Bethel University had its birth as a seminary in 1871 in Chicago, just after that city's great fire. Christian sea captain John Alexis Edgren founded the Baptist Union Theological Seminary to train Swedish pastors for congregations of Baptist immigrants fleeing persecution by the state church in their Scandinavian homeland.
Though it relocated several times, the seminary was part of the University of Chicago's divinity school until in 1914. That year, churches of the Baptist General Conference (now Converge Worldwide) acquired and moved it permanently to St. Paul, where it joined with a Baptist high school to form Bethel Seminary and Academy. In 1947, its sister school became a 4-year college, and together they were known as Bethel College & Seminary for 50 years.
Growing to Serve
By the turn of the 21st century, Bethel had grown to 4 schools offering over 100 academic programs. So in keeping with this scope, the school changed its structure and identity to Bethel University in 2004.
Today, Bethel Seminary represents one-fourth of the university, along with:
- College of Art & Sciences (for traditional undergraduates)
- College of Adult & Professional Studies (for adult undergraduates)
- Graduate School (advanced non-theological degrees)
Of 6,400 university students, Bethel Seminary enrolls approximately 1,400 in seminary programs at 2 locations and through the InMinistry Distance Learning program. Academic programs include master's degrees, a doctorate, and many certificates—all accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.
Bethel Seminary is strongly evangelical and has always trained its students to keep the gospel relevant and contextual to the culture. To that end, the curriculum was revised in the 1980s to develop Christian leaders with better endurance and ministry success. At Bethel, transformational training goes beyond biblical/theological studies to focus equally on personal/spiritual formation and leadership skills.
Bethel Seminary is also pietistic—known for a living faith and devotion to Scripture; and irenic—maintaining peace-loving tolerance on issues of disagreement among evangelical Christians in order to advance the gospel.
Today, Bethel Seminary remains supported in part by churches of Converge Worldwide and forges academic partnerships with other leading churches and parachurch ministries.