Greetings from your seminary—your “medical school” that trains physicians of souls; your “military academy” that equips mighty warriors for the army of Jesus Christ; your “music conservatory” that prepares men to give a clear sound on the gospel-trumpet; your “greenhouse” where seedlings are nurtured up to be strong plantings of the Lord, able to withstand the hot sun and strong winds of persecution and error; and there are other images that are useful to describe the work we do here on your behalf. Greetings from your seminary.
Prof. Douglas Kuiper
In my last report from the seminary (September 15, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer) I spoke of “Professor-elect Rev. Douglas Kuiper.” The Rev. Kuiper is now Professor Kuiper. In September he was formally installed as Professor of Church History and New Testament Studies, to be replacing Prof. Russell Dykstra.
Our members sometimes misunderstand this replacement, imagining that Prof. Dykstra is now gone home and Prof. Kuiper is teaching all his classes. Little could be further from reality. I asked Prof. Kuiper to explain what he is doing while Prof. Dykstra continues full-time for a few years, only gradually to hand over the work to Prof. Kuiper.
Prof. Kuiper: Synod 2017 appointed me to replace Prof. Dykstra as professor of Church History and New Testament. The transition between two professors will take up to five years, enabling me to get my Master of Theology degree (ThM) from Calvin Seminary (as our synod requires), and to develop my seminary course work. For the first two years, I am focusing on getting my degree, with a concentration in the history of Christianity. To do this, I must take five classes and write a thesis. I took two classes during the Fall 2017 semester, and am taking two more during the Spring 2018 semester. In addition to these four classes, by the end of the Spring semester I will have audited three other classes at Puritan Reformed Seminary, all in the area of church history.
For two reasons at least, the studies toward a ThM degree are beneficial for our professors, seminary, and churches.
First, our professors must continue to study, research, develop, and write for the rest of their lives. Obtaining a ThM degree requires a new professor to read and research in academic journals, and teaches him how to write at a higher level of scholarship. To this end, both Calvin and Puritan seminaries require incoming ThM students to take “Research Methodology” (teaching how to research and write at a Masters level) as their first class, and to apply the principles they learned in that class in all subsequent classes. Perhaps the person in the pew thinks this advanced instruction unnecessary because all our pastors have skills to read and write. While this is true, getting a ThM degree requires the new professor to hone those skills and learn to use them at an advanced level.
Second, studying for a ThM enables our professors to gain more in-depth knowledge of the areas in which they will be teaching. Our seminary courses cover broad topics, for example, the history of Reformation in every country from 1517-1648, or the principles of Bible interpretation (called “hermeneutics”). The ThM courses concentrate more intensely on aspects of these broad topics. For example, I have taken one class on the history and principles of New Testament textual criticism—a topic that will occupy a few lessons in my hermeneutics course. And I took a class on the “Nadere Reformatie” (the “Further Reformation” movement in the Netherlands from 1600-1750) and am taking another on the development of the doctrine of the covenant in the 1600s and 1700s. By taking courses that concentrate on a narrower aspect of a topic, our professors are equipped to know more than our seminary students, not only at the beginning of a course but also when the professor concludes the course. We desire that our professors know more than they have time to teach.
Such instruction comes with a price (the cost of tuition), which our churches cover. I am grateful for the generous financial support of the denomination in my work, as well as for your continued prayers. And I pray that I be a good steward of all that is entrusted to me, so that our churches may reap the benefits for years to come.
Prof. Kuiper spends most of his time in his newly remodeled office at seminary, just down the hall from my office. If you are in the area, you are welcome to look in. I can report that Prof. Kuiper is fitting in very well with the faculty and staff. And his wife Teresa already plays an important part when the wives of the professors meet with the wives of the seminary students to talk about life in the ministry.
The three full-time students continue to work diligently. Mr. Matthew Kortus and Mr. Jacob Maatman finish their third year of studies in May. Beginning on July 1, they will labor in their sixmonth internship. Trinity PRC consistory (Hudsonville, MI) and Rev. Nathan Decker have accepted our invitation to take Mr. Kortus; and Hudsonville PRC and Rev. Garrett Eriks will have Mr. Maatman. The men will take on preaching, catechism teaching, and pastoral work; they will visit consistory meetings and observe family visitations and more. For six months they will be observing and doing almost all of what any pastor does in the ministry. In addition, they must read about a dozen books related to the ministry and report on them. It is hard to imagine that less than 25 years ago our students did not have the privilege of an internship. (Prof. Kuiper and Rev. Allen Brummel were the first in 1995.)
Our sole second-year student is Mr. Josiah Tan, student from our sister church in Singapore, Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church.
We have no first- or fourth-year students.
For 2018, there are a couple of prospective students, but none for the PRC.
There are three Greek students (pre-seminary) who could begin seminary in 2019, God willing.
The need for students is urgent.
“Send us wood!”
When John Calvin, in the early years of the Reformation, wrote to the churches in France of the dire need for students, it is reported that he said, “Send us wood, and we will send you arrows.” In fact, Calvin’s letter was in response to a plea from the churches, “Send us pastors!” But because Calvin could not send pastors unless the churches sent him men to train, Calvin said: “Send us wood and [from it] we will send you arrows.” The analogy is clear.
You, members of the PRCA and sister churches, have a high calling to send your sons to this institution to be prepared for the ministry.
Please pray fervently, in your homes, from your pulpits, and in all your gatherings, for able and faithful men who are willing to give themselves to this high calling. The Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 45) teaches a biblical principle when it has us confess, “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desire continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them.” He teaches us to pray for laborers in the harvest. And God will give what we need in terms of laborer-pastors only when we ask. Let us ask for pastors. Let us also be thankful for them. Lest the Lord not provide them. Consider whether there is negligence on our part here.
Consistories, please remind your pastors to preach special sermons at times, and make applications in other sermons, regarding the high calling and pressing need for preachers (and teachers). And pray that the Lord not send a famine of the Word among us.
Elders, please remember to speak to the young men regularly at family visitation, ministers in catechism, teachers in school, and parents at the dinner table.
The PRCA have 10 men aged 62 or older. This year, six of them will be 65 or older. We have only 2 graduates in view. That we are aware of, no other PRC students are ready for their first year in the seminary in the Fall of 2018. We can wait until we have six vacant churches before we pray for students. Or we can plead now: “Haste to hear us, Lord of the harvest! Send ministers!” The members who have experienced a long vacancy know that to have visiting ministers is nice for a little while. But churches need pastors.
Pray that the Lord will provide ‘wood.’