In memoriam Allan J. Janssen (March 31, 1948 – April 3, 2020)
On April 3, 2020, Allan J. Janssen died of complications from the corona virus at the age of 72. In Allan many of us lost not only a widely respected theologian and colleague, but also a dedicated pastor, mentor and friend.
Allan grew up in Iowa and graduated from Central College in Pella. He received his M.Div. from a short-lived joint program between New Brunswick Seminary and Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Allan became a minister of the Reformed Church in America serving congregations in Port Ewen (New York), Selkirk (New York) and Glen Rock (New Jersey). During his time in Selkirk he received a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy at the University at Albany. He also played an important role in opening the office of RCA Minister to women and gradually he became one of the leading thinkers in Reformed polity and church order.
Honours and publications
In 2005 he received his doctorate from the Free University Amsterdam on a study titled Kingdom, Office, and Church: A Study of A. A. van Ruler’s Doctrine of Ecclesiastical Office. His supervisor was Bram van de Beek, IRTI’s first director, and Christo Lombard. This study expresses Allan’s love for Dutch theology in general and for Van Ruler in particular, which also regularly brought him to the Netherlands. Allan started teaching at New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 1999 and was appointed an affiliate faculty member in 2006. He was elected to the office of General Synod Professor in 2012, when the office was opened to non-tenured faculty, which made it possible to simultaneously serve as a parish pastor. Among his publications are Gathered at Albany (Eerdmans, 1995), a history of Albany Classis, and two editions of Constitutional Theology: Notes on the Book of Church Order of the Reformed Church in America (Eerdmans, 2000 and 2018), which is used in church polity courses for students of theology. Allan was also a translator and among his published translations are The Netherlands Reformed Church, 1571-2005 (Eerdmans, 2006) and Oepke Noordmans: Theologian of the Holy Spirit (Eerdmans, 2013) both by Karel Blei.
Responsibilities in IRTI
Al joined the IRTI Network already in the early years and attended many of its biennial international conferences. As an IRTI member and member of the IRTI Advisory Board he commented on Position Papers, joined discussions about the network’s future developments and presented his own papers, always thinking from broad theological perspectives with an open mind to what is going on in the world and with a deep concern for justice. In 2015 he took almost all the responsibilities for the local organization of the IRTI conference in New Brunswick on ‘Liturgy and Ethics’. With his remarkable sense of humor, he arranged all kind of things, varying from lodgings for those guests who arrived already before the start of the conference and participation of colleagues to guided tours and a festive dinner on Saturday evening in the buildings of the seminary, including providing us with some bottles of wine, which normally was not allowed. He conducted the Sunday church service at the Reformed Church in New Brunswick preaching the Word of God with a good sense of what this congregation needs and how to address a community of international theologians at the same time. We were all warmly invited to share meals with the members of this congregation. This all expressed what the church is all about, theologically speaking, and Al’s love for the church. It also showed Allan as a theologian and a minister at the same time.
One of his dearest activities was the organization of summer schools in the Netherlands for American theological students, introducing them to the world of Dutch Reformed theology, bringing them in conversation with Dutch theologians and their historical and cultural backgrounds. In 2014 the summer school took place in the lecture rooms of the Protestant Theological University, which recently had moved to a wing of the buildings of the Free University in Amsterdam. That year, only a small group of students attended the summer school. It must be at that time that we got the idea to extend the summer school by making it part of the IRTI network and asking Hungarian, Romanian, Moluccan and Dutch students from various universities and institutes to join us, which was realized in 2016 and 2018. With new energy Allan attracted a number of participants from New Brunswick.
Warm and dedicated colleague
In 2019 Allan felt that it was wise to hand over the IRTI responsibilities in the Advisory Board and with regard to the summer school to others. Matthew van Maastricht, his successor in New Brunswick, took over Al’s responsibilities for the summer school. Yet till recently, Allan planned to join the summer school in July again, this time just as a participant. As IRTI community we will miss a warm and dedicated colleague and theological friend.