Professor David Engelsma

In 1939, Mr. and Mrs. Dewey and Dena Engelsma became the parents of Professor David Engelsma. Prof. Engelsma was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He grew up in the Riverbend area which was then a rural area southwest of Grand Rapids.

As he was growing up, Prof. Engelsma enjoyed playing any and every kind of ball, and he liked hockey, hunting, trapping and reading. Now his hobbies include: tennis, listening to classical music, Irish and Scottish folk music and reading. He also occasionally tries to play basketball with his sons, “but, oh, the knees.”

During his teenage years, Prof. Engelsma didn’t experience much peer pressure. Living in the country helped because he and his peers were an independent lot.

Prof. Engelsma attended Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School and received his high school education at Grand Rapids Christian High School. After high school, he studied at Calvin College where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in 1960.

The Lord used Godly parents to lead Prof. Engelsma to consider preparing for the ministry. His parents reared him in the fear of the Lord. They occasionally suggested that he consider the ministry, but they did not pressure him. Also, Alice Reitsma, who was a teacher at Hope School bluntly told him to consider the ministry. His covenant family and friends were and have continued to be a source of encouragement and support ever since he first desired to enter the Seminary. This has been a joy to Prof. Engelsma.

His memories of being a seminary student include a debate between Prof. Herman Hoeksema and Prof. George Ophoff when the retired Prof. Ophoff visited dogmatics class. As the only first year student, Seminarian Engelsma witnessed an earthy, passionate and even heated debate between these men over the virgin conception of Jesus. They debated whether Mary contributed anything biologically to Jesus’ conception. The two theologians debated theology, biology and more. When they delved into the biological matters of eggs and sperma and zygotes, Seminarian Engelsma became amused, and his reaction was: “The truth is important; get it right.” This heated debate took the whole class period and the two giants forgot about Seminarian Engelsma.

In 1963, Prof. Engelsma graduated from the Seminary and was ordained a minister of the Word. His first charge was in Loveland, Colorado where he labored until 1974. In 1974, the Lord called him to go to South Holland, Illinois. He was pastor in South Holland for fourteen years. After serving the Lord as a pastor in two Classis West churches for twenty-five years, the Lord called him to take up his labors as a professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1988. Reflecting upon his labors, Prof. Engelsma says, “The work of a pastor is the greatest work in the world.” He also thoroughly enjoys his work as a professor in the Seminary.

In 1963, the year he graduated from the Seminary, Prof. Engelsma married Ruth Lanning. They were both members of Hope Church in Grand Rapids. The Lord has blessed their marriage with four sons, five daughters and eleven grandchildren in the covenant of grace. He thanks God that the love in their marriage and peace in their home are not the least of the blessings of their marriage.

As he taught the little children in catechism, Prof. Engelsma would again and again see a little child of five or six years respond to the lesson with a child’s sincere expression of love for our good God or trust in Jesus. Prof. Engelsma’s heart then would rejoice and the tears would come to his eyes. He would then say to himself, “See that you never, never teach these little ones of God the lie, or otherwise cause them to stumble.”

It is rewarding for Professor Engelsma to see the Protestant Reformed Churches standing fast in the Reformed faith. He delights to see young people become godly, faithful husbands, wives, and parents. He says it is a delight for a minister to go back to a church he has served and see the young people he has taught and worked with, sometimes because of their sin, who are now solid, active members and even office-bearers. This makes all the work worthwhile.

Prof. Engelsma was fourteen in 1953, old enough to experience the angry strife and painful division in Hope Church and in his family.

Concerning the other controversies that we as Protestant Reformed Churches have faced, Prof. Engelsma has memories of being involved in many of them. He came into Classis West studying a three hundred page protest and he left Classis West studying a four hundred page protest.

As Prof. Engelsma looks back over his many years in the ministry, he has many memories. When he was a seminary student and preached his first sermon at the old Southwest Church, he made a gesture and swept all his notes onto the communion table. He forced himself to finish the sermon without his notes. Another time Prof. Engelsma had to lead a service and preach a sermon to one man in Pella, Iowa. Cecil Van Der Molen sat on his sofa and Prof. Engelsma stood behind the sewing machine which was his pulpit. As they went into the living room, Mr. Van Der Molen said, “If you preach heresy, it will be my word against yours.” Prof. Engelsma responded, “If you fall asleep, we’re done.”

During a morning service, Prof. Engelsma used the illustration in his sermon from his boyhood of losing all of his marbles, especially his favorite blue one, to an older trickster. At the evening service, the collection plate contained a large, blue marble for him. Prof. Engelsma takes this opportunity to thank the generous giver.

Prof. Engelsma’s advice to young men who are considering the ministry of the Word to be their calling is to continue and not give up considering the ministry too quickly. Your consideration of the ministry may itself be an indication that you are called. “We need godly, able men, who have natural gifts and who love the churches. It is a grand work with precious rewards, though demanding.”

There are changes Prof. Engelsma would like to see in the thinking, attitudes and behavior of the young people, and they are the same changes he would like to see in himself and other parents. They include: more zeal for God; more love of doctrine; more spirituality (piety) of life.

Prof. Engelsma is encouraged to see that our young people do have a zeal for God, do love the Word, and do live spiritual lives.