posted January 2, 2014

Book Features Influential Area Theologian Nicolaus Steffens

The Van Raalte Press of the Van Raalte Institute at Hope College has published the book “‘We live presently under a waning moon.’ Nicolaus Martin Steffens as leader of the Reformed Church in America in the West in years of transition (1878-1895),” by Dr. George Harinck of the Netherlands.

Steffens (1839-1912) was a founding member of the faculty of Western Theological Seminary in addition to serving churches locally and in Iowa, as well as writing for and editing the weekly Reformed Church newspaper “De Hope” for several years.  According to Harinck, he was substantially influential in shaping the Reformed Church in the West, was internationally oriented, and was a respected scholar, theologian and church leader.

“There was no official leadership in the church, but as a minister of Van Raalte’s congregation in Holland since 1882, as a professor at Western Seminary since 1884, and as the foremost editor of ‘De Hope’ since the early 1880s, Steffens was de facto the successor of Van Raalte in the Reformed Church in the West,” Harinck notes in his conclusion.

Born in Emden, Germany, Steffens initially was a teacher at a girls’ high school for two years, spent four years as a missionary in Turkey, and subsequently served congregations in Germany before immigrating to West Michigan in 1878.

Steffens first served pastorates at First Reformed Church in Zeeland from 1878 to 1882 and First Reformed Church in Holland from 1883 to 1884.  He was also president of the Council (now Board of Trustees) of Hope College during 1883-84, and in 1884 he became a founding member of the faculty of Western Theological Seminary, which grew out of the theological program of Hope College the following year.

He left West Michigan in 1895 to teach at the German Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and from 1898 to 1900 served at First Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.  He returned to Holland in 1903 and taught again at Western Theological Seminary until his death.

“During his first stay in Michigan, he was in the eye of the storm of the Masonic controversy and had to lead the Reformed Church of the West through this crisis and the difficult years thereafter, when the Reformed Church lost the support of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in the Netherlands,” Harinck wrote.

Harinck, who is an honorary research fellow with the Van Raalte Institute, is a professor of the history of Neo-Calvinism at the Free University of Amsterdam and a special professor in church history at the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches (liberated) at Kampen, the Netherlands.  He is also a member of the Kuyper Committee of Princeton Theological Seminary.

Harinck spent the summer of 2008 conducting research about Steffens at the Van Raalte Institute through a Netherland-America Foundation Visiting Research Fellowship, and subsequently presented the address “Nicholas Steffens and Trans-Atlantic Relationships within the Reformed Church” at Hope on Sept. 4, 2008.  His continuing involvement with the Van Raalte Institute includes having co-chaired (with institute director Dr. Jacob E. Nyenhuis) the international conference “Albertus C. Van Raalte: Leader and Liaison,” held at Hope and in Ommen in the Netherlands in the fall of 2011.

Established in 1994, the Van Raalte Institute is located in the Theil Research Center at 9 E. 10th St. and specializes in scholarly research and writing on immigration and the contributions of the Dutch and their descendants in the United States.  The institute is also dedicated to the study of the history of all the people who have comprised the community of Holland throughout its history.

Copies of “‘We live presently under a waning moon.’ Nicolaus Martin Steffens as leader of the Reformed Church in America in the West in years of transition (1878-1895)” are available for $15 at the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore, which is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673 or (616) 395-7833.  Additional ordering information may be obtained by e-mailing the Hope-Geneva Bookstore at bookstore@hope.edu.