September 21, 2015
I came to Grace in January of 1982, leaving a sunny Southern California (about 75 degrees) and arriving in Chicago on the coldest day since the last Ice Age: about 70 below with wind chill. Honestly, I did not even know what wind chill was when I stepped off the plane. In fact, the bus from Chicago to Grand Rapids was forced to take shelter in Holland, which at the time I thought was in Europe. I arrived at Grace after two days of travel with little or no sleep and smelling like I just had a 24-hour bus ride.
Some of my earliest Grace memories are struggling to get to a 7:45 AM Bible 101/202 class. Like most 18 year old males, 7:45 in the morning is distant rumor rather than a reality. I suppose I was more interested in playing guitar in the Quad with JD Gonzales than getting to bed at a reasonable hour. In fact, one of my fondest memories of dorm life was the semi-regular concerts in the Quad or perhaps the one time the Music Department allowed us to play special music in Chapel (the classic People Get Ready by Curtis Mayfield mix with Larry Norman’s version of If I Got My Ticket).
I recall taking Homiletics with Jim Carlson and preaching one of my first sermons in Baker Chapel with about 6 other students in attendance. Dr. Carlson was always very encouraging although I do recall he chided me for saying “fanny” from the pulpit. I cannot remember why I used that particular term, but I have managed to avoid it for the last thirty years! One of the strangest things was in that particular class was receiving student evaluations on my sermon written on paper towels from the bathroom. No one seemed to remember to bring “real paper” to class if they were not preaching that day.
Several times I was party to distracting Dale DeWitt in Greek class with questions that had little to do with Greek. “What do you think about Creationism” usually did the trick. I think those other students had not completed their assignments and were hoping not to be called on that day. Despite these shenanigans, Dale’s classes were my favorites because he challenged students to think deeply about the text of the Bible and to ask questions that challenged us to apply Scripture to specific situations in contemporary culture. His scholarship and teaching style have been my personal model, although perhaps mixed with a little of Jack VanArtsen’s wit. Because of Dale’s Bible, Theology, Greek and Hebrew classes at Grace, I was well prepared for graduate school when I began my Masters program in 1993.
Christian ministry was an important part of my education, and looking back on my experiences I think these ministry experiences helped shape my career as much as classroom experience. I served for more than two years at Degage Coffeehouse in downtown Grand Rapids. Degage was a “drop-in center” for people living on the streets, offering a safe place to get a cup of coffee and conversation in the evenings. I led the Grace group for two years and made several long-time friendships through that unique ministry and learned a great deal about myself during those years.
I was also given the chance to teach high school and college Sunday School classes at the Grace churches in Belmont and Newaygo. The Newaygo church was especially helpful since they allowed to preach and teach often during my junior and seniors years. In fact, both of my senior years I was involved in that church as an interim pastor. Without these opportunities to teach and preach, I would not have been prepared for what God would do with me in the rest my life.
I suppose the older one gets the more likely they are to complain about the “younger generation” and how things have been watered-down since they were in school. And there have been quite a few changes over the years. Bible 101 became Bible 102 when we changed the class from four hours to three. Somewhere along the line we decided 7:45 was a terrible time to teach the class, so it shifted to 1:30 PM. As a teacher I appreciate this move, but it is no easier to communicate with students after they have eaten three hamburgers for lunch!
Some classes have combined so that dispensational theology is embedded in the theology class all sophomores take. We have modified the freshmen theology to cover Christian Life and Service over two semesters, with Christian ministry embedded in the classes. I have tried to use textbooks which appeal to students but also resonate with dispensational ideas.