IT WAS THE YEAR THAT James Dobson celebrated his first birthday and Franklin D. Roosevelt began his second term as President of the United States. It was within months of the Hindenburg disaster and the Nazi Luftwaffe’s bombing of Guernica, Spain. It was also the year J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was first published.
It was 1937, and Wheaton College received word of a residuary trust from John Dickey of Philadelphia that would provide funding for the College to advance seminary training. Immediately Wheaton expanded its offerings to include theology— adding to its master’s degree in education that was introduced in 1936— to fulfill the requirements of Dickey’s bequest. The first class of students during the 1937-38 academic year included five women and one man in two programs. Today, Wheaton College Graduate School (WCGS) hosts 375 students in 15 programs from 40 states, 18 countries, and 20 denominations.
In its 80-year history, WCGS has prepared thousands of practitioners to build the church and serve the world. But the needs of the church and the world are ever-evolving, and the Graduate School has carefully adapted with the times. From its beginning to today, with offerings ranging from History of Christianity to Missional Church Movements, WCGS continues to prepare scholar-practitioners who lead the church and care for the world.
In the beginning, WCGS led the field of Christian education—with the likes of Dr. Rebecca Price LL.D. ’56 and the LeBar sisters (Dr. Lois LeBar M.A. ’45 and Dr. Mary LeBar M.A. ’45, at left)—and it led in producing Bible and theology educators—with the likes of Carl F. H. Henry ’38, M.A. ’41, Robert Kraft '55, M.A. '57, Walter Kaiser ’55, B.D. ’58, and John Walton M.A. ’75.
WCGS’s programs were said to prepare leaders in “fields of service as directors of religious education, pastors’ assistants, home and foreign missionaries, and leaders of church schools” (1937). Then, the scope of the programs broadened to meet “the contemporary Church’s need of spiritual leadership capable of communicating the revealed truth of God dynamically” (1972).
Education could now be understood more broadly as communication of truth, and WCGS’s programming followed with degrees in communications and ministry. Soon, the communication of truth evolved into conveying the message not primarily in word, but also in deed, through programs like counseling psychology, cross-cultural ministries, and outdoor and adventure leadership.
On the occurrence of the 40th anniversary of the Graduate School, Dean H. Wilbert Norton ’36 wrote a letter to friends of Wheaton, dated May 23, 1977, noting that the “challenge of today’s world” would require improved academic programs for equipping students “in head, hand, and heart for productive service.” Ten years later, Dr. Walter Elwell ’59, M.A. ’61, dean of the Graduate School during its 50th anniversary, wrote that the school focused on “the application of knowledge to the problems of the contemporary world, whether it be here or in Asia or Africa.”
At that time, the Graduate School was applying knowledge to the problems of the world through partnership with Daystar Communications in Kenya. Today, Provost Margaret DuPlissis Diddams ’83 is intent upon “taking Wheaton to the world” through continued partnerships and international student enrollment. She says, “We’re seeing greater numbers of international students seeking to build the church and benefit society."
She’s witnessed this movement in the Billy Graham Center Scholarship Program that was founded in 1975 and has benefitted over 1,000 students who pursue global ministry opportunities to strengthen the church of Jesus Christ worldwide. Additionally, WCGS has fostered numerous partnerships with organizations. Dr. Alan Seaman, director of the M.A. in TESOL and professor of intercultural studies, says that since its beginning in 1993, Wheaton’s TESOL program “has over 1,000 graduates working as teachers in every corner of the world.” The program is partnered with ELIC (English Language Institute – China) and TeachBeyond, providing professional development to global educators. Other partnerships exist too. The Billy Graham Center for Evangelism (BGCE) is partnered with Every Nation in the Philippines and Propel Women to make the M.A. in Evangelism and Leadership degree more accessible to students the world over. The Marriage and Family Therapy program has had, in its first five years, international students and international workers represent about 30–40 percent of its student body.
WCGS’s biblical and theological programs are also continuing the legacy of producing globally engaged scholar-practitioners and educators to build the church and serve the world. Dr. Nicholas Perrin, the Franklin S. Dyrness professor of biblical studies, says that these programs continue to be decidedly academic.
“There’s a continuing need for evangelical intellectuals,” Dr. Perrin notes, and “this is a niche Wheaton has always filled—preparing servant scholars to lead the church.”
Not long ago, as dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Perrin, along with stakeholders and members of the Graduate School community, accomplished the hard work of establishing its mission and vision statements. In a time when graduate education is rapidly changing, WCGS leadership saw a need to set its course for the future by affirming its historic identity while sharpening its self-definition.
In its 80 years, the Graduate School has consistently formed servant scholars and leaders through its exceptional programs. Indeed, God is transforming the world through the school’s scholars and practitioners who are rooted in Christ and equipped for global leadership.
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