Dordt College News

John Kok hangs up his hats

June 24, 2014

Dr. John Kok arrived at Dordt College in 1983 to teach philosophy. His favorite course was Philosophy 201, the introductory core philosophy course required of all Dordt students.

“It’s what I loved most and miss most,” he says, even though he’s not taught 201 since he took an administrative post in 1997. He was good at it, too, as some of Dordt’s current leaders will testify.

“As a beginning public school English teacher and graduate student in English teacher education, I found myself reaching back to Philosophy 201 to help me sort through the perspectives I encountered in my daily work and studies,” says Dr. Leah Zuidema, dean for curriculum and instruction at Dordt. “I still draw from these ideas in my work with faculty, and I am grateful for the formative influence he had on shaping my understanding.”

“I don’t remember taking any notes in the class. I found the subject too interesting to waste time writing,” says Engineering Professor Ethan Brue. “It was my first experience with philosophy, and philosophy with John Kok helped me step back far enough to see knowing, learning, believing, and what I was studying through a panoramic lens of Scripture.”

“Philosophy deals with foundations, with important issues that are often so obvious—like the nose on your face—that you don’t always see them,” Kok says. Philosophy helped him learn where ideas come from; how traditions like dualism, otherworldliness, and fatalistic determinism came to be accepted by some Christians; and how one's view of the world affects how one lives.

Kok deepened his philosophical expertise at the Free University in Amsterdam, today known as the VU University. Living in a houseboat on a canal in Amsterdam, learning fluent Dutch, and studying in a Dutch system that expected independent learning shaped the young professor.

Teaching two large Philosophy 201 sections every semester was demanding and when an opportunity arose to give administrative leadership in the humanities division, Kok threw his hat into the ring, convinced that he could be capably replaced. He felt the new role would give him an opportunity to give a different kind of leadership.

In his academic administrative work, Kok helped Dordt College receive a $50,000 planning grant and then a $2.5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

“We did good work together,” he says, referring to the collaboration within a faculty and staff group that led to the grant. The grant was used in part to develop Core 100, a first-year seminar known as Kingdom, Identity, and Calling, which has gone through several revisions and remains an important part of Dordt’s curriculum. The grant also enabled Dordt to add another half position in theology at a time when the college was building a youth ministry major.

Over the years Kok has served as dean for the humanities, dean for research and scholarship, director of the Andreas Center for Reformed Scholarship and Research, and managing editor of Dordt Press.

Dordt Press remains close to his heart. Kok has increased the number of academic titles published by Dordt Press, including works by Reformed Christian authors that might not otherwise have seen the light of day. Dordt Press is a small player in the publishing business, so Kok encourages authors to consider another publisher if they have the option. But, he is happy to publish worthy works that are not deemed marketable enough to warrant the attention of larger publishers.

Kok expects the years ahead to be richly filled: reading the books he never had time to read; completing a book started in 1998; using the editorial, translating, and copyediting skills he developed working with Dordt Press; and continuing to preach in area churches.

Sally Jongsma

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