Thursday 19 December 2013

Christmas greetings from ICS!

And the angel said unto them,  Fear not: for, behold, I
bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to
all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of
David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:10–11

May the gift of the Christ child fill your heart with joy, hope,
peace and love, this Christmas and always.

With best wishes from
the Institute for Christian Studies.

Advent Appeal

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Ambassador: Bridges, Dreams, and Timely Preaching

This article was originally published in Christian Courier, Issue 2969, September 23, 2013.

I selected the title of this column, and then worked with others to visually symbolize it. We came up with the image of a bridge. I am now starting to see how apropos this is.

Timeless Preaching
A retired Christian Reformed pastor sent me a note saying that he appreciated the attempts to connect theology and daily life. He commented that he hears too much timeless preaching. At first I was perplexed by that comment, but then he explained that he was hearing preaching that did not connect to the events of the day or the world in which we live, the world with which we wrestle. A friend told me that he had gone back to his childhood church and was troubled by the highly un-Reformed sermon he had heard on heaven as the goal of the Christian life.

Timely History
In celebration of 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, I saw the pictures of the march across the Selma, Alabama bridge. My wife and I went to the movie “The Butler,” which recapped the terrible history of racial segregation in the US. I heard the “Dream” speech on the radio with its powerful rhetoric and Biblical imagery and was again inspired and troubled.

Troubled Mind
I am inspired by the Biblical vision, words, and leaders that brought change. I am troubled by what has been done, even sometimes in the name of Christianity, to keep people separate and oppressed. I am troubled that I was raised too much in a “colony” of Christianity that was sometimes more prone to walls than bridges. I am troubled that my Christian tradition has a reading of the “antithesis” that tends to place us over against others rather than recognizing the struggle between following God or an idol within each one of us. I am troubled that I do not know the struggle of my neighbor well because I live in my fortress. I am troubled that I am often with the oppressors and the privileged. I am troubled that I often do not hear the dreams of my fellow believers, and if I do, they are timelessly vague and heavenly escapist dreams to silence the nightmares of the oppressed.

I wonder what should be my bridge. Where am I willing to take a stand for justice? With whom am I willing to walk against the powers of darkness, the threatening dogs, and the drowning waters of opposition? I need you, we need each other, to stimulate our vision and our action, sometimes even troubling ourselves.

Timely Preaching
What of the preaching in our churches? Has it become too safe because churches are too ready to dispose of pastors? Have we addressed issues of doctrine, sure that we are right and showing how everyone else is wrong? Maybe that is even too risky. So we turn to individual piety. We want people to experience God in their lives, to be restored in forgiveness and faith, but we stop there. What about saved for service? How do we specifically engage our neighbors in love?

While I hope this column helps ICS participate in the church community, I typically will not reference ICS directly, but these questions are what we are about. What is the role of the Christian community in issues of justice? What are the Biblical visions and words that should drive us into the details of our society? Why are the church and leaders often afraid to be prophetic? How can we support each other and talk with each other, especially when we disagree? How can we be a Christian community with each other, with other Christian communities, with other faiths wrestling with the same issues, and with the oppressed, who often can no longer dream, hardly sleep, and feel like they are on the other side from us?

A Biblical text I love is Ephesians 2:11–22. Here Paul celebrates what Christ has done to bring divided humanity, especially Jews, who saw themselves as God’s people, and Gentiles, who felt rejected, condemned, and oppressed, together into one household of God. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14, NRSV)

Where are the barriers here? What wall of hostility does Christ still need to break down now? What is the Selma bridge of our day? I have a dream.

Tom Wolthuis, President

Risk and Character of Christian Higher Education

There is a story I have heard told of Reformational legend Peter Steen from his days as a member of the faculty of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. It says a lot about the frank and yet curiously, perhaps even indelibly, naive seriousness of the man in his work as Christian public intellectual, gadfly and inspiration. As the story goes, early in his short faculty tenure at Geneva College he was invited to teach the adult Sunday school class at a local Beaver Falls Methodist Church. He happily accepted the invitation. As the classroom filled, he rummaged around the blackboard, found a suitable piece of chalk and wrote in very large letters what I will call “that most fricative of four-letter words.” He then turned around, looked at his audience intently and asked why it was, did they think, that the children they raised so lovingly and carefully in the ways of the Lord, so often went off to university and learned to say words like the one to be seen there on the blackboard behind him. Not a bad question really. In a gruffly evocative way he was raising the question of a Christian academic witness in higher education. A certain cavalier secularity was contagious. It was worth considering why and what might be done to inoculate the younger generation against its spiritually sickening effects. Of course, by the time he opened his mouth to speak, no one was listening to him. They just sat there staring at the board, pondering the mystery of someone who would think to write “that most fricative of four-letter words” right there in their church’s Sunday school classroom. The session was less than a success.

I repeat this story in part because it is good to remember the cloud of witnesses who were active and articulate on behalf of a Reformational vision of Christian higher education in its swashbuckling early days in North America. It is especially good because the personalities at play were large and incorrigibly idiosyncratic. Wondrously and against the expectations of most pedagogical theories, they had an impact on others so profound that even their foibles and faux pas came to be the subject of story, narrative bits formed in part out of wistfulness (ah it was a time when giants walked the land), and in part out of a good natured and tolerant affection (yes, yes, a bit tone deaf; was that stunt really necessary? But, o my, wouldn’t it have been fun to have been a fly on the wall?).

Commemoration is a fine intention and an important part of the communion of saints. Nevertheless, that is not all there is to the story. It also brings to the fore a very common misconception about the proper ethos of Christian higher education. The misconception is to be found in the word “inoculation”. When Christian education and its central conceptual frameworks are built and defended in the expectation of inoculating students against one cultural and scholastic contagion or another, one does well to think twice. Such an ethos betrays an aversion to risk that undercuts the project of Christian higher education in important ways.

I am not denying that our aversion to educational risk gets at something very important. It is the spiritual welfare of our children and young adults that we are worried about. It is their spiritual identity that can hang in the balance. Surely, we might well ask: if we can construct educational environments, scholarly habits and convictions that lower the risk, indeed that can serve as safe places in which to study and grow as persons of faith, what could be wrong with that?

A parent’s desire to keep their children safe is a healthy even a laudable response to life in the world and its challenges. The question is, however, how such a desire comes to proper expression in the conception and construction of Christian higher education and in the scholarship that goes on within it. Scholarship and the sort of critical thinking it schools has its own rightful character. It is by its very nature open ended, moving out from its starting points to follow the quest for understanding, on some level, we know not where. Of course in Christian higher education we start from places that are saturated with the sense of the presence and care of the Creator-Redeemer-Enabler. It is a sense that will be supported by scholarly discipline, nurtured by biblical, theological and philosophical foundations that represent the distillate of the community of faith’s long struggle to live mindfully in faith and with respect to this, God’s world. We should not be interested in pursuing forms of scholarship that proceed as if there were no God, to steal the phrase of McGill theologian Douglas Farrow. Rather, scholarship, as Reformational philosopher D.H.Th. Vollenhoven saw so well, moves ever forward toward provisional results that open up new inquiries leading in turn to further provisional results, world without end. In such an enterprise there remains an open-endedness in which risk can reside. We are not the Makers and Masters of the Universe. We cannot control the progress of scholarly research or of higher level teaching. We enter into such an enterprise in good faith trusting in the community of Christian scholars (if there is one available) and ultimately the Holy Spirit to correct and keep us at work in search of God-honouring results, provisional though they be.

Trust then entails the risk of risk; it does not preclude it. Risk and trust go together in Christian higher education, or at least they ought to. But that is often not how we feel about the matter. Such a mixture is not to our liking; it doesn’t seem good enough. It doesn’t seem worth the money and the . . . well . . . risk. We want something else, something more. We would have it that institutions of Christian higher education make the world “safe” for Christian young adults faced with the discernment of vocation in the context of higher level scholarly study. I think we mean something like this: Christian scholarship and pedagogy should work to secure a certain formation of the mind. The assumption is that the mind to be formed is passive in relation to that which does the forming. In the first instance the mind is passive with respect to “a who”—the scholar-teacher whose pedagogy forms the mind in ways that keep its faith safe from scholarly challenges. In the second place the mind is passive with respect to the pedagogy that the scholar teacher employs. Indeed, it is my guess that in the Reformed world the model of pedagogy working subliminally is that of old-fashioned catechesis, in which scholarly development involves at bottom a learning a priori the right questions to ask in the right order and with the right answers already attached. It is hard to see how such passivity will produce scholars whose creative, imaginative and critical-analytical gifts have been developed to such a degree that new explorations of God’s world ensue but one CAN see how such passivity might reduce the risk that scholarly exploration of the world will ever go off on tangents and end up in places far from those presupposed by the right questions, asked in the right order with the right answers already attached since those questions, answers and that order are to act in principle as frame and limit for all that follows.

The ethos of safety promised by a “catechetical” pedagogy is a great temptation of Christian higher education. It is so because it flows from such godly anxiety: the anxiety of an older generation of the faithful for the spiritual well-being of a younger generation. It is a temptation that distorts Christian higher education because it fails to consider the true provisional, ever developing, ongoing nature of scholarship. The proper expression of faith and trust in scholarship does not translate into safety for the teacher-scholar, for her students, or for the Christian community that invests in both. Rather, faith and trust come to expression in a scholar and student’s capacity to work in the confidence that the community of faith and the Holy Spirit who lies behind it will hang on to them as they work to understand the contours of God’s world as a participant in the scholarly disciplines they take up in the course of their study and research, and so give to them the space and capacity to frame their risk-taking within a second openness, an ever tended openness to metanoia or conversion. Risk aversion does not tend to produce scholars open to examining their own work within the spirit of conversion; the need is not supposed to arise. Nevertheless, the need for such a spirit does not go away just because it is “supposed” to. Scholarship cannot be hemmed in by questions that are always already set, much less by answers already known afore hand. Yes, there are risks attendant upon such a realization, but they are risks that should be ever so familiar; they are after all quite like those that all people of faith run when, wherever they find themselves, they hear God calling and live out their amen with the Grace-enabled and daring faith (and the ignorance) of Abraham of old. ICS has been a risk-taking institution for much of its history. It has paid a price for its boldness. In the last number of years it has taken far fewer risks, at least in its address of the community of faith. This too has come at a cost. Self-censorship can be a useful discipline in the life of faith, but it can also reflect the loss of a necessary and bone-deep confidence that there is room in the community of faith and its guiding Spirit for the fruits of a faithful, trusting and open scholarship. Once we accept the risk inherent in Christian higher education, however, the petrifying and petrified passivity of education structured as if an old fashioned and coercive catechesis can be laid aside, for there is no need to make safety our primary (if unacknowledged) scholarly norm. Rather, if our scholarship and teaching is what it ought to be, the healthy creative, imaginative and analytical-critical thinkers we produce within an academic community of faith will have all the tools they need to risk the challenges of thinking faithfully in our day and age in conversation with any and all, supported by the faith of all times and places, directed by the vivifying Spirit, Lord of Life, open to the adventure laid before them ever within a life discipline of scholarly metanoia. That ICS should be such a community able to produce young scholars of that quality—now that is a worthy intent, to my way of thinking. Won’t you join me in embracing that intention?

Bob Sweetman

Monday 2 December 2013

ICS Welcomes Central America Associate Faculty

Following the Senate meeting of Nov. 22, 2013, ICS is blessed with three new associate faculty members: Ruth Padilla DeBorst, James Padilla DeBorst, and Joel VanDyke. We warmly welcome our new instructors and thank Central American Coordinator Joel Aguilar for his valuable contributions in getting the new Master of Worldview Studies in Urban Ministry project off the ground.

Presented by the Center for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies in Costa Rica (CETI) and the Center for Transforming Mission: Guatemala (CMT Guatemala), this new extension of ICS’s well-established MWS program offers an urban ministry focused slate of courses in Central America to complement volunteer work programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

For more information visit our Master of Worldview Studies in Urban Ministry page.

ICS Welcomes New Board Members

We are pleased to welcome two new Board members, approved at the AGM held last month: Henry Numan and Ron Knol. In addition, Diana Boot and Ansley Tucker will each continue on the Board. We look forward to working with all of them!

Special thanks go to outgoing Board member Peter Noteboom.

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

Religion and Society

Senior Member Lambert Zuidervaart has published a new article on religion and society in the journal Critical Research on Religion 1.3 (2013): 243-269. His article explores the role of religion in helping us envision and pursue a life-giving transformation of contemporary society.

Titled “Critical Transformations: Macrostructures, Religion, and Critique,” it can be found at the SAGE Journals Online site: A pre-published version is available from ICS’s Institutional Repository at

Surprises in South Korea

Emeritus Jim Olthuis reflects on his recent trip to South Korea.

“South Korea is simply an amazing country, not only because of its technological prowess (Seoul is the most wired city in the world, its subway system is splendid, etc.) but the exuberant energy of its Christian believers (reported to be 20 to 30% of the population) is contagious.”   That is our impression after Arvilla and I were able to spend two and half weeks in Korea. I first presented a paper, entitled “Faith, Hope and Love:  A Biblical Postmodern Vision of/for Education” to the 4th International Conference of the Korean Evangelical Theological Society in Seoul, Korea.

After a stimulating and informative six-day tour of the rest of the country (Korea is 70% mountainous, with 50 million people in a country that would fit into Lake Michigan), I was then able to lead two classes at Westminster Graduate School of Theology Seminary at the invitation of  Dr. Shinae Kim, ICS alumna, the person largely responsible for arranging our trip to Korea. Thank you Shinae!

One wonderful highlight of the trip was the opportunity we had to share a lovely Korean dinner (see picture) with a group of Korean academics, all members of the remarkable Christian Worldview Studies Association of Korea. I then led a more than two-hour seminar on the making of a post-postmodern biblical worldview. This was followed by an exciting four days at Chongshin University, graciously hosted by friend and Professor of Christian Philosophy, Kuk Won Shin, a graduate of the Institute who wrote his thesis on Gadamer under the tutelage of Henk Hart. I gave two lectures (see picture), translated by Kuk Won, one of which on November 1st was interrupted by the surprise of students dimming the lights, and bringing in a birthday cake to help me celebrate turning 75. I came back a year older, humbled and thrilled to have seen in person the very real difference graduates of the Institute are able to make in the  distant, but dear land of South Korea.

Jim Olthuis

Presidential Musing by Dawn

Report in the form of doggerel from the AGM

Good news, we proclaim, in the great commission
Good news here too for what has come to fruition —
The Institute is recruiting for new students next Fall!!
Were it not for tough decisions there would be none at all!!

‘Twas a significant effort at the start of this year
To get Friends of ICS back on track. This prompted some cheer

Excitement abounds receiving the grant from SSHRC
With that funding in line we have gotten to work
C-P-R-S-E can be pronounced as c-prise!
But if you say that to some folks you might get a rise
The Research Centre is hard at work on matters of justice and faith
Research, writing, and events, there is so much on their plate

Fewer courses this year means more students per class
Discussing and reading, it takes work to pass
Now if a paper is written or perhaps even a story
It could go through a process to our online repository

When drumming up partners to match Institute assets
We found Costa Rica who came in and asked us
They wanted students to get a degree
From ICS in Urban Ministry

Now you might think this easy. You might think it small
The pilot cohort has only three students, after all
But starting this MWS I’ll say it out loud
Takes a ton of work so folks should be proud

This new concentration, courses and faculty were (contingently) approved by the Senate
Getting this far feels like winning the pennant!

Now, every new program has its detractors
While most are there cheering there are no doubt reactors
The effort to get here was harder than we would like
Someone might even have told me to go take a hike!

But onward and upward seeking the King
With excellent education as our mission we bring
Stimulating Biblical courses for a broader reach
Named Continuing Ed/ge, we will be starting to teach
Technology might help if more folks can be part
There is plenty to do before these classes can start

Our alumni are out there changing the world
We will seek out more stories as our records unfurl
Who are our alumni? you ask — so do we!
As we move forward our alumni are key

While students are taking great courses about Philosophy, Reformational
We are all thinking and working on sustainability for the institution, educational
Public funding is for public schools and Cath-o-lic
Grad students need funding this could be quite a trick

Maybe its just me and my own intuition
But it seems we cannot cover costs with just our tuition
Our supporters are treasured we have met them near and far
With Tom out there preaching we have a lot of miles on our car

Tom’s column in the Christian Courier is read by many church goers
Some donate now (or we hope they will) and others were once our supporters
They tell us nice things, they are excited we have arrived
Some ask about the future, some ask how ICS has survived
The many conflicts and crises the stuff of great story
While we all work here on earth, not standing still, awaiting glory

I am happy to be here to work with this team
Holding Christian scholarship in high esteem
The faculty are standouts, they have been through a lot
They teach with conviction, give it all that they’ve got
The students work hard, they are the future
Christian leaders in their fields, most not requiring a suture
[Yeah, you find a rhyme for future]

With some raised visibility among the support base
Tom and I working a lot outside of the 229 College place
We have listened quite widely, have learned from many people
We have spoken with many,under clock tower and steeple
The academy and church, scholars and donors
Have some common goals about He who gets the honors

We love our new city and new country too
The CN tower is awesome and those Maple Leafs, and the view!
But our mission is such that it’s not about us
We are your servants, in God we trust
(oh, oops, not such a Canadian phrase?)

Dawn M. Wolthuis
November 25, 2013

Prayer Letter: December 2013

Monday, December 2: There is an Executive Board Meeting this evening. We pray for God’s wisdom to guide this meeting.

Tuesday, 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.

Wednesday, December 4: The Faculty meets today. We pray that God's wisdom will guide this meeting.

Thursday, December 5: We offer prayers of praise for the talents of Senior Member Lambert Zuidervaart who has published a new article on religion and society in the journal Critical Research on Religion.

Friday, December 6: 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.

Monday, December 9: The fall semester ends this week, but there is still a lot of academic work to be done! Please pray for blessings and stamina for our Junior Members as they finish their course work and for our Senior Members as they mark and prepare for the upcoming semester.

Tuesday, December 10: As the season of Advent continues, we pray for God's grace and blessings as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 11: Today is the last Academic Council meeting of the 2013 calendar year. We ask that God's guidance and wisdom be in all the discussions and planning.

Thursday, December 12: 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 13: 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 Members, Senior Members, and staff gather with volunteers, friends and members of the Board and Senate.

Monday, December 16: As we begin the final preparations for our Christmas celebrations with family and friends, we thank God for all he has provided for us.

Tuesday, December 17: 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.

Wednesday, December 18: We pray for God’s guidance and wisdom at today’s Leadership Team meeting.

Thursday, December 19: Many members of the ICS community will be traveling far and wide. Please pray for their safe travel and for a blessed and rejuvenating time spent with friends and family.

Friday, December 20: 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 23: With the winter weather bringing colds and flu, please pray for the health of staff, faculty and students at ICS.

Tuesday, December 24: As Christmas draws closer, 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.

Wednesday, December 25: Today we joyously 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 happy day with loved ones.

Thursday, December 26: We pray for blessings on our three new Central American associate faculty members, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, James Padilla DeBorst and Joel VanDyke.

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

Monday, December 30: We pray for energy and creativity for all those who are involved in the planning for the upcoming conference in Edmonton next May.

Tuesday, December 31: As the year 2013 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 pray for God's blessings upon all the teaching and learning that will happen in the next year.

Monday 18 November 2013

Nov. 25 — Annual General Meeting & Justice and Faith Research Project Celebration

All ICS members are invited to attend our Annual General Meeting on Monday, November 25 at 4:30 pm in the Context Boardroom, located on the first floor of the CBC Building at 250 Front Street West, Toronto. Materials have been distributed.

After the meeting, join us in celebrating the CPRSE’s new partnered research project Justice and Faith: Individual Spirituality and Social Responsibility in the Christian Reformed Church of Canada. The CPRSE successfully applied for a $200,000 Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada to explore the different ways that lay Christian Reformed congregants conceive of the relationship between faith and justice. CPRSE Director Ron Kuipers and Steve van de Hoef of the CRC Office of Social Justice will be on hand to discuss the project and field questions.

ICS Presidents Meet the PM

Presidents of member institutions of Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC) recently had a photo opportunity with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. With twice the number of presidents as other institutions, the Prime Minister has now recently heard the name of the Institute for Christian Studies twice during introductions.

ICS President Dawn Wolthuis said that it was exciting and enlightening touring one of his offices, and meeting the Prime Minister of Canada. Dawn also enjoyed meeting United States President Barack Obama in Iowa a few years ago. Could a meeting with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, be next?

This event took place the day before a CHEC special membership meeting in Ottawa on October 25, 2013. More information about that meeting can be found at

Tour Guides Available

This article was originally published in Christian Courier, Issue 2967, August 26, 2013.

On Victoria Day I was in Edmonton. With an opening in my schedule, someone suggested that I go out to Elk Island Park for a walk. I bought bug repellant, water, and high SPF lip balm. At the Visitor Centre I asked the guide about the best route to walk. He suggested a 10 kilometre trail around Shirley Lake (Shirley, the name of my mother-in-law and sister). I started walking the trail and wondered "why?" The scenery was a forest. Every once in a while I would see a little water, but not any animals more than a squirrel. The path was easy to follow. It seemed like just exercise, but I wanted more than that. I realized I was taking a walk without a guide.

Reading Scripture
That could describe how many people feel when they read Scripture. They prepare to do it. They have some instructions. They have the reading skills, but they start and then wonder "why?" As they continue reading, they think, "Well, maybe I will get something out of this. Maybe I can at least say I have done it." Many people read Scripture without a guide. I didn't know what to look for on my walk. I would see something to avoid, like a puddle to walk around or the large amount of scat on the trail. Some people read Scripture and consider how not to act, or decide what to avoid. But that doesn't seem to be enough — a negative reading. You can avoid those problems in other ways. I didn't need to walk the trail to know that avoiding mud and dung makes sense.

I wanted an adventure, a positive experience, an encounter. So I kept walking, just like many people keep reading. I considered whether this was a joke Canadians play on Americans like myself who move to Canada. "Go for a walk out in the woods" – setting us up to be mosquito bait. But those who know the woods know what to look for. If they were with me, they would be able to point out things I missed — all the types of trees, the type of scat, where to look for animals, the meaning in history of this forest, who once lived here, why the National Park came into existence, how it has value . . . . A learned person and guide would have helped me. The same thing is true when it comes to reading Scripture. There are many things that a guide can point out.

A guide
I talked to a guide at the beginning of my walk, but he didn't know me. His advice was very general. A guide is most helpful if he or she not only knows the trail and what to point out, but also knows you and your background. Your community, including your pastor, is good place to look for a guide to Scripture. Find someone with knowledge and experience, but not always someone who thinks just like you.

I often want to walk by myself. Going by myself allows me to set my own pace, to have reflections, and to do what I want to do; but it also has limitations. There is no one with whom to share the experience. In two groups I saw children pointing out different things, looking in different ways, and asking questions. I would have enjoyed taking such a walk with my children or grandchildren. We read Scripture alone too much.

Overall my walk was unadventurous. I did not see any animals, other than one bunny, a squirrel, a few ducks and birds. I did not see any bison, elk, beavers, fox, or coyote — which is maybe good. On the plus side, I did not get lost. I did not turn an ankle. It was a beautiful day for a good walk — partly cloudy skies, temperature around 20, and not enough rain to cause any difficulty.

Reading Scripture will not always bring a startling moment. It is good exercise. It opens us up to the possibility of new experiences. In the adventures and in the average, God is there. God was there in the magnificence of the forest, in the fallen trees and new growth, the life cycle of the ponds and lakes, the beauty of the sun, the variety of the day . . . . It was a not life-changing encounter. It was a good walk, but it would have been better if there had been tour guides available.

Tom Wolthuis, President

Betwixt and Between

Last month I reflected on what I took to be a condition of creaturely existence—being in the middle of things, a between-ness marking our kind of living in God's world. I realize that I've been pondering this state of affairs and its far-reaching consequences a lot these past months. For example, this past September I gave a paper at a conference in which a hundred and more scholars gathered at the Presbyterian College in Montreal and the chapel space of the Department of Religion at McGill University to honour Stanford Reid long-time Reformation historian from the University of Guelph and long-time friend of Christian higher education, including the Institute for Christian Studies. The conference entitled "Christian Faith and the University" was co-sponsored by the Religion departments of McGill and Concordia University, the Presbyterian College in Montreal and Cardus, the remarkable think tank that has grown out of the Christian Labour Association of Canada's Work Research Foundation. I used the occasion to think about a between-ness I see woven into the very fabric of Christian higher education.

Christian higher education belongs to the social sphere proper to higher education, it is a sphere that exudes a particular quality, a way of being in the world that stands under and conditions theoretical reflection upon the world. By the quality marking higher education I am pointing to our human capacity to self-consciously distinguish one thing from another in thought. Theoretical reflection in our day is highly complex, distributed across many disciplines like history, chemistry and that like, and across an ever expanding set of platforms for interdisciplinary research (medieval studies is one that comes readily to my mind). But all this reflection of whatever kind gets its character and quality from our God-given capacity as human beings to distinguish one thing from another in and through our thinking. And this is also true of the institutions we build to foster theoretical reflection and to introduce our theoretically gifted young adults to such reflection as part and parcel of our equipping them to discern and follow their vocations in adult life. The sphere in which higher education belongs, however, can be distinguished from the sphere in which churches belong. The sphere of churches breathes a different quality, grounded in a different human capacity. Churches are built upon and at the same time exist to preserve and develop faith. By "faith" I am referring to our God-given and humanity-wide capacity to be open to the deep spiritual envelop in which the whole of our existence is enfolded, by which we live whether we know it or not ever before the face of God, ever within the sound of God's voice inviting us to find ourselves within God's loving intentions for us and the world as a whole. It is this capacity opening us to the central mystery of our existence that marks ecclesial life and the institutions we found to foster it. Of course because one sphere has logical distinction-making as its characteristic mark and another has faith does not mean that distinction-making has no place in the sphere of the church or that faith has no place in the sphere of higher education. All the capacities and qualities of human life belong in all the spheres of human life. Nevertheless, spheres should be thought in this picture to have their own character; they exude their own quality. They foreground one or another capacity—e.g. faith in the church; logical distinction-making in higher education. That foregrounding gives the appearance of placing other capacities in the background.

In this picture, Christian higher education belongs to the sphere of higher education, but it is positioned at that place where it bumps up against the sphere of the church. Such a positioning on the marches between the sphere of the churches and the sphere of higher education (on the higher education side of the border except for seminaries and bible colleges that straddle it) was what I meant by claiming that there is a between-ness about Christian higher education. And anything that is to be found on the borders between spheres acknowledges that position in its way of being. The Christian academy does so by properly foregrounding faith in its pursuit of theoretical reflection via its research and in its teaching.

Christian higher education properly experiences a creative tension resulting from that dual foregrounding. Secularization does not create the tension Christian higher education's between-ness entails, but it does change its character, deepening it and altering it so that it threatens instead of enables. The more disciplines develop in a "naturalizing" direction, i.e., as if the world they reflected upon where not a creation owing its very existence to the Creator, the more debilitating the pressure applied to Christian scholars and institutions as they struggle with the implications of between-ness in a secularizing sphere. That pressure threatens either to expel Christian higher education from the sphere appropriate to it so that it becomes an ecclesiastical endeavour (a mode of Christian formation in the sense of catechesis as opposed to education), or demands that Christian scholars and institutions capitulate to the secularizing ethos and dynamic of the sphere of higher education as it exists on the ground so that their research and teaching occurs more and more "as if the world were not a creation owing its very existence to the Creator". In the paper I suggested that the pressure in the first direction was well illustrated by some of the most creative work being done in the Reformational tradition today to think through the spiritual ethos and life patterns proper to Christian higher education: the work of James K.A. Smith. But one can also see the pressures in the second direction in the many Christian colleges in which faith and learning integration is left to theology departments and the college chaplaincy, for faculty have not been trained within their disciplines in ways that work from a faith perspective and so are uncomfortable doing so except in fairly superficial ways.

ICS was set up in the awareness of the second pressure above all. It was set up in part (for its mission has always been more complex than its size would seem to warrant) to promote theoretical reflection in a variety of disciplines that flowed from a scripturally attuned faith perspective articulated in a philosophically primed manner via the resources of the Reformational tradition. ICS has remained of course far too small and fragile to make much of a dent. But this calling is as vital today as it was over 45 years ago when it first opened its doors. What are needed in the Christian academy as much as ever are Christian faculty whose training as scholars includes deep communal reflection on how to think of the world from one disciplinary or interdisciplinary vantage point or another "as if the world to be explored were in fact a creation attuned to the invitation to be of its loving Creator", scholars comfortable with that task, willing and able to make it an intrinsic feature of their subsequent teaching and research. From that perspective, this dimension of the mission of ICS should speak so powerfully to people of faith that they enable it to become a much larger centre for Christian higher education at the graduate level, better able to educate scholars in an expanded number of disciplines. Still, as long as ICS lives and breathes it can do so knowing that it is privileged to inhabit the between-ness that is Christian higher education in ways that explore in the context of one's (inter)disciplinary training how one can participate authentically in the sphere of higher education in intimate proximity to the sphere of the church, and so ever before the eyes of the Creator-God whose love for us and the world at large encompasses our and its redemption and exaltation to a consummating Shalom.

Bob Sweetman

Friday 1 November 2013

Perspective Volume 47 Issue 2 Now Available

The October 2013 issue of the ICS newsletter Perspective is now available. This issue contains two articles about our new Institutional Repository (which launched last week), four faculty spotlight articles, and four articles about the accomplishments of ICS junior members.

Printed copies will be mailed out to paper subscribers soon.  Perspective can also be read online or downloaded in print format from the Perspective website at

Annual General Meeting: Monday November 25

All ICS members are invited to attend our Annual General Meeting on Monday, November 25 at 4:30 pm in the Context Board Room on the first floor of the CBC Building, 250 Front Street West, Toronto. Materials are being distributed.

Cal Seerveld at Dordt College, Nov. 4

ICS emeritus Cal Seerveld is scheduled to give lectures at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa, on November 4. The lectures are titled "How HOT is your Bible?" and "The Meaning of our Nakedness" (illustrated). He will also speak in several classes on the following two days.

Andrew Van’t Land Wins Award

On Saturday October 19, Junior Member Andrew Van’t Land won "The Jack and Phyllis Middleton Memorial Award for Excellence in Theology", the first prize for best paper at the "New Creation" theology conference hosted by the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (CETA) at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. His winning paper is titled "(Im)Peccability amid the Principalities: Christ's Sinlessness in a Culture of Sinful Systems". Drew had written this paper for Nik Ansell's course on systematic theology.

Read Andrew's paper in the ICS Institutional Repository.

Bryan Richard's Thesis Defence

Bryan Richard successfully defended his thesis this month, earning his MA. Bryan's mentor Shannon Hoff had this to say

The idea for Bryan’s thesis, like the best projects, had deeply existential origins. His goal was to reconcile two ideas that seem to lie in tension with each other: the idea that the responsibility for living one’s life lies only in oneself, such that to live honestly and authentically means owning up to one’s status as an individual, and the idea that our lives are essentially and primordially immersed in the lives of others and a social world, such that living honestly and authentically requires us to own up to our indebtedness to this broader world. He finds a worthy interlocutor in Martin Heidegger, and Heidegger finds an eloquent defender in Bryan, who shows that there are indeed insights of ethical and political import in Heidegger’s thinking. The thesis—“Ow(n)ing Existence: Human Meaning, Identity and Responsibility in Heidegger’s Being and Time”—is impressive in many ways: Bryan has become an excellent scholar, competent with the technicalities of Heidegger’s thinking, but also an excellent communicator, devoted to making Heidegger’s dense and difficult philosophy clear and concrete. Bryan has accomplished much in this time at ICS, both philosophically and personally, and has shown through his experience the possibilities of personal transformation that lie in the process of doing philosophy. We warmly congratulate him both for facing the difficult challenges involved in completing the thesis and for being accepted into the Ph.D. program at the University of Guelph.

Janet Read’s Art Exhibit

ICS alumna Janet Read is exhibiting her new paintings at a solo show at The Art Gallery of Peterborough, from November 8 to January 14. To get more information visit the gallery’s website:

Re-formed and Re-forming, A Presidential Musing by Dawn

It is Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Saints’ Day, Reformation Day. I have been in many conversations about the words “Reformed” and, more recently, “reformational.” It is not surprising that there are so many definitions of each. Such is the nature of words.

A Presbyterian friend told me that she did consider herself “Reformed” because that sounds so done, as if we have arrived. I had thought that Presbyterians considered themselves to be within the Reformed umbrella. Apparently there is not agreement on this. Such is the nature of people.

Maybe “Reforming” would be better than “Reformed.” My friend liked that better, but she was still not interested in applying that term to her denomination. So, I passed along to another person that this friend from a church in a Calvinist tradition did not resonate with the word “Reformed” in the denominational name “Christian Reformed Church” (CRC). He said that he thought the more offensive word in the name was “Christian.” Really? That is who we are. He indicated that it sounded like the implication was that other denominations were not Christian. Sigh.

How ICS presents itself in words matters. I won’t attempt to tackle the array of opinions I heard regarding the word “reformational” here. In addition to the word “Christian” in our name, which of these words do you think convey something important about the Institute for Christian Studies -- Reformed, Reformational, Dooyweerdian, Kuyperian, Calvinist, philosophical, religious, theological, spiritual, interdisciplinary, academic, foundational, ethical, justice-oriented, scholarly, transformational, biblical, worldview-oriented, post-modern, engaged, educational, …?

Of course, we are not simply trying to have the words be meaningful. The work of the Institute and how it affects the world around us matters a great deal, but we know that the words matter too. If you have ideas regarding the above words or others you think would resonate with those drawn to the Institute, perhaps you could tweet your ideas with @InsChr? When it comes to what we do, what words we use, and the media we choose, we are re-formed and always re-forming.

Prayer Letter: November 2013

Friday, November 1: We offer prayers of praise for the talent of ICS Junior Member Andrew Van’t Land, whose paper was awarded first prize in Rochester, and for the talent of ICS alumna and artist Janet Read who is exhibiting her paintings in Peterborough until January.

Monday, November 4: Senior Member Emeritus Cal Seerveld will be presenting lectures at Dordt College in Iowa. Please pray for safe travel, stamina, and a joyful time.

Tuesday, November 5: We ask for God's blessing on Ed Hayley, Director of Finance and his team, who are planning the Annual General Meeting to be held on Monday, November 25. We pray for energy and enthusiasm for all who are involved.

Wednesday, November 6: The Faculty meets today. We pray for God's wisdom to guide this meeting.

Thursday, November 7: We ask God to bless those who are teaching, as they balance reporting, paperwork and course work with managing their families.

Friday, November 8: The Alumni Association will be meeting this month. We ask for prayers as they get together, that they find unity and purpose.

Monday, November 11: Today we observe Remembrance Day in Canada. We are reminded of the wars that continue to rage and the soldiers and civilians who continue to suffer around the world. We pray for peace.

Tuesday, November 12: We continue to pray for blessings and energy for ICS Presidents, Tom and Dawn Wolthuis, as they manage their many responsibilities and provide ICS with their leadership.

Wednesday, November 13: The Academic Council meets this afternoon. We ask for God’s wisdom to guide this meeting.

Thursday, November 14: We offer prayers of gratitude and give thanks to you, our many supporters who have presented ICS with gifts of prayer, money, and expressions of appreciation. We are constantly blessed with your interest and support.

Friday, November 15: Faculty Colloquium

Monday, November 18: 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. We pray for the ongoing needs of Junior Member Tina Covert’s sister-in-law Deb Covert who is struggling with cancer.

Tuesday, November 19: Many of our Junior Members are working on their their Masters and PhD thesis projects. We pray for our Junior Members and ask that they will have time, concentration, and wisdom.

Wednesday, November 20: The Leadership Team meets today. We pray for God's blessing and guidance to lead their discussions and decisions.

Thursday, November 21: We ask God's help and guidance for all those who are doing advancement work for ICS in Canada and in the USA. Please pray that support for the vision and mission of ICS continues to grow.

Friday, November 22: The ICS Senate meets today. We pray for God’s guidance and wisdom for this meeting.

Monday, November 25: This afternoon ICS will hold its Annual General Meeting, where members will elect new Board members and conduct the annual required business for ICS. We are extremely grateful for our committed and hard working Board members. Please pray for wisdom and guidance at this meeting.

Tuesday, November 26: We offer prayers of thanks for all the hard work done by the outgoing Board members. We ask God for wisdom and energy for the incoming Board members.

Wednesday, November 27: As the fall semester draws to a close, we ask God for energy and wisdom for all our Junior Members who are working hard in their courses and for a sense of balance as they deal with families and jobs as well. We pray too that student jobs will be found where they are needed.

Thursday, November 28: Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Pray for safe travel for those who are going to join their families and friends for this holiday. On this day, let us reflect on God's grace and give thanks for family and friends.

Friday, November 29: The season of Advent begins on Sunday. We pray for God's blessings as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Thursday 17 October 2013

ICS Institutional Repository Launches

This week ICS officially launched its new "Institutional Repository" (IR). The outfit that hosts the repository, Open Repository (a service of BioMed Central), is doing a media blitz on our behalf consisting of press releases and web banner adds in places that will mostly be visible within the academic world.

The lead article in this issue of our newsletter Perspective is all about the repository. It describes the institutional obligations that led ICS to implement the repository as well as its potential for making the work of Christian scholars associated with ICS much more widely visible.

Perhaps the most immediately significant feature of the repository is the many theses that are now available online, but the repository is not only about theses. Articles, conference papers and many other kinds of things will be made available through it. Back issues of Perspective are there now, and more searchable than ever.

One question people might ask is "what relevance could Open Repository, part of BioMed Central, have for Christian academic publishing?" It's a fair question. Open Repository is not a Christian school organisation and it arises from a branch of the sciences not the humanities. To answer the question we need to look at how this technology has evolved.  It finds its roots in the sciences because the sciences had the first most pressing need for a standards-based means of making research information quickly, widely and freely available. The humanities, in contrast, are still more oriented towards the traditional print-based means of research information distribution. Quite simply, the people who have developed the technology and who subsequently make such services available, come from within the sciences.

This does not mean that the ICS repository will live more within the world of the sciences than in the world of the humanities (and faith), but it does mean that it will be tended by an organisation with economies of scale and expertise that ICS cannot achieve on its own. Funding organisations are increasingly making the publication of research information in standards-compliant ways a condition of their grants, and the ICS repository will mean that we don't have to scramble to be able to say "yes, we can meet those kinds of conditions".

Though primarily meant to be discovered by other means (eg. Google Scholar search) you can browse the assets in our repository directly at

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Tom Wolthuis: Preaching Schedule

On Sunday, October 20, ICS President Tom Wolthuis will be preaching at Covenant CRC, 278 Parnell Road in St Catharines.

On Sunday, October 27, Tom will be preaching at the evening Reformation service at Ebenezer CRC,18 Fourth Avenue in Trenton.

Drew Van’t Land in Rochester

On Saturday October 19, Junior Member Drew Van’t Land will be presenting a paper titled "Impassibility amid the Principalities: Christ's Sinlessness in a Culture of Sinful Systems" at the "New Creation" conference hosted by the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (CETA) in Rochester, New York.

Christian Thought and Living in and as the Middle

Mythic conventions of one culture after another imagine human life as in the middle of things. The Edda stories of the ancient Germanic peoples spoke of Middle Earth (midgaard). Tolkein was an academic expert in the philology of ancient Germanic literatures. It shows in his fantasy fiction; Middle Earth, indeed. The traditional Chinese culture spoke of the Middle Kingdom. The symbolics of the Middle Kingdom were so embedded in Chinese understanding that Mao Tse Tung, that inveterate revolutionary, developed a symbolics of political legitimacy for his modern socialist People’s Republic that the old Emperors would have recognized without a moment’s hesitation. Even philosophical cosmologies carry echoes of this bone-deep intuition. In reformational philosophy, our lives are spoken of as lived and available to thought in time. Time, in turn, is spoken of as a kind of dynamic structural condition for the meaning redolent in and available to human living and thinking, the sense of our lives, we could say. Time and the life-sense it makes possible too can be thought of as “between”: between that high and exceeding mystery one can call “religion” in which we live already here and now in the dynamic ever-presence of the Creator, on the one hand, and the evacuation of mean and resulting fall into meaninglessness we fear in and around us and identify with the presence of sin, on the other. Time in this metaphor is not so much a “what” as a “when”, a middle-when or Middle Age in which “to wait” and “to work” for God’s reign are one and the same joy.

In our ordinary habits of thinking and imagining, extremes are where we look for opposites to meet, but in the middle-thinking of mythic and cosmological thought opposites meet in the middle. Nik Ansell, for example, in developing an intuition of Herman Dooyeweerd, speaks of time moving ever in two directions simultaneously. There is a transcendental direction in which thinking and imagining are borne as it were upwards toward that limit of time constituted by encounter with our transcendent Maker, encounter pointed to in time by our time-bound acts of believing and worshipping. At the same time there is a foundational direction that burrows ever deeper into the available recesses of creaturely meaning, that immerses us in the God-spoken richness of our living in time. Of course, this too is in the end to encounter God, not as the One who lies beyond time so much as the One who is ever to be found immanent to what he has made at its absolute heart.

In the middle of things—in the between spaces—on the slash (to cite Jim Olthuis’ inadvertently hilarious coinage)—with-ing away for all we’re worth—all these pictures are attempts to mark where we live our lives and have our being. It is something that human beings have ever known deep in their bones. And this too: middle existence is never separated from the divine. Even were we to travel to the deepest bottom of the ocean (the symbol of primordial chaotic world stuff in ancient near eastern mythic imagination) there be the Creator-God, says the Psalmist, as if she were a reformational philosopher avant le fait bringing out the God-encounter hiding in even the most secret places of and in time. The ancient Germanic warriors and alewives but also traditional Chinese mandarins and courtesans were not impervious to this bit of wisdom, each in their own way. One could pass from midgaard to Valhalla and back—or so the stories told. One could with due attention espy the Will of T’ien (Heaven) and so the rightful Emperor could ever be known.

It is an occasion of gratitude, a matter of joy, to live in a God-spoken middle place. It is the task of middle places like the Institute for Christian Studies to think the world in such gratitude and out of such joy. It will do so enabled by the waves of time in both their dynamic directions, pointing to God ever more than and beyond but also deep within the Middle Earth and Middle Age that we, quite as much as Frodo and Galadriel, Gawain and Guinevere inhabit and struggle to do right by. It’s worth a thought and a prayer this month. Won’t you join me?

Bob Sweetman

Tuesday 1 October 2013

ICS Research Centre Co-Hosts International Gathering of Continental Philosophers

ICS’s Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics (CPRSE), together with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, will host the annual conference of the Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy (CSCP) this year! The conference takes place in the Jackman Humanities Building at U of T on October 10-12, 2013 and will have an engaging mix of papers from across the spectrum of continental philosophy. We are excited to co-host this important international gathering of different voices, on behalf of the leading Canadian society in continental philosophy.

ICS Senior Members Lambert Zuidervaart and Shannon Hoff, CPRSE Associate Director Allyson Carr, and U of T Professor Rebecca Comay are in charge of local arrangements. Shannon, Lambert, and Rebecca are also featured speakers at the conference. Registration will happen at the conference, with registration fees ranging from $15 for graduate students who are CSCP members to $60 for faculty who are not CSCP members. For details about the conference program, go to the society’s website at

Tom Wolthuis: October Preaching Schedule

On Sunday, October 13, ICS President Tom Wolthuis will be preaching at Fellowship CRC, 204 Main Street in Brighton.

On Sunday, October 20, Tom will be preaching at Covenant CRC, 278 Parnell Road in St Catharines.

On Sunday, October 27, Tom will be preaching at the evening Reformation service at Ebenezer CRC,18 Fourth Avenue in Trenton.

Christian Higher Education — Bob Sweetman in Montreal

Senior Member Bob Sweetman presented a paper titled “Christian Higher Education, the Community of Faith and the Academy at Large: Dilemmas and Opportunities” at the Christian Faith and the University: From the Reformation to the 21st Century Conference held in Montreal on September 26-28.

Shannon Hoff in Berlin, Jim Olthuis in Seoul

Senior Member Shannon Hoff will be travelling to Berlin this month. She will be a fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry until December 15. To learn more, visit Shannon’s profile page.

On October 19 Senior Member Emeritus Jim Olthuis will present a paper to the 4th International Conference of the Korean Evangelical Theological Society in Seoul, Korea. The paper is titled “Faith,Hope and Love  A Biblical Postmodern Vision of/for Education.”

Scripture, Faith and Scholarship Seminar

On October 28, Ian Barns, currently visiting professor at Queen's at the invitation of David Lyon, will conduct the first Scripture, Faith and Scholarship seminar this year. Barns is one of Australia's leading "lay theologians", working in the area of social ethics with specific attention to science and technology. He will discuss how we might think about “creation care” in the context of the overall Biblical narrative.

These seminars are mandatory for PhD Junior Members, but all Junior Members and of course faculty are welcome and strongly encouraged to participate as well.

Citizens for Public Justice Celebrates 50 Years!

Citizens for Public Justice is excited in 2013 to be celebrating its 50th anniversary: a time to share and honour all the ways in which CPJ has inspired and transformed public policy in Canada, to learn more about people whose courage and insight have led to lasting change, and to lift up visions for the future. They invite you all to join them!

They’ll be celebrating on Thursday, October 3 at the Church of the Holy Trinity, 10 Trinity Square in Toronto, with dinner, speaker Armine Yalnizyan, and live music from the Wine before Breakfast Band.

Doors open at 6:00, and dinner begins at 6:30. Tickets are available online for $50, or $25 for students/underwaged, and will also be available at the door.

Janet Read’s Art Show in Peterborough

ICS alumna Janet Read is presenting her new paintings in a show titled “The Ways of Cloud and Water” at Christensen Fine Art, 432 George Street, Peterborough. This show opens on October 4 and continues until October 24. For more information visit

Mall Culture

This article was originally published in Christian Courier, Issue 2965, July 22, 2013.

Bourbon Street, Chinatown and Europa Boulevard are all here in the West Edmonton Mall. I am walking one of the High Temples of North American culture. This is how James K.A. Smith writes about the North American mall in his book Desiring the Kingdom.

Looking around, I see some people declare their fundamental allegiances—what they worship, in other words—on their clothing. Is it Hollister, Abercrombie, Guess, or Aeropostale? Almost everyone carries packages to remind them of their religious pilgrimage.

There is an indoor waterpark for those who worship there, an amusement park with incredible roller coasters for those who crave that excitement. I noticed a simulation of creation in the undersea adventure, although it was not functioning. Young children can use the indoor hockey rink to prepare themselves for ritual entry into the high priesthood of Canadian hockey.

Some worship in the variety of food expressing cultures from throughout the world, either on the high-end in restaurants or the low end in the food court. I experienced Bourbon Street and had blackened bourbon chicken in the food court. The Ferguson Brothers, in their humour book How to be a Canadian, reference Canadian culture as a mall culture with the food court as the primary food heritage of Canada

Consumer Culture
The stores all look alike. How many shoe stores does a mall need? This mall has thirty-five, plus sports stores. How many clothes do we really need to squeeze into our closets? Does anyone need Restoration Hardware or the Pottery Barn? What? No Restoration Hardware or Pier 1 Imports? I count 33 cellular services, 34 financial services and ATM’s, 62 health and beauty stores, 49 places for jewelry and accessories, and at least 68 clothes stores, not to mention the 12 shops for lingerie only and 8 bridal boutiques.

Is the combination of shopping, entertainment and adventure simply a way to gather all the things we worship? Stuff, food, entertainment, sports, appearance…North American culture.

I am perhaps too harsh and judgmental. Maybe the mall is a place of community. Maybe it is the place where cultures enjoy each other's differences, learn from each other, share with each other.

I did not fully participate in the worship in the mall. I ate because it was dinner time. I did not buy anything—maybe because I worship money. I did want to ride roller coasters. If I had more time and were more prepared I would have enjoyed the waterpark as I did 25 years ago when I brought 450 young people here from Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Young Calvinist convention in Edmonton. What did this excursion to the mall tell them when they were attending a religious gathering for young people?

Churches and Malls
When people go to church, it is often in isolated cultural ways. Malls seem to bring people together. Church seems to split people into separate ethnic groups. Malls are culture. Churches are sometimes a culture of the past. The mall has something for all ages, all cultures, if you have the money. The church is free, a place of grace, but declining in numbers in North America. Is the church too separated from culture?

Christ and Culture
The church’s relationship with culture is a difficult question. In 1951 H. Richard Niebuhr laid out approaches to culture from various Christian traditions in his book Christ and Culture. He delineated the positions of Christ Against Culture (often the approach of Fundamentalism and Anabaptists), Christ of Culture (often associated with “liberal” Protestantism), Christ Above Culture (associated with Roman Catholicism), Christ and Culture in Paradox (in Lutheranism and being revived in Reformed “two kingdoms” discussions), and clearly Niebuhr’s position of Christ the Transformer of Culture (the traditional Reformed view). Although Niebuhr’s analysis and categories have been challenged, it is still a helpful heuristic. More recently, Andy Crouch has advocated for Christians to be Culture Making.

Should we be separate and make our own culture, or engaged in shaping our culture’s culture? What does that look like? What does it mean for a businesswoman, a stock trader, a salesperson, a consumer? These are the questions with which our Christian institutions, especially churches and schools, need to wrestle.

What are the needs that both the mall and the church are addressing? Are we only consuming culture? Is the alternative now to retreat into subcommunities or just live in both worlds? How do we bridge between God’s new world in Christ and the mall?

Tom Wolthuis, President

Hello World, A Presidential Musing by Dawn

I had the Partridge Family theme song playing in my head frequently in the 70's after one of the kids I babysat said I looked like Laurie Partridge. Don't look too hard. It was my hair.
Hello world, here's a song that we're singin'
Come on, get happy
Software development professionals use this "Hello World" phrase when getting a new toolset to do something. There is a celebration, sometimes small and silent, when the computer says "Hello World" back to you using the new tools.

Most people demand more of their tools, with a focus on real content, go figure. Some of you might want to take a sneak peek at our Institutional Repository (IR) (at, officially launching this month, with more content to be added over time. You can see there is a bit more than a simple "Hello World" already out here.

We are delighted to see the IR coming to fruition. I don't want to preempt the real announcements any more than this, but many people have been part of this adventure, and we are happy to have our Channel 229 readers as fellow travelers.
Travelin' along, there's a song that we're singin'
Come on, get happy
A whole lotta lovin' is what we'll be bringin'
We'll make you happy

Prayer Letter: October 2013

Tuesday, October 1: As the second month of the fall semester begins, we ask God's guidance and wisdom for all our Junior Members who are working hard in their courses and for a sense of balance as they deal with families and jobs as well. We pray too that student jobs will be found where they are needed.

Wednesday, October 2: The Leadership Team meets today. We pray for God’s guidance for this meeting.

Thursday, October 3: We offer prayers of praise for the talents of Senior Member Bob Sweetman, who presented a paper in Montreal last week.
Citizens for Public Justice celebrates 50 years in Toronto this evening! We offer prayers for blessings for this event.

Friday, October 4: ICS Presidents Tom and Dawn Wolthuis will be in Edmonton at The King’s University College for the inauguration of Dr. Melanie Humphreys. We pray for safe travel and blessings for all who attend this event.

Monday, October 7: We offer prayers of praise for the talent of ICS alumna Janet Read, who is showing her latest paintings in Peterborough this month.

Tuesday, October 8: Today Junior Member Bryan Richard will defend his MA thesis. We pray for energy and insight as he prepares for his defense.

Wednesday, October 9: 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.

Thursday, October 10: ICS’s Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics (CPRSE), together with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, is hosting the annual conference of the Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy (CSCP) this year. We pray for blessings on everyone who is attending.

Friday, October 11: Senior Member Shannon Hoff will be going to the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin. We pray for safe travel and blessings on Shannon while she is there.

Sunday, October 13: Tom Wolthuis will be preaching at Fellowship CRC, 204 Main Street in Brighton.

Monday, October 14: Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. As we celebrate and give thanks for the bounty of the harvest, may we reflect on the grace of God and the rewards of our labour. We are grateful that ICS is sustained by both God's grace and the dedicated work of its support community, administrative staff, and Senior and Junior Members.

Tuesday, October 15: As the Thanksgiving weekend ends, we offer prayers of gratitude for the many people who have given ICS gifts of prayers, money, concern and appreciation. It is truly a blessing to have the interest and support of so many people.
The Finance and Fundraising Committee meets today. We pray for God's wisdom to guide their discussions and decisions.

Wednesday, October 16: The Leadership Team and Academic Council meet today. We pray for God’s wisdom to guide these meetings.

Thursday, October 17: We are now fully into our new academic year! Give thanks for the insightful, talented, and hard working ICS faculty and staff, and pray for energy and enthusiasm to sustain with their workloads.

Friday, October 18: We ask for God's blessing on those who are planning the Annual General Meeting to be held next month. We pray for energy and enthusiasm for all who are involved. Also please pray today for the ICS Board recruitment process, that committed and able candidates for Board vacancies will be offered to the ICS membership for approval.

Saturday, October 19: Jim Olthuis is presenting a paper in Seoul, Korea. We pray for safe travel and blessings on everyone attending.

Sunday, October 20: Tom Wolthuis will be preaching at Covenant CRC, 278 Parnell Road in St Catharines.

Monday, October 21: Reading Week begins today! Please pray that our Senior and Junior Members will be able to use this break from classes to catch up, get ahead, or use the week for whatever they may need to help them in their studies.
We offer prayers for the launch of the Institutional Repository on October 21 (during the International Open Access Week).
The Executive will be meeting this evening. We pray for God’s wisdom to guide their discussions.

Tuesday, October 22: Many of our Junior Members are working on their their Masters and PhD thesis projects. We pray for our Junior Members and ask that they will have time, focus and wisdom.

Wednesday, October 23: As Reading Week continues, please pray that it will be a fruitful week for the academic body at ICS as many Senior and Junior Members have projects they are working on beyond normal class work. Whether these are publications, papers for conferences, or other scholarly activities, pray that this week will afford extra time to make progress in these areas.

Thursday, October 24: Please pray for the Institute and the continued mission of ICS. To be even more specific, we ask that you pray with us that we have good responses to our donor appeals in the remaining months of 2013.

Friday, October 25: Reading Week is over! We ask God for insight, energy and enthusiasm for everyone who is returning to classes next week.

Sunday, October 27: Tom Wolthuis will be preaching at the evening Reformation service at Ebenezer CRC,18 Fourth Avenue in Trenton.

Monday, October 28: The first Scripture Faith and Scholarship Seminar will be held this afternoon. Please pray for a stimulating exchange that will help everyone think further about their calling as Christian scholars.

Tuesday, October 29: The Leadership Team meets today. We pray for God's wisdom to guide their discussions and decisions.

Wednesday, October 30: Today we offer prayers of celebration. Forty-five years ago today Senior Member Emeritus Jim Olthuis began his work at ICS!.

Thursday, October 31: We ask God's help and guidance for all those who are doing advancement work for ICS. Please pray that support for the vision and mission of ICS continues to grow.

Monday 16 September 2013

Alumnus Update: Drew Van’t Land at Trinity Christian College

Congratulations to Junior Member Drew Van’t Land who has begun a position as adjunct professor for the Philosophy department at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights IL. Drew will be teaching two introductory courses: PHIL 101 is a training course in Reformational worldview analysis and the history of philosophy, while PHIL 102 is an application of Reformational worldview analysis to the economic mode of human life.

Drew successfully defended his MA thesis on 21 Aug 2013. The title of his thesis is "The Rhetorical Roots of Radical Orthodoxy: Augustinian Oratory and Ontology in Milbank’s Theopo(e/li)tics" His Senior Member Mentor was Bob Sweetman. Drew will graduate with his MA at Convocation on Saturday, May 10, 2014.

ICS Doctoral Candidate Joe Kirby Published

Junior Member Joe Kirby has been published in the Journal of Evolution and Technology published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. His paper is titled "Toward an Ecological and Cosmonautical Philosophy."  Read Joe's paper at

Tuesday 3 September 2013

ICS offers MWS in Urban Ministry

MWS in Urban Ministry, 2014 cohort in Central America. Tell others — we have plans for starting a pilot of our emerging MWS in Urban Ministry in January in Central America. You might know someone who could make a difference in the world through this opportunity to learn and serve. See the MWS in Urban Ministry page for details and the printable brochure.

Applications will be accepted until September 30.


This article was originally published in Christian Courier, Issue 2963, June 24, 2013.

On March 13, my wife and I were driving from Western Michigan back to Canada via the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia listening to the news of the election of the new Pope on the radio. We heard that the white smoke had ascended, and we waited for the announcement. As the commentators were filling the time of waiting, one noted that “pontiff” means “bridge maker.” How ironic, we mused, as we crossed the bridge into Canada at that moment.

We arrived at our friend’s condo in Sarnia just as the new pontiff was announced. He’s the first pope Francis, named after the saint who was called to rebuild the church through a ministry to the poor. This is a wonderful symbolic emphasis for the first Western and Southern Hemisphere pontiff. May he be a bridge builder.

A Google search reveals that the word “pontiff” is related to a variety of leaders. Priests, leading powerful Romans, and, ultimately, the Emperor were referred to as pontiffs. Some object to this word and its priestly idea. While the image may be misconstrued, we can all benefit from the concept of being bridge builders, or pontiffs.

Between churches
With whom do we need to construct spans? Earlier on our bridge crossing day, an Institute of Christian Studies graduate and supporter told us about his work with many Catholic leaders in Southeast Michigan. How long, he wondered, does our church need to continue “protesting”? What an intriguing question. Is it helpful to continue to call one segment of the church the “Protestant” church? What bridges need to be built among churches?

We have a long history of protest. The Wolthuis side of my family comes from Ulrum in the Netherlands. They were church organists in the church where the Afshceiding, the 1834 church split often considered the forerunner of the Christian Reformed Church, began. Another side of my family, the Ditmars, were part of the “Remonstrants.” My grandparents’ church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was for a while the Protesting Christian Reformed Church. Within the family of Dutch Reformed churches in North America there are over 20 different denominations. How long to do we keep protesting?

Many see “protest” as negative, just another way of complaining. At its root “to protest” is to “to declare publicly, to testify.” It is to speak against injustice on behalf of the oppressed and powerless. Too often, however, we build barriers, not bridges, in our protest.

A passion for justice aroused in the 1960s led people to attempt a march across a bridge in Selma, Alabama because they believed that black and white people could live and serve God better without mandated racial divides. The bridge walkers sang “We Shall Overcome” the disparities, the injustices, the persecutions and the heartbreak-- not in our own strength, but through God who loves us and wants us to love each other.

Like many Canadian Christian schools, ICS was birthed during the protest era of the 1960s. We seek to build a bridge between the Christian community and the academic world. We protest against the idea of a neutral secular education on one side and an isolated church on the other. We are ambassadors of the love of God to the academic world and of the world of learning to the Christian community.

Bridging the gaps
We find enormous differences and disagreements in today’s society, within churches and within families, but does it have to lead to division and conflict? Can our bridge building skills be turned to connect with others, rather than developing internal walls? Can our bridge construction become a testimony of grace and hope?

Since I am from Michigan, my vision is shaped by bridges. There is the strange ongoing story of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. I also think of the story of the daring building of the Mackinaw Bridge. Ah, to be a bridge builder who risks the winds, who longs for a connection to the other shore, who hopes for safety for all the workers, who holds on to the new ironwork to put it in its proper place.

I believe in one holy catholic church. I am excited about a new pontiff who seeks to bring the church back to the needs of the poor, the disenfranchised and the creation. Blessings to the new pontiff as he heads his construction crew. I want us to be bridge builders, too. Read John 17:20-23 and Ephesians 2:14-22.

To whom do you passionately and daringly seek to build a bridge?

Tom Wolthuis, President