Dr. Allan Janssen, March 31, 1948 – April 3, 2020
April 5, 2020
The Reverend Allan Jay Janssen, Ph.D., affiliate professor emeritus at NBTS and General Synod Professor emeritus of the Reformed Church in America (RCA), died of complications from the COVID-19 virus on Friday, April 3, 2020, at St. Peter’s Medical Center, in Albany, New York.
Born in 1948, Al was the oldest in a family of “preacher’s kids.” He grew up in Iowa, graduated from Central College in Pella, Iowa, and then graduated from the Bi-Level Multi-Site program, an attempt at innovative theological education in the RCA which allowed Master of Divinity candidates to study at both NBTS and Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He served as pastor to RCA congregations in Port Ewen, New York; Selkirk, New York; and Glen Rock, New Jersey. While at Selkirk, he played a key role in the judicial case that opened the office of RCA Minister of the Word and Sacrament to women; this also helped to cement his reputation as one of the leading thinkers in contemporary Reformed polity. Also while at Selkirk, he received a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy at the University at Albany. While at Glen Rock, he earned a doctorate at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Beginning with Gathered at Albany (Eerdmans, 1995), a history of Albany Classis, Al authored four volumes in The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, editing two others and providing essays for an additional three, making him the biggest single contributor to the hundred-plus-volume series. Two of the books he authored were two editions of Constitutional Theology: Notes on the Book of Church Order of the Reformed Church in America (Eerdmans, 2000 and 2018), used by students at both seminaries and the MFCA.
Allan Janssen began teaching at NBTS in 1999, and was appointed an affiliate faculty member in 2006; that same year, he began teaching for the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency. He was elected to the office of General Synod Professor in 2012, after the office was again opened to faculty who were not tenured—this made him the first synod professor to simultaneously serve as a parish pastor since 1819. While at NBTS, he was also a strong supporter of and active participant in the Reformed Church Center (RCC), continuing to serve on the RCC Committee after his retirement in 2018, and even registering to take part in an RCC program on March 31st before being hospitalized.
In the NBTS faculty, in the last two decades of his life, Al became a deeply valued colleague. There was no mistaking his identity as a pastor, and his was a pastoral presence, reflected in the depth and significance of his interactions with others. He was also in every sense of the word a theologian, who read and studied at least as extensively as anyone else around the faculty table, and for whom it was in his very being to be engaged with scripture and tradition, in broad cultural context. But though it would be accurate then to call him a “pastor/theologian,” it would still not quite be adequate. For the way in which the pastor and the theologian in Al met and became one, was distinctively shaped by a doctrine of the Church as (in phrases he made familiar to those who knew him) “constituted by God in Christ through the Spirit” in Word and Sacrament, and a “foretaste of the kingdom.” Understood in that way, the Church was itself an article of faith and not merely a setting where faith is experienced. This was a doctrine that Al could indeed explain very well. But better yet, he lived it, in his commitments and his relationships; and through his life he enriched us all.
There will be a family graveside service which, because of the conditions imposed by the current pandemic, will be private. A memorial liturgy will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in his memory to New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, NJ or to Room for All.