Redefining What a Bible College Is and Can Be

From Reformation Bible College | June 28, 2016

In some circles, particularly Reformed circles, Bible colleges have a bad reputation. There are a number of reasons for this, and some of these reasons are quite understandable. In the first place, Bible colleges in North America developed from the Bible institute movement of the late nineteenth century. While the Bible institutes were largely conservative and evangelical, they were dominated by dispensationalist theology. Even today, almost all Bible colleges in North America are dispensationalist. Second, many of the early Bible institutes/colleges became negatively influenced by a strand of anti-intellectualism that downplayed the importance of high academic standards. This was accompanied by a “dumbing down” of the curriculum in some Bible colleges. Third, and more recently, the church in the late twentieth century was plagued by diploma mills using the words “Bible college” in their names. These operations mailed worthless “degrees” to anyone who sent them money.

Reformation Bible College (RBC) is striving to redefine what a Bible college is and can be. Unlike most Bible colleges, RBC is inspired by the model of John Calvin’s Academy in sixteenth-century Geneva. This means that RBC focuses on teaching the content of the Bible, but we do not teach it through the lens of dispensationalist theology. RBC is self-consciously Reformed. The historical confessions of the Reformed faith (for example, the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, and the Westminster Standards) express our theology.

Reformation Bible College also rejects anti-intellectualism and the minimal academic expectations that usually accompany it. The administration and faculty of RBC believe that the command to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind impacts the way we approach every aspect of education. This is reflected in our curriculum, in our faculty, and in the specific requirements of individual courses. Our curriculum is challenging. All students in the four-year program are required to take core courses that include eight semesters of English Bible covering every book of Scripture, seven semesters of systematic theology covering every theological topic, and seven semesters of Great Works covering the most important works of Western literature. Students in the biblical studies track are expected to take three semesters of Greek and three semesters of Hebrew as well as advanced classes in biblical theology and biblical history. Students in the theological studies track are required to take one year of ecclesiastical Latin as well as advanced courses in historical theology, philosophy, apologetics, and ethics.

RBC StudentsThe requirements of the individual courses are also demanding and reflect our commitment to high academic standards. Students read, on average, between 700 and 1000 pages per course, and this reading includes primary sources as well as some of the most important secondary sources. By reading these classic works, students are encouraged to enter into the conversation with the greatest theological minds in church history. Students are expected to know not only what they believe but why they believe it, and they are expected to learn how to express their own ideas clearly.

A head packed with knowledge is not enough however. A theology that does not result in doxology is not the theology of Scripture. Greater biblical and theological literacy is, therefore, only one of the goals we hope to see our students achieve. We also desire to see our students grow in their love for God and neighbor as they are conformed more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. Whether in class, in chapel, or in lunchtime discussions, we strive to encourage our students to have a heart filled with love for and trust in our Triune God.

The academic and spiritual reputation of a college is only as good as that of its faculty, and Reformation Bible College is working toward the end of building a faculty consisting of men who love the Lord, who love to teach, and who love to contribute to scholarly research in their fields. Each individual faculty member is committed to the highest academic standards, but each faculty member also understands that the classroom alone is insufficient. It is for this reason that RBC also places a strong emphasis on discipleship. We do not believe that our obligations to the students end when the bell rings. The faculty intentionally spends time with the students in conversation, in prayer, in fellowship, and in worship. We wish to model a love for God that includes the heart and the mind.

Reformation Bible College is committed to helping our students understand the content of the Bible, historic Reformed theology, and how we are to apply what we learn in today’s world. The high standards John Calvin set for the Academy in Geneva attracted students from all over Europe. Those students returned home to teach others what they had learned, and in the process they reshaped Western culture. At RBC, we pray that God would use this school to train up a new generation of Christian leaders who will ignite a new Reformation.

Dr. Keith Mathison is Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College.