The Voice: Fall 2002

The Voice

Kobes chosen for 2002 John Calvin Award

Dr. Wayne Kobes Each year a professor is awarded the John Calvin Award. The award is presented to a faculty member in recognition of a commitment to teaching from a Calvinistic perspective and for developing and transmitting reformational insight in a discipine.

When Wayne Kobes walked across the stage to claim his Dordt College diploma in May of 1969, it never even crossed his mind that he’d be back within four years teaching theology.

“I was very intentionally heading for the pulpit ministry,” says Kobes. But although Kobes has preached in many churches, he never did become a pastor in a congregation.

Kobes had decided to go a fourth year to Calvin Seminary to earn his Th.M. Former Dordt College President John Hulst, who was at that time college pastor and also working on his Th.M. at Calvin, called Kobes that spring and asked him to consider teaching theology.

“Hiring happened differently back then,” says Kobes. Dordt was looking to expand the theology department, so a few days later Rev. B.J. Haan called Kobes and asked him to come for an interview. He was offered a position.

“I remember Haan saying to me, ‘You can always go into the pastorate if you don’t care for teaching, but it’s harder to go the other way.’ That made sense,” says Kobes. So he accepted the position.

“It was a sink or swim experience,” Kobes says, recalling the first year of teaching 160 students in the introductory theology class with absolutely no teaching experience. “I wouldn’t have made it without Helen’s help.” His wife, Helen (Vander Schaaf, ex’71), shared teaching tips that helped him through those first months.

Kobes’s first year was also a year of controversy on Dordt’s campus. The so-called “AACS controversy” pitted professors, administrators, and constituents against each other.

“I learned so much that year, but it was a tough one,” he says, looking back. That year and the next few set the direction that Dordt College would take for the future, a direction that has kept Kobes enthused about teaching theology here.

Nearly thirty years later, Kobes is an experienced professor.

“The interdisciplinary nature of a college campus makes it a challenging and exciting place to work,” he says. Each year brings a whole new group of students to teach, new speakers with new ideas coming to campus, new colleagues with different perspectives and personalities.    

Kobes says things have changed over the nearly thirty years he’s been here.

“When I came, Dr. Hulst taught a large class of theology students sitting on folding chairs in the gym with only lap boards to write on. That certainly doesn’t happen today. And assessment other than grading—which demands a significant amount of faculty time—was not even in the picture,” he says.

“There’s been a shift to more faculty accountability on many levels. There are increased expectations and that’s good.” But it also means that more time is spent on things other than teaching or preparing for class.

“The culture of higher education has changed. Not only are faculty held more accountable, institutions are also held more strictly accountable to do what they say they are doing,” he says.

Kobes believes that the increasing competitiveness in higher education that has put more demands on professors, and the increased size of the faculty and campus, have affected the sense of community that was so strong in his early years. He misses that, but says there are always good and bad sides to change. He believes that the opportunities Dordt provides today for faculty development has made the education offered at Dordt College stronger.

Theology has also changed in many ways. When Kobes came to Dordt the number of pre-seminary majors was much greater than today, so much so that most advanced courses enrolled primarily pre-seminary majors. Today that is no longer the case. In addition to serving far fewer pre-seminary majors, theology courses enroll more students and from a wider range of majors.

“There is a broader base of interest in missions, not always as a profession,” he says. “Students want to learn more about the Bible. They’re also more open to talking about their faith.” Kobes believes this could in part be spurred by short-term mission experiences and the fact that the student body is much more varied in knowledge and background than it once was. The changes bring new challenges even for someone who’s been teaching for many years.

Kobes, whose fourth child is a first year student at Dordt this year, says that watching his children go through college, seeing their eyes opened to important issues, and watching them make connections with colleagues he respects, has been one of the highlights of his years at Dordt. He is thankful for the fact that they are wrestling with ideas from a Christian perspective and that they value the perspective to which he has committed his career and life.

He’s also grateful for the John Calvin Award for that reason.

“It feels good to know that students remember what you’ve been saying for so many years and that they believe it is important,” he says.

Kobes hopes to continue to shape the lives of students and at the same time grow in his field. For the last several years he has presented papers at both traditional and development-oriented missions conferences. These events have immersed him in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary issues. It has made his teaching stronger, he believes.

“In Theology 101 we talk about worldviews, but being able to cite examples of how worldviews affect people’s lives is a more effective way to teach,” he says. He’ll expand that cross-cultural awareness over the semester break this year by teaching for two weeks at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Kiev.