SO before we go on, let's get a little background music in here. Why? because I have been listening to the Album the song is on nonstop for six days (yes, even in my sleep and in the shower)... The album is Suburbs by Arcade Fire and it is the most horrifyingly accurate description of not only my life, but anyone who I have ever met that has grown up in the suburbs. This song particularly, is what I really think Indiana Bible College is all about. That said, I present "The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" by Arcade Fire as the background music to the rest of this post (bonus points if you are a Blondie fan).
Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) by Hypetrak
"They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock."
The above opening lines of the song describe what I think IBC is all about.
Sure there is the whole aspect of IBC "preparing young people for ministry" which is entirely accurate. But the allure of IBC for most is not the formal explanation of its existence, but rather its social significance:
It's literally high school but for people who are too old for high school. It's one last long reach for the years of innocence of not having the burden of the world on your shoulders, where bills getting paid are of the utmost concern, diapers with poop in them are the odor of life at home, and having your soul gradually stolen from you without you noticing is the hobby of choice.
And IBC delays this inevitable horror, and keeps the dance of childhood right on into the dorm rooms. It is the middle-earth between the heaven of adolescence and the hell of adulthood.
And I do not think I am being unfair at all. On the occasions where I departed South to IBC from my University that forces self-introspection amidst isolation amidst the chaos of college-life, I was startled about how much I felt like I re-entered into my own days back home in high school where you would sit and talk with friends about stuff that you couldn't care less about, and go out to eat A LOT because that seemed like the only decent thing us aspiring adults could do to declare self sufficiency without looking rebellious.
The classes themselves are more akin to high school than anything I have heard about at college (I was a guest one day there to see what the whole experience was like). Literally there is a bell that goes off and everyone floods the hallways amidst gossip and laughter and high five each other as they cross paths. The classrooms themselves follow suit in their role as an older version of high school with students falling asleep while the teacher lectures and getting snapped at for talking out of place. It's quite a thing of beauty.
And the conversations during lunch, after class, before bedtime, how magnificent! I tremble at the memories I have of these conversations where if I close my eyes hard enough to remember them, I can almost see angels floating around us who were gathered in the room to talk about whatever biblical or theological issue that was on the plate.
Most of the time, the issue at hand was Rob Bell. Because everyone at IBC hates Rob Bell and the rest of the emergent heresy and they have a story about Mooney confronting Bell to his face to prove it. It literally has folklore status wherein whenever someone is a guest to the conversation and has never heard of the story before, someone goes "you haven't heard the Rob Bell story?" And then there is a hush that fills the room. And then I swear someone turns off the lights, and a candle is lit in the next room. And the candle is carried to the storyteller who amidst darkness and one lit candle under his chin, recounts in a slow chilling voice, the tale about the time Archbishop Mooney confronted the 21st century's best imitation of darkness: Rob Bell. Sometimes, someone adds in that some people speculate that Mooney had to get violent with Bell because Bell was foaming at his mouth ready to jump and bite Mooney in the neck, but that Mooney is too humble to tell this side of the story.
There is a brilliant subplot to this whole occasion, as my friend who went to IBC would recall many occasions where the Emergent church was at the heart of the conversation and one got the sense you were dealing with the Red Scare wherein it wouldn't have been surprising to the Apostolics in the room one bit if the windows would have been kicked in and their door busted down as the Emergents dressed in yellow jump suits and gas masks came storming in with guns in their hands and arrested every member of that room for believing the truth and preaching it. But yet, when he was in the midst of the paranoia, I would ask him if anyone had read Velvet Elvis who talked so pessimistically about this Apostolic version of the Red Scare and he said he didn't think so.
It was not long after school was over that my friend called me to tell me he had just got done reading some of Velvet Elvis and that it was nothing like it was made out to be (I wholly admit that while I do remember such a call, he may not have taken the exact tone that I am projecting him as taking here. He is not a Rob Bell fan by any means, but rather he just saw that the whole emergent thing was quite exaggerated as an enemy at IBC).
But everything that I have mentioned before is just a precursor to what I believe is the biggest differentiator between the IBC and the rest of the Bible colleges: The festivals they throw.
Sure every Bible College has their one or two unique conferences that draw in anyone from within 350 miles away, and I don't know the precise history of UPC church conferences, but outside of Youth Congress, General Conference, Because of the Times, and maybe that thing they have out West at Stockton, IBC MusicFest is the reigning champion of Apostolic festival throwing (I would argue the one in Stockton is on equal grounds to MusicFest but just representing the West side of the United States).
But to introduce the concept, let me propose that when students contemplate going to IBC, it's not the classes and the weird scandals that come out of the school (seriously IBC has consistently manufactured the strangest stories of sin amongst its students than anywhere else I have heard), but rather what the kids have in mind is something more along the line of this:
And I honestly don't mean that in any offensive way whatsoever. The perception of IBC from the outside is that it is hinges on the IBC Connects, and the Live Recordings and the MusicFests. The darkened sanctuaries with multi-colored lights shining on those on the stage as they perform for the audience of that which they feel God has called them to. Sometimes people get on stage that dance for deaf people. Other times Bro. Mooney gets up there and makes people really excited. And sometimes if you look on the big screen at the zoom-ins of the choir you can make out the devil's paint, and trimmed hair on a few of the members, but we'll let that be our little secret.
And the costumes, my goodness the Costumes! IBC, during these various festivals and circuses is the place to find the latest styles of fashion in our movement. Which makes for a grand time as the contest between the females becomes: "Who can do their hair in the most ridiculous way and wear the most absurd uniform and still manage to get hit on by the guys." For males, well... I just know for males, it's a giant "Who can look like Wayne Francis" contest, but something's gotta give. I'm sure there is a new contest for the males just around the corner.
So in short, the carnivals are quite the show. And they are marvelous. But I think the mistake for those non-students (such as myself) is to think the thing we see is not the entire thing. Sure, because of the carnivals, IBC gets generally speaking the best musicians as MusicFest and the Live Recording serve as the best stages for someone to exhibit their talents to the masses of people to have 15 year old girls in the audience swoon over them.
But just like someone who has an ugly girlfriend will tell you, "there's more to a female than her looks," I can attest to the fact that there is more to IBC than it's festivals of lights. I have seen many good people come out of their matured and ready to take on the challenge of expensive weddings, and having babies, and preaching at local youth rallys all wondering why they aren't good enough to be asked to preach at Youth Congress. I really have seen some of the best preachers of our generation come from there and some of the kindest, and funniest and most loving people as well.
At the same time, IBC hosts some of the most heinous "elephants" in the room of our movements which everyone sees but no one wants to say anything about. The vanity and the glamor of the place amongst some of the students makes me ashamed at times to be considered on the same boat as them (I am not knocking a certain style, but rather the inability for some to comprehend the need for modesty in its biblical definition which revolves around cost and not drawing attention to self outside of just not putting on jewelry. While the definition of "modesty" is subjective, it's no more subjective than saying we should be allowed to drink alcohol as much as anyone is led to drink because God let's what is considered drunkenness be decided upon each person in their own heart).
If you are familiar with the show Jersey Shore and its portrayal of some of the Italian figures in their vanity and ignorance that live near the Jersey Coast, I would say if someone wanted the same kind of show for Apostolics, the first place they should go is IBC. By no means is everyone that ditsy at the college, but it's certainly a place that houses some of the people who are hoping to get out of IBC what it was not intended for: a chance to live as a social aristocrat.
Like the rest of the Bible Colleges, IBC is a tool that can either build or destroy. It is not the answer. It can aid your ministry and build networks and show you how to live on your own as a Christian. At the other end if your intentions are anything short of that, IBC will be the tool to live four more years as a high schooler listening to Justin Bieber, wondering if he "is/isn't gay," repeatedly telling people "Christianity is not about religion, but about relationship" as if that meant anything at all other than you are going to do what you want to do as an young person.
To conclude, I think a quote which I have altered a bit from the movie, the Network summarizes bible college up best.
" Listen to me: Bible College is not the truth! It will not save you. It's an amusement park! Bible College is a circus, a carnival, an institution to learn a trade, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, clowns, side-show freaks, lion tamers, sirens, prophets, heathens, heretics, movie theater goers, preacher's wives, and prayer-warriors. We're in the boredom-killing business! So if you want the truth... Go to God! Go to your pastors! Go to yourselves!."
But after you have found God and have find yourself, I would add, go to bible school and have the time of your life. And please for the love of God, do something useful while you are there. Something that makes us want to be your friend and wants us to root for you every step of the way. Don't be one of those people who we all know your name from a far, but all for the wrong reasons.
I dedicate this post to Andrew Coffield a friend who is taking the IBC plunge next week. I wish him Godspeed and hope to God he doesn't become one of "them."