Illinois Cracks Down on Un-Accredited Bible Colleges

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I don't know why government feels a need to interfere with Bible Colleges. They exist to train men for ministry, plain and simple. They shouldn't need secular permission to conduct this training, or to issue degrees certifying successful completion of a course of study.

Tyndale Biblical Institute & Seminary, the institution lately headed by Chris Cone (whose articles occasionally grace the front pages of SI), had a similar run-in with the State of Texas. Tyndale won.  

When, or if, Bible Colleges grow into full-fledged universities, then we have a different story. MBU is an example. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Unless the state is meddling directly in Bible-mandated arenas of church autonomy, they have some genuine roles to carry out.

Examples: if a church runs a day-care, can the state not reasonably license the facility (subjecting it to reviewal of certain criteria, e.g in the areas of health & safety)?  If a church operates a "soup-kitchen," can the state not resonably concern itself with inspecting it periodically with the goal of preventing food-borne illnesses?

In the case of granting "degrees," almost everyone will concede, to some point, that the state has a valid interest in regulating them & ensuring their validity.  Would you want to discover that your child's surgeon had a "Doctor of Medicine" from "Joe's Basement College?"  (I think most would prefer it be from a Harvard or a Johns Hopkins.)  Smile

Yes, the Bible mandates to the church the role of teaching & equipping Christians in doctrine & in the knowledge of the Bible.  Does that automatically equate to some right to grant a "degree" in such?  (It seems to me that saying "yes" is a stretch.)

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Actually Larry, using your doctor example, the state still does not have a compelling interest to interject itself into the curricular operations of a private educational institution. What they may do is require doctors to pass a state or national medial exam before being issued a license to practice medicine in the given region. This permits the full autonomy of the educational institution over their curriculum while also allowing the state to offer reasonable safe-guards to the public. Way too much advocacy for government to usurp personal responsibility an eliminate personal freedom. Big brother is ner the answer.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Larry Nelson's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

Actually Larry, using your doctor example, the state still does not have a compelling interest to interject itself into the curricular operations of a private educational institution. What they may do is require doctors to pass a state or national medial exam before being issued a license to practice medicine in the given region. This permits the full autonomy of the educational institution over their curriculum while also allowing the state to offer reasonable safe-guards to the public. Way too much advocacy for government to usurp personal responsibility an eliminate personal freedom. Big brother is ner the answer.

Yet, I still don't see the Bible even alluding to a "degree" as being a required outcome of a Christian's training in doctrine or ministry.  Is it a bad thing to call that outcome a "degree?"  No.  Is it vital?  Again, no.

Jesus taught & mentored 12 men (well, let's just say 11...) for three years without awarding them a "degree" at the conclusion.

At least in the field of medicine, licensure provides a form of ultimate validation of a degree holder's credentials.  There is an inherent accountability.  If Harvard Med graduates were routinely failing the medical boards, there would be an encumbent urgency for them (Harvard Med) to re-tool their curriculum to ensure that their "Doctor of Medicine" graduates actually possess the skills & knowledge that the degree supposedly represents.

Does every Bible college "degree" represent the skills and abilities (analytical, quantitative, qualitative, etc.) that are the expected outcome of an undergraduate degree?  (I could provide some dubious examples, but then that would hold true of degrees from various secular colleges as well.)  I happen to believe that a college degree should entail a certain level of rigor, and certify that its holder has demonstrated some level of competence and proficiency in some specific skills.  (Perhaps my view is clouded by the fact that I have seen a couple of Bible colleges that demand from their students no more rigor than "true/false" or "choose the best answer" test formats.) 

If one maintains that Bible colleges (in every case) should not be subject to the criteria of generally attaining the typically expected outcomes of a four year undergraduate degree, then so be it.  I just don't believe that "degree" is some sort of guaranteed, rightful outcome of that experience.              

TylerR's picture

Editor

Larry, you wrote:

At least in the field of medicine, licensure provides a form of ultimate validation of a degree holder's credentials.  There is an inherent accountability.  If Harvard Med graduates were routinely failing the medical boards, there would be an encumbent urgency for them (Harvard Med) to re-tool their curriculum to ensure that their "Doctor of Medicine" graduates actually possess the skills & knowledge that the degree supposedly represents.

I agree wholeheartedly with with you're saying. The issue here is this - who are the customers these Bible Colleges are serving? Most of them are Baptist, which is significant because Baptists believe the NT teaches the autonomy of the local church. Consider:

  • These Bible Colleges exist to serve local churches by providing them with trained, competent Pastors who can minister in autonomous local churches. 
  • Their client base are these local churches

Therefore, I ask:

  • What vested interest, or fundamental right, does the public or local, state and federal government have in an institution that exists to serve autonomous, local churches by training prospective ministers? 

With a medical school, you have an obvious interest. Same for a full-fledged Christian university whose scope goes far beyond Pastoral training (e.g. Cederville, MBU, etc.). With Bible Colleges? I don't see that the government (at any level) has a leg to stand on here. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

TylerR wrote:

The issue here is this - who are the customers these Bible Colleges are serving? Most of them are Baptist, which is significant because Baptists believe the NT teaches the autonomy of the local church. Consider:

  • These Bible Colleges exist to serve local churches by providing them with trained, competent Pastors who can minister in autonomous local churches. 
  • Their client base are these local churches

Therefore, I ask:

  • What vested interest, or fundamental right, does the public or local, state and federal government have in an institution that exists to serve autonomous, local churches by training prospective ministers? 

With a medical school, you have an obvious interest. Same for a full-fledged Christian university whose scope goes far beyond Pastoral training (e.g. Cederville, MBU, etc.). With Bible Colleges? I don't see that the government (at any level) has a leg to stand on here. 

Well, I mostly agree with you, especially about the government's interest.  In this scenario, it's incumbent on a church considering a pastor whether they will accept the credentials of a man from X Bible School.  And I can say that the one time I served on a pastoral search committee, we certainly did look (to the extent we were able) at the school issuing the credentials, and what we thought of their program.  Although, for most of us on the committee, because of our limitations in the field of theology, we concentrated more on the overall philosophy or other obvious features (i.e. was the school KJV-only, are they known as a degree-mill, etc.) than on the actual quality of the theological content.  I will say, though, that because of the fact were were limited in our ability to judge this aspect of a man's credentials, we certainly did try to check if a school listed was accredited or not.  If not, that didn't necessarily disqualify, but then we asked a lot more questions in our own Q&A part of the interview AND did some checking with other men we trusted to find out about the quality of graduates from that school.  In some cases, that was easier than in other cases, depending on how many graduates of that school we had met or interacted with.

Just a couple quick thoughts (probably need some work):

To keep the government out of it, but still give churches some standards they can use more easily, maybe unaccredited Bible colleges could be rated in another way -- e.g. something like a mission board, but whose job is to give churches an idea of a Bible college's overall rating.  Would be a lot of work, and would definitely require funding, but would help take the place of government accreditation.

Actually I just thought of a reason government might feel they should get involved -- if graduates of a "fly by night" Bible college are known for simply fleecing vulnerable people out of their life savings, the government might have an interest in preventing that.  Wouldn't be through accreditation, though.

Dave Barnhart

Jim's picture

Degree vs Diploma? They kind of mean the same (I think). Perhaps Dave's solution above is best ... get accredited ... it's a degree .. not ... a diploma

Honestly in this day and age to have a non- accredited whatever-you-want-to-call-it, does a disservice to a young adult. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Jim:

I depends on (1) what the adult is going to school for (2) and what the purpose of the school is. We're missing the point. There are two types of Christian undergrad institutions, broadly speaking:

  • Bible Colleges, which exist basically to train ministers - period. They're clients of local churches. Only young men who want to become Pastors will go there. 
  • Universities, which exist to provide a wide variety of degrees, both secular and sacred

You wrote:

Honestly in this day and age to have a non- accredited whatever-you-want-to-call-it, does a disservice to a young adult. 

This is only true for the second category (above). If you're talking about a 18 yr-old woman who wants to be an engineer, then I'm with you, Jim! On the other hand, if you're talking about an 18 yr-old man who wants to be a Pastor, then I don't see your point. My goodness, DBTS isn't accredited! Does anyone here seriously suggest that they're not legitimate? Yes, I know they're a seminary, not an undergrad Bible College, but you get what I'm saying. 

Look at Tyndale Biblical Institute & Seminary. Why should they be accredited? What about Paul Henebury's Telos Biblical Institute? These (and other) institutions exist purely to train Pastors. Accreditation usually isn't a factor to local churches when they interview Pastoral candidates. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Since many seminary college graduates are not going to step right into a ministry that will pay a living wage, most will have to find a job outside of 'the ministry', and in my experience, a degree from an accredited school can mean higher wages in just about any other field. Even though a traditional college education is taking a hit in our society at the moment, it still means something to many employers if you have a degree.

However, I agree with Tyler, in the sense that a theology degree accredited by a gov't agency is a bit of an oxymoron. After all, the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation doesn't grant accreditation to medical schools - the Liaison Committee on Medical Education does. So why should an outside agency with no vested interest in outcomes be the overseer or grant approval? 

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that in the Land of Lincoln, the state's largest school district, Chicago Public, has a graduation rate of about 60%, and the average graduate reads at about a sixth grade level--lower than one would need to achieve to understand the ESV or NKJV, or for that matter even the NIV.  So I'm waiting for the state to shut down that diploma mill.  (but won't be holding my breath for obvious reasons)  Chicago also has President Obama's proposal for free community college already in place, and there are a number of diploma mills there that ought to be shut down as well.

Seriously, with the New Math/Chicago Math, Common Core, Race to the Bottom, Most Children Left Behind, and the like, the premiss that government is somehow qualified to regulate education is simply untenable.  To a degree it's necessary in law and medicine, but for the rest, and probably for law and medicine as well, private sector accreditation is probably the better solution.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bob Nutzhorn's picture

As a parent looking at colleges for my daughter to attend, I understand and actually agree with my state on this one - weird. I am guessing this law is being pushed because of parents who feel as though they have been robbed - pay for four years of college where you are told your child will receive a degree, only to find out, it is completely meaningless to anyone outside of that college. If you are going to a non-accredited college knowing that you will be in ministry (quite a bold assumption by the way), then what difference does it make if you get a diploma or a degree. If you are just wanting it shown that you are completing the course requirements, than a diploma should be fine. If you want more than that, go to an accredited school. If a school wants to offer more than that, get accredited. This is more about the consumer not being lied to about what they are receiving than it is about the government controlling what the school is teaching. This is not big-brother making sure everyone is teaching what the state deems acceptable. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

If you are going to a non-accredited college knowing that you will be in ministry (quite a bold assumption by the way)

Bible Colleges exist to train Pastors. If your child isn't looking to be a Pastor, they will not go to a Bible College. It is not a bold assumption to assume that (1) if a man goes to a Bible College, (2) then he wants to be a Pastor. It would be the only reason for him to go there at all!

See, for example, the degree programs offered by Providence Baptist College, a KJVO, Hyles-esque Bible College impacted by this push. You'll notice that their focus is on training men for ministry. They do nothing else. 

You also observed:

This is more about the consumer not being lied to about what they are receiving than it is about the government controlling what the school is teaching. 

No. Somebody who goes to Providence would only go for ministry training. Why? Because Bible Colleges don't do anything else. They're Bible Colleges. They'll get just what they wanted. They'll get just what they went for. Your son who wants to be an engineer, or your daughter who wants to be a nurse (etc.) would not go to a Bible College. Therefore, your objections (above) aren't actually relevant. 

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Per Tyler's point, it ought to be noted as well that there are any number of government approved colleges, including large numbers of community colleges, where many degrees are nigh unto worthless.  The key issues with colleges are (a) is the college accredited to do what it claims to do? and (b) is the degree program worth taking--does it lead to jobs and the like?

For an example of government approved, accredited, but utterly worthless degrees, see any degree with the word "studies" in it.

In fact, government involvement has arguably (Chicago Public, Chicago community colleges, Pell Grants, student loans) made the problem worse because it prevents students from talking with the "green eyeshades guy" who will ask them "You are asking to borrow a quarter million dollars to get a doctorate in gender and ethnic studies.  Apart from professorships, there are no jobs to be had in this area.  How do you propose to repay this loan?"

We don't always like the moneylenders, but at times they do us a huge service when they point out we can't afford something we think we want.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bob Nutzhorn's picture

TylerR wrote:

Bible Colleges exist to train Pastors. If your child isn't looking to be a Pastor, they will not go to a Bible College. It is not a bold assumption to assume that (1) if a man goes to a Bible College, (2) then he wants to be a Pastor. It would be the only reason for him to go there at all!

My point is that not everyone who goes to a Bible college to be a pastor actually becomes a pastor, and other become a pastor, but find it necessary to also have another job. My point is that it is quite a bold assumption to think that you will never be in a position that you will need to have a job outside of full-time ministry. I would also argue that there are many churches that push a Bible college for all of their young people to attend - whether or not they plan to go into the ministry. In those types of churches, you just don't think about questioning the Man of God, until you realize that you have just paid for four years of college that is worthless. That has happened, and it will continue to happen. This legislation will at least be a little bit more of a warning to those parents and potential students.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You make a good point. I actually think it would be a better model for a man to serve faithfully in his local church and to get a secular undergrad degree and/or actual on the job experience and apprenticeship so he can actually function in the real world.

If God has truly called him into the ministry, then he can be trained by his local church and hopefully get ministry training later. Of course, there's only so much money the average guy has to go to school! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Bob Nutzhorn wrote:

As a parent looking at colleges for my daughter to attend, I understand and actually agree with my state on this one - weird. I am guessing this law is being pushed because of parents who feel as though they have been robbed - pay for four years of college where you are told your child will receive a degree, only to find out, it is completely meaningless to anyone outside of that college. If you are going to a non-accredited college knowing that you will be in ministry (quite a bold assumption by the way), then what difference does it make if you get a diploma or a degree. If you are just wanting it shown that you are completing the course requirements, than a diploma should be fine. If you want more than that, go to an accredited school. If a school wants to offer more than that, get accredited. This is more about the consumer not being lied to about what they are receiving than it is about the government controlling what the school is teaching. This is not big-brother making sure everyone is teaching what the state deems acceptable. 

Bob,

The problem isn't lack of government oversight but lazy parents. This is just another example of big brother taking care of people too stupid or lazy to take care of themselves. It is another sign of the times indicating how far America has drifted spiritually and culturally from its founding ideals. I don't care what the government say, my children and I will investigate the schools they consider attending and make our decisions on which is best for each. We don't want or need the government to hold our hands and tell us which ones are safe and which ones are dangerous. I still love President Reagan's famous quote: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Bob Nutzhorn's picture

No blame on churches starting "colleges" and offering "degrees" and convincing those parents who have never been to college and don't know what they are looking for in a college to send their children and hundreds of thousands of dollars there? I still do not understand why those schools that don't want to have this "government" oversight really NEED to be able to offer a degree rather than a diploma. It is less confusing for the consumer to be able to have a differentiation. I totally agree with less government oversight and intrusion, but I also have had to work with parents whose children come home from school with a useless degree with credits that will not transfer anywhere. Even BJU education grads are very limited in what they can actually do with their degree - unless you want to teach in the same circles as BJU. Previously, being accredited did not matter as much as it does now. We can complain about that, but it is fact. When schools mislead their constituents about what their degree means (and they do - I have been to college fairs - I know they do), it is unfair and unjust to the consumer that believes their pastor and believes the school that their pastor recommends. I am guessing that the legislators that have introduced this piece of legislation have received complaints about this very thing. I don't know everything in the bill, and I would not argue for the bill, but I do agree with the basic concept in the article.