Prairie Bible Institute

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Prairie Bible Institute
Motto To Know Christ and Make Him Known
Established 1922
Type Private
Affiliation Christian
Endowment CDN $3.5 Million
President Mark Maxwell
Students 285
Location Three Hills, Alberta, Canada
Campus Rural (130 acres or 53 hectares)
Colours blue     , Crimson      & Orange
Nickname Pilots
Affiliations CCCU, ABHE

Prairie Bible Institute (PBI) of Three Hills, Alberta is an evangelical poly-scholastic centre whose primary post-secondary operation is a Bible college which commenced classes on October 9, 1922 on the property of the McElheran family farm.[1] Over the course of its history Prairie's governing board created several other schools including a Correspondence School, a Graduate School (1988–2004) based in Calgary and the extant K-12 local Prairie Christian Academy of Three Hills founded in 1938.

In keeping pace with current ministry needs, two sister undergraduate colleges were created by PBI: Prairie School of Mission Aviation in 1992 and the Prairie College of Applied Arts and Technology in 2006. After restructuring, Prairie Bible Institute divested itself of about one half of its scholastic divisions, but chose to retain as its educational focus these post-secondary schools: Prairie Bible College, Prairie Distance Learning, Prairie School of Mission Aviation and Prairie College of Applied Arts and Technology.


Prairie Bible Institute's precursor was a local Bible Study group led by J. Fergus Kirk, a central Alberta Presbyterian farmer. L. E. Maxwell, a graduate of a Christian and Missionary Alliance Bible Institute in Kansas City, was invited to come to Three Hills to develop a structured curriculum.[2] He became the school's principal and later president. After 58 years, Maxwell retired in the spring of 1980 near the age of 85. The current president of PBI is Mark Maxwell, the grandson of L. E. Maxwell.

Maxwell, the Kirks, the McElherans, and other local families saw the school grow to attain an enrollment of over 900 students by 1948 and become Canada's largest bible college, a position it would hold until 1984. Although initially wary of outside alliances and influences, PBI was officially incorporated and eventually accredited to grant degrees in divinity through provincial legislative acts[3][4] and amendments[5][6] of Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Alberta and has conferred associate's degrees and Bachelor degrees to its graduates since 1980. From 1988 to 2004, PBI operated a graduate school and offered Master's degrees at a satellite campus in Calgary. During that same period, PBI reached undergraduate credit and programmic block transfer arrangements with The King's University College in Edmonton and the University of Lethbridge in southern Alberta and became accredited in 1997 when the Association for Biblical Higher Education accepted PBI as a full member.

Graduate level education returned to Prairie in the fall of 2012 through reciprocal academic arrangements with Carey Theological College, an accredited seminary affiliated with the University of British Columbia of Vancouver. Currently, fourth year students in PBI's baccalaureate programs are eligible to receive one year's advanced standing toward a Master's degree at Carey; alternatively, a student may enroll directly in Carey's seminary courses after completing three academic years at Prairie and have those graduate credits fulfill both fourth year Bachelor degree requirements at PBI as well as first year course requirements in one of Carey's graduate programs.

Ventures initiated by PBI were the Prairie Sunday School Mission, established in 1929, which was subsequently reorganized as the Alberta branch of the Canadian Sunday School Mission. In 1933, at the invitation of Peace River area residents, PBI graduate Walter W. McNaughton traveled from Viking, Alberta, to Peace River country to establish the Peace River Bible Institute, now located at Sexsmith, near the city of Grande Prairie. By the 1940s, PBI had founded three general education Christian schools on its Three Hills campus: Prairie Elementary, Prairie Junior High, and Prairie High School. In 2004 these schools were amalgamated as Prairie Christian Academy (PCA) and began to operate independently from Prairie Bible Institute. PCA now exists as one of Alberta's alternative schools under the local public school division.

Another outgrowth of the school was its own campus church, The Prairie Tabernacle Congregation. This fellowship met for more than fifty years in a cavernous auditorium seating 4,300. Remodeled and renamed in 1985, the Maxwell Memorial Tabernacle was Canada's largest religious auditorium. In 2005, the building was demolished so that a new multipurpose facility, The Maxwell Centre, could be built. The new facility will continue to bear the name of Prairie's founder and, when completed, will house a chapel that will seat 1,200. The Prairie Tabernacle Congregation purchased its own property and has commenced a project to erect a church independent of the college facilities.

Prairie was one of the first Bible training institutes in Western Canada. Alumni were influential in the promotion of evangelical churches, especially congregations of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Evangelical Free Church. These, along with other evangelical churches, employed graduates of Prairie and other rural Bible schools until they were able to establish their own denominational colleges and seminaries with campuses in urban and metropolitan areas of western Canada.

Prairie Bible Institute now represents one of the most denominationally diversified theological faculties in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities CCCU, with an Anglican priest, a graduate from Westminster Theological Seminary, a Wesleyan, an Anabaptist former pastor, and several nondenominational professors.


Today, on its Three Hills campus in Alberta, Prairie Bible Institute encompasses three post-secondary schools; further PBI maintains active academic arrangements with Bow Valley College of Calgary and Carey Theological College of Vancouver:

  • Prairie Bible College offers resident, commuter and distance education programs with major concentrations in Biblical Studies, Theology, Church Ministries or Intercultural Studies culminating in the A.A.R.S., B.Min., B.Th., or B.A. degree. All students in Prairie's four year bachelor degree programs have one year's access to and/or advanced standing in an accredited M.A. or M.Div. seminary degree program from Carey Theological College of Vancouver, British Columbia;
  • Prairie School of Mission Aviation (based at Three Hills Airport) confers a uniform Associate of Arts in Mission Aviation; and
  • Prairie College of Applied Arts and Technology, a Christian polytechnic vocational college, offers an Associate of Arts degree with incorporated provincially recognized diplomas in Digital Media, Emergency Medical Technology, Practical Nursing, Sports Management and other applied disciplines under consideration or development from partnering colleges, most notably Bow Valley College.

Notable alumni and attendees[edit]


  1. ^ Davidson, Roy (1986). God's Plan on the Prairies. Roy L. Davidson. 
  2. ^ First Hand Written Prospectus
  3. ^ Incorporation, 1946
  4. ^ Post-secondary Learning Act
  5. ^ Name change, 1971
  6. ^ Power to grant degrees in divinity, 1980
  7. ^ Taschler, Joe; Fry, Steve (3 August 1994). "The Transformation of Fred Phelps". Topeka Capitol-Journal. 

External links[edit]