong with admitting that the change is based on funding, enrollment, or even prestige in academia; there is something wrong with a shell game.
 Over the last forty years, I have heard those who have obviously moved away from the Bible college model argue that they still teach the same doctrine and still have the same statement of faith; that is absolutely irrelevant because of what is really being taught and allowed in the classroom.  My favorite saying is, “We teach more Bible now than we did when we were a Bible college!”  Of course you do, because you reached your goal of a larger enrollment; but being one of the “big boys on the block” doesn’t mean you still have the same theology you once taught!

Now we arrive at one of the major reasons why the Bible college has been left behind. As our movement has progressed, there has been increasing pressure for us to become respectable in our academics, like the “elite.”  Both old and young fundamentalists have become enamored with the intellectuals and want to be like them at all costs; they even talk like them and walk like them.  This is the same mistake that Israel made when they wanted to be like the other nations around them who had kings.  So, where there once was a true Bible college, now the leaders mainly want to be respected by the intellectual pagans.

The journey from Bible college to a pursuit of prestige and intellectualism always takes a toll, and this sad declension is almost always represented by a change in theology.  It is not always deliberate; in some cases, it may occur out of ignorance of a biblical theology.  The journey always demands a change in leadership; and when the new main leaders are not biblical theologians, the slide becomes more rapid.  The truth is that sometimes this change is deliberate, even as it is in churches that have left the Bible and Baptist out of their identification.  It is not that the leaders are heretics, but rather that they are swept away by motives that differ from their foundational standard.

It appears that the further an individual or institution moves on this journey in order to have the respect of human leaders, the further they also move from a theology that is biblical.  Every change has its cost, and those who protest this maxim only prove the point.  I am not opposed to higher education; much of my ministry has been there.  I am opposed to teaching and defending error.  Of course, some Bible colleges have problems with academic and theological issues. That is to be expected because we are all human.

While dozens of Bible colleges have gone out of business, and some have moved on to other areas of emphasis, others have stood firm in their majority purpose of training men and women for the mission field and church ministry.  The great thing is that God today is raising up new Bible colleges that have returned to the foundational goals of training.  While these schools have gotten their share of criticism, they have come to life to fill a gap left by those who have gone on to different things.  One of those new colleges gets my thumbs-up; it is Grace Baptist Bible College of Winston Salem, North Carolina.  Not only has it successfully put together a program that looks like that of the Bible college of old, but a number of well-respected saints in our movement have come to join its ranks.  Perhaps God will raise up some more of these fine institutions to take the place of the departed.

Clay Nuttall, D.Min, October, 2011

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  1. Dear Dr. Nuttall:

    Good article on "Where Have All the Bible Colleges Gone?" Have you considered, though, that a Bible college that morphs into a large university with many fields of study may not necessarily be a negative prospect? I earned an M.A. in Biblical Studies from such an institution, Biola University. Over one hundred years ago, Biola began as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Now it is a thriving Christian University which offers B.A., M.A., and PhD degrees in many fields. With an accredited degree from a well-known Christian university such as Biola, a student can go on to do post-graduate work at other schools. And Biola maintains its biblical foundation and distinctive by requiring all undergraduate students to take 30 units minimum of Bible classes no matter what is their major. That is about double the norm for Christian universities.

    Just a few thoughts. Thanks for your article and thanks, Lou, for posting it.


  2. ...have become enamored with the intellectuals and want to be like them at all costs; they even talk like them and walk like them.

    This is a bigger problem than it may seem. It is one thing to be highly appreciative of or even greatly influenced by a teacher. It is quite another when a younger Christian is so taken with a teacher/authority figure that he cannot find his sense of self except to the degree that he identifies himself with his teacher. This is part of Paul's warning concerning "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos." The teacher gains, or rather is given, way too great an influence to the degree that even the Lord is overshadowed. These men are parrots of the teacher. They become like Stepford pastors, who look like themselves (sort of) but have been gutted of their God given personality and individuality and act like they've been programmed. Set your plastic pastor in the pulpit, press "play," get the teacher he identifies with.

    These hero worship issues are the stuff of childhood, where children really don't know who they are yet and absorb their sense of identity from the adults in their lives, usually their family. But these men should be beyond that by the time they are in post secondary school. They should have a pretty good sense of who they are and should be able to tell the difference between themselves and their teacher. During the college years it is not unusual to see college age kids identify to a certain degree with their school or their school team, etc. But when this turns into the kind of homogeneity we see with the students of these "elites," it has gone too far. They look like plastic dolls off an assembly line, and sound like them too.

    What I see here is either that they never got that far in their development and are therefore immature (which may be due to no fault of their own) or that they are reverting from maturity to a stage of immaturity, where their identity is being deconstructed and reconstructed according to that of the teacher. If this is what is happening, this is actually cultic in essence. I saw a video recently of a man who is not young by any means, who had been working with one of these "elites." His gestures and voice inflections were just the same as the "elite's."

    But either way this is a way huge red flag. These elites have way too much power and it is the wrong kind of power.


  3. Thanks Lou,

    So much of what you illustrated was true of the (now extinct) Bible college from which I graduated. (Florida Bible College) Thankfully I was older (40) when I attended and not exactly the child or youth described by Jan.

    However during my years there and after Graduation I witnessed the desire of some in the administration to have State "Accreditation" (thereby weakening the school's choice of Biblical course strength. They began introducing questionable pastors, teachers and groups to the student body (for the prestige factor) plus an effort to secure larger and more grandiose facilities, compromising because of finances, etc. It all seemed to be an effort to become more attractive to the world.

    And all of this plus immorality in higher places caused its downfall. Yet I am so very thankful to the Lord for the wonderful Bible education I received from many sound fundamental Bible teachers while there.

    Yet, with all that sound Biblical teaching, many of the young students, after graduation, (some good personal friends) were taken in by advocates of Calvinism, "turn from sin salvation" and Lordship "salvation" as well as other cultish teachings.

    Therefore, in spite of good sound teachers and teaching, the school and the students were susceptible to falling -- as the world became more attractive than God's Pure Word.
    Human nature is a powerful force when it gains the upper hand over the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    In Jesus Christ eternally, Jack

  4. And Jack we are seeing a sad repeat in this present day of the kind of downfall described above by you and in Dr. Nuttall's article. The former Northland "Baptist" Bible College being foremost in my mind?


  5. Jack, In regards to your comment, "Yet, with all that sound Biblical teaching, many of the young students, after graduation, (some good personal friends) were taken in by advocates of Calvinism, "turn from sin salvation" and Lordship "salvation" as well as other cultish teachings," I've seen this in respect to some friends and acquaintances form Northland. It is sad and even heart-breaking at times.

    Lou, I still believe that Northland is headed down that path, I'm just not sure how far they will go. For me, I hate to say, it is too far already. I was also wondering what is happening to the seminaries. How many are out there that are really standing for the truth of God's Word one hundred percent?

    Jim F.

  6. Jim:

    Northland is already well down that path and IMO most likely beyond the point of recovery.

    Wait until you read next week's article.

    The seminary's? Depends on which truth. Just read my two recent articles on Calvary Baptist (PA) and Central Baptist (MN).


  7. Jim and Lou,

    Yes, Northland is apparently completing the error strewn path downward.. I have a step-grandson who came from an IFB church (pastor's son),graduated NIU last year, detested his past "fundamental" lifestyle and became a raving Calvinist. Now he's teaching youth in a Southern California church. He will not listen to Truth or reason. The cause? His teachers and peer pressure fit his attitude -- now he is propagating the error to kids.

    Also some (not all) of my Bible college friends who attended post-grad seminaries ("cemeteries") graduated with dead false doctrine (Calvinism, etc).

    Satan is always working to subvert believers and organizations. We believers must always beware!

    My friend and fellow Florida Bible College Grad, Jim Scudder's Bible College ministry (Dayspring Bible College and Seminary,) in Chicago is still solid last I heard.

    In Jesus Christ
    eternally, Jack

  8. Hi Jack:

    It is a shame about Northland. The reason I believe it is beyond recovery is multi-fold: 1) Any who could have salvaged and recoverd it has either left or was dismissed, 2) Matt Olson is IMO not yet done steering the school in a new trajectory.

    History also shows us that once a school takes this turn toward evangelicalism, you've lost the FB base that once supported and sent students. And if you try to go back to what you were all the non-separatist evangelicals you drew to the school won't stand for it and they will leave. I just essentially described what happened at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, which closed not too long ago.

    Furthermore, I heard Northland suffered in the vicinity of a 20% drop in enrollment to begin the 2011-2012 academic year.

    Btw, Jim Scudder church is about 50 miles north of my home.


  9. Dr. Nuttall,

    Please accept my apology for not recognizing that you are the originator of the article above. We have not "met" but I appreciate your solid analysis.

    And thanks Lou for posting it.. and for the discussion.

    In Jesus Christ eternally, Jack

  10. When our eyes are on man/men instead of the Lord Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith; when we seek man's thoughts on passages of Scriptures instead of comparing Scriptures to Scriptures and relying on God the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth; when human reason trumps faith our fate is sealed, apostasy's shadow looms large. Not that man's reason isn't helpful, not that mens's thoughts on Scriptures are all off, but when they are THE source for our own understanding...what someone else says the Scriptures says, we are indeed in a sad state of affairs.
    The pool of colleges and seminaries has shrunk. Acceptable choices are getting limited again. Men of a previous generation faced this a century ago; may very well be time to see new works grow.