Biola First to Offer Theology of Disability and Suffering Course

Sep. 1, 2008 By Jenna Bartlo

LA MIRADA, CALIF. --- Discovering the theology of suffering and disability in the midst of following a “good” God is a difficult thing for many Christians. Disability is growing at a rapid rate, with over 650 million people in the world suffering. Fifty-one million of those are Americans, and the numbers continue to increase each year. Biola University is the first university in the nation to offer a course at the undergraduate level, not only answering this difficult question, but also exploring the theology behind suffering and disability.

Not only is the world unequipped to solve the problem of disability, the church is unprepared to minister to the increase of disabled – a growing question that only 12% of churches are capable of answering. Biola University seeks to equip the future generations that will be impacted by this phenomenon, offering a course to help students gain a deeper understanding of the disabled community and gain practical knowledge of how to engage in ministry through the Church.

Fall 2008 will be the second semester Biola offers the course, and like the first, there is a waiting list of students. The class is now the largest integration course offered at Biola and the professor, Kathy McReynolds, has been in contact with other like universities, some as far as India and China, that are interested in offering the course.

Leading Christian speaker and writer, Joni Eareckson-Tada, has been greatly involved with the class. The issue is close to the heart of Eareckson-Tada, who became a quadriplegic in 1967 after a diving accident. Her mission since that time has been to reach out to the disabled community and equip churches to evangelize and disciple those who suffer from disabilities. At a chapel service in Spring 2008, Eareckson-Tada expressed her excitement about the class to the Biola community and looked forward to see the impact it would make on students’ lives.

The course proved to do just that. Students did not leave the class with the same mindset they entered with last semester. Students embarked upon a journey that changed the way they think, feel and view disability.

One student, senior Megan Frost, a communications major walked away with a whole new perspective on the disabled community and what it means to suffer in this world.

“To answer that question [of suffering] completely would be like figuring God out,” said Frost. “I think God wants us to ask, but I don't believe He always reveals the answer to us. It was through the journey of asking this question in class that my heart was changed.”

It is Eareckson-Tada’s belief that initiating a class at Biola will equip and empower students to continue to grow the ministry that she has labored over during the past 20 years.

McReynolds, bio-ethicist and managing director of the Christian Institute of Disability, developed the syllabus and idea for the class because of the world-wide issue of disability and suffering. The syllabus was designed for students to understand the reality of disability in the world and train them to answer the tough questions of why. Guest speakers including Eareckson-Tada and others who have suffered from disability guest teach the class during the semester and students also spend a weekend with the Joni & Friends International Disability Center for hands-on experience. The comprehensive course covers the physical and theological views of disability and covers multiple facets of disability and theology.

As the numbers grow, the preparation and resources for disabled people remains low and underrepresented in education and even in the church. McReynolds believes that the course is important because “there won’t be an American that isn’t affected by disability. We need to prepare them.”

Following in Biola’s footsteps, other universities have taken interest in offering the course because they realize the impact it can have on students and the future generation.

McReynolds makes the point that the class doesn’t answer all questions, but trains students to grapple with the problem of evil, to ask the right questions, and begin to understand the character of God in the midst of suffering and disability.

“This class isn’t just for a grade - students have to be willing to go on a journey,” said McReynolds.

For more information on the new course offering, call 562.777.4061


Biola University is a private Christian university located in Southern California on the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties in the city of La Mirada. For over 100 years, Biola has remained committed to its biblical foundation, integrating biblical principles with every academic program. U.S. News & World Report recognizes Biola as a “National University,” which is considered the “major leagues” of higher education. In addition to its focus on intentional spiritual development and career preparation, Biola offers a unique academic environment where all faculty, staff and students are professing Christians. With over 145 academic programs in seven schools, Biola offers degrees ranging from B.A. to Ph.D. For more information, visit or call (562) 777 – 4061.

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  • Mary Ellen Howard Jan. 11, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    Could you possibly e-mail a copy of the syllabus and bibliography, etc. from your course on Suffering? I am helping to plan a graduate interdisciplinary course on Suffering for the University of Michigan, and we would be interested in seeing what you are doing. Thank you, Mary Ellen

  • Andrew Conley-Holcom Oct. 6, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    I as well would like a copy of the syllabus. I am a graduate student in theology looking at the effect of genetic testing on human perspectives on suffering and disability, and this course is likely to address the exact topics I will need to research. Thank you, Andrew Conley-Holcom

  • Please send a copy of the Syllabus. Jun. 30, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    I am preparing a presentation on the Persecuted Woman and I have learned the wonderful works God has wrought in women who have been called to suffer for His name. "We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us."

  • Ed Oct. 16, 2016 at 1:10 PM

    Im grateful for the blog. Really Cool.

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