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 truth and fill your heart with a God-sized vision and a God-kind of love!

witherspoonA Dream

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 college in the incomparable Black Hills.  By God’s grace, JWC is an answer to those prayers.

The Institute served the needs of laypersons as well as vocational ministers, offering courses in Bible, theology, and other ministry-related subjects.  But from the outset, BHBI trustees and administration determined to maintain nationally-recognized accreditation standards, in prayerful anticipation of the next step.

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

A Dream Coming True

The most immediate challenge was legal.  South Dakota law unwittingly contained a “Catch-22” that made it impossible to start a college in the state. (John Witherspoon College is the first new college in South Dakota in more than 35 years.) Thanks to the hard work of Col. Debra 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 John Witherspoon College.

In keeping with the new law, John Witherspoon College secured an affiliation agreement with a partner institution, and the dream began to take shape. A capital campaign enabled the purchase of a campus. Faculty and staff were added, programs developed, facilities renovated, funds raised–and in Fall 2012, John Witherspoon College opened its doors. JWC achieved Candidate-level accreditation in 2015, the first degree was awarded in May 2016, and today JWC is nearing completion of the process for full accreditation. The dream of a Christ-centered college in the Black Hills is coming true. Thanks be to God!