Background. Former Michigan State Senator Gary Byker (1920-1997) and his wife, Henrietta (Blankespoor) Byker (b. 1921), led very active lives raising and educating six children while at the same time engaging in farming, business, and politics on the local and state level. They served and supported a variety of civic and charitable endeavors, including non-profit organizations, churches, and both Christian and public schools. Senator Byker served in the infantry during World War II, and without having attended high school, he studied history and sociology at Calvin College, graduating in 1954. He taught for a year in the Department of Sociology at Calvin before pursuing graduate studies at the University of Michigan. He served in the Michigan Senate from 1968 to 1979.
Senator and Mrs. Byker believed that their lives were part of the seamless web of
God’s creation, that every square inch of this world is subject to the lordship of Jesus Christ. They saw the political, social, and economic dimensions of this world through the lens of biblical revelation and from a distinctively Calvinist/Kuyperian perspective. From this perspective, the inter-relatedness of politics, society, and the economy is an essential characteristic of all human activity and interaction. The Bykers appreciated the insights into these dimensions of reality and their inter-relatedness provided by the Bible, Greek and Roman classics, and the writings of St. Augustine, William Shakespeare, the Protestant reformers, Edmund Burke, and Alexis deTocqueville, and in the modern age by Abraham Kuyper, Max Weber, and Winston Churchill, among others.
Purpose. Many of the most influential thinkers of the modern age have stressed the interrelatedness of politics, society and the economy. The disciplines of political science, sociology and economics have arisen to study these fields, and have developed powerful insights. Yet no one discipline can provide a fully orbed analysis of the complex events, forces and ideas that sweep across our common life. Interdisciplinary studies, which link and merge approaches from these disciplines, have added dimension to our understanding of public life. In order to promote such interdisciplinary study, and to foster the integration of Christian perspectives in the social science disciplines, Calvin College proposes the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Christian Perspectives on Political, Social and Economic Thought.
This chair will provide a comprehensive, Reformed Christian approach to the ways in which human interactions and structures are shaped and influenced by the dynamics of creation, the fall, redemption, and historical development. As such, the chair is designed to honor Senator and Mrs. Byker’s understanding of the contributions Christians can make when they integrate their faith with service in the political, social, and economic arenas.
The primary goals of the chair will be to enhance the training and preparation of students for lives of service in God’s global kingdom and to further the development of ideas and strategies that can provide the foundation for effective involvement by Christian individuals, churches, and organizations in politics, social policy, and economic development. Examples of the realms of action that would benefit from such foundational Christian thinking include:
(1) elective politics, as guided by a Christian understanding of political, social, and economic dynamics;
(2) third-world political, social, and economic development, which will be important for continued improvement in the quality of life and evangelism efforts in those regions; and
(3) engagement with the dominant culture and its institutions in a variety of professions. Christians need to understand the culture and its political and economic dynamics and be motivated to participate in it to provide corrective and leavening influences.