Unprecedented, as far as I am aware. Prof. Russell Dykstra was but one year from finishing the five-year transition period into his retirement as faculty in the PRC seminary when on May 30 he accepted a call to become pastor of Byron Center, MI PRC. First, the pastorate (Doon and Hope GR); then twenty-five-years as professor at seminary; now back to the pastorate. At age 67. Sixty-seven these days is not what 67 was 50 years ago, but it still does not carry the strength of youth.
It was very understandable then that only two days later, at the Standard Bearer’s annual staff meeting on June 2, Prof. Dykstra announced his resignation as editor. His reason was easily understood. Full justice must be done to his work as pastor of Byron Center.
The transition process for retiring professors in the seminary
The transition plan for replacing professors in our seminary is not understood by many in the PRC. Adopted by our synod in the 1980s, the plan calls for the transition from one professor to another to begin whenever a professor turns 65 years of age and end when he turns 70. The motivation was to avoid the situation of an older man becoming ill, his work ending abruptly, and placing on the new man the herculean task of teaching all the courses with no preparation. Thus, when any professor turns 65, synod extends a call to another to replace him. If synod’s appointee accepts the call, he first takes two years to obtain an advanced theological degree. Then he begins teaching a few new courses each year. As the older professor gradually gives up courses, the new man gradually takes more until he can teach all of them at the end of the five years. The plan aims to maintain quality instruction at our seminary.
Three professors have turned 65 in the past 27 months—first Prof. Dykstra, then Prof. Cammenga, then the undersigned. If Rev. C. Griess or Rev. J. Engelsma accepts the call to take the undersigned’s place in Practical Theology and New Testament, that transition will begin immediately. Prof. Huizinga now enters the third year of transition to take Prof. R. Cammenga’s place as Professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament. In the case of Prof. Dykstra, Prof. Kuiper is but one year away from taking all his courses. And this provided Prof. Dykstra the opportunity to accept the call from Byron Center. Since Byron Center is close to seminary, he can teach a couple of courses to finish the transition. A happy providence of God both to provide for the seminary and grant another pastor to the churches.
We are thankful that God grants Prof. Dykstra health and strength of body and mind to begin a new pastorate.
But it means that we say “farewell” to Prof. Dykstra as an editor of the SB after 17 years sharing the helm with him.
Prof. Russell Dykstra’s ‘legacy’
The last time editorship changed was in October of 2004 when the staff elected Prof. Dykstra (RJD) to be one of three co-editors of our magazine. Although each editor is responsible for his own writing—just as with all other writers—the editors worked harmoniously for these 17 years to produce the magazine. With the other editors, RJD was devoted to promoting and defending the faith and practice of the PRCA. We made editorial decisions together, planned special issues together, made decisions together about answering correspondence, and never had sharp contention and disagreement. We were committed to the same goal: to edit and deliver a magazine that was faithful to its original purposes, was faithful to the Protestant Reformed Churches, and that honored God by being faithful to His Word. Every three years, with permission of the staff, RJD and I traded the responsibility as primus inter pares—the first among equals, that is, Editor-in-Chief. Which means not more authority but more responsibility.
The SB was what it was for the past 17 years not only but largely because of his faithful efforts. Let me mention some of them.
As Professor of Church History, Prof. Dykstra loved the yearly special issues on the Reformation. He often proposed the general topic and even worked out the details for the issue. Because these were some of his favorites, you will also usually see his name as one of the authors contributing to the explanation and application of this important history.
Each year, the SB’s tradition has been to editorialize on the agenda of the upcoming PRCA synod. For most of our 17 synods during that time, Prof. Dykstra was assigned that task. But he never merely described the agenda, he always analyzed it from a certain point of view, with a theme. “Blessed Opportunities,” “A Multitude of Counselors,” “These are Exciting Times,” and “What do you get for $1.6 million?” were some of the titles of editorials previewing synod that made the reader want to read. When he did, he was not bored.
As most readers of the SB will know, however, Prof. Dykstra’s forte—because it was his great love—was to explain, develop, and apply the wonderful truth of the unconditional covenant of grace, which truth the Lord has preserved as a major distinctive of the Protestant Reformed Churches. When I asked Prof. Dykstra to reflect on his editorials, especially the series of editorials he had written, he worried whether he had been “lopsided” in his concentration on that topic. We can assure him that, among those who love the truth of God’s gracious covenant with His people, no one shares that concern.
When Prof. Dykstra took the position of Professor of Church History and New Testament at the seminary in 1996, his major focus of study was the explanation and development of the history of 1953. In a major battle the PRCA defended the truth of the gracious covenant against the erroneous teaching of a conditional covenant. Dykstra’s students will all remember the profitable Interim course he taught on the “Controversy of 1953,” which he was determined to teach with enough frequency that no student missed this important aspect of PRC history. That focus on the doctrine of the covenant fit naturally with his editorials in the SB. Among many other topics he wrote about, “the covenant” rose above them.
Early in his tenure as editor, RJD wrote an important series of articles on the “Declaration of Principles,” the document adopted by our denomination defending and explaining from the creeds our teaching of the unconditional covenant. Shortly thereafter came a longer series entitled “The Evil Fruits of the Conditional Covenant.” Another series appeared in 2011 on “Controversy and Confusion over the Covenant.” Most recently he wrote a lengthy series of editorials explaining the covenant doctrine in the Canons of Dordt.
It was not, however, only the doctrine of the covenant or the history of controversy over the doctrine about which he wrote. He was concerned about the practical implications of the doctrine. And that explains other articles and series of articles: about marriage, divorce, and children, with clearest connection to the doctrine of God’s faithfulness to His covenant bride. And the many articles on the need for teachers for our covenant youth. And the series of eight articles on teacher-training in 2016 and ’17.
Therefore, far from being a lopsided concentration on the covenant, this focus may be his ‘legacy.’ Thus, brother Dykstra, we thank God for your love for and commitment to His gracious and unconditional covenant of grace!
Prof. Dykstra’s future
Because the SB staff expressed their hope that Prof. Dykstra would continue writing in some capacity, he was willing to remain on the staff to write, perhaps, in another rubric.
So, Prof. Dykstra’s place in the SB does not end with the conclusion of his editorship. Welcome back to the SB staff in this other capacity. May God provide you with a clear mind and ready pen.
On behalf of your colleagues in Classis East and the synod, welcome. As a new minister to Byron Center, you rejoin colleagues in Classis East; perhaps as a delegate to synod. They will appreciate your voice and help. May you yet be strong to “teach the people knowledge” before “the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl. 12). In gladness of spirit, serve God’s beloved bride.
Searching for new editor(s).
Because of Prof. Dykstra’s resignation as editor, because Rev. K. Koole (another co-editor) indicated willingness to write only one more year, and because the undersigned will soon turn 66, the SB staff appointed a committee of four ministers to bring recommendations on replacing the editors and give advice for volumes 98 and 99—that is, starting already in October 2021.
May there be many writers who are willing to bear the standard for the cause of God and truth.