September 16, 2015 | Gina de Haan

Rev. William Mbuluku, a Congolese New Testament scholar, is writing a dissertation on Luke and Acts.

When the prophet Elisha’s ministries led him to the village of Shunem (Israel), a Shunammite couple welcomed Elisha into their home where they had a meal and a room already prepared for him.

This hospitable space is the example followed in a recent project by Calvin’s Nagel Institute For the Study of World Christianity: the Prophets’ Chamber.

The aptly named program provides a furnished two-bedroom apartment and living expenses for up to six visiting scholars in theology thanks to a one-year grant provided by a foundation that prefers to be remain anonymous.

Reverend Leonid Mikhovich, head of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Minsk, Belarus, is the first to call the chamber “home.”

Mikhovich has gained knowledge in new thinking in Christian worship via consultations with Kristen Verhulst and John Witvliet of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship since his arrival in June.

He made use of Calvin’s extensive library resources to make significant progress on his dissertation, focusing on a theology of worship for the evangelical churches of his region.

“I did a lot of work for two and a half months; it would take more than a year to do the same amount of writing and reading at home,” Mikhovich said. “Besides working on my dissertation, I read some great books and articles for my class in homiletics and advanced homiletics that helped improve my preaching and teaching.”

Mikhovich also recognizes that this program has benefited him in areas beyond his theological studies. “I’d define this program as a ‘holistic’ one. It had to do with my mind, soul, spirit and body,” he said. “The Nagel Institute took care of my body, as I was more than happy with food and apartment. I could meet and interact with good people. I visited different kinds of churches, had many opportunities to worship with my brothers and sisters, and heard some prominent leaders share their experience.”

A partnered effort

Each year the college hosts about a half-dozen visiting scholars from other lands, typically here on sabbatical. The H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies also regularly accommodates visitors on a short-term basis, as well as the Nagel Institute who, over the years, has hosted scholars from China, Ghana, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Iran.

“We looked at our experience in this regard and said perhaps we should do a regular program. We have fine library resources here, lots of interesting and interested professors and it is good for our students to hear from these global ambassadors and experts, too,” said Carpenter.

The Nagel Institute also partnered with the Langham Scholars Program, which supports the doctoral studies and post-doctoral writing of rising Majority World theologians from across the globe.

The Langham Scholars Program has a history of providing its scholars with opportunities for extended research visits to locations across the globe with first-class theological libraries. However, the demand of scholars outstrips the capacity of these places to host, which makes Langham keen to work with Calvin as a host site.

A perfect fit

Carpenter believes Calvin is a fitting host for the Prophets’ Chamber because “it is an internationally minded, world Christianity-oriented institution with a basic sympathy for scholars’ work.” The Nagel Institute and the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship actively engage with Majority World leaders while Calvin professors and students take interest in Christianity’s role in other parts of the world.  

In addition, Grand Rapids is home to a variety of Christian ministries with international reach, with several grant-making foundations that serve international Christianity and also is a publishing center for Christian theology. The Nagel Institute intends to help scholars take advantage of these geographic opportunities.

Rev. William Mbuluku, a Congolese New Testament scholar writing a dissertation on Luke and Acts, and Bernard Boyo, a professor from Daystar University who is writing a book on how Christian theology should address politics and public life in Africa are sharing the apartment for three months starting in September.

Positive outcomes

Carpenter believes The Prophets’ Chamber should prove to be mutually beneficial for both the visiting scholars and Calvin. “As the college and the seminary have found out more generally, hosting international scholars is immensely enriching,” Carpenter said.

Calvin professors of theology and related fields directly benefit from visiting scholars, learning about important thought and ministry trends from parts of the world where most Christians live.

“Calvin is to be a center for Christian thought and its application to the vital issues of the day,” said Carpenter. “The work of our centers and institutes, then, is central to Calvin’s mission, and programs like this one that emphasize Christian thought from the global South and East, the new heartlands of our faith, are particularly strategic to the college’s mission as a center for Christian thinking.” 

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