Fata Academica 2016

Prof. Dr. R. Kuiper, rector

The birthday of our university is celebrated each year during the period of Advent. During this period we do not look back to what has been but forward to what will be. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to look back on and so we will on this birthday. At the same time there is a lot to think about, especially with regards to the future of this institution. That we will also do. Thereby we need to know that God is a wonderful Counsellor and a mighty Hero, referring to the words of Isaiah 9.

Developments

Looking back at the past year, we observe that the work at the TU was able to continue undisturbed. In this Fata Academica  I will mention only a few details, with no intention of failing to recognise anyone in his or her work. The number of students has remained stable, with the growth centred on our Masters – also due to our continuing internationalisation. We now house 145 students – four more than last year -, of whom 46 follow the Bachelor, 30 the Master of Ministry and 52 the General Master of Theology. This year 32 students graduated, of whom 9 students in the Bachelor and 16 in the General Master, while 5 students graduated from the master of Ministry. Besides the Ministry Master, the General Masters clearly have their own unique appeal. The English Master, in particular, is growing, with 12 new students enrolling this year. Globalisation has finally definitely set in at the TU. We know that our education is appreciated. Students attend the Master of Ministry with pleasure and motivation. At the same time our concern lies with the following: the number of students in the Bachelor is a bit on the low side, and thus the flow to the Master of Ministry will be low as well. However, the number of people who enrol without having attended the Bachelor is growing. Clearly we need an impulse to grow and to keep growing as a university.  
With regard to the scientific research we are now arriving in the final year of our programmes. That means that we can take stock and reflect before we start a new period. We are confidently looking forward to the visitation. The appreciation we received a while ago by the Review committee of Higher Education for our achievements on several areas including, but not limited to, valorisation, are a great motivation to keep going.

In the past year this university accommodated three promotions, and for the next half year three more are scheduled. In this area, the harvest is getting richer and richer. In the past year several wonderful publications were printed. We can think about the book Vreemdelingen en Priesters [Strangers and Priests] by Stefan Paas, which competed for the title of theological book of the year. Worth noting is also the completion of a new part of the Collected Works of A.A. van Ruler, written by Dirk van Keulen. On the 19th of February of this year Prof. Dr E.A. de Boer inaugurated as professor of Church History with an interesting speech about the propagation and the distribution of the Reformed Church in the turbulent 16th century. On the 16th of April, Koert van Bekkum held a keynote lecture about journalism and religion at Princeton Theological Seminary during the yearly Kuyper conference. Thus, we are active in a broad spectrum and we are visible on several stages. A lot of interesting events took place here in Kampen. In February Stanley Hauerwas was our guest in the city auditorium, which was filled to the brim. The Bavinck lecture by James K. Smith on the 27th of June was outstanding; the auditorium was filled and there were some interesting discussions about the contribution of public theology to the debate about contemporary society. The TU is becoming more and more a focal point in the continuation of the Neo-Calvinist tradition in our time and of the reflection on the relation between faith, church, politics and society. De connection with the praxis of ecclesiastical life is taking shape via the Praktijkcentrum which has been equipped since the synod of Ede in 2014, together with VIAA in Zwolle. The research into the ecclesiastical praxis has started there and it is, increasingly, a fulcrum for the churches. AKZ+ is a partnership with the TUA and the Viaa and it is an important instrument in the dissemination of knowledge. In 2016 there have been regular study meetings (6 in total, with about 450 visitors) and the work on a number of approachable compact video lessons for a broad public concerning diverse themes dealing with the Bible, faith, and the church – about 50 lessons per year – is steadily progressing. In the meantime, over 150 video lessons are already online, and the number of subscriptions has increased to about 500. Recently the new online platform was presented under a new name: www.weetwatjegelooft.nl. And that is looking rather good.

Next Steps

And now to the future. We’re celebrating the 162nd birthday of our university this year. In 1854 a Theological School started in Kampen. We have just heard about the early struggles necessary to maintain a viable academic institution. For the secessionists, the coming of the Vrije Universiteit [Free University] was a wake-up-call. They had to reflect on the quality and the academic level of their education, in order to retain their connection to several broader developments. That is quite a feat for a small institution, and cooperation was necessary. What has changed? If we look at the contemporary position of the TU and at the palette of activities I just sketched then we can see that a lot has changed. The education offered is much greater and much more varied. As a Christian institution, the TU Kampen has a lot to offer, especially in a world in which Christian academic institutions have become scarce. The landscape has changed. It is not the government who helps us discover our unique position, but it is the culture with all its questions which does precisely that. What can we contribute to the world around us, a world in which Christians have to find their way with little to no baggage from their upbringing? That unique position as a philosophical university gives us a large responsibility in these times. We cannot retreat into isolation and forget that there is a variety of Christian students and academics who find themselves in the storm of secularisation. More than ever, questions arise regarding the connection to others, the nature and quality of the academic cooperation, the opportunity of reaching as many students as possible, of adding new activities to the existing ones and of being concerned with the shaping and equipping of Christians in this society. That is our vision behind the plans for the GTU. The step to Utrecht intends to give an impulse to that, if only for the thousands of students in that city for whom the GTU can mean something. The time is ripe for concentration. 
On the academic terrain Christians are also looking to join forces. We are already being approached by parties who wonder whether or not they can establish a chair at the GTU. The coming of a Reformed Theological University casts shadows ahead and offers new opportunities. It is unmistakeable that a richer academic environment is good for the practice of theology and for the training of ministers. The encouragement to keep going is coming from several directions. If the Synods give the green light and if the plans for the GTU are passed, the question arises how long and in what form the university in Kampen will still exist. The move will take several years – and there are also students who will be able to finish their studies here –, but the plan nonetheless allows for the new Bachelor to start in September 2018 in Utrecht, the ancient cathedral city. It has been suggested we look for a monastic environment, albeit not too close to the Dom. While the more rural Groenekan will not be our new location, the truth will be somewhere in the middle, when we have found something suitable. However much can be said about locations, this must not stand in the way of the essential questions. What does the practice of reformed theology mean for the world around us? For people who are angry, frustrated and disappointed and who wonder where God is? For spiritual seekers and people who long for spiritual grip? For a divided country, for a secularising and, at the same time, multi-religious continent? These are broader questions and developments with which we must retain our connection. To do that exchange, contact and connection are necessary. We are on the eve of important developments. We pray for wisdom and courage at the Synods, for vision and for orientation towards the future. We can no longer allow TUA and TUK  to exist next to each other, with the 250 students the combined universities have. Reformed have always found it difficult to reach out to one another, even with the same confessions under our wings. But it is necessary and I am sure that the coming of the GTU will bring joy to many and will be a beacon of hope in our times. It is clear that the GTU leads to spiritual deepening and renewing. A place of mercy, where we learn to share and distribute. Not enough has been said with regard to that aspect. We cannot say that the Lord has given us something, whilst at the same time keeping it for ourselves. The same goes for our universities. These are places to serve and to learn to serve even more together. If we are amazed by the colourful wisdom of God, then we can also rejoice about the different ways in which the faith in God can be experienced and expressed. Let us discover how broad and deep and high the reformed creed is and what God has given us therein. That is what the GTU stands for.

It is advent. We wait and expect. There is talk about a wonderful Counsellor and a mighty Hero. We need Him. Jesus has come to the world to be at our side. And He is still coming, every day, when we look towards Him and try and comprehend the signs that point towards His coming. He gives us a lot to do and to think about. May all our thoughts and deeds come to Him and to the Kingdom that is coming to the world with Him.  I have spoken.

Kampen, 6 december 2016