Join us on April 15-16, 2019 for the Osterhaven Lectures in Theology, featuring Dr. John Swinton.


Monday, April 15

9:40 am          Dr. Swinton preaching in Chapel (public welcome)

10:30 am        Lecture #1:  Raging with Compassion (public welcome)

Noon              Community Conversation lunch with students and Teaching Church mentors on What makes Practical Theology Practical Theology?

7:00 pm          Lecture #2: What does God look like?—Whose God? Which image? (public welcome)


Tuesday, April 16

7:30 am          Breakfast Lecture #3 in the Commons: Mental Health and Ministry (public welcome, check back for sign-up info)


John Swinton is a Scottish theologian and a major figure in the development of disability theology. He is a professor in practical theology and pastoral care at the University of Aberdeen’s School of Divinity, History, and Philosophy. In 2004 he founded the university’s Centre for Spirituality, Health and Disability, which has a dual focus:  the relationship between spirituality and health and the theology of disability.

John is an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland, and in 2012 The Church of Scotland appointed him as Master of Christ’s College, the university’s theological college.

In 2014 he established the Centre for Ministry Studies, a joint project between Christ’s College and the University of Aberdeen. It provides a broad range of education and training for both lay and ordained people.

In 2016 he was awarded the Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing for his book, Dementia:  Living in the Memories of God. 

John also serves as an honorary professor of nursing in the Centre for Advanced Studies in Nursing at Aberdeen University. He is a registered mental nurse as well as a nurse for people with learning disabilities.

This fall we welcomed the first Henri Nouwen Doctoral Fellows!

Thanks to funding from a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to further the seminary’s work in the area of disability and ministry, Western was able to invite two young scholars to join the faculty for two years as they finish their dissertations on an aspect of disability studies.

Sarah Barton was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She has a B.S. in Biology, an M.S. in Occupational Therapy, and an M.T.S. degree. She is currently a Doctor of Theology Candidate at Duke Divinity School. Sarah brings to our faculty not only strong academic credentials, but also professional experience as an occupational therapist. She speaks on issues related to intellectual disability, disability studies, occupational therapy, global health, and spirituality. She received an Honorary Dissertation Fellowship (2018-2019) from the Louisville Institute and was named the Academic Fellow for the Episcopal Church Foundation’s Fellowship Partners Program (2018-2021).

Sarah is an active Episcopalian who enjoys serving as a lay preacher and lay eucharistic minister.



Originally from the coastal city of Cartagena, Columbia, L.S. Carlos A. Thompson was adopted by an American family and raised in Fargo, ND. Carlos earned a B.S. in Church Ministry, an M.A. in Religious Studies, and an M.Th. in Ministry and Mission (Practical Theology). He is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Divinity at the University of Aberdeen, King’s College.

Carlos is a Charismatic-Reformed Pentecostal who lives with congenital cerebral palsy. One of the questions foundational to his research and spiritual reflection is: How are Christians to understand “healing” in the midst of enduring disability and chronic illness?

Carlos is working in the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry program, helping to form the long-term strategy for Western’s ambitious disability and ministry curriculum as part of his PhD research. He lives in and directs the Friendship House, where he gives guidance and sincere friendship to the residents and young adults with cognitive disabilities living there and in the Red Brick apartments. This combination of academic programming and hands-on ministry makes Carlos’ work very valuable to both the seminary and the Holland community.

Western Theological Seminary will be closed from December 24- January 1.

Cook Library will remain closed to the public until the start of spring semester on January 28.

The Community Kitchen will be closed December 24, 25, 31 and January 1.

Have a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year!  See you in 2019. 

Join us on Friday, February 15, 2019

Dr. Deanna Thompson, author of Glimpsing Resurrection: Cancer, Trauma, and Ministry, will share from her own story and research how faith is experienced through the trauma of serious illness. Showing readers how the Christian story is large enough to encompass the enigmas of cancer stories, Dr. Thompson reflects on the unique wisdom and hope offered through the voices of believers who have been shaped by their struggle with serious illness. Dr. Thompson was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2008 and is currently in remission.

9:40-10:00 a.m.- Dr. Thompson will preach in chapel

12:00-1:15 p.m.– The WTS community is invited to a lunch panel on illness, trauma and pastoral care with Dr. Thompson, Sarah Barton, and Dr. Suzanne McDonald

3:00-4:30 p.m.– Coffee hour with reading groups (see details below)

7:00 p.m.– Lecture: “Cancer Stories & The Christian Story” with response by Dr. J. Todd Billings


In anticipation of Dr. Thompson’s arrival, interested members of the community are invited to join a reading group featuring her book. These groups will meet two times (in January and February) and will be co-led by a WTS student and a Christian from the Holland community who lives with serious illness.

One group will meet on two Monday mornings and the other will meet two Tuesday evenings. The first ten people to sign up by emailing Emily Holehan at will receive a free copy of Glimpsing Resurrection: Cancer, Trauma, and Ministry.

In addition, there will be a special afternoon coffee hour with Dr. Thompson on February 15 for those involved in these reading groups. We especially encourage cancer patients, caregivers, pastors, and others supporting loved ones with cancer to participate. Please email Emily Holehan at if you would like to sign up.



Deanna A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion
Hamline University

Dr. Thompson is a professor of religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. As a respected scholar in the study of Martin Luther and feminist theology, many of her publications focus on bringing Lutheran and feminist theology together in generative ways. She also teaches classes in African American Studies, Women Studies, and Social Justice.

Since the publication in 2012 of her theo-memoir, Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace, Thompson speaks and publishes widely on thinking theologically about living with cancer. Her book, The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World focuses on the digital revolution and its potential for helping us better care for one another during life’s worst times. In Glimpsing Resurrection: Cancer, Trauma, and Ministry, Dr. Thompson shares from her own story and research how faith is experienced through the trauma of illness.

Deanna Thompson has been married to Neal Peterson for 27 years and they have two daughters: Linnea (22) and Annika (19).

“My profession affords me the privilege of getting to talk about faith, suffering, joy, doubt, love, hate, justice, and God in ways that are always informed by the questions, claims and wagers of others. I hope that what gets created helps contribute to greater healing and understanding—of ourselves, our communities, our nation, and our world.” –Deanna Thompson

by Dr. Tom Boogaart

Having taught at Western Theological Seminary for more than 32 years, I am now about to retire. I am filled with many different emotions, but chief among them is gratitude. I am so grateful to have been part of this seminary and to have shared in its unique mission.

I came to WTS as a student in the 1970s with only a vague notion of what it meant to be Reformed. I remember sitting in Dr. Eugene Osterhaven’s theology class and learning from him about WTS’s place in the broader Reformed tradition. He told us that soon after the Reformation took hold in the Netherlands, some reformers felt that a Further Reformation was needed. Beset by theological controversies, they feared that the church was too focused on head-knowledge and right thinking and was losing sight of Calvin’s emphasis on the heart, faithful living, and thankful service. The proponents of this Further Reformation were enraptured by the fact that God, the all-powerful Sovereign, had lowered his scepter and drawn his beloved people into his presence, and they celebrated the joy and peace of heart that came when believers were held in the arms of God.

Dr. Osterhaven told us that WTS stood in the tradition of the Further Reformation and celebrated the love and intimacy that God shows to us, not the power and control that God has over us. He taught us that the heart of WTS was captured beautifully in the parable of the prodigal son in which Jesus portrays God not only as a Sovereign but also as a Father who longs for his rebellious children to come home. The Father’s eyes scan the road; his feet are ready to run; his arms are ready to embrace; and his heart is ready to forgive.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

I cannot fully describe the effect that this understanding of Reformed theology had on me. It would not be fair to say that I grew up among the “frozen chosen,” but it would be fair to say that the God my Reformed community presented to me was distant and aloof, and that this God, like all the male role models that I knew, showed no emotion except anger. Influenced by Dr. Osterhaven, Lester Kuyper, John Piet, and many others, my world opened up and I felt drawn into the presence of a loving God. I began to experience the truth of what John Calvin said at the beginning of his Institutes: knowledge of God and self are inextricably connected. Being held in the arms of God was the beginning of my knowing who I was and what God had created me to do and to be.

If you want to know the heart of WTS, ponder the parable of the Prodigal Son. Ponder the open arms of the Father, ponder how the love of the Father awakens in his children confession of sin and a desire to come home, ponder the joy of sitting in the Father’s house and eating together at his table.

Celebrating God’s embrace of his people has enlivened WTS and given us a unique identity. We are deeply committed to the spiritual formation of our students and the mission of the church. We were one of the first seminaries to collaborate with local churches in training students; we developed a doctor of ministry degree; we started the Children and Worship program; we committed significant curricular time to students’ spiritual formation; we created innovative language instruction to help students experience the Bible as a living word; we launched ministries like the Bridge, the Community Kitchen, and the Friendship House…and the list could go on.

Probably the clearest example of our celebrating God’s embrace is our emphasis on worship. We gather every day to worship, and Friday’s chapel with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is perhaps the moment when the heart of WTS is most fully made manifest. When we gather at the Lord’s Table and hear these words: “Send your Holy Spirit we pray that the bread which we break…” we have arrived at the dramatic moment when God comes to us and embraces us his prodigal and pharisaic children. This is the moment when we experience most fully the joy of his loving presence and the desire to carry the love of God to the world.

To the best of my knowledge, WTS may be one of the only seminaries where there is a symbiotic relationship between worship and the classroom. The experience of the presence of God in daily worship and especially in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper opens our hearts to reflecting on the nature of God in the classroom, and careful reflection on the nature of God in the classroom opens our hearts to experiencing God at the Lord’s Table.

It is a privilege to have been part of the life of WTS for over 32 years, to have been shaped by and to have helped shape the heart of WTS. It is my hope that all who join us now and in the future will feel the embrace of God and be filled with a love that overflows the world.

Hebrew class, 2008

Gathering around the Lord’s Table, 2012









Dr. Tom Boogaart will retire at the end of December, 2018. He came to Western in 1986 and has taught courses in Old Testament, Hebrew, the biblical worldview, and performing narratives. A Final Performance on the story of Jonah will be enacted at the seminary on December 13 at 7pm in lieu of a traditional “last lecture.” The public is welcome. 

Some of the professors who influenced Tom:

Lester Kuyper

John Piet

Eugene Osterhaven

Reflection from Ann Nieuwkoop, Interim Director of the Library

Back in 1988 when I began working as a technical services librarian for the seminary, patrons used a card catalog to locate materials. My first project was to coordinate the barcoding of the entire collection as Western anticipated its first integrated library system (we are now on our third system).

Technology proved to be not without its problems. One year a lightning strike fried all the computers, and we started the school year with only two computers for circulation and staff use. Then there was the summer the chiller died. We spent the first half of the summer at 85 degrees and the second half in the high 50s while the new system balanced. We lost spine labels and book pockets because of the extreme temperature variance.

Water also caused havoc. The January “sprinkler flood” of 2009 took out all the first floor electronics but fortunately only the books in the “new books” section, which weren’t hard to replace. Later during spring break, the basement flooded and the entrance ceiling leaked, causing tiles to fall down once again (both areas were a recurring problem).

In the mid-90s, libraries all along the lakeshore in three states had their Jehovah’s Witnesses materials vandalized or stolen. I remember spending the Super Bowl repairing a Watchtower publication in Dutch that only two other libraries in the world owned.

I have many fond memories, like when an area pastor checked out a brand new book and upon returning it, we noticed it was heavily underlined. When we asked about that, his response was, “But the author was all wrong!” (he paid to replace the book).

I will miss watching how students grow during the course of their studies here, listening to how this institution can sing in harmony in chapel, and talking to graduates when they stop in for a visit.

Ann led WTS through the creation, construction, and move into the new learning center. She is retiring at the end of 2018.

History of library facilities at Western Theological Seminary

The completed Beardslee Library, 1913

Students using the library, 1946

In the early 1950s, Beardslee Library and Semelink Hall were taken down to make room for an entirely new building. The chapel and commons area were on the west side, while faculty offices and classrooms were in the middle and on the first floor of the east end. A wing retaining the name “Semelink Hall” was built off the east end, and that along with the second floor mezzanine served as the seminary’s library until 1980.

Beardslee Library inside the new Semelink Hall, 1954

Dedication for new library, 1979

Cook Center for Theological Research

Using library technology, 2014

“Jonah: Standing Before the Face of God”

Rev. Dr. Tom Boogaart, Dennis and Betty Voskuil Professor of Old Testament, will retire in December. In honor of his retirement, you are invited to attend a Hebrew Enactment by WTS students on Thursday, December 13, 2018.

6:30 PM Desserts – Atrium

7:00 PM – “Jonah: Standing Before the Face of God” – The Commons

The story of Jonah is about much more than a monstrous fish that swallows the prophet; it is about the face of a compassionate God before whom all people stand. However God’s compassion is not the tender and gentle force that we often assume it to be. Rather it is a powerful and disruptive force in the world, driving the good man Jonah to flee from God and drawing the evil people of Nineveh towards God. The compassionate face of God exposes the violence we carry in our hearts and all the ways by which our violence mars the world: Jonah by his violent theology and the people Nineveh by their violent warring. A compassionate God does not tolerate violence and acts to redeem all people.

Video from this event is now available! Skip to 21:08 if you’d like to start right at the enactment.


Top photo: President Hesselink and Academic Dean Heideman

Jeff Munroe

Executive Vice President


There were giants in the earth in those days – Genesis 6:4

I met John Hesselink the first day I ever set foot in Holland, Michigan. It was the summer of 1981, and I was contemplating moving to Holland to come on staff with Young Life and take classes at Western Theological Seminary. I met with Dr. Hesselink, along with Dr. Eugene Heideman, as part of my discernment process. A year earlier, I had graduated from Michigan State University. In four years there, I’d never even seen either the president or the dean. Now, as I considered coming to Western, both were sitting down with me.

Have you ever seen the 1970s movie The Paper Chase? Professor Kingsfield, played by John Houseman, is an imposing and dictatorial teacher, and we experience the first year of Harvard Law School through the eyes of one of his students, a young man named Hart. At the end of the movie, Hart winds up on an elevator with his stern and demanding professor. Hart tells Kingsfield, with whom he’s had numerous difficult encounters in the classroom, how much his class has meant to him. Kingsfield looks pleased, then turns to Hart and says, “Tell me, what is your name?” It’s a devastating moment. Hart has spent the semester obsessed with pleasing a teacher who didn’t even know his name.

That was NOT my experience at Western Theological Seminary! There were giants in the classroom then: legends like Piet, Osterhaven, Hesselink, and Cook. Over the course of my years at Western I realized these great teachers all had something in common: they knew and loved me and the other students. Because of my status with Young Life, I entered Western as a special student, which meant I could take any courses I wanted. Even though I was in over my head, I signed up to take Dr. Hesselink’s course on Barth and Brunner. I wanted to hear firsthand his stories about those two great theologians. Dr. Hesselink was kind and loving and patient, and with his help I not only passed, but learned some significant theology along the way.

John and Etta Hesselink, Fall 2018

Fast-forward 31 years, and after a long career in Young Life, I came back to Western as an employee in 2012. There was Dr. Hesselink, seemingly unchanged, and still a vital part of this community. Something happened then that I never anticipated. My old professor became my dear friend. He gave me books, invited me out for pancakes at Jackie’s, and I was able to take him to Detroit on a couple of occasions to see the Tigers play. Slowly, I even worked up the courage to call him “John” instead of “Dr. Hesselink.”

I went to visit him a couple of weeks ago when he was in Holland Hospital. Unbeknownst to me, I arrived just as he was about to be moved to a skilled nursing facility. His room was swarming with medical personnel as he was being prepped for the move. “Stop,” he said. “I have to ask Jeff a question.” All the activity ceased, and I sat down next to him, eager to hear whatever important thing he had to say. He proceeded to ask me a question about the Detroit Tigers.

I will treasure that moment forever. John Hesselink was a great theologian. But he was also a real person. I loved him and I know he loved me. We were friends. I miss my friend.

Ira John Hesselink, Jr. ‘53







Senior student Noelle Jacobs reflects on her summer internship

The Lord first led me to Mescalero in March of 2013 on a spring break mission trip with Campus Ministry at Grand Valley State University after He spoke to me in a dream to go there. The experience redirected my life! I knew He had instilled a desire in me to return and develop relationships at Mescalero Reformed Church and in the greater community of Mescalero. Nearly six years and six trips later, that deep-rooted desire still inhabits in my soul.

I spent just over ten weeks at Mescalero Reformed Church this summer, interning with Mark and Miriam Vellinga (Orange City, IA), fellow intern Effie VanderHelm (Shafter, CA) and several wonderful leaders from the congregation. I worked with these fabulous people to run summer programs like Vacation Bible School and the community faith walk and camp meeting. However, my primary focus was being present to people in the daily rhythms of life. I further developed old relationships and began new ones simply by practicing a ministry of presence and availability to the people I so dearly love.

One of my joys was attending coming-of-age ceremonies —called feasts—on the weekends. They were opportunities to connect with the community, exchange hugs, give piggyback rides, and eat delicious fry bread. Also, they were a great way for me to grow in cultural literacy, one of my goals for the internship. Another joy was having “Girls’ Nights” with Effie (pictured bottom left). We would welcome female youth into our apartment for ice cream, scavenger hunts, and dance parties—a way of living into our core values of discipleship and hospitality.

I assisted in weekly liturgy and preached a couple of Sundays, but my time in Mescalero was truly enriched by the people I interacted with every day of the week.

From the process of asking for financial support all the way to being welcomed as family by members of the tribe, the Lord used this experience to humble my spirit. I am forever grateful to those who supported me, prayed for me and showed me what it means to love the other and trust the Lord with all of their being. I am also grateful to Western Theological Seminary for preparing me to slow down and listen through two years of formation class.

My call to work with college students is strong in this season of life, but I am always open to return to Mescalero and would not be surprised, just humbled with gratitude, if the Lord calls me back. All He has to do is say the Word—I’ll be there.



Photos: Noelle with the lifelong friends she has made over her six trips to New Mexico

March 5-8

Western Theological Seminary welcomes Sandra McCracken to lead this year’s “Doxophilia” – a week-long exploration of worship and worship renewal.

Sandra will be leading chapel for the seminary community each day from 9:40-10:00The public is welcome to join us in Mulder Chapel.

On Tuesday March 5 from 7-9 PM, Sandra will host a Songwriters’ Workshop. This event is by invitation only, but if you would like to be invited, please email Dr. Ron Rienstra, professor of preaching and worship arts. There is no cost.

On Thursday March 7 from 7-9 PM, the public is invited to a concert with Sandra in the Concert Hall in the Jack Miller Center for Music at Hope College. There is no cost, but a love offering will be taken.

“Sandra McCracken’s prolific contributions as a songwriter, modern-day hymn writer, and record producer have brought grace and clarity to her soulful, folk-gospel sound. Whether in a theater or in a chapel, she is a dynamic performer who blurs the lines of what church music sounds like, captivating and inviting audiences to sing along. While many of her songs like “We Will Feast In The House Of Zion” and “Thy Mercy My God” have settled into regular rotation in Christian worship services internationally, she has also had songs recorded by All Sons And Daughters, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, Audrey Assad, A Rocha Compilation, Bifrost Arts, Caedmon’s Call and others. She is further a founding member of Indelible Grace Music and Rain For Roots (children’s music) and has been a guest writer for Art House America, She Reads Truth, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, RELEVANT Magazine and more.” -from

Questions? Contact Dr. Ron Rienstra.