Most of us are aware of the death of eminent New York City pastor and author Tim Keller on May 19. Though his legacy lives on—including Redeemer Presbyterian Church and the City to City church planting ministry—his passing into glory silences a well-known evangelical voice in NYC.
But there’s more bad news. Despite their best efforts to make ends meet, two evangelical colleges in NYC have recently closed due to severe financial difficulties leading to loss of accreditation. We regretfully summarize the situation in this post.
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A Personal Note
Recently I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to serve as Scholar in Residence for New Testament Studies at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. I’ve served as an adjunct at PRTS previously, and I’m looking forward to this new opportunity to mentor PRTS students in their New Testament research.
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A. B. Simpson founded the Missionary Training Institute in New York City in 1882. In 1897 the school relocated up and across the Hudson River to South Nyack NY. It was affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, another organization founded by Simpson, but it functioned as an interdenominational institution. The Missionary Training Institute gradually offered a more comprehensive curriculum and became Nyack College in 1972. The seminary—established in 1960—became known as Alliance Theological seminary in 1979. In 1997 a branch campus was opened in Manhattan, leading to leased space in Battery Park in 2013. In 2020 the Nyack campus was sold and the renamed Alliance University began operations solely in Manhattan.
Alliance offered undergrad and grad degrees, including the Doctor of Ministry. An organizational management program was available to incarcerated persons in two NY prisons. In 2016 the school was named by USNWR as one of the ten most diverse colleges in the northern US. The Chronicle of Higher Education named it as “a great college to work for” for five consecutive years beginning in 2011. In 2016 the Wall Street Journal/NY Times Higher Education rankings named it a top 20 US school in the area of campus environment.
Despite these accolades, after 140 years of service to the NYC area, Alliance was shuttered August 31, 2023 after the Middle States Commission on Higher Education announced it would revoke the school’s accreditation due to extreme indebtedness and ongoing financial challenges. Alliance officials stated that Middle States did not take into account their balanced budget and an incoming class that was the largest in 15 years. They also complained that the accreditors did not understand their evangelical calling.
Alliance has signed teach-out agreements with several schools so that students may complete their programs of study with the least possible inconvenience. The CMA is currently exploring the possibility of continuing the seminary program. Simpson’s original vision to reach the NYC masses with the gospel is still alive.
The King’s College
King’s was founded by evangelist Percy B. Crawford in 1936. Through the years it operated from campuses in Belmar NJ and New Castle DE before landing in Briarcliffe Manor NY in 1955. Pastor and broadcaster Robert A. Cook became president in 1962 and the school flourished into the 1980’s. A period of decline led to bankruptcy and loss of accreditation in 1994.
In 1999 the school was enabled to re-open in the Empire State Building by coming under the wing of Campus Crusade for Christ and acquiring Northeastern Bible College. In 2012 the school became independent of Cru. In addition to its standard programs, the school began offering a semester-long residence in journalism, theater, and business to visiting students from other colleges.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to acute financial challenges at many evangelical schools, and King’s was no exception. The school’s image also suffered from controversies related to its former president Dinesh D’Souza. Although it survives as a legal entity, King’s has ceased all educational activities after losing its accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education as of August 31, 2023. The King’s website currently has an update reflecting the board’s ongoing discussions about keeping the school open and challenging the revocation of its accreditation.
At this point there are no evangelical Christian colleges operating from New York City. People tend to blame COVID-19, demographic change, the rise in cheap online programs, or the decline in evangelical commitment to Christian higher education. As we’ve explained in a previous post, it’s all the above.
Talbot School of Theology is still operating the Feinberg Center in Brooklyn, preparing people for ministry to Jewish communities. Pillar College, just across the Hudson in Newark NJ, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Christian ministry. Several other Christian colleges and seminaries are still operating in upstate and western NY.
Two realities come to mind. First, Christians—including Christian students—are to be salt and light in this world. These closures remind us that we shouldn’t think of higher education as something that has to be done in a Christian enclave. Parents and churches must prepare young people for life—Christian colleges in loco parentis cannot shoulder this responsibility alone. Second, focusing specifically on the role of seminaries, campuses of bricks and mortar with accredited programs cannot replace the primary role of local congregations in developing the next generation of ministry leaders. Thankfully, Competency-Based Theological Education is taking up that mantle.
Despite the passing of prominent leaders and the closing of well-known schools, Jesus is still building his church. Alliance and King’s have sown many alumni/ae into the soil of the New York City metropolitan area. These graduates serve as a living testimony to the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. Alliance and King’s both have hopes to continue. We hope they will, but only with a sound financial plan. Perhaps some sort of merger should be considered.
Come what may, the harvest is not over in the Big Apple.
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When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” -Matthew 9:36-38 NLT