The Voice: Spring 2002
Nurturing Spirit-filled living is Dordt's mission
By Sally Jongsma
Some Sunday evenings nearly half of the students on campus attend GIFT (Growing
in Faith Together), a bi-weekly student worship service held in the chapel.
On Wednesday nights the Student Union Building lounge is often packed with
students, led by teams of instrumentalists, singing contemporary praise songs. On
Tuesday and Thursday mornings a few hundred trickle into the B.J. Haan Auditorium
for chapel. The numbers seem a bit smaller than some years, but many
students attend faithfully. The opportunities for communal worship on campus are greater and
different than they were even ten years ago.
These more visible and often more expressive worship events have led some to
describe an atmosphere of heightened spirituality on campus.
Dordts campus pastor, Dr. Donald Draayer, isnt so sure its because students take
their faith more seriously. Most Dordt students always have. But he does say
that many are more open and more expressive about their faith today.
Dr. Pam Adams from the education department agrees. I think students are more
worship and service oriented, but theyre not self-centered and concerned about only their
individual relationship with God. As future teachers, she says, her students are always
thinking about reaching out to others, too.
What we have here is encouraging, says junior Matt Deppe from Holland, Michigan,
student member of the Spiritual Activities Committee. There are plenty of opportunities to
be involved in worship if you are so inclined, but no one forces
you to. That makes people participate because they want to. In addition to
GIFT, Wednesday Praise and Worship, and chapel, students gather in Covenant Groups, residence
hall wing Bible studies, and other small informal groups.
Some people do all of them, says Deppe.
Theres a definite spirituality here, says freshman Dan Zylstra from Lansing, Illinois. Many
teachers open class with Scripture and prayer and every teacher Ive had has
made solid connections between the Christian faith and their field of study. Spirituality
manifests itself in different ways. Some at Dordt are fired-up, jumping-up-and-down, shout-it-out Christians.
Other prefer to hold quiet Bible studies and sing hymns to the Lord,
Draayer acknowledges, however, that the number and visibility as well as the more
expressive character of worship events sometimes create a gap between groups of students.
People talk about the pious and the partyers, says Dr. Sydney Hielema, who
teaches theology and also serves on the Spiritual Activities Committee. Hielema doesnt particularly
like the descriptions.
Those words often have more to do with the externals used to
identify the character of the Christian life and a way of worshiping than
with where a persons heart is, he says, adding, Some who dont seem
as overt in expressing their faith are passionate Christians who dont feel comfortable
with certain campus worship opportunities or camps of thought. He rues the gap
but acknowledges there have always been differences in how students express their faith.
When I was a student there were two chapel services a week, and
I felt that was enough. We worshiped in a local church on Sunday.
I was in college to study, Hielema says. He and other students in
the 70s expected the church to take care of their public worship, whereas
todays students want to take more ownership for it themselves, he believes.
Hielema was part of the committee that helped GIFT begin four years ago,
largely because, he says, students today have a different relationship with local churches.
Age has become a more powerful separator today. Many students want their own
worship as wellone that is more open and expressive, more personal and intimate
than what they find in local congregations.
Dr. Wayne Kobes, who also teaches theology, sees this as an important influence
on increased student worship opportunities.
Theres a strong emphasis on having a personal relationship with Jesus, he says.
Many students are willing to sacrifice a summer job to do something they
consider worthwhile. He commends todays students for more openly sharing and expressing their
faith and more actively reaching out to others who dont know Christ as
Savior, but he also believes that faith should not be an individual me
and Jesus experience. Like other professors and students, he wants to make sure
that in the process of being more focused on their personal relationship with
Christ, Reformed Christian students do not lose what has been their greatest strengtha
big-as-the-world understanding of service and worship.
The Christians relationship to God is always spoken of in the context of
covenant community in the Bible. Anyone who comes to know the Christ of
Scripture knows him as Head of the body, as Savior and Lord of
his people. The Christian faith is intensely personal, but it is never individualistic,
he says. Christ restores people to live in fellowship with him and with
each other, to work in his kingdom, not first of all to be
In his role as professor, Kobes is heartened that so many students express
a strong desire to serve the Lord. He finds that some, though, need
nudging to see this as more than cultivating a feeling of closeness to
God or of enrolling in more elective classes in missions as they pursue
their professional training.
Working as a good engineer in Latin America or in a North American
firm is very important service if they are willing to be counter-cultural, Kobes
says. He strongly encourages gifted students to apply for programs like the Pew
Younger Scholars so that they gain the scholarly depth to be able to
make significant contributions to their field of expertise. Living the Christian life includes
but is much more than answering yes to the question Do you love
Jesus? he says. Hard academic work is also spiritual service.
Draayer agrees. Its sometimes too easy for students who have heard that all
of life is religion to think that somehow it will just all be
integrated. If it doesnt automatically happen, its easy to fall back into looking
at life as made up of the sacred and secular, spiritual and other.
Draayer describes how his experience with students on service projects can help bridge
this divide. I used to dread sitting in the airport in Houston for
hours on the way back from the PLIA service project in Nicaragua, he
says. Hes now come to appreciate it and uses the time to talk
with students about how the experience can shape their futurehow they will live
in a way that promotes justice, how they will train themselves to help
society deal with problems theyve seen, and what effect it might have on
their studies to do sotaking advantage of a heightened sense of spirituality to
make them see concretely the implications of living lives that honor God. Living
a life of service to God takes work, Draayer and professors say. Heightened
spiritualitya sense of closeness with Godis crucial but not enough. It takes study
of the Bible and the world God created. And often there are still
no simple answers to what is the right and wrong way to act.
I think evangelicalism (the tradition I grew up in) is now, more than
ever, having a powerful homogenizing influence on our cultureincluding students, says Dr. Ethan
Brue (92), professor of engineering. In that worldview spirituality is equated with faith.
And spirituality is often measured by the amount of thought, time, effort, resources,
and enthusiasm a person devotes to being religious. Such an understanding assumes that
being religious is only one part of being human and contrasts with the
Reformed view that all of our living is Holy Spirit-led activity. Spirituality thatis
individual and personal, when it does venture beyond the walls of a personal
relationship with Christ, often remains comfortably within the bounds of ecclesiastical activities, he
While he applauds the positive consequences this may have for church-related
programs, he notes that it could mean there will be fewer servants who
dare to infiltrate the mission fields of politics, corporations, and academia. Based on
his personal experience he tries to help students see how important this all-encompassing
view of worship and service is.
While professors are heartened by the seriousness with which students approach their faith,
many say they have been disappointed to hear students in chapel or in
classroom devotions say that the only important thing in their lives is their
personal relationship with Godthe rest doesnt really matter. Theyve also heard students say
theyre sick of hearing about Christian worldview. And professors find that first period
classes that begin with devotions often get higher ratings on perspective in student
evaluations. The challenge is to discover how faith not only drives but also
requires daily service, whether it is studying or something else.
Matt Deppe recalls a student devotion given during a crunch time of the
semester implying that the way to get through the busyness and stress was
to simply realize that ones spiritual life was the only really important thing
to worry about.
I might have said the same thing a few years ago, he says.
Today, as a psychology and philosophy major, he believes his faith has become
more concrete because hes been pushed to think deeply about what he believes
and why, and what its implications are. He appreciates GIFT worship services because
of the way they build community, he says. His real growth has come
through wrestling with issues in his studies in the context of his faith.
Brenda Janssen, a junior from Beamsville, Ontario, agrees. Classes and studies are more
than just required, theyre a way for me to grow as a Christian.
Kobes encourages this attitude in a cultural setting that privatizes religion in the
name of separation between church and state despite the increased mention of Gods
name in the public square. He and others want students to leave Dordt
with a strong faith that will bring their Christian perspective into a business
by making decisions that treat people and resources respectfullyor a public policy debate
by helping shape actions on principles of justiceor a law enforcement office by
encouraging restitution for wrongdoing.
Dr. Charles Adams, dean of the natural science division, also encourages students to
fight against an anti-intellectual tendency often found in evangelical circlesand lamented by reputable
evangelical and Reformed leaders. Adams believes that spirituality should manifest itself by a
passion for doing Gods will that overflows in concrete works of love. Spirit-filled
Christians should prophetically call the community to responsible discipleship, passionately strive to know
the will of the Lord for life in the 21st century (often through
Christian scholarship), and humbly reject status quo values of society, he says.
He is excited and encouraged when he sees students use their Christian education
as a starting point for living a life of discipleship, whether that is
through relief work or church planting or in a profession promoting environmental stewardship
or responsible technology.
To establish the right climate for such service Hielema believes it might be
helpful to once again reexamine our campus public worship.
Id like to see one service that everyone went to once a week
that could be what we all need it be, to strengthen us as
a community of Christians and build us up for the work we have
to do in this world. I think most students would be thrilled with
such a worship time too.
Maybe faculty and campus leaders need to wrestle harder with Scripture and the
implications of a Christian worldview so that it becomes more than jargon that
students get tired of. And maybe more students need to dig into Scripture
to understand the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit to transform their whole
livesnot just what theyve come to refer to as their spiritual life.
Thats a process that will continue to take time and commitment on everyones
part. But the climate seems open to such efforts.
You can tell that people want to grow and be challenged, says Denise
Ver Beek, a sophomore from Zeeland, Michigan. Its challenged me [to want to
grow] to see that.
My faith hasnt grown by leaps and bounds since coming to Dordt, but I can say it has changed, says Dan Zylstra. Being in the Dordt community has forced me to examine the fundamentals of my worldview. And my classes have challenged me to look more objectively at different aspects of our culture and other cultures. My faith has matured like a growing sapling, not by exhaustive leaps and bounds but by a careful, steady growth both upwards and outwards, as if someone was keeping me from overextending myself, but also making sure I continue on my way. Thats what Dordt faculty and student leaders hope happens to all students on campus.