Metamorphosis of a dream: the history of Appalachian Bible College (1950-1983)

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The history of Appalachian Bible College, under the administration of its first president, is the story of an institutional dream that changed. This study seeks to document and explain those changes.

The college began with seven students, meeting in borrowed facilities, but it grew to have nearly 300 students and its own multi-million dollar campus. Early students were deliberately drawn only from the Southern Highlands, but that distinctiveness slowly gave way to a much more cosmopolitan blend. The curriculum evolved from a single program required of all students to multi-vocational (albeit singularly church-related) offerings. General Studies, that originally had almost no place in the curriculum, came to occupy nearly a third of a student’s time. The behavioral restraints that were placed upon students changed significantly over the years. The tightly knit “missionary team” that subsisted on a minimal family-allowance was gradually transformed into a differentiated staff with a graduated salary scale. Bureaucratic organization replaced the President’s earlier charismatic style of administration, just as more traditional financial procedures were substituted for the “no-indebtedness” and “no-solicitation” policies of the early years. Tuition-free arrangements were dropped in favor of standard college practices, and professional accreditation eventually led to the granting of a Bachelor of Arts degree.

The research led to the following conclusions:

(1) The model around which Appalachian Bible College was organized shifted from that of a home mission organization to that of a collegiate institution;

(2) Many of the practices related to finances and leadership at Appalachian Bible College moved from a basis in principled idealism to pragmatic expediency; and

(3) The institution’s response to culture changed from “separatism” to “conversionism” (as these terms are defined by H. Richard Niebuhr, in Christ and Culture).



Appalachian Bible College -- History