Northwest Baptist Seminary is the official theological education and leadership development agency of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of British Columbia, the Yukon, and Territories (Fellowship Pacific), and Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba (Fellowship Prairies).
The story begins
Our story began in 1934, when the Regular Baptist Missionary Fellowship of the Prairie Provinces established Western Baptist Bible College in the basement of Westbourne Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta. Denominational leaders noticed when individuals left the region for ministry education, they often did not return. So they established a school to train young church and ministry leaders in Western Canada, hoping these leaders would stay and serve in the region following graduation.
The school founder was Rev. Morley Hall, and our first Principal was Rev. George Dawe. Together they ran the school until 1939, when it temporarily closed during the Second World War. Many of the young men who would have come to study were being sent to Europe, and there were not enough students to keep the school open.
When the war ended in 1945, the Regular Baptist denominational leaders in British Columbia and the Prairies decided to re-open the school in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, and renamed it Northwest Baptist Bible College. Dr. J. B. Rowell initially served as President, and was succeeded in 1946 by Rev. George Dawe.
The move to Marine Drive
In 1953, the College was reorganized and Dr. J. H. Pickford became the new Dean. The Port Coquitlam campus was a rambling old hotel, and in the words of Dr. Pickford, “The roof leaked, the foundations sagged, the floors were undulated, the plumbing was antiquated, and the heating system left one cold.” The school was relocated in 1958 to a beautiful acreage on Marine Drive in Vancouver, and in 1959 received a legislated charter from the government of British Columbia, allowing it to grant all theological degrees under the name, Northwest Baptist Theological College.
Dr. J. H. Pickford retired in 1972, and Dr. Howard Andersen became the Dean, a position which was later renamed “President.” While primarily an undergraduate school, Northwest had also operated a graduate division in which students worked on degrees such as a Master of Divinity (at that time called a Bachelor of Divinity) and Master of Theology. In 1976, the graduate division became a Seminary and Dr. D. A. Carson served as Northwest’s first Seminary Dean. Rev. Douglas Harris took over as President in 1980, and Dr. Larry Perkins was appointed Academic Dean.
A passion for collaboration
Northwest flourished on its Vancouver campus for 30 years. But by the late 1980s, buildings and infrastructure were once again in need of upgrade and repair. At the same time, Northwest leadership was formulating a vision for theological education and growth that would see local denominational bible colleges and seminaries collaborate to serve the learning and leadership development needs of students and churches in a more sustainable way.
Instead of upgrading its Marine Drive campus, Northwest constructed a new building on the Langley campus of Trinity Western University (TWU) in 1987 and initiated a partnership to conjointly offer degrees. At the same time, Northwest Seminary joined together with two other seminaries – Canadian Baptist Seminary and Trinity Western Seminary – to form a consortium they named the Associated Canadian Theological Schools, known as ACTS Seminaries. ACTS Seminaries remains a strong partnership today comprised of the three original members, plus Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, each jointly conferring graduate degrees with Trinity Western University.
After 15 years as President, Rev. Harris resigned in 1995, and was followed by Dr. Larry McCullough from 1996-1999. Northwest fell on hard times, and its residential undergraduate program became unsustainable. Dr. Larry Perkins was appointed President in 2000, and the difficult decision was made to close down the undergraduate programs. Northwest sold its building to TWU and leased office space along with the other ACTS seminaries in the Fosmark Centre at TWU.
By 2009, Northwest was facing declining enrollment and graduates were not being offered pastoral positions in Fellowship Pacific, or elsewhere. At the same time, Fellowship Pacific was facing its own crisis of survival. Its churches were shrinking, some were closing, and there was very little growth. Leadership came to the conclusion that the traditional seminary education model of training pastors was no longer producing the results needed in the field, and graduates did not have the leadership skills and qualities needed to grow and sustain churches in the 21st century.
A new vision
In 2010, Dr. Perkins stepped down as President and returned to an academic and advisory role. Dr. Kenton Anderson was appointed as President, having already been on faculty and served as Academic Dean for 15 years prior. Dr. Anderson and Dr. David Horita, Regional Director of Fellowship Pacific, worked together on a new way forward, leveraging their collective strengths and experience. They undertook a joint project to reverse-engineer Northwest’s Master of Divinity (MDiv) program, by starting with the end in mind. They identified the outcomes they believed 21st-century pastors needed to be effective in ministry, re-evaluated the school’s educational approach to pastoral preparation and developed an apprenticeship-style program that would be offered jointly by Northwest and Fellowship Pacific in addition to the ACTS programs.
In 2012, Northwest and Fellowship Pacific announced Immerse, a direct assessment, competency-based MDiv that extended outcomes-based mastery learning from technical vocational training and licensure into the Humanities. They called this new model competency-based theological education (CBTE).
To establish credibility for such an innovative model among its peers in theological education, Northwest applied for and received accreditation of the new CBTE MDiv in 2015 through the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the premier accrediting body for graduate-level theological education in North America. Northwest already had accreditation of its conventional programs through ACTS, but to accredit the new CBTE program, it had to seek membership independent from ACTS.
As interest in CBTE grew throughout ATS schools, Northwest applied for and received a grant from ATS to offer the first conference on competency-based theological education in 2018, which has since become an annual event organized by Northwest in partnership with the US-based Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN).
Northwest began to grow again. In addition to its ACTS and CBTE programs, Korean language programs were introduced, including a Doctor of Ministry in 2015. A new Northwest building project was undertaken on the TWU campus in 2020, and for the first time in 20 years, undergraduate programs were offered once again. Dr. Anderson also resigned as President in 2020, and Ms. Ruth McGillivray, Northwest Chief Operations Officer and daughter of former President, Dr. Harris, was appointed as Interim President. The team moved into the new Northwest wing of TWU’s Fosmark Centre in Fall 2021.
Northwest now offers multiple graduate and undergraduate CBTE degrees in partnership with more than 10 denominations, ministry agencies and churches in four languages, and is recognized worldwide as a leader in CBTE. Since 2013, enrollment and graduation rates have grown steadily year over year, and most importantly, the placement rate of graduates in ministry is 75%. It remains an independent, self-governing Seminary and College, and works collaboratively with the other seminary members of ACTS as the Graduate School of Theology of Trinity Western University, preparing effective pastoral and lay ministry leaders for service to churches and agencies in the Fellowship and beyond.