Published by Calvin Seminary
Arie Leder is only half-joking when he says he expects to “make a little dough” following his retirement from teaching Old Testament studies and narrative literature at Calvin Theological Seminary.
He is making the unusual transition from teaching future pastors the Pentateuch to possibly tossing an occasional pie and helping out with administrative duties at “Toppers,” a Grand Rapids pizza establishment in which he’s invested with his son, Nathan.
At the age of 70, Leder still has plenty of questions to ask, and almost as many possible answers to consider, as he ponders life after almost 30 years at Calvin Seminary.
“These have been very good years—years of personal challenge, intellectual challenge, in so many ways,” said Leder. “What have I been doing here all these years? Asking questions, mostly. What’s the theme of the Bible? If Jesus is the answer, what’s the question?”
Leder has devoted his years at the seminary to probing the Pentateuch and mining the wisdom literature at a time when most students are in a headlong rush to get to the gospels and epistles of the New Testament.
“The Scripture of the Apostles was what we called the Old Testament,” said Leder. “But ever since Paul and a few others have written about Jesus, well, it’s all about Jesus—even though Matthew says, ‘Listen, it’s about Abraham and then it’s about David and then it’s about exile and then it’s about Jesus.”
Leder contended that “you can’t understand Jesus unless you’ve read the Old Testament,” yet acknowledged that many Christians today, and pastors, too, spend precious little time in the Old Testament outside of the Psalms.
Leder recalled that Marcion, one of the first heretics in the church, “hated the cruel God of the Old Testament, and said He couldn’t be the father of Jesus. Marcion reduced the gospels to a version of Luke and the Pauline epistles. Sadly, there’s a practical Marcionism alive in the church today.”
What’s more, Leder said, a creeping fundamentalism also has wreaked havoc on a fuller understanding of the Bible in many parts of the church today.
“I understand the drive to Jesus, since Jesus is the major manifestation of God,” he said. “But fundamentalists don’t really answer the question of the Bible as narrative. I’ve approached reading narrative from the point of view of literature. The Bible is God’s Word, but it’s also literature. And what’s the problem this literature is trying to solve?”
Leder believes that many modern Christians find the Old Testament “kind of earthy, and too honest about who we truly are. We want to get away from it. We think it’s dirty and violent and we don’t want a violent God or a violent Jesus. We want justice to prevail, but there’s not recognition that justice sometimes demands violence.”
A native of Wassenaar, The Netherlands, Leder immigrated to Winnipeg on the Canadian plains of Manitoba when he was a 10-year-old boy, and came to study at Calvin College at the age of 19. After earning his undergraduate degree from Calvin, Leder enrolled at Calvin Seminary and graduated in 1973 with a bachelor of divinity degree and a pastoral call to serve a Christian Reformed congregation in Trenton, Ontario.
Later, he served as a missionary in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica for Christian Reformed World Missions before returning to Canada for further studies at the University of Toronto.
He’s written one book on the Pentateuch entitled “Waiting for the Land,” and plans to craft a new tome with the proposed title, “Waiting for the Rest That Remains.”
Leder also hopes to find opportunity to teach in the Spanish language once again, and to continue his advocacy on behalf of the whole counsel of God through academic essays and occasional preaching assignments and visiting lectureships.
“I have told my students that my job is to undo your Bible reading, because most reading of the Bible doesn’t really honor the text or the traditions,” said Leder. “I know how hard this is. We don’t get a lot of instruction in how to do it.”
by Bruce Buursma
Calvin Van Reken
Throughout his life, Calvin Van Reken has responded with growing trust and obedience to the vocational invitations that have come his way—first to pastoral ministry and then to teaching moral theology to a generation of students at Calvin Theological Seminary.
“The calls that I’ve had in my life were external calls,” he said. “I never felt I had to be in the church or I had to do this (a 25-year faculty appointment at Calvin), but I felt like I was being drawn into it. I felt I was gifted for it, I could do it pretty well, and it made sense to me.”
It certainly made more sense than his initial career choice—selling real estate back home in the western suburbs of Chicago following his 1971 graduation from Calvin College. It was a time when mortgage interest rates were soaring into double-digit territory, making home ownership unattainable for many people.
“I couldn’t sell anything,” Van Reken said, “and then about 10 people said to me, ‘You ought to think about becoming a minister.’ So I committed to going into seminary for one year. I loved it. I loved the classes and the topics. When studying philosophy I could not appeal to Scripture, but in seminary I was required to use it. I loved having a resource in the Bible.”
The one-year experiment as a student at Calvin Seminary turned into a three-year commitment that yielded a degree and a direction —ordination into the ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Van Reken, who also earned a Ph.D. in moral philosophy from the University of Chicago, entered the pastorate with “every intention of staying in the church my whole professional career.” He served churches in Momence, IL, and South Holland, IL, before Calvin Seminary approached him with the call to return to the classroom.
“I was a pastor and a philosopher, and they needed a moral theologian,” Van Reken said of his appointment to the seminary’s faculty in 1991. “They got me instead and they kept me for a long time. I’ve played my role, done my part, and I tried to be faithful. I’ve made mistakes, but on the whole it’s been a pretty good run.”
Van Reken conceded that the time is ripe “for younger faculty to lead a growing younger generation of potential pastors and teachers” to serve the church.
He also acknowledged that his teaching interests during his time at Calvin Seminary has shifted more toward biblical work than moral theology.
“I’ve been focusing more on biblical ethics, and for students who want to go on in ethics, it might be better for them if I were teaching (Karl) Barth or (Emil) Brunner,” Van Reken said.
Nonetheless, Van Reken has deeply appreciated his time at the seminary, which he describes as “a wonderful place with a collegial spirit.”
Said Van Reken: “I hope it flourishes mightily. I think it’s getting harder and harder to serve the church. and harder and harder to train people to serve the church. Churches are less similar to one another, so it’s not like we stamp out students. Students are quite a bit different in terms of gifts and interests and sense of call than when I first came here, but perhaps there will be at least a couple of good students for every kind of church.”
Despite the changes, Van Reken retains confidence that congregations in the Christian Reformed Church will “continue to insist on the gospel understood in a Reformed fashion,” and will encourage the seminary to continue preparing students who can faithfully lead those congregations.
“The institutional church really needs to focus on its main calling,” Van Reken said. “Its main calling is the proclamation of the gospel and the preaching of the word in all kinds of contexts. I would like the institutional church to focus energy on its job — training and helping people in their individual lives be Christians to the world.”
Van Reken hopes to devote more time to travel and visiting family in New York City, Orlando and Chicago in the years ahead, as well as continuing to preach and write.
by Bruce Buursma
If you ask Rev. Al Gelder how he came to serve at Calvin Theological Seminary as the Director of Mentored Ministries, he says clearly, “It was a God-thing.” While pastoring five CRC congregations for over 40 years, he never saw himself as part of an academic setting. “I had no plan that would ever involve being at Calvin Seminary.” After five years, it is clear that God brought him to CTS at just the right time.
Pastoring a variety of congregations, serving as President of the Board of Home Missions, and being frequently delegated to Synod prepared him well. Chris Wright, his Assistant in Mentored Ministries says, “Al’s experience as a pastor and at Synod gave him a good understanding of the work and allowed him to assume the responsibilities with little training needed.” Gelder stepped right into the job, a one-year interim appointment, and thrived. He laughs and says, “I had so much fun in my one year, it turned into five!”
Gelder was key in shepherding some significant changes at Calvin Seminary during his five years. He effectively handled the growth in the number of non-North American M.Div. students who needed internships, preaching opportunities, and placements that would help them effectively navigate matters of language and culture. Brandon Kim, a Korean 2015 M.Div. graduate and now Youth Pastor at Ann Arbor Hope CRC, noted how Gelder helped him to overcome barriers of fear and doubt. Although Kim was unsure of his ability to minister in a predominantly Anglo congregation, Gelder helped him find two internships in California that assured him that with God’s help he can serve in different contexts. Kim gave credit to Gelder for his formation: “The internship broke down the walls of doubt and uncertainty. So I know I can do it. I can be a pastor and use my experience and different perspective to influence others.”
Gelder also worked hard to create effective and personalized practical ministry training for the new and growing Distance Learning program. Distance M.Div. student Cari Fidyrchuk expressed her gratitude for Gelder’s work to help distance students overcome isolation and feel connected to the seminary community. “This spirit of love for one another stems from the leadership of this program by Al Gelder. He has a caring nature and genuine desire to walk alongside the students of the distance program in order to ensure they know they are not alone.” Fidyrchuk appreciates the personalization that Gelder brings to Mentored Ministries. “This past summer, l was able to complete my cross cultural internship, pastoring alongside my Dad. This has been a dream of mine for many years and Al Gelder was a part of making that happen. I will be forever grateful.”
Calvin Seminary is grateful for Gelder’s five years of faithful service. Wright’s assessment is accurate: “Al has a servant’s heart. Everything he does exemplifies Calvin Seminary’s motto, ‘Called to Serve,’ as it reveals his desire to serve students and the Church.” We are confident he will continue to be faithful as he is “Called to Serve” in retirement, along with his wife, Jan, in Grand Rapids, MI.
by Jeff Sajdak
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