More on Stek, His Festschrift, and His Church

Make no mistake about it: the late great John Henry Stek was a churchman. He attended his church’s seminary, was ordained to its Ministry of Word and Sacrament, and after a few years of active pastoral ministry, was called by it to teach at his alma mater. This churchly summons he attended to faithfully, and he remained at Calvin Seminary until his retirement. Stek’s bibliography is littered with references to publications that bespeak vigorous engagement in the life of his church: among others, the Reformed Journal, Torch and Trumpet, Insight, the Reformed Review, Perspectives, and of course, The Banner. And his involvement in the project that would become his crowning achievement, the (T)NIV with their respective Study Bibles, began with with his defense of the proposal for a new English translation of the Bible at the Christian Reformed Church‘s Synod of 1957, which he attended as a delegate. Such dedicated churchmanship in a Bible translator should come as no surprise, for even as it takes a church to raise an exegete for the church, it also takes a church to raise a translator for the church.

His Festschrift paints a clear picture of Stek’s churchly commitments: over two-thirds of its contributors were “former and present students, colleagues and friends at Calvin Theological Seminary, former and present members of the Old Testament Club at the seminary, . . . [and] fellow members of Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan”1. Further, Leder’s short biographical introduction describes powerfully and succinctly the enormous influence of this churchly context in the making of the man. Of course, Stek himself was keenly aware of it, and, again, it is hardly surprising that in his essay for the Youngblood Festschrift (to which I made reference in my previous post and which I have since discovered may be partially viewed online), he brings himself into the discussion of the history of the NIV in the section entitled “The Role of the Christian Reformed Church.” A little later, he makes it clear that he joined the committee discussions between the CRC and the National Association of Evangelicals, which would eventually bring about his life-long association to the (T)NIV project, because he had been called to serve on the faculty of his church’s seminary. Leder is right, then, to note that Stek contributed to “the Christian Reformed Church in North America as a minister of the Word and sacraments [sic] and a professor of Old Testament in its seminary, and to the church at large through his publications and work with the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible”2in that order, because the general clearly flowed from the particular.

In addition to shedding light upon the (churchly) making of the man, the Stek Festschrift is a remarkable compilation of essays that deserves a wide readership. I have already presented the Table of Contents, and will now reproduce the editor’s description of the essays:

“In light of John H. Stek’s work with the biblical text in the classroom, with TaNaK [the “Old Testament club” at Calvin], and as an NIV editor, and in view of the consequences of his teaching for preaching and theology in the church of Christ, the essays in this volume have been organized in three parts, each of which reflects an aspect of the movement from text to sermon: access to the text itself and a methodology that aids in understanding; a careful reading of the text itself, leading towards suggestions for preaching; and a theological reflection on preaching in the church.

In Part One, Kenneth L. Barker and Ronald F. Youngblood explain the importance of a good translation, how such a translation comes into existence, and the reasons for addressing a specific audience.  . . . Barry L. Bandstra, using 2 Kings 5, examines the usefulness of discourse analysis for exegesis.

Part Two contains exegetical essays that move from a close reading of the text towards some suggestions for preaching. Texts were selected from the sections of Scripture taught by Stek at Calvin Seminary: Pentateuch (Koopmans), Former Prophets (Leder, Vannoy), the Writings (Bosma, Seerveld, Waltke, Wolters). It is not important to explain how two essays that focus on Proverbs 10 came to be included. Call it providential serendipity. When I received the second essay on this text, I took some time to think about this unexpected complication, consulted with colleagues, and contacted the authors (Waltke and Seerveld). Each received a copy of the other’s essay; neither objected to both being included. Let us take these essays, then, as an example of a fact in the history of exegesis: scholars who study the same chapter of Scripture come to conclusions that differ on the extent of the text, its structure, syntactical constructions, and so on. What better place to find such essays than in a volume honoring a careful exegete.

Essays in Part Three reflect theologically on the life of the text in the church through preaching and application (Bolt, Plantinga, Greidanus). And Roy M. A. Berkenbosch’s sermon in Samson is a fitting tribute to a teacher whose classroom work with the Samson narrative was inspiring. Paul W. Fields closes this volume with an up-to-date [1998] bibliography of John Henry Stek”3.

Again, avail yourselves of the opportunity to obtain a reasonably-priced copy of this book, and join the chorus that praises the life and work of John Stek.

(N. B.: Stek’s ecclesiastical obituary is undoubtedly due to appear, as is usual, in next month’s issue of The Banner. I will call attention to it once it is published and available online.)


1 Arie C. Leder, “John Henry Stek, Professor of Old Testament from 1963 through 1990,” in Arie C. Leder (ed.), Reading and Hearing the Word: From Text to Sermon. Essays in Honor of John H. Stek (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary/CRC Publications, 1998), page 7. Brackets mine.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., page 14. Brackets mine.


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