The History of John Witherspoon College

It all began 4,000 years ago...

. . . when God called Abram (Abraham) out of Mesopotamia, He promised that “all the families of the earth” would “be blessed” in him (Gen. 12:3). Thus began the history of the Jewish people, God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture, and the fulfillment of His gracious, redemptive purpose, culminating in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and the Hope of the World. And in truth so also began John Witherspoon College, for at JWC we are running hard to catch up to the wisdom of the past. That’s what it means to be “classics-based.” We long to recapture the great (and almost forgotten) Jewish and Christian intellectual tradition—because the wisdom of the past is the hope of the future. At John Witherspoon College, we are convinced that:

  • A God-honoring life is the only life worth living.
  • God intends life to be a journey, not a joyride . . . and that college should get you ready for the trip.
  •  Ideas matter.
  • The most important writers are worth reading, not reading about.
  • Teachers are mentors, not talking textbooks.
  • All truth is God’s truth.
  • Learning is for life.
  • Real learning is hard work.
  • We learn best in a loving community of real people.
  • God is the beginning . . . and the end, of all knowledge.
  • That college should fill your head with knowledge and fill your heart with a God-sized vision and a God-kind of love.

A Dream Come True

Technically, John Witherspoon College can trace its roots to July 18, 2004, when the congregation of South Canyon Baptist Church in Rapid City, South Dakota voted unanimously to establish Black Hills Biblical Institute (BHBI).  But the vote itself was the result of many prayers over many years that somehow, someday, God would raise up a Christ-centered institution of higher education in the incomparable Black Hills of South Dakota.  By God’s grace, JWC is an answer to those prayers.

The Institute was intended to serve the needs of laypersons as well as vocational ministers, and degree-seeking as well as special-interest students, offering courses in Bible, theology, and other ministry-related subjects.  Through agreements with partner institutions, BHBI offered students opportunities for degree completion at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  From the outset, it was the policy of BHBI trustees and administration to maintain nationally-recognized accreditation standards in all programs and procedures.

Meanwhile plans were being made to take the next step.  In 2008, the trustees of BHBI voted to begin the process of establishing a classics-based college program, to be known as “John Witherspoon College.”

First Steps

The most immediate challenge was legal.  South Dakota Statute 13-4927.1 unwittingly prohibited an institution from offering academic credit or awarding degrees unless the institution had regional accreditation (or met other criteria, which would not apply to the new college).  Thanks to the hard work of Col. Debbie Shattuck (USAF, Ret.) on behalf of the College, the South Dakota Legislature passed an amendment to the statute, signed into law by Gov. Mike Rounds on March 11, 2009, opening the way for the establishment of new post secondary educational institutions.

In order to safeguard the integrity of higher education in the state (the rationale for the original statute), the new South Dakota law stipulated that any start-up institution must secure “an affiliation agreement with an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Department of Education as a regional or national accrediting agency.”  In keeping with this new legal requirement, John Witherspoon College has secured an affiliation agreement with a partner institution.