John Alexis Edgren founded Bethel as a seminary in 1871, with the name Baptist Union Theological Seminary. The seminary trained pastors to serve Swedish Baptist immigrants, fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Edgren, a sea captain and scholar who knew 30 languages, founded Bethel on the enduring conviction that Christians ought to love God with their minds and represent Him in all fields.
The Baptist General Conference (now Converge Worldwide) took on support of the seminary in 1914, moved it from Chicago to St. Paul, and merged it with a Christian high school. Following World War II, Bethel answered demand for four-year degrees, becoming Bethel College & Seminary.
Over the following decades, visionary leaders expanded Bethel Seminary to the West and East coasts, while growing the undergraduate program in St. Paul. In 1989, non-theological graduate programs were launched, followed by bachelor's degrees for working adults along with online learning options.
In 2004, already classified among "master's level universities," Bethel changed its name to Bethel University to match its broad scope of programs across 4 schools:
Bethel remains a private, Christian university, sponsored in part by the churches of Converge Worldwide, but open to all men and women willing to learn within an evangelical perspective and community.
In less than three decades, Bethel's programs have more than doubled to over 100 degree options, and enrollment has tripled to 6,000 students. But Bethel remains true to the vision of its founder, John Edgren: to develop broadly educated, critically thinking Christians-changing the world through service and leadership in Christ's name.