Calvin Theological Seminary: A Living Tradition of Service for the 21st Century

Date Published

June 28, 2024

Home / Blog / Calvin Theological Seminary: A Living Tradition of Service for the 21st Century

Published by Jul Medenblik


In just a few years, Calvin Theological Seminary will celebrate March 15, 1876, as Calvin’s 150th birthday! March 15, 1876 is the date that Rev. Geert Egberts Boer was installed as a “docent” or teacher at Calvin Theological Seminary, a school dedicated to training pastors for a new denomination primarily made up of immigrant churches that became known as the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

In that first year, Rev. Boer taught seven students on the second floor of an elementary school building on Williams Street, which crossed Commerce Avenue, where the clatter, rumble, and smoke of train engines interrupted instruction. I am impressed by the range of the curriculum—Dutch, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, General History and Dutch History, Geography, Psychology, Logic and Rhetoric. Rev. Boer also taught Dogmatics, Hermeneutics, Exegetics, Isagogics, Church History, Symbolism, and Practical Theology.

Calvin Theological Seminary has a rich heritage for both academic rigor and contextual training. We have always sought to navigate ways to address the needs of the church serving to share the gospel in the current context of society. The last decade-plus of my time as President of Calvin Theological Seminary has been a decade of change and development with the goal of reaching out to serve the global church and the church across the street.

From 1876 until 2013, if you wanted to receive a Calvin Seminary education, you needed to move to Calvin Seminary. So, I moved from Florida to Grand Rapids, but I did wonder about attending a new campus of Reformed Theological Seminary opening up near Orlando, Florida. I considered how I could be both a lawyer and a seminary student. Eventually, wisdom and my wife—a fount of wisdom—led me to move to Calvin Theological Seminary. I do not regret that move and following the Spirit’s prompting.

At the same time, I know that in our increasingly networked world, Calvin Theological Seminary has something to offer beyond Kent County in Michigan. Over the last ten years, we have been blessed by seeing God at work through the following:

  • Distance Education (Distributed) Education: This program began in 2013 and now reaches over half of our student body, typically comprised of 25 different nations.
  • Latino/a Ministry Program: Version 1.0 began under the leadership of Dr. Mariano Avila, and Version 2.0 is now ably led by Dr. Gabriela Tijerina-Pike.
  • The Calvin Prison Initiative (CPI): A partnership with Calvin University where we train students at Handlon Prison in Ionia, Michigan to become leaders. CPI graduates are now being transferred to other prisons to impact the culture there positively.
  • Global Teaching: A professor, Dr. Young Ahn Kang, taught at Calvin Seminary for five years before needing to move back to Korea. He now teaches for us from Korea!
  • Expansion of our Ph.D. program: The program now includes a concentration in the New Testament and the addition of a Doctor of Ministry program (D.Min.), which will have our first graduate from the program at this year’s commencement.
  • Competency-Based Theological Education (C.B.T.E.): Known as “Empower” at Calvin Seminary, this program started as a pilot project with Sunlight CRC in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and the student ministry of Grand Valley State University to raise leaders in partnership and mentorship.

Did you know Abraham Lincoln never went to law school? Did you know most pastors’ training over the centuries was by apprenticeship? Is God teaching us to look back to how we may train others in the future?

In this Forum, you will also read the reflections of Dr. Danjuma Gibson, the program director of our new Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I could highlight more items and programs, but I hope this overview causes us to reflect that God is still calling us to pray for more workers for the harvest. That harvest field has changed since 1876 and clearly includes the global church. As I reviewed Rev. Boer’s curriculum, I noted that one subject was Psychology. I am sure that the content of the course would have changed over the years, but Dr. Gibson makes the case that our Clinical Mental Health Counseling is in keeping with our living tradition at Calvin Seminary. We are interested in forming the whole person for ministry and are mindful of the challenge of ministry in the 21st century.

Some of the articles included will note how COVID-19 has affected all of us, including Calvin Theological Seminary, the church, and our students. For example, COVID-19 accelerated our online program offerings. However, COVID-19 is only one of the reasons we have seen changes and developments. We were already looking at the road ahead and making changes as we sought to provide tools for students who will serve in various fields of ministry.

In closing, I want to return to Rev. Geert Egberts Boer. It is said that at the end of his installation address as docent, he turned to the students and spoke to them words that I have since repeated at every convocation of Calvin Seminary. May we join together in these words of commitment and challenge!

“I now stand in a special, specific relation to you. This tie will be drawn ever tighter in a communion of true faith; henceforth, I hope to work at your training and development; to point out to you your needs according to the requirements of the times, to warn you of dangerous shoals upon which you could easily be shipwrecked, to teach you and to pray with and for you—this is the task that awaits us.” —Rev. Geert Egberts Boer, March 15, 1876


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