–April of 1997
The Bible College Movement Facing The Future
In this interview, the Rev. Leonard Sankey and GBS President Michael Avery discuss the philosophy and vision of the Bible college movement and of God’s Bible School and College specifically. Mr. Sankey, veteran holiness leader, conference speaker and pastor, is also chairman of the GBS Board of Trustees.
President Avery, what brought about the birth of the Bible college movement, and how does GBS fit into that historical event?
The Bible college movement was a child born of necessity in the late 19th century. The atheistic views of Darwin and the influx of higher criticism and liberal theology had brought about devastating results in the divinity schools and departments of religion in our major colleges and universities. The mainline denominations were of no help in rectifying this course, as most had also pursued a very secularistic path and had heartily embraced a social gospel that emphasized a better cultural environment rather than focusing on the salvation of the soul. It was in this environment that men like D.L. Moody and A.B. Simpson sounded the alarm and called for the establishment of Bible-training institutes to raise up a generation of young men and young women who believed in the ultimate authority of the Word of God and who would give their lives to advance God’s cause both at home and around the world.
GBS was a part of this movement. Now the eighth oldest Bible college in America, it was the thirteenth of its kind to be formed. Knapp founded the school for basically the same reasons that Moody and Simpson founded theirs. He was concerned about the apostasy in the Methodist Episcopal Church, the lack of emphasis on the doctrine of entire sanctification, and the general apathy towards the evangelization of the lost, both at home and around the world.
It has been said by some that the Bible college movement came into existence at the beginning of the 20th century and will go out at the beginning of the 21st. How do you respond to that statement?
The Bible college movement has had a steady growth since its first school was started in 1882. It has survived longer than its critics thought possible and endured for more decades than many of its early premillenialist leaders hoped would have been necessary. Today, 115 years later, there are over 400 Bible colleges in America, each endeavoring to do its part in shaping the cultural landscape with the principles and convictions of God’s Word. So you can see that sheer numbers tell us that they’re not going to pass away quickly. Moreover, I’m convinced that the Bible college has more reason now than ever to remain active. The movement was born in an evangelistic passion to save the world and usher in the Kingdom of God. Today that must still be one of the forces that propels this movement. However, there are many other significant reasons for the existence of the Bible college. Let me give you at least three of those.
First, the church needs the Bible college to articulate and model a discipleship – what it really means to have “the mind of Christ.” Research by George Barna and Associates reveal that 62 percent of “born again” Christians have concluded that “there is no such thing as absolute truth.” The Bible college, then, must exalt the authority of an inerrant Scripture. It must lead the way in declaring that the Bible is God’s standard for absolute truth, and it is the norm for daily Christian living.
Second, the church needs the Bible college to stimulate the church out of stagnancy, lethargy, and complacency. It must assist the church in addressing old issues with new strategies and new issues with imagination commitment to Biblical ways of thinking and acting.
Third, the Bible college offers us the most logical place to re-flame a generation of young people who will be willing to commit themselves to a life of full-time Christian service. At the Bible college, they will come to the understanding that seeking the lost and sharing the message of full salvation is the greatest vocation to which a person can give himself.
What do you see as one of the greatest problems in recruiting new students for the Bible college, President Avery?
It would be difficult to single out one specific hindrance, but let me share with you some of the hindrances all Bible colleges are facing as we recruit prospective students.
The first is very painful, but I believe very pertinent to the problem the Bible colleges are facing. It was summed up by Howard Hendricks, President of Taylor University, when he said, “Today’s parents’ desire for their children’s upward mobility serves as one of the greatest hindrances to young people committing themselves to full-time Christian ministry.” Growing out of this hindrance is the mindset in today’s church world that the best and brightest of our young minds ought to be doctors, lawyers, and accountants; and that those who can’t rank in these professions should perhaps consider Bible college. Brother Sankey, I want the next generation of Christian leaders to be more than mediocre! We need them to be the very best, and that will require the very best of our youth. God has always demanded and still demands the best of the flock, the best of the fruit, and the best of our gifts. We must give Him the very best of our youth!
Another hindrance is the anti-intellectualism that is still alive in the church. There are those who feel that the Bible college shouldn’t stress scholarship and academic excellence – that mastering original languages and theology is not important and somehow detracts from real spirituality. But scholarship and spirituality are friends, not foes. Erasmus, the paramount scholar of the Renaissance, was often asked, “How does scholarship enhance your faith?” To this he replied, “How does ignorance improve yours?” I’m not saying that it takes an intellectual giant to be an effective minister, nor am I saying that only the brightest should be allowed to work in God’s Kingdom. I am saying that we do our churches, our mission fields, and our Christian schools great harm when we offer them young men and women who cannot “rightly divide the Word of truth,” nor give each man “a reason for the hope” that is within them.
What is one of your fears for the Bible college movement as it faces a new millennium?
My greatest fear is that Bible colleges will do anything to keep their enrollment up. I predict all sorts of schemes and marketing strategies to attract students. So many students now are remaining at home and going to local community colleges that the Bible college has made the community college its chief competitor. Bible colleges are trying to adjust their programs to be more compatible with the community college by offering a variety of two-year degrees that would lure potential students. The danger here is the message we are communicating to these kids. We are saying, “Come to our Bible college; we are just another version of the community college.” Brother Sankey, that is not true! We are not another version of the community college. We are a Bible college! To try to lure a student, who has no compassion for, and is not compatible with, the mission and intent of our school, is simply to fill our schools with students who have no interest in our main purpose.
Don’t misunderstand me. I want every student that I can get, whether he/she has a specific call to Christian ministry or not. I want to expose that student to the influence of godly teachers and of faithful preaching in chapel services. It may be that God will use that time to change that student’s life and call him into His service. Furthermore, we will also offer a variety of two-year degrees tailor-made for that student. However, at the core of those degrees will be the Bible. We are a Bible college. If we ever say anything different, we are straying from our original mission statement and purpose. God’s Bible School was born for the purpose of training young men and young women for full-time Christian ministry and for the purpose of training those who did not feel a call into full-time Christian ministry but who wanted a Bible training so they could be effective laypeople in their local church and effective witnesses in their future vocation and profession. That is what we are committed to continue doing so as long as Jesus tarries.
President Avery, my last question focuses on the future. What do you see as the greatest challenge to GBS and the Bible college movement as it faces the future?
Here again, Brother Sankey, that is a multi-faceted question that deserves more than a simple answer. But maybe I could answer it this way. The greatest challenge we face in the coming days is reaching the student who needs what we have, offering that student nothing less than the best and finding the resources to pay for it.
Recent statistics from the College Board indicate that only 20 percent of students who are now in college are living on campus in a residence hall. So the traditional way of the student coming to a Bible college campus is clearly changing. We are now facing the challenge of taking classes and lectures to external sites for various student populations across the country. This will involve the possibility of external lectures in various places where students of all ages will come together. It may involve satellite classes or offering external classes by video. We get requests on a weekly basis from holiness people scattered literally around the world who want to finish a degree or to get some extra help in a particular area where they are weak. We are looking into this right now and hope to have something in place by this fall.
The other part of that challenge is to make sure that what we give them is the very best we can give. I have determined that our mission as a Bible college requires nothing less than academic, professional and spiritual excellence. Striving for excellence is both painful and expensive. We disgrace the cause of the Christ by advocating anything less than the best. However, excellence is expensive! As Bruce Lockerbie said, “There is no such thing as affordable excellence or excellence-on-the-cheap.” But the cost of excellence is nowhere near the cost of mediocrity and inferiority. I’ve committed myself to this institution and to God to offer this present generation and the coming generation of students the very best in training that we can give them. We must offer them the best campus atmosphere for spiritual growth and character development that we can possibly give them. We will keep our chapel pulpit hot with the kind of preaching that will enlarge their soul, warm their hearts, and keep them on the stretch for God. Our faculty must be the best-prepared that they can possibly be to equip our students with all of the tools that will be necessary to “rightly divide the Word of truth” and carry the gospel to our present culture. God deserves our best; and in clear conscience I cannot give Him less!
Again, excellence isn’t cheap. It is very costly. However, just as we have set a standard for excellence in training, we have also set a standard for excellence in managing our financial resources. We are committed to being the most efficient stewards of the funds entrusted to us. I consider every donation to be “blood money” for which we are accountable to God. If we commit to excellence in both areas, God’s people will supply the needs for GBS both today and tomorrow.