A career spent serving and studying church, community and college has been celebrated by a collection of essays doing the same.
Dr. Elton Bruins, who is retired from the Hope College faculty and from directing the A.C. Van Raalte Institute, has been honored through the publication of the festschrift "A Goodly Heritage: Essays in Honor of the Reverend Dr. Elton J. Bruins at Eighty." Featuring 15 essays that examine dimensions of the Reformed Church in America and aspects of Holland-area and Hope history, the book commemorates Bruins's forthcoming 80th birthday (July 29) and honors him as he plans to retire from his active continued involvement with the institute as a researcher.
Planned and edited by Dr. Jacob E. Nyenhuis, who is director of the A.C. Van Raalte Institute and provost emeritus and professor emeritus of classics at Hope, the volume has been published this month by the William B. Eerdmans Company of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Cambridge, United Kingdom, as part of the Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America.
"Because we feel deep affection for him, we wanted to do something special for his birthday and retirement, and a festschrift is one of the highest forms of esteem that one can offer," Nyenhuis said. "I invited 15 people, including myself, to submit essays for it and everybody accepted."
Bruins learned of the book during a surprise party held at the college on Wednesday, June 6, and then was additionally recognized the next morning during the opening of the biennial conference of the Association for the Advancement of Dutch-American Studies, convening on campus on Thursday-Saturday, June 7-9.
After graduating from Hope and Western Theological Seminary in 1950 and 1953 respectively, Bruins went on to serve as pastor of two Reformed Churches in New York State, where he also completed his doctorate. He returned to Hope in 1966 as a member of the religion faculty, serving until retiring in 1992 as the Evert J. and Hattie E. Blekkink Professor Emeritus of Religion. From 1984 to 1989 he served as dean for the arts and humanities, and in fall 1989 as acting provost. He became founding director of Hope's A.C. Van Raalte Institute in 1994, a position he held until 2002; he was subsequently named the Philip Phelps Jr. Research Professor at the institute. He is officially retiring from his research position this summer, although he will continue to work with the program informally.
Bruins played a central role in organizing the Joint Archives of Holland, which opened following the completion of the Van Wylen Library in 1988 and is now housed at the Henri and Eleonore Theil Research Center. The Joint Archives currently includes the historical collections of the college and the seminary as well as other organizations that contract for archival services, and for many years hosted the collection of the Holland Historical Trust as well. Bruins had organized the seminary's archives in 1967, the Netherlands Museum archives in 1968 and the college's archives in 1970.
His publications include dozens of articles on aspects of church and local history, and several books as editor or author, the latter including "The Americanization of a Congregation," on Third Reformed Church of Holland; "Isaac Cappon: Holland's 'Foremost Citizen'"; "Albertus C. Van Raalte: Dutch Leader and American Patriot," with Dr. Jeanne M. Jacobson and Larry J. Wagenaar; "Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches in the Nineteenth Century," with Dr. Robert P. Swierenga; and "Albertus and Christina: The Van Raalte Family, Home and Roots," with Karen G. Schakel, Sara Fredrickson Simmons and Marie N. Zingle. He is currently working on a book featuring the correspondence from 1857 to 1875 between Albertus C. Van Raalte and Philip Phelps Jr., Hope's first president.
"All of the people who are contributors to this volume have been touched by and influenced by Elton," Nyenhuis said. "All are friends of his, and a couple are former students. Some are religion colleagues. Many of us have been brought to the Van Raalte Institute by Elton."
"All of the research fellows are here because of the foundation that he laid for the institute and his dedication to research that honors the vision of Van Raalte. He founded a program that promotes an understanding of and appreciation for the heritage of the college and the community," Nyenhuis said.
The book's 15 essays fall into three categories, all reflecting different aspects of Bruins's career. The first 10 essays concern church history and theology, the next two focus on different aspects of the life of the Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte, and the final three deal with local history. The topics range from religious conflict in the 19th century, to the Civil War, to Hope College history, to the effort to create the Joint Archives, to recent ideological conflict in the field of Reformation history, to contemporary issues in the Reformed Church in America.
The 10 essays concerned with church history and theology are: "Singing God's Songs in a New Land: Congregational Song in the RCA and CRC," by Harry Boonstra; "Ancient Wisdom for Post-Modern Preaching: The Preacher as Pastor, Theologian, and Evangelist," by Timothy L. Brown; "Extra-Canonical Tests for Church Membership and Ministry," by Donald J. Bruggink; "Dr. Albertus Pieters, V.D.M.: Biblical Theologian," by Eugene Heideman; "Scripture and Tradition - A Reformed Perspective: Unity in Diversity - Continuity, Conflict, and Development," by I. John Hesselink; "'No One Has Ever Asked Me This Before: The Use of Oral History in Denominational History,'" by Lynn Winkels Japinga; "Richard Baxter: An English Fox in a Dutch Chicken Coop?," by Earl Wm. Kennedy; "A Decade of Hope and Despair: Mercersburg Theology's Impact on Two Reformed Denominations," by Gregg Mast; "A Century of Change and Adaptation in the First English-Speaking Congregation of the Christian Reformed Church in America," by Jacob E. Nyenhuis; and "What Happened to the Reformation?: The Contentious Relationship between History and Religion," by J. Jeffery Tyler.
The two essays focused on the life and heritage of the Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte are "Civil War Correspondence of Benjamin Van Raalte," by Jeanne M. Jacobson; and "Albertus C. Van Raalte as Businessman," by Robert P. Swierenga.
The three essays concerned with Hope and Holland are: "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: An Essay on Hope College's Four Presidential Eras," by James C. Kennedy; "The Vexed Question: Hope College and Theological Education in the West," by Dennis N. Voskuil; and "The Joint Archives of Holland: An Experiment in Cooperative Archival Preservation and Access," by Larry J. Wagenaar.
The book has been published with financial support from Peter Huizenga of Oak Brook, Ill., who is a member of the college's Board of Trustees and chairman of Huizenga Capital Management. Huizenga and his mother Elizabeth had provided a major endowment gift to establish the A.C. Van Raalte Institute, and he has remained active in supporting the institute's work in the years since.
Copies of "A Goodly Heritage: Essays in Honor of the Reverend Dr. Elton J. Bruins at Eighty" are available in the college's Hope-Geneva Bookstore on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, located at 141 E. 12th St., on the corner of Columbia Avenue and 12th Street. The hardcover book totals 412 pages and costs $49. Copies may be ordered online at www.hope.edu/bookstore/ or by calling the bookstore at (616) 395-7833 or 1-800-946-4673.