Unfortunately, for many people, the term Bible college evokes a dismissive response: inferior, irrelevant, even injurious, according to critics like Donald Miller and others. So how should we characterize ourselves and what do we call ourselves? We’re presently working with David Kinnaman and his Barna Group team, investing in research designed to test perceptions and guide our self-portrayal. For the time being, however, our collective understanding of this ethos has become crystallized in terms of the following four concepts: biblical, transformational, experiential, and missional.
Biblical Higher Education
To describe education as biblical might strike you as rather smug and condescending, as if I am asserting that the education offered by other Christian and secular institutions must therefore be un-biblical. While I’m sure there are, in fact, institutions and educational philosophies that are, wittingly or unwittingly, un-biblical, or even anti-biblical, I am not assuming that Bible colleges and their kin are necessarily more biblical than other sorts of institutions or even that there are discrete categories relative to biblical commitment.
Biblical Engagement Posture
So, what do we mean when we describe education as biblical? We mean that we engage intentionally and pervasively in education that involves extensive and serious study of the text of God’s eternal Word, not in a posture of detachment and skepticism, but in a posture of discipleship and submission, seeking to understand the will of God so that we may conform to it, and the plan of God so that we may join Him in bringing about its fulfillment.
Core Biblical Principles
Allow me to explain further. I believe what we mean when we say that we are committed to biblical higher education involves at least the following things:
First, the Bible is infallible. It achieves without fail the purposes for which it was breathed out by God. Its transmission through human authors does not compromise, obfuscate, or nullify its message. And its teachings are as enduring and relevant today as when they were written.
Second, the Bible is essential to an authentically Christian way of understanding and engaging life. Education that bypasses, compartmentalizes or minimizes the Bible is simply incomplete.
Third, when the Bible speaks about a matter, it speaks authoritatively, if not necessarily exhaustively. The findings of human reason and scientific research will ultimately be proven to be absolutely consistent with what Scripture actually affirms. Such conflicts are either the result of misinterpretation of Scripture or error in scientific assumptions, methodology or interpretation, or both.
Fourth, and finally, Scripture can through reverent, careful, and comprehensive collective study be understood. Theologians refer to this as the Bible’s perspicuity. God’s purpose was not to obfuscate truth but to reveal it though, admittedly, He often does choose to reveal it on His terms.
Authenticity & Authority
I fear that many Christian individuals and educational institutions do not act as if they believe the Bible is infallible, essential, authoritative, and understandable. Although they may parrot orthodox confessions and creeds, their personal habits and educational priorities contradict such affirmations. They act and think as if the Bible is a supplemental or even optional source of knowledge, rather than a foundational and fundamental one.
Such dispositions and conduct are inconsistent with the Bible’s own testimony about itself and the posture and practices employed by Jesus and others relative to the Bible. They relegate the Bible to the realm of personal piety rather than allowing the Bible to occupy its rightful place and fulfill its redemptive purposes.
So, biblical higher education is, for one thing, biblical. It is also transformational, experiential and missional. What does this mean? Check back with me. I’ll discuss each of those distinctives in future posts.