by M.Div. Middler Bob Ike

Why would a guy in his mid-40s, who already has the highest degree in his field and a solid profession in school administration, be surfing the Western Theological Seminary website? It seemed as though I was being called by the Hound of Heaven.1 While one or two knocks are subtle, “That Voice [was] round me like a bursting sea… I am he whom Thou seekest!”2

As a kid growing up in the Interlaken Reformed Church, seminary was not on my radar. I knew I was called to teach and to devote myself to education. Yet, in recent years I had been conflicted about my calling. Stumbling upon the interconnectedness between minister and administer, I realized an “administrator” in purest form is one who is called (“ad”) to serve (“minister”). In the public sector, discipleship in executive leadership is not overtly practiced, but I was in need of continued study, prayer, and skill development to lead with a heart of Christ.

Palmyra-Macedon Central School District Superintendent Bob Ike shows some team spirit at an athletic event.

What seemed to be just “poking around” on the seminary website led to me realize the intricate relationship between ministry and school leadership. I became a student in the fall of 2017, seeking an M.Div. through Western’s distance learning program (I live in Palmyra, NY).

Whether through prayer, discussion, learning covenant, or my personal life, the idea of call is persistent. Why am I in seminary? For what reason am I knocking myself out studying and interning on top of my regular workload? How does this fit in my life? My call has certainly been challenged.

From my young adult leadership experiences at Camp Fowler (RCA), to my role as a school superintendent and now as a student at Western, God is changing me, refining me for a future in ministry as a servant leader, caring for others as they stumble and walk on a journey with Christ.

Although it is not yet clear how God will use me once I have completed a degree at Western, my studies and interactions with amazing professors and students have put me on a trajectory to be a more faithful servant. In the short-term, I am being shaped in ways that reflect how “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”3 Psalm 33 blends the act of singing in praise to God with the reminder that God has formed all hearts and rules over all. The Psalmist reminds me to put my hope in the Lord.


1 Thompson, Francis. The Hound of Heaven. Reprint. London: Forgotten Books: 2016.

2 Ibid.

3 Ps. 33:5 (NRSV).

by M.Div. Junior Linnea Scobey

On the first day of Hebrew class at Western Theological Seminary, something happened in me. As we stood there surrounded by stuffed animals, learning the words for them in Hebrew, I had the keen sense that I was not there by accident. For five years I had been teaching Latin as a spoken language and had applied to attend Western on a whim. It quickly became clear that God had bigger plans for me, and soon I knew I wanted to teach high school Hebrew in addition to Latin.

The Hebrew language and scriptures worked their way into my heart the way rain seeps into the soil. I found myself humming morning prayers in Hebrew while brushing my teeth and singing Psalms in Hebrew when I was feeling overwhelmed. Internalizing the language and thought patterns of the people of the Old Testament revealed things about the heart and character of God and drew me nearer to God. In class we not only read portions of Scripture but also acted out the narratives, feeling them in our mouths and bodies as well as our minds and hearts and gaining new insights into those stories.

Of course, no school I knew of had any intention of teaching Hebrew, let alone the way I was learning it. But one day I spoke with my Hebrew teacher and advisor, Dr. Travis West (Moshe), and learned that a Bible teacher at Holland Christian High School wanted to start a Hebrew class there. He envisioned partnering with Western and having a seminary intern help teach the class. It sounded too good to be true. Sometimes God has a way of ordering things beyond our wildest imaginings, which, unbeknownst to us, God has been preparing us for all along.

I am now halfway through my first year co-teaching a high school Hebrew class at Holland Christian with Keith Blystra. Having lived in Israel for five years, Blystra knows Hebrew well, and the class is highly immersive. In the fall we brought students to WTS once a week to make use of the school’s props and materials. On an ordinary afternoon, you might see Hebrew students wearing bear heads and eating plastic fruit or creating a storm with blue fabric and beanie baby fish. You might hear students in sailor hats enacting parts of the Jonah story or singing and dancing to “This is the Day” in Hebrew, followed by a theological discussion on the holy name of God or what it means for God to be slow to anger and turn from calamity.

Holland Christian sophomore Austin Becksvoort told me, “I have been able to see another layer of complexity to the Bible that is not visible in an English translation. Learning the language it was originally written in opens up gateways in the Bible. A lot of subtle word choices and connections are missed when reading a translation.”

Bible teacher Keith Blystra and Linnea teach Hebrew together.

Another student, Kathryn Honeck, said, “I never knew how poetic God’s word is. Just knowing a few Hebrew words seems to bring me closer to God and give me an even better understanding of who he is.” Other students have enjoyed “just learning and being in the language,” and the way “we laugh every single day in Hebrew.”

The class has been a gift to everyone involved. I am immensely grateful for the ways Western is forming and preparing me to live into this calling, and I am grateful for the opportunity to further develop my own proficiency while sharing what I’ve learned with these students and watching them grow in knowledge and wonder.



L to R: Ruth Fitzgerald, Larry Karow, Dan DeVries, Jill Carattini, Scott Nyp

When Ruth Fitzgerald did a Google search for “distance learning” the week of Christmas 2002, Western Theological Seminary came up on her computer screen. The program hadn’t even begun, but she was interested and made an appointment to meet the director.

Dan DeVries was living in NW Iowa, and the only seminary nearby was North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls. He tried a couple of classes—a 65 mile drive—but he dreaded the thought of winter. Besides, he’d have to take more classes through MFCA to get ordained. The summer of 2003 he went to General Synod and learned that WTS was rolling out a distance learning M.Div. “That’s it!” he said.

Larry Karow considered going to Calvin, but they pointed him in the direction of Western’s new DL M.Div.

“I wouldn’t have gone to seminary if it hadn’t been for distance learning,” Scott Nyp says. “I didn’t want to uproot my family.” The pastor of the church where Scott was serving knew about the new M.Div because he served on Western’s Board. He encouraged Scott to apply.

These four became part of Western’s first entering class of distance-learning students. Fourteen students enrolled, and eventually nine would graduate in May of 2008.

The program began online in November 2003 using message boards.The students introduced themselves over the internet, so by the time January intensives rolled around, they were eager to meet face-to-face. The year included 2-week on-campus intensives in January and May.

“Those first intensives were heavily scheduled,” explains Ruth. “We had breakfast, lunch, and many times dinner together, and then we had homework for the next day.”

Yet, the unexpected happened. The unchartered territory of an “online community” became common ground where a cohort of students bonded together into friendships that continue to this day.

“The relationships were the biggest blessing to me,” says Scott.

As a new program in an era when very few seminaries were offering online education, the DL M.Div. had glitches and adjustments.

“The hardest part was that every time we came to an intensive, something had changed—some requirement, deadline, things shifting around,” says Ruth.

L to R: Ruth Fitzgerald, Deb Yurk, Jill Carattini, Dan DeVries, Scott Nyp, Courtney Porter, Larry Karow, Chad Strabbing, Jennifer Bendelius

“Laying the sidewalk as we walked,” Dan adds.

They understood that the seminary hadn’t done this before, and that the program would have its share of surprises. They noticed many of the faculty found it difficult to learn a completely different way of interacting and engaging students. They were usedto teaching face-to-face.

“Now I’m sure they’re all old pros at it!” Scott laughs. “At the time, though, I lamented that we didn’t have the neat bond with professors that in-residence students had.”

Even though Ruth and Larry came from denominations other than RCA, they didn’t feel out of sync with the professors.

“My professors allowed me to write my papers from a Wesleyan standpoint without making me feel like the theology was wrong or inferior,” says Larry. “Being at Western was a very welcoming and encouraging experience for me.”

Of the nine DL graduates, eight are still in ministry, defying the odds of burnout in the first five years after graduation. They believe it is because they had “been through the fire” for many years in full-time ministry before coming to seminary. They are now serving in Reformed churches, a Methodist and UCC church, and an international ministry.

Western’s venture into online education has given hundreds of students access to theological education since its humble beginnings in 2003. This year, 58% of our M.Div. and M.A. students are earning their degrees via distance learning.

Thanks for leading the way, DL Class of 2008!

The 2019 Summer Institute on Theology and Disability will be held in Holland, Michigan, May 20-23, 2019 in partnership with Western Theological Seminary. The Institute brings together academics, theologians, practitioners, and others to explore the inclusive intersections of faith and disabilities.

The 2019 Summer Institute begins with a Community Day for Institute participants and anyone else who cannot afford the time or expenses for the full Institute. To register for just Community Day, click the “register now” button below and choose the “one day pass- Community Day” option. Its theme is From Longing to Belonging, based on the title of a new book by Jewish parent and inclusion consultant, Shelly Christensen. Shelly and Barbara Newman, from the CLC Network, Inc., will be the Opening Plenary Speakers. A panel will follow with speakers from creative programs and ministries in the region. The afternoon features workshops led by John Swinton, Erik Carter, Barbara Newman, Shelly Christensen, Jill Harshaw, Ben Conner with Sarah Jean Barton and Carlos Thompson, and Alex Kimmel.

For more information on the Summer Institute, please visit


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, sign up here)

10:30 am        Lecture #1:  Raging with Compassion (public welcome, sign up here)

Noon              Community Conversation lunch with students and local pastors on What makes Practical Theology Practical Theology?

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

Tuesday, April 16

7:30 am          Breakfast Lecture #3 in the Commons: Mental Health and Ministry (public welcome, sign up here)


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.

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Felix Theonugraha as its next president. Dr. Theonugraha is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America and a talented administrator who comes to the seminary from Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL, where he currently serves as Vice President for Student Life and University Services.

Carol Van Andel and Kris DePree, co-chairs of the Presidential Search Committee, state, “On behalf of the Presidential Search Committee and the Board of Trustees of Western Theological Seminary, we welcome Felix with open arms as our next president. His faithful commitment to the Reformed Church in America and his penchant for leading with a servant’s heart make him uniquely qualified to extend our beloved school’s rich legacy and propel us all into a new and dynamic era.”

During his tenure at Trinity, Dr. Theonugraha led the enrollment team, athletics department, alumni office, and student life division, and also served on the President’s University Leadership Team and the Gender Equity Task Force. He also served as co-chair of the Racial Reconciliation Implementation Team and taught courses in the Master of Arts in Leadership program. Dr. Theonugraha led the graduate student affairs division for a time, and also worked alongside international students and helped to introduce intercultural elements to Trinity’s chapel services.

“Western Theological Seminary has an incredible history,” Dr. Theonugraha says. “The deep commitment to ministry and passion for the Lord that characterized the students who in 1866 requested to continue their theological studies in Holland are still evident at WTS today. My prayer is that I can continue to extend and deepen that history, so that WTS can continue to be a place that prepares women and men who are called by God to lead the church in mission, and do so in a way that is mindful and responsive to our time and place in God’s story—such as the increasing ethnic diversity in our country and the growth of the church in the Global South and East.”

He was born in Indonesia, and later spent time in Taiwan before arriving in Central California around the age of twelve. Dr. Theonugraha is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (B.A.) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.Div., Ph.D.). He is a contributor to The Wordview Study Bible (Holman) and to Faith, Learning, and Living in Christian Higher Education: Teaching and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition (Crossway). He loves to preach, and he and his wife Esther are active in their church, where they have co-taught adult education classes and K-5 children’s ministry.

David S. Dockery, President of Trinity International University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School says, “I join with others from across the Trinity community to offer our heartiest congratulations to Western Theological Seminary on the outstanding choice that has been made for the institution’s next president. Felix Theonugraha is prepared and ready to provide wise and capable leadership for the Western community in the days ahead. His commitment to the gospel, his many good leadership gifts, his experience in the work of theological education at Trinity, and his long term relationship with the RCA will serve him well as he assumes this new responsibility. We are happy for Felix and Esther Theonugraha and hopeful for Western Theological Seminary in the days to come.”

Dr. Theonugraha will assume his duties as president of the seminary on July 1, 2019. He is following the 11-year tenure of Dr. Timothy Brown, who is retiring as president but will return to the classroom as Henry Bast Professor of Preaching.

Please join us in welcoming Dr. Theonugraha!

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.

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