Friday 31 July 2020

“A child named ‘Charity’”

As both a faculty member and President of ICS, I have to move between the academic world and the very different world of philanthropy. From listening to and learning from my students and academic colleagues, I must move to listening to and learning from the wider ICS support community. Hearing people’s stories about why they support ICS—including what they hope and wish for from it—always ends up encouraging me in my sense of why ICS is important, and how it must continue to honour your support by making a meaningful and transformative contribution to the growth of wisdom in our chaotic and dangerous times.

In moving between these conversations, I am also struck by the overlapping concerns of the two groups: together we all act from the conviction that God in Jesus the Messiah calls us to be a healing and transformative witness to a good yet suffering world. Recently, ICS received a generous gift from the children of a supporter who has been with us since our earliest days, and who shares this conviction. The family let me know that the gift was made to honour the wishes of their recently widowed father, who had impressed upon them his love for ICS and its mission in Christian higher education.

When I called the father to thank him, I could not have guessed what he wished to say. “I have five biological children,” he told me, “but long ago my wife and I adopted a sixth child, whom we have named ‘Charity’.” It took me a moment to realize that he wasn’t talking about an actual adopted sixth child, but was rather providing me with a metaphor to explain his philosophy of giving. Simply put, he had decided to bestow upon his five, no six, children a pre-inheritance. Of that money, he instructed his children to divide the sixth portion between five charities that he and his wife had faithfully supported, one of those being ICS.

I’m still pondering with wonder this donor’s philosophy of giving. He could have simply held back the sixth portion from his children, and donated that amount to the charities himself. Instead, he involved his children, like executors of a living will, and directed them to reach out to the charities on their own. Doing so allowed me to have meaningful exchanges with these good folks, which graciously provided me an opportunity to form new relationships with them. I guess what strikes me most is the wisdom behind this gesture, to have the donation become a form of witness on many different levels—to ICS, to his children, and, through my telling, to you, ICS’s wider community of support.

This donor’s wisdom, finally, led me to ponder charity as a form of love. The English word ‘charity’, as is well known, derives from the Latin caritas, which was used in the Vulgate to translate the Greek word agape. In a world that relies too heavily on charity as a band-aid to cover the wounds of injustice, we must also not forget that, even so, charity remains an act through which we may become conduits of God’s never-ending love for the world. And whenever we receive these cheerful gifts, we feel that love, as well as the responsibility to extend it to everyone we serve. Thank you for your generous faithfulness, friends! Be well!

-President Ronald A. Kuipers

Prayer Letter: August 2020

Monday, August 3 - Friday, August 7:

On Thursday this week, ICS will be hosting its third virtual Open House for the Masters in Educational Leadership (MA-EL) program. This time we have invited potential students and other "champions" of the MA-EL program (e.g. principals and influencers) to attend. Edith van der Boom, our new Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Education and Practice of Pedagogy, and Director of the MA-EL program, will introduce herself and her vision for the program. EIizabet Aras, our Academic Registrar, will explain the application process and present the program design. Please pray for Edith and Elizabet, and all the participants, that the Open House will be an effective vehicle for promoting the program.

Please pray these next two weeks for those students wishing to begin the Masters in Educational Leadership program this fall. ICS is accepting applications until August 15 so please pray that the recruitment efforts that have been going on all summer will bear fruit with a strong third cohort.

The Critical Faith podcasting crew and our Senior Members are hard at work recording snapshot interviews about this fall’s courses—all of which will be offered online for the duration of the semester. With discounts available for first-time auditors and ICS alumni/ae, an array of course topics on offer, and the ease of a once-a-week online seminar format, this is an unprecedented opportunity for students to participate in an ICS classroom from anywhere in the world. Please pray for the crew and for our Senior Members as they continue to spread the word and prepare for these courses ahead of the coming semester. If you’re interested in knowing exactly what we’re offering this fall or if you want to encourage someone to try an ICS course for themselves, you can find details on our website at

In light of the growing unrest about systemic racism and violence, and as a first step toward deep and long term institutional reflection on the ways we at ICS are complicit in and benefit from systemic racism, the CPRSE will introduce a series of reflections on our Ground Motive blog beginning this week. The series will feature some voices from within the ICS learning community in a conversation that will expand through the inclusion of BIPOC communities and organizations, and diverse philosophers and theologians. Keep an eye on Ground Motive for the start of this series and pray for those contributing to it, that they might speak graciously and insightfully. Please also pray that these efforts will indeed be a first key step in examining and wrestling with the various forms of privilege and complicity at play within the ICS community, and in asking how we might continually learn to better love our neighbours in our day.

Monday, August 10 - Friday, August 14:

Please pray this week for our Registrar, Elizabet Aras, as she prepares for student registration and the virtual fall retreat to be held in the second week of September. As well, Elizabet and Gideon will be hosting a pre-registration meeting for program students who need to take courses in the fall term on August 11. There are myriad details to take care of, so we ask God for clarity and discernment in the planning and implementation of these important events at the start of our school year.

On Thursday of this week, ICS will host its fourth and last virtual Open House. The Open House will follow the same format as the August 6th one (see above). So once again, we ask you to pray for Edith and Elizabet as they make their presentations and for all the participants that it would prove to be an informative and inspiring event.

The month of August marks the official beginning of our Fourth Annual Undergraduate Workshop. This time, we will work remotely with undergraduate students from across North America as they reflect on the concepts of evil, resistance, and judgment through an interdisciplinary lens. Please pray for the ICS/CPRSE team as we engage this keen group of students in dialogue and help them hone their scholarship skills in these unprecedented times.

Monday, August 17 - Friday, August 21:

Please pray this week for Gideon Strauss as he leads the last course in our Summer Online Learning Initiative: Lead From Where You Are: Making a Difference in the Face of Tough Problems, Big Questions, and Organizational Politics. This is a one-week intensive designed to help students develop a leadership language and use a set of tools and frameworks to assist them with diagnosing and addressing the toughest problems experienced by organizations, communities, institutions, and societies. Pray for Gideon and the students as they work out fresh insights and new skills together in a workshop format.

The Master of Educational Leadership program starts up this week. Cohort 1, which started the program in September 2018 will be doing two guided readings. Cohort 2, which began in August 2019, will be enrolled in Lead From Where You Are, which is also running this week. Cohort 3, which comprises the new students in the program, will be taking the first course in the program, Finding Joy in Learning. Please pray for Elizabet as she administers the registration and online classrooms for these courses, for the students who will be participating, and for Gideon Strauss and Edith van der Boom as they lead the learning process.

We also want to pray for the various projects which our Junior Members are working on: theses, proposals, reading lists, dissertations, independent research, presentations and coursework. We pray that the summer season has been an opportunity for them to follow through on these projects and that it brings renewed inspiration and vigour for the upcoming school year.

Monday, August 24 - Friday, August 28:

We ask for your prayers this week for our administrative staff as they seek to ensure that all the pieces are in place for the beginning of the school year. Pray too for our faculty as they prepare their courses for online delivery this semester. We ask for God’s grace and wisdom as they work together, and for keen discernment in meeting the opportunities and challenges facing ICS at this time. We give thanks to God for sending each of them to serve the Institute’s mission with commitment and dedication.

Normally at this time we would ask for prayer for our Junior Members, both returning and new, as they prepare to come to Toronto to begin a new academic year. However, all our classes will be wholly online for at least the fall semester so we will only be able to see our students virtually. Please pray for our faculty and administrators as we prepare to provide the optimum learning experience online. And pray for both our new and returning students that they will have a fruitful online learning experience and that we will all find creative ways to build community at a distance. 

Monday, August 31:

Please pray today for Elizabet Aras as she flies to Sweden on September 2nd to be with her parents who have just recently been reunited after being separated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pray that the travel arrangements will go smoothly and that Elizabet will be at peace during the flight and when she arrives in Stockholm. We ask God to watch over her as she re-integrates into life with her family again and that the family will remain healthy.

As we take a moment to look back over the summer, please also join us in a prayer of thanksgiving for all the Summer Online Learning Initiative courses that were delivered over the last few months. We thank God for each of the many students that took part in the five courses that were offered, and for each of the course leaders for the gifts of their time and efforts spent crafting these individual courses and guiding students’ learning experiences. 

Friday 10 July 2020

In Memoriam: M. Elaine Botha

by Gideon Strauss

Belovéd of God, Elaine Botha (1938-2020) rests in peace and will rise in glory. She was a pioneering scholar, a wise mentor and a dear friend to many, and a brave voice for justice and love.

As a scholar Elaine worked primarily on metaphor and the philosophy of the social sciences, and made innovative contributions to her own Reformational tradition. She completed two doctorates at the beginning of the 1970s, one at the then Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education in her native South Africa, advised by C. N. Venter, and the other at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, advised by Hendrik Van Riessen and André Troost. She taught philosophy at the Potchefstroom University (1969 to 1995) and served as academic vice president (1995 to 2000) and director of the Dooyeweerd Centre (2000 to 2004) at Redeemer University in Canada. In 2005 she was a visiting scholar of the Center for Semiotics at Aarhus University in Denmark. She also taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Institute for Christian Studies.

Many people can attest to Elaine’s kindness and hospitality as a mentor and a friend. My own experience of her as a mentor and friend began in the early 1990s, when Elaine and Craig Bartholomew co-founded the Christian Worldview Network. The CWN brought together academics in the Reformational tradition, artists seeking a Christian imagination, and activists working with a Christian democratic vision for the political and societal transformation of apartheid South Africa. The CWN invited South Africans towards an integral vision of Christian life in its gatherings and with its magazine, The Big Picture, and continues to influence Christians making art in South Africa through its 1993 manifesto, Christians and the Arts in South Africa. But perhaps to the most enduring effect, the CWN served as a context in which many of us then in our twenties could enjoy the wise mentorship offered by Elaine.

Much of Elaine’s courage was practiced quietly and privately. In public life, she worked against the racism, misogyny, and patriarchy of Afrikaner Christian-nationalism for decades, not least so at the Potchefstroom University where she studied and taught. She was a signatory of the 1977 Koinonia Declaration, denying a biblical foundation to the racism of apartheid political theology, at a time and in a place where making such a public statement came with a considerable cost, both professionally and socially.

Late in life Elaine married Bob Goudzwaard, the Dutch Reformational economist and politician, with whom she retired in South Africa.

Along with Elaine’s friends, students, and colleagues I pray for her rest in the embrace of God and look forward to continuing our conversations in the world to come.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

In Memoriam: John H. Kok

by Bob Sweetman (with gratitude to Calvin Seerveld)

On 15 June 2020, ICS’s Senate met via Zoom to engage in that precious act of “sober second thought” around ICS’s academic life. No one knew at the time that John Kok, second-term external Senator, was in trouble. He complained of foot pain that made it difficult for him to walk, but there he was looking little worse for the wear. So, we were shocked to hear of his sudden passing at 1am on 5 July 2020. Nothing prepared us for this “bolt from the blue”: a staph infection that resisted all treatment until his body was too weak to try more aggressive interventions.

ICS and the Reformational tradition of Christian scholarship has lost a lot in John’s passing. He came into adulthood in the late 60s and early 70s as an undergraduate at Trinity Christian College, during the years when it was an epicentre of the Reformational movement in North America. Calvin Seerveld, Peter Steen, Martin Vrieze, Thomas McIntire, Robert Vandervennen made up a significant portion of the then young college’s faculty, and provided a liberal arts education with explicitly Christian verve and excitement (dubbed the ‘high church party’ within Kuyperian Christianity by long-time Calvin University History Professor Ronald Wells). John was one of many students who came under the influence of Cal Seerveld (as well as Martin Vrieze) in those days, inspired by Cal’s charismatic and imaginative teaching which gave rise to a desire to go out and do likewise.

In 1971 John moved with his wife Sanneke to The Netherlands to pursue graduate work in philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam. There he was taken under the wing of Hendrik van Riessen and later Jacob Klapwijk. John began work on his PhD thesis in 1978 and finished it in 1992 under the dual direction of Henk Hart of ICS and Abraham Bos of the Free University. In the meantime, John took a position with Dordt University (then Dordt College) in Sioux Center, IA in 1983. He worked for Dordt from then until his retirement in 2014, and in several capacities. He taught in the Philosophy Department until 1997. From then until his retirement he would serve at the decanal level, first as Dean of the Humanities and later as Dean of Research and Scholarship. In addition, he was for a time the Director of the Andreas Center for Christian Scholarship, and settled into a role as Managing Editor of Dordt College Press, a position he continued to hold after he retired. For decades he represented the Society for Reformational Philosophy (based in The Netherlands) to its members in North America. Just before retirement he was recruited by then ICS President Doug Blomberg to serve on ICS’s Senate and he became its Chair and ICS Chancellor for a term (2014-2019).

Such was the institutional context for his service of the Reformational tradition, but it does not yet communicate the tenor and texture of that service.

John Kok was a man who embodied the most characteristic (and characteristically modest) ideal of Dutch Calvinism—to be useful in the Lord’s work. John was ever useful and never flashy. If he was once inspired to go and do like charismatic Reformational speakers and teachers like H. Evan Runner, Peter Steen, or Cal Seerveld, that did not turn out to be his calling. He was called to be useful in less flamboyant ways, and in this he succeeded quietly and steadily. His work for the Society for Reformational Philosophy is a good example, but there are so many others.

In his thesis, John took on the formative background of D.H.Th. Vollenhoven as a philosopher of mathematics and logic. This was archeological work in rock hard soil. This was not yet the Vollenhoven who along with Herman Dooyeweerd would found the Reformational tradition. And yet this was the core formation in philosophy that Vollenhoven would receive, and the habits of thought he would acquire in those early years would remain important to his later work. If one was to understand how Vollenhoven went about philosophizing as a Reformational philosopher one needed to have a sense of whence he came to the idea of Reformational philosophy, for that remained operative in so many subliminal ways. So John's book Vollenhoven: His Early Development (Dordt College Press, 1992) was an instrumental support for Anthony Tol’s far more ambitious analyses of the thought of Vollenhoven over the next two decades.

One should also not forget John's long efforts to support the work of Kor Bril, Vollenhoven’s most explicit successor at the Free University. John worked for years as a translator of Reformational thought, and his dual language edition of Vollenhoven’s Introduction to Philosophy (Dordt College Press, 2005) has been instrumental in introducing Anglophones to Vollenhoven’s thought. More useful service.

Under his management, Dordt College Press has become a central provider of Reformational publications in English. One thinks especially of the volumes of Cal Seeveld’s publications, including a six-volume set of his most important articles and book chapters and his just-released study of the book of Proverbs.

What equipped John to these many humble but crucial services was his capacity to knit a close attention to detail to the sprawling vision of God’s Kingdom that is so central to the Kuyperian and Reformational scholarly imagination and intention. It was this attention to detail that allowed him to patiently work through the mathematical and logical work of the early Vollenhoven, that supported his patient work as translator and as editor, that facilitated his administrative being as dean and director and managing editor. He was careful, even fastidious, conceptually, but that care was always in service of the Creation-wide Kingdom and always suffused with a deep love of the scriptures. Indeed, the latter love took form in his heart as a delight at the opportunity to exhort from CRC pulpits in his last years.

Here was a man who served his Lord well and truly, who was a true friend of ICS. And we remember him with gratitude to God for the gift that he was to us in life.

The memorial service for John is to be held on Wednesday, July 8, at 10 am CST. The service will be live-streamed on Facebook at the Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, IA. If you wish to attend this service virtually, you will need to like their page to have access to the live-stream: