Peter C. (P. C.) Nelson, an Assemblies of God educator and theologian, made an eloquent plea for Pentecostal schools to develop curriculum in the liberal arts and to train students for non-ministry vocations in a 1934 Pentecostal Evangel article. Up to that point, all Assemblies of God colleges focused on the training of people for ministry. Nelson noted that increasing numbers of Assemblies of God young people have an “anointing of the Spirit for doing a worthy work in other fields besides that of the ministry.”
Nelson warned readers that the “moral and spiritual conditions in most schools and colleges” cause many Pentecostal young people to abandon the faith. “If we want our young people to remain loyal to our movement,” Nelson wrote, “our fellowship must provide instruction for them along all branches of study.” He envisioned new courses that would train teachers, musicians, businesspeople, stenographers, accountants, engineers, architects, carpenters, masons, auto mechanics, and printers.
Where would this new liberal arts school be located? Nelson suggested that Central Bible College, the national ministerial training school of the Assemblies of God, located in Springfield, Missouri, would be an ideal location. He recommended that its facilities be enlarged so that it could train even more ministers and also add a liberal arts curriculum.
Nelson was not alone in his support for the development of Pentecostal liberal arts education. His article received the unanimous support of the Executive Presbytery. There was a growing recognition that the Assemblies of God should develop educational programs for training young people in fields other than vocational ministry. Nelson began his article by pointing out that the Assemblies of God constitution, adopted in 1927, included the following paragraph: “The General Council shall be in sympathy with the establishment and maintenance of academic schools for the children of our constituency.”
Although Nelson did not mention it in his article, this vision for a Pentecostal liberal arts curriculum dated back to the founding of the Assemblies of God. The “Call to Hot Springs” — the open invitation to all Pentecostal “elders, pastors, ministers, evangelists and missionaries” to attend the first General Council of the Assemblies of God — enumerated five purposes for the meeting. The fifth purpose was “to lay before the body for a General Bible Training School with a literary department for our people.” The phrase “literary department” was a 19th- and early-20th-century term that roughly corresponds to “liberal arts” today.
Nelson’s call for Central Bible College to train ministers alongside laypersons was not realized during his lifetime. However, other Assemblies of God Bible schools began expanding their curriculum. North Central Bible Institute (now North Central University, Minneapolis, Minnesota) added a two-year business college in 1938. Southwestern Bible College (now Southwestern Assemblies of God University, Waxahachie, Texas), the school founded by Nelson, opened a junior college in 1944. Northwest Bible Institute (now Northwest University, Kirkland, Washington) also added a junior college in 1955. That same year, the Assemblies of God established its new national liberal arts school, Evangel College (now Evangel University), in Springfield, Missouri.
Nelson encouraged readers to invest in Assemblies of God young people who possess “real sterling character, native ability, and spirituality.” The value of Pentecostal schools, asserted Nelson, “exceeds the cost…No investment will pay a larger dividend.”
Read the entire article by P. C. Nelson, “Enlarging Our Educational Facilities,” on page 7 of the June 16, 1934, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
* “Finishing Our Course,” by Zelma Argue
* “Are the Gifts of the Spirit for Today?” by Otto J. Klink
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.