Just over two years ago, a groundbreaking collaboration began at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary. The de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development was established as a hub for Reformed faculty training, providing a depth of learning among Calvin professors and wide-reaching resources for Christian leaders around the globe.
And the institute wasted no time. Faculty discussion groups were formed, cohorts were created, and new professors were paired with veteran faculty for one-on-one mentoring.
In summer 2020, Calvin announced an $11 million gift to the institute from the estate of its founders, Rimmer and Ruth de Vries. Equipped by this generosity, Calvin leaders are going even further to deepen professional development for Reformed educators on campus and beyond.
“Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary now have the capacity to provide a new depth and rigor of training in a Reformed perspective to every faculty member in our institutions,” said Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin University.
Le Roy said the institute intends to equip Christian faculty in higher education through initiatives such as seminars, conferences, independent projects, and shared access to digital teaching and scholarly resources.
“This movement starts here at Calvin, of course, but the institute’s mission will not be completed within these square inches of campus. We’re providing Reformed resources for Christian minds around the world,” said Le Roy.
“And we look forward to receiving the contributions of world-wide scholars and teachers to this collection of resources as well. We have much to learn from each other.”
David Wunder, dean for faculty development, shared how the institute’s work directly conveys the university’s mission.
“We are about equipping students to effectively engage God’s world,” he said. “To do this we must increase our understanding of God’s world and God’s intention for it. A Reformed perspective, and our living it out as faithful Christ followers, is a dynamic response to God’s call on our life.
“This is a shared project—to deepen our understanding and increase in faithfulness, the Calvin community must engage this crucial work together.”
In his later writings, institute founder Rimmer de Vries reflected on his initial interest in Reformed theology. His grandfather and great-grandfather were farmers in Friesland, in the Netherlands. For these working class citizens, the figure of Abraham Kuyper loomed large. He did not just bring theology—he brought hope.
“Kuyper was their liberator,” de Vries wrote of his ancestors, “not only in the church but also in education and political life. They had moved from being disenfranchised by both nobility and intellectuals, to the ruling class.”
Next in a family lineage of those who ascribed to Kuyperian ideas—like the concept of common grace, the broad grace and favor of God that enables general goodness in the world, as well as the sovereignty of Christ over all areas of life and study—a high school-age Rimmer vowed to read all of Kuyper’s works.
After immigrating to the United States in the 1950s, Rimmer met his wife, Ruth Berg, through the New York University Chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. The couple welcomed three children, who would later attend Calvin: Rimmer ’85, Jacqueline ’87, and Joyce de Vries ’88.
The elder Rimmer’s work as a prominent global economist led him to serve alongside figureheads from Ronald Reagan to Margaret Thatcher. And, despite his elite circles, Rimmer remembered what Kuyper had done to elevate the position of common workers.
“In reforming public life,” Jacqueline said of her father, “he was attempting to give working class folks a foothold.”
Rimmer would go on to found tributes to Kuyper’s scholarship, including the Kuyper Conference and Kuyper Prize, both of which began at Princeton Theological Seminary and later moved to Calvin University, where they endure today. He also funded the complete translation of Kuyper’s works, going beyond his promise to read Kuyper’s writings, and helping to share them.
Rimmer’s belief in Kuyperian ideas, as well as his ties to higher education (two of his children and three of his children-in-law have served as higher education faculty) led him, along with Ruth, to set aside generous funding for what would later become known as The de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development.
DEEPER CONNECTIONS ON CAMPUS
One of the first aims of the institute has been developing a series of professional development modules related to Reformed Christian higher education.
Professor David Smith of Calvin’s education department has served as a coordinator for the institute since 2019. He also led on the interdepartmental team of Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary faculty tasked with creating initial learning modules for the digital platform: one on how the authority of Scripture relates to faculty work and another on educating for shalom. The modules launched in a pilot phase this summer.
“The new online learning platform will enable faculty not only at Calvin, but worldwide, to work through guided modules on a range of topics,” Smith said. “The platform is designed to be flexible to meet the needs of a variety of users, including new faculty, adjunct faculty, staff, and perhaps even board members.”
As president, Le Roy said that each year he sees students from all Christian backgrounds embrace Reformed learning at Calvin University. And faculty from various Christian and academic backgrounds have likewise embraced teaching and scholarship in a Reformed tradition with fervor.
“The institute is designed to help faculty at Calvin and beyond to deepen their understanding of a Reformed tradition,” said Le Roy. “It will serve Christian leaders who have long been rooted in Reformed teaching and learning; it will also serve Christian leaders who are discovering the principles of Reformed thinking. We believe the institute’s resources will be deeply enriching for both.”
Professor of mathematics David Klanderman was born into a Reformed tradition. He has attended Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) churches his entire life, and much of his education was shaped through Reformed educational communities, including his undergraduate work at Calvin. In fall 2018, he joined Calvin’s department of mathematics and statistics, excited to continue his Reformed teaching and scholarship on campus.
Through the work of the institute, Klanderman said he has been able to dive deep into Reformed works and participate in discussion groups.
“Under David Smith’s leadership, I worked collaboratively with other new Calvin faculty members to think more deeply about how our pedagogical practices flow from our Reformed Christian commitments,” he explained.
Professor of political science Karie Riddle also joined Calvin’s faculty in 2018. Riddle and Klanderman still stay connected with their cohort of incoming faculty from 2018, led by the institute.
“I’m grateful for the support and for the continuing education on what it means to be a Reformed teacher and scholar, particularly because I do not come from a Reformed background,” Riddle said. “This way of thinking is not second nature to me, as it is for some in my cohort.”
Riddle was raised in the Church of Christ denomination, a community to which she attributes her biblical foundations, her undergraduate education, and her love for singing a capella. While completing her doctoral program in Indiana, Riddle found her church home in a CRCNA congregation, which she said offered more expansive roles for women than her past worship communities.
“I finally felt like my gifts as a teacher were being put to use not just in the classroom, but also in my church home, as I occasionally led adult education classes and co-led the graduate student small group.” Riddle said. “The CRCNA, to me, was a place where I could be fully myself.”
As The de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development makes its mark on Calvin’s scholars like Klanderman and Riddle, its work is continually expanding beyond the immediate university community.
What is unique,” Wunder said, “is the institute’s dual focus on equipping Calvin faculty while also equipping colleagues throughout the world.”
“The word ‘global’ in the institute’s name is no accident,” added Smith, who noted the institute has already sponsored learning groups that serve faculty in several countries.
“One of the primary and crucial goals for the institute is to serve as a resource for Christian faculty in all parts of the world,” said Wunder. “This is imperative—there is great need and excitement for this work to serve as a resource for Christian scholars with a desire to better understand and integrate their faith with their scholarship and teaching.”
Le Roy said this is a pivotal time for the kind of Reformed thinking the institute promotes.
“A Reformed perspective is as needed today as it was during the lifetimes of [John] Calvin and Kuyper,” he said. “Faculty are being enriched in their Christ-centered teaching and scholarship, with incalculable impact on their students, and God’s world.”
In this way, the institute also stays true to the wishes of Kuyper’s enthusiastic disciple, Rimmer de Vries, who imagined the institute as a global pursuit.
“My dad had this vision for a global center and what he wanted more than anything else was for that vision to extend beyond Grand Rapids,” Jacqueline said. “His vision was always the world.”
THE DE VRIES INSTITUTE FOR GLOBAL FACULTY DEVELOPMENT
Rimmer de Vries, a recent U.S. immigrant from the Netherlands, marries Ruth (Berg) de Vries. He and Ruth would go on to fund various philanthropic endeavors to advance Reformed thought and missions.
Rimmer de Vries visits Calvin University, then known as Calvin College, giving on-campus presentations to help make the global economy intelligible to college-age students.
Rimmer and Ruth’s three children attend Calvin University.
The de Vrieses, having founded the Kuyper Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary, oversee its move to Calvin. The annual event celebrates Reformed thought and bestows the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life, a prize that is also funded through a grant from the de Vrieses.
The de Vrieses fund the establishment of the Global Faculty Development Institute at Calvin, the latest of Calvin’s 12 centers and institutes promoting Christian thought and action in key areas of education and culture.
David Smith, professor of education at Calvin University and director for the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, is appointed as the institute’s coordinator.
The Global Faculty Development Institute initiates the inaugural class of Faith and Learning Fellows, composed of new Calvin faculty in their second year as professors.
The institute begins the development of a digital platform designed to equip Calvin professors and faculty worldwide to enhance their integration of a Reformed Christian perspective with teaching and scholarship.
The estate of late Rimmer and Ruth de Vries, who both passed in recent years, grants Calvin University $11 million to be used toward The de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development, which is renamed in honor of the founding donors.
Matthew Lundberg, professor of religion at Calvin University, is appointed as the institute’s first director, bringing his extensive expertise in Reformed theology, ethics, and teaching to develop and expand the institute’s missional work.