Northwestern College is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, a denomination whose beliefs have been set forth in such major documents of the Reformation as the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of the Synod of Dort, and also in the early church’s Apostles’, Athanasian and Nicene Creeds. The Reformed tradition upholds the universal Christian teaching of one God in Trinity-the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-who is the sovereign, gracious, holy, electing, covenant-keeping God whose Kingdom is both here and now and yet to come. God the Father is the creator, governor and sustainer of all that exists. God the Son, whose incarnation, atoning death and victorious resurrection are central to God’s redemptive plan, is Lord over all of life and thought, necessitating Christian involvement in reforming society and culture. God the Holy Spirit works to restore the creation and to bring about the obedience of faith through Christian discipleship.
The Reformed tradition upholds the central Protestant affirmations of the sole authority of Scripture in matters of belief and life, justification of sinners by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and the priesthood of all believers. It emphasizes an educated ministry and laity, a respect for the church of all times and places, and a representative, or presbyterial, form of church government. The church is called to praise God in worship, giving an important place to the preaching of the Word and to the sacraments. The church is evangelical, catholic and apostolic, commissioned to proclaim the gospel to all peoples, to recognize and develop the international fellowship of believers, and to serve as God’s agent of reconciliation and transformation in a world torn apart by sin.
A brief history of Northwestern College
Northwestern is a Christian college in the Reformed tradition. That tradition goes back to the 16th- century Protestant Reformation and to the work of John Calvin, the reformer of Geneva. The Calvinist churches spread throughout continental Europe, the British Isles and the rest of the English-speaking world, including North America, where their best-known representatives have been the Puritans and the Presbyterians. Reformed Christianity was the dominant religious influence in the formative years of the United States. In the early 17th century, Dutch Calvinist immigrants settled in what is now New York, where the first Reformed church was organized in 1628. This makes the Reformed Church in America, Northwestern’s sponsoring denomination, one of the oldest Christian bodies in the United States.
The more immediate background for Northwestern is provided by a second Dutch migration to the New World, this time to the Midwest in the 19th century. A religious revival, accompanied by a desire for freedom of religious expression and for a better life in general, led thousands of Dutch Reformed people to emigrate to the United States. Their best-known colonies were Holland, Michigan, and Pella, Iowa, both begun in 1847. Most of these immigrants soon joined the Reformed Church in America. In the 1870s some Pella residents, led by the enterprising Henry Hospers, moved to inexpensive, fertile land in northwestern Iowa, about forty miles north of Sioux City. They named their chief town “Orange City,” after the Dutch royal house. Today Orange City is a county seat and a growing municipality of 5,600 people with significant light industry in the midst of a prosperous agricultural region. It is the center of the largest concentration of Dutch Americans west of Michigan. A large majority of the community’s residents are regular church- goers, most of them associated with either the Reformed Church in America or its sister denomination, the Christian Reformed Church.
In 1872, the Reverend Seine Bolks became the first pastor of Orange City’s First Reformed Church. He earnestly desired to establish a Christian classical academy that would prepare students for college and ultimately for ministry in the Reformed Church in America. After considerable economic hardship in the 1870s, the area’s Dutch Reformed people, led by “Father” Bolks and Henry Hospers, incorporated the Northwestern Classical Academy on July 19, 1882, with the motto “Deus est lux” (God is light). Hospers gave much of the land on which Northwestern is located. Zwemer Hall, the first permanent building, was erected in 1894; it is now the college’s administrative center and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
As the academy grew, the curriculum expanded to embrace modern subjects such as education and business in addition to classical studies such as Latin. Soon academy graduates included educators and other professionals.
As new opportunities arose, the Board of Trustees approved new programs. In 1928 the academy added a junior college. The junior college became a four-year teacher training college, with the third year beginning in 1959 and the fourth year in 1960. The spring of 1961 marked both the first graduating class of the four-year college and the last graduating class of the academy, which ceased operation. Four years later, the Board of Trustees approved the development of a liberal arts program at Northwestern. Since that time, the college has significantly developed its academic program; in 1970 the North Central Association granted the college full accreditation.
The last two decades have seen important changes. These include several new academic and co-curricular programs, a substantial increase in the number of faculty members who have terminal degrees and who are active in research and publication, and growing numbers of students drawn from outside the region, the nation and the Reformed Church in America.
Now in its second century, Northwestern, a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, has achieved recognition as an intentionally Christian liberal arts college. As in the past, Northwestern looks to the future with confidence and with faith that God will continue to guide its efforts.
Northwestern and the liberal arts
Northwestern College looks back to the ancient Hebrew and early Christian communities, which placed knowledge of God and of the Scriptures at the center of all learning and emphasized wisdom and right living as proper results of education. Northwestern also claims the liberal arts tradition as its own. That tradition traces its roots to ancient Greece and Rome, when free men were trained for participation in society. Medieval Europe continued that tradition, requiring the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music) as foundations for further study in the higher sciences of medicine, theology and law. The Renaissance, in its interest in returning to the classical sources of Western thought, added the study of ancient languages and literature while also emphasizing that learning should result in ethical living, not mere speculation. The Reformation then combined concerns of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as it placed theology, and scriptural studies in particular, at the center of education and called all people not only to know God but also to serve him.
The scientific revolution and the Enlightenment ushered in a renewed interest in the natural world and a new approach to truth that stressed experience, observation and human reason. These developments brought both benefits and problems. Perhaps chief among the latter was the Enlightenment tendency to ignore the Christian theological presuppositions that informed previous intellectual efforts. Even Christian colleges have felt these effects, although many have remained committed to a Christ- centered view of life and to the important role of the liberal arts in developing such a view.
Throughout the development of the liberal arts tradition, the major purposes have been to understand the human and the humane; to liberate and enlarge the intellect to develop-through study and contemplation over time-habits of thought and commitment that become part of a comprehensive worldview; and to refine basic and liberating skills such as communication, critical thinking and decision-making. As a liberal arts college infused with a distinctively Christian perspective, Northwestern seeks to teach and practice the unity and universality of God’s truth. That begins with a general education program which includes biblical and theological studies, as well as foundational courses in the humanities and natural and social sciences. Beyond this solid base, Northwestern offers majors and pre-professional programs that seek to broaden and deepen the understanding of truth, beauty and justice, and to prepare students for lives of service and work to the glory of God.