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Calvin Theological Seminary Collection

Calvin Theological Seminary Kerux

Heritage Hall serves as the institutional repository for Calvin Theological Seminary. This includes documents about the seminary’s history, papers and correspondences of seminary presidents, departmental records, and more. Search the Calvin Theological Seminary collection through our online database of finding aids:

Read on below to learn more about the history of Calvin Theological Seminary and its presidents.

Calvin Theological Seminary

University and Seminary Chronology

Calvin University and Seminary Timeline

1876   August 4, school opened, located on Spring Street, Grand Rapids, MI 
1892   Move to campus at Madison Ave. and Franklin St. (Fifth Ave.). Grand Rapids, MI 
1894   September 8, literary course begun education preliminary to seminary instruction (comparable to present-day high school curriculum) 
1900   Literary course extended to five years and opened to non pre-seminary students 
1901   September 4, first women students admitted 
1906   John Calvin Junior College opens - 6 year program included 4 years academy training and 2 years of college; first public commencement at LaGrave Ave. Christian Reformed Church 
1907   Student journal/newspaper Chimes begins Alumni Association begins 
1914   Junior College expanded to three year course; Franklin Campus purchased 
1917   Move to Franklin Campus, Grand Rapids, MI 
1919   First college president 
1920   Curriculum expanded to four year college course 
1921   First graduate with bachelor's degrees 
1924   With opening of Grand Rapids Christian High School, last year for preparatory students; first dormitory opened 
1925   Teacher training becomes part of college curriculum, previously there had been several separate teacher training programs
1926   First dean of women, Johanna Timmer 
1928   March 8, Hekman Library dedicated 
1930   October 29, Franklin seminary building dedicated 
1946   Enrollment jumps from 503 to 1245 in one year 
1950   College enters M.I.A.A. 
1956   Knollcrest campus purchase approved by Synod of Christian Reformed Church 
1960   Theological Seminary begins classes on Knollcrest Campus 
1962   First college classes at held Knollcrest 
1973   Move to Knollcrest complete 
1991   Seminary and College have separate boards of trustees 
2019   Calvin College becomes Calvin University

The Presidents of Calvin Theological Seminary

When the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church opened in 1876, it had one instructor, whose title was docent and was in charge of the school's day-to-day affairs. As other instructors, also called docents, joined the staff, the title rector was applied to the person in charge of daily affairs. When the literary curriculum was added in 1894, the head of the Literary section went by the title of principal, while the head of the Religious section was called the rector. The office of college president was created in 1918 to replace the office of principal. The seminary head remained the rector until 1931. During this time, the position of rector rotated among the seminary faculty. In 1931 the rector became seminary president.

Geert Egberts Boer
Louis Berkhof
Samuel B. Volbeda
Rienk B. Kuiper
John H. Kromminga
James A. DeJong
Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
Julius T. Medenblik

The Presidents of Calvin Theological Seminary

G.E. Boer (1832-1904)

Docent, 1876-1902

Geert Egberts Boer was born in Roderwolde, Drenthe, the Netherlands. A graduate of the Theological School at Kampen, the Netherlands in 1864, he served churches in Sappemeer and Niezijl, and accepted a call from the (First) Grand Rapids (Michigan) Christian Reformed Church in 1873. The denomination's General Assembly (Synod) called him to assume the first full-time instruction of theological students in 1876.

Since the General Assembly (now Synod) had not made provisions for a place of instruction, the Grand Rapids congregation offered the use of the second floor of its school on Williams Street for a nominal $52 annually rent.

On March 15, 1876, with Boer's own books as the library, the Theological School (now Calvin Theological Seminary) opened. The curriculum, modeled after that at the Theological School in Kampen, was six years long, divided evenly between literary and theological courses.

The 1880s saw the denomination grow from 12,200 members to 37,834, and a corresponding need for pastors. About one-half of the 36 ministers new to the denomination during the 1880s were graduates of the new Theological School. In 1884, as enrollment grew, Gerrit K. Hemkes joined the faculty. At the same time, Boer became convinced that in the United States Christian primary instruction was only possible in independent Christian day schools. To provide teachers for such schools, Boer was in the forefront of efforts to open the literary portion of the Theological School's curriculum to non-seminary students. This came in 1894 when Albertus J. Rooks and Klaas Schoolland joined the faculty to teach the literary courses.

In 1902, the 70 year-old Boer retired, at the time the school's enrollment stood at 78. Two years later, in apparent good health, he died from a heart attack. His wife Jetske Holtrop (1839-1926) and six of their eight children, E.H. Boer, Jessie Boer, Roelfina Boer, Gerard A. Boer, William Boer, and Lena Bruinooge, survived.

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957)

President, 1931-1944

Born in Emmen, Drenthe, the Netherlands, Louis Berkhof emigrated with his family to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1882. He graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1900 and accepted the call to be the pastor of the Allendale, Michigan First Christian Reformed Church. In 1902 he went to Princeton University for two years earning a B.D. degree. He then accepted the pastorship of the Oakdale Park Church in Grand Rapids.

In 1906 he was appointed to the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary. He assumed the presidency of the seminary in 1931, the year after the Hekman Seminary Building was dedicated on the Franklin Street campus and served until retirement in 1944. Taking office during the troubled social and economic times of the Great Depression, Berkhof stressed the importance of maintaining orthodoxy in seminaries. Annual graduations from the seminary increased from 14 to 17 during his tenure. This modest increase occurred despite the fact that some felt the denomination's pulpits were over-supplied during the 1930s. Throughout he quietly sought to guide the denomination as well as the seminary through controversies that arose. A talented teacher and hard-working author, among his twenty-two books is Systematic Theology, which has been translated into several languages.

In 1900 Berkhof married Reka Dijkhuis (d.1928). They had four children: Grace Meyer, William, Jean Stuk, and John. Later he married Dena Heyns-Joldersma (d.1984), who had two daughters, Joanne Heyns De Jong and Wilma Heyns Brouwer.

Samuel B. Volbeda (1881-1953)

President, 1944-1952

Born in Winsum, Friesland, the Netherlands in 1881, Samuel Volbeda emigrated to Allendale, Michigan in 1886 with his widowed mother and three sisters. He graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1904 and pastored two congregations before studying at the Free University at Amsterdam, from which he received a D.D. in 1914. He was appointed to Calvin Seminary faculty as professor of Church History, 1914-26, and of Practical Theology, 1926-1952.

A gifted and eloquent preacher, who was skilled at public prayer in both Dutch and English, Volbeda was also a biblical scholar. He oversaw growing enrollment at the seminary, particularly during the post World War II years. He opposed suggestions to use higher academic requirements to limit enrollment, arguing that academic achievements do not necessarily make for successful pastors. Due to failing health, Volbeda's tenure as president ended in 1952 as dissention split the seven-member faculty.

In 1904 Volbeda married Alice Gronedyke (1882-1945). They had three children: Cornelius, Anna Venhuizen, and Frederick. In 1948 he married Trena Mejeur of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Rienk B. Kuiper (1886-1966)

College President, 1930-1933

Seminary President, 1952-1956

Rienk Bouke Kuiper was the sixth of eight children born to Dominie Klaas Kuiper of Garrelsweer, the Netherlands. The family moved to Grand Haven, Michigan in 1891 when the Dominie accepted the call to the Christian Reformed congregation there. R.B. Kuiper graduated from the University of Chicago (A.B., 1907); Indiana University (A.M., 1908); Calvin Seminary (diploma, 1911); and Princeton Seminary (B.D., 1912). He served as the pastor of several Christian Reformed and one Reformed congregation in West Michigan.

In 1928 he accepted a one-year appointment to Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church persuaded Kuiper to accept the school's presidency in 1930.During his tenure the economic impacts of the Great Depression began to be keenly felt. Although enrollment did not decline, partly because there were no jobs for young people, so they pursued education, the downturn forced the college to cut costs and expenses. Faculty voluntarily took pay cuts, as high as 40 percent. Kuiper also found it difficult to mediate the growing differences of opinion among faculty and between faculty and the Board of Trustees over the school's direction. Since he felt called to be a minister, in 1933 he accepted a teaching and preaching appointment at Westminster Seminary. Retiring in 1952, he returned to Grand Rapids and then accepted the presidency of Calvin Seminary for four years.

Kuiper married Marie Janssen in 1911; they had three children Marietta Rolena Heerema, Dr. Klaudius Kuiper and Kathryn Junia Kuiper, who died at age two. A prolific writer, Kuiper's books include: As to Being Reformed, Not of the World, and The Glorious Body of Christ.

John H. Kromminga (1918-1994)

President, 1956-1983

The son of Diedrich H. Kromminga, a pastor and college president (of Grundy College, Grundy Center, Iowa), John Kromminga and his brother Carl both were called to the ministry. John Kromminga graduate from Calvin Seminary in 1942. He served as the pastor of three congregations before accepting an appointment to teach at the seminary in 1952.

A prolific author, among his books are: The Christian Reformed Church, In the Mirror, and All One Body We. Kromminga was appointed to chair in Church History at Seminary in 1952; and its president in 1956. He oversaw the move from the Franklin Campus to the Knollcrest Campus. While on the faculty, he stressed the teaching of students, rather than individual achievements of faculty who might be on the cutting edge of theological research. He also guided the seminary through a series of changes during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in the composition of Calvin Seminary faculty and adapting the curriculum to the changing needs of candidates for the ministry.

Kromminga was married to Claire Ottenhoff (1919-1995), a 1941 graduate of Calvin College. The couple had three children: Kathryn Joyce (Greenfield), Constance (Mulder), and John Richard Kromminga.

James A. De Jong (1941- ) 

President, 1983-2003

A native of Paterson, NJ and the son and grandson of pastors in the Christian Reformed Church, James Allan De Jong graduated from Calvin College (1963), Calvin Theological Seminary (1966), and earned a Th.D. from the Free University of Amsterdam in 1970. He was ordained in 1970 and taught at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, IL and later Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA. An author and editor, he specializes in church history, particularly the history of Reformed theology and the history of missions.

De Jong's presidency spanned a period in the denomination's history filled with diversity. Issues such as academic freedom among seminary faculty, debate about denomination's place amid a rapidly changing social environment and the role of women in the church have polarized the denomination. During his tenure, De Jong focused on theology, stressing commonality and being open to difference, while training students in the fundamentals of Calvinistic Protestantism. During his presidency the seminary building was enlarged and remodeled, a Ph.D. program was added to the curriculum, student housing facilities were acquired, and a student center was constructed.

De Jong married Lois De Kock, who holds an M.A. and has taught in elementary schools as well as in the Education Department of Calvin College. They have three children, Kurtis James, Kristin Joann, and Kyle Peter.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (1946- )

President, 2002-2011

Cornelius (Neal) Plantinga, Jr. has degrees from Calvin College (A.B., 1967), Calvin Theological Seminary (B.D., 1971), and Princeton Theological Seminary (Ph.D., 1982). He has served as the pastor of Webster (New York) Christian Reformed Church, preacher at Cliffwood Beach (New Jersey) Presbyterian Church, and on the faculties of two colleges and three seminaries. An author and editor, his most recent book is Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Eerdmans, 2002).

During his presidency the seminary focused on providing quality education in Bible, history, theology, and ministry, to both shape the minds of students and steeps their hearts in the gospel so that each could carry forward the good news with their entire being. Efforts were made to add diversity to the students, faculty, and staff by listening to voices from outside the seminary and outside the Christian Reformed denomination. In addition, steps were taken to incorporate the gifts and experiences of students leaving established careers. Particular attention as paid to the spirituality, emotions, and psychology of students.

A native of Jamestown, North Dakota, Plantinga is married to Kathleen F. (Talsma), a schoolteacher. They have two sons, Nathan D. and Adam J.

Julius T. Medenblik (1960- )

President, 2011-

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Julius T. (Jul) Medenblik spent his primary and secondary education years in the Fulton, Illinois area. He graduated from Trinity Christian College (1982) and then earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Florida (1984). After working in the legal profession in Florida, he felt called to the ministry and earned an MDiv from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1995, having served internships in the United States and Canada.

He was the founding pastor of New Life Christian Reformed Church in New Lenox, Illinois, in 1996, The congregation was organized in 2002, and moved into its own building in 2003. During these years worship was expanded to thee services with over 700 people in total attendance. He served the New Life congregation until appointed seminary president.

He sees his presidency as focusing on church planting in the Christian Reformed Church with Calvin Theological Seminary nourishing pastors and church leaders for both existing ministries and those new opportunities that will develop.

Medenblik is married to Jackie (Klain) from Lansing, Illinois. They have two children, Joshua and Julianne.