Bible colleges have been considered the pinnacle educational settings for Christians learning to address their calling, to share the gospel. That is not to say that everyone with a “message to share” should attend one of these institutions. Rather, the suggestion is that if by analogy you wished to become a dentist, you would attend dental school. By comparison, you may gain the highest level biblical training, with related degree confirmation, at a bible college. Many universities with Christian foundations never fit the following discussion because their original missions were liberal arts education; a department of Christian theology being just one of many offerings.
If you are interested in a traditional bible college, there are challenges. Seemingly, with 30-40 thousand students attending these schools annually there should be some consensus regarding the expectation of the general curricula or knowledge bases to be delivered. However, in spite of ongoing accreditation processes, there is relatively little comparative research data available looking at bible college curriculum content. Each college, like other college types, needs to be investigated thoroughly, individually.
The bible school movement began in the late 1880’s with relatively little concern for general education. The primary mission of these institutions was to meet the needs of lay men and women desiring to serve the church and share the gospel message of God. Effective early programs were usually narrowly focused. Courses were chosen primarily for their contribution to effective ministry. Even presently, general education programs in many colleges, and particularly bible colleges, are relatively weak, largely introductory in nature and lacking innovative format. Often these courses are treated as fillers because they are not part of structural lattices that are foundations for integrated, specific paths. As such, the course topics are often irrelevant, with the exercise of listening, participation in dialogue, research and writing being the primary objectives. Traditional bible college education has been notoriously reflective of such an approach, teaching students to share the gospel effectively, but lending lesser status to the content of all non-bible courses.
However, attitudes are changing. The objectives of general education (not related to specific majors and minors) are for the student to acquire 1) a knowledge of the basic content of the liberal arts and sciences; 2) a panoramic perspective; 3) skills and knowledge needed for quality participation and contribution to society; 4) ability to see with a global understanding; 5) the development of manners of “cultured” people; and 6) practical skills. Contemporary bible college educators are defining new general education as a common core of materials providing breadth of perspective and knowledge of the self, society and the world. They are teaching their students to excel in this world, thriving in the blessings of God, without developing the untoward attitudes of the world.
Courses in written and oral communication, literature, fine arts, philosophy, languages, history, mathematics, physical education, computer, natural and social sciences are expected to be a part of the curriculum and of high quality nature at the best bible colleges. The expectation of the market is for bible colleges to recognize that all graduates will not lead churches. Rather, they will fill roles within the settings of various industries. Moreover, all of these industries will be filled by others who will need to hear the graduates’ messages shared effectively.
In response to growing expectations of the market and due to the cost of delivery of high level programs, contemporary offerings are diverse. Some schools have elected to stay minimalist, simple and religion focused. Others have moved far beyond their religious foundations and have become well-rounded, well-recognized liberal arts universities that also offer degrees in religion studies/theology. The following is a brief sampling of what the Bay Area has to offer.
- Bay Cities Bible College
- Dominican University of California
- Golden State Baptist College
- Mills College
- St. Mary’s College of Moraga
- Santa Clara University
The missions, visions, capabilities, offerings, faculties, settings and student bodies are quite diverse in the above list. Take a look.