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.