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.