DALLAS?Tucked into W.A. Criswell’s sermon reflecting on 25 years of pastoring First Baptist Church of Dallas was a passing reference to his desire to establish a school where ministers and lay leaders could study the Bible.
“I’d love to see us build, organize in these great facilities, a Bible Institute. We can do that at night and carry on all the work of this church just the same; it won’t interfere,” Criswell told his congregation in the Oct. 5, 1969 address.
Forty years later Criswell College has more than 1,800 alumni spread globally, carrying out the founder’s vision “to teach the faith, to preach Jesus, to make known this Word of God and to mediate the truth of the Lord.”
The Dallas-based school launches a yearlong celebration on Oct. 5 with a Centennial Expository Preaching Conference featuring David Allen, R. Alan Street, Mac Brunson, Greg Heisler, O.S. Hawkins and the late Criswell himself?by videotape. Included in the $40 registration fee is a commemorative DVD set of famous sermons by Criswell, as well as the Monday evening dinner and Tuesday lunch.
In addition to their sermons on “Prophetic Preaching in a Decaying Society,” each speaker will respond in a question-and-answer session on how he prepares his sermons. A 1980 sermon that Criswell delivered on “Ishmael: Islam and the Oil Slick” is being promoted as having great application today and will be shown along with his presentation on sermon preparation in his study.
Criswell offered a little more detail of his vision for the school in an Oct. 11, 1969 sermon. Drawing from 1 Corinthians 9:16, he described “some of the things that open our hearts to what God is doing” through the assignment of the downtown church.
“Paul used an expression that is so descriptive of how we feel about this: ‘Necessity is laid upon me. I must.'”
Adapting the words of a poem Emerson penned a century earlier, Criswell recited:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When the Lord whispers low, “Thou must!”
The church replies, “I can!”
Criswell explained why the church must accept the responsibility of teaching religious faith, praising then-prevalent avenues of Sunday School, Training Union, Royal Ambassadors and Girls Auxiliary as proper responses.
Still, he wanted more. “I’d like for us to build and to organize in this church a Bible Institute, teaching the Word of God on an adult level, even a college and a seminary level. And people come from our own congregation, from the city, and our preachers from all over being taught the Word of God. Teaching is a necessity laid upon us because of the fabric, the color of the law of our land.”
Criswell asked James W. Bryant, his minister of evangelism and church organization, to lead the effort, aided by 16 deacons who studied the feasibility. A year later on Oct. 7, 1970, the church enthusiastically embraced the recommendation that “Our church should establish an institute for intensive Bible study, based on conservative evangelical Christianity as preached and practiced in our church.”
Graduates of the college have gone on to serve in leading pastoral positions, evangelistic ministries, Jewish outreach ministries, college and seminary faculty positions, college and seminary presidencies, foreign mission service, biblical counselors, and service to denominational agencies.
The biblical studies major is required of all undergraduate students, who also may take a second major in related disciplines. The academic programs are challenging and require undergraduate students to take one year of Greek, one year of Hebrew, nine hours of theology, two semesters of New Testament survey, two semesters of Old Testament survey, personal evangelism, church history, and an overseas missions practicum.