“God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on His investments.”
At once a father, professor, librarian, editor, publisher, and author, Lester DeKoster leaves a powerful legacy that resonates far beyond the borders of his school and denomination. In 1951 DeKoster became director of the library at Calvin College and Seminary, affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During his tenure at the college, DeKoster was influential in expanding the holdings of what would become the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies, one of the preeminent collections of Calvinist and Reformed texts in the world. DeKoster also amassed an impressive personal library of some 10,000 books, which includes a wide array of sources testifying to both the breadth and depth of his intellectual vigor.
DeKoster was a professor of speech at the college, and enjoyed taking up the part of historic Christianity and confessional Reformed theology in debates on doctrinal and social issues that pressed the church throughout the following decades. One target of his sharp wit lamented, “It’s been a long time ago that I was so chastised, and that publicly.” But both his public debates and private correspondence were marked by a spirit of charity that tempered and directed the needed words of rebuke.
One of the pressing issues of his time was the rise of communism during the Cold War. In 1962 DeKoster authored a landmark volume, Communism & Christian Faith, in which he explored communism and Marxism as a religion, an alternative to and competitor with Christianity. This book goes on to lay out the challenge presented by Marxism and the necessary steps for proceeding along an “anti-communist” and positively Christian program, characterized by a call to both “discern” and “love” enemies of the faith. As part of this project DeKoster fought the spread of Marxist economic ideology into Christian churches through liberation theology. To safeguard church leaders from this insidious threat, he authored Liberation Theology: The Church’s Future Shock, The Deacon’s Handbook, and The Elder’s Handbook. “The Lord God is a free enterpriser,” he wrote. “This is one reason why Karl Marx, who was not a free enterpriser, rejected God.” For DeKoster, the free enterprise system made possible good stewardship of God’s gifts because “all of God’s gifts to mankind are as a divine investment upon which the Investor expects full return.”
After his retirement from Calvin College in 1969, DeKoster labored for a decade as the editor of The Banner, the denominational magazine of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. This position provided him with another platform from which to critically engage the life of the church and the world. During this time DeKoster also launched, in collaboration with Gerard Berghoef (a longtime elder in the church) and their families, the Christian’s Library Press, a publishing endeavor intended to provide timely resources both for the church’s laity and its leadership.
In God’s Yardstick, first published in 1980, DeKoster describes the concept of stewardship as a governing concept in the Christian life. DeKoster contends that “basic stewardship is concerned with sweetening human relationships in our everyday world.” DeKoster would further identify the basic form of stewardship with the concept of work, intended to shape the soul of the worker to that of obedient righteousness. “While the object of work is destined to perish,” observes DeKoster, “the soul formed by daily decision to do work carries over into eternity.” It is this comprehensive and all-encompassing vision that characterizes the legacy of Lester DeKoster, a lifetime of stewardship in service of the King of kings and Lord of lords.