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Random Reminiscences #3 from KBC/SCC

by Dale Jorgenson

The first institution of higher education sponsored by the Stone-Campbell Movement was Bacon College in Georgetown, Kentucky.  The school was founded in 1836 under the presidency of Walter Scott.  The name was chosen to honor the empirical method established by Francis Bacon, and Scott was chosen president due to his wide acquaintance in the young brotherhood.[i]  He had carried out very successful evangelistic labors in the Western Reserve of Ohio, and in addition had begun editing a paper called The Evangelist in 1832.  He had promised to serve only to get the new college off and running and after the first year did indeed resign to return to his preaching and his writing.[ii] 

            The oldest surviving college of the Stone-Campbell Movement is Bethany College, founded by Alexander Campbell in 1840 in northern Virginia (since 1863 West Virginia).  Campbell and his colleagues designed the curriculum to support “wholeness of person,” and while it included daily Bible study and lectures by Campbell and his colleagues on biblical themes, it also encompassed a standard curriculum of liberal studies, albeit with a slightly lighter emphasis on the classics than most colleges of the day offered.[iii]  Like Bacon College, a practical twist involved offering a course in surveying, a skill which no doubt was quite useful to men planning to move to the American West.  Dr. Robert Richardson, the Dean of the new school and Campbell’s biographer, described the curricular structure in Campbell’s  opening address to the students:

He opened his address with a reference to the Zeitgeist of his age compared with that of earlier periods, and referred to the Genesis account of Jabal’s agriculture, Jubal’s music, and Tubal-Cain’s engineering prowess.  All of these areas he considered valid

            for contemporary study, and his discussion of the development of literature and

            science during the Renaissance linked the two in a symbiotic relationship.  Like his

            colleagues, he took time to express appreciation for the work of Francis Bacon, whom

            he enthusiastically called the “Luther of  science.”[iv]

  The numerous schools founded by Bethany graduates, with the possible exception of the Nashville Bible School, tended to emulate their alma mater as they largely became Christian liberal arts colleges.  Some of them were Butler University, Drake, Culver-Stockton College, Milligan College, and Texas Christian University (originally named AddRan Male and Female College).[v] 

            The institutions of higher education which eventually ended up in a relationship with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the more liberal side of the Stone-Campbell Movement consistently began as or became liberal arts schools.  It is an interesting historic irony that the colleges related to the non-instrumental Churches of Christ have also followed the Bethany model:  Abilene Christian University, Harding University, Pepperdine University, and the other newer institutions of the conservative brotherhood.  On the other hand, the leaders of the Independent Christian Churches (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) have embraced the concept of the Bible College since late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries.  Watching many of the Disciples-related liberal arts colleges embrace a liberal theology and higher criticism of the Bible,  Dr. James North comments, “Conservative churches no longer trusted many of these schools, and so educational alternatives emerged.  It is significant that the Bible colleges that developed were almost entirely  with the conservative Disciples churches, that is the emerging Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, rather than the other two major streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement.”[vi]  Johnson Bible College was the first in a series, but has transitioned into a university with graduate degrees and has had regional accreditation since 1979.  Cincinnati Christian University has functioned as Cincinnati Bible Seminary , later as Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary since 1924 when it was established as an antidote for the deepening liberalism perceived in the College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky.[vii]

            Lincoln University, established in the difficult wartime year of 1944, is among the schools originally founded as Bible colleges, but was renamed as a university in 2009.  Originally founded to answer the liberalism noted at Disciples-related Eureka College (from which Ronald Reagan graduated in 1932), the school now offers a full slate of graduate seminary programs including the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees.

 

            Kentucky Bible College was begun in the fall of 1949 by members of the Churches of Christ who believed in the eminent premillennial return of the Lord Jesus, the active indwelling of the Holy spirit in the believer’s life, and the Reformation emphasis upon the grace of God as the total means of salvation, sanctification, and hope in the Christian life.  The opening years in Louisville were confined to a two-year general studies program which was designed to prepare a student for transfer to a senior institution where a bachelor’s degree might be earned.  Along with the advantages of the collegiate enterprise, operating on the site of the Portland Christian School and the Portland Church of Christ, interested students could take advantage of the Bible classes taught at the Church by R. H. Boll,  classes which had been offered for years at various places in the Louisville area.  The chapel service occurring each day and accredited classes by KBC faculty enriched the spiritual offerings available to both registered students and occasional “drop-in” participants.  The courses offered in business subjects and later in home economics at Winchester provided a practical track for students who were interested in getting “secular” jobs after college, much in the spirit of the 19th century surveying courses at Bacon and Bethany College.

            Ten “official” students registered for the first term of Kentucky Bible College, but others took part in some activities the school offered, including chapel, Bible classes, and in the spring term the KBC Chorus.  Although growth was slow, it continued through the six years while the junior college structure was retained, and until 1955 when the campus of Kentucky Wesleyan College in Winchester became available upon that school’s move to a new location.  Along with the growing need for graduates to transfer to senior colleges or universities to complete their degrees, the concern for accreditation became more acute, and as the school had no faculty with terminal degrees at that time, my wife and I decided that we should attempt to make that step ourselves.  We were blessed with having Indiana University with its outstanding School of Music within commuting distance, so I started driving to Bloomington two or three times each week to take classes at I.U.  In the fall of 1954, the Bryantsville Church of Christ at Mitchell, Indiana was seeking a new minister, and with their generous cooperation and a graduate assistantship at Indiana University we were able to take a leave of absence (first by commuting for rehearsals in Louisville once a week) and pursue a degree full-time.

            The move to Winchester in 1956 occasioned a new look by the Board and the leaders as to what sort of institution the relocated and renamed school (Southeastern Christian College) should be.  The title, “Christian College,” rather than “Bible College” signaled a preference for retaining the liberal arts junior college, which was what occurred.  But without the Boll Bible classes, there was a clear need for an extended curriculum in Bible, church history, and studies in religion.  That was accomplished by the creation of a three-year program beyond the junior college, ultimately led by Frank Mullins, Sr., who had enjoyed study under Lewis Perry Chafer in the  Dallas Bible seminary.  With Mullins, the Boyds, father and son, President Winston Allen, George Knepper, LaVern Houtz, and other able ministers a strong curriculum was  fashioned to provide training for future ministers of the Gospel.  The two-three program prevailed for two years before it was seriously called into question.  My own teaching load included the SCC Chorus, various music classes, and private music lessons, temporarily a beginning class in German (for which I was poorly prepared) and an introductory course in philosophy.  But during the year 1957-58 there was a vigorous proposal by some of the board members, President Allen, and perhaps others that the survival and continued usefulness of the school might require another change in design:  we should perhaps eliminate the two-year liberal arts college and follow the model of the Cincinnati Bible Seminary and other Bible Colleges of the Christian Church/Churches of Christ to become a five-year Bible College.

            My own viewpoint at that period was and is yet that the wavering projection of the school in terms of its purpose, proposed students, and faculty may have been one of the many facets which precluded a long life for the institution.  I believe some high school graduates who might have elected to attend were fearful of attending a school without accreditation which might prevent them from making a viable transfer to a senior college.  On the other hand, it is possible that others may have wanted a pure “Bible College” or undergraduate seminary where they could feel they were obtaining a professional preparation for the pulpit.  Perhaps Elijah’s challenge, “How long go ye limping between two sides,” might have been posed to us.

            But our reaction was premature.  Anticipating that accreditation for a liberal arts institution was no longer a priority, my family and I left Winchester for Texas Woman’s University, later for Bethany College and even a year at Milligan College before a long gig at Northeast Missouri State University, now Truman State University.  But Southeastern Christian College in the end maintained its structure, lived on for numerous productive years, and with its two-three year combination of liberal arts and Bible College provided young people an education which greatly fortified their congregations and pulpits for a lifetime.  The sweat and tears of the founders, donors, and participants of the school are still producing a legacy of rich fruit in the lives of men and women who experienced Kentucky Bible College and Southeastern Christian College.   

 

                                                         Dale Jorgenson is a retired college Bible teacher and Choir Director

[i] “The college was named Bacon College iin honor of Sir Francis Bacon, one of the earliest thinkers of the Enlightenment.  This was a way of affirming that the Christian faith is rational and guided by reason.”

Richard L. Harrison, Jr., “Bacon College,” Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia, Douglas Foster, Paul Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, editors (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdsmans Publishing Co., 2004).

[ii] MarK G. Toulouse, “Walter Scott,” Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia.

[iii] See D. Jorgenson, Theological and Aesthetic Roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement (Kirksville, MO:  The Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989), 168 and Chapter 7.

[iv]Ibid.

[v] The Nashville Bible School, founded by David Lipscomb and James A. Harding, attended by R. H. Boll, morphed into the present David Lipscomb University.

[vi] James North, “Bible College Movement,” The Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia.

[vii] The recent problems of Azusa-Pacific College in California, though not directly related to the Stone-Campbell Movement, are indicative of the trend faced by the founders of the Bible colleges.

 

 




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2 corinthians 1:3-4