William Monsma, the founder of the MacLaurin Institute (now MacLaurinCSF) died on Monday, June 15, 2015 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
William, working as a campus minister with academic training (he had a PhD in theoretical physics as well as an MDiv), understood long before most others that there was a problem with the way that Christians related to our secular universities, and to the life of the mind more broadly. He saw the need for Christians to be faithful not just in their private lives, but also in their public lives as students, scholars, and workers. You can get a taste of William’s thinking and teaching by listening to a recording of a lecture he gave for us in 2002 on “The Star of Bethlehem and the Wise Men.”
William’s vision led to his founding of the MacLaurin Institute in 1982, making it one of the first institutions of its kind (there are now dozens of study centers on campuses around the country). William, through his work here at the University of Minnesota, profoundly impacted countless students, faculty, and colleagues. We’ve collected tributes to William from colleagues and friends at the university—if you knew William, in any context, we’d love for you to add your own tribute in the comments section below.
Our mission at MacLaurinCSF is built on William’s founding vision: to nurture a community of faithful Christian witness here at the University of Minnesota, a community in which our faith permeates both private and public life, including the work we do every day. Like William, we understand that all the world is God’s, and that as Christians we must seek to understand and undertake our work in light of this basic reality.
In William’s obituary, William’s family requests that memorials be sent either to Struthers Parkinson’s Center or to MacLaurinCSF. You can give a memorial gift to us by visiting our giving page, then entering your gift amount in the “William Monsma Memorial” field.
William was a faithful and courageous servant of Jesus Christ. The work that he began is still bearing glorious fruit—and we expect that it will continue to bear fruit for many decades to come. Like his Savior, he loved the world well. It was a profound honor to have known and learned from him, and now to be playing a part in carrying his legacy forward. We look forward to being reunited in the New Creation!
God’s gracious comfort be with the Monsmas in these days.
Tributes to William Monsma
William Monsma started the MacLaurin Institute in 1982 with the vision of creating a community of scholars who would put Jesus first and everything else second, but the “everything else,” which included their scholarship, would be done with the greatest rigor and integrity. William exemplified that approach in his own life, and I think he must have been pleased to see his vision being realized in MacLaurinCSF’s current work. We should all hope to contribute even one idea as good as the MacLaurin Institute to God’s glory.
~Bryan Dowd, Professor, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota
I was saddened to hear about Bill Monsma’s passing. That sadness was mixed with some warm memories of the days when Bill and I were colleagues together at Calvin College. The influence of Abraham Kuyper and “world and life view” perspectives were very much in the air at Calvin in those days–so much so that much of it was taken for granted. Bill, however, linked that tradition with some exciting new things he had learned from Francis Schaeffer, and he was genuinely enthusiastic about the task of distinctively Christian teaching and scholarship. For me that made him a stimulating conversation partner. I learned from him and was inspired by the way he pursued the intellectual calling with deep devotion to scholarly excellence. I am deeply grateful for all that he accomplished—in Grand Rapids and, subsequently, in the Twin Cities—for the cause of bringing the claims of the Gospel to bear directly on the life of the mind.
~Richard J. Mouw, President Emeritus and Professor of Faith and Public Life, Fuller Theological Seminary
The news of William Monsma’s death is sad, but it is also joyous, a preface really to the “New Creation.” Bill, as we all affectionately called him, was a tireless faith warrior, even when he was limited physically. The world has need of people like Bill. Having served his generation well, he can now rest; and may his memory last on this planet, too, as long as there exist people who were touched by his work.
~Theo Stavrou, Professor, Department of History, University of Minnesota
I will forever be grateful to God that William so freely mentored me as a young campus minister fresh to the University of Minnesota during the mid 1980s.
I often struggled with deep theological issues relating to my encounters with international students, but Bill always helped make better sense of those challenges as he introduced me to the richness of Reformed thought. He was truly generous with his mind, as he was with most everything else in his life.
That I was privileged to serve with him at MacLaurin Institute, and as his successor, was all icing on the cake. To God be the Glory.
~Bob Osburn, Teaching Specialist, College of Education and Human Development / Director, Wilberforce Academy
I met William Monsma at the University of Minnesota shortly after arriving as a doctoral student. I became interested in his work leading something called the MacLaurin Institute (namesake of a mathematician), but quickly become even more interested in his insights, winsomeness, range in ideas, and kindness.
Talking with a mutual friend on hearing the news of William’s leaving, she mentioned how important, energetic, and faithful Bill and Mary Beth Monsma were in bold endeavors, including helping get a much-needed bookstore started—while William was completing his PhD in Physics—with intellectual, personal, and practical energy.
William also had full seminary training—a bit like John Polkinghorne—and very functional ability in Greek and Hebrew. He was remarkably enthusiastic in discussing number, quark, bios, beast, person, trinity and community, and culture—all in light of the reality of mark-missing, woundedness, and redemption. William’s exegetical labor was living the grace and love of Christ, via crucis: loving the university and those studying, laboring, researching, and sometimes wandering bereft in it. He also related the university as a sanctifying and sanctifiable vocation (with exemplars including Rutherford Aris, Elving Anderson, and Paul Holmer) to people in congregations.
Mary Beth mentioned that just before William left this land of the living, an intern at the Parkinson’s care center came into the room and sang “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”: what motivated William, and, as he liked to say, the whole of this most wounded yet gloriously yearning reality.
~Kirk Allison, Director, Program in Human Rights and Health, University of Minnesota
I remember when I first met William and Mary Beth. It was at Hope Church’s Family Camp. At that meeting, he had just begun planning for the MacLaurin Institute and I was attracted to the idea. As planning went forward, William asked me to join the Founding Board for the Institute. I was pleased to do that and served on the board for several years.
William was a wonderful teacher of the Bible. I enjoyed his teaching at Hope for many years and always joined his classes when I could. His vision of a program that would minister to University of Minnesota faculty and staff filled an important place in the life of the Christian faculty member as well as staff and graduate student. His work goes on as a testimony to his vision and commitment. We will miss him.
~Hal Miller, Dean (retired), College of Continuing Education, University of Minnesota