BL531 New Testament Theology: Issues and Themes

with Dr. Christopher Beetham

  • Tuesdays 5:30-8:30, Sept 4- Dec 21
  • Course held on campus at Western Theological Seminary

About Christopher Beetham:

(from Zondervan)

Christopher Beetham is the Senior Editor of Biblical Languages, Textbooks, and Reference Tools at Zondervan, a part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Before joining Zondervan, Beetham and his family served as missionaries in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he taught at The Evangelical Theological College and The Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. He has published two titles on biblical scholarship, Colossians and Philemon and Echoes of Scripture in the Letter of Paul to the Colossians.

BL531 New Testament Theology: Issues and Themes
with Dr. Christopher Beetham

Have you ever wondered about the various theological themes in the New Testament?  How do they relate with each other and connect to the Old Testament? New Testament theology is the study of what God has revealed about Himself in the New Testament. Come to this class and explore the various truths and themes that the New Testament books teach us about God. Learn how the Christian Scriptures are an epic story that runs from Creation to New Creation.

$300 to audit, or take for 3 credit hours at $1,404

Contact Kyle Wigboldy to register at 616-392-8555, x120 or


Big changes are coming to the library!

We are currently in the process of migrating to a new library system and preparing to move into our new building. To help us transition smoothly, the library will be closed to the public from now until the Grand Opening of our new building in October. We will also be getting a new name at that time:  Cook Library.

If you have a WTS login, you may still access our online resources here.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and we appreciate your patience. If you have any questions about library services during this transition, please contact

After 19 years on the faculty of Western Theological Seminary, Professor of New Testament Robert Van Voorst is retiring on June 30, the end of this academic year.

Dr. Van Voorst has had a unique impact as a professor, because in addition to teaching an average of 50-75 students at Western each year, he teaches thousands of other students in the U.S. and Canada in more than 200 colleges, universities and seminaries through his seven textbooks in New Testament, the history of Christianity, Greek language, and world religions.

“To research an academic field and contribute to it in a creative way—that’s an important thing for seminary professors, for their students, and for the church,” Dr. Van Voorst says.  “And it’s a lot of work!” Much of his writing has been done in the summers, on days he didn’t teach, and on sabbaticals.

When contrasting teaching with writing, he notes that there is an emotional high to walk out of a class with lots of interaction and think, “That session clicked with the students!” Writing, on the other hand, is a rather lonely thing. “You write by yourself, send it off for anonymous peer review, and after it gets published, sometimes you know who uses it, but often you don’t.“ A happy point of feedback is when new seminary students who used one of his books in college tell him about their experience, usually beginning with, “Are you the Van Voorst who wrote that book?” His books are regularly used at Northwestern, Central, and Calvin Colleges, important “feeder schools” for WTS.  

Bob has also written books for use by pastors and lay people and two research monographs for scholars of the New Testament and ancient church history. His most recent book is Commonly Misunderstood Verses of the Bible: What They Really Mean.

Bob felt a calling to the ministry at a young age, so his high school and college studies were aimed in that direction. He majored in religion at Hope College, and in his M.Div. studies at Western he specialized in New Testament. Before his teaching career, he was an RCA pastor for 12 years in New York, and for eight of those years he studied for a Ph.D. in New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He thoroughly enjoyed pastoral life, and the experience later helped him prepare students for ministry in a realistic way.

After his pastoral experience, he taught for 10 years at Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA where he helped to educate many United Methodist pre-ministerial students. At Lycoming he began to research and publish in the field of world religions because he was assigned to teach it regularly. He also served as a supply pastor in several PC(USA) churches. The passion driving his work all these years has been for ministers to know the Bible well and use it responsibly in ministry.

In his retirement, Bob hopes to do more pastoral work in churches, to keep revising his textbooks (most of which are on a 2-5 year revision cycle) and write new books that could be helpful to the church. His immediate task is serving as the guest editor of a special issue of the international journal Religions on the topic of current methods in New Testament study.

He expects to keep in contact with many of his former WTS students. Most importantly, he and his wife, Mary, hope to spend much more time with their children and grandchildren.


At a Glance…

Robert E. Van Voorst

Professor, Writer

Holland, MI, 1952

A.B. Hope College, ’74; M.Div. WTS, ’77; STM, UnionTS, ‘79;

Ph.D. UnionTS, ’88

Married Mary Bos in Lucas, MI, 1974

Children:  Richard (Bonnie) and Nicholas (Jessica), 4 grandkids


(1977-89) Pastor, Rochester Reformed Church, Accord, NY

(1989-99) Professor of Religion, Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA

(1997) Visiting Professor, Oxford University

(1999-2018) Professor of New Testament, Western Theological Seminary

(2014) Distinguished Overseas Visiting Scholar, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China



The Ascents of James: History and Theology of a Jewish-Christian Community (1989)

Building Your New Testament Greek Vocabulary (1990, 1999, 2001)

Anthology of World Scriptures (1993-2016, 9 editions)

The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity (1995)

Readings in Christianity (1996, 2000, 2013)

Anthology of Asian Scriptures (1999)

Jesus Outside the New Testament (2000, Italian ed. 2004)

Reading the New Testament Today (2004, Chinese ed. 2011)

Anthology of World Scriptures: Eastern Religions (2006)

Anthology of World Scriptures: Western Religions (2006)

The Pastor’s Bible Study (2006)

RELG: World (2012-19, 4 editions)

Commonly Misunderstood Verses of the Bible: What They Really Mean (2017)


In their words…

Your New Testament Foundations course has provided many hours of joy and reflection as so many of my theological questions have been answered in clear and insightful ways.

—Patricia Irwin, DL M.Div. student


Congratulations, Bob. You are a blessing to me and to so many others. Thank you for your teaching, your writing, your leadership, and your humor. Praising God from whom all blessings flow!

—Jeffrey Allen ‘05


Thank you for your many years of devoted work to our school. I especially appreciate the way you continue to prod us all toward high academic standards and taking our roles as faculty members seriously. I will miss your expertise on the many subjects you know so well.

—Dr. David Stubbs


“It’s all Greek to me” has never been more understood or chuckled over since my class with you.

—Jessica Oosterhouse ‘10


I have deeply appreciated your availability to me as a senior colleague. Thank you for your commitment to academic excellence and your concern to uphold the theological integrity of WTS in the course of key faculty decisions.

—Dr. J. Todd Billings


I loved my World Religion course. We students were so involved individually and together in the classroom with you. Thank you for your excellent teaching.

—Lorene Duin ’10, ‘13


I have appreciated working with you in the Master of Theology program. Your ongoing interest and your work teaching and advising the students has been a gift.

—Katy Sundararajan ‘03


Congratulations! WTS is going to have a tough time replacing you. Thanks for all you have done to encourage and support many students throughout the years.

—Diane Schrotenboer ‘10

Rev. David M. Bast, WTS ’76

By Rev. Timothy Brown ‘76

In a recent book, Kevin VanHoozer describes theologians who do their theologizing with the world looking over their shoulders. They commend, argue, urge, offer up, and call out to real people living 9-to-5 lives in the crucible of the real world. The stakes are high because the consequences are eternal. These theologians do not have the luxury of endlessly deferring arguments, because for them, the hour has come and the time is now. Like the Apostle Paul urging young Timothy to “come before winter,” there is an urgency about these theologians that you rarely see in others.

David Bast is that type of theologian. Through his countless journeys to the hard places of the world where most Western evangelists rarely go, Dave has been present:  Uganda, Armenia, Indonesia, Bhutan and so many more. Dave has preached the good news of Jesus in season and out of season and in multiple places around the world. For this we honor him as our Distinguished Alumnus of 2018.

Dave with Ugandan children.


Dave Bast, a 1973 graduate of Hope College, studied at Fuller Theological Seminary and Calvin Theological Seminary in addition to Western. After earning his M.Div. in 1976, he served as a pastor in three congregations:  Hamilton Reformed Church, Hamilton, MI; First Reformed Church in South Holland, IL; and Fifth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. In each congregation Dave distinguished himself as a thoughtful and articulate preacher and a diligent and caring pastor.

Dave and his wife, Betty Jo, live in Grand Rapids, MI. They are the parents of four children:  Andrew (married to Katie) who is director of development at WTS, Peter (married to Sarah), Jane (married to Lars Olson), and Anne (married to Paul Davis). Dave and Betty Jo have seven grandchildren.

In 1994 Dave joined Words of Hope, where he served as president and broadcast minister for 23 years. Words of Hope is a ministry affiliated with the Reformed Church in America that helps Christians use media to build the church in many difficult-to-reach places. Words of Hope has ministry partnerships that produce programs in over 50 languages, primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. In his retirement, Dave continues to co-host a weekly half-hour audio program called “Groundwork” that digs deeply into Scripture as a foundation for our lives. It is aired on 170 radio stations in the U.S. and Canada.

Dave with Jon Sherrill ‘99 and Jan Fields in Istanbul for an Iranian discipleship conference.

Another distinctive outreach dimension of Words of Hope is their teaching conferences in the Muslim world to strengthen and encourage Christian church leaders in Muslim-majority nations. Dave has logged well over a million miles traveling all over the world for the sole purpose of equipping local leaders to do their work where they live and in their own language.

I have joined Dave on several of these trips as a kind of “back up teacher” to lighten the load. They have been some of the most meaningful teaching moments of my career. I remember vividly sitting on the top floor of the Carlton Hotel in downtown Istanbul crowded around a conference table with 20 Christian converts from Iran, people who were previously Shia Muslims. They had come to Turkey for 4-5 days of biblical expositions by Dave and teaching on Christian practices by me.

Tim & Nancy Brown and Dave & Betty Jo Bast with the Mityana Diocese in Uganda, where WTS alum Stephen Kaziimba ‘03, ‘07, is the Bishop.

On one of our trips Dave did a series of expositions from Romans 5-8 that were the finest I have ever heard. I was stunned, transfixed really, as Dave went verse by verse through these remarkable chapters from the book that we love. My right hand flew across my note book growing weary from writing. In that moment I so deeply wished all my students could hear what I was hearing.

Dave with Dr. Kurt Selles, Executive Director of the CRC’s Back to God Ministries Int’l, meeting with radio listeners in Jharkhand, India.

In his classic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the venerable 17th Century Puritan preacher, John Bunyan, describes his ideal preacher and pastoral leader. He could have had Dave in mind when he said, “He had eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of books in (his) hand, the law of truth was written upon (his) lips, the world was behind (his) back; (he) stood as if (he) pleaded with (all), and a crown of gold did hang over (his) head.” Dave has committed his life to embodying that portrait, and Western Theological Seminary blesses the Lord for the life and witness of the Rev. David Bast, proudly naming him our 2018 Distinguished Alumnus.

On Monday May 7, Zach, Megan, Amanda, Dan, Rob, and Seth walked across the stage at Dimnent Chapel to graduate as Founding Friends of the Ralph and Cheryl Schregardus Friendship House.

As the Friends took their seats, President Tim Brown’s voice cracked with emotion. “You have no idea how satisfying that was,” he said.

Former roommates are recognized at the Friendship House 10 Year Celebration.

Amanda’s family at the Friendship House 10 Year Celebration.

The following evening, WTS held a banquet to honor the Friends alongside their families, former roommates, and donors that made the Friendship House a reality. Professor John Swinton of University of Aberdeen, a leading theologian in disability and ministry, gave an address titled “Growing into Interdependence.” He shared his own university’s plan to launch a Friendship House in six month’s time.

In 2007, the Friendship House was created out of a need for housing options for young adults with cognitive disabilities and a desire for seminary students to learn from an often-marginalized population.

Dr. Jane Finn, professor of Education at Hope College, has been part of the conversation since the beginning. She and a team of experts helped to assess the Friends on their independent living skills before moving in. Over the past ten years, she has been studying the growth of the Friends using a measure called the Transition Planning Inventory (TPI).

According to Dr. Finn, many young adults with intellectual disabilities end up sitting in their rooms and watching television rather than developing the same social skills and friendships as their peers.

For the Friends at Friendship House, this has not been the case. Finn’s studies showed huge growth in the independence of the Friends, especially during the first 5 years. They were getting on the bus themselves, getting to their jobs, cleaning their own apartments, and enjoying social activities with others.

The Friends present along with Dr. Jane Finn (left) and Hope College students at the Michigan CEC Conference.

The Friends have proudly helped to present the findings both at Hope and at the Michigan CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) conference. There is significant interest because there are such limited housing options for young adults with disabilities.

“The Friends just steal the show,” says Finn, smiling.


Western’s Friendship House has inspired at least five similar but contextualized Friendship Houses, including one in Fayetteville, NC and others at Duke, Vanderbilt, George Fox University, and soon, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

“It’s unusual and original, and people from all over the world are watching,” says Professor Swinton. “The Spirit is at work in the midst of this, and there’s something really quite revolutionary beginning.”

The Friendship House has had a profound effect on WTS students, as well.

Rev. Dan DeVries lived in FH from 2012-2015 and was the Resident Advisor for two of those years. 

“I learned a lot about what it means to be present and to love,” he says.  “The Friends would stop by my room just to say hi and see how my day was going.  At first I found myself trying to hurry them along, but as I spent more time in the Friendship House, I realized that my homework could wait a bit.  I learned that to love well required me to be present to the situation in front of me.”

Now the lead pastor at Glen Lake Community Reformed Church, Dan feels as though he can be a stronger advocate for those on the margins.

“The Gospels tell us that one day Jesus ended up in a group of adults who wanted to argue about who was the greatest.  While all this was going on, Jesus noticed a child,” he says. “To those arguing, the child was not even on the radar, but to Jesus that child was at the center of his mind in that moment. As ministry leaders we have the chance bring people with disabilities who are often off the radar and bring them to the center.”

Recent graduate Abigail DeZeeuw says that her time at Friendship House encouraged her to do the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry (GCDM) program alongside her M.Div.

“My time in the FH and in the GCDM program has given me a new lens for doing ministry,” she explains. “I’m always looking at ministry strategies or theologies and asking the questions:  ‘who’s being left out by this way of doing/thinking?’ and ‘what would need to change for everyone to belong here?’”


Deb Sterken addresses former roommates, friends, family, and donors at the Friendship House 10 Year Celebration.

The Friends’ parents love seeing how relationships with their children have inspired future ministry leaders. They also love seeing the ways their children have grown in ways they never thought possible.

“At graduation when the president said ‘you have no idea how satisfying that was to me,’ I was thinking—you’re the one who has no idea!” says Rob’s dad, Dr. Robert Sterken.

“All parents worry about their kids’ future…but when your child has a disability, that worry intensifies a thousand-fold,” Deb Sterken shares. “There’s a dark cloud of fear for what may lie ahead. Will there be happiness? Friendships? Love? Laughter? And of course, where will they live? The Friendship House has answered most of those questions.”

Beth Kragt’s daughter, Amanda, has learned to take responsibility for herself and has become “her own person.” When Amanda’s dad passed away a few years ago, her mom was incredibly touched by the way her roommates and the other Friends embraced her.

Dan’s mom, Laurie Mutschler, explains that their children now plan things for themselves rather than having everything programmed for them. Their communication skills, vocabularies, and articulation have greatly improved as well. Friendship House Resident Advisor Scott Van Ravenswaay shares this story:

“I accidentally scheduled another meeting during our weekly Friend time…and then later I found out that the Friends went ahead and ran it without me!”

The Friends have learned to live with different personalities and navigate conflict with roommates. They’ve also become engrained in the Holland community, through jobs and other activities. Seth and Megan attend Pillar Church, where Seth was baptized this year. Dan attends “lunch bunch” with some of the elderly members at his Methodist church every Sunday. Rob is so busy that his parents have a hard time nailing down dinner plans with him.

The Friendship House has allowed a sense of freedom for each of the Friends’ families. They don’t have to be worried about their child not being happy or having things to do. It makes their siblings proud of them too, shares Zach’s mom, Linda Aalderink.

At the beginning, the parents felt that all the Friends were “pulled up” by their non-disabled roommates. Now, they pull each other up.

Seth’s mom, Kathy Vander Broek, is acutely aware of what life is like for individuals with cognitive impairments who don’t live at Friendship House. “It’s just a void of life for so many, and our kids have normalcy.”

“It allows us to be normal,” adds Deb Sterken.

The original 6 Friends with their parents at the 10 Year Celebration.


The future for the original six Friends is bright. Dan and Rob will move in together to the Redbricks across the street, and Megan and Amanda will do the same. Seth and Zach will remain in the FH for one more year before transitioning.

While the first transition was scary for parents—going from childhood home to the Friendship House—there is more excitement the second time around.

“Rob is maturing like our other children, just at a really delayed rate,” Deb shares. “Just as our other kids wanted to have their own apartment or just be with one roommate, now the Friends want that, and it’s a normal progression.”

Their advice to the next group of Friendship House parents? “Breathe deep.” “it’s ok to let go,” and “don’t be afraid.”

The next iteration of Friendship House (which some are affectionately calling “Friendship House 2.0”) will have some major changes. The first change is that new FH Director Carlos Thompson will be living at Friendship House and serving on the faculty of WTS as a Nouwen Fellow for the next two years.  

According to Dr. Ben Conner, who directs the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry, the new house will be more programmatic—Friends will now be called “Friendship House Fellows.” The program will run for six years (two cycles of M.Div. students) and the Fellows will receive a certificate upon their completion of the program.

The Fellows will have the opportunity to take one class at WTS every year, which will challenge WTS faculty to think about classroom design, accessibility, and pedagogy. Carlos Thompson will teach a seminary class called, “Living into Community:  Friendship House,” so that every student, regardless of whether they live in the house or not, can get to know the Fellows and learn about their lives.

WTS will begin processing applications for Friendship House Fellows in the fall of 2018, with the expectation to announce new Fellows in the spring of 2019. Interested parties can contact Rayetta Perez at 616.392.8555, x103 to be notified when the application opens. Dr. Finn and her team will once again assess candidates on a one-on-one basis.

The Friendship House has been Western’s grand experiment, and we are excited to carry the vision forward with fresh energy as we deepen our commitment and partnership to the Friends old and new.

The Friends: (L to R) Amanda Kragt, Rob Sterken, Megan Dalman, Dan Mutschler, Seth Vander Broek, and Zach Aalderink

The word cohort can mean both a group of people banded together or each individual in that group. What could be better than having supportive companions cheering you on in an educational journey you are taking together?

As Western Theological Seminary seeks ways to reach more men and women with quality theological education, we are implementing cohort models of learning in the Doctor of Ministry and Hispanic Ministry Programs.

These programs are the result of work initiated by Academic Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs Alvin Padilla. Dr. Padilla is using the cohort approach to reach students who want theological training but haven’t had access to it in the past. This is also the first time WTS is educating students who speak little or no English.


Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.)

This year, Dr. Padilla and his long-time friend, Dr. Mário da Silva, made a 5-year dream come true. WTS has partnered with Dr. da Silva’s school, Filadelfia University (or UniFil) in Londrina, Brazil, to provide a Doctor of Ministry program for a group of 19 students.

Dr. da Silva and Dr. Padilla were colleagues at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and had been working for years on a way to get doctoral level theological education to Brazil. When Dr. Padilla moved to Western, the plans finally took shape.

Dr. Mário da Silva with theology professor Suzanne McDonald during his January visit to WTS

“We have a partnership in the real sense of the word,” says Dr. da Silva. “I’m very happy to find this atmosphere of openness at Western.”

The UniFil group uses a new model of cohort-based learning for their D.Min. program. The 3-year cohort is organized around a single theme and facilitated by Dr. da Silva. Plans are being made for WTS faculty members to teach this cohort in future sessions.

Students identify a barrier in their ministry and read broadly in the area of the theme of their cohort. The UniFil cohort is studying spiritual formation and church planting. Students will research their particular barrier using the facilities at Filadelfia University and address the barrier within the context of spiritual formation and church planting.

The cohort is made up of key leaders in the country of Brazil, most of them pastors of churches with 1,000+ members. One student leads a church of 30,000.

Among the group there are professors at the university, scholars with Ph.D.s, and even a student who is the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Angola (an African nation that is a former Portuguese colony, like Brazil). Some students are Reformed, others are Pentecostal, and some are non-denominational.

As cohort members discuss the barriers within their own ministries, they learn from each other and serve as “research assistants” when they come across something helpful for a fellow student. The model works well cross-culturally where a strong group dynamic is valued, as in Brazil.

D.Min. Director Mark Poppen breaks bread with Enio Pinto translating (at right).

When Doctor of Ministry Director Mark Poppen visited the cohort in Brazil last November, he was greeted by a familiar face—Master of Theology graduate Enio Pinto ‘04. Enio acted as Mark’s translator for the week and shared with the group what it was like to be a student at WTS.

Despite these students not being geographically linked to WTS, they feel a strong bond and pride in being part of the Western community.

In 2019 the UniFil cohort will travel to Holland for an on-campus intensive at WTS.


Graduate Certificate in Urban Pastoral Ministry (GCUPM)

The Graduate Certificate in Urban Pastoral Ministry launched three cohorts this year under the leadership of Hispanic Ministries Program Director Joseph Ocasio. The program now has its highest enrollment—71 students.

The first cohort began in Delaware in June of 2017 and is made up of students from the Church of God in Prophecy. The second cohort launched last fall in Southern California and consists of RCA students. The third cohort, which met in Holland, MI for the first time in January, is comprised of students from five local churches, representing RCA, Church of God, and Wesleyan denominations.

The GCUPM cohort in Delaware with Director Joseph Ocasio (on left)

What these groups have in common is a desire for bilingual theological education. Some students are English-dominant and others are Spanish-dominant, so courses are designed in both languages. The students may choose to read and submit assignments in Spanish or English.

“As part of the courses, I’d like them to work on their non-dominant language,” says Ocasio. “Hispanic pastors need to be proficient in both languages. That is our goal.”

Students participate in a distance-learning format, meeting face-to-face a few times a year. They take one class per semester, three semesters per year. The program consists of seven general courses and one elective reflecting the interests of the cohort.

“The benefit of a cohort is that each group starts and finishes together,” Ocasio explains. “It creates community and builds relationships. That in turn helps improve peer learning, and that support structure will help them persist.”

Some students are challenged by the technology and distance learning format, and it is not easy for them to find time to learn in the midst of busy schedules. However, the Delaware cohort has been through two classes already, and students are helping and encouraging each other to continue.

“I am hearing incredible stories of how these classes are impacting their ministries and theological understanding,” Ocasio shares. “These students have been growing, and they’re very thankful.”

Many students who are Spanish-dominant have had limited opportunities to study theology in the past. One such student in the Holland cohort shared this:

My family and I arrived in Holland seven months ago at The House of My Father church, led by Pastor José Durán and Pastor Gonzalo Venegas. The first weeks [in Holland], my husband and I drove by Western Theological Seminary and I said out loud: “Lord, let us study there, I would like to study there.” To which my husband corresponded with “Yes, Lord.”

In my heart I knew I would continue my studies here in the United States, but I confess that I never thought it would be so soon. My first goal was and is to master the language, and only then, I thought it would be possible to opt for these studies. So, you can imagine my surprise and excitement when one morning my husband gave me the news that he had made the request to study at Western and we were accepted. This experience is an opportunity from God for my life.

The faculty and staff of Western Theological Seminary are pleased with the progress of our new cohort-based education model. We are honored to provide these opportunities for men and women who otherwise would not have had access to quality theological education. We look forward to continued growth as students encourage each other onward as cohorts in learning.

During the construction phase of “Our New Day” for Western Theological Seminary, a large portion of the campus will be inaccessible. The diagram below shows which areas are under construction. The available walkways are in yellow and may change during the 2017-18 school year.

Deliveries should be made to the receptionist at the front desk, which is in the DeWitt Theological Center. You can go through entrance 2 or the front entrance near the construction area (open as of March). Cherri or Gretchen at the front desk can be reached at 392-8555.

PARKING: There is a small amount of parking by Friendship House. Guest parking is available in the student lot on the south side of 13th St. Street parking is also allowed (check for signs).

Looking for a particular department?

Academic Offices (dean, registrar) – DeWitt Center, 2nd floor
Admissions – DeWitt Center, Atrium level
Advancement – Cook Center/Beardslee Library, 5th floor
Bookstore – No longer in business
Business Offices – DeWitt Center, Atrium level
Communications – Cook Center/Beardslee Library, 5th floor
Cont. Ed. (Journey and Ridder – no longer available)
Educational Technology – DeWitt Center, atrium level
Faculty offices – DeWitt Center, 2nd floor
Formation for Ministry – DeWitt Center, garden level
Human Resources – DeWitt Center, garden level
Hispanic Ministries – DeWitt Center, garden level
International Students Office – Cook Center/Beardslee Library, 4th floor
President & V.P. offices – Cook Center/Beardslee Library, mezzanine level
Writing Studio – Cook Center/Beardslee Library, 4th floor

(scroll down for videos)

The Class of 2018 received their degrees on Monday evening, May 7, in Dimnent Memorial Chapel on the campus of Hope College. Western Theological Seminary awarded 31 Master of Divinity degrees, eight Master of Arts degrees, five Master of Theology degrees, three Doctor of Ministry degrees (one honorary), and one Certificate in Disability and Ministry. Six certificates for the Founding Friends of Friendship House were awarded, also.

The commencement speaker for the evening was Dr. John Swinton, professor in practical theology and pastoral care at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. His work has a dual focus on the relationship between spirituality and health and the theology of disability.

Dr. Swinton advised the graduates to look at themselves as “heroes” of faith rather than “saints.” While saints seem to have a lot of “mountaintop” experiences, heroes engage in God’s sovereign love through the many small day-to-day tasks and interactions that make up a life.


Monday, May 7 Schedule:

8:45am – Opening Worship and Senior Blessing for DL and DMin students, friends and family (Mulder Chapel)

11:45am – Registration & Reunion lunches for the Class of 1958, 1968 and the Class of 1978 (6th floor, Beardslee Library)

1:30pm – Alumni Forum Lecture:  Commencement Speaker Professor John Swinton, “What does it mean to know Jesus when you don’t know who Jesus is? Intellectual disability, brain damage and the nature of love.”

2:45pm – Class of 2018 group photo (steps of Mulder Chapel, outside)

3:15pm – Commencement Rehearsal (Dimnent Chapel of Hope College)

5:00pm – Alumni/ae Dinner (The Commons) with celebration of Distinguished Alum David Bast ’76. Contact Tamara for reservations at 616-392-8555, x109. $20/person

7:30pm – 142nd Commencement (Dimnent Chapel of Hope College) with Commencement Speaker Professor John Swinton, “Remembering Vocation: Living Life as Worship.” Doors open at 6:45. No tickets necessary.

Commencement is followed by a receiving line on the lawn of Dimnent Chapel, and there is a reception in the seminary atrium.

Senior M.Div. student Ruth Estell may be what’s called an “old soul,” but don’t be fooled by her mild manner.

Born to RCA missionary parents and raised in Taiwan, Ruth came to the States to earn her undergrad and graduate degrees from Wheaton College, and then returned to China to teach English.

Ruth with children from the group home in Taiwan

After ten years, she heard about an opportunity to work and live in a home for children and adults with disabilities in Taiwan. She jumped at the chance to do more ministry and Bible teaching.

In Taiwan, Ruth volunteered to teach an English Bible study in a men’s maximum security prison—with no guards in the room.

“At first I wasn’t so sure,” she admits, “but I ended up loving it. The men were very respectful and appreciated that I was willing to come there.”

She saw God at work, even witnessing some men get baptized and grow in their faith.

Ruth planned to take over for the director of the group home in Taiwan, but after a year and a half, the woman grew inexplicably hostile toward her.

Ruth started to believe the negative things her teammate was saying about her, and for the first time in her life, she doubted if God really loved her. She found herself in a downward spiral emotionally, spiritually, and physically. After praying about what to do, she knew she had to leave the mission field.

She returned to the U.S. to live with her mother, who had retired to Zeeland, MI. Their family had spent many summers on furlough in the RCA mission houses in Holland, so Ruth knew a lot of people in the West Michigan area.

“When I came back, I thought I was done serving God forever,” Ruth admits.“I would have been content to do whatever just to pay the bills.”

However, many people who knew her story were praying for her, and many reached out with love and support. Some shared their own stories of being hurt by brothers and sisters in the church.

A lot of healing took place, and Ruth realized that she still had a deep desire to serve God in her work. As she began to feel a call to chaplaincy, she knew she would need a Master of Divinity, and that led her to Western Theological Seminary.

Two and a half years later, Ruth is on track to graduate this May. She hopes to work as a chaplain in a retirement home or hospital.

“I am a third culture kid,” she says, “and Chinese culture respects the elderly, so perhaps that infiltrated my heart. I love the elderly.”

Two of Ruth’s internships have been at retirement homes, but she also completed a year of church ministry and one summer term of Clinical Pastoral Education at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where she worked with children and adolescents and at a women’s addiction recovery residential house.

“My abilities and confidence have grown,” she shares. “Children and adolescents are very honest. I have dealt with a lot of anger but also some very honest questions. You don’t always have the answers, but you can be there and listen to them.”

This year, Ruth is interning at Holland Hospital, where God is growing a love for the stranger in her. Many times she can only have one or two conversations with patients before they leave the hospital.

Harp class, led by Dr. Carol Bechtel

Ruth is part of a group of musicians that WTS professor Dr. Carol Bechtel is teaching to play the harp. At the hospital, Ruth plays the harp therapeutically—a ministry that can touch some patients and families in a special way.

“One lady I visited was very formal when I went in as the chaplain. I could tell she highly respected the clergy,” recalls Ruth. “She thanked me for coming and asked me to pray but didn’t have much to say. Later I came in just to play the harp, and soon she started sharing about her diagnosis, how she was feeling, her family… More pastoral care was done when I wasn’t there as the ‘official’ chaplain.”

Other times, patients are unresponsive or restless, and the harp music puts a calm over the room and the family. Sometimes the music frees people to have a good cry.

“I can’t answer ‘Why would God let this happen?’ or ‘Why don’t I feel God’s presence?” but I can acknowledge feelings and encourage people to reach out to God,” Ruth says. “Sometimes I run out of words, and then the music lets them rest in that.”

If people come from a Christian background, hymns remind them of times God spoke into their lives. Recently a dying patient began singing along to the hymns Ruth was playing on her harp, creating a beautiful moment that touched the family deeply. Later they asked her to play at his funeral.

Being able to play the harp for people is a “tool in my tool box,” Ruth says. “It’s just another way to care for people.”

Ruth is also grateful for Dr. Suzanne McDonald’s classes on “Aging and Dementia” and eschatology. These classes have helped her to establish a theological foundation and to understand how to care for people at the end of life.

“What I like about Western is that it’s not all about heady, intellectual knowledge,” she shares. “The professors realize they’re preparing us for serving actual people. It has kept me humble.”

Thinking ahead to graduation, Ruth says, “I think chaplaincy will be a good fit for the passions and gifts God has given me. Retirement home, hospital, hospice…I’m open to wherever God might lead.”

North Holland Reformed Church ministry team

L to R: Associate Pastor Audrey Edewaard,Lead Pastor Steven DeVries. Worship Director Jed Grooters, WTS intern Nathan Longfield


“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young,” Paul writes in 1 Timothy. Thankfully, for the ministry team at North Holland Reformed Church, their youth is counted as a strength, not a weakness.

North Holland is one of the oldest churches in the West Michigan area, planted in 1852 by Dutch homesteaders. However, its pastoral staff is one of the youngest, consisting of three recent WTS graduates all under the age of 30.

North Holland has a long history of hiring first-call pastors, with one-third of their lead pastors coming fresh out of seminary. Their first pastor was Rev. E. C. Oggel, a student from New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

Steven DeVries ‘14 completed his seminary internship with North Holland right around the time their pastor was preparing to accept another call. Part of what Steven liked about the church was their desire to raise up young men and women to be leaders in ministry.

As an intern he was never dismissed from consistory meetings so they could talk about “the real stuff.” The entire life of the church was very accessible to him.

Now in his fourth year as lead pastor, Steven and his team are thriving with a congregation that is heavily invested, flexible, and willing to grow.

When Jed Grooters ‘17 was hired as the worship director in 2015, he wanted to introduce more contemporary worship to transition to a “blended” style. For most of its existence, the church had sung hymns with an organ or piano exclusively. The long history of the church combined with his youth compelled him to be humble and do a lot of listening.

“This isn’t about my opportunity to express myself as a worship leader,” he explains. “This is a space we create together—all of us—to meet with God.”

Jed helped the congregation find their musical “voice” in worship and was encouraged by their positivity throughout the process.

“I’ve taken plenty of risks, pushing them in a new direction, and they’ve taken it all in stride,” he says.

Associate Pastor Audrey Edewaard ‘16 says that the people at North Holland are always willing to try something at least once.

“We have a congregation that is very willing to extend trust,” she explains, “and that means a lot, because we’re young ministers. So, we kind of know what we’re doing, and we also kind of have no idea.”

North Holland uses a ministry team model in which congregants come together to make decisions alongside the pastors. This allows the congregation to take ownership in children’s ministry, adult discipleship, etc., and it also takes pressure off the staff.

The church has families that have attended for six generations as well as families who have recently moved into the area. Both groups are represented on consistory and ministry teams, so there is no sense of an “old guard.”

The church had deep “blue-collar roots” for generations, but now there is more socioeconomic diversity.

“One year on the executive team there was a truck driver and plumber alongside a lawyer and college professor,” Pastor Steven says. “Church members love to help each other out and if you need something done, there’s probably someone who does it here.”

The oldest member of the church is 98, but there are also a lot of young families.

Steven calls the older congregants the “senior saints,” and he loves visiting and connecting with them.

“We have a lot of older people who break stereotypes,” he laughs.“I wear blue jeans all week and visit people in their 80’s and 90’s, yet I’ve never heard a comment about how I’m dressed. They care more about presence than presentation.”

When he was hired, it meant a lot to him that many older congregants voiced their strong support and trust in his leadership. “They didn’t just dismiss me as a kid pastor.”

“I’ve noticed a generosity toward us in our age,” agrees Nathan Longfield, WTS intern for North Holland. He sees the congregation willing to guide, “but not in a demeaning way.”

“In a lot of places, people say ‘Our church is dying, we can’t keep the young people,’” notes Pastor Steven, “but I think that’s because they don’t trust young people as competent leaders.” At North Holland, he has never been second-guessed or diminished because of his age.

Pastor Audrey agrees. During her first month, she visited a congregant who had open heart surgery. To this day when he introduces her, he says, ‘This is my pastor, Audrey, and she was there when I had open heart surgery.” That affirmation is very encouraging to her.


Going to seminary together has its benefits for the North Holland team. Steven graduated a few years ahead of Audrey and Jed, but they had many shared classes and experiences.

Audrey says there is less anxiety around having difficult conversations and thinking critically, because they have a shared foundation and language.

Nathan feels that the staff understands the pressures of seminary, since it wasn’t too long ago they were in his shoes. “There’s a sense of growing together,” he says. “Learning as the intern feels less one-directional. They’re teaching me things, but we’re also working as a team.”

“From the beginning, working with Steven has been phenomenal,” says Jed. “His natural and disciplined pastoral gifts are incredible, especially for a person with his years of experience. He’s a genuine and caring person who is also remarkably stable.”

“Audrey is a blast,” he adds. “Her energy, talent, sincerity and humility are all so rare, and I can’t speak highly enough of her as a ministry partner.”

Capital Campaign Brings Changes

In 2016, North Holland launched a capital campaign to raise 2.5 million dollars for an extension and remodel of their building. “Reach Out” is the result of a longtime dream for a fellowship hall and gym and to make their building ADA accessible. The church wants to have space to better serve their community and have meals and events together.

For a church of 300 people, 2.5 million was a big goal, but they had a 95% YES vote on the project.

Pastor Steven had never done any fundraising before, but during the campaign, the seminary sent him to the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF) training through the generosity of a Lilly Endowment, Inc. grant.

“As a young leader still unsure about a lot of things, ECRF built my confidence up,” he shares.

Near the beginning of the campaign, he had a meeting scheduled with a couple whose support he knew the project would need in order to succeed. The day of the meeting, Steven was visiting another congregant at Holland Hospital when his car battery died.

When he called the potential donors to explain what was happening, they drove from the north side of Holland to pick him up for the meeting. After they discussed the project, the couple declared, “We should go jump your car!” and even helped him file down the battery terminals to get his car started.

“Of all the fear around making a presentation, at the end of the day you’re asking people to support something they love,” Steven realized. The couple’s generous spirit impacted him greatly.

Pastor Audrey hopes the project will help them reach out to their immediate community, specifically to the elementary school across the street.

Jed says that the building project is a testament to the kind of people who make up North Holland. He likes to think of their 165-year-old church as a new church plant trying to reach their community in different ways.

“This congregation is generous,” he says, “These people have lots of history and patterns, but they’re adaptable and willing to take risks. They will take their money and time and invest it. They’re willing to take young people like us and give us opportunities before we’re ‘polished.’ It’s rare; you don’t just find this anywhere.”

The Sunday service time at North Holland is 9:30 a.m. The church is located at 12050 New Holland Street, Holland, MI.