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Centennial History of the PRC Seminary: Phase Two - 1940-1959

In the most recent issue of the PR Theological Journal, Prof. D. Kuiper continues his "centennial history of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary" under the title "Committing the Truth to Faithful Men." As the PRC denomination approaches its 100th anniversary (1925-2025), he is researching and writing a detailed account of the origins and workings of the PRC's minister training school throughout its history. Having published chapter one (1925-39) in the Fall 2021 issue of the PRTJ, he now picks it up in chapter two of the Fall 2022 issue, covering the years 1940-1959. This section too makes for fascinating reading.

Below is the summary part of this second phase of the PRTS's history. You are, of course, encouraged to keep reading and benefit from the rest of the article.

"The second phase of the history of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary (1940-1959) is a continuation of the first phase (1925-1939) in several respects. The same professors (Herman Hoeksema and George Ophoff) taught essentially the same curriculum in the same facilities (a room in the basement of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI). Students came and went. The Theological School Committee (TSC) continued its oversight of the school.

"Yet several factors give this historical phase a flavor all its own.

"First, the seminary curriculum expanded. The curriculum was essentially the same as previously, but a few subjects were added. More significantly, the pre-seminary course was implemented, a third professor was called (and the call twice declined), a postgraduate course was added, a student club was organized, and investigations were made whether the seminary could provide a course for teachers of Protestant Reformed elementary schools that had been established.

"Second, harbingers of upcoming changes were evident. In the third phase of the school’s history (1960-1979), the faculty would be replaced and a new school building would be erected. Though these had not yet happened, many noted the inadequacy of the facilities and the increasing age of the professors. Both Herman Hoeksema and George Ophoff suffered serious strokes in the second phase.

"Third, two historical events defined this second phase: war and schism. The United States was involved in three major wars during this era of the seminary’s history: World War II (1939-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), and the Vietnam War (1954-1975). Especially the Second World War affected the seminary significantly. This was probably the major contributing cause of decreased student enrollment: “We were particularly impressed by the fact that our school has never before had so few students,” wrote Cornelius Hanko in a report to the TSC of a school visit in the spring semester of 1944. Other effects will be noted later in this chapter.

"The seminary was also affected by the controversy regarding conditions in God’s covenant and the subsequent schism of 1953. This stands to reason: the seminary is a denominational seminary and the controversy took place within its denomination. The instructors were not the only capable theologians in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA), but they were certainly the oldest capable theologians. That Hoeksema and Ophoff were united in their opposition to a conditional covenant is a reason for thanksgiving; the seminary was not hopelessly divided. However, students and members of the TSC sided either with or against the professors.

"Fourth, other aspects of the history indicate that both the PRCA and their seminary were becoming more widely known in the Reformed church world, both in Europe and in the United States. While the average size of the student body decreased during these years, the number of prospective students from outside the PRCA increased."

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