The Seminary: The View from the TSC

When I was appointed to the Theological School Committee seven years ago, I was assured by the “old guard” members that the committee met just four or five times a year, that its meetings were short, that the work and time required would be minimal. What a surprise that turned out to be! The Theological School Committee now meets on a very regular monthly basis, with an agenda that is usually full, with meetings that have, on occasion, lasted beyond reasonable expectations. 

All this was occasioned by the fact that the period from 1973-1980, during which time I have served on the TSC, has been marked by change. In fact, the key words in my involvement with the seminary as a member of the TSC have been “transition” and “change.” Several things are of note here. Most obvious, perhaps, has been the change of sites. Since its inception in 1924, with a minor break during the 1953 controversy, the seminary held its classes in the basement of First Church, Grand Rapids—nearly fifty years of existence without a real place to call its own. The new building on Ivanrest in Grandville changed all that. The transition from basement dwellers to dwellers on a hilltop not only was a notable one but, to its occupants, an enjoyable one. 

This physical move certainly did occupy the time of the TSC. Under the able leadership of Mr. Tom Newhof, Sr. and with the excellent work of the Building Fund Treasurer, Mr. Dick Teitsma, however, the task seemed to most of us to be of no great magnitude. 

Work is seldom, however, without its reward. There seemed to be a new interest, a new zeal for a time among our people and congregations for our seminary. For many it was the first time that they had visited the place where our young men are trained for the ministry. This enthusiasm made the work of the TSC seem much easier. 

The physical move from First Church to the seminary building on Ivanrest came just in time. For God would have it that our student body grew to its all time high shortly after the building was finished. This, too, was a marked change from previous times. It was common in years past to have but two or three students enrolled for courses. Who would ever have dreamed that the numbers would be in the teens? 

With higher enrollment came an increased burden upon man already overloaded faculty. This necessitated more change. The faculty size was increased by one with the addition of Rev. Robert Decker, whom Synod called to be Professor of Practical Theology and New Testament. 

With this, too, the TSC busied itself. Finding a, house, dealing with reassignment of course loads, and evaluating this new situation fell upon the TSC. 

New building, new students, new professor—one can easily see that the seminary was in a period of change and transition. And, it was a joy for me as a member of the TSC, to see the excitement “on the hill.” It was a privilege to serve on the TSC and to participate in its work during this period. 

Remarkable, I think, too, is the fact that just as the seminary and its personnel were going through change, so too was the TSC itself. As was mentioned above, meetings have become regular, lengthier, with agenda of substantive issues. Because of this, the TSC was required to take a much more active part in the operation of the seminary. What had for the most part been done by the faculty alone was now being done in conjunction with, and oftentimes with the leadership of, the TSC. 

One item alone, I believe, substantiates this fact. In 1976, Synod had received a request for yet, another professor. Synod did not accede to this request but answered instead with a mandate to the TSC to prepare a long-range study on the seminary. For three years this issue was before the committee. Proposals, counter-proposals, drafts of reports and, eventually, final documents were considered at length by the faculty and the committee. The point is that the work was accomplished through joint effort by the faculty and the TSC. 

This cooperative effort had good results. The first result was that there developed a much closer association and relationship between the faculty and the TSC. Both came away from these meetings with a better understanding of the problems and situations of the other; but particularly important in this regard is that the TSC had gained a much better insight, into the needs of the faculty and the seminary. A second, probably more important, result is that there is more change yet to come. The final product of these deliberations is that, beginning with the 1981-82 academic year, the seminary program will be expanded to four years with new courses, new faculty assignments, and new opportunities for our students. 

Transition and change have indeed brought work to the faculty of the seminary and the TSC—problems unique to new situations had to be addressed; policies had to be made, planning for the future had to be done. One worries sometimes about change in any institution, but the result of all this activity on the part of the TSC and the faculty, the occasion of which was transition and change, has been, I am convinced,progress for the theological school of our churches. When change brings progress, change is for the better. I say this not because I was involved; but because; upon reflection, one can see that God through His Spirit caused this all to be God’s grace has been abundant in the work of our faculty and of the TSC. 

But, this is not just a subjective feeling on my part. That progress can be measured objectively. One certainly can not argue, for example, that the construction of the new facility was regression. To those who knew the old and now have seen the new, this is an obvious fact. There has been progress, moreover, in other areas as well. There has been progress with regard to the academic program and with regard to the quality of that program. The addition of Prof. Decker relieved an obviously heavy load from Professors Hanko and Hoeksema so that they, in turn, could devote more time to the courses which they were assigned to teach. There was progress also as measured by the acceptability of pre-seminary courses for transfer to the degree programs of institutions such as Calvin College and Hope College. Our young men no longer need to forfeit the A.B. degree but may work out a program with these institutions. This has put the stamp of approval of quality institutions of higher education upon our pre-seminary course. Further, the new four-year seminary program, although not yet implemented, will also prove to be, I am sure, a step forward. Still more. Students keep coming to the doors. Not only our own students but also those from other denominations and from other countries. The name of the seminary, the quality of the academic program, and the unique perspective which its training has and gives, have become known to others. 

All this so far has been pretty upbeat and positive. For good reason. Most of the activity with which I have been associated has been exactly that. 

The work, however, has not been without its anxieties and disappointments. As an example, consider that during this year the TSC was faced with two professors with calls and one who had to make the important decision about permanent tenure. Some anxious moments were spent over these matters. Then, too, there were the worries over students who did not perform, well academically; and there are always those worrisome problems about budget and finances. 

All this, however, has been overshadowed by the fact that God has richly blessed our seminary these past years and He has not only supplied our needs but has caused us to prosper and progress. Thus the view I express of the seminary from the advantage point of the TSC is a very positive one. The experience thus far has been exceedingly rich with great spiritual rewards. 

What about those of you who do not have as great a contact with the seminary as those who work directly with it? My hope and prayer is that you remember often the seminary in your prayers and with your material gifts. The seminary must prosper at all costs. The future spiritual health and strength of our churches depends upon it. The people of God must insist upon quality programs and quality student-products. We must see to it, in this regard, that our professors are given the time and the means to “develop the truth” as they are mandated to do by the form of installation. 

One of the duties of the TSC members is to visit the seminary for the purpose of evaluating the work done there by faculty and students. It is always an enjoyable experience. One can tell that the professors and students appreciate our presence because there is interest being shown in the important work of the seminary. The invitation is open to all of you to do the same.