The Curriculum Conundrum
The young man timidly knocked on my office door and asked if he could speak with me for a minute.
“Can I come in?” he asked.
“Sure, I’m glad to see you. What can I help you with?”
“Well, Dr. Gunn,” he stammered, “it’s about next semester’s classes. I, um, need to ask you, um, an impor-
“I’ll be glad to help you in any way I can.”
“Well, you see, Dr. Gunn, it’s just that I’ve heard that your Greek class is really hard, and I don’t know if I’ll
be able to learn Greek. And, besides, all I really want to do is just pastor a church somewhere and preach
the gospel. I don’t really want to become a Greek scholar.”
This is typical of numerous conversations I’ve had over the
years as both a professor of New Testament Greek and as a
registration counselor at Shasta Bible College and Graduate
School. Of course, Greek is not the only course that students
are reluctant to take (I comfort myself on this point); some
don’t want to take math or history or a particularly difficult
theology class. Bible colleges are tasked with the responsibility of putting together the best program possible to train and
equip God’s people for effective, Christ-honoring ministry.
But it’s not always easy knowing exactly what to require in a
Bible college curriculum.
Bible colleges and seminaries are constantly evaluating and
adjusting their curriculum for that one elusive mix that’s just
right. This has been a continuing process since the turn of the
20th century, extending back to the Bible institute movement.
Bible institutes arose around the turn of the 20th century
partly out of a frustration with growing liberalism in seminar-
ies. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton had been founded in the
17th and 18th centuries for the purpose of training ministers
for American churches, but these seminaries came under the
influence of liberalism, gradually choking the gospel out of
America’s mainline churches. Such institutes as the Missionary
Training Institute, New York City (now Nyack College), and
the Chicago Evangelization Society (now Moody Bible Insti-
tute) gave birth to an evangelical movement chiefly in the U.S.
and Canada, establishing institutes for the training and equip-
ping of pastors, missionaries, and other Christian workers. But
liberalism was not the only influence that caused problems in
the seminaries. In a letter to his parents, J. Gresham Machen in
1909 bemoaned the fact that many of the students at Princeton
were looking for an overly simplistic curriculum. He wrote:
The students are exhibiting a spirit of dissatisfaction with the
instruction that is offered to them. What they want is apparently
by GEORGE GUNN