When W. Robert Godfrey spoke to a group of Christian students at UCLA almost 25 years ago, he had no idea that college senior Joel Kim would one day take his place as President of Westminster Seminary California.
Rev. Joel Kim began serving as WSC’s fourth president on August 1, 2017, following Dr. Godfrey’s retirement. Rev. Kim received his M.Div. degree at WSC in 1997 and later obtained a Th.M. from Calvin Theological Seminary. He is a teaching elder in the PCA and has 16 years of ordained ministry experience in Presbyterian and Reformed congregations. He and his family attend New Life PCA in Escondido, CA. He chairs the Candidates and Credentials Committee of the Korean Southwest Presbytery of the PCA and has been involved with Southeast Asia Partnership. He has served WSC as Assistant Professor of New Testament since 2005.
Rev. Kim explained how his initial meeting with Dr. Godfrey set him on his WSC trajectory and formed a long-lasting relationship. “Bob Godfrey is one of the reasons I ended up at WSC. As a child of a CRC minister, I seriously considered attending another seminary.” But spending time with Dr. Godfrey during his visit to UCLA, “convinced me that I needed to stay nearby and attend WSC. During my years in seminary, he was my prayer group leader where we prayed for our denomination and our churches. Even now, he remains a trusted mentor and a dear friend from whom I learn daily.”
Dr. Godfrey said, “I am very pleased with the choice of my successor. Joel Kim is an excellent Christian, scholar, and minister, who is committed to the inerrancy of the Bible and the Reformed confessions. He will faithfully continue and advance our work here at the Seminary.”
Now that Rev. Kim has functioned as the Seminary’s president for a few months, he realizes more than ever that he has stepped into some very large shoes.
“I’ve come to appreciate my predecessors even more. They have served with so much wisdom, grace, and faithfulness,” he said, noting how each man brought “something unique” to the position of President. “Bob Strimple was a wonderful academic administrator, setting up the structure and curriculum of the institution. Bob Den Dulk was tireless in fundraising and building relationships for WSC. Bob Godfrey is such a fine speaker and teacher and promoted the school to a wide audience. Our institution is where it is because of God’s grace in providing faithful and trustworthy leaders.”
In his presidency, Kim hopes to carry on the faithfulness of previous leaders. “Like my brothers before, I want to be faithful. Faithful in teaching and upholding the unchanging and inerrant Word of God, engaging and articulating the confessional Reformed faith, and educating and modeling a life of pastor-scholar for our students. We hope to produce graduates who love the Word, serve the church, and exalt Christ in their lives and ministries.”
He additionally hopes to expand the Seminary’s worldwide outreach. “Our school is in a unique location,” he said. “We are about forty miles from the border to our south, with Mexico and Latin America as our neighbors. Head west and we face the Pacific Rim, where churches are growing and flourishing. As we continue to support and partner with local churches, we hope to engage and build up the global church, not only to bless but also to be blessed by them.”
The WSC constituency is familiar with Rev. Kim and appreciates his gifts. Donna Mastalio, a member of Christ URC in Santee, CA, has often heard him speak or preach and interacted personally with him. While she and her husband, Kim, have enjoyed a long friendship with the Godfreys, they are excited about Rev. Kim’s appointment.
“He’s a wonderful man,” she said. “The more we know of him, the more we are impressed with him as a person and as a leader.”
As Rev. Kim assumes the presidency mantle, WSC is in the middle of a visionary building project that consists of constructing 64 student apartments on the school’s campus. Commenting in the Fall 2017 WSC Update, Rev. Kim noted the hope is to provide affordable housing, especially for students from other states or countries. “We have students here from all over the country and the world. In many ways, the world is coming to us, and we are sending them out into the world.” He also expressed the hope that “this residential village will bless the students by enhancing the community of learning. This community of learning is important for seminarians who learn as much outside the classroom as inside. But just as important is this community for the spouses and children of seminarians who often do not benefit from seminary life. Our sincere hope and prayer is that this residential village will be a place of growth, both spiritually and communally.”
Dr. Godfrey’s 24 years of service were celebrated at a special event on May 24, 2017. Dr. Godfrey anticipates continued involvement with the school through assisting the new president during this transition period and teaching some classes. He said, “I will miss my contacts with students, but not the daily administrative responsibilities.”
In his retirement, Dr. Godfrey hopes to remain active in Escondido URC by teaching adult Sunday School and preaching occasionally. “I do hope to continue preaching and speaking in conferences from time to time, but probably not as much as I had been doing,” he said. He also intends to remain on the Board of Ligonier Ministries and keep serving that organization as a teaching fellow. He anticipates retirement will provide more uninterrupted time to focus on writing.
“I am working on a book on the Synod and Canons of Dort, which I hope will be completed in March, 2018, as part of the 400th anniversary of the Synod,” he said. “I have several other writing projects, including a book on a biblical defense of historic Reformed worship.”
Asked how he might advise future seminarians and young pastors, Dr. Godfrey said, “I would advise young men considering the ministry to get the best education they can to prepare them for a lifetime of studying the Bible. I’d encourage young ministers to remain confident that what the people of God need is not creativity or cleverness, but the Word of God. Preach it and teach it! Do not let it go stale in your hearts or ministries.”
He believes Reformed churches need to cultivate a “real knowledge” of the Reformed confessions and heritage. “So many alien voices inside and outside our churches would lead us away from the great inheritance that is ours of faithful, biblical Reformed teachers,” he said. “We need to get the Bible, Christ, the church, justification, and holiness right for ourselves and for generations to come. Our confessions will help us recognize the truth as we have it in the Bible.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.