A new book by Dr. Lynn Japinga of the Hope College religion faculty examines the way that the Reformed Church in America (RCA) has handled conflict and resolution within living memory.
Japinga’s book “Loyalty and Loss: The Reformed Church in America, 1945-1994” was published earlier this month by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. of Grand Rapids and Cambridge, United Kingdom in the Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America.
The book describes and analyzes the major events, issues and conflicts that occurred in the RCA between 1945 and 1994, including issues such as denominational mergers, biblical interpretation, church growth, the Vietnam War, women’s ordination, abortion and homosexuality. It considers the church’s struggle in the last half of the 20th century to reconcile a variety of perspectives, all often existing within the denomination simultaneously.
The first part of the title “Loyalty and Loss” reflects the intense loyalty felt toward the denomination by many members—a sense of family that has kept the RCA together despite the differences. The latter part reflects the reality of loss--the loss of members, the loss of that sense of family and the loss of the way that the church used to be.
The book has received praise not only as a history of the RCA, but for providing insight into the experience of mainline Protestantism in general.
“Quite apart from the many insights here that will be of value to people inside the Reformed Church, Lynn Japinga’s ‘Loyalty and Loss’ stands as a model for the writing of any denomination’s history,” said Dr. John Coakley, who is the L. Russell Feakes Memorial Professor of Church History at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. “Relying heavily on interviews and other first-person sources and focusing on points of tension, she develops an organic and nuanced picture of this denomination that does not ignore its place within the broader currents of late twentieth-century American religion.”
Japinga’s research included reviewing all the minutes of the RCA’s annual General Synod during the 50 years she explored, reading every volume of the “Church Herald” denominational magazine published during the same period, reviewing personal and institutional papers at denominational archives, and dozens of interviews with clergy, missionaries and laypeople. Along the way, she co-organized a 2004 conference held at New Brunswick Theological Seminary that reflected on the General Synod of 1969, which she noted “was a very conflicted synod where synod entertained a motion for an orderly dissolution of the RCA.”
The RCA traces its roots to the formation of a Dutch Reformed congregation in 1628 on Manhattan Island in what was then the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Primarily located in the Northeast for the next 200 years, the denomination grew substantially in the mid-1800s with the arrival of the immigrants from the Netherlands who established communities such as Holland in Michigan and Pella in Iowa and subsequently joined the RCA. The denomination’s membership is currently approximately 170,000 confessing members.
Hope College, Central College in Pella and Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa are all affiliated with the RCA. The denomination has two seminaries: New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, and Western Theological Seminary in Holland.
Japinga, a professor of religion, has taught at Hope since 1992. She is an ordained pastor in the RCA, of which she is a life-long member, and has served as an interim preaching pastor at Hope Church in Holland. She is a specialist in the history of American religion and feminist theology, and her previous scholarly work includes the 1999 book “Feminism and Christianity: An Essential Guide” and a chapter in the 2006 book “Feminist and Womanist Essays in Reformed Dogmatics.”
She graduated from Hope in 1981, completed a Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1984 and completed her doctorate at Union Theological Seminary in 1992.