There is a part within most of us that longs for our college years. We reminisce about days gone by with friends, classes, relationships, struggles, good times and bad with a sense of nostalgia beaming from rose-colored glasses.
Most of us, that is, except me. Sure, I miss my friends from college (I collaborate with them in the beauty and wonder that is theomag.com). I met my wife in college, so of course there is a natural bounty of pleasant memories surrounding our courtship.
But that’s it.
I, my friends, am an alumnus of Central Bible College (CBC). Founded in 1922, CBC was designed to be the premier institution of ministerial higher learning for the Assemblies of God, and for the vast majority of the 20th century it was. CBC pumped out ministers and missionaries like a General Motors plant pumps out Chevys. The vast majority of Pentecostals worldwide are Assemblies of God—and the vast majority of the ministers and missionaries which have served in AG churches have been students at CBC at one time. CBC was a force to be reckoned with. Key word: was.
My colleagues here at TheoMag, though they may not agree with the content of this article, I went to a different Bible college than those who would darken the doors of campus during alumni events and pick apart the way students dressed to the administration. My dormitory, Welch, stood as a reminder for the might which once was CBC as it shined like a beacon in the era of the Bible College. Its condition, however, was entirely demonstrative of the decline of CBC and a need for change. Once packed full with some 1500 plus students, CBC was a dismal 600-some-odd people when I came, and even less when I left. Where there once was a shortage of breathing room within the dormitories, every man in Welch had, not only his own room, but usually a dedicated dorm room for storage on the floor which was occupied only by vermin.
So in early August, the General Council of the Assemblies of God moved with an overwhelming 70% vote to allow Central Bible assets to be acquired by Evangel University, a local AG liberal arts university largely plagued by success and positive reputation.
The overwhelming response got me thinking. What was it that led to the downfall of CBC? An institution, which at one time was a force with which to be reckoned, had been reduced to a collection of decaying buildings, a dwindling student body which competes in numbers with my childhood elementary school, and a reputation which could only be greater than that of Comcast or the Internal Revenue Service.
In my opinion (an opinion which I personally hold in great esteem, by the way), I believe there are two probable causes for the downfall of Central Bible College. If you don’t agree with these causes…well…here, I still am anyway with this article out there for all to see.
1) Central Bible College was victim to a cultural shift within the Assemblies of God and American theological training.
I want you, dear reader, to think in your mind (or out loud if you’re feeling sassy) of colleges and universities which teach religious studies courses. Dime a dozen, right? Gordon Conwell, Regent (shout out Jare Bear), Denver Theological (shout out Dusty Kat), heck, Michigan State University has a religious studies course. But, now dig deep through the recesses of your mind and make a list for me of theology-only institutions. Pretty short list, neh? That is, if you can think of one at all.
Truth be told, by CBC’s adoption of degree programs like teaching (call it Christian teaching all you want, but it’s a teaching curriculum with a couple of theology classes thrown in there) and media, it ceased to be an institution truly dedicated to the training of ministers and missionaries. Not that either of the aforementioned studies are any less admirable (I personally think teachers should be paid more than doctors), but these courses of study are not intended to produce ministers and missionaries, which was CBC’s dogmatic slogan for 90 years.
The fact of the matter is that a cultural shift has caused the nature of and demand for Bible colleges and universities to decline. Why do you ask? Economics.
Here’s the scoop: Since 1982, a time when CBC was booming like Vanilla Ice’s imminent ascension to the world of white rap, the cost of attending college has increased 439%.
Private colleges like CBC tend to be on the higher end of the curve versus a student attending a public university within his or her respective state. Even if the cost were similar, the end result of four years of Bible college is a degree in a theological field…and your choices are either the pastorate or teaching theology in a Christian school. Neither of these vocations pay a great deal.
So as the cost of education has risen, it has become increasingly difficult to pay off high volumes of student loans with a salary that is certainly less than high volume. It is the exact opposite of the cost/salary ratio doctors pay for their education.
Therefore, as Bible college student loans have gotten more and more difficult to satisfy in the real world, many students have traded in a theologically oriented education for a secular focus or theological studies at liberal arts universities which are more reputable with secular employers. It is unfortunate that church attenders may ultimately pay the price in a less theologically grounded pool of ministers, but that’s the way it is. Denominations, like the Assemblies of God, have not done a good enough job at subsidizing the cost of higher learning for their ministers and could ultimately pay the price in a less educated group of ministers in the generations to follow.
I would also partially attribute the blame to schools like CBC, however, in doing an absolutely abysmal job at cultivating positive relationships with their alumni. In the times I have contacted CBC (almost always having to do with reoccurring issues regarding our student loans directly through the school), the general consensus is that I am more of an annoyance than an alumnus. Unlike schools like Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL), of which my sister is an alumna, who are able to heavily rely on the contributions of their alumni base, schools like CBC have a more “love ’em and leave ’em” approach to alumni relations (unless your rise to pastoral stardom demands otherwise). Regardless of what quantities, various parties share the blame as the rampant rise of cost in post-secondary learning is the biggest potential culprit.
2.) Central Bible College was victim to an underlying conspiracy towards consolidation.
Call me a conspiracy theorist but let’s face it, there are politics in church. It’s an affliction which has plagued the church for two millenia. So I believe it is entirely within the realm of belief that since the inauguration of the previous administration of leadership within the Assemblies of God, there has been an ever-growing desire to consolidate the AG Springfield, Missouri schools. Folks close to AG leadership have disclosed information which lends toward the notion that the parting of CBC’s last president midway through the last decade was as a direct result of his opposition towards a desired merger. For me it is probable that the administration put in place following this departure was hand-picked with the idea to move the school into a hardship which would lend the greatest amount of logic and sense towards a merger when the right time came for a vote. Throughout this transitional period, CBC had lost some of its most respected and most beloved teaching and administrative personnel. Essentially, adhering to this theory would lend to the idea that Assemblies of God leadership partially manipulated the circumstances leading up to the vote by placing leadership overseeing CBC which did not possess the capacity to keep CBC afloat.
Whatever the cause for CBC’s decline, the fact remains that it did decline—and quickly. I think it is safe to say that the demand of institutions of higher learning which focus solely on theological studies is on a decline. Whether the economy is to blame or a depreciated hunger for the Word of God, it is a sad reality nonetheless. But whether CBC’s decline is as a direct result of this remains uncertain. I for one am personally glad to see CBC’s reign of terror on her students the last six years come to an end. Watching the decline of CBC was like being “the field captain for the team that couldn’t shoot straight” (Toby Ziegler, The West Wing).
Perhaps through this merger we can put to rest the 90-year legacy of Central Bible College, memorializing its dormitories, classrooms, and chapel as an ode to a once-great legend like the coliseum and the Parthenon. The end of the Bible college is upon us ladies and gentlemen, whether we choose to accept it or not.