By Ron Smith
In 1977, hearing Dr. Earl Morey teach the book of Revelation at a charismatic conference in Pittsburgh, Loren Cunningham asked him to begin the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in Youth with A Mission (YWAM). Earl received his Ph.D from Princeton University and pastored a Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia. However, Earl told Loren that he did not feel he was to leave his church in Richmond.
I had met Earl while at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts in the early part of 1975 and Judy was a family friend. In the fall of 1980, Judy and I attended a Discipleship Training School (DTS) at YWAM in Kona, Hawaii. During this time, Earl called Loren and mentioned that he thought Ron Smith should launch the School of Biblical Studies for YWAM. In February 1981, Loren called me during my DTS outreach, and invited me to start the SBS in Kona that September.
On the day Loren called, I just happened to be fasting and seeking the Lord for one week and it was from that call, that the School of Biblical Studies was birthed. September 1981 we began the SBS in Kona, Hawaii with eight students meeting in a small house up the hill from McDonald’s.
From that beginning, SBS worldwide has now conducted about 500 schools in the last twenty-five years and have trained somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 students.
Through the years, Earl has continued his relationship with YWAM SBS, lecturing in various schools and leading one school in Washington D.C. during the late 1980’s.
To give you more of an understanding of our history, let me begin by outlining the history of Inductive Bible Study in the body of Christ.
History of the Inductive Method
Yale Professor, Dr. William Rainey Harper surveyed 1,000 pastors in the late 1800’s. These ministers stated that their greatest weakness in seminary training was studying the English Bible. Harper’s chief assistant, Dr. Wilbert White developed the method known as the “Method of the Biblical Seminary” in New York. From the Biblical Seminary came the current sweep of Inductive Bible Study throughout the world. Seven basic streams flowed from this start.
The streams from Wilbert White’s method include:
1. Irving Jensen, Kay Arthur [Precept Ministries]
2. Howard Hendricks [Dallas Seminary], Multnomah, Bruce Wilkinson etc.
3. Howard Kuist [Princeton], Fuller Seminary, Earl Morey SBS
4. Robert Traina [Asbury], Ron Smith [Th.D. thesis on Traina’s work]
5. William Carey University, Barbara Boyd IVF
6. Stanley Shenk [Goshen College]
7. Biola, Talbot, Campus Crusade
[Quoted in Jim Nizza’s M.A. thesis from Mary Graham, Inductive Bible Study Newsletter, 1996]
Based on the various streams flowing from Wilbert White, the SBS flowed originally through Howard Kuist [stream 3] and Earl Morey as Kuist’s student at Princeton; plus Robert Traina [stream 4] who was also a student of Kuist with Ron Smith writing his Th.D. thesis on Traina’s work. [The Basics of Bible Study handout is a boiled down espresso outline of Ron’s thesis].
So, what we are doing in the SBS is not original but right in the middle of a large movement started at the end of the 19th century. The original thing we have done in the SBS is to study the whole Bible, every book, using the Inductive Method.
Early in that first year we began to use the RSV translation. We were going to use the NASV but found the sentence structure and the flimsiness of the actual construction of the Bibles a problem considering the amount of usage they received in the school.
Multiplication of the School of Biblical Studies
Several different nations were represented among those first eight students in September 1981. Seven students finished out the first year and the location of the school moved from Kona, north to Makapala. The second year, we had nine students, the third year we had thirteen. All during this time we had no other schools outside of YWAM, Hawaii.
By 1984, we had a large class of twenty-five students including regional, national and international leaders in YWAM. Shortly after that time the school began to multiply. The first three schools were South Africa, Korea and England, in that order. At the end of 1987, we had several schools with locations on virtually all the continents.
During this early growth we received encouragement from Loren Cunningham to increase and multiply growth in every direction; to set our sights on a thousand locations.
For a period of about 2 years, I took this on as the vision for SBS. In late 1989, I sent Loren a fax concerning two items.
We would be notifying all base leaders that the SBS on their base is primarily accountable to their base leadership, reasoning that this would maintain a sense of simplicity and unity in those locations. This has proved to be a wise move. We said to Loren that we were going to be external encouragers to the local school leaders.
The second thing I felt was that a good goal for us would be 65 schools and I still feel this is a good number [we have about 40 schools at this writing].
Through the years, people have asked me from time to time the following question: “What is the vision of the SBS?” I respond consistently that we have two major goals that we have not swayed from:
- I want people to know the content of the Bible in their native language.
- From this, provide them with a Bible foundation for their lives and for their ministries.
We are truly grateful to God for what he has done so far in the SBS. It is wonderful to know that God’s word is accessible to everyone. As well, the fellowship we have enjoyed among the staff and leadership through the years has been fulfilling. Pastors, teachers and all kinds of saints in various walks and calls in life have come through the ministry.
We feel that God wants to continue SBS’ influence. We have desired to keep the course simple. It is not our goal to impress people with our scholarship. Our desire has always been to feed sheep.