Join us on Monday, November 4 for the 2019 Bast Preaching Festival featuring Wheaton College chaplain, Timothy Blackmon! Information about speakers, workshops, and registration can be found here:

Thurs., October 17, at 7 p.m., in Winants Auditorium, Graves Hall, Hope College

This panel will bring together scholars and pastors from around the country who have written about the challenges and opportunities in developing a theology of singleness for the church. With adult singleness at historic highs in the American context, this is a pressing issue on both practical and theological levels. Please join us!
Welcome given by Dr. Todd Billings
Panel moderated by Dr. Trygve Johnson
The panelists:

Dr. Jana Bennett (pronounced Yanna) is Professor of Theological Ethics in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Dayton. She holds a PhD from Duke University, where she studied with Stanley Hauerwas and wrote her dissertation, published as Water is Thicker than Blood: An Augustinian Theology of Marriage and Singleness (Oxford, 2008). Her most recent books include a co-edited book (with David Cloutier), Naming Our Sins: How Recognizing The Seven Deadly Vices Can Renew the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Catholic University of America Press, 2019), as well as Singleness and the Church: A New Theology of the Single Life (Oxford, 2017). She is married with three children. Despite being married, she is intensely interested in conversations about Christian singleness because the church universal cannot be wholly the Body of Christ with attention to, and celebration of, the many single people in its midst.

Dr. Wesley Hill is associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, second edition 2016), Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Eerdmans, 2015), and Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Brazos, 2015). His book on the Lord’s Prayer is forthcoming in 2019 from Lexham Press. A contributing editor for Comment magazine, he writes regularly for Christianity Today, The Living Church, and other publications, including which he co-founded.

Dr. Matt Jenson is Associate Professor of Theology in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University in La Mirada, CA.  Dr. Jenson teaches across the humanities and biblical and theological studies in a Socratic pedagogy, closely mentoring students throughout their four years. Having grown up in southern California, Jenson holds a B.A. in literature and philosophy from Wheaton College and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland), where he was part of the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts. He is also ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church. According to Dr. Jenson,  “…the great surprise of my life — and a part of my life that has brought much sorrow, anxiety, and, thanks be to God, real transformation — has been that I remain single at 43. Single, and now dating (what a strange thing to do in your 40s), so I am currently experiencing these questions neither as someone who is single and knows he will remain so nor as someone who is married.”


Rev. Steven Rodriguez is the pastor of Lakeview Community Church in Rochester, New York, a congregation of the Reformed Church in America. He has been married to his wife Joanna for thirteen years, and they have three young children. He is currently working on a book with his friend, Rev. Kevin Slusher, on how marriage and celibacy both witness to the cross and the new creation in Christ. 




Rev. Kevin Slusher is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America. For the past five years he has served as pastor of the Reformed Church of Port Ewen in Port Ewen, NY. He blogs at As a gay and celibate Christian he has also contributed to Spiritual Friendship. Some of his favorite theologians, and those most influential for him are: Augustine, Barth, Bonhoeffer, and W. H. Auden, among others. For his book project with Rev. Steven Rodriguez, Peter Brown and Eugene Rogers have been significant interlocutors as well. 

This event is co-sponsored by the Gordon H. Girod Chair of Reformed Theology at WTS and the Hope College Campus Ministries Office

Monday September 30 at 1:30 P.M. in Mulder Chapel

Faith Following Ferguson: Five Years Later

Five years have passed since the killing of 18 year old Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO police officer.  Brown’s killing sparked a protest movement for racial justice that has not been seen since the Civil Rights movement.  In her book, Ferguson and Faith, Dr. Leah Gunning Francis explored the role of local clergy in this movement and the various ways their faith commitments compelled them to join in.  She has since reconnected with many of these clergy to learn about what’s been happening these past five years.  What have been some of the effects of this movement on the St. Louis region?  How have clergy continued to live out their public faith now that the cameras have gone?  In this lecture, Dr. Gunning Francis will reflect on these learnings and their implications for our nation for such a time as this.



Dr. Leah Gunning Francis is the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dr. Gunning Francis is also the author of the book Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community (Chalice Press, 2015). She interviewed more than two dozen clergy and young activists who were actively involved in the movement for racial justice in Ferguson and beyond. Dr. Gunning Francis researched and wrote Ferguson and Faith while serving as the Associate Dean for Contextual Education and Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

Ferguson and Faith is a collection of stories of courage and hope. Dr. Gunning Francis gleaned from these stories seeds of possibilities that, if nurtured, could serve us well into the future. These are the stories that were rarely imaged on television, yet they are integral to the fight for justice in Ferguson and resonate with the struggle for human dignity around the country.

In 2012, Dr. Gunning Francis was awarded the prestigious Engaged Scholars Fellowship to study issues of risk among middle-class African American young men. She argues that the meta-narrative about young black men puts all of them “at risk,” regardless of socioeconomic class, and utilizes the narrated experiences of black mothers to construct a new narrative about young black men that honors their humanity and is concerned for their well-being.

Dr. Gunning Francis’ additional research interests focus on transformative education as reflected in her doctoral dissertation, Beyond “Band-Aids” and Bootstraps: Toward a Womanist Vision of Christian Education as Social Transformation. Her writing reflects her commitment to the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of women, men and children; and highlights her particular interest in underserved and minority communities.

Dr. Gunning Francis has provided pastoral leadership for congregations in Georgia, Illinois and Ohio. She has received numerous awards to include the Candler School of Theology’s G. Ray Jordan award for excellence in integrating academic study with constructive leadership and service, and the Fund for Theological Education’s Doctoral Fellow Award. In 2015, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Fontbonne University.

Dr. Gunning Francis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Hampton University; a Master of Divinity degree from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University; and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

A native of Willingboro, New Jersey, Dr. Gunning Francis is married to Rev. Rodney Francis. They live in Indianapolis with their tween-aged children. To learn more about Dr. Gunning Francis visit


Stanley A. Rock
April 22, 1937 – August 3, 2019

Many of our alum will remember Dr. Stan Rock as a kind and gentle soul who taught pastoral counseling at the seminary for many years, influencing generations of pastors. Dr. Rock was the Florence M. Charavay Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling from 1976-2000. He passed into glory on August 3, surrounded by family.

A memorial service was held Thursday, August 8, 11 a.m., at Hope Church, 77 W. 11th St. in Holland, MI. Full obituary here.


Executive Vice President Jeff Munroe wrote a moving tribute for Dr. Rock which was published on page 10 of the November 2019 edition of The Commons.

Stan was one of my favorite professors. His warmth and smile as well as his encouraging word meant the world to me on many occasions. He was a tremendous servant of our Lord. –John C. Foster ’80

Stan was extremely influential in my development as a pastoral student. Not only did his teaching impact my style of ministry, his pastoral care for me as a student and even later on when I would consult him regarding challenges I faced, will always be remembered with gratitude. –Stephanie Doeschot ’78, ’93

Stan and Nancy were so lovely with me during my short time at Hope Church. Stan invited me to speak to his class regarding the joys and concerns of being single, ordained and a woman. Such a great support and a great example of a pastor. –Toni Macon

Stan was a warm, humble, wise, and caring person. He influenced so many generations of students in powerful ways. He dealt with his Parkinson’s disease with courage and grace. Stan will be missed! –Ken Eriks ’73

Dr. Stan Rock with student Don Topp (left)

You are invited to join us on Wednesday September 25th  from 8:30 A.M.-2:30 P.M. for

Worship and Justice Together: One Congregation’s Response to God

A workshop for pastors/ministry leaders and WTS students led by Seth and Stephanie Kaper-Dale, co-pastors since 2001 at the Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ.

In their 19 years of pastoral leadership at The Reformed Church of Highland Park, the congregation has grown tremendously in their worship life and in their impact on their community. Hear their inspiring story about how ministries of justice and mercy focused on housing, immigration/refugees, job creation, mental health, creation care, prisoner visitation and re-entry have developed from the prayers of the congregation at Sunday worship. The workshop will highlight how worship and justice are integrally related in their diverse context adjacent to New York City. If you long to bring worship and justice together in a deeper way in your ministry, this event is for you! Join us for a fresh experience of encouragement, inspiration and learning!

Cost: $20 which includes lunch (no charge for WTS students)
Registration:  Please register by September 11. 


(held in Maas Hall at Western Theological Seminary)

8:30 a.m. – Session One: Worship as a place to listen to God and to listen to each other: God’s house is where dreams are born…
9:45 a.m. – Chapel break – Mulder Chapel
10:30 a.m. – Session Two: Dramatic forms of outreach and engagement—Responses to God as a driver for kingdom significance and, as a byproduct, church growth. Growing a Matrix for Social Justice in and around your congregation’s life
12:00 p.m. – Lunch break/conversation (lunch will be provided)
1:00 p.m. – Session Three: Going deeper in the fundamentals of church life: worship, study, care and community in an ever expanding justice-focused congregation
2:30 p.m. – Wrap up


Tuesday night, 7:00PM

In addition, there is a free event open to the community the evening before on Tuesday, September 24 at 7:00 p.m. in Mulder Chapel at WTS. This worship workshop will focus on praying, singing and crafting worship together in ways that allow for justice and beauty. (no need to register for this — just show up!)

For more information: contact Glenn Swier, Associate Director of Formation for Ministry at WTS, 616.392.8555 x165,

Join us on Sunday, August 11 at 7:00 P.M. for a live worship experience!

One Unified Body Worshiping in Many Places

On Sunday evening, August 11 at 7 P.M., WTS will kick off the school year with a seminary-wide online worship experience.

Everyone who is connected with WTS is invited to be part of this event, including incoming and returning students and their families, staff and faculty and their families, WTS board members and their families, alumni and others who love and support WTS.

You can join in from wherever you are on that day via Facebook Live. New students will also have the option to register for participation via Zoom. Worship will be led by both on-campus and online leaders. If you live in the Holland area you are also welcome to attend worship from Mulder Chapel at WTS. If you will be attending in person, please RSVP here to give us an idea for seating needs.

Please mark your calendar and plan to join us as we come together as a united community before the triune God who is the reason for all we do here at WTS. We hope you can join us!

“At Western Theological Seminary, we’re not just given information about ministry, rather Western looks to form us for ministry. One of those avenues of formation is a summer placement in a ministry context. This summer I am working with the Sacred Sector of the Center for Public Justice, a program that equips faith-based non-profits in better fulfilling their mission in the world.” -Trey Tirpak, M.Div.

Student council president Trey Tirpak (M. Div.) is spending the summer learning and applying nonprofit best practices at the Reformed Church in America

Written by Meg Biallas Henry, Director of Communications at the Center for Public Justice

GRAND RAPIDS, MI. (JULY 18, 2019) — This month, Western Theological Seminarian Trey Tirpak joined the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) as a Fellow with the Sacred Sector Fellowship initiative. He is included in a cohort of 12 seminarians who have been selected for this initiative. The program kicked off with a five-day intensive training in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there, he will spend the remaining nine weeks consulting with the Reformed Church in America. Tirpak will advise the church about the practices most conducive to fully living out their faith-based mission.

Sacred Sector Fellowship is an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, a Christian civic education and public policy organization. The week of training included seminars led by Sacred Sector Director and Acting CEO of CPJ Chelsea Langston Bombino, Sacred Sector Program Manager Virginia Creasy, Founder and Senior Director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance Stanley Carlson-Thies, Gatherings of Hope Senior Program Officer Khary Bridgewater, Urban Church Leadership Center Director Julian Guzman, Standards for Excellence Institute Director Amy Coates Madsen and 2018 Sacred Sector Fellow and Public Justice Review Editor Kerwin Webb.

“I am eager to see what this year’s cohort will accomplish. Our Fellows are diverse in their experiences, goals and missions for the future,” said Bombino. “I am confident that this year’s cohort will be equipped to strengthen the faith-based nonprofit sector, and I am hopeful that our curriculum will help them further their vocational callings.”

Sacred Sector Fellowship equips current or recently-graduated seminarians with the skills and experience to lead within the faith-based nonprofit sector. The program provides emerging leaders with a holistic framework to integrate and thoroughly embody their sacred missions in every area of nonprofit governance. Fellows receive training in public policy, organizational best practices, and strategic positioning.

Trey (back middle) at the RCA’s Seminarian Seminar 2019 with his boss, Dr. Monica Schaap Pierce (middle row, second from right).

Tirpak said of his experience this summer, “I am honored that I have the opportunity to work with Dr. Monica Schaap Pierce, the Ecumenical Associate for the Reformed Church in America. I’m also profoundly grateful for the formative experiences I have weekly with Sacred Sector, which will help me imagine all that Christ’s church can be in our ever-changing North American world.”

A unique part of the Fellowship includes special resources from Standards for Excellence®, a national initiative that promotes ethical practices and accountability in the nonprofit sector. The Center for Public Justice, through Sacred Sector, is a replication partner of the Standards for Excellence® program. The Standards for Excellence code covers the following areas of nonprofit operations: mission, strategy and evaluation, leadership board, staff and volunteers, legal compliance and ethics, finance and operations, resource development, and public awareness, engagement and advocacy. CPJ launched the Sacred Sector initiative in February 2018, thanks to a grant from Templeton Religion Trust. Along with the fellows program, Sacred Sector also runs a six-month learning community for faith-based non profits.

Sacred Sector, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, is a learning community for faith-based organizations and emerging leaders within the faith-based nonprofit sector that seek to integrate and fully embody their sacred missions in every area of organizational life.

The Center for Public Justice is an independent, nonpartisan organization devoted to policy research and civic education. Working outside the familiar categories of right and left, conservative and liberal, we seek to help citizens and public officeholders respond to God’s call to do justice.

As stated, Sacred Sector was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton Religion Trust.

Photo: 2019 Sacred Sector Fellowship cohort. Tirpak is back row, third from left. Back, left to right: Babasola Fateye, Philip Tabler, Trey Tirpak, Steffani Bates, Tricia Bosma, Nathaniel L. Carter, Jr., Thomas Schliep, Adam Ramirez, Lyonel LaGrone, Jr., Desiree McCray. Front, left to right: Mary Li Ma, Timothy Music.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Alvin Padilla and Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson as they embark on new roles within the senior leadership team of WTS.

Dr. Alvin Padilla is now the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Director of Advanced Degrees. Since joining WTS in 2016, Dr. Padilla has been a creative and innovative academic administrator, launching the Hispanic Ministry Program and revamping the Doctor of Ministry program. Combined, the two programs now account for 28% of the student body.

In his new role, Dr. Padilla will explore additional strategic partnerships to attract prospective students to Western, while providing leadership to the Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry programs. Dr. Padilla’s experience in international theological education and his position as a Commissioner for the Association of Theological Schools make him uniquely qualified to develop programs that are responsive to ministry in the 21st century.

Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson has been appointed the Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs. Dr. Johnson came to WTS in 2013 to teach theology and Christian formation, and she has proven to be an exemplary scholar and an accomplished theologian, author, and speaker.

In 2017, her book, The Justice Calling, was named a book of the year by Christianity Today. In 2018, Christianity Today named Dr. Johnson one of 10 female theologians poised to impact theological education and the church in the years to come. Dr. Johnson has presented at research institutions such as Princeton University, Michigan State University, University of North Carolina, and University of Virginia, as well as many Christian colleges and universities.

An ordained elder in the Reformed Church in America, Dr. Johnson frequently speaks and teaches at various congregations across the United States and is passionate about furthering theology that impacts the local church.

In her new role, Dr. Johnson will provide wisdom and leadership to the academic affairs of the seminary, and she will continue to represent Western in significant and impactful ways through her writing and speaking.

“I am looking forward to working with Dr. Padilla and Dr. Johnson as part of the senior leadership of the seminary,” says President Felix Theonugraha. “These appointments will strengthen WTS for the season to come as these two talented individuals use their gifts to the fullest to further the mission of Western.”

The appointments are effective immediately.

Above image: Tom with the newly minted “Dr. West” at the Free University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands after Travis successfully defended his dissertation, May 29, 2018.

Six Things I’ve Learned from Tom

By Dr. Travis West

Over the course of Tom Boogaart’s 32-year tenure as a faculty member at Western Theological Seminary, he spent thousands of hours teaching, shaping the hearts and minds of hundreds of students. He taught with and supported dozens of faculty colleagues, helped design and implement several curricula, served under three presidents, and devoted his life to one seminary and its mission.

His career demonstrates what is possible when a person’s vocational ambition does not lead them to seek greener pastures elsewhere, but rather to sink roots deeper and deeper into the soil of the place where they are, enabling a mutually beneficial relationship.

This is one of Tom’s many legacies:  his wise, intentional, prophetic, playful, and thoughtful presence shaped the character and identity of the seminary, even as the seminary (its students, faculty, staff, administration, curriculum, worship, and community life) shaped and influenced him.

I first got to know Tom when I was taking Biblical Hebrew I as a second-year M.Div. student in the fall of 2005. The first session of that class changed the trajectory of my life forever (more on that later), and Tom has been a mentor, colleague and friend ever since.

In the space that follows I describe six things I’ve learned from observing and listening to Tom over the years. The number is arbitrary, and I could have picked others (indeed, it was painful to select only six!), but these feel central to who Tom is and what he tried to teach throughout his long and meaningful career.

1. Coram Deo describes the soul of Western Theological Seminary.

Tom and I spent the better part of a year discussing the “soul of Western Seminary” over weekly lunches at Hope College’s cafeteria. Over soup and veggie quesadillas I listened to Tom talk about how formation and a sacramental impulse have always marked WTS at its best. At WTS, the heart of Reformed theology is not just an affirmation of the sovereignty of God, but an invitation into the presence of the sovereign God, which theologians call coram Deo.

In Tom’s words: “The defining characteristic of God is love, and God, the sovereign of the universe, lowers the scepter and invites us into God’s presence. This theology is deeply personal, relational, and devotional.”

Those lunches changed the way I think about God, the role of a seminary curriculum, and my responsibility as a professor.

2. The horizon of biblical scholar ship is the life of the Church.

On the first day of my Hebrew class in 2005, Tom made an impromptu appeal to our class to consider that we may be called to interpret the Old Testament on behalf of the church (as opposed to interpreting it on behalf of the academy, or one’s position within it). Never in my life had I considered pursuing a Ph.D. or being a professor. And yet, as I listened, I felt an overwhelming sense of calling to respond. The call was so clear that I went home after class and told my wife, “I think I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I hadn’t even learned the Hebrew alphabet!

Tom’s commitment to the church as the horizon of biblical scholarship literally changed my life and has informed my own teaching and research in significant ways.

3. Metaphors Matter.

Tom taught a different and refreshing way to relate to the Scriptures.

Traditional exegesis develops tools that a student can apply to dissect a biblical text for meaning. Implicit in the metaphors of “tools” and “dissect” is a belief that the Bible is a dead object that we—the living subjects—cut up and analyze to discover its meaning.

Instead of what could be called “cadaver exegesis,” Tom offers the metaphor of hospitality of the heart, in which the interpreter encounters in the Bible a living and active subject. The goal is to make room in one’s heart for the Word of God, that it might speak a word, by the power of the Spirit, and so form us into the image of Christ.

Another powerful metaphor is of “steeping ourselves” in the Scriptures. As a tea bag transforms hot water into tea, so the Word of God permeates our being, transforming us into the pleasing aroma of Christ.

4. “Know what you see rather than see what you know.”

The great Abraham Heschel coined these words in his landmark study The Prophets. Heschel is saying that the easy thing to do with the Bible is see in it a confirmation of the beliefs you bring to it—seeing what you know. Rather, what is required for faithful exegesis is deep knowledge of self, so that you can bracket your assumptions and biases and thus see the Scriptures as they are, instead of as you would prefer them to be—to know what you see. Tom taught me that self-knowledge is essential for faithful interpretation of the Bible.

5. A professor’s first commitment is to his or her students.

Tom performs with students and staff at the Hebrew enactment of “Jonah: Standing before the Face of God”, December 2018

Tom stands in a long line of WTS professors who embody this by working in their offices with the door open, attending daily chapel and community time, and inviting students into their homes. Tom never got caught up in the foolishness of professors being “better than” their students or even necessarily “smarter than” (degrees aren’t a reliable sign of intelligence).

He empowered me to teach with him as a student, then gave me some of his classes after graduation. His belief in my ability to teach was instrumental in developing my ability to teach. He has done this for others as well. He does not cling to power or control but knows that shared ownership with deep trust is the key to success.

6. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

When I first met Tom, he was a professor—and therefore not a person. Over time I came to realize that, even though he is full of Gandalfian wisdom and was WTS’s most senior employee, he is still just a kid in a 69-year old’s body. He is a jokester and loves to play. The Hebrew class he made possible is an example of this, which has play built into its DNA. A student recently described the class as “kindergarten on steroids.” And I think that’s a good thing! It is not an understatement to say that both the academy and the church are in desperate need of not taking themselves so seriously.

Western Theological Seminary is what it is today partly because of Tom Boogaart. The same could be said of me and many of his students and colleagues. Tom’s passion, wisdom, insight, storytelling, playfulness, integrity, ingenuity, creativity, commitment to justice, and collaborative spirit are qualities that I hope characterize WTS, the church, and my own ministry long into the future.

Dr. Travis West is Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at WTS

At a Glance:

Tom A. Boogaart

Professor, Encourager, Sage

Born 5/23/1950 Grand Rapids, MI

Married Judy Rietema on January 2, 1970

Children: Tom (Sophie Chatel), Rebecca (Jon Cooper), and Jeremy. Eight grandchildren.


A.B. Calvin College, 1972

M.Div. Western Theological Seminary, 1975

Ph.D. University of Gronigen, 1981

Service to the church:

(1981-83) Professor, Central College, Pella, IA

(1983-84) Professor, Exeter College, England

(1984-86) Professor, Central College, Pella, IA

(1986-2018) Professor of Old Testament, Western Theological Seminary

The WTS community is grieving the loss of Jeanette Ramos Schipper, Admissions Administrative Assistant, who passed away suddenly on Thursday, June 20. Our hearts are broken and go out to her husband Matt and their children. Please lift up Jeanette’s family in prayer at this time.

If you would like to pay respects, you are invited to join the family as they gather for a Memorial Service, celebrating her life and legacy. The service will be held ‪at 3:00 pm‬ ‪on Saturday, June 29, 2019 ‬at Calvary Reformed Church, 995 East 8th Street, Holland, MI. The Rev. Drs. Denise Kingdom-Grier & Blaine Newhouse will co-officiate the service.

Immediately following the Memorial Service, participants are invited to join the family to honor Jeanette’s artistry, her advocacy, and her son, Austin (a 2019 high school graduate).

Jeanette held a special place in so many spaces and touched the lives of so many people. If you were among those influenced by her work and life, we hope that you can join us.