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“A sound foundation of Bible knowledge,” read Ozark’s college catalog in 1947, “is the best foundation for any education, or for any career for a Christian…. Ozark Bible College was founded with the purpose in mind of training loyal preachers and teachers who will not be ashamed to preach the Word.”
Three quarters of a century later, that purpose remains. Recently, Academic Dean Doug Aldridge and President Matt Proctor sat down with professors Dr. Mark Scott, Jon Kehrer, and Michael DeFazio to discuss God’s Word as an Ozark essential. Here’s part of their conversation.
Since Ozark’s inception, one of our core values has been to teach the Word of Christ in the Spirit of Christ. What does that entail?
DA: Teaching the Word of Christ in the Spirit of Christ is not just teaching the Word, but living it. We teach logos—the content. But we also live the Word, which leads to a character-producing ethos, that results in a pathos—a passion.
MD: It’s Colossians 1:28—“Him we proclaim.” Jesus is always the subject, and the Scriptures always drive what we say. My goal in the student is not just to impart information, but to transform. Colossians 1:28 also includes admonishing and instructing.—The negative, “Be careful about the direction you’re going,” and the positive instruction, “Come back to him.”
MS: Hermeneutically, it means that we look at the Bible with a Christ-centered lens. In Luke 24, Christ exegetes the Old Testament and says, “This is about me.” And John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures…and it’s they that bear witness about me.” Formatively, this phrase means learning the mind of Christ, and acquiring an unselfish, others-first lifestyle. Pastorally, it means that we do Bible work in the right spirit—that we’re more of a healing balm than a hammer. We don’t take the heart out of people—“a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3) We start and end with grace.
JK: In an opening lecture in Messianic Prophecy class, we discuss the Emmaus Road encounter. If Jesus is the master hermeneutics professor, what can we learn from him? Emmaus Road gives us a paradigm for interpreting the Old Testament. So much of Messianic prophecy is trying to read the Old Testament through the teachings of Christ.
Ozark requires over 50 hours of Bible curriculum in our 4- and 5-year degrees, with 35 of those as exegetical Bible hours. The Bible is the core of our curriculum, and our exegetical classes are the core of our Bible courses. Why so much Bible? Why not liberal arts courses or more practical ministry training?
DA: Other colleges might have liberal arts at their core, and everything else builds on that. But in our curriculum, the Bible is the core. Our professional studies build on the Bible, and our general studies help students communicate the Bible. The Bible is central, and it ties all our curriculum together. Bible education prepares students for life. We teach them to contextualize biblical principles, even in practical ministry classes. If we just teach a ministry method, it’s outdated in three years. Students need to be able to contextualize the principle. We hold to an exegetically driven approach because the Bible prepares students for everything—for ministry, for marriage, for parenthood, for life.
MD: We have 35 hours of just walking through the text. The Bible—this book that is designed with aims that transcend the classroom—is what we organize our classroom around. Ozark is unique in this, but we’re not setting out to be unique. We’re just trying to teach the Word of Christ in the Spirit of Christ. We can’t eliminate the hard lessons of practical ministry that students will get out on the field, but we can create space for the Spirit to transform them through repeated meditation on the Word and wise instruction. They’re not just practicing—they’re being changed.
MS: What does a minister need more than the Bible? I can think of a lot of things he needs that we don’t have time to teach—but none at the expense of the Bible. Whatever the class, whatever the curriculum, it all comes back to Scripture. Theology and exegetical classes proved the most practical for me in ministry.
JK: If we really believe that the Word is the authority, then it will give us what we need for ministry. It’s strange, yes, that a book on your shelf can give you what you need for life, for the rest of your life. But it happens. You will never exhaust the riches of this book. It will continue to teach you and instruct you and form you and transform you and be everything you need. I praise the Lord that I had lots of Bible in Bible college, because it’s always applicable.
Talk about the past and the future. How has Ozark’s teaching of the Word changed since our early days? As Ozark pursues regional accreditation, a master’s program, and an organizational leadership major, what’s on the horizon for biblical education?
DA: The exegetical part of our curriculum hasn’t changed. We’ve added a few more doctrine classes to tie things together, but the Bible curriculum hasn’t changed since we were students. As the church has become more specialized, our professional studies courses have become more specialized. But it’s all still building on the Bible core.
MD: What’s in the future? More of the same. In a master’s program, we’ll get different “soil”—students who are in a different place—but we’ll be Ozark, and do what we do from our Bible core. Those exegetical Bible hours won’t change. It’s our identity.
MS: Those new programs fit the mission, so they belong here. The real danger would be if we taught them like other schools. But we’ll make sure the Bible remains strong.
JK: With our new organizational leadership degree, it’s the same core. Students won’t take less Bible. It’s just like when we train them for youth or children’s ministry—with the same Bible core.
Share some Colossians 1:28 blessings—stories of students becoming “fully mature” as we teach the Word of Christ in the Spirit of Christ.
DA: Years ago, a graduating senior told me, “If you come to Ozark and fit in,” —and by that he meant, if you attend class, go to chapel, and embrace what we have here— “you cannot help but be changed.” It’s about transformation.
MD: I love when a student is at a place in their walk with the Lord, and this book intersects with what the Spirit is doing in them. As they exegete Romans, I love when something they’ve heard for years—that God loves them in spite of their imperfections—just clicks. It’s the gospel taking root. It changes me still. I’m more grateful for grace every time we finish Romans. It never stops doing what we expect it to do in them, even in me.
MS: I remember a non-traditional student who started taking Life of Christ online. He was drawn to it, so he moved his family to Joplin to study here, and he’s now a church planter in California. It was the Bible that put him over the edge. Getting a taste of real exegetical study tripped his trigger for ministry.
JK: I enjoy watching students encounter the text—some of them for the first time. When I first required them to read the whole Bible in one semester, I did it because I thought it was good for them. I did not expect them to love it…and they loved it. I saw it change them. That’s not anything I’m doing. They’re just sitting with the Word of God and taking it in. The power of the Word of God changes them.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of The Ambassador magazine. Read the entire issue here. Read past issues at occ.edu/ambassador.