Tuesday 4 April 2023

In Memoriam: Dr. Frederik Jan Reinders

by Ronald A. Kuipers (ICS President)

Fred Reinders (1930-2023), innovative engineer and creative entrepreneur, lived a remarkable life. With wisdom and faith, he carried that spirit of innovation and creativity beyond the business world into a life of philanthropic service to many charitable causes. He had a special passion for the reformational vision of integrally Christian education, and through both his financial gifts and wise leadership he played a pivotal role in the development of ICS as a unique graduate school that incarnates this educational vision in a world longing for our Maker and Redeemer’s shalom.

Fred served on the ICS Board of Trustees from 1986-93, all of them as Board Chair. He was the first businessperson to occupy that role, following a series of pastors and academicians. Fred’s business acumen left an indelible mark on the Institute, leading ICS into a period of increased financial stability and fundraising success. Perhaps his most significant contribution, however, was his ability to excite passion for ICS’s mission in Christian higher education, and to encourage everyone at ICS to use their gifts to make a healing and transforming impact on the wider world.

In 2012, ICS recognized Fred’s legacy of service to the mission of integrally Christian education by awarding him the degree Doctor of Letters, honoris causa. At that year’s Convocation, Fred delivered an address entitled “Are You Serious?” which ICS published in a 2017 issue of Perspective. There, you can read him suggest—in all seriousness—that reformational philosophers tend to take themselves too seriously:

In our Reformed tradition, we become very serious about our opinions and positions; we forget what it’s like to be open and we need a good measure of self-reflection. Often, it is necessary to be more understanding of each other and embrace the ironic, asking the question: Am I too serious about my own opinions?

My sense is that Fred was critical of our tradition’s tendency to excessive intellectual seriousness because he understood that, ultimately, Christian education has more to do with shaping generous hearts than it does with simply sharpening minds. He was fond of quoting a wise saying he once heard that stated: “God conceals Himself from our minds but reveals Himself to our hearts.” Fred’s message to us was that, while we may disagree intellectually, we should always remain open-hearted with each other, embracing spiritual community amid differing, and deeply held, opinions.

This profound bit of wisdom gave Fred the ability to navigate ICS deftly through controversial waters. As a new Junior Member who first came to ICS in the Fall of 1992, near the end of Fred’s tenure on the ICS Board, I quickly became aware of the controversy surrounding the recently held June 1992 ICS Summer Conference on “An Ethos of Compassion and the Integrity of Creation.” At this conference, ICS Senior Members Hendrik Hart and James Olthuis presented papers suggesting that the reformational assumption that scripture provides certain knowledge of a fixed and ahistorical creation order had become a roadblock to affirming scripture’s call to show compassion to people suffering on the margins of society. To make their case, they pointed specifically to the Church’s harmful treatment of sexual minorities and called for a more loving, even accepting and affirming, alternative.

The controversy these papers sparked rocked ICS, and the Board alongside then-President Harry Fernhout had to field serious calls from influential members of ICS’s supporting community for the dismissal of both Hart and Olthuis. Under Fred’s steady hand, however, ICS leadership proved capable of walking a fine line between holding Professors Hart and Olthuis to account for the validity of their concerns, and the maintenance of an academic environment that permitted and encouraged scripturally inspired yet intellectually open discussion of controversial societal issues. Amid controversy, Fred asked us to both examine and open our hearts to one another, so that we might regain the trust we needed to answer God’s call to walk upon the shalom way that leads to God’s kingdom.

On a very personal level, I remain profoundly grateful for the wisdom and calmness Fred displayed in steering ICS through this tempest, because it allowed Henk to continue to be my mentor through both my MA and PhD degrees, and it also allowed me to benefit from the many classes and conversations I have had with Jim over the years. I simply cannot imagine my intellectual or spiritual life without the deeply edifying influence of these two giants of the reformational philosophical tradition. Dozens of other ICS alumni will no doubt tell you the same thing. ICS faculty and administration at the time must have felt the same way about Fred because they asked him to serve an additional, seventh year as Board Chair after his second three-year term came to an end.

Fred remained a vital supporter of ICS up to his very last days. In the summer of 2021, ICS received a major gift from the Reinders Family Foundation to fund scholarships for students in the Educational Leadership stream of ICS’s MA program, a gift that continues to support students of this program today. Fred never lost faith in what he called “the movement of the heart” that brought a Christian graduate school like ICS into existence. This movement of the heart, he said on another occasion, “must be kept alive and rekindled in our community so that future generations will retain the vision of God’s kingdom in all of life” (Perspective 26.4, 1992). The best way we at ICS can honour Fred’s legacy, then, is to continue to heed this call to seek out and walk upon the shalom way that our Maker and Redeemer continuously reveals to us.

We at ICS thank God for the impactful life of Fred Reinders and are proud to honour his memory.