Interview with an Alumnus
February 07, 2013
Rev. Neil Tolsma (M.Div ’65) recently published a book titled This is Love, available at the Westminster Bookstore. We had the opportunity to interview Rev. Tolsma about his new book, his time at Westminster, and the influence of Westminster’s professors on his many years as a pastor.
What degree did you pursue while at Westminster?
I need to say how much I appreciate my experience at Westminster. I was there when Van Til, Murray, Clowney, Woolley, Skilton, and Kline were some of my teachers, so you can imagine the kind of solid footing I had in both systematic theology and biblical theology through their teaching. If I have been a good preacher, pastor, and counselor over the years, it’s in large part due to what I learned from them at Westminster.
Where did you go after Westminster?
What initiated your thoughts in writing the book, and what helped you along the way in writing it?
You mentioned some of the professors who had a profound impact on you during your time at Westminster – do you have any stories from your interactions with them?
Edmund Clowney also had such an impact on my preaching and understanding of looking at scripture in a biblical/theological fashion, which you can see reflected in my book. Kline opened my eyes to scripture in a tremendous way. I had grown up in a Christian home and heard hundreds of sermons, but his teaching helped move me beyond what I knew before in a wonderful way as I studied what all these men were saying from scripture and saw that it was true. Now, almost 50 years late, having studied the bible constantly day by day, I can say that they gave me a key to scripture and the riches of scriptures, which I’ve appreciated.
What are some other ways that your experience at Westminster has shaped your ministry in Florida and Wisconsin, and what are some things you would say to encourage a current student?
To current students, I would say that while you’re at Westminster, do the work and make sure you do the readings. Apply yourself and spend time to absorb as much as you can while you’re there. Talk to the professors as much as you can. I did not do enough of that. They’re busy men, but ask them questions.
I’ve met men who in their preaching seem to have ignored all the education they received from Westminster. It’s hard work, but if you’re willing to do the hard work in those early years, it gets much easier as you go along, and you begin to think of scripture according to those principles that you’ve learned. I look at the Bible and immediately think with a biblical/theological understanding, and how a passage relates to Christ. Clowney helped open my eyes to that, especially in his book Preaching and Biblical Theology.
One final question – Now that you’ve finished writing your book, do you have any plans to write another?