A Look at Calvin College, Betsy DeVos’s Alma Mater – The Atlantic

As discerning readers, you know how much scrutiny our new United States Education Secretary, Mrs. Betsy DeVos, has generated (a West Michigan native). Not merely due to her wealthy background and associations, but also due to her strong Christian (and Reformed – Christian Reformed Church) background, Mrs. DeVos has come under the public’s critical eye, both during her confirmation hearings and now that she has begun her service as head of the Education Department.

That scrutiny now also includes her alma mater, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. In a major piece written by Emily DeRuy for The Atlantic on March 1, 2017, Calvin as both a Christian and Reformed college is closely reviewed. Her Kuyperian neo-Calvinistic philosophy is openly displayed, something our readers will also have a keen interest in.

Below is a portion of the article, available in full at The Atlantic link below.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—It would be easy enough to drive past Calvin College without giving Betsy DeVos’s alma mater a second thought. Six miles southeast of downtown, the school is a sprawling cluster of nondescript buildings and winding pathways in a quiet suburb. But to bypass Calvin would be to ignore an institution whose approach to education offers clues about how the recently appointed U.S. education secretary might pursue her new job, and about the tug religious institutions feel between maintaining tradition and remaining relevant in a rapidly diversifying world.

DeVos is now Calvin’s most famous alum, and in recent weeks, the school has been painted in some circles both online and in conversation as a conservative, insular institution that helped spawn a controversial presidential-cabinet member intent on using public dollars to further religious education. But that is a grossly simplified narrative, and one that obscures the nuances and very real tensions at the school.

And a bit further in her article DeRuy writes, referencing one of Calvin’s professors,

“Our faith commits us to engaging the world all around us,” said Kevin den Dulk, a political-science professor who graduated from Calvin in the 1990s, during an interview in the DeVos Communication Center, which sits across from the Prince Conference Center bearing the secretary’s maiden name. (Her mother, Elsa, is also an alum.)

Den Dulk’s words aren’t just PR fluff; it’s a concept borne out by the school’s 141-year history and the Dutch-influenced part of western Michigan it calls home. The Christian Reformed Church is a Protestant tradition that has its roots in the Netherlands and has been deeply influenced by the theologian Abraham Kuyper, a believer in intellectualism—specifically the idea that groups with different beliefs can operate in the same space according to their convictions while respecting and understanding others. “Fundamentalism is really anti-intellectual and Calvin is the exact opposite,” said Alan Wolfe, the author of a 2000 Atlantic piece about efforts to revitalize evangelical Christian colleges.

Source: A Look at Calvin College, Betsy DeVos’s Alma Mater – The Atlantic

The Reformation’s Impact on Education – Peter Lillback

reformation-educationThe tenth and final featured article in this month’s Tabletalk on the church in the 16th century (the period of the great Reformation) is on “The Reformation and Education.” Penned by Dr. Peter Lillback (Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia), the article briefly summarizes the major impact the Reformers and their biblical principles had on the field of education.

As children of the Reformation, we experience and benefit from that impact in our own homes, churches, Christian schools, and Seminaries to this day. As we do so, – and as we need to remain in that heritage – we need to be grounded in those same biblical principles of education. Reading this brief article will help.

I post a few paragraphs from Lillback’s article tonight, encouraging you to read the rest at the Ligonier link below.

The Reformation has been an extraordinary force for global education. The Middle Ages gave birth to the first European universities that trained a select cadre of scholars. But in the Protestant Reformation, the quest for universal education was unleashed. Martin Luther, a professor at the University of Wittenberg, early on called for the magistrates to establish schools so that children could learn to read the newly translated Scriptures and benefit from the learning of the ages. Later, John Calvin, in the French context, established the Academy of Geneva that became the center of Reformed theology.

The educational methods of the Reformers reflected their theology. The goal of general literacy manifested the Reformation principle of the priesthood of all believers—all Christians have the spiritual privilege to read and to study the Scriptures for themselves. Sola Scriptura—the Scriptures as the only infallible source of saving knowledge and true wisdom—was buttressed by pedagogy consistent with Scripture. For the laity, this was accomplished by biblical literacy and catechisms. For adults and church leaders, confessions of faith served as summaries and standards of biblical doctrine and practice.

…The Reformation’s educational reforms also affected university studies. Speculative medieval scholasticism was replaced by a biblically grounded systematic theology. A worldview shaped by a belief in a sovereign Creator who rules an orderly cosmos encouraged the investigation of the empirical sciences. Linguistic studies accelerated. Latin was dethroned as the only scholarly language, since the common tongues of Europe had become capable of scholarly discussion due to the elevation of these languages by the translation of the Bible. Nevertheless, the study of the languages of biblical scholarship—Latin, Greek, and Hebrew—increased as a trained clergy became a reality. The Reformation’s educational impact spurred the printing industry, spawning libraries and advanced study in various disciplines. Some of the renowned academic centers greatly shaped by the Reformation are the universities in Wittenberg, Geneva, Zurich, Heidelberg, Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh.

Source: The Reformation and Education by Peter Lillback

“Ignorance is not a Christian virtue.” – J.P. Moreland

love-god-mind-morelandThe following quote comes from the section “A Biblical Sketch of the Value of Reason,” where J.P. Moreland treats the nature of God as the God of reason and revelation.

What a contrast the God of the Bible is with the god of Islam, who is so transcendent that his ways are inscrutable (beyond understanding)! How different He is from the irrational, fickle, finite deities of the Greek pantheon or other polytheistic religions! These mythological ‘gods’ exhibit the folly of human emotion and the danger of ignoring revelation. The God of the Bible requires teachers who diligently study His Word and handle it accurately (compare 2 Timothy2:15 and 1 Timothy 4:15-16). He demands of His evangelists that they give rational justification to questioners who ask them why they believe as they do (1 Peter 3:15). On one occasion His chief apostle, Paul, emphasized that his gospel preaching was by way of ‘words of truth and rationality’ (Acts 26:25, NASB) when Festus charged that his great learning was driving him mad (Acts 26:24, NASB). No anti-intellectualism here! By contrast, the monistic religions of the East promote gurus who offer koans, paradoxes like the sound of one hand clapping, upon which to meditate in order to free the devotee from dependence on reason and enable him to escape the laws of logic. The Buddhist is to leave this mind behind, but the Christian God requires transformation by way of its renewal (Romans 12:1-2).

Is it any wonder that we Christians started the first universities and have planted schools and colleges everywhere our missionaries have gone? Is it any wonder that science began in Christian Europe because of the belief that the same rational God who made the human mind also created the world so the mind would be suited to discern the world’s rational structure placed there by God? God is certainly not a cultural elitist, and He does not love intellectuals more than anyone else. But it needs to be said in the same breath that ignorance is not a Christian virtue if those virtues mirror the perfection of God’s own character.

Taken from J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (NavPress, 1997), pp.44-45.

Published in: on October 5, 2016 at 6:41 AM  Leave a Comment  

Love God with All Your Mind – J.P. Moreland

Why have we lost, or neglected, the ability to disciple the mind for Christ?

In part, it may be that we have confused the need for a childlike faith (that is, an attitude of profound trust in God, and a faithful love for Him) with childish thinking. The apostle Paul, for one, had no confusion on this point. Reading any one of his epistles will show you that. And even Peter – the everyday workman, the fisherman – was no intellectual slouch, judging by his writings. What we have, everywhere in scripture, are profoundly intelligent teachings poured out from minds that are also inspired and centered in a love for God.

Step one generation away from the New Testament writers to meet the men who were discipled by the apostles and you will find treatises, apologies, and circular letters of stunning intelligence from those intensely devoted Church fathers.

Faith and a disciplined mental life were not natural enemies then. A well-informed mind held a place of honor. And it was believed that the Christian mind could be the best mind.

love-god-mind-morelandTaken from J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (NavPress, 1997), p.15.

Prayers for the New School Year – Samuel Johnson

studying-libraryI have posted here before prayers appropriate for the beginning of the new school year, and with the start of our Seminary semester yesterday and the start of many Christian schools last week and this week, it it fitting to do so again.

Recently I came across a prayer of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) in the book Acceptable Words: Prayers for the Writer (Eerdmans, 2012). That prompted me to search for more, which I was able to find  online here.

I hope that you find these prayers to be profitable, whether you are a student or a parent, a teacher or a professor, a librarian or a laborer.

This brief one is quoted in Acceptable Words:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, without whose help labour is useless, without whose light search is vain, invigorate my studies, and direct my inquiries, that I may, by due diligence and right discernment, establish myself and others in thy Holy Faith.

Take not, O Lord, thy Holy Spirit from me; let not evil thought have dominion in my mind. Let me not linger in ignorance, but enlighten and support me, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This one is titled “Before Any New Study”:

ALMIGHTY God, in whose hands are all the powers of man, who givest understanding, and takest it away; who, as it seemeth good unto Thee, enlightenest the thoughts of the simple, and darkenest the meditations of the wise, be present with me in my studies and enquiries.

Grant, O Lord, that I may not lavish away the life which Thou hast given me on useless trifles, nor waste it in vain searches after things which Thou hast hidden from me. Enable me, by thy Holy Spirit so to shun sloth and negligence, that every day may discharge part of the task which Thou hast allotted me; and so further with thy help that labour which, without thy help, must be ineffectual, that I may obtain, in all my undertakings, such success as will most promote thy glory, and the salvation of my own soul, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

And when we fail to be diligent in our tasks and studies, this daily prayer is certainly fitting (“After Time Negligently and Unprofitably Spent”) :

O LORD, in whose hands are life and death, by whose power I am sustained, and by whose mercy I am spared, look down upon me with pity. Forgive me, that I have this day neglected the duty which Thou hast assigned to it, and suffered the hours, of which I must give account, to pass away without any endeavour to accomplish thy will, or to promote my own salvation.

Make me to remember, O God, that every day is thy gift, and ought to be used according to thy command. Grant me, therefore, so to repent of my negligence, that I may obtain mercy from Thee, and pass the time which thou shalt yet allow me, in diligent performance of thy commands, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Challenges Faced by Seminary Students: Interview with Ligon Duncan

300x466_interview_duncanThe August Tabletalk includes an interview feature with Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, chancellor and John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Among the questions he was asked – and answered well – was the one below, about incoming seminary students and the challenges of the studies for the ministry. With the PRC Seminary opening its doors today, his thoughts make for a timely post.

In light of what he says (and there is much more!), do remember to pray for the students (and professors!) as they take up their studies with a view to the ministry, whether for the first time or for a new semester. And don’t forget our interns who are out in the churches for the first part of their final year!

TT: What is the most common misconception that students entering seminary have about their education? What direction would you give them in light of this misconception?

LD: Students are often unaware of the kinds of difficulties and challenges that await them in seminary. They may anticipate three or four years of spiritual retreat, and when the reality that they encounter doesn’t look like that, they get discouraged.

So, for instance, one of the great challenges of seminary is that we combine rigorous academic study with discipleship for personal spiritual growth and practical preparation. These are hard to do simultaneously and they present challenges to seminarians. Those who struggle with academics can become discouraged (even though they may be godly and naturally adept at important aspects of ministry). Those who are good at academics can struggle with pride (and fail to understand that good grades do not necessarily translate into ministerial effectiveness and fruitfulness).

Combine this with the fact that many seminarians are struggling to make ends meet, working multiple jobs, depending on spouses to work, rearing children, and trying to serve in the local church, and they can feel (and truly are) pulled in a thousand directions. Spiritual struggles can easily ensue in this situation.

To prepare for this, (1) seminarians need a supportive local church and good pastoral care; (2) they need to be aware of these challenges ahead of time; and (3) they ought to read preparatory books such as The Religious Life of Theological Students by B.B. Warfield, Preparation for Ministry by Allan Harman, and How to Stay Christian in Seminary by David Mathis.

To read the rest of the interview, use the Ligonier link below.

Source: Leading an Institution: An Interview with Ligon Duncan by Ligon Duncan

Final Thoughts… on Words and Books – M.B. Lubbers

In the latest issue (June 2016) of the Adams’ Announcer (Christian School where some of our grandchildren attend) Mrs. Mary Beth Lubbers reflects on her impending retirement as a Christian school teacher – after 45 years!

Mary Beth is one of my favorite teachers – and I didn’t even have her for one. She taught several of our children in South Holland, IL, instructing them with “old-school” philosophy but with fresh ideas and daily enthusiasm for learning. Our children still speak of her influence on their lives.

Mary Beth (Mrs. Lubbers!), we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your faithful work as teacher for those 45 years! We will miss you and your inspirational teaching. But know that it lives on in the hearts, minds, and lives of our covenant children.

Her article, titled “Final Thoughts”, includes some of her punchy insights into today’s educational world, some of which I would like to include here today, especially her thoughts on word-use and books. I think you too will appreciate her “final thoughts.”

After so many years of dealing with the word ‘friend’ as a noun, I cannot see myself using ‘friend’ as a verb, as in the popular: ‘I will friend you.’ Similarly, the word ‘listen’ has always functioned in our language as a verb or verbal; how can I switch to calling it a noun as CNN so frequently does with its glib: ‘Take a listen.’ The word ‘like’, of course, currently qualifies as any part of speech one wants it to be. Those are grammatical adjustments I am unwilling to accommodate. But, I predict these aberrations will eventually nudge their way into our lexicon. So, it comes down to ‘Mrs. Lubbers, get on the train or get off the track.’ Well, I am getting off the track even as I continue to rail against such nonsense.

On top of all that, ‘computer-ese’ is not my second language. …For me, chrome is a shiny decoration on a fast car. It will never be a Chromebook. I recognize books as beautifully bound in leather with wonderful papery textures that respond to one’s very touch. They hold the link of letters and words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs that fire the imagination and magnify our small worlds. And I really am convinced that Johann Gutenberg’s printing press of 1440 was the first and last great invention A.D. I have always taught from books, and if I lacked the books, I am pretty sure, by now, I could teach and inspire kids from my head and heart. The spoken word. Stories that come alive. Poetry to delight the senses.

Well said, Mary Beth. May we carry on the ‘good fight’ against verbal and grammatical nonsense and FOR good books and traditional reading.

Special May Visits to the PRC Seminary

During the month of May we have had a couple of special guests at the PRC Seminary – an individual and a group. So, on this Wednesday we feature their time with us.

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Mr. Start and Prof.R. Cammenga during set up of coin display tables.

The first visitor was Mr. Doug Start, a member of our Georgetown PRC, and otherwise known as the “coin guy” (check out his website or his Facebook page). Doug is a licensed coin collector and seller, and for some time we have wanted him come and show his coins from the biblical and early church history periods. On the last day of classes (May 5) a visit was finally arranged.

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Mr. Start gives his informative presentation to faculty, students, and wives.

What a fabulous collection Doug showed and what an informative talk he gave us! I can only give you a glimpse, but if schools are looking for an interesting and instructive presentation, contact Mr. Start! You will be impressed!

Part of an amazing collection of coins, oil lamps, etc.

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Roman coin with image of Janus, the two-faced god that Herman Hoeksema referenced in connection with the common grace controversy.

The second visitor was a group – the church history students of Mr. Dan Van Uffelen and Mr. Scott Van Uffelen from Covenant Christian High School in Walker, who came last Friday, May 20. This is an annual visit these students and teachers make to the Seminary, part of a church history tour guided by Prof. D. Engelsma (with morning visits to Eastern Ave. CRC and then the old First PRC in Grand Rapids).

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Gathering for devotions prior to pizza lunch together in the back of Seminary.

This too is a visit we look forward to each year, though with the group getting larger each year (near 100 this year!), we seem to be running out of space to put them all!

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Did someone say pizza?!

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It wasn’t long and the pizza was gone! That’s part of the transportation committee in the background – Mr. Vern Haveman and Mr. Mike Engelsma

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Enjoying the beautiful day on the Seminary grounds after lunch

Personally, I enjoy this visit because I get to lead a “sectional” on the PRC archives. Explaining to the students how and why we preserve our part in the history of Christ’s universal church is thrilling to me; and when I get to show them some of the treasures in the archives room, their eyes light up – they actually seem to be interested and excited too! Of course, the two Van Uffelen teachers have already tipped them off and added to the anticipation! 🙂

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The Van Uffelen church history teachers with Prof. D. Engelsma

We thank our CCHS church history teachers and students for including us in their annual tour, and pray that their visit to us was inspirational as well as instructive. Don’t forget what was told you about preserving the history! We pray for you all. Do the same for us.

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Time for departure – thank you for your encouraging visit once again!

Calvin College in 1927 – Students & Professors

Through a Glass Lightly-TimmermanLast year in connection with history and archives features on Thursdays we began quoting from John J. Timmerman’s book Through a Glass Lightly (Eerdmans, 1987), where he describes the early years of education at Calvin College.

We have been drawing especially of late from chapter five, “Golden Branches Among the Shadows,” where Timmerman describes in detail his own experience of life at Calvin as a student. Today we pick up where we left last time, as he gives us a glimpse of the college as a whole.

In 1927 seventeen professors taught 320 students in a college almost wholly supported by the Christian Reformed Church. Tuition was $100 a year for students from Grand Rapids, $75 for those from Paterson [New Jersey], and even less for those from more distant places. There were no scholarships, and student aid came in the form of pay for serving in the kitchen, sweeping floors, and shoveling coal. There were a few names like Yared, Washington, and Uhl, but the student body was overwhelmingly Dutch.

Professors taught fifteen hours a week. There were two professional offices, usually unoccupied, and counseling was nonexistent except when asked for. Professors prepared their studies at home, filled their briefcases with the results, emptied the contents out in class, and hurried back. The only professor’s home I was ever in was President R.B. Kuiper’s. He had a sense of humor; he invited some students who had pilfered applies in the dormitory over on a Sunday evening and gave them apples. Professors were much more distant than they are now, and the only really approachable professors I had were Dr. W.H. Jellema and Prof. H.J. VanAndel. The rest were not unfriendly; they were just aloof. On the whole, they practiced what Prof. Johannes Broene preached when he said, ‘The faculty is the heart of the college.’ It did indeed move the institution, but it did not move about with its students (pp.32-33).

Special Visitors from Heritage Christian High

It was a week ago that another group of special visitors came to the PRC Seminary. This group was uniquely special because for the first time a group of students came from the Heritage Christian High School in Dyer, IN, as part of a church history tour to West Michigan.

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Prof.B. Gritters starting a tour of the seminary library.

They spent most of a morning with us, receiving an introduction to the seminary and a tour of the building, taking in two classes, and participating in devotions. They then enjoyed a pizza lunch with us, before departing with Profs. D.Engelsma and R. Dykstra to visit the old First PRC in Grand Rapids (Fuller and Franklin) and then Graafschaap CRC in Holland.

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Preparing to join the faculty and students for devotions.

Once again we may say that we thoroughly enjoyed this group of students and thank them, Mr. Ryan Dykstra (HCHS teacher and son of Prof.R. Dykstra), and the two chaperones, Lou DeJong and Matt Moore, for taking the time to join us for part of a day

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Enjoying the fellowship at coffee time.

It is hard to express how much these visits encourage the professors and students and staff at Seminary. But we may unitedly say that they do, and we are grateful for your interest in and participation in a little part of our life. And perhaps some seeds were sown in the hearts and minds of a few of the young men who visited. That belongs to our petitions. 🙂

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Sitting in on Prof.R. Dykstra’s medieval church history class.