Exterior view of Great Northern University.

Great Northern University

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A Private, Christian University that Treasures God’s Word, Is Devoted to God’s Kingdom, and Within Commuting Distance for Kootenai County Residents

The Faith Community – Column by Bob Shillingstad

It has been nearly five years since I published a story covering events related to the birth of Great Northern University in Spokane, which occurred in the fall of 2018. Seeing a need for solid, Bible-based higher education in the largely “unchurched” Northwest, a group of pioneering professors worked to achieve a giant goal: the creation and launch of a brand-new Christian liberal arts university. Great Northern University is the latest iteration of a long-standing legacy of biblical education that has been taking place in the same location since the start of Inland Empire School of the Bible in 1972.

Having just completed its sixth academic year, Great Northern University (GNU) is establishing itself in our region. The highly credentialed faculty and staff remain strongly committed to the vision to educate individuals who will engage and transform the world for Jesus Christ. Building on the institutional values of wisdom, scholarship, and community, GNU provides quality education, spiritual development, and career preparation for Christians, no matter what field they may be headed towards. Each of GNU’s bachelor’s and certificate programs includes a significant core of Bible and theology courses.

The product of GNU is the quality men and women who are being educated and sent out to engage their world, such as the graduates who will walk across the commencement stage on Saturday, May 11. These individuals are a testament to God’s work through GNU. Graduates of the university are currently working in a broad spectrum of areas: full-time missions, technology, elementary education, church ministries, culinary arts, communications and media, social services, entrepreneurship, and going on for master’s degrees and continued education.

GNU student studying.

GNU is unique in that, as a small university, the current student-to-faculty ratio is 5:1. This translates to small class sizes, deep discussion-based courses, personalized education, and students who are truly known and cared for by their classmates and instructors. The close-knit Christian community at Great Northern is seen clearly through their pancake breakfasts shared before chapel, fun student life events, and the support and care students experience through long conversations with professors and prayers for one another in the student lounge.

GNU students listening to instruction.

As a liberal arts institution, Great Northern keeps a strong emphasis on students becoming excellent communicators, both in speech and writing. Perhaps never before in history has the need for successful communication been so high. Ultimately, nothing needs to be communicated more clearly than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Students who have learned how to effectively communicate with others will have the potential to influence society’s most pressing conversations for the better, benefiting the church, society, and the whole world. GNU equips students to communicate successfully in a variety of contexts. Whether a student desires to enter the secular workforce, professional ministry, or to pursue their own unique dream, excellent communication will lie at the heart of their success.

GNU faculty praying.

Katie Merrifield, Director of Communications for the university, added some amazing developments at the school in the last six years, which include:

  • 2019: Gifted a library of over 25,000 books and shelving to hold them.
  • 2020: Added residential housing by leasing homes for students near the school.
  • January 2021: Approval to grant VA benefits for veterans and their families.
  • September 2021: Authorized by the Dept. of Ed. to offer federal aid, including Pell grants.
  • October 2021: Granted national accreditation with TRACS.
  • May 2022: First GNU tour of Israel (and another planned for 2025).
  • July 2022: Incorporated the GNU Foundation to protect the financial future of GNU.
  • August 2022: Largest incoming fall class ever, and growing.
  • 2024: First new, full-time faculty hire, Program Head for the Psychology major. 

Besides its primary client of traditional students (recent high school grads), GNU provides opportunities for pastors and lay people to expand their knowledge of the Bible and doctrine. They also allow for auditing of classes. For students still in high school, they have a “dual enrollment” program to obtain college credits at a reduced rate before graduation. Being on their mailing list is important, because many opportunities for churches, pastors, and lay people are available. For example, in early April the university brought in Michael Farris, who founded Patrick Henry College, was CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, and was the founding president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Farris led a discussion on “Religious Freedom for Today’s Christian.” Those on the mailing list are made aware of great speakers and events to watch for.

In a recent speech to students, GNU President Dr. Wendy Liddell, encapsulated well the vision of the university:

Let me name our destination. Ultimately, we long to be in the presence of our God. Although we seek to live for Christ, we know that being with Him is far better (Phil. 1:21). We are a heavenly people; sojourners seeking an unshakable kingdom (Heb. 11:28). We are a people who are in this world, but we do not belong to this world, because of the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 17). He, God Himself, is our ultimate destination. In this part of the journey, I want you to know our hope. Great Northern University exists to educate individuals to engage and transform the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are asking God to use Great Northern to work through you, to see His kingdom come here in Spokane, in North Idaho, in the Northwest, and in the world as it is in heaven. We want churches in our area to be strengthened because you have been built up in your faith through your time here. We want your faith to be radically grown and your trust in our God bolstered, so that your lives, your words, and your actions are used by the Holy Spirit to draw others to Himself. We want more than you could ask or imagine for your precious lives.”

If you want more information on Great Northern University, go to their website at gnu.edu or leave a voicemail at 509-284-7100. Subscribe to their newsletter and support their efforts as you are able.