Keeping the Bible in Bible College—a matter of identity

Several Canadian Christian schools, traditionally referred to as "Bible colleges," have chosen to remove the Bible from their names in recent years. Many have opted to use the language of "University College" or some similar term in describing their brand of Christian post-secondary education.

However, other schools have chosen to remain true to their classic identity as "Bible colleges." While the push for accreditation is one that most Christian educators have found valuable, not all institutes are going with the trend of "taking out the Bible."

"The whole aspect of 'keeping Bible in the name'," is just so tightly linked to our identity and to our purpose that to remove it would require a pretty fundamental shift," says Bryan Born, president at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C.

Born says that despite concerns with graduates transferring into some post-secondary institutes—something that Columbia has worked hard at doing—the school remains firm in its identity as a Bible college—both in name and practice.

"If [other schools] were to ask us to compromise or [to] change a textbook, or if we're going to have to do something different—we're not going to do that. Because that's who we are."

Such concerns were shared by Rick Schellenberg, former president of Bethany College (formerly Bible Institute). "There was a notion at the time that Bethany College would leave more doors open for graduates to enter countries less than hospitable to Christian workers," he says. While initially hesitant about taking the Bible out of the name, the focus for Bethany hasn't changed, something that has been noticed by students and constituents.

In the early 1990s, the now-defunct Covenant Bible College (CBC) in Strathmore, Alberta, found itself in the midst of discussion regarding what type of school it should be. Then-president Neil Josephson, now a co-director at FamilyLife Canada, says much of the discussion involved changing the school's ministry focus.

"Everybody was going, 'What's happening? What will happen?' And they all made different choices," he says, recalling conversations with other Bible college presidents at the time. "We were the ones in there at that table who were saying, 'God bless you all!'…We're going to do what we're able to do and what we're called to do."

A year after Josephson's resignation as president in 2006, CBC closed its doors after 66 years of ministry to the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination due to declining enrollment. Despite the closure, Josephson says he wouldn't have changed any of his decisions for the direction CBC took.

For schools that find themselves in the midst of key identity decisions, Josephson says, "Consult pretty thoughtfully and widely, and figure out what you can do for the Kingdom."

With that same mindset, many Bible colleges in Canada have opted for focusing on mentoring their students for the rest of their lives, regardless of their later profession.

Rob Reimer, president of Steinbach Bible College (SBC), doesn't see his Manitoba school as being at odds with Christian university college-types of schools, but instead working alongside them.

"I really think that we're not in competition with each other but that we provide education that the universities and university colleges can really build on."

He points out that the focus of his school is different from the Christian university model.

"At a university college or Christian university the [professors] have to put a lot of effort and energy into writing and research—our [professors] put a lot of effort and energy into mentoring and discipling. And so the result is that we will make more time for students on a one-on-one basis, which allows us to really set that discipling component for them."

For Kelvin Thiessen, an admissions counsellor for Millar College of the Bible in Pambrun, Saskatchewan, the experience of Bible college goes far beyond the confines of a classroom.

"We don't have the perspective that our classroom teachers are our [only] teachers. We have every person on our staff…everybody here is a teacher here at the college. The roles might be different, but they're all effective in being a part of the teaching staff for Millar College of the Bible."

While he doesn't think that other institutes are making a mistake by removing the Bible from their name, he says that for Millar, it's important that they continue to make it a part of their identity.

"We haven't seen that it has harmed our enrollment in any way. In fact, we think that it's one of the reasons that our student body has grown—that there are actually more people looking for it."

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