Monday 17 December 2012

Merry Christmas from ICS!

Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a saviour, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

May the spirit of Christmas
fill your hearts
with joy, hope, and peace
this year and always.
With best wishes from
the Institute for Christian Studies.

(re)Discover Social Justice & Human Rights

The session summaries and videos from the Social Justice & Human Rights conference are now available! Conversation on issues dealing with social justice and human rights have continued in the months since the conference on the Centre’s blog Ground Motive, but these summaries and videos offer a look at the more concrete topics spoken on at the conference, and the questions and conversations that opened up there.

The videos and summaries have all been pulled together into the conference blog.  There is also a wonderful documentary video of the conference available.  Altogether there is about 6 hours of viewing, and there is opportunity to interact with others by means of comments on each event.  Click here to begin!

Advent Appeal 2012

We are currently in the third week of our Advent Campaign and want to thank all who have sent in their generous gifts to in response to this appeal. A copy of our appeal letter and a letter from ICS alumnus Steve van de Hoef can be read at

This is just a sampling of what our alumni are doing. We hope that Steve’s story will give you a first-hand glimpse of how vital your gift is to helping ICS through its programs to bring renewal and hope to our world.

Please donate online at, call us at 416-979-2331 ext 223 (Vidya Williams) or ext 221 (Kathy Lynch) to make a credit card donation, or mail your cheque to Institute for Christian Studies, 100-229 College St., Toronto ON M5T 1R4.

Thank you for your partnership.

Responses to the Enlightenment

The book launch for Hendrik Hart and William Sweet’s new book Responses to the Enlightenment: An Exchange on Foundations, Faith and Community was held last month. In this book, the authors approach the relation of faith to reason in different ways: Hart from the perspective of the Calvinian tradition and postmodern philosophy, and Sweet from the Catholic tradition and analytic philosophy.

For more information and to purchase a copy of this book, please visit

Monday 3 December 2012

Dec. 7 - Hendrik Hart’s Book Launch

On the evening of Friday December 7, from 7:00-8:30 ICS's Research Centre, the CPRSE, will be hosting a book launch to celebrate Hendrik Hart's and William Sweet's new book Responses to the Enlightenment: An Exchange on Foundations, Faith and Community. The launch will be held in Leonard Hall, just above Crux Books, located at 5 Hoskin Ave (Wycliffe College). There will be a presentation on the book by ICS's own Ron Kuipers, with responses to the presentation by authors Hendrik Hart and William Sweet. Refreshments will follow. For more information, please call 416 979-2331 ext 247. We hope to see you there!

ICS Welcomes New Board Members

We are pleased to welcome four new Board members, approved at the AGM held last month: James Dekker, Chris Pullenayegem, Jonathan Chan and James VanderBerg. In addition, Stewart Worden and John Valk will each continue on the Board. We look forward to working with all of them.

Special thanks go to outgoing Board members Mike den Haan, Vicki Cok and Lucy Van Wyk.

The usual administrative and financial reports were accepted and passed; thank you to all our members who voted.

Doug Blomberg Publishes Article

Senior Member Doug Blomberg recently published "Christian Schooling: Why it is Worth it" in The Christian Teachers Journal, which commemorated the twentieth year of its publication. Having published articles in the first volume, Doug was invited to contribute to this anniversary edition, in which he emphasised the impact of ICS-related publications on his career path.

Jim Olthuis Publishes Article

Senior Member Emeritus Jim Olthuis’s article "A vision of and for love: Towards a Christian post-postmodern worldview" was just published in the South African journal, Koers – Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, vol. 77. No.1 (2012).

Cal Seerveld Publishes Article

Senior Member Emeritus Cal Seerveld is pleased to report that an illustrated article "Why we need to learn to cry in Church: reclaiming the Psalms of Lament” along with several of his psalm versifications, has just appeared in a book titled Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship, edited by C. Richard Wells & Ray Van Neste (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012).

Clinton Stockwell Publishes Article

Junior Member Clinton Stockwell’s article was recently republished (for the third time): “Fundamentalisms and the Shalom of God: An Analysis of Contemporary Expressions of Fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism and Islam” in Evangelical Review of Theology, Vol 36: No 3, July 2012: 266-279.

Message from the President

I began academic life as an historian of religion and of religious culture. I specialized in thirteenth century religion and in particular the so-called “begging” orders, the Dominicans chief among them. I have focussed an indefensible amount of time on a particular Dominican Thomas of Cantimpré (1199-c. 1260) and his rollicking practice as storyteller. His works come in two kinds: 1. collections of materials gathered with preaching and penance in mind, and 2. saint’s lives. His preacher-oriented “Book of Bees” (Bonum universale de apibus) has delighted me for nearly thirty years. What a potpourri of tales from what a vast scramble of sources! I doubt it would provide a modern preacher much that he or she could use but summer camps would have ghost stories aplenty to add to their usual repertoires.

The Protestant in me has always been curious about Thomas of Cantimpré’s saint’s lives. They raise questions about sanctity. What is a saint? What is a vita (a life)? What is the writer of a saint’s vita trying to do? How does he or she go about her work? How is the result like and not like a biography or some other modern genre of writing? There is a lot I could write about and have albeit in scholarly locations that are hardly vacation spots for the average curious intellectual traveller. Let me just pick out one chain of features that might be of interest or perhaps even delight.

Hagiographers (writers of saint’s lives) were not writing biographies as we think of the term. O, it is true that in the twelfth-century there were hagiographers of real literary and psychological depth who wrote “humanistic” vitae that presented the saint as at one and the same time a human person such as one might meet on a nearby street or hear tell of in the stories emanating from the courts of society’s high ones, kings and bishops, or from the outlandish and deserted regions separating human communities from each other, hermits or wandering preachers. But this “humanistic” style was a passing fad; most vitae made no pretence of capturing the human individuality of the saint. What hagiographers were interested in were what one can call “saintly situations”: acts and events that were in and of themselves spiritually spectacular. Such acts and events called attention to themselves; they contrasted with ordinary expectations. They bespoke the presence of something amazing, that a heavenly Circus had arrived beyond our most expansive ken, right there, do you see it, just beyond eyesight. They marked a person in ways the community had noticed. They marked a person as discomfiting, bringing one face to face with something both terrible and sublime, the presence of God, active and caring, and ever so other than our ordinary experience and expectations surrounding divinity and its ways in the world. A vita recorded this spectacle-stratum of a saint’s living, reminding or informing the reader that around this woman or man, around these deeds and events, the pungent aroma of the Spirit wafts, a Spirit whose intentions for us humans is ever more than we can fathom, cracking open this world so that we catch a sniff of the next in what is already present unperceived in our ordinary perceptions of what is to be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched.

And stories like these, over-the-top and disturbing, collected around saints. There were always far to many to be included within a single and coherent vita; a hagiographer had to choose. A Dominican like Thomas of Cantimpré chose in terms of two criteria. Stories were to be divided between two groups: 1. stories that shocked and awed the hearer, leaving her gobsmacked by wonder, and 2. stories that sparked a sense of longing, that put one in touch with what-might-have-been, with what-might-still-be, with an existence more exalted if only one’s living were more thickly graced, if only one worked to be more available, if only one aspired to receive and bless such divine outpouring, if only (and this is really the only thing—the rest just followed) the Spirit would in its wisdom deign to pour out. The wonderful is connected to the resulting desire, but is also distinct. There are things one would harm oneself to long for. Hagiographers often seem to embrace the modern television warning: This is the work of a trained professional; please do not try this at home. In addition, there are wonders one simply must learn to long for, for one’s personal and one’s community’s spiritual good. The hagiographer reflects on all this and writes to help the community of faith learn the difference, learn to live in the active and incarnate presence of God right here and now, and to cope well with the resulting wonder and desire.

And here is the point at last: things of amazing wonder and the desire to live up to the example of such spectacular Presence—they are the stuff of Jesus’ life as well, or so they were to medieval readers of the Gospels. The Gospels too are filled with situations that bespeak the in-breaking of the divine into our daily existence, that bespeak a presence that discomfits and disrupts our expectations, that brings us close enough to the breath of the Spirit that we inhale its wonder and long to be graced by its movement in our lives. The Gospels as medievals like Thomas of Cantimpré read them placed the attentive and devout reader in such a spot that she could not but long to be worthy, to conform herself to the presence of their protagonist, the Christ, in her life. And that applied not just to persons; it applied to communities too. At the advent of Advent 2012, I ask you to consider this prayer: May the ICS and its community be gobsmacked by the presence of the Christ of the Gospels, discomfiting its expectations and inspiring a ever renewable and renewed desire to conform itself in all its works to the intimate presence of the Christ. May ICS incarnate the Incarnate One, embracing his presence with all the trust of a young first-time mother struggling to do right even in the muck of a Bethlehem stable. That will be my prayer this month. I invite you to join me as and if you will.

For the President,

Bob Sweetman

Prayer Letter: December 2012

Monday, December 3: We welcome our new and returning Board members and ask God's grace and blessings on them as they continue to work in helping ICS fulfill its mission.

Tuesday, December 4: Former interim ICS president Morris Greidanus has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of T-cell lymphoma. Please pray for strength and patience for Morris and also his wife Alice.

Wednesday, December 5: The Faculty meets today. We pray that God's wisdom will guide this meeting.

Thursday, December 6: John Hulst, former ICS Board member and Chair, has been hospitalized for tests and treatment. Please pray that the Lord will give John a long time of continued enthusiastic Kingdom service.

Friday, December 7: We ask God to bless Junior Member Jelle Huisman as he defends his MA thesis today.
We offer prayers of praise for the talents of Hendrik Hart who will be launching his book, Responses to the Enlightenment: An Exchange on Foundations, Faith, and Community this evening.

Monday, December 10: The fall semester ends this week, but there is still so much academic work to be done. Please pray for energy and blessings for our Junior Members as they finish their course work and upon Senior Members as they mark and prepare for the upcoming semester.

Tuesday, December 11: We offer prayers of gratitude for the very generous spirit of you, our supporters throughout the Christmas giving season. It is truly a blessing to have the interest and support of so many people.

Wednesday, December 12: Today is the last Academic Council meeting of the 2011 calendar year. We ask that God's guidance and wisdom be in all the discussions and planning.

Thursday, December 13: Tomorrow is the final day of classes for this semester. We can look back with gratitude and offer prayers of thanks for another semester of opportunities to learn.

Friday, December 14: This is a day of celebration: the last day of classes and our Community Christmas party! We thank God for a fruitful semester and look forward to an evening of celebration, reflection, and fun. Remember the ICS community as Junior, Senior, and staff members gather with volunteers, friends and members of the Board and Senate.

Monday, December 17: As we complete the final preparations for our Christmas celebrations with family and friends, we thank God for all he has provided for us. As many members of the ICS community will be traveling far and wide, please pray for their safe travel and a blessed and rejuvenating time with friends and family.

Tuesday, December 18: Our new Presidents Tom and Dawn Wolthuis, are moving to Toronto this week. We pray for a smooth transition between our two countries.

Wednesday, December 19: We pray for God’s guidance and wisdom at today’s Leadership Team meeting.

Thursday, December 20: We ask God to bless Junior Member Daniel Mullin as he defends his PhD today.

Friday, December 21: Today we ask for God's help for those who are struggling with cancer and other illnesses. We pray for strength, patience and for good results from treatment.

Monday, December 24: As Christmas draws near, we remember people who are suffering around the world in areas of conflict and war. We need to hear the angels' call for "Peace on Earth" and so we offer prayers that peace and joy can be realized throughout the world.

Tuesday, December 25: Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We offer prayers of thanks to God for this wonderful gift and we pray that everyone has a peaceful and joyful day with loved ones.

Wednesday, December 26: With the winter weather bringing colds and flu, please pray for the health of staff, faculty and students at ICS.

Thursday, December 27: We pray for strength, energy and enthusiasm for our Senior Members who are preparing to start their new courses in January.

Friday, December 28: We ask God's help and guidance for all those who are doing advancement work for ICS both in Canada and in the US. Please pray that support for the vision and mission of ICS continues to grow.

Monday, December 31: As the year 2012 draws to a close we give thanks for another fruitful year of work at ICS and for all our supporters and friends who made that work possible through their prayers and financial gifts. We ask God's blessings upon all the teaching and learning that will happen in the next year.