Published by Calvin Seminary
Dean Deppe’s cup always has been half full or better — whether serving as a pastor to people in the core city, suburban sprawl or a more rural outpost in the Minnesota hinterlands, or lecturing on the life lessons and hard sayings of Jesus to an adult education group or classroom of students at Calvin Theological Seminary.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the parish ministry at the beginning of my career and this season of teaching at the seminary also has been a great gift,” said Deppe, who joined the Calvin Seminary faculty in 1998 as a professor of New Testament.
Yet even Deppe’s sunny disposition and relentless positivity have been tested severely during the past two years as he’s battled through daunting health challenges brought on by the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the resultant chemotherapy and stem-cell transplant treatments.
At times, he acknowledged, the pain and dizziness have been excruciating, leading him to write psalms and journal entries in his online Care Pages chronicling his suffering and his dependence on God’s faithfulness and the support of his community of faith.
During the darkest days, Deppe penned a psalm of raw lament that began with this stanza:
“This psalm will not end in confidence. All of my pain must come out.
This ode will not break into praise. My tears must be allowed to flow.
I will not allow my duty to win out this time. I will feel the pain and say ‘OK.’
I will face all of the darkness and I will not flinch from my deepest desperation.”
And in the midst of it all, he wrote this entry:
“I am determined to fight this disease with all my strength. Probably the best way to fight it is to be at rest and at peace in the Lord. I know that there are cancers of the soul and spirit that I must fight as well. My pastor says that the Lord wants to transform D words like discouragement, depression, despair, disease and death to R words like renewal, repair, resurgence, reconciliation, and my favorite, resurrection.”
Now in remission and able to handle a full teaching and advising load, Deppe has nonetheless decided to retire at the close of the current academic calendar, as he marks his 66th birthday.
“I’ve been feeling really great this fall and winter, but, even without the questionable health concerns, when you hit 65, something happens with your energy level.” he said. “You still can do it, but everything becomes a little harder.”
Deppe is a 1973 graduate of Calvin College and holds two master’s degrees from Calvin Seminary and his doctorate from the Free University in Amsterdam. After serving Christian Reformed congregations in Grand Rapids, suburban Toledo, Ohio, and Prinsburg, MN, he joined the seminary faculty the same year as Ronald Nydam, who was a close friend and confidante.
“We knew each other, and both of said we would like to make the seminary more of a positive place,” Deppe recalled. “All of us in the academy have been trained to be critical, trained to find something wrong. You look for mistakes, you look for the missing pieces. So both of us decided we would try to make a difference by affirming the strengths of students instead of looking first or only for their weaknesses.”
Deppe especially appreciates the growing diversity of the student body at the seminary, serving this year as the leader of a mentoring group that includes students from Ethiopia, South Korea, China, Canada and the U.S.
“One of the strengths I have is to get students ready for the pastorate,” said Deppe. “Today, churches are so different from each other. I tell students that not only are you interviewed by the church, but you need to interview the church so you know what their philosophy of ministry is in order to get a more perfect fit.”
Deppe also has sought to make the Bible a source of endless curiosity for his students, asserting that “since you have to spend the next 40 years with the Bible, it can get a bit boring if you don’t have a way of making it come alive in yourself, and in the lives of your congregation. So I try to get students to ask questions of the text — why this? Where does that come from? I try to be enthusiastic myself for the text, and have that enthusiasm run off on them.”
Throughout his academic career at Calvin Seminary, he’s taught the New Testament narratives, including the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and also prepared his students for understanding the New Testament by teaching the Greek language.
And now, after the faith-building yet harrowing journey through the valley of the shadow, Deppe is facing the next season of life with characteristic gusto. As he wrote in a psalm he entitled, “A Deeper Strength for a Higher Challenge:”
“But now Deep is calling to deep in my life. The shallowness is falling away.
The voice is strong and a new layer, a deeper foundation, is created with each divine encounter.
The mountain leading to the sky is tall, but the Lord is lifting me to see his high places.
With each steeper climb, my legs become firmer, for the Lord is strengthening me.
At the top of the mountain, the vision is clear. There is no doubt. My Redeemer lives!”
By Bruce Bursma
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