The Influence of the Movement on Canadian Protestantism
Last week I dealt with the complex origins of the Bible College Movement in Canada and its influence upon Canadian and international Protestantism. Now it is time to consider why the movement has been so influential among Canadians and Canadian Protestantism. As Burkinshaw asks: “How did these schools, often considered insignificant and academically unsophisticated, and almost always operating on shoestring budgets, become so influential in Canada?”
The answer to this question seems to draw heavily upon the connection that the movement has to revivalism/evangelicalism. Many of these schools were committed to teaching the importance of individual and personal faith. They were interested in “’character development and spiritual maturity’, and the sending forth of ‘workers with an extreme love of souls.’” This emphasis on traditional and oftentimes conservative Biblical doctrines “appealed to many Canadians, especially in the Prairies, and in a period when many evangelicals had lost confidence in . . . the theological departments of Brandon, Acadia, and McMaster.” This also made them easily accessible to a wide variety of lay people and admission requirements were not overly strict for attending most Bible colleges. One did not have to have academic prowess to enter a Bible college, for academic training was not their goal. Their goal was “practical Christian living and ministry.”
These schools were also financially accessible to a lot of students. Burkinshaw writes that “Bible schools were accessible to a wide range of students because of very low or, in some cases, non-existent tuition.” The low costs of the Bible colleges were due not only to the lack of highly educated faculty (which were not viewed as being necessary due to the highly practical nature of these colleges), but also do to willingness of “faculty and staff to work for very low salaries, often at levels comparable to or even lower than foreign missionaries.”
Another important factor in their popularity was the geographical accessibility of a lot of these colleges. This meant that students did not have to travel great distances at great financial risk to attend a college. Schools were in local communities such as “Caronport or Pambrun, Saskatchewan; Three Hills or Sexsmith, Alberta; or Winkler or Steinbach, Manitoba.” There geographical nearness to their hometowns also coincided with the need for numerous rural students to work on the family farm.
So, how to wrap this all up? The Canadian Bible School Movement is quite a complicated subject. It is both similar to and different from the American movement. While it is a complicated subject, it is important to realize that it was primarily a conservative response to growing theological liberalism in the mainstream Canadian denominations (Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church of Canada, etc.). Canadians, in large numbers, were interested in preserving the divine and infallible inspiration of the Word of God. This should encourage us as well to stand upon the integrity of the Word of God. As postmodernism lifts its ugly and irrational head, we as Christians must declare that there is only one truth and the source of that truth is the Bible.