Oswald Chambers and a Bible College Part I

Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, residential life, Clapham Common, "caught not taught", Bible correspondence courses

A sign marks it now.

Many people do not know Oswald Chambers ran a Bible Training College (BTC) prior to World War I.

The ideas represented in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest were first publicly aired in classes taught by Oswald at the school.

Oswald prayed, thought and prepared ten years for the school. As he spent himself in ministry for the League of Prayer, the opportunity arose in 1911.

The idea was born during his student years at The Gospel Training College in Dunoon, Scotland and honed when he visited missionary work in Japan and taught at summer camp meetings in the United States.

Oswald yearned for students to learn about the Bible in both a focused study and a close residential college setting.

He always believed God’s truths were better “caught” than “taught,” as had been true in his own life.

Oswald’s Training and Teaching

Oswald spent the first decade of the 20th century as a lecturer for the League of Prayer–an organization focused on presenting Biblical truth and prayer to all men and women. Friends in the League liked his idea of a Bible training college and when the leadership prayed about and considered the concept, they agreed to make it possible.

In the meantime, they proposed Oswald teach a correspondence course using material pertinent to the future school.

He agreed and put in a herculean effort of writing, reading, commenting, grading and returning upwards of 4000 papers the first year.

It was a success.

Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, residential life, Clapham Common, "caught not taught", Bible correspondence courses

BTC 1913; (Wheaton College Special Collections)

Students clamored for an opportunity to study under Oswald’s guidance. Even as he graded papers, he continued a circuit ministry of speaking to League of Prayer meetings throughout northern England in late 1910. He taught a variation on his course Biblical Psychology at three cities during that time, sparking even more interest in a Bible training college.

But where?

When the time was right, a large London townhouse became available. The League of Prayer rented it and a month later, in January 1911, the Bible Training College opened with Oswald Chambers as principal and his wife Biddy as “Lady Superintendent” overseeing the residential household arrangements.

The location was excellent: across the street from Clapham Common, the largest parkland in London, with plenty available public transportation–one of the city omnibuses actually stopped in front of the house.

The townhouse, one of five in an enormous six-story building looming over the neighborhood, had room for 24 students and the Chambers family.  But only one student lived in the house that first term of Spring, 1911.

The first student

Her name was Violet Richardson and she epitomized the type of student, Oswald hoped to serve.

She’d come to an understanding of God  in her late twenties.

Violet changed as a result of the BTC, according to fellow student Katharine Ashe.

“Her intellect began to stir, and . . . waking the woman’s whole being into a mental perception of Beauty and of Order and of Music, [it] became a marvelous thing to watch. . . . She was very literally a new creature in a new creation.”

Richardson stayed two years at the BTC. She took all Oswald’s courses, attended prayer meetings, and worked in the house as part of her residence.

Oswald Chambers, Bible Training College, residential life, Clapham Common, "caught not taught", Bible correspondence courses

BTC 2013; topiaries mark the spot.

What made the difference?

Exactly what Oswald expected.

Her mind became harnessed by the truths of Scripture taught in the classes. Fellow believers challenged her ordinary life and expected her to live out those truths.

By interacting with fellow believers, warts and all, Richardson applied and experienced Christianity in action.

She went on to become a missionary in Africa following World War I.

What did Oswald Chambers teach that made such a difference in Violet Richardson’s life?

Read next Tuesday’s post for a description of the classes.


When Oswald Chambers runs a Bible training school: a woman’s life changes. Click to Tweet

How Oswald Chambers’ teaching changed one woman’s life. Click to Tweet

Bible lessons taught not caught? Click to Tweet







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