By Learning Where You Are
By Jul Medenblik, Ronald Feenstra, and Lyle Bierma
As it celebrates 135 years of God’s faithfulness, Calvin Theological Seminary is finding new ways to bring Reformed theological training to our changing world.
CTS is preparing to launch the key initiative of a five-year, distance-education Master of Divinity degree, plus several other degree and certificate programs.
The CTS faculty and board recently approved a distance-education proposal that it will submit to the Association for Theological Schools (ATS) for formal approval. The following statement comes from the introduction of that proposal:
According to the CTS mission statement, “CTS exists to serve the Christian Reformed Church and wider constituencies by preparing persons for biblically faithful and contextually effective ministry of the Word and by offering Reformed theological scholarship and counsel.” Through distance education, CTS can prepare more people for ministry by delivering that training to a far wider audience. Currently, our education reaches around 275 students. There are certainly more people who would love to receive a CTS education, not only in North America but around the globe.
CTS wants to reach students where they are in their career, ministry, and family contexts—especially those who would find it difficult, if not impossible, to uproot and relocate to receive training.
Beginning in the fall of 2012, William Karshima, who is from Nigeria and has been in the United States since 2008, hopes to be among the first group of such students. He serves currently as a ministry associate for Oasis Community Christian Reformed Church in the Orlando, Fla., area.
“I have taken a summer class at CTS, and I am so grateful that I can continue my training while still ministering at Oasis,” Karshima says.
CTS’s distance-education program will combine some face-to-face instruction with online learning. As U.S. Department of Education findings affirmed recently, such “hybrid learning” generally produces the best outcomes.
Nathan Bierma, education technologist for CTS, states, “Pastors and church leaders are already using Web and social-media technology in all aspects of their ministry. It’s a logical step to use and integrate technology into the education that prepares them for ministry.”
Ronald Feenstra, dean of academic programs for CTS, notes that the faculty overwhelmingly approved this endeavor. “This program will provide excellent Reformed theological education to a wide variety of students who otherwise would not have access to it,” he said. “We believe that the program will enhance teaching and learning in all programs at Calvin Seminary, because it will force all of us to rethink how to teach well.”
An anonymous donor committed $1.5 million to see the initiative through the first students beginning and completing the program.
For more information about distance-education at CTS, see www.calvinseminary.edu/onlineCourses. You can submit your email address to receive updates regarding the program. Additionally, the director of admissions, Matthew Cooke, can help you discern whether this program is right for you. He can be reached at email@example.com or 1.616.957.6076.
CTS will also offer certificates and diplomas that do not require an undergraduate degree. These offer people opportunities to deepen their current biblical training or explore whether they would like to pursue further theological training.
Your Reformed theological training is just one click away!
Jul Medenblik is president of Calvin Theological Seminary, Ronald Feenstra is dean of academic programs, and Lyle Bierma is dean of the faculty.
Called to Serve . . . Students
Calvin Theological Seminary is called to serve its students. Therefore, financial aid remains a priority.
In 2001, then-president Neal Plantinga resolved to increase financial aid to keep CTS viable as it competes with other seminaries in recruiting the best and brightest students. In 2001, financial aid to students totaled $502,000; in the past year it rose to more than $1.4 million.
In addition, available scholarships have more than doubled. In 2001, students could apply for only 69 scholarships. In 2011 they could choose from 166.
Incoming CTS president Jul Medenblik said he hopes to build on that success and continue growing the amount of funds and scholarships available. “A way you can show seminarians how much we care for them and desire to support them as a community is by offering them a substantial financial package,” Medenblik noted.
To learn more about financial assistance for CTS students, please email Bob Knoor, director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—CTS Development Office
The Center for Excellence in Preaching (CEP) is entering its seventh year of full-time operation at Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS). Offering continuing education opportunities for pastors remains a key way the center fulfills its calling to serve pastors in the vital task of proclaiming God’s Word.
In May, 18 pastors from Seattle came together for two days of conversation and learning led by CEP Director Scott Hoezee.
The seminar was spearheaded by Rev. Karen Breckenridge, a Presbyterian pastor who attended a June 2010 CEP seminar at Snow Mountain Ranch, near Winter Park, Colo. She so benefitted from the experience that she wanted to share something similar with her colleagues. Participants enjoyed two days thinking about sermon illustrations, sermon structure, clarity in presentation, and more.
Jeff Weima teaches in front of the Apollo temple in ancient Corinth, Greece, as part of a biblical study tour.
In early June Rev. Mary Hulst led 15 pastors of smaller churches in a five-day seminar that focused on proper, intelligent use of technology in worship and in preaching. This seminar was co-sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church’s Sustaining Congregational Excellence program. It represents one of the many fruitful collaborations the seminary has with the wider denomination in delivering top-flight education to pastors.
In July the center hosted its fifth “Preachers’ Oasis” event as 15 pastors from nine denominations gathered for five days of reflection led by Hoezee and by Hulst, Rev. John Rottman, and Randy Bytwerk.
Plenary sessions focused on preaching-related topics, while each participant also had an intensive one-on-one session with one of the Oasis leaders to discuss specific issues in his or her own preaching.
Also in July, Hoezee teamed up with renowned Bible commentator Frederick Dale Bruner for the seminar “Engaging the Text, Preaching the Word.” Bruner is well-known for his intelligent, witty, but profoundly practical Bible study presentations. Each morning the 15 seminar participants dived deeply into a key text from Matthew or John, absorbing Bruner’s insights on the meaning of the passages.
Finally, in July, outgoing CTS President Neal Plantinga teamed up with Hulitt Gloer of Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary to present the perennially popular “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching” seminar.
Through exposure to a wide range of literature, participants saw how a robust program of general reading feeds the preaching life. Although Plantinga is leaving CTS, the seminary will continue to offer some form of the seminar in the future.
The Center for Excellence in Preaching encourages pastors and their congregations to remember—and apply for—the seminars offered by CTS. Upcoming opportunities include the Fall Preaching Conference, led by Paul Scott Wilson (Oct. 27, 2011); the annual Symposium on Worship, which will feature N.T. Wright, John Bell, Thomas G. Long, and Walter Brueggemann (Jan. 26-28, 2012); and the Festival of Faith & Writing (April 19-21, 2012).
November 1, 2011, is the application deadline for the next “Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching” seminar at Snow Mountain Ranch in the splendid Colorado Rockies (June 18-22, 2012)!
For details, visit the CEP website: www.cep.calvinseminary.edu.
—Scott Hoezee, Director of the Center of Excellence in Preaching
Called to Serve . . . Young Leaders
In July, 34 high school students from across North America participated in the 13th year of Facing Your Future (FYF), a program run by Calvin Theological Seminary’s admissions team and supported by the Lilly Foundation and the Christian Reformed Church.
In FYF, high school students who have been nominated by their pastors get challenged and stretched to make sense of who God has created them to be and what God may be calling them to do in this world.
Seminarians serve as leaders and assist in directing and guiding the students as they confront questions about identity, vocation, and ministry.
FYF sent participants to Oregon, Texas, and Ontario, where the students saw firsthand how ministry takes shape in context. Through these experiences, students were encouraged to put into practice the things they learned in FYF courses, while growing in their understanding of the church.
FYF 2011 participants joined a growing group of more than 400 alumni, many of whom have been significantly shaped by their time in FYF.
Recent CTS graduate Jillian Burden reflected on her time in the program: “Before I attended the FYF program in 2003, I had a vague sense that I should pursue vocational ministry, but it wasn't until I attended the program that I understood the special and unique nature of my calling.”
While recalling her FYF experience she said, “When feelings of uncertainty or insecurity threaten me, I remember the many wonderful lessons, conversations, and experiences I had at FYF, and I am blessedly assured, all over again, of God's special call on my life.” What a blessing for young leaders!
—CTS Admissions Office
Calvin Theological Seminary’s call to serve the church extends far beyond the greater West Michigan area. Thanks to websites, a multiplicity of student internships, and the willingness of faculty members to travel worldwide, CTS offers a local presence no matter where you live.
The seminary’s main website, www.calvinseminary.edu, provides a variety of resources for prospective students interested in learning more about CTS, and for current students, faculty, and alumni who want to stay connected, keep up on CTS news, or find out about upcoming class reunions.
The Center for Excellence in Preaching’s website, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu, gets updated every Monday with fresh sermon starter ideas for upcoming texts in the Common Lectionary. The site also features regularly updated audio and podcast sermons and a wealth of other resources.
Preachers' Oasis participants enjoy lunch together.
The CEP site continues to grow as more and more pastors visit the site on a weekly basis. Recent months have seen upwards of 10,000 pastors coming to the site each month, with almost 18,000 total visits per month.
The seminary also recently launched the Ministry Theorem website, http://ministrytheorem.calvinseminary.edu, designed to provide resources and ideas for pastors and other church leaders interested in learning more about what is being discovered about God’s creation through the sciences, as well as ideas for how to integrate this knowledge into preaching, teaching, and other ministry skills.
These websites make CTS accessible to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world. But travel by students and faculty spread the influence of the seminary as well. This summer nearly 70 CTS students served in locations worldwide for 10 to 12 weeks.
In North America, students served in congregations and hospitals from Texas to Alberta, Ontario to California, and points in-between. Internationally, students also served in Russia, Egypt, Palestine, Africa, and elsewhere.
Although such internships are times of learning for the students, they also become times of significant pastoral ministry provided by the students as they reach out with Christ’s love to people they have been called to serve.
Finally, faculty members routinely teach around the world. For example, New Testament professor Jeffrey Weima frequently holds seminars for pastors and other church leaders. In the past year, Weima has traveled to California, the Pacific Northwest, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida, presenting seminars on Revelation’s Letters to the Seven Churches and on Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians.
Professor Carl Bosma has been frequently on the road in Iowa and other Midwest locations to teach pastors the power of the new Logos Bible program that quite literally provides an entire library’s worth of resources on a laptop computer, even as it provides pastors with the opportunity to do in-depth studies of God’s Word in the original Hebrew and Greek languages.
In the 2010-2011 academic year, CTS professors traveled to Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom to present lectures, hold seminars, and participate in worship with sisters and brothers in Christ from cultures worldwide.
By God’s grace and the gifts of technology and other resources provided by donors and the wider church, CTS is privileged to serve the church at home and even to the ends of the earth.
Institute for Global Church Planting and Renewal
Professor Carl Bosma’s 2010 convocation address, “Are We Training Church Planters or Undertakers?” led to many discussions—and to the board and faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) approving the organization of an Institute for Global Church Planting and Renewal.
As a first step in this ongoing conversation, Rev. Scott Vander Ploeg from St. Lucie, Fla., conducted a seminar titled “Preaching the Bad News/Good News” for the January Worship Symposium in Grand Rapids, Mich. The seminar was co-sponsored by the new institute and the worship symposium.
Additionally, Rev. Kevin Adams in the Sacramento, Calif., area, hosted and led a Gospel Preaching CTS class during the J-Term (January).
Professor Mary Vanden Berg accompanied students as a student herself. In a review of the course, she wrote, “This course was an excellent introduction for students to the issues facing not only church planters, but those who wish to revitalize dying congregations. It brought to life the issue of context that is such a large part of our curriculum. We need to be training students who can exegete the culture as well as they can exegete the Bible.”
Adams, who has served his California church plant since 1991, said, “It’s been my experience that Reformed theology ‘sings’ in places where the vast majority of folks have not heard it. The Institute for Global Church Planting and the distance-learning initiative will give us new ways to ‘learn to sing the song of grace’ so that folks significantly unconnected to God can optimally hear.”
Called to Serve . . . in Partnership
Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) and Kuyper College, both in Grand Rapids, Mich., forged a unique partnership last spring.
The partnership will allow students to complete all of their required courses for a bachelor degree from Kuyper and a Master of Divinity degree from CTS in six years. Previously, the typical academic plan would require four years of bachelor-level education and three additional years in seminary, totaling seven or more years for a student’s completion.
The new program allows students more time for ministry-focused internships and learning experiences, and it permits graduates to enter full-time ministry earlier than before. It is not only a savings in time, but also a substantial savings in finances for prospective students considering the ministry.
Administrators of both Kuyper and CTS are excited about the potential the partnership has for enrollment and getting students out to do kingdom work. They have been working hard to see how this partnership could more efficiently prepare students interested in ministry, without taking away from a student’s academic experience.
CTS is holding discussions with other schools and organizations about other prospective partnerships to continue to make a seminary education more accessible and affordable.
—CTS Academic Office
Enjoyed this article?
Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Tell A Better Story
- ‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church
- Book review: A Church Called Tov, by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight