Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Jan. 17 "Rights and Worlds: The Political Significance of Belonging" talk by Shannon Hoff

At 3:30 p.m. on Friday, January 17, Senior Member Shannon Hoff will be giving a talk in the Philosophy Department at the University of Guelph. The talk is called "Rights and Worlds: The Political Significance of Belonging." It will take place in the MacKinnon Building. For more information please visit

As of this month Shannon is the President of the Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy for a three-year term.

• Click here to see more and watch video.

Truth Matters: Knowledge, Politics, Ethics, Religion

Congratulations to Lambert Zuidervaart, Allyson Carr, Matthew J. Klaassen and Ronnie Shuker on the publication of the book of essays coming out of the 2010 Truth Matters conference.

Edward F. Mooney, professor of religion and philosophy, Syracuse University, had this to say about it:

"The scope of these essays, taken collectively, is impressively capacious. To find a wide-ranging collection of such uniform excellence, invariably informative and insightful, is unprecedented in my experience. The book is absolutely outstanding."

Find out more about the book and the conference in our Research Portal.

Overlooked Herder

In the 2013 winter issue of the Southeastern Theological Review (4:2, 197-222), Senior Member Emeritus Calvin Seerveld has an article published entitled "Overlooked Herder, and the Performative Nature of The Greatest Song as Biblical Wisdom Literature." Cal argues that Herder's (unpublished) treatment of the biblical "Song of Songs" lends support to the oratorio treatment of the book he made 50 years ago, interpreting the text as a sequenced chorus of voices. Seerveld also points out that recent (feminist) scholarship also is willing to entertain the notion that the biblical book is in critique of Solomon.

Caleb Ratzlaff Welcomes his Son

Congratulations to Junior Member Caleb Ratzlaff and his wife Jenica on the birth of their son, Leland George Victor, on January 11.

Seeing History

This article was originally published in Christian Courier, Issue 2971, October 28 2013.

One of my junior high teachers did something that would never be allowed today. He brought a rifle into the classroom, telling us that studying history was like lining up the sights on a rifle. History was the rear sight lining up with the front sight of the present to give aim for shooting into the future.

Heritage is that which is received not by merit, but by reason of birth. We are recipients of a rich heritage. Many things have been passed down to us as a gift, but we live in a culture of the present.

“What can I have now?”

“Why does the past matter?”

With this column, I hope to stimulate reflection on your past to help you see the present more clearly, and thus to move into the future.

Family heritage

In June my wife and I explored part of our heritage by traveling around the Netherlands. We took a week to visit the “tribal villages” of our ancestors, looking for names such as Ditmar, Griffioen, Wolthuis, Van Garderen, Hendriksen, Westendorp, Bakker and Polma. We experienced how small the Netherlands is and how interconnected towns and villages are. We saw changing heritage in church buildings that had switched from Catholic to Reformed to museums.

I stood in the pulpit of the church in Ulrum where my Grandpa Wolthuis attended, where Wolthuis family members had been organists for 200 years, and where the history of the Christian Reformed Church began in the Afscheiding (Separation) of the Gereformeerde from the State Hervormed Church in 1834. Here I experienced both the sense of interconnectedness to the past and the sorrows of disconnections. How are you rooted?

Church heritage

Recently I preached at the 50th anniversary of Princeton CRC in Kentwood, Michigan, the first church I pastored, 25 years ago. I reflected on that heritage. What is your church heritage? How does it shape you?

Princeton gave me much that has shaped me and my ministry. In my ordination service, the man who had baptized me as a child, the Reverend John Entingh, reminded me from John 12:21 that people need to see Jesus through my ministry. I remember kissing my mother, who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, as a sign of love and gratitude for what she had given me.

I remember the graciousness that Rev. John Medendorp showed in accepting me into team ministry. This church taught me how to be a pastor. I learned how to love people in their great variety, passions and needs. I learned to respect difference and difference of opinions. I learned how to do the new in continuity with the old, with a sense of heritage. Pete Zylstra taught me to talk with the congregation as “us,” not “you.”

My experience of the Gospel deepened. I had often thought about the Christian life as doing, duty. I started out preaching about what we needed to do to serve God better. My brother-in-law told me that most of the people listening to a sermon were hurting in some way. They need grace. They need to know that God is graciously at work in the world and in their lives: address their past and offer hope. Not only did they need to know it, I did. I came to know the gospel of grace.

Gifts and challenges

Our heritage gives us certain gifts and also challenges we must address. Our heritage gives us identity. Heritage connects us to the history that has formed us, giving us a context in which to live. Those who ignore their heritage often lose its gifts and suffer its weaknesses without understanding why. Heritage is a foundation for building, the soil into which to sink our roots and gather nutrients for growth. It is important to return to one’s heritage, not for escape or to restrict yourself, but for perspective.

How are your sights lining up? What aspects of your past are helping you aim for the future? Maybe you wrestle with aimlessness. Go back to your heritage. Exploring what has been given to you. Dig into that soil. Visit the sights of the past. For those who are older, share the past with the next generation. Let it shape them. The more we know who and what has shaped us, the more we can shape the future.

Rev. Tom Wolthuis is now, with his wife, exploring how the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto can be an agent of God’s grace to both the church and the academic world, developing its heritage to engage new challenges.

Delight In and Despite the World’s Ambiguity

We live in an ambiguous world. In the Reformational tradition we acknowledge this fact when naming the fundamental impulse toward the world manifest over and over again by people whose sense of the world is saturated with the cadences of Scripture. We speak of the animating force of Creation-Fall-Redemption. Some of us add a fourth term “Consummation” in order to acknowledge the distinct importance of the eschaton in our sense of the world-made-right. What we signal in this formula is that our movements toward the world reflect its ambiguity. Our approach is filled with the expectation of an enduring original goodness that has everywhere undergone marring but a marring equally, everywhere subject to a divine action that both recuperates and nudges things along toward their flourishing. We could make the same point in another way. We who approach the world from out of the cadences of Scripture approach it as if its narrative gist were etched into the world’s every particle. However we choose to name it, we bring a bible-lover’s eye for ambiguity with us into our simple movements toward the world, including ourselves of course.

In light of this complexity the question is always: “How do we (in the Reformational tradition it is always a community rather than an individual that is in question) come to see what is deep, original goodness and the trajectory of its present unto its future flourishing?” This is where the Reformational tradition has introduced the notion of Law/Word. Something of the will of the Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer of the Universe is not so much embedded in things as bespoken through them so that they respond. By a process that is really very mysterious (a point often made over the years by the tradition’s many sceptics) the same process of biblical immersion that embeds the complexity of Creation-Fall-Redemption into our every movement in (and toward) the world also gives us a kind of sonar by which to make out the Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer’s voice whispering to us what we need to know to decide what in the world seems legitimate and what seems off somehow. In our discerning and the judgments we base upon it, we come to an understanding of things that guides us forward, but one that is ever subject to further listening in order to discern and address any gap between our saying and the divine voice we would re-present in our saying. And since the process of biblically saturated discernment is mysterious, Reformational figures have come to different conclusions about things in the world, sometimes even important things. That is all well and good in the academy. From its very medieval origins the university has understood the importance of disputation in its shared search for truth. Indeed, from a pedagogical point of view, provided disputation takes place within the right communal ethos, vive la difference! Of course, from the point of view of the activist attempting to mobilize a Reformational community to act in concert and to effect reformation in the world disputation among the community’s public intellectuals has a deflating effect. People are left to ask who it is who offers bread and who offers stones.

True to its Reformed roots, the Reformational tradition insists on the central role of Scripture in equipping us to see and hear what God is saying and doing in the world so as to discern what we ought to be doing as our grateful service. The expectation is that deep scriptural familiarity will lead to the appropriate epiphany such that it is not we who see and hear but somehow God acting in and through us. But, . . . our own experience is in principle problematic; it participates in the very same ambiguous world in which we strive to discern the lawful voice of God and his consequent call to serve. But when two people equally saturated with the Scriptures come to different conclusions—what then? How do we cut that little Gordian knot?

A word from Thomas Aquinas—look to delight. Trust your senses, delight will tell you unfailingly when you are in the presence of the good. That is: in his view we are made to respond to the good; we cannot help but do so. And our response to the presence of the good is ever the same: delight. Of course, it is not as simple as all that. He was not a Hugh Heffner avant le fait. He too lived in the presence of the Scriptures and knew of the ambiguity ubiquitous in God’s world. The presence of delight bespoke the presence of the good, to be sure, but one still had to work out what exactly the good was that was present and how it was present in order to know how to respond properly to it. To give an example, the handsomeness or beauty of a person will legitimately impress itself upon one as a source of delight. The well-formed human body is a testament to the Creator’s handiwork. But, any invitation to respond to that delight in ways that degrade either the handsome/beautiful one or yourself via an exploitative pattern of objectification, say, must be discerned as a potential perversion of delight to be resisted rather than acted upon. The initial delight however—that remains, and does so unproblematically; it is not undermined by any of its potential perversions. You can trust it and indeed count on it in your exploration of God’s world. Every proper object of delight, every good, will point to deep original goodness, graced beyond its marring, pointing us in turn toward its and our deep present and future flourishing. Here we may be given a clue as to how to begin to think about the process of discernment that we are called to but which remains mysterious and so vulnerable within Reformation understandings. At any rate that is an idea that I am working with these days. Delight had an important role in Aquinas’s understanding. Human living was marked by its delights; they gave to a human life its determinate shape. Delight provided a horizon for understanding one’s gifts and the call those gifts entailed.

There is something earthy and positive in Thomas’s moral reflection upon delight, something we do not always associate with medieval religious whom we are more accustomed to think of in Jerome’s phrase as instituted in order to weep for the world and in withdrawal from it. I find that Thomas’s reflection upon delight delights me. I sigh contentedly: Ah the ironic sense of humour of the Lord of history! What a further delight. May all our lives and all our works be pregnant with the delight that belongs to all whose sensitivity to the presence of God in the make of his Creation illumines their living with the joy of one epiphany after another. Not a bad prayer for the next month or so, wouldn’t you say?

Bob Sweetman

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The New Winter Semester Begins at ICS!

This month marks the beginning of the new winter semester at ICS. There are five courses starting as well as one distance course offered this semester:

With/Out Reason: Art and Imagination in the Western Tradition with Dr. Rebekah Smick

Interdisciplinary Seminar (IDS): Philosophy and Education: The Formation of Persons with the Faculty

Ricoeur, Language & the Sacred with Dr. Ron Kuipers

Art, Religion, and Theology: "Theologies" of Art in the Christian Tradition with Dr. Rebekah Smick

The Nature (and Grace) of Modern Theology with Dr. Nik Ansell

Winter 2014 distance course:

Wisdom and Schooling with Dr. Doug Blomberg

For course descriptions, please visit

Tom Wolthuis: January Preaching Schedule

On Sunday, January 19, ICS President Tom Wolthuis will be preaching at Crosspoint CRC, 444 Steeles Ave W in Brampton.

On Sunday, January 26, Tom will be preaching at Mountainview CRC, 290 Main St E in Grimsby.

Volunteers needed

The Presidents’ office at ICS is seeking volunteers to help on a variety of fronts. We do not want to limit the possibilities as we are looking for individuals with a passion and skills that will help us with our work. Some ideas for where volunteers might be able to help are with church relations, event planning, graphic design, email and calendar management, report preparation, and even as sounding boards for strategic thinking. If you would like to come into the office once a week or work from home, there are possibilities. We have a limited number of slots available, but we would love to hear from many of you. If interested, send an email to by the end of January.

Janet Read’s Art Exhibit

ICS Alumna Janet Read’s work is to be included in the upcoming exhibition Colour, In Theory from January 25 to May 4, 2014 at the Varley Art Gallery of Markham. The opening reception will be on Sunday January 26 from 2 to 4 pm. Visit for more information. Four large paintings will be presented in the gallery as companion to the permanent exhibition focus on Colour, In Theory, curated by Anik Glaude, resident curator at the Varley.

Prayer Letter: January 2014

Wednesday January 1: At the beginning of 2014, we look ahead to another year and ask God's blessing on all our learning and teaching that will happen here at ICS.

Thursday, January 2: For all the Senior Members who are busy with the final preparation for their winter classes, we pray for guidance and stamina.

Friday January 3: We pray for stamina and wisdom for Senior Member Doug Blomberg as he continues in his role as Academic Dean.

Monday January 6: We offer prayers of thanks for the many people who have presented ICS with gifts of prayer, money, and expressions of appreciation, particularly through December and the busy Christmas season. We are deeply grateful to be blessed with so much support and interest.

Tuesday January 7: The first week of classes of the winter semester begins today! Today is the first day for “With/Out Reason: Art and Imagination in the Western Tradition” with Senior Member Rebekah Smick. We ask for God's blessing on all the course participants.

Wednesday January 8: Today is the first day of “IDS: Philosophy and Education: The Formation of Persons” with the Faculty. We pray for God's blessing on all the course participants.
This afternoon there is an Academic Department Strategic Planning Meeting. We pray for God’s guidance for this meeting.

Thursday January 9: Two new courses begin today: “Ricoeur, Language & the Sacred with Senior Member Ron Kuipers and “Art, Religion, and Theology: ‘Theologies’ of Art in the Christian Tradition” with Senior Member Rebekah Smick.. We offer prayers for God's blessing on all the course participants.

Friday January 10: Senior Member Nik Ansell's course begins today: “The Nature (and Grace) of Modern Theology”. We pray for God's blessing on all the participants.

Monday January 13: One distance course begins this week, “Wisdom and Schooling” with Senior Member Doug Blomberg. We pray for God's blessing on all the course participants.

Tuesday January 14: We continue to pray for blessings and energy for ICS Presidents Tom and Dawn Wolthuis, as they manage their many responsibilities.

Wednesday January 15: The Academic Council which meets this afternoon. We pray for God's wisdom to guide the discussions and decisions at this meeting.

Thursday January 16: The first cohort of the Master of Worldview Studies in Urban Ministry is beginning this month. We pray for blessings on the instructors and the students.

Friday January 17: For any of us who are ill or who have family or friends who are ill, we pray for peace, strength, hope and healing.

Sunday January 19: President Tom Wolthuis will be preaching at Crosspoint CRC, 444 Steeles Ave W in Brampton.

Monday January 20: President Tom Wolthuis will be making a presentation at Vision ‘74 in Sarnia today. We pray for safe travel and blessings on all the participants.

Tuesday January 21: We pray for energy and creativity for all those who are involved in the planning for the upcoming conference in Edmonton next May.

Wednesday January 22: The Faculty meets today. We pray for God's wisdom to guide this meeting.

Thursday January 23: 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.

Friday January 24: We ask God to bless Senior Member Ron Kuipers as he continues his work as Director of our Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics.

Sunday January 26: President Tom will be preaching at Mountainview CRC, 290 Main St E in Grimsby.

Monday January 27: Our Librarian, Isabella Guthrie-McNaughton, is at the TST librarians meeting today. We pray for safe travel and for blessings on all those attending.
There is an Executive Board Meeting this evening. We pray for God’s wisdom to guide this meeting.

Tuesday January 28: Today we pray for blessings for the Friends of ICS Board and all those who are doing advancement work in the US.

Wednesday January 29: We pray for God’s wisdom to guide the Leadership Team, which meets this afternoon.

Thursday January 30: With the winter weather here bringing colds and flu, please continue to pray for the health of staff, faculty and students at ICS.

Friday January 31: As the first month of this semester ends, 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.