Friday, 10 July 2020

In Memoriam: M. Elaine Botha

by Gideon Strauss

Belovéd of God, Elaine Botha (1938-2020) rests in peace and will rise in glory. She was a pioneering scholar, a wise mentor and a dear friend to many, and a brave voice for justice and love.

As a scholar Elaine worked primarily on metaphor and the philosophy of the social sciences, and made innovative contributions to her own Reformational tradition. She completed two doctorates at the beginning of the 1970s, one at the then Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education in her native South Africa, advised by C. N. Venter, and the other at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, advised by Hendrik Van Riessen and André Troost. She taught philosophy at the Potchefstroom University (1969 to 1995) and served as academic vice president (1995 to 2000) and director of the Dooyeweerd Centre (2000 to 2004) at Redeemer University in Canada. In 2005 she was a visiting scholar of the Center for Semiotics at Aarhus University in Denmark. She also taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Institute for Christian Studies.

Many people can attest to Elaine’s kindness and hospitality as a mentor and a friend. My own experience of her as a mentor and friend began in the early 1990s, when Elaine and Craig Bartholomew co-founded the Christian Worldview Network. The CWN brought together academics in the Reformational tradition, artists seeking a Christian imagination, and activists working with a Christian democratic vision for the political and societal transformation of apartheid South Africa. The CWN invited South Africans towards an integral vision of Christian life in its gatherings and with its magazine, The Big Picture, and continues to influence Christians making art in South Africa through its 1993 manifesto, Christians and the Arts in South Africa. But perhaps to the most enduring effect, the CWN served as a context in which many of us then in our twenties could enjoy the wise mentorship offered by Elaine.

Much of Elaine’s courage was practiced quietly and privately. In public life, she worked against the racism, misogyny, and patriarchy of Afrikaner Christian-nationalism for decades, not least so at the Potchefstroom University where she studied and taught. She was a signatory of the 1977 Koinonia Declaration, denying a biblical foundation to the racism of apartheid political theology, at a time and in a place where making such a public statement came with a considerable cost, both professionally and socially.

Late in life Elaine married Bob Goudzwaard, the Dutch Reformational economist and politician, with whom she retired in South Africa.

Along with Elaine’s friends, students, and colleagues I pray for her rest in the embrace of God and look forward to continuing our conversations in the world to come.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

In Memoriam: John H. Kok

by Bob Sweetman (with gratitude to Calvin Seerveld)

On 15 June 2020, ICS’s Senate met via Zoom to engage in that precious act of “sober second thought” around ICS’s academic life. No one knew at the time that John Kok, second-term external Senator, was in trouble. He complained of foot pain that made it difficult for him to walk, but there he was looking little worse for the wear. So, we were shocked to hear of his sudden passing at 1am on 5 July 2020. Nothing prepared us for this “bolt from the blue”: a staph infection that resisted all treatment until his body was too weak to try more aggressive interventions.

ICS and the Reformational tradition of Christian scholarship has lost a lot in John’s passing. He came into adulthood in the late 60s and early 70s as an undergraduate at Trinity Christian College, during the years when it was an epicentre of the Reformational movement in North America. Calvin Seerveld, Peter Steen, Martin Vrieze, Thomas McIntire, Robert Vandervennen made up a significant portion of the then young college’s faculty, and provided a liberal arts education with explicitly Christian verve and excitement (dubbed the ‘high church party’ within Kuyperian Christianity by long-time Calvin University History Professor Ronald Wells). John was one of many students who came under the influence of Cal Seerveld (as well as Martin Vrieze) in those days, inspired by Cal’s charismatic and imaginative teaching which gave rise to a desire to go out and do likewise.

In 1971 John moved with his wife Sanneke to The Netherlands to pursue graduate work in philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam. There he was taken under the wing of Hendrik van Riessen and later Jacob Klapwijk. John began work on his PhD thesis in 1978 and finished it in 1992 under the dual direction of Henk Hart of ICS and Abraham Bos of the Free University. In the meantime, John took a position with Dordt University (then Dordt College) in Sioux Center, IA in 1983. He worked for Dordt from then until his retirement in 2014, and in several capacities. He taught in the Philosophy Department until 1997. From then until his retirement he would serve at the decanal level, first as Dean of the Humanities and later as Dean of Research and Scholarship. In addition, he was for a time the Director of the Andreas Center for Christian Scholarship, and settled into a role as Managing Editor of Dordt College Press, a position he continued to hold after he retired. For decades he represented the Society for Reformational Philosophy (based in The Netherlands) to its members in North America. Just before retirement he was recruited by then ICS President Doug Blomberg to serve on ICS’s Senate and he became its Chair and ICS Chancellor for a term (2014-2019).

Such was the institutional context for his service of the Reformational tradition, but it does not yet communicate the tenor and texture of that service.

John Kok was a man who embodied the most characteristic (and characteristically modest) ideal of Dutch Calvinism—to be useful in the Lord’s work. John was ever useful and never flashy. If he was once inspired to go and do like charismatic Reformational speakers and teachers like H. Evan Runner, Peter Steen, or Cal Seerveld, that did not turn out to be his calling. He was called to be useful in less flamboyant ways, and in this he succeeded quietly and steadily. His work for the Society for Reformational Philosophy is a good example, but there are so many others.

In his thesis, John took on the formative background of D.H.Th. Vollenhoven as a philosopher of mathematics and logic. This was archeological work in rock hard soil. This was not yet the Vollenhoven who along with Herman Dooyeweerd would found the Reformational tradition. And yet this was the core formation in philosophy that Vollenhoven would receive, and the habits of thought he would acquire in those early years would remain important to his later work. If one was to understand how Vollenhoven went about philosophizing as a Reformational philosopher one needed to have a sense of whence he came to the idea of Reformational philosophy, for that remained operative in so many subliminal ways. So John's book Vollenhoven: His Early Development (Dordt College Press, 1992) was an instrumental support for Anthony Tol’s far more ambitious analyses of the thought of Vollenhoven over the next two decades.

One should also not forget John's long efforts to support the work of Kor Bril, Vollenhoven’s most explicit successor at the Free University. John worked for years as a translator of Reformational thought, and his dual language edition of Vollenhoven’s Introduction to Philosophy (Dordt College Press, 2005) has been instrumental in introducing Anglophones to Vollenhoven’s thought. More useful service.

Under his management, Dordt College Press has become a central provider of Reformational publications in English. One thinks especially of the volumes of Cal Seeveld’s publications, including a six-volume set of his most important articles and book chapters and his just-released study of the book of Proverbs.

What equipped John to these many humble but crucial services was his capacity to knit a close attention to detail to the sprawling vision of God’s Kingdom that is so central to the Kuyperian and Reformational scholarly imagination and intention. It was this attention to detail that allowed him to patiently work through the mathematical and logical work of the early Vollenhoven, that supported his patient work as translator and as editor, that facilitated his administrative being as dean and director and managing editor. He was careful, even fastidious, conceptually, but that care was always in service of the Creation-wide Kingdom and always suffused with a deep love of the scriptures. Indeed, the latter love took form in his heart as a delight at the opportunity to exhort from CRC pulpits in his last years.

Here was a man who served his Lord well and truly, who was a true friend of ICS. And we remember him with gratitude to God for the gift that he was to us in life.

The memorial service for John is to be held on Wednesday, July 8, at 10 am CST. The service will be live-streamed on Facebook at the Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, IA. If you wish to attend this service virtually, you will need to like their page to have access to the live-stream:

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

An ICS Update from Ron Kuipers

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the July ICS prayer letter! I hope you are healthy and staying safe, and if you do not find yourself in these fortunate circumstances, I hope you are receiving all the support, comfort, and rest you need.

I can’t believe we are moving into the heart of summer already! Tempus fugit, as they say. For me, time is flying because it has been a very busy past few months for us at ICS. Our new ‘Summer Online Learning Initiative’ is well underway, which has given me a chance to return to teaching, and our annual Board and Senate meetings are also now behind us. It has been a time to reflect on the year that has been, and to plan for the year that lies ahead. We thank God for his continued faithfulness as we conclude another academic year, and we pray that God will continue to bless our plans for the future.

Those plans just took a huge step forward, as at the end of June we successfully concluded our search for a new professor—or ‘Senior Member’—in Education to assume direction of the Educational Leadership stream of our MA program (MA-EL). I am pleased to announce that Dr. Edith van der Boom will join the ICS faculty as Assistant Professor in the Philosophy of Education and the Practice of Pedagogy beginning July 1!

Edith received her PhD in developmental psychology and education from the University of Toronto, and has also served as a sessional instructor of Education at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario. She most recently served as Director of Learning at John Knox Christian School in Oakville, Ontario. Edith brings years of classroom experience and a passion for ‘differentiated instruction’ (formerly known as ‘special education’) to her work at ICS, and is excited about this new opportunity to continue to serve the Christian school movement in Canada, as are we all.

We at ICS have not made the decision to grow our budget in this way lightly, especially given our current context of uncertainty. At the same time, the Leadership Team at ICS has determined that it is essential for us to invest in the MA-EL program in this way, so that it can enjoy the resources it needs to serve the Christian school movement in the robust way that we and our partners envision. We encourage you to join us in making this investment!

Scripture is full of stories of people stepping out in uncertainty, following what they discern to be the call of their Creator, to a place they do not know, all the while trusting that the Lord will provide them with everything they need to sustain them on their journey. Leading an educational institution into somewhat uncharted territory can feel that way at times, and so I take comfort in the many biblical stories of ordinary folks like Abraham or Mary who, in faith, find the strength to answer ‘Yes!’ to God’s call upon their lives. Theirs is the example we must strive to follow.
I wish you all God’s blessing and peace. Be well!

Ron Kuipers

Monday, 29 June 2020

Prayer Letter: July 2020

Wednesday, July 1 - Friday, July 3:

As we begin this new fiscal year, we give thanks for God’s grace and strength last year, and in particular, these past four months during the pandemic, as we worked together to accomplish our academic and fiscal goals. We have been blessed by the support of our ICS community and are encouraged in this new year to believe that God will continue to sustain us in our work.

Please pray especially for Dr. Edith van der Boom this month as she joins the ICS faculty as Assistant Professor in the Philosophy of Education and the Practice of Pedagogy. There will be many things to learn and see to in these first weeks and we ask God to bless her with the joy of discovery during this time .

Monday, July 6 - Friday, July 10:

This week, the Summer Online Learning Initiative continues with PhD candidate Dean Dettloff’s course: Set the Prisoners Free: Christianity and Prison Abolition. This completely online course invites you to imagine together what a world without prisons and policing might look like, paying close attention to issues made evident by the recent global protests against racially targeted police violence and incarceration. Please pray for Dean and all the participants as they explore throughout how Christianity funds both the ideology of mass incarceration and a spirit of prison and police abolition, asking what it might mean to proclaim release to the prisoners today.

Our second online summer course: World-viewing: An Introduction to Worldview Studies with Gideon Strauss which began on June 2nd finishes on July 9th. We continue to thank God for his grace during this time of adapting to all online courses, especially as the faculty, staff and students who are experiencing this learning opportunity for the first time.

Monday, July 13 - Friday, July 17:

Please continue to pray for the planning and execution of our Summer Online Learning Initiative taking place in July and August. Please pray for Gideon Strauss as he leads the academic program, for the staff involved in its administration and promotion, and for the faculty and students who will be teaching and taking the courses.

July being a month in which some of our staff and faculty take holidays, we ask that you pray that their time away will be refreshing and renewing. Some are travelling long distances so we ask God to grant them safe and hassle-free travels. For faculty especially, the summer months are also a valuable time for further work on research and writing projects, so we pray that this time proves fruitful for their efforts as well as their relaxation.

Monday, July 20 - Friday, July 24:

We would appreciate prayers this month as we ramp up our promotional and recruitment efforts for the Master of Educational Leadership program. This involves a series of online ‘Open Houses’ with principals and teachers in Ontario hosted by Gideon Strauss and Ron Kuipers. We are encouraged by the opportunities that have continued to present themselves this year, and are praying for a good intake of new students for the fall program.

Please pray this month for our Registrar, Elizabet, as she looks after the academic details in preparation for the beginning of the school year in September, such as new courses being approved, registration of students, course schedules, and working with the faculty to get all the course syllabi up on the website. Pray too as she works with the new students in their application process and decisions around course selection.

Monday, July 27 - Friday, July 31:

July 31st is the application deadline for ICS/CPRSE’s Undergraduate Workshop, “Evil, Resistance, and Judgment: Creating a World Fit for Human Habitation.” We have made this event available in a multi-modal format and continue to receive applications from interested students. Please pray for the success of this initiative, as well as for all the students preparing the papers for presentation this Fall.

Over the next few weeks, the Critical Faith team will interview Senior Members in anticipation of their Fall courses. This will be an opportunity for the wider community to get a sneak peak into the exciting Fall course offerings at ICS, as well as to learn about the ongoing research and scholarship currently being undertaken by our faculty. Please pray for the Critical Faith team and for our Senior Members as they talk about these exciting and important topics.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Edith van der Boom Appointed as Senior Member and MA-EL Director

The Institute for Christian Studies is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Edith van der Boom to the position of Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Education and Practice of Pedagogy, effective July 1, 2020. In this position, Edith also assumes the role of Director of the MA (Philosophy) in Educational Leadership program (MA-EL). Her years of experience in Christian education in Ontario, her ongoing relationships with fellow K-12 teachers and administrators, and her research into diverse modes of learning all serve to make Edith a powerful new contributor to the ICS community.

ICS President Ronald A. Kuipers says of the hire: "Edith's appointment to this position has truly been an answer to our prayer that God would bring ICS a worthy candidate to serve us in this strategically important position, directing a fledgling and promising professional development program that seeks to serve the leadership training needs of the Christian school movement in Canada and beyond.”

Edith joins the ICS community after having spent many years with John Knox Christian School in Oakville as a special education instructor and, most recently, as the Director of Learning there. She has also spent a number of years teaching education courses at Redeemer University in Ancaster. Edith received her PhD in developmental psychology and education from the University of Toronto, specializing in reading comprehension and diverse learning styles. She has, since then, continued to research and publish in this area, leading workshops with local schools and churches in the field of differentiated instruction in Christian education.

Edith is committed to the project of Christian education, and to guiding other Christian educators in their own teaching and learning practices. In her own words: “My teaching is rooted in a belief that each person is God’s unique creation, made for a specific purpose to serve him and bring him glory. I believe that Christian schools need to be places of inclusive education where solid foundations are provided for all students both spiritually and academically.”

As we continue to develop our MA-EL program, the combination of Edith’s enthusiasm and experience will open up many new possibilities for ICS to serve Christian K-12 schools. As President Kuipers says: “ICS has a long history of supporting Christian day schools, and I am extremely excited and hopeful that through Edith's leadership of the MA-EL program we will continue this legacy in a bold new way."

We would like to warmly welcome Edith to the ICS community, and we look forward to her vision for an MA-EL program that continually “embraces a growth mindset in each student’s journey of learning,” and to the many other ways in which she will contribute as a Senior Member to the educational life at ICS.

Monday, 8 June 2020

A Statement Against Anti-Black Racism

From the Institute for Christian Studies -

The human condition as it has been given to us by our Creator includes the wonderful diversity of all people on earth. Whenever we treat entire groups of people as though they are superfluous, or as if their lives do not matter, we sin both against our own humanity and the God we are called to image. We sin, too, when we remain silent and inert in the face of such injustice and oppression.

Silence is deadly, and indifference is brutal. This is one of the lessons being taught by the outrage and collective grief currently rocking the United States and Canada in response to the longstanding reality of police violence and societal oppression against Black lives and bodies, and precipitated most recently by the brutal murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, among far too many others. It has taken multinational protests to bring these wrongs into the light of day—and that heaps tragedy upon tragedy.

We at ICS confess that we have not done all within our power to face these realities, and address and denounce these wrongs. Privileged not to “have to” say anything, we confess that we have not used that same privilege to amplify the cries of our Black sisters and brothers as they are subjected to targeted violence, suspicion, inequality, and oppression.

But we do so now. ICS stands not only with Black communities, but also all others who have suffered the unjust material effects of white supremacist ideology, including our Indigenous sisters and brothers here in Canada. We add our voice to theirs: we must repent of these injustices, and these injustices must cease.

With this call to speak, we recognize too that we must now do the work of listening. We, individually, as well as institutionally and societally, must learn to listen to the voices and experiences of people who are not white and who do not receive the benefits of being white. We therefore pray that we might hear these current cries in the streets as the cry of and for wisdom, begging to be heard. And we pray that these cries might shape our everyday lives and direct our actions in the world, so we can join in our Creator’s redemptive effort to turn this mourning into dancing.

Our mission as a school is founded on the conviction that the gospel's message of renewal shapes our pursuit of wisdom. So in this time of anger, despair, and grief, and in light of the need for both immediate and abiding action facing our communities and our world, we hold to this promise of renewal set forth in the life of Jesus Christ, who showed us how to love one another and to respect all our sisters and brothers. Conditions can change. Wrongs can be made right. And so we pray that justice and healing may come, and that we might join cooperatively in the long work of societal and personal transformation ahead of us in humility, in earnest, and in hope.