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.
HOW DID THIS ALL HAPPEN?
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.
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!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.
THE PURSUIT OF INTELLECTUALISM
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.
GONE? NOT EVERYONE!
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
A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care
For those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible
Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address, Shepherdstaff2@juno.com