History in the Making

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Maranatha: History in the Making

Dr. John Brock’s perspective on the making of Maranatha.

A  Bible college announced

I was a sophomore at another Christian university at the time Maranatha was launched, and I remember well the buzz as a new fundamental Baptist college was formed. Though I never visited the campus during its early years, I was always impressed by the Maranatha graduates I met who served in many Christian schools around the country.

My affiliation with the American Association of Christian Schools brought me into the company of Maranatha graduates and administrators. After serving 10 years as a Christian school principal, I received a call from Dr. George Youstra (then the dean of faculty at Maranatha) regarding a position at the college. That was followed by a phone conversation with Dr. Weniger (president) and Dr. Cedarholm (founder and chancellor). Their vision for the College and love for the Lord persuaded this newly minted doctor of education to join them.

It has been a supreme joy of my life to see God’s providential work at Maranatha since I took the helm of the academic program in July of 1984.

A solid foundation

I encountered challenges for Maranatha when I first arrived, but in many respects, I could sense God’s amazing work in laying the academic foundation of this miraculous place. From the beginning, Dr. Cedarholm and his wife, Thelma, were not constrained by a Bible college curriculum. Rather, these two pioneers aggressively broke the mold, while retaining the key genetic components of the centrality of the local church and commitment to a life of service and ministry for every graduate.  Early on, they added to Maranatha’s uniqueness by establishing a fine arts program. Ensembles and touring choirs, Shakespearean plays, and classical artist series all became an integral part of the Maranatha experience.

The College grew so fast and added programs so quickly that early printed and bound catalogs were not made. This was the era before high-tech digital copiers when program worksheets and course descriptions were simply typed up and mimeographed on 8-1/2 x 11 inch sheets of paper. By 1974, just six years after the founding of the college (and 10 years before I arrived), the following non-Bible-related departments were already in existence: History, English, Modern Languages, Music, Speech, Education, Physical Education, Nursing, and Secretarial Science. By 1984, the College added liberal arts programs in Mathematics and Business.

A different perspective

Myron and Thelma Cedarholm were products of a liberal arts education for their undergraduate and graduate university studies. They borrowed heavily from well-respected liberal arts colleges and universities to help them structure Maranatha’s offerings. The academic programs reflected both a robust set of required liberal arts courses and a solid Bible core.

Some thought these business, teacher education, and nursing programs did not belong in a Bible college, but Myron and Thelma believed, “If a church can use it, we can offer it.” The breadth of the curriculum expanded far beyond the vision of a Bible college. But the Baptist heritage and local church engagement were transcendent hallmarks that provided alignment to the foundational purpose into the future.

By the time I arrived, many of Maranatha’s present offerings were in place and the direction of the programs had been established. In 1984 there were three divisions of the college: Bible and Church Ministries, Liberal Arts, and Teacher Education.

There were also several master’s level programs in Bible and a master’s degree in education. Catalogs were printed, academic needs were evaluated, and academic areas where expansion was aggressive were consolidated to focus on preparing
the foundation for future growth.

Growth and development

Initially, the graduate degree in education was phased out to focus more carefully on undergraduate education. Graduate programs in Bible were refocused on a single Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

The College embarked on a long process of consolidation, retrenchment, and ultimately, new growth. After an enrollment decline from 1979 to 1984, the College began an era of sustained enrollment growth for 20 straight years.

During this time, the three divisions expanded to eight academic departments: Bible, Church Ministries, Business, Teacher Education, Fine Arts, Applied Sciences, Humanities, and Graduate School. Though these eight departments placed Maranatha outside the curricular domain of the traditional Bible college, Maranatha remained true to its core values of service to the local church and fidelity to the Bible and its Baptist heritage.

This 20-year period of organizational stasis was not without academic development. Each program became stronger as enrollment grew. Faculty training was accelerated to match and exceed higher education expectations. The College grew in reputation and regard within and without the fundamental Baptist community.

By the fall of 2013, in addition to the College’s academic departments, the Seminary had grown to offer six graduate programs (with expansive online offerings) with a doctoral-qualified, semi-autonomous faculty and governance under the leadership of the Seminary dean, Dr. Larry Oats.

Maranatha Online and Distance Learning was added in 2009, and now 14 percent of all revenue can be attributed to this course delivery method. By the 2012-13 academic year, total unduplicated enrollment had risen to 1,206 students, with early 2013-14 numbers indicating a three to five percent growth. By God’s providence, Maranatha has enjoyed a dynamic period of quality improvement, growth, and expansion during a period of global economic stress.

Change and continuity

Maranatha has always been about change and continuity. Through the natural cycle of growth, change, and maturity run common genetic strands that have marked the college since its inception:

  1. Baptist/separatist
  2. Dispensational hermeneutics
  3. Leadership and engagement in the local church and the world
  4. A wide variety of quality academic programs

When a living organism grows, it changes, but its DNA stays the same. In the same way, an organization may grow stronger, bigger, and have more influence, but its essence is unchanged. Long ago Maranatha outgrew the academic parameters of a classic Bible college, yet its ethos remains constant.

These are challenging times for fundamental Christian colleges and seminaries. Commitment to heritage and biblical position are tested as voices call for compromise and accommodation to contemporary societal values. Maranatha realizes that, ultimately, it has a constituency of One, and may He be pleased! God has blessed Maranatha. By His grace, though it has grown and matured, its heart continues to beat with the same DNA the founders envisioned.

New horizons

As we look ahead, we believe that it would please God for us to go as far as He blesses. New programs and exciting growth initiatives are being planned, and technology is enabling a reach into areas and corners of the world that could not even be imagined when I arrived in 1984.

From the exciting vision of a Bible college in the spring of 1968 to the comprehensive college of 2013, God has shown Himself “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), that Maranatha should be “To the Praise of His Glory.” May it ever be.

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