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Book tells story of Prairie Bible Institute


Three Hills does not often belong in the same breath as Los Angeles or Chicago, but a new book tells the story of how the town’s Prairie Bible Institute was once of equal stature to schools in the American metropolises.

“What interested me was that here was a school that, at its peak in the 50s and 60s, was the same size as schools in Chicago and Los Angeles. Moody (Bible Institute) in Chicago, Biola (College) in L.A. and Prairie were all about the same size, in the neighbourhood of 1,200 to 1,500 students, and here’s Prairie out in the middle of nowhere,” said Tim Callaway, author of Training Disciplined Soldiers for Christ: The Influence of American Fundamentalism on Prairie Bible Institute.

Those students went out into the world as missionaries after their schooling, which helped Alberta and the little “Miracle on the Prairies” gain international fame, according to Callaway.

“A lot of people think the reason Alberta became world famous was because of the oil gusher that took place in 1947 up at Leduc. In reality, Alberta was put on the world map in large part because of a place like PBI that was sending all kinds of Protestant missionaries around the world to dispense the fundamentalist gospel.”

The Airdrie pastor grew up attending the school where his parents also served as staff during its heyday.

He was taught a brand of American fundamentalism that rejected popular culture and advanced education establishments that were shifting towards theological liberalism.

“We weren’t allowed to go to theatres. We weren’t allowed to smoke, drink. Women had to wear very very conservative clothing.

The leadership at Prairie would openly preach against that sort of thing — the worldliness of modern fashion, how Hollywood was responsible for the world going to hell in a hand basket, that type of thing. All of these distinctives of American fundamentalism were present at PBI,” explained Callaway.

The school was founded in 1922 by charismatic Kansan L.E. Maxwell who came up to educate on the invitation of an Three Hills farmer.

The American influence on the school was huge, with most of the administrators and about half of the students coming from south of the border.

In his book, Callaway details how it was a common practice for Americans to come up to Canada during the early 1900s and open bible schools — some 200 were established, of which about 30 remain today.

Callaway researched the story of PBI during Maxwell’s 60 year tenure for his doctoral dissertation to “fill a gap in the historical narrative” of the rarely written about school. The book is a modified form of that endeavour.

“For anybody who loves history, it’s a fascinating story of this out of the way place in Alberta that grew this massive school that became internationally famous.”

The book, published by WestBow Press, is available through online bookstores such as Amazon, Indigo Chapters and Barnes & Noble.

mfish@reddeeradvocate.com

 

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