Biography of Joel Beeke

Joel Beeke

Joel Beeke served as president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary from its founding in 1995 until 2023. He presently serves as the seminary’s chancellor and professor of systematic theology and homiletics. He is a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan (since 1986), editor of the Puritan Reformed Journal and the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, board chairman of Reformation Heritage Books, president of Inheritance Publishers, and vice-president of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society.

Joel Robert Beeke (born December 9, 1952) is an American Reformed theologian who is a pastor in the Heritage Reformed Congregations and the chancellor of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Under the oversight of the Heritage Reformed Congregations, Beeke helped found Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in 1995, where he served as president until he assumed the chancellorship in 2023. He teaches there as the professor of homiletics, systematic theology, and practical theology. Beeke has also taught as adjunct faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (now Cornerstone Theological Seminary); he was an adjunct professor of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1993 to 1998; he lectured in homiletics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California from 1995 to 2001; and he has lectured at dozens of seminaries around the world.

Beeke founded Reformation Heritage Books in 1994. He was the president and editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books from 1994 to 2022 and has been the board chairman since 2022. He is the editor of the Puritan Reformed Journal and The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth magazine, the periodical of the Heritage Reformed Congregations; he is the president of Inheritance Publishers, a ministry that republishes sermons in the Reformed tradition from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries; and he is the vice president of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society.

Beeke has written extensively on systematic and historical theology, particularly on the Puritans, Calvinism, holiness, assurance, and the doctrines of grace, as well as on pastoral ministry, biblical family life, and Christian living. Through his preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and seminary leadership, Beeke promotes the experiential piety and preaching of the Puritans as well as the Reformers, the seventeenth-century Scottish Presbyterians, and the Dutch divines of the Nadere Reformatie. In recognition of Beeke’s contributions to the church and the academy, particularly his impact on the renaissance of interest in Puritan theology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a Festschrift entitled Puritan Piety: Writings in Honor of Joel R. Beeke was published in 2018, including contributions from Richard A. Muller, Chad Van Dixhoorn, Michael A. G. Haykin, Sinclair B. Ferguson, and W. Robert Godfrey.

Joel Robert Beeke was the fourth of five children and the third son born to John Beeke (1920–1993) and Johanna (née Van Strien) Beeke (1920–2012) on December 9, 1952, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Beeke’s father, John Beeke, was born in Krabbendijke, the Netherlands, and emigrated to the United States with his family when he was seven years old. John and Johanna Beeke were devout Christians and raised their children in the Netherlands Reformed Congregations. John Beeke worked as a carpenter and served as a ruling elder in the Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Kalamazoo for forty years.

According to Beeke, when he was nine years old, he first sensed the presence of God when he felt the powerful comfort of God answering one of his prayers. From that time, Beeke began reading books authored by the Puritans that he found in his father’s bookcase, beginning with John Bunyan's Life and Death of Mr. Badman. Instead of playing sports with his brothers after school as he was accustomed, Beeke read extensively over the next six months. Although he felt conviction for sin at this time, Beeke’s initial interest in theology and spirituality began to wane.

In 1967, when Beeke was about fourteen years old, he defended the existence of God before an atheist teacher at Milwood Junior High School in Kalamazoo, but he became troubled that he had no personal relationship with the God whose existence he defended.That summer, he joined his brother and his brother’s friend on a road trip to the western United States, hoping to experience a sense of God’s presence by admiring nature.

In Yellowstone National Park, while Beeke’s brother and his brother’s friend were searching for lost car keys, Beeke went into his tent and prayed desperately for a sense of God’s presence. When he finished praying, he felt a hard object under his knees and noticed that the keys were under the sleeping bag on which he was kneeling. According to Beeke, “For the first time in my life, I felt contact—real contact—with God. It was like God was right there in the car, and right there in my heart. And what instantly happened was I truly became a lost sinner before God. The whole seven hundred miles [to Iowa], and from Iowa all the way home, I was just weeping, weeping, weeping over my sins. I was lost, and I felt like I was going to hell.”

Upon returning home, Beeke informed his closest friends that he could not spend time with them until he found God. He spent almost every evening reading the Bible and theological books. Beeke declares that he read every Puritan-authored book in his father’s bookcase.

When he was about fifteen years old, Beeke became convinced that he was reprobate, and that he had no hope of salvation, often crying himself to sleep. In May 1969, when he was sixteen years old, the Kalamazoo Netherlands Reformed Congregation called a new minister, Arie Elshout (1923–1991). Before Elshout arrived in Kalamazoo to begin his pastorate in August 1969, Beeke wrote to him and informed him of his spiritual struggles and his desire to hear the preaching of the gospel. Through Elshout’s ministry in Kalamazoo, one of Beeke’s brothers experienced conversion. Beeke and his brother began to regularly talk, pray, and weep together as they discussed God and the Bible.

After arriving in Kalamazoo, Elshout visited Beeke’s immediate and extended family. He spoke to Beeke’s maternal grandfather, who had struggled with assurance of faith his entire life. As Beeke’s grandfather expressed his spiritual struggles, Beeke recalls Elshout saying, “For you too, Mr. Van Strien, there is a way of escape in Jesus Christ through faith in Him!” Beeke declared that Elshout’s words pricked his heart “like a lightning bolt.” According to Beeke, "God spoke those words into my heart with power and authority, and for the first time in my life I could believe the gospel, embrace the gospel. . . . I saw with vivid clarity that Jesus Christ suffered for me, died for me in His passive obedience, had taken my place to pay for my sins, and that in His active obedience He obeyed the law for me, so He was perfectly righteous, and there was nothing I had to do but simply receive Him. . . . I was just overwhelmed with the gospel—its freeness, its fullness, its glory, its beauty. . . . My hands were up in the air; I was just praising God and the tears were streaming down my face."

Almost immediately after his conversion, Beeke lost his natural shyness and began to evangelize his neighbors door-to-door. Beeke described how he first sensed a powerful inward call to preach the gospel in the summer of 1969, though he initially tried to resist this call because of his young age and shy disposition. While reading the autobiography of C. H. Spurgeon, however, Beeke thought he must quit high school and to begin preaching, encouraged by Spurgeon’s youthfulness when he began his ministry. However, Beeke’s father and his minister, Arie Elshout, encouraged him to wait. During these years, Beeke regularly read the Bible and theological books until past midnight.

As a junior in high school, Beeke relinquished his ambitions of obtaining a basketball scholarship, determining instead to devote himself to preparing for the Christian ministry. After briefly serving in the United States Army Reserve, Beeke studied religion and history at Western Michigan University from 1971 to 1973 and later transferred to Thomas Edison State College, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a specialization in religious studies.

In 1974, Beeke was accepted as a theological student to the Netherlands Reformed Theological School under the tutelage of J. C. Weststrate, a minister from the Netherlands. At the age of twenty-one, Beeke was unusually young to be accepted as a ministerial student in the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, as the youngest pastor in the denomination at the time was over twice his age.

From 1974 to 1978, Beeke studied under Weststrate in St. Catharines, Ontario, earning the equivalent of a Master of Divinity degree. For the academic studies he moved with his first wife to Canada, supported by the Netherlands Reformed Congregations Student Support Fund. Beeke began preaching after completing his first year of studies. Between August 1975 and January 1976, he traveled by car for over four months to preach in every Netherlands Reformed church in the western half of the United States and Canada. During his years as a student, he preached about two hundred sermons.

Upon completing his studies under J. C. Weststrate, Beeke entered the ministry of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations. After successfully passing his candidacy examinations, he became eligible to receive a pastoral call in November 1977. After receiving calls from eleven congregations in December 1977, Beeke felt led to accept a call to serve as the pastor of the Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Sioux Center, Iowa, in January 1978. The church consisted of about seven hundred congregants. Having completed his final examination for ministry in February 1978, Beeke was installed by J. C. Weststrate, his theological instructor, on March 29, 1978, and preached his first sermon as an ordained minister from Zechariah 4:6 on March 30, 1978. He and his first wife were welcomed by the mayor of Sioux Center  Beeke was the first minister ordained in the Netherlands Reformed Congregations who was not a native Dutch speaker.

Beeke ministered as the sole pastor of the Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Sioux Center until 1981. While pastoring there, he helped found the Netherlands Reformed Christian School in Rock Valley, Iowa, serving as board president. Between 1978 and 1981, Beeke served as the moderator for vacant Netherlands Reformed churches in Rock Valley, Iowa; Corsica, South Dakota; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. From 1980 to 1992, he was the clerk of the Netherlands Reformed synod, and from 1980 to 1993, he was the president of the Netherlands Reformed Book and Publishing Committee.

In March 1981, Beeke accepted a call to serve as the minister of the Ebenezer Netherlands Reformed Church in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, a church of about seven hundred congregants. Beeke became assured of his call to Franklin Lakes after reading Luke 5:4. He preached his farewell sermon to the Netherlands Reformed congregation in Sioux Center on April 21, 1981. In August 1981, Beeke was installed as the minister of Ebenezer Netherlands Reformed Church and preached his inaugural sermon from Matthew 17:8, entitled “The Experiential Goal of the Ministry.” While pastoring at Ebenezer Netherlands Reformed Church, Beeke was the board chairman of the Netherlands Reformed school of Clifton-Franklin Lakes.

Between 1981 and 1986, Beeke served as the moderator for vacant Netherlands Reformed churches in Clifton, New Jersey; St. Catharines, Ontario; and Unionville, Ontario. From 1984 to 1993, he was the editor of Paul, the Netherlands Reformed Congregations’ missions journal, and from 1985 to 1993, he was the editor of The Banner of Truth, the Netherlands Reformed Congregations’ denominational periodical.

In 1982, Beeke published his first books, Jehovah Shepherding His Sheep and Backsliding: Disease and Cure. The same year, he coauthored the Bible Doctrine Student Workbook with his brother, James W. Beeke, the principal of Timothy Christian School in Chilliwack, British Columbia.

In 1982, Beeke enrolled in the doctoral program of Westminster Theological Seminary, where, according to his research assistant, Paul M. Smalley, “he became a student of and partner with members of the broader Reformed and Presbyterian tradition.” Initially, Beeke studied the doctrine of predestination, but after reflecting on the needs of his denomination, he changed his research focus to the doctrine of assurance. From 1984 to 1986, Beeke lectured in systematic theology at the Center for Urban Theological Studies in Philadelphia, teaching alongside Sinclair B. Ferguson, who would become a close friend throughout Beeke’s ministry. In 1985 and 1986, he lectured in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Beeke received his doctoral candidacy in June 1986. In October 1986, he accepted a pastoral call to the First Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was installed in December 1986, preaching his inaugural sermon on 2 Corinthians 4:5.

From 1986 to 1992, Beeke provided theological instruction in systematic theology, ethics, church history, liturgy, and missiology for the Netherlands Reformed Theological School. He also became the president of Inheritance Publishers, a global distributor of historic sermons in booklet form. Between 1986 and 1994, Beeke served as the moderator for vacant Netherlands Reformed churches in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Covell Avenue Netherlands Reformed Church); Kalamazoo, Michigan; South Holland, Illinois; Woodstock, Ontario; and St. Catharines, Ontario. In May 1988, Beeke earned his PhD in Reformation and Post-Reformation historical theology. His dissertation was entitled “Personal Assurance of Faith: English Puritanism and the Dutch ‘Nadere Reformatie’ from Westminster to Alexander Comrie (1640–1760)”.

In 1993, the synod of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations deposed the consistory of the First Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids. The backround was, that Beeke had been divorced from his first wife in 1988 and remarried one year later; that leads to the question if he was able to hold offices in the church, which a majority of the synod possibly denied.  A letter of the dutch sister church - the Gereformeerde Gemeenten – stated: „Our representatives, who visited your December-meeting, informed us that the discussions during your meeting appeared to have come to a deadlock. In light of that situations they raised a proposal to take a vote to see whether the Synod still had confidence in Rev. J.R. Beeke. They told us that they came to this proposal because they really did not know what could be done in this situation and that they hoped that their proposal might open a way out of an impossible situation.“  However, 780 of the one thousand members of the church could not accept the deposition of their pastor, elders, and deacons. The consistory felt compelled to form a new denomination named the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation (renamed the Heritage Reformed Congregations in 2003), while Beeke continued ministering to the church. Eight other churches soon joined the Grand Rapids congregation to form a new denomination, bringing the denominational membership to about two thousand. Following the division, Beeke helped establish a new denominational periodical entitled The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth. He also provided pulpit supply for congregations in the Heritage Reformed Congregations.

Since 1994, Beeke has served as the editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books, a ministry dedicated to publishing books in the Reformed and Puritan tradition. In 1994, he became the vice chairman of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society to disseminate the translated writings of Herman Bavinck and Dutch Nadere Reformatie writers in the English-speaking world. Beeke was an adjunct professor of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary between 1993 and 1998. Between 1995 and 2001, he was a lecturer in homiletics at Westminster Seminary California. Between 1995 and 2001, he also served as the moderator for the vacant Heritage Netherlands Reformed church in Hull, Iowa. Between 1994 and 2005, Beeke was a staff editor for Christian Observer.

In 1995, the synod of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations commissioned Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary as the denomination’s pastoral training institution. Beeke was the first and sole professor to teach at the seminary during its early years of operation. In the first year of the seminary’s operations, the four incoming students met in the garage of a private home. In 1998, the synod of the Free Reformed Churches of North America selected Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary as the training institution for their denomination’s ministerial students. During the early days of the newly formed Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations and the formation of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Beeke worked about one hundred hours per week. Since 1995, he has served as a theological instructor in homiletics, systematic theology, and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.

In 2023, Beeke transitioned from the seminary presidency to the chancellorship. As chancellor, Beeke continues promoting the vision of the seminary by writing, teaching, preaching, and speaking at conferences around the world.

Beeke has a podcast called “Doctrine for Life with Dr. Joel Beeke” and a blog called “Doctrine for Life: Biblical Truth for Experiential Living.”

Beeke was separated in 1986 and divorced in 1988 from his first wife. In 1989, Beeke married Mary Kamp, a nurse and schoolteacher. Beeke affectionately calls Mary his “queen.” Joel and Mary Beeke coauthored How Can We Build a Godly Marriage?. They have three children together. They have ten grandchildren. Beeke lives with Mary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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