Redefining What a Bible College Is and Can Be

from Sep 10, 2013 Category: Ligonier Academy

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, virtually 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 sent 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 combine that with 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 demanding. 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, eight semesters of systematic theology covering every theological topic, and eight semesters of Great Works covering the most important works of Western literature. Students in the biblical studies track are expected to take two years of Greek and two years of Hebrew and advanced classes in biblical theology and biblical history. Students in the theological studies track are required to take one year of ecclesiastical Latin and to use that Latin in advanced historical theology courses. Students in the theological studies track also take advanced courses in philosophy, apologetics, and ethics.

The requirements of the individual courses are also demanding and reflect our commitment to high academic standards. Students read, on average, approximately 1,000 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 thus 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 in writing. To this end, research papers and essays are a major component of many classes.

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 the ongoing scholarly research in their fields. RBC President, Dr. Stephen Nichols, earned his PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and has authored numerous books in his field of church history. Professor of New Testament, Dr. Ben Dunson, earned his PhD from the University of Durham under the supervision of Dr. Francis Watson and has recently published his dissertation on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Professor of New Testament and Dean of Students, Dr. David Briones, earned his PhD from the University of Durham under the supervision of Dr. John M.G. Barclay. He continues to do research comparing Paul’s understanding of grace and gift giving with Greco-Roman philosophy. Dr. Aaron Denlinger, professor of historical and systematic theology, earned his PhD from the University of Aberdeen under the supervision of Dr. Nicholas Thompson. He has translated Robert Rollock’s Catechism on God’s Covenants and is the editor of a new book on Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland. He continues to do research in Reformation studies. Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. continues to research and write in the fields of theology, apologetics, and ethics, and I continue my research into topics such as the theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper, with a particular focus on the thought of Martin Bucer and John Calvin.

Each individual faculty member is committed to the highest academic standards, but each faculty member also understands that knowledge 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 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. This post was originally published at