Dear WTS Community,

These past few months have been incredibly difficult as we have grieved the loss of lives, community, routines, and expectations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This last week was monumental as we mourned the loss of over 100,000 lives to this deadly virus here in the United States.

Last week was also painful because we witnessed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. His death once again called attention to the suffering and lament of the African American community, whose collective experience has all too frequently been marked by injustice and brutality. The death of George Floyd concluded a span of a few weeks where we grieved the loss of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and invoked the memories of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and Laquan McDonald, among many others.

Incidents like these remind us of the long history of injustice and racism in our country. This past August marked 400 years since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, and much remains to be done on both relational and systemic levels to ensure justice and equity regardless of the color of one’s skin.

Incidents like these also cause us to lament how some law enforcement officers have misused and abused their authority, thus overshadowing the dedication and commitment of those public officials who put their lives at risk every day for the sake of others.

This past week reminds us that violence is not the answer. The groundswell of protests represents the hurt and frustration that the African American community has experienced through the criminal justice system. Let us not gloss over the pain that led to these protests and the sincere cry for justice that continues beyond the violence. We remember the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” At the same time, the small minority incidences of violence and looting, whether committed by those genuinely frustrated or by those simply taking advantage of the situation, often end up hurting the very businesses, communities, and people the protests aim to help.

This past week also reminds us that while we live in a polarized society, God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and that he has given to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). God has also called us to rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn, and not to overcome evil with evil but to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:15, 21).

Over this past year, the diversity committee at WTS has worked on a statement on racial and ethnic diversity at our institution. The proposed statement includes the following affirmation:

We affirm that all human beings are in the image of God, and we uphold the full dignity and worth of all people of all racial and ethnic identities.

We therefore reject any direct or indirect discrimination against, and devaluing or dishonoring of, any person on the grounds of race or ethnicity.

In the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we commit to discerning and uprooting all forms of racial prejudice, individually and in our institutional culture.

I share this not because we have arrived. We have much work to do. I share this because this proposed statement not only demonstrates our commitment as an institution, but also is a much-needed reminder for such a time as this.

In this season of Pentecost, when we remember how the breath of God fills us with the Holy Spirit, our country is protesting the death of a man who cried out, “I can’t breathe.” Jesus Christ did not turn away from suffering such as this but took it upon himself. Before he rose and sent the Spirit, he struggled for breath on the cross. Pentecost Sunday is a powerful reminder that we do not strive for reconciliation or fight for justice alone. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has come to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). Through the cross, justice and reconciliation with both God and fellow human beings are possible. Let us continue to be Spirit-filled people in this world, crying out for justice, proclaiming peace, and joining in God’s work of reconciliation wherever we go.

Soli deo Gloria,
Felix Theonugraha,



View the webinar: Race and the Church: A Christian Response to the Death of George Floyd.

Please Join us on Wednesday October 30 at 2 P.M. in Hope College’s Dimnent Chapel for the installation service of Dr. Felix Theonugraha as Western’s twelfth president! A short reception will follow. For more details about Inauguration week, visit

Western Theological Seminary is saddened to learn of the passing of former president, Rev. Marvin Hoff. May he Rest In Peace and rise in glory. Please see the full obituary from Marvin’s son David below:

Marvin Hoff, who dedicated his life to ministry in the Reformed Church of America and the church universal, died on May 26.

Rev. Hoff served as the president of Western Theological Seminary from 1985 to 1994 and was the pastor of churches in Hawthorne, N.J. and Palos Heights, Ill. He also held executive positions for the Reformed Church of America supporting overseas missionaries and the denomination’s General Synod from 1969 to 1981.

In addition to his service to the RCA, he supported the development of the churches and seminaries in China and throughout Southeast Asia in his service to the Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia (FTESEA), starting as a trustee in 1969, then as a part-time executive director from 1977 through 1994. From 1994 until his retirement in 2006, he was the foundation’s full-time executive director.

Starting in the early 1980s, his work for the FTESEA focused on supporting seminaries in China as they re-opened after the country’s Cultural Revolution. Because the government had destroyed books decades earlier, the FTESEA’s initial support was to provide books for their libraries. Working in partnership with his wife, Joan, they purchased and shipped books to schools and published and distributed journals that advanced theological support throughout the region.

Rev. Hoff travelled to China annually to visit seminaries, attend celebrations, and participate in conferences until his retirement in 2006.

“He is a true teacher and a great friend of Asia,” Sientje Merentek-Abram, then the executive director of the Assembly of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia, wrote in a collection of essays celebrating Rev. Hoff’s career. “He always put himself at the background in helping the schools.”

Rev. Hoff considered his tenure at Western Seminary as a great honor to carry on the legacy of the professors who prepared him for ministry. He earned a B.A. at Central College in Pella, Iowa, an M.Div. at Western, a Th.M. at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Doctorandus from the Theological University in Kampen, the Netherlands.

He also served as the stated clerk for the Holland Classis.

In retirement, he also enjoyed cheering on his favorite sports teams, whether it was the Bears, Bulls, and Cubs in Chicago or the Hope College football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball teams.

He and Joan also dedicated their time and energy with their grandchildren, attending countless concerts, sports games, theater productions, scouting events, and taking them to playgrounds, water parks, and sporting events. His grandchildren all share his enthusiasm for a good meal, especially the ice cream for dessert, and enjoyed his colorful commentary while watching sports on television.

Rev. Hoff is survived by his beloved wife, Joan; his daughters, Jean Hoff of Chevy Chase, Md. and Mary Hoff-Robinson and his son-in-law Hugh Robinson of Westmont, Ill.; his son, David Hoff and his daughter-in-law Sally Davis of Arlington, Va.; and six grandchildren, Gretchen “Rozie” Hoff, Carolyn Hoff, Jonah Davis-Hoff, Ian Davis-Hoff, Nate Robinson, and Bella Robinson; his brothers, Roger and Ron Hoff, and their wives, Diane and Sue; and five nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Arend and Mildred Hoff, and his beloved grandson, Isaac Wilkens Hoff.

The family is planning a memorial service on June 7 at 11 a.m. at the St. John Lutheran Church in Joliet, Ill., where Rev. Hoff lived until recently.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Reformed Church in America to support a new mission to support dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia. Donations can be made at; please check the “in memory of” box. Checks can be sent to: Terri Boven, Finance Dept., Reformed Church in America, 4500 60th St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512. Please include “Marvin Hoff/John Hubers” in the subject line.

Former WTS President Marv Hoff (center) with the faculty in 1989.

In February, I informed the Board of Trustees that after much prayer and deliberation, Nancy and I have decided that my time as president is coming to an end. This coming school year of 2018-19 will be my last year as president.

There are many things that I want to get done. This won’t be a victory lap! This will be a very intentionally focused period.

First, I want to bring to completion our new building, fully funding the project. When we asked the Board for permission to start this project, I said to them, “I promise I will stay as president until that building is up, the flags are flying, and every debt is paid.” I’m happy to say we are really close.

I want to continue to support the work of Dean Alvin Padilla and the rest of the faculty as they make enormous strides in our Hispanic Ministries Program. Every population census you can possibly read will tell you that by 2050, the largest cross-section of our population will be Hispanic. It was such a gift to us when Alvin Padilla agreed to come and be our academic dean, and I’m so grateful for that.

I now have permission to say that Eddy Alemán has been nominated to be the new General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America. Eddy is Latino, a graduate of WTS, and also a member of our Board of Trustees. What great energy and synergy we have to do the work that is coming!

I also want to both bless and help the faculty as we move toward important hires over the next year. Several faculty members have left or will be leaving, and we need new people to join our team. I am eager to keep this stunning record of great young scholars who are Reformed, evangelical and ecumenical.

I will work very hard in the next year continuing to make this a place that helps men and women flourish in ministry. All the hard-fought efforts over the years that have opened the doors to women in ministry have recently met with resistance. We’re not going to allow that. We’re going to keep working hard until we enter in to that vision of the prophet Joel: On that day I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Last but not least, I want to ensure in the midst of our ever-expanding diversity that we have a clearly gracious, generously articulated Reformed Identity. I’m going to ask the Board of Trustees to call forth a task force to help us articulate what we mean when we say Reformed identity, so we can be expansive and welcoming but also clear about who we are and what we intend to do. This is no time to be ashamed of our Reformed identity, but to embrace it and move into the future.

I intend in the name of Jesus to give my best to all of these things, and I will, I promise you, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.


Timothy L. Brown



Dr. Timothy Brown

President and Henry Bast Professor of Preaching


Here at Western Theological Seminary we make a big deal out of our daily worship. It might surprise you to learn that we are one of the few seminaries left that still worships as a community every single day. We believe worship forms us over time in mysterious ways we can scarcely understand.

I want you to come with me to the two-story colonial home where Nancy and I live, just a few blocks south of the seminary. There we are having a dinner, hosting six of our best friends over the last 25 years. Come and get to know these good people; look into their faces, listen in on their conversations, and feel the texture of relationships that have kept us together through thick and thin since before Ronald Reagan was President. Just stand quietly in the corner of the dining room and take it all in, because it strikes me as a kind of living commentary on what worshipping the living God in a Reformed way can do for you.

Sitting directly across from me is Jack Smith (I won’t use any real names in this article). Jack and I graduated from college together and went off to different graduate schools. When I graduated from seminary with the right to be a minister of Word and Sacrament, Jack graduated with an MBA and what seemed to be a license to print money. He has become fabulously wealthy, not unlike many who made fortunes in the 80s and 90s. What singles Jack out is that somewhere along the line he stopped asking the question, “How much of my fortune should I give away to good causes?” and started asking, “How much of what God has given me do I have the right to keep?” If you asked where he learned to do this, he’ll tell you that it dawned on him after hearing—Sunday in and Sunday out!—“Let us return our tithes and offerings to the Lord!”

Sitting next to Nancy is Lynn. While giving birth to her third child—right in the very act of offering life—she was stricken with a debilitating stroke. The baby survived and so did she, but her life would never be the same. She would never change that baby’s diapers or dance with her husband again. At one point in the evening while we were discussing “the good old days at Christ Memorial Church,” Lynn said to me, “You know, Tim, my favorite moment in our worship services was always right at the beginning when you would lift your arms in the air and say, ‘Grace to you and peace in the name of the Lord Jesus!’ When I hear those words my heart almost stops and I know that while I may never understand why all of this happened to me, I do know that our gracious God does know and, frankly, that’s all I need.”

Sitting opposite of each other are the Holts and the Newhouses. Dr. Holt teaches at Hope College and had an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on his car a few presidential elections ago. Mr. Newhouse is a successful realtor in Holland, and he and his wife had TWO Bush/Cheney posters in their front yard during the same election. At one point the conversation turned to politics and heated up a little bit—and I thought, “Oh no! My party is going to tank!”—but then, mysteriously, the Holts and the Newhouses shifted effortlessly from American politics and their striking differences to their heavenly citizenship and the one thing that will join them together forever.

At the end of the night, Nancy read several Psalms from Eugene Peterson’s The Message and we all held hands and prayed—prayed for our kids and grandkids, prayed for one another, and prayed for our world. We ended with the Lord’s Prayer and tears!

It may not have been so clear to me that night, but it surely is now—we had all been mysteriously shaped and formed by the way we worship Sunday in and Sunday out, and because of that we were being shaped and formed for witness and work in the world.

That’s why we make a big fuss over daily worship here!


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