After being asked to write about my experience at Calvin, a joke kept coming to mind. “A Calvinist was walking down the stairs. They tripped, tumbled down and broke their arm. Afterwards they got up and said, ‘Well that’s over with.’” Besides being satirical, it reminded me of my experience of Calvin in its difficulty, its necessity, and the need for humility.
I remember coming in for my first full day at Calvin being slightly overconfident. I had received my Bachelors in Theology from the University of Wales and found the Gateway course to be a nice refresher, but nothing too stimulating. That was until Professor Bolt’s Reformed Dogmatics of Herman Bavinck I. I had no idea who Herman Bavinck was, but when registering for classes, it was the only one that worked within my restricted schedule so I decided to give it a try. It was a needed kick to my ego, another important step on my tumbling journey towards graduation. I only understood about half the terminology and references used. Names like Shleiermacher and Kuyper were thrown around as easily as I might have used Paul or Matthew. I knew I was out of my league, but it was exciting and I enjoyed every minute of it. To this day I still remember the first question I ever dared to answer. Professor Bolt asked the class, “Using only the synoptic gospels, how would you arrive at the Council of Chalcedon?” The room remained silent, and while not quite knowing what the Council of Chalcedon was, I slowly raised my hand and answered in a half-question, “Jesus forgave sins?” Professor Bolt with his natural exuberance said “Yes! Thank you!” It was a moment that helped me to realize that while I had a long way to go, I was becoming more prepared for the life God was calling me to lead.
As time went on I felt drawn deeper in my fascination with theology and philosophy. I couldn’t seem to get enough. I took every elective I was capable of taking in those fields. It was to the point that, for a couple of years, Professor Bolt and Professor Cooper had to begin each week with the unfortunate knowledge that I was going to pop up in one of their classes somewhere. Philosophy for Understanding Theology, Christian Engagement with World Religions, Impact of Philosophy on Theology from Kant to the Modern Era, Reformed Dogmatics of Herman Bavinck II: if I could take it, I did.
This is, of course, not to take away from the Biblical Studies courses. While I’m certainly more interested in systematic theology and philosophy, each Old and New Testament course left an impact on how I read, taught and preached the Word. Believe me, my home congregation thanks you for that growth. They say it is time well invested and remind me of that regularly. I’ve stopped wondering what I must have been spewing at them from the pulpit before-hand and just thank them because I’m certain they’re right.
What most people don’t see in the day to day interactions, or classroom discussions are the sacrifices that every other person in that room is making to be there. I’m going on my fourth year now in the MTS program. I’m one of the pastors of Liberty Christian Church in Lansing, MI. It’s a small community but one that is very supportive. While working there full time I’ve been making the commute a few times a week, every week for four years. I often miss seeing my wife and children for a couple days at a time due to having to prepare and lead late night Bible studies, and waking up early to commute for morning classes. I miss weekends regularly having to split time between homework, research, and sermon preparations. I’ve experienced 4 am bottle feedings with Greek flash cards, and having to put down Bavinck to comfort someone over a cup of coffee. I’ve found myself tired, frustrated, and at times broken. Yet God has given me the strength to keep moving forward. My family and the community has encouraged me to finish what I’ve started. And to any who feel the same way, I can tell you that it is worth it. There may be times where it seems like the sacrifice is just too much, that you are giving up more than you are gaining, but let me assure you, that is not the case. God has brought each one of us to this institution one way or another. Some of us had to leave our home and loved ones behind, while others live just a few blocks away. Some have had to study with fulltime jobs, and others have been able to make studying their full-time commitment. Some have had to face tragedies, financial setbacks and humiliations during their time here, while others have seen weddings, births and baptisms.
My story is not particularly special or unique in any way, it is simply one amongst many others. Clanging and tumbling my way through this institution trusting in God’s providence to lead me through to the other side stronger and more secure in Him. Better equipped to do and handle the things he has called me to do. That, is what I believe to be the legacy of this institution. It is a place where God brings someone through to be better able to accomplish His will for their lives, so that we all might leave this world looking a little more like heaven than when we entered it.
After I graduate, I plan to apply to PhD programs, mainly in the U.K. Whether or not those future plans pan out, I can be secure in knowing that my time at Calvin was tough but fruitful, and I will always be grateful for it.
By James Magee