Our Student Body
It has been an exciting and profitable first semester of the 2013-14 school year at the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. Nine first-year students and one third-year student, plus a number of auditors, made for some unusually large classes. What a joy to teach classes with twelve, fifteen, or more students in them. This is a rare treat that faculty and students alike are enjoying.
The first semester has concluded. Class work, reports and research papers, as well as exams are behind us. We are presently making preparations for the beginning of the second semester, which begins officially on Tuesday, January 21, 2014.
Due to unforeseen circumstances this year’s scheduled interim course on “The Theology of John Calvin,” which was to have been taught by the undersigned, was cancelled. The “unforeseen circumstance” was that my wife, Rhonda, was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She has undergone surgery for the removal of the cancer and is presently receiving both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Although there was no indication that the cancer had spread elsewhere, the treatments were advised in the hope that they will prevent any recurrence of the cancer. We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support by the members of our denomination and by many beyond our denomination. We express our thanks to so many of you for cards, e-mails, letters, and other expressions of concern. Our prayer is that God will use the means that are being utilized to bring about a complete cure. But our prayer is especially that God will give the grace to bear up under this trial, as He has promised in His Word.
The beginning of the second semester means also that our fourth-year student, Mr. Joshua Engelsma, is back in the classroom. For the past six months, Mr. Engelsma fulfilled his internship requirement, laboring in the Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois, under the mentoring of Rev. Clayton Spronk and the supervision of Peace’s consistory. The internship is intended to provide students who are nearing graduation with “hands-on” experience in the work of the ministry. Back in the 1970s, when I went through the seminary, there was no internship program. The first consistory meeting that I ever attended was the one I chaired in Hull, Iowa. Now our students have the advantage of experience at attending council and consistory meetings, leading Bible
study societies, teaching catechism, conducting family visitation, making pastoral calls, attending the sessions of the meetings of classis, as well as preparing and preaching a dozen or so sermons. The internship has proved to be a very valuable tool for preparing our students for the various aspects of the work of the ministry. All who have gone through this program testify to its usefulness.
Completion of the internship means that Mr. Engelsma will be finishing his seminary education and will be making preparations for his oral (praeparatoir) examination before the 2014 Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in June. The calling (convening) church of synod this year is the Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Walker, Michigan, which happens to be Mr. Engelsma’s home church. The sessions begin on Tuesday, June 10. The examination of seminarian Engelsma will likely take up most of Wednesday and Thursday, June 11-12. The examination will be open to the public. All are cordially invited to witness either the whole or part of the examination. It may be that the examination will be live-streamed. If you are unable to attend, stay tuned for further information regarding this possibility.
Noteworthy Faculty Activities
Prof. Gritters will still be on partial sabbatical the second semester. He spent more than two weeks of the break between semesters laboring in India on behalf of the Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church. Prof. Gritters and his wife, Lori, and elder Deane Wassink and his wife, Donna, are the fourth delegation sent to Vellore since Georgetown PRC, at the request of the synod of our churches, took oversight of this developing work. Vellore is located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The labors of the delegation are especially with the Reformed Christian Church of Vellore (RCCV) and its pastor, Rev. Paulraj. This congregation is a Tamil-speaking congregation. Closely associated with the congregation, and an outreach work of the congregation, is an English-speaking group that is made up of doctors and medical students from the Christian Medical College (CMC). Every other Sunday morning, Pastor Paulraj preaches for them. On this visit Prof. Gritters presented a number of lectures on two main doctrines of the Reformed faith. The first week he lectured on the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology), addressing such topics as: the identity and marks of the true church; the church’s calling in the world; the office of believer and the calling of believers as church members. The second week he lectured on the doctrine of the covenant and its applications to church life. He spoke on such subjects as the doctrine of the covenant itself; the unity of the covenants; and infant baptism as demanded by the covenant. In all, Prof. Gritters gave some twenty lectures—a rigorous schedule by anyone’s standards.
Connected to Pastor Paulraj’s congregation is an orphanage, the Grace Foster Home. The doctors and medical students from the Christian Medical College also provide assistance in meeting the needs of the orphanage. Prof. Gritters assisted elder Wassink in meeting with the RCCV church council, reviewing building needs and plans, and exploring possibilities in regard to establishing micro businesses. Elder Wassink also assisted in assessing the needs of the Grace Foster Home. It is plain that our Georgetown congregation is expending a great deal of effort in promoting the work in India and assisting Pastor Paulraj. This is a work for which we all ought to be praying, a work worthy of the support of our people. We are indebted in many ways to Georgetown PRC, especially its pastor and council, for developing this work. The faculty counts it a privilege to be able to be of service to our churches in assisting in such a promising work as is the work in India.
Because he will also be on partial sabbatical the second semester, courses that otherwise would be taught by Prof. Gritters are being taught by his colleagues. In addition, the faculty and the Theological School Committee (TSC) are grateful that Rev. Kenneth Koole has consented to teach Old Testament Isagogics during the second semester. Rev. Koole has actually taught this course before. As is usual for many of the courses in the seminary, this class will meet for an hour twice weekly. “Isagogics” is derived from two Greek words, which together mean “to lead into.” The course will introduce the students to the Old Testament generally and to each of the books specifically. The date of the writing of each book where this is possible to be determined, the identity of the human writer, the “target audience,” the theme, key passages, and the canonical significance of each book will be treated. We look forward to having Rev. Koole on staff and in our fellowship during the second semester. No doubt the students who will be taking his course will profit from his course and the years of practical experience in the ministry that he brings into the classroom.
Prof. Dykstra is planning to be in Singapore during Rev. Andrew Lanning’s furlough later this summer. He has agreed to be in Singapore for seven weeks. During this time he will not only occupy Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church’s pulpit, but will also be giving the speeches at the annual church camp (June 23-27) of Covenant ERCS. We are thankful as seminary professors that we are able to be of service beyond our work in the classrooms of our theological school to our denomination and our sister churches. Such activities provide the opportunity for God’s people to have real contact with the seminary and provide the opportunity for the faculty to promote the seminary among our people, the members of our sister churches, and our contacts throughout the world.
Besides the “out of the ordinary” activities of the faculty, we remain busy preparing teaching materials, developing our courses, delivering classroom lectures, writing articles for publication in various magazines, preaching regularly in the churches, lecturing within and outside of our denomination, serving on denominational committees, and assisting the annual synod of our churches. We count it a privilege and esteem it a high honor to be the servants of Christ and of His church.
Writing is an important part of the calling of every minister of the gospel. Just as there is a dearth of good theological reading in our day, so is there a dearth of good theological writing. It is especially seminary professors who are called to write, in line with what Article 18 of our Church Order describes as their office “to expound the Holy Scripture and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and error.” Writing for all different sorts of purposes: classroom lectures and public lectures; writing for the Beacon Lights, Standard Bearer, and Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. From time to time, professors take on special writing projects. At present, Prof. Dykstra is involved in writing a syllabus on the history and foundation of Reformed Christian Schools, which is the fruit of the sabbatical he took last school-year. I am working on expanding my recently completed Th.M. thesis, God of Friendship: Herman Hoeksema’s Unconditional Covenant Conception, with a view to its publication.
Seminary Field Trip
From time to time the seminary (faculty and students) has the opportunity to be involved in “extra-curricular activities.” Generally in the spring of every year we attend the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology that is held locally. This year’s conference is scheduled for March 28-29, 2014 and the theme is: “Profaning the Sacred: The Beauty and Holiness of the Bride of Christ.” The conference ought to be worthwhile and we are once again planning to attend.
On Thursday, January 16, 2014, Professors Cammenga and Dykstra, our librarian Mr. Charles Terpstra, and nearly all of our students spent the day in the Chicago area. Our first stop was the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and the Gruber Rare Books Collection. There are more than 300 books and manuscripts from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries in this collection. The majority of the holdings belonged originally to L. Franklin Gruber, a former president of the Lutheran seminary. The books include works written by Martin Luther himself, including original copies of several of his letters; copies of Luther’s Bible translations; works by Phillip Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague and successor; pre-Reformation and Reformation Bibles; a portion of an original Gutenberg Bible; a 1517 copy of Luther’s 95 Theses; Erasmus’s 2nd edition of the Greek New Testament from 1519, which was the basis for Luther’s Bible translations; Luther’s three great treatises written in 1520 entitled On the Freedom of the Christian, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and An Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation; original editions of a number of the Reformation creeds and confessions; a 1611 King James Bible; the Saur Bible, the first Bible ever published on American soil, in 1743; and other books. Our guide was Dr. Ralph Klein, an emeritus professor and the curator of the Gruber Rare Books Collection. Dr. Klein was a delightful host and gave our group the often fascinating accounts of the history and background of selected materials in the collection, frequently accompanied by his own very interesting anecdotes.
After lunch our afternoon was taken up with a tour of the Museum of the Oriental Institute, which is a part of the University of Chicago. This museum is world-renowned on account of its collection of antiquities from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), Assyria (present-day Iran), Israel, Nubia, Syria, and Turkey. All of these countries had some connection to the people of God in the Old Testament, a number of their rulers fighting against the kings of Israel and Judah. There are display-cases filled with artifacts, all kinds of pottery, sculptures, clay tablets, monuments, mummies, carved reliefs, metalwork, weapons, ancient board games and dice, and much more besides. This, too, was a very worthwhile stop and educational experience.
More information about the Gruber Rare Books Collection and the Museum of the Oriental Institute can be found on the Internet. You may want to visit these places yourself sometime in the future, or take your whole family for an excursion this summer.
It is encouraging to the faculty that we continue to hear of young men who are considering the call to the ministry or who have announced their intentions to pursue studies in college with a view to coming to the seminary. There are several men of whom we are aware. If there are others of whom we are not yet aware, we encourage you to contact one of the professors or our registrar, Mr. Charles Terpstra. Most days they can all be reached at the seminary building on Ivanrest Avenue in Grandville, Michigan. May we continue to pray earnestly that the Lord will be pleased to raise up men of God to bring the Word to His people “in season, out of season” (), for the gathering, building up, defense, and preservation of His elect church, in order to present her to Christ at His coming.