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 and 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 Geneva Academy in the sixteenth-century. 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.
RBC 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 the faculty we hire, and in the specific requirements of individual courses. Our curriculum is challenging. All students in the four-year Bachelor of Arts in Theology program are required to take core courses that include six semesters of English Bible, a course in hermeneutics, two semesters of biblical theology, seven semesters of systematic theology, four courses in history, two courses in philosophy, one course in apologetics, and at least four semesters of the Great Works. For those who desire an emphasis on the biblical languages, the Biblical Studies major requires three semesters of Greek and three semesters of Hebrew, followed by a capstone course in advanced biblical exegesis. The Christian Thought major requires three semesters of historical theology, two additional Great Works courses, and six electives.
The requirements of the individual courses are also demanding and reflect our commitment to high academic standards. Although the requirements vary depending on the level of the course, the topic, and the professor, students read on average between 800 and 1,200 pages per course. This reading includes primary sources as well as some of the most important secondary sources available. By reading these classic works, students are encouraged to enter into the conversation with the greatest theological minds in church history. Many of our courses also require extensive writing assignments. 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. Writing assignments help students develop the ability to communicate clearly and effectively.
A head packed with knowledge is not enough, however. A theology of Scripture is one that is intimately tied to doxology. 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 RBC is working toward the end of building a faculty consisting of instructors 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.
RBC 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 society. At RBC, we pray that God would use this school to train up a new generation of Christian leaders who will boldly proclaim the gospel, whatever their calling.
Dr. Keith Mathison is Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College.