[George Müller evidenced “certain prominent peculiarities” that included] “An experience of habitual hanging upon the unseen God and nothing else. The reports, issued annually to acquaint the public with the history and progress of the work, and give an account of stewardship to the many donors who had a right to a report—these made no direct appeal for aid…The Living God alone was and is the Patron of these institutions; and not even the wisest and wealthiest, the noblest and the most influential of human beings, has ever been looked to as their dependence.”
George Müller of Bristol: His Life of Prayer and Faith by A.T. Pierson
It is the season of the year during which it is my responsibility to write to you about The Serious Joy Scholarship, the financial instrument that permits the students of Bethlehem College and Seminary to receive an extraordinarily affordable—only $7,000 per year—Bible-saturated, academically-rigorous “Education in Serious Joy” and then launch immediately into adulthood, vocation, and gospel ministry without a burden of student loan debt. I aim here only to make you aware of the “history and progress of the work” and to give an “account of stewardship” without, as best I can, making a “direct appeal for aid.”
I was recently asked, “What is your title at the school?”
“Vice President of Advancement,” I replied.
“What does that mean?” pressed my interlocutor.
“Well, I suppose I could say I have some responsibility for helping us move forward, for getting from here to there; but the truth is that ‘Advancement’ is a kind of doublespeak that obscures my assignment as a ‘Fundraiser.’ You see, if my card read ‘Fundraiser,’ it might as well read ‘Bill Collector’ or ‘Undertaker’ insofar as what it signals to others of our relationship. With such a tag around my neck, I suspect many would see me and just head the other direction. So, we say ‘Advancement,’ instead.”
I’d prefer that it might read “Minister to the Generous,” for I have learned during my service at Bethlehem College and Seminary that I am no agent or instrument of financial transaction, but rather a servant of the Lord whose privilege it is to stand between ministries—yours, mine, our professors’, our godly students’, their believing parents’, and that of the broader global fellowship whose shared passion it is “to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ” and to cause others to learn and share that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” I also regard myself as the player-coach of our contributors, never inclined to exhort you toward any action that I don’t continue to undertake on my own.
Paul had us in mind when he wrote to the Romans:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortations; the one who contributes; in generosity [emphasis added]; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8)
Think of that. Our roles as “contributors” to Bethlehem College and Seminary are not that of “patron,” “investor,” “financier,” or even really “supporter,” but rather an endowed holy office similar to prophet, teacher, leader, or minister. We are not so much “givers” as ourselves “gifted” by God to provide ability to the body of Christ. It’s then my job here to support and encourage you in the same way others in the body serve to help those differently gifted.
So, at this season my hope is to help you realize and experience something of the joy God intends for you as one of his spiritually gifted “contributors” by simply reporting to you the “history and progress of the work” and “an account of stewardship” that you have entrusted to Bethlehem College and Seminary.
Our aim remains to build an intentionally small, churches-based college and seminary of only about 250 students, about 70 seminarians and 180 undergrads. At last report, we had 168 full-time students on campus, down only slightly since the pandemic. Seminary enrollments have rebounded to pre-pandemic, full cohort levels. College freshmen enrollments were down year-on-year, but enrollments overall are holding steady by virtue of a larger number of our college students remaining to complete four-year degrees, even to pursue Master’s degrees in a fifth year. Our Admissions team, under the leadership of Dr. Jonathon Woodyard, has been expanded and has already attracted thus far a record number of new applicants for Fall 2023. We are encouraged by the progress, praying to be lifted by God’s hand to our intended scale.
Pulpits are being filled, ministries staffed, nations reached, workplaces seasoned, and the theological academy preserved by a new generation of God-entranced men and women on fire with classic Bethlehem theology, purpose, and missionary zeal, here and around the world.
The Aim of Bethlehem Seminary
Produce mature leaders, ready to shepherd God’s people with biblical clarity and Christ-exalting affection for the rest of their lives.
Take the time to consider the cover story in the Fall 2022 edition of Serious Joy newsletter, our periodical report to our friends. Pay particular attention to the glorious invasiveness of new church plants that have taken root under the watering and cultivation of Bethlehem Seminary graduates. Recently Adrien and I, in the company of Professor Joshua Greever, visited a Midwest church planted by one of our seminary graduates that is housed in a downtown building that once served a Lutheran congregation. But for God’s purposes, this old building might well have been given up to any number of modern uses: community service, fine arts, food service, curio retailing, or simply left vacant. Instead a large, praise-filled, inter-generational, multi-cultural congregation still worships there under two Bethlehem-trained shepherds. Model ships hang from the ceiling, replicas of the vessels that carried the church’s founding Norwegian saints to this region of North America. How pleased they must be in Heaven to still hear voices of praise yet lifted from this place once so dear to them!
We are also excited about the first cohort of seminarians about to graduate from our extension site in Yaoundé, Cameroon. God has been gracious to maintain the energies and affections of these men through the same arduous, four-year program of instruction of our Minneapolis students, but in a cramped outbuilding of Dr. and Mrs. Dieudonné Tamfu’s humble home in this West African capital. They graduate ready to immediately serve the church, fill pulpits, plant churches, and reach multiple unengaged people groups. To God be the glory!
The Aim of Bethlehem College
Produce mature adults, ready to witness for Christ in any vocation with wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives.
The fruitfulness of Bethlehem College is emerging with similar abundance. We were also recently in Southern Illinois. There we met a family whose son and daughter-in-law are both graduates of Bethlehem College. Through tears their father said, “I am a working man, a bi-vocational pastor. We couldn’t even afford the cheapest college alternative for our children. I tried unsuccessfully to get hired as a tradesman at other schools, just to find a way to get our kids a decent college education. We then prayed that God would do a miracle, and he gave us the truly best education there is at a price we could afford.”
His son testified that because of The Serious Joy Scholarship, he and his wife, who he met at Bethlehem, received a rich college education, graduated, married, and have already started a family. He is now in a five-year apprenticeship to be a union electrician, sharing with his carpool mates the deep and vast riches and wonders of all that he learned in four years at Bethlehem College. He is exactly the kind of electrician we are trying to create.
Just how is it possible that we can offer college and graduate students the tutelage of such a truly best-in-class faculty at the nearly unheard of price of only about $7,000 per year, one of the lowest-priced Christian college or graduate degree programs in America?
We do it first by being open-handed in recruiting, well-compensating, and retaining exceptionally competent and well-credentialed professors. We further maintain a posture of extreme frugality in terms of administrative and overhead expenses, preferring to operate without the consumerist perks and frills so commonplace at other institutions, doing our work amidst the unadorned simplicity of un-used Sunday School rooms during the week.
Beyond that we depend on God.
You can likely deduce that it costs more than $7,000 per year to educate a student. The difference comes from elsewhere. Not from state and federal funding and loan programs, which we eschew. Not from big corporations whose CSR and ESG agendas can’t countenance our fidelity to biblical imperatives. Not from some big endowment that throws off hefty earnings each year.
No, The Serious Joy Scholarship is a work of the saints, individual men and women whose love for Jesus Christ is so full that it percolates up from their hearts and splashes over to the benefit of these students and their teachers—“contributors” in the purest Romans 12:6–8 sense. My job is simply to connect their ministries—your ministry—to theirs. Good night! What a perch I have to watch what God has done, is doing, and will yet do in, with, and through you all.
John Owen, Prince of the Puritans, wrote:
Though the love of the Father’s purpose and good pleasure are founded on his mere grace and will, yet God purposed that his love would only be poured out on us in and through Christ. All the fruits of God’s love are first given to Christ. Christ then gives them to us. Love in the Father is like honey in the flowers. It must be in the comb before we can make use of it. Christ extracts and prepares the honey of God’s love for us.
And so he does, sluicing us in such a dense viscid of love sublime that when we move we can’t help but splash others with gloriously sweet stickiness. This is how our God-actuated generosity works.
George Müeller, the 19th-century evangelist whose absolute dependence on God in matters such as those I write of has inspired me so, would still present objective financial information to the constituents of his ministry. Our audited financial statements are available to you on request.
Were I to synthesize this data for you, I would explain that we pray toward being continuously able, by God’s grace, to supply a $10,000 Serious Joy Scholarship to 250 students year after year. It is our model—an intentionally small school that may never grow much beyond this size. We don’t aspire to perpetual growth, but rather perpetual improvement in delivering on our promises to provide “Shepherds equipping men to treasure our sovereign God and sacred book for the joy of all people through Jesus Christ,” and to ponder “Great Books in light of the Greatest Book for the sake of the Great Commission.” Let others get bigger; we pray only to get better at delivering on these promises, and by God’s grace, and with your help, we are.
Some Final Thoughts
It is a common technique of “fundraising” letters to create in your mind some sense of crisis in either the institution or the world-at-large that levers your emotions toward action. Such has never been our style, nor will it be.
I attended a conference this Fall with President Rigney at which a cast of American conservative notables opined on the “lateness of the hour,” “fragility of our social order,” “advance of the enemy,” yada, yada, yada.
My friends, I’ve attended such conservative confabs nearly all of my adult life. The hour has always been late, the order always fragile, the enemy always on the march. Every forthcoming general election of my lifetime has been proclaimed the most important one in history, and perhaps each one was. One U.S. election cycle ended a month ago; another began almost immediately.
The world is no more fallen today than it was at the Eucatastrophe of The Garden. Sinners still face the coming wrathful judgment of a perfectly just and holy God. For many years it’s been said that a godless elite has taken the commanding heights of our social institutions: mainstream churches, media and popular culture, academia, and more recently corporations. I’ve come to believe that it might be reasonably suggested that so many years of enemy command of those heights has now manifested itself in command of a new uber-height of the majority of public opinion.
Political action, as important as it may be, won’t save us. Only Jesus will.
Jesus, only Jesus.
At Bethlehem College and Seminary, we are readying both God’s new shepherds and his next generation of church men and church women to live and flourish in a world that we pray might be turned by an astounding outpouring of God’s spirit in genuine revival. That said, we are also readying them to be able “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” in a world in which they may well be marginalized; where like so many Christians around the world they may live outside the favor of their culture, government, and neighbors.
The harsh, even difficult, truth is that no one in America ever really had to sacrifice for you and I this way—that is, to equip us to lose. Such is the novel burden on our generation for theirs. Oh, how we pray it won’t be so, but how much more earnestly we pray that they will be ready, if need be, to emerge as God’s precious remnant people, held fast, defended in every storm, and emerging from every trial and tribulation as seriously joyful, always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them the reason for their hope—our only hope—everyone’s only hope—Jesus Christ. The Serious Joy Scholarship is your personal ministry for Jesus Christ, one infused with such ambition, such hope, and such triumph. I humbly propose that this ministry remains most worthy of your prayers and treasure.
And so to God’s invisible yet ever-present, ever-proximate, ever-faithful hand, and to your attention we commend this work, as I appropriate this personal valedictory common to all of George Müller’s letters and reports:
From a servant of the Lord Jesus, who, constrained by the love of Christ, seeks to lay up treasure in heaven, I remain,
Richard A. Segal Jr.
Vice President of Advancement
Lecturer of History and Political Philosophy