Inspiring Diversity at a Small Evangelical University

One Evangelical University That Really Stands Out for Its Diversity

The College of Biblical Studies (CBS) is uniting conservative evangelicalism and multiethnic urban ministry at a time when the two are increasingly at odds with one another.

In Houston, which is majority-minority, almost half of the student body is African-American, a quarter is Hispanic, and a quarter is from some other ethnic background. About half of the students at the Indianapolis school are Black, while another 25% are of various other races, and the remaining 5% are of Burmese descent.

Chanelle Coleman, a student resource advocate at CBS and an upcoming graduate in 2021, argued that the church is “not one particular set of people.” CBS “exemplifies what the kingdom of God and the body of Christ should look like.”

The college’s doctrinal statement describes CBS as “inerrantist,” “noncharismatic,” and “premillennial,” and the college’s dedication to racial inclusion and urban student education has led to a missionary partnership with Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and author Tony Evans.

The Bachelor of Arts degree program at CBS is available in the fields of biblical counseling, biblical studies, organizational leadership, and women’s ministry. Since DTS’s Houston branch is located on the same campus as CBS, students can complete their MA in just one more year. There will soon be a way for students to complete the DTS Master of Theology program in just four years, as the program will begin accepting new enrollees this spring.

Discipleship is an additional component of the curriculum. This spiritual formation curriculum for juniors and seniors is based on Tony Evans’s writings. Staff and faculty are also starting a discipleship program this year with the help of Kingdom Man and Kingdom Woman by Evans. CBS is “seeking to deepen” its relationship with Evans, according to President Bill Blocker.

In 2020, when George Floyd was laid to rest in Houston, students and faculty had the opportunity to put the school’s guiding principles to the test right in their own backyard. Blocker recalls the class debating the issue at length. A student stated that Christians should protest for justice in the wake of Floyd’s death because Jesus came from heaven to help the poor and make authority answer for their actions. To that, another responded with Romans 13, which instructs Christians to submit to civil authorities. The kids would “look like trouble-makers” if they de
They came up with a plan B together. People from both sides of the battle were represented at the funeral. Floyd’s nephew had a conversation with them and was so impressed by their level of consideration that he decided to enroll at CBS.

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Houston Bible and Vocational Institute (later CBS) was established in 1976. We started off holding seminars at KHBC, a Christian radio station in Houston. Almost immediately, the institution shifted its attention to theological and biblical studies, which is reflected in its current name. In 1994, CBS reestablished operations on its current two-acre location. In 2019, CBS combined with Crossroads Bible College in Indiana, creating campuses in both Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.

Broadcasting and Computer Systems University (CBS) is one of a growing number of smaller universities that have merged or partnered in recent years to battle enrollment reductions and financial pressure. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, of the 435 private four-year institutions with fewer than 1,000 students, half are Christian institutions.

CBS has struggled since its beginning to address the dearth of conservative theological education for Black preachers. During the Jim Crow era, many conservative religious institutions did not admit Black pupils. This factored into Martin Luther King Jr.’s decision to attend Boston University for his doctorate and Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania for his seminary education.

Nevertheless, historically Black churches found that liberal schools lacked the conservative doctrine they valued. Subsequently, when White-majority schools began enrolling pupils of color, some of them neglected to adapt their curricula to reflect the realities of life in the city.

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It was important to CBS to find a middle ground between conservative religion and urban relevance. Since the vast majority of CBS’s students are unable to afford tuition, the school relies heavily on donations from alumni and other supporters, who Blocker must convince to support the college’s mission.

According to Blocker, “the Word of God is the only thing that can transform the heart and control the intellect.” Who among [possible donors] wouldn’t want to invest in [students]’ life when they see how they’re influenced by the infallibility of Scripture?

CBS is facing fresh challenges as it approaches its 50th anniversary. Some faculty and staff members attend major evangelical churches, while many students come from urban and multiethnic churches. If we take Blocker as an example, he attends the Southern Baptist megachurch Second Baptist Church in Houston. CBS also supports conventional evangelical views such a pro-life attitude and gender role complementarianism.

While CBS does not specifically identify itself as an evangelical institution, some have questioned if its method of teaching can survive in an age when some Christians of color find evangelicalism to be incompatible with their worldview.

This has been the case up to this point. This is clearly displayed in Professor Marvin McNeese’s political science class. He finds that his students have a wide range of opinions on American politics. The Founding Fathers “were racists and therefore could not have been Christians,” said McNeese, referring to the view held by certain pupils. This view is more common among older African Americans. There are also students who defend the Founding Fathers, arguing that the United States is a Christian nation.

Racial differences in opinion are evident on this and other matters. According to McNeese, the political leanings of Black students tend to be more Democratic than those of Hispanic students tilt toward the Republican party. White college students hold a wide range of political perspectives. The best way to bring students together is to encourage them to evaluate all ideas, political and otherwise, in light of the Bible’s teachings.

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McNeese explained that they “bring them together in the classroom studying the Scriptures.” To put it another way: “The light of the Scriptures, and just being able to see that we’re all in the same boat before God,”” [does] the lion’s share of the work.

Coleman, a Black single mother of two, praised CBS as a “safe zone” where she could focus on her studies and know that her other students would also put Christ first. She found it inspiring when formerly incarcerated men and elderly women would study together.

She reassured them, “Just because you’re having those disputes and discussions doesn’t imply that you don’t love your brother and sister. Trying to communicate and establish common ground is crucial at times.

Even if it may appear like an impossibility at first glance, a harmonious coexistence of evangelical theology with cultural variety is possible. But it is true. In describing the special dynamic amongst students at his university, Blocker uses the term “grace relations. Recently, it was on exhibit at the president’s discipleship group for males.

An urban student invited his friends over to help him celebrate his upcoming apartment move with his fiancée. Something else argued that was incorrect. As a group, they studied the Bible and came to the conclusion that living together prior to marriage was wrong. Next, they used the speakerphone to reach out to the student’s girlfriend and ultimately win her to Christ. Six months after their wedding, with two members of the discipleship group serving as groomsmen, the couple finally moved in together.

Blocker remarked, “You can’t peel them apart one at a time. They have crossed racial, ethnic, and cultural borders.”

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