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Spring 2017 · Vol. 46 No. 1 · pp. 40–56 

Mennonite Brethren Bible College: Competing Visions for Mennonite Brethren Education in Canada

Abe J. Dueck

From 1944 to 1992 no program or issue created more discussion, debate, and even distrust in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference than education, particularly with regard to Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC). At the center of the concern was the character and purpose of MBBC within the larger context of regional Bible schools and high schools. The national conference worked hard to bring about cooperation and smooth transitions between these various levels of education. For almost fifty years, MBBC was the only educational institution supported by the Canadian Conference and the main provider of leaders, pastors, missionaries, and preachers for congregations and other Mennonite Brethren institutions. The Canadian Conference ultimately failed to come up with a vision for its primary educational program which the majority of Canadian Mennonite Brethren could rally around.

The early success of MBBC . . . became threatened with changing circumstances and divided constituencies. {41}


The first Bible institute established by Mennonite Brethren in Canada was the Herbert (Saskatchewan) Bible School in 1913. 1 After the influx of Mennonites from the Soviet Union in the 1920s, other Bible schools were established. These immigrants already had some experience operating Bible schools, and there had been several unsuccessful attempts to establish a Mennonite seminary in Russia. 2 Many Russian Mennonite young men attended seminaries and Bible schools in various European institutions. 3

The earliest call to establish the school that would become MBBC was issued at a Northern (later Canadian) District convention in Coaldale, Alberta, in 1939. J. A. Toews, Sr. (father of the future president, J. A. Toews) expressed his sense that an advanced biblical and theological institution was needed to serve the conference. 4 Such a school was needed because many Bible school teachers lacked an education beyond the Bible school level or had only received training in non-Mennonite Brethren schools. Soon the vision was expanded to include preparation of preachers, Sunday school teachers, missionaries, as well as high school and Bible school teachers.

Although there was significant support for the concept of a higher Bible school, there was also opposition. Some came from the Bible schools and their local supporters, who saw such a school as a threat to their institutional interests. But the Bible schools did not function as a unified voice, since to some degree they were also a threat to each other and resisted attempts to develop a unified education program. 5

The new college opened in Winnipeg in 1944. A. H. Unruh, one of the founders of Winkler (Manitoba) Bible School, was its first president. Initially, thirty students enrolled and a few more joined later in the year. 6 Unruh resigned as president after only one year, realizing that the school needed a leader fluent in English and more familiar with North American culture, and who could connect with the upcoming generation of Mennonite Brethren young people. But his stature in the Canadian conference had given the school respect and recognition that would enable a new leader to build on a solid base.

J. B. Toews was appointed to replace Unruh as president, although Unruh continued to play a significant role as both teacher and promoter of the college. “JB,” as he was known, quickly put his own stamp on the college and played a crucial role in consolidating the program and establishing clearer objectives. In a letter to his uncle, Benjamin B. Janz (who was also a board member), Toews wrote critically about the Bible schools, which he believed were too narrow in their perspectives. 7 Toews prepared a new catalogue during his first summer that stated the {42} college’s objectives more comprehensively—to give an opportunity to those who sought thorough preparation for the “higher calling” of preachers, teachers, missionaries, and other Christian ministries. 8 The objectives of the music department were to prepare choir conductors, song leaders, and orchestra conductors. 9

Toews emphasized the need for a strong “biblical and theological core” even as he appealed for a higher educational background for entering students and lamented the fact that Bible school students were often unprepared for studies at the college level. He advocated the inclusion of “liberal arts” courses in the curriculum, such as philosophy, psychology, and history. Negotiations were begun with the University of Manitoba for accreditation of these courses. Failure to accomplish this led to the pursuit of accreditation with the American Association of Bible Colleges (AABC).

But Toews met opposition in his attempts to adapt to the North American environment. Many wanted the German language to be central to the instructional program. This frustrated Toews, particularly because the primary language of many students had already shifted to English, and Toews did not see the preservation of German as essential to the retention of the Mennonite Brethren faith. The culture struggle, which was just beginning, initially focused on the language transition, but ultimately involved much more than language.

Another less prominent issue during the Toews era was the relationship to other religious bodies in Canada. In January 1947 Toews referred to the college as the “only positive evangelical school offering college and seminary level training in Canada,” 10 and asked whether the college should serve a wider constituency. Earlier statements had strongly affirmed the Mennonite Brethren identity of the school. Now Toews questioned whether the college should help students interact with other points of view and expand their horizons. But he stated that Canada’s theological schools “were based on secular concepts of the philosophy of religion.” 11

In 1948 the appointment of Henry H. Janzen as acting president marked a significant change in leadership. Janzen was not academically trained and was quite aware of his limitations. He accepted his role reluctantly, and requested that A. H. Unruh remain as vice president and that Gerhard D. Huebert be appointed Dean of Curriculum. Huebert took responsibility for the academic program, which included seeking accreditation. The immediate agenda was to apply for membership in the AABC. There were several hurdles to overcome, including having an academically qualified faculty and adequate library. But in 1951 the application was accepted. {43}

The Janzen era did not see any significant debate concerning the vision of the college. It was apparently widely assumed that the purpose of the college had been set in the early years and that there was no need to review the matter. There was still underlying uncertainty about the relationship to the Bible schools, but the major role of the college—to prepare young people for ministry in their home churches and abroad—remained unchallenged.

Yet not all were confident that the existing focus of MBBC was adequate. A report by the Fürsorgekomitee (later Board of Reference and Counsel) to the Canadian Conference in 1955 warned that profound social and cultural changes were coming. 12 Many young people were losing their faith or had become deeply troubled. Many were studying at universities in urban centers. The conference needed to address the issues that would affect the future of the high schools and Bible schools. A unified program in religious education would help young people in their choice of schools. The committee recommended the establishment of a study commission, to which three Bible school teachers and four college teachers were appointed. The entire educational program of the conference was to be reviewed at the 1956 convention.


The study commission met during 1956, but felt unable to unify the various educational programs. It recommended that a “neutral” committee be established to formulate a program, which the conference did. 13 At this point, no mention was made of the Bible college and its role in addressing the cultural and educational crisis among young people. The assumption seemed to be that most young people would attend a Bible school.

When the new Education Committee reported at the 1957 convention, it gave a more comprehensive analysis of the components that might comprise the educational experience. Separate sections dealt with the family, Sunday school, German school, high school, Bible school, liberal arts college, Mennonite Brethren Bible College, and seminary. Significant differences were noted between schools in their goals and the length of their terms. This was problematic in creating a coordinated system and determining their relationship to the college. Although the Bible schools acknowledged the need for coordination, they also insisted on retaining their individual character. 14

The section on the Bible college was more comprehensive, but the main issue it identified was the relationship to the Bible schools and transfer of credit to MBBC, given the diverse nature of Bible school instruction. The main purpose of the college, to prepare young people for {44} ministry at home and abroad, was taken for granted. The conference accepted several recommendations, including a continued appeal to unify the educational programs of the Bible schools.

The meetings of the Education Committee during 1958 dealt mainly with the high schools and the Bible schools. 15 The professionalization of the ministry was a major concern of the committee. Formerly, churches had sought to safeguard the teaching of the church themselves, rather than leaving it to academically trained theologians. Now there was a need for better trained individuals. But if enrollment at Bible schools and the college did not increase, biblically-informed members would become the exception rather than the rule. The responsibility of the Bible schools must be to provide biblical literacy to the laity. There was also the danger that various professionally trained individuals would replace lay workers in the churches.

The relationship to the Bible institutes/colleges continued to be problematic for most of MBBC’s life. An inter-institutional committee met for many years to address common concerns. In earlier years, Bible institutes were major feeder institutions for MBBC, but later the enrollment from Bible institutes declined and more students enrolled at MBBC directly after high school.

The tension reached a peak in relation to developments at Columbia Bible College (CBC) in Abbotsford, B.C. By the 1980s the membership of British Columbia churches constituted approximately one-half of the Mennonite Brethren membership in Canada. MBBC relied heavily on enrollment and financial support from British Columbia. 16 But criticism from leaders there increased, especially during the 1970s. In 1974 the British Columbia Conference established a study commission on higher education. At stake was the possible discontinuation of the “levy system,” which guaranteed funding on a per member basis. In 1984 the CBC board proposed several changes, including AABC accreditation, the right to grant theological degrees, and approval for a Bachelor of Theology degree. Similar changes were taking place at other Bible institutes, but none were as threatening as those at CBC. Eventually these changes left MBBC with little basis for its claim to be the only Mennonite Brethren Bible college in Canada. MBBC still had a better educated faculty and a clearly accredited university program, but it was not enough to establish a distinct identity from the Bible schools.


In 1957 the Education Committee acknowledged that the conference had never seriously considered the need for a seminary, and at this point there was no need to pursue the issue. 17 The question regarding {45} expansion of the college program to include a seminary department and the offering of a Bachelor of Divinity (BD) degree was discussed briefly at the 1958 convention. J. A. Toews, who became president in 1956, acknowledged that in 1957 the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America had instructed the various institutions to continue to operate as at present until a commission had completed its assignment relative to education. 18 However, he asked the delegates to clarify whether they still supported the original purpose of the college to train young people for the “higher calling” to various ministries in the church. The Canadian convention agreed to allow the board to begin planning for a BD program but not to make immediate changes. In 1961, however, the college asked the conference to review the issue because there were many requests for an expanded program. 19

For almost fifteen years the most controversial issue concerning the future of the college was the seminary question. This was arguably the main issue that led to the “midlife crisis” of the college during Victor Adrian’s administration (1967–1972). The issue was eventually officially resolved when the General Conference established a unified seminary program in Fresno, California, in 1975.

Fundamental to understanding why the question of graduate education was so vexing is an analysis of the changes in church ministries and the larger educational environment. The purpose of the college in its initial years was clear—preparing young people for church ministries at home and abroad. The basic but seldom articulated assumption was that these were primarily lay ministries. Although some were salaried, the focus was not on a professional pastoral ministry. This model dominated in Canada until the early 1960s.

When the college began to advocate the expansion of its program to include a BD degree, it could argue that this was in keeping with its original mandate because of the trend toward a professional pastoral ministry. At the same time, however, acknowledging this development led to the need for a new rationale for the undergraduate Bible college program. The college cited statistics concerning the number of college graduates without a BD degree who were serving in church ministry. But it was difficult to maintain that the undergraduate and the graduate programs both served the same purpose. To be viable, an undergraduate program needed a broader objective. Furthermore, it was the undergraduate program that faced increasing pressure from the Bible schools, which were constantly upgrading their entrance requirements, programs, and accreditation, and articulated objectives that overlapped with the Bible college program. {46}

In 1961 the Board of Reference and Counsel of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches prepared a recommendation to the area conferences. It stated that the “present needs for higher theological training should be met by operating a coordinated training program at two campuses—Fresno, California and Winnipeg, Manitoba.” This led further to a recommendation “that the Conference accept in principle that we introduce the BD course into our college.” 20 The BD program was finally introduced into the college in 1962. The entrance requirement was a BA from a recognized institution. Former college students could receive up to two years of credit.

Initially it appeared that the program might be successful. Enrollment during each of the first four years was eight or nine students, with a peak of three graduates in 1965. Thereafter, however, the enrollment declined to two or three students each year and no students after 1971. With the close of the graduate program in theology in 1972, it could be argued that the college lost its original primary purpose. Although theological studies continued to be important and college graduates continued to be placed in church ministry positions, the college was no longer the “higher Bible school” envisioned by the pioneer leaders.


Offering some liberal arts courses and seeking university accreditation for them was an objective pursued almost immediately after the college was established. The administration and board recognized that a credible theology program needed to have a broad base with courses in philosophy, history, psychology, and sociology. But this awareness of the need for a broader education did not mean that the objective was to offer a full liberal arts degree. Tabor College, a liberal arts college operated jointly by the United States and Canada as part of the General Conference educational program, already fulfilled that need. Many Canadian students studied there, sometimes after completing a program at MBBC and receiving some credit toward a BA degree. The first attempts at university accreditation involved negotiations with the University of Manitoba, but these failed largely because the university required that the college relocate to the university’s campus.

In 1955 the conference noted that the congregations were experiencing tremendous social upheaval, which had led to a cultural and spiritual crisis. As indicated above, the conference established a study commission to help the high schools and Bible schools work together so that all young people would attend these schools and find their way through these crises. 21 When H. H. Janzen resigned as president of MBBC in 1956, he wrote about the challenges facing the college. “The next ten {47} years,” he said, “the college would experience a radical change, namely a sharp turn toward a secular education.” 22

The report of the Education Committee in 1957 devoted a section to the issue of a “Liberal Arts College” for the first time. The Canadian Conference, the report noted, did not have a united position even though young people wanted to see the issue addressed. A motion was passed to study the need and come back with recommendations. 23

The Education Committee report of 1958 included observations regarding liberal arts and professionalization of the ministry. Regarding the former, it expressed amazement at how rapidly Mennonite Brethren enrollment at universities was increasing. The report warned about the influences that students might be exposed to there. Often these influences were “worldly.” The churches, it stated, would certainly feel the impact in later years. Had the conference adequately responded to the challenge?

In 1959 the Education Committee reported that, “In view of the increasing interest among our young people in a liberal arts education, and in view of the invitation from other Mennonite groups to join them in the building of a residential college on the campus of an existing university, . . . we recommend . . . that a study conference be held.” 24

The Study Commission met in February 1960. Papers were presented on topics such as “The Objectives of a Liberal Arts School,” student and staff potential, location, and costs. 25 Various alternatives were discussed, including appointment of a college chaplain, spiritual supervision by local churches, a stronger liberal arts division at MBBC, and a cooperative venture with other denominations.

Given the overlap with the Bible schools and the reluctance to venture into a full-fledged seminary program, the only uncontested program might therefore be a liberal arts program. But that was not easily sold to the constituency. Young people were finding an easy transition to universities, which had well-recognized degree programs. Christian liberal arts colleges were not an accepted part of the Canadian landscape, in contrast to their status in the United States. Recognition as an independent degree-granting institution was not easily obtained and remained problematic for the rest of the twentieth century. The “liberal arts” were also perceived to be a threat to conservative theology. It was better to send young people to secular universities, where atheism and heresy were easily recognized, than to schools where students might be exposed to controversial ideas from instructors who were not always trusted by the constituency.

The Education Committee ultimately agreed that the best alternative was to establish a liberal arts college, but the delegates instead decided {48} to establish a liberal arts department at MBBC and then direct students to Tabor College for the last two years of their education. 26

In 1961, J. A. Toews reported on the possibility of affiliating with Waterloo Lutheran University (later Wilfrid Laurier University) in Waterloo, Ontario. The negotiations were completed that year and the delegates accepted a recommendation to change the name of the college to “Mennonite Brethren Bible College and College of Arts” to reflect its dual identity. 27

Affiliation with Waterloo Lutheran University, however, came with limitations: it was located outside Manitoba, and was not considered equal to the public universities. The next several years marked no major new initiatives or changes. The college operated as a dual institution (Bible College and College of Arts) that was formally imposed by outside forces, but seemed to be in keeping with the college’s own transition toward liberal arts education. The conference reports indicated that arts enrollment was increasing. 28 The college listed five programs, including two years toward a degree at Waterloo Lutheran University. 29 However, President Quiring reported that “we have no ambitions at the moment to expand our liberal arts offerings,” and that “it is our conviction that liberal arts training . . . is a necessary part of the total training for Christian workers.” The dual name came under some review, 30 probably more because of its awkwardness than because of fundamental concerns by the board or administration. The college continued to operate under a dual name until 1983. In the meantime, a breakthrough came when an association with the University of Winnipeg was established in 1970.


The era under the administration of Victor Adrian (1967–1972) brought the issue of liberal arts education to a crisis. In his inaugural address to the conference, Adrian articulated his vision for the college. 31 The college’s main task, which he viewed as a return to the original vision, was to prepare men and women for church-related ministries. The arts department, he stated, had two main purposes: (1) to inform those who entered church-related ministries about ideas, literature, history, and ways of life, and (2) to help Christian laymen become better witnesses. Furthermore, arts students should take theological courses and be challenged to enter full-time ministry. The music program should have less emphasis on performance and more on the needs of the churches.

Over the next several years, Adrian sharpened his crusade to put more emphasis on theology, including the BD program, and less on the arts. In 1970, Adrian presented a paper to the board entitled, “A Radical Option for MBBC.” 32 In it he proposed a program that would consist {49} almost entirely of biblical, theological, and related subjects, leaving the arts courses largely to secular universities and arts colleges. Senior arts courses would be dropped entirely, while music would focus on worship and hymnody.

Adrian cited four reasons for the new program:

  1. The present program had resulted in confusion and division in the conference.
  2. The program had not succeeded in attracting students.
  3. Although a Christian liberal arts college was valid, it was an issue of priorities.
  4. There was a need to become united about the type of educational program that the conference wished to support.

Adrian was right in citing the confusion and division and in pointing to the decline in enrollment. But other factors might have led to the dilemma, and it was not obvious that his proposal could resolve the problems. Some board members saw this proposal as a radical change in the philosophy of the college as spelled out by Adrian himself in 1967. 33 Furthermore, faculty, students, and many in the constituency were not convinced, and this led to turmoil both within and outside the institution. David Ewert, the Academic Dean, resigned in 1970 and most of the faculty appeared to oppose the new direction Adrian proposed.

In 1971 Adrian gave a report to the convention entitled, “Vision: ‘Where there is no guidance (vision), a people falls: but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.’ Proverbs 11:14.” 34 In it he criticized what he perceived to be the ambivalence and hesitancy of the past. The time for decision was now. The conference would have to choose between four options:

  1. Continue the present course with minimal theology and arts courses with small enrollments.
  2. Concentrate on an undergraduate and graduate theological program.
  3. Close MBBC and concentrate on a seminary program.
  4. Develop a joint seminary with the US Mennonite Brethren.

Adrian preferred the second option. But after considerable controversy and debate, he resigned in 1972 and the college was left struggling for survival and without clear direction for several years. {50}


Not until 1974 was the board able to agree on a new president. Henry Krahn was a former missionary in India with a PhD in history. His specialty was Anabaptist history, and he had taught history at Pacific College in Fresno, California, from 1967 to 1974. While there was concern about his suitability as president, the board felt that Krahn was their best option.

Regarding the nature of his assignment and the vision for the college, the board focused on the January 1973 statement passed by the Council of Boards. This statement proposed that MBBC become a college in association with the University of Winnipeg, with programs in biblical studies and church ministries. But after controversy at the convention that summer, the motion was tabled. 35 This left the board with an uncertain mandate. The board decided to adopt the January mandate and Krahn agreed to operate in keeping with those objectives. During a visit to British Columbia early in his tenure, Krahn assured the leaders that the vision of the college stood in continuity with the original vision and that there was “a significant difference between the image some people have of the College and what it actually is.” 36

It soon became clear, however, that Krahn was more interested in a holistic educational experience that gave greater significance to the liberal arts. He was less theologically conservative than many in the Mennonite Brethren constituency and sometimes made comments about Bible schools that seemed condescending. He was critical of what he perceived as narrow sectarianism in the constituency. Krahn received support both from the faculty and from student leaders. He became a kind of guru for many academically gifted students disillusioned with fundamentalism or evangelicalism. Enrollment increased dramatically for several years. But by 1980 it was clear that the constituency remained divided in its support of the college and its president. The lack of a clear vision related to many long-standing issues: liberal arts vs. Bible college; conservative evangelicalism vs. evangelical Anabaptism; seminary vs. undergraduate training; university association vs. independent Mennonite college; Canadian conference school vs. regional college, and many other vaguely-defined issues.

By 1980 it was clear that confidence in the college and its leadership was sinking to a new low. After a presidential review and by agreement of the board and president, Krahn resigned. The board sought to restore confidence by inviting a respected former instructor, David Ewert, to become president. Ewert had left the college a decade earlier primarily because of a crisis concerning the vision of the college and had become New Testament professor at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary {51} in Fresno. The hope was that the college’s problems could be resolved more easily by appointing a leader who had earned the confidence of the constituency than by a renewed debate about the purpose of the college.

Ewert presented a tentative vision statement to the board in January 1982. 37 It was vague regarding some disputed issues, and basically committed the college to serving the church and remaining true to the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith. The draft of an institutional self-study that had been commissioned several years earlier was submitted to the board by James Pankratz in July 1982. 38 Pankratz stated that it was intended to show “where we are” rather than point the way for the future. An external team also submitted a report in February 1983. 39 It listed several concerns and recommendations, and pointed to the continuing ambiguity surrounding the role of the college. Over the next several years numerous policy changes were implemented. A vision statement was presented to the board in November 1983 and circulated to the churches. The board endorsed a final version in February 1984. It stated that the college is “committed to pursuing truth” in the context of “understanding the world as God’s creation” and “examining the fundamental questions of life and practice from this perspective.” It affirmed that “there is no basic dichotomy between a Christian faith commitment and honest inquiry.” 40 These statements, however, did not engage the fundamental issues of the past. Once again, the college sought to be all things to all people.

The statement also listed twelve specific objectives of MBBC, including “increasing the knowledge of God”; “interpreting the Bible”; integrating all aspects of life; providing leadership; becoming knowledgeable in humanities, social sciences, and fine arts; entering vocational ministries in the church; pursuing further studies and vocations in society; and promoting obedience to the command “to make disciples of all nations.”

Generally, this statement was consistent with the previous era under Krahn. It failed, however, to clarify the question of how MBBC fit into the general pattern of various institutions in the constituency. Although it did not use terms like “liberal arts,” it probably came closest to defining MBBC as a liberal arts college. By now this lack of clarity probably mattered little, because forces such as regionalism, theological polarization, and new educational initiatives on a broader level had become the primary concerns.


Meanwhile, other developments were affecting the college, some of which already had begun during the Krahn era. A chair of Mennonite {52} Studies was established at the University of Winnipeg in 1978. This development placed MBBC in a difficult situation. On the one hand, it could negatively affect MBBC by diverting funds and eroding general support from the college. On the other hand, because MBBC was associated with the University of Winnipeg, Krahn had to tread lightly and resist openly opposing the administration of the university. Furthermore, many local Mennonite academics and other leaders favored this development. The appointment of Harry Loewen, an MBBC graduate and former teacher at MBBC, to the Chair of Mennonite Studies made this a very successful program, and MBBC students soon began enrolling in Loewen’s courses. Thus, Anabaptist/Mennonite Studies, one of the core areas of the MBBC curriculum, was now in direct competition with a program developed by a university with which the college was associated. Increasingly students enrolled in other courses at the University of Winnipeg, thus threatening a sense of identity and community on the campus. The only program that appeared to benefit from the association was the music program—the university had no music department.

By 1982 additional forces were affecting the college. Conversations had begun regarding the development of a new Mennonite liberal arts college in Winnipeg. 41 A provisional board of the projected Menno Simons College (MSC) was established, and soon an agreement was signed to establish a Mennonite Studies Centre (later Menno Simons College) at the University of Winnipeg. The MBBC board declined to appoint a member to MSC’s board but appointed history professor Abe Dueck to represent MBBC on the Planning Committee. 42

During subsequent years, planning for MSC proceeded without much consideration of the impact on MBBC. Although an initial memorandum had given assurances that MSC would not “duplicate in whole or in part” the curricula of the present colleges, there was considerable potential for overlap.

In 1984 the board revisited the question of seminary training at MBBC and a year later it decided to formalize an agreement with the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno to offer graduate courses. This was followed by a cooperative venture with various Winnipeg theological schools to offer courses toward an MDiv degree.

In November 1985, an inter-institutional consultation took place in Clearbrook, BC. It established the Task Force on Higher Education, which reported to the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in 1987. 43 Its main recommendation was that “a comprehensive coordinated system of higher education in Canada be adopted in principle.” The conference then appointed a Commission on Higher {53} Education, the duties of which included examining program articulation among the various institutions. 44

David Ewert’s term as president was due to end with his retirement in 1988. The board had already decided to initiate a new five-year planning process in July 1987. 45 This would be more than a routine periodic review. Despite considerable confidence with the appointment of James Pankratz as new president of the college, there was renewed uncertainty concerning the college’s future, its theological direction, and some of its faculty. 46 A long-range planning document to define the process was submitted to the board by Pankratz and Len Siemens in January 1988. 47

Meanwhile, the commission that had been appointed by the Canadian Conference in 1987 submitted a report and recommendations to the convention in 1988. 48 The main proposal for MBBC was the establishment of a separate governing body consisting of members from across Canada that would assume responsibility for the college. The proposals, however, would have to be ratified by each of the provincial conferences. The early responses from the provinces east of British Columbia were affirmative. However, when the British Columbia convention met in June 1989, only weeks before the Canadian convention, the result was negative. Without British Columbia, the proposal was dead and MBBC was left without direction or any guarantee for the future.

The following year involved a desperate search for a viable alternative. The executive of the Canadian Conference was given responsibility to develop options for MBBC. In February 1990, the Council of Boards accepted the concept of regional governance and funding of secondary institutions in Canada. The provinces east of British Columbia, except for Quebec, were asked to accept responsibility for determining the future of Winkler Bible School, Bethany Bible Institute, and MBBC. These provinces accepted the recommendations during the following months. The final steps to close MBBC as a Canadian Conference institution and transfer responsibility for governance were taken at the July convention. MBBC operated for one more year and officially closed in June 1992. A new college, eventually named Concord College, emerged. Almost a decade later, after further uncertainty and debate, Concord College merged with the Canadian Mennonite Bible College and Menno Simons College to form the institution we know as Canadian Mennonite University. 49


The Mennonite Brethren Bible College played a significant role in shaping the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference for almost fifty years. It began less than twenty years after the migration of thousands of Mennonites from the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Mennonite Brethren {54} struggled in the pioneer years to establish themselves economically and in their congregational life. Many local Bible schools were initially established to provide leadership and religious education of young people. But as Mennonite Brethren began to adapt to their new environment it became evident that a more concerted and advanced level of education for the next generation of leadership was necessary. The efforts were remarkably successful. Most of the leaders of the next generation received their theological education at MBBC, in keeping with the objectives of the founders.

The early success of MBBC, however, became threatened with changing circumstances and divided constituencies. MBBC was torn between competing interests and visions. The consolidation and maturation of Bible schools pressured MBBC at the lower end of the educational ladder. At the higher end, the professionalization of the ministry and resulting demand for graduate theological education squeezed MBBC. The flocking of students to secular universities created a demand for liberal arts education, but the constituency was divided on whether such a move was necessary or feasible. Regionalism, theological fragmentation, and acculturation created challenges that the college was unable to overcome. Only after the demise of MBBC and its successor, Concord College, did a clear vision for a university emerge with the founding of CMU in 2000. Although CMU could claim some degree of continuity with the original vision of MBBC, it adopted a focus that was more in keeping with a liberal arts identity, an option that had been resisted by many in the Mennonite Brethren community for much of the college’s history.


  1. This was technically begun by a society that included other Mennonites.
  2. See my article, “The Quest for a Mennonite Seminary in Russia, 1883–1926: Signs of a Changing Mennonite World,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 74 (July 2000): 441–62.
  3. For a detailed discussion see my essay, “The Changing Role of Biblical/Theological Education in the Mennonite Brethren Church,” in The Bible and the Church: Essays in Honor of Dr. David Ewert, ed. A. J. Dueck, H. J. Giesbrecht, and V. G. Shillington (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1988), 131–48.
  4. Year Book of the Northern District of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, 1939, 24–26 (hereafter cited as Year Book).
  5. See A. J. Klassen, ed., The Bible School Story, 1913–1963: Fifty Years of Mennonite Brethren Bible Schools in Canada (S.l.: Board of Education, Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1964).
  6. A small beginning was made at the Winkler Bible School (Peniel) the previous year, but the founding of MBBC is usually considered to be 1944 in {55} Winnipeg.
  7. Undated letter (probably June 1944), B. B. Janz Papers, File #49, Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg. All subsequent references to letters, reports, and board minutes are taken from sources available at the Centre.
  8. Bibel College der Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde, Katalog 1945–46, 7.
  9. Ibid., 20.
  10. Board of Higher Education, Minutes and Reports, January 1947 (hereafter cited as Board of Higher Education Minutes).
  11. Board of Higher Education Minutes, February 19–20, 1948.
  12. 1955 Year Book, 130ff.
  13. 1956 Year Book,122.
  14. 1957 Year Book, 86–88.
  15. 1958 Year Book, 108–115.
  16. In 1974, sixty-nine students from British Columbia enrolled at MBBC; by 1975 this number had dwindled to twenty.
  17. 1957 Year Book, 90.
  18. 1958 Year Book, 87
  19. 1961 Year Book, 148f.
  20. 1961 Year Book, 167–176.
  21. 1955 Year Book, 132–33.
  22. 1956 Year Book, 84.
  23. 1957 Year Book, 88–90.
  24. 1959 Year Book, 186.
  25. 1960 Year Book, 165–168.
  26. Ibid., 171.
  27. 1961 Year Book,175
  28. 1965 Year Book, 117; 1966 Year Book, 127.
  29. 1964 Year Book, 70.
  30. 1965 Year Book, 114.
  31. 1967 Year Book, 66–69.
  32. A rough draft is included with the Minutes of the MBBC Executive Meeting, June 30, 1970.
  33. Board of Higher Education Minutes, July 3–4, 1970.
  34. 1971 Year Book, 61–65.
  35. 1973 Year Book, 34.
  36. See News Release attached to Board of Higher Education Minutes, January 3–4, 1975.
  37. Board of Higher Education Minutes, January 28–30, 1982.
  38. Board of Higher Education Minutes, July 7–9, 1982.
  39. Board of Higher Education Minutes, February 3–5, 1983.
  40. Board of Higher Education Minutes, February 3–4, 1984.
  41. See Report #2, attached to Board of Higher Education Minutes, July 7–9, 1982.
  42. Board of Higher Education Minutes, October 6–7, 1985.
  43. See 1987 Year Book, 11–19.
  44. Ibid., 17f. {56}
  45. Board of Higher Education Minutes, July 1–3, 1987.
  46. Board of Higher Education Executive Minutes, October 15–16, 1987.
  47. Report #6, Minutes of the Board of Higher Education, January 28–30, 1988.
  48. 1987 Year Book, 80–81.
  49. See Helmut Harder, “CMU: The Emergence of a Mennonite University,” The Blazer: Canadian Mennonite University Magazine, Fall 2010, 2–7.
Abe Dueck is Academic Dean Emeritus of Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. For many years he was Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Mennonite Brethren Bible College. He has since served as director of the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Winnipeg) and as executive secretary of the Historical Commission of the Mennonite Brethren Church. The author or editor of numerous articles and books, he is perhaps best known for Moving beyond Secession: Defining Russian Mennonite Brethren Mission and Identity, 1872–1922 (1997).

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