Tuesday 4 June 2024

Prayer Letter: Summer 2024

Monday, June 3 - Friday, June 7:

On Sunday, June 2nd, Arvilla Sipma, beloved wife of Senior Member Emeritus Jim Olthuis, passed away after a battle with ongoing illness. Arvilla was a dear member of the ICS family, and a gracious host to many events, formal and informal, at her and Jim's home in Toronto. Please pray with us for Arvilla’s family—and especially Jim—that they might feel God’s comfort as they mourn her deeply-felt loss. 

On Friday, June 7th, PhD candidate Meg Giordano will defend her dissertation in the joint ICS-Vrije Universiteit PhD program on site in Amsterdam. The title of Meg’s project is “In Pursuit of Human Flourishing: A Study in Personal Violence and Its Remedy, as Informed by Thomas Aquinas with Help from Aristotle and Proclus.” Please pray for safe travels and peace of mind as Meg prepares for her defense, and for her co-promoters Prof. Dr. Marije Martijn (VU) and Dr. Robert Sweetman (ICS) and the other members of the defense committee as they prepare to discuss her research.

In early May, Dr. J. Richard Middleton retired from Roberts Wesleyan University. You can read a reflection from his close longtime colleague Brian Walsh here. Please also join us in prayers of gratitude for Richard’s career and many contributions to Reformational scholarship, both in writing and in teaching, and to the lives of believers around the world.

Monday, June 10 - Friday, June 14:

After a joyous Convocation on May 24th, we lift up each of our 2024 graduates in prayer as they close this chapter of their respective journeys and look to the next. This year we celebrated the hard work and successful project completion of Steven Jaspers-Fayer (MWS), Julia Henderson (MA), and Richard Peters (MA-EL). We give thanks for the time each of these Junior Members spent in study with us and the many ways each of them contributed to the ICS community, and we wish them well in the next stage of their professional and personal lives. Congratulations!

We also wish to extend prayers of gratitude to each of the members of our Board of Trustees and Senate for the deliberative work each body participated in during their respective annual meetings in late May. We are particularly grateful to Board Chair Dan Beerens for his leadership of the Board’s discussions of budgets and other matters of financial planning, and to Senate Chair Pamela Beattie for her leadership of the Senate in discussions of academic oversight and planning. 

On May 23rd, the daughter of Pamela Beattie, Cecilia, was admitted to the ER where doctors discovered brain tumors and spinal fluid buildup. Last week, Cecilia underwent a successful surgery to determine the extent of the problem, but she will now be embarking on a long journey of chemo and radiation to shrink the tumors and stop the progression of the cancer. We ask that you keep Cecilia and the Beattie family in your prayers during this difficult time, and we pray for swift healing for Cecilia.

Monday, June 17 - Friday, June 21:

Please pray this week for the students and instructor of the final of our online Spring-Summer 2024 courses as they prepare for their time of study together. On June 17th, Dean Dettloff’s online course God of Solidarity: Liberation Theology as Social Movement begins. This course attends to the development of liberation theology amid the wave of 20th-century liberation movements that swept across the globe, with an eye toward the future and legacy of liberation theology in the 21st century. While liberation theology is often studied for its doctrinal content, it is also irreducibly social, historical, and political, emerging from and accountable to people’s movements. There’s still time to apply, so email academic-registrar@icscanada.edu if you’d like to join! Please also pray with us for fruitful discussions among participants as this course gets underway.

June 16-18th, Senior Member Neal DeRoo will be participating in the Society for Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture (EPTC) conference as part of Congress 2024 at McGill University in Montreal. This is a major national gathering of academics within the humanities and social sciences, so please pray with us for many learning and networking opportunities for Neal as he discusses topics of shared interest together with other colleagues in the field.

Monday, June 24 - Friday, June 28:

We continue to accept late applications to start an ICS program of study throughout the summer. We pray for those applicants whose materials we’ve already received, that they might be granted wisdom and clarity as they arrange any other necessary details to start their studies in the fall. And we pray for any would-be applicants still in the process of deciding or finding their way to ICS, that they might be able to see what ICS has to offer them in their studies and their journeys.

June 30th also marks the end of our fiscal year. We’ve been so grateful for the financial support we’ve received from each of our donors over this past year. Your giving is absolutely vital to the work that we do and the blessings that we have to offer the students that walk through our doors. Thank you for your generosity! We also thank God for the dedicated work of our Advancement and Finance teams in seeking out and stewarding these gifts and keeping ICS running day to day.


On July 1st, ICS alumnus and Professor of Philosophy at Calvin University Dr. James K. A. Smith begins a 5-year appointment as a Distinguished Associate of ICS, following a unanimous vote by the ICS Senate in favour of the appointment. You can read more about the appointment here. Please also pray with us for blessings on Jamie’s continued teaching, research, and writing. 

As the summer continues, we ask for prayers for all the ICS staff, Senior Members, and Junior Members—that everyone might find chances to relax and enjoy God’s creation during these weeks, catch up on planning and other projects, and really dig into reading, writing, and other research projects. We are grateful for the gifts and insights that each member of our community brings, and we pray that this seasonal change of pace may be a blessing to everyone.


Please also pray this month for three of our MA-EL summer courses: Called to Teach with Edith van der Boom, Lead From Where You Are with Gideon Strauss, and What’s Christian About Christian Education? with Neal DeRoo. Each of these courses have their final three sessions on August 6-8th. Pray for continued creative energy for Edith, Gideon, and Neal as they lead the courses, and for all the participants that they might find joy and inspiration in their learning experiences together.

Fall 2024 courses are now listed on the ICS website. We have an exciting array of topics being covered by our Senior Members this semester, and all of these courses are available for online participation. More details will be made available over the summer, but you can check the full course list out now to see if anything catches your eye at www.icscanada.edu/fall-courses. Please share information about these courses widely within your communities! And please pray for our Senior Members as they start preparing over the summer for the start of their courses in the fall:
  • Biblical Foundations and Facing the Darkness, taught by Nik Ansell
  • The Aesthetics of Compassion, taught by Rebekah Smick
  • Religion, Life, and Society: Reformational Philosophy, taught by Neal DeRoo
  • The Craft of Reflective Practice, taught by Gideon Strauss
  • Philosophy at the Limit: Richard Kearney, taught by Ronald A. Kuipers
  • Cultivating Learning Communities of Belonging, taught by Edith van der Boom

The Power of Mist

For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
—James 3:16-18

At the most recent meeting of the ICS Board of Trustees, Board Chair Dan Beerens opened the meeting with a reflection on a passage from the letter of James. It was not the passage cited above, but one that comes later, where James admonishes those arrogant enough to think they can determine their own futures: “Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

What I found intriguing about Dan’s reflection is how he quickly moved past the admonishment, and proceeded to take James’s claim that human life is but mist seriously and positively, asking the question: Does mist matter? Would we perceive our lives differently, less arrogantly, if we took the misty nature of our existence more seriously?

In Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair, the poet Christian Wiman moves in a similar direction when he considers the fragility and isolation of human lives considered apart from their relationships: “Selves are nothing but memories of selves, and memories but the wispy entities that time and mind have conspired to keep. It’s a wonder we don’t walk through each other like ghosts.” (p. 75)

Why don’t we walk through each other? Maybe we do sometimes? I know that so often in our rapidly polarizing world we too easily look past each other. James’ letter has a lesson to teach us here, too. The letter urges us to turn from our “selfish ambition” and “boastful confidence”—our navel-gazing obduracy—to a wisdom from above that is, in stark contrast, gentle and willing to yield.

Which puts me back in mind of mist, and Dan’s question, “does mist matter?” It seems to me that mist only matters once it realizes that it is mist. Mist only matters when it realizes that, in and through its wispy, fleeting existence, it nevertheless has the power to condense on the porous surfaces of the cold creatures surrounding it and be transformed into life-giving water.

The good news here is that we are this mist, and when we turn from ourselves toward others with mercy and good fruit, we experience that wonderful condensation that transforms our very being precisely because we have responded to someone’s need. “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

Shalom, friends!

Ron Kuipers

James K. A. Smith Appointed Distinguished Associate of ICS

The Institute for Christian Studies is delighted to announce the appointment of Dr. James K. A. Smith as a Distinguished Associate for a five-year term, starting on July 1, 2024, following a unanimous vote by the ICS Senate in favour of the appointment. With this appointment ICS recognizes Dr. Smith as a spiritually kindred scholar of outstanding competence and reputation who contributes to the work of ICS. The appointment follows closely after Dr. Smith’s contribution as a keynote speaker to the 2024 ICS conference Beyond Culture Wars. Dr. Smith is an alumnus of the MA program in philosophy of the ICS.

Jamie Smith is an internationally renowned Christian philosopher whose many books include The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic (2000), Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (2009), You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (2016), and most recently How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now (2022).

Dr. Smith is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he occupies the Gary & Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology & Worldview, and Visiting Professor of Divinity at Trinity College at the University of Toronto. He was Editor-in-chief of Image journal from 2019 to 2024 and Editor-in-chief of Comment magazine from 2013 to 2018. In addition to many other awards and distinctions, Dr. Smith will be the Thomas F. Martin Fellow at the Augustinian Institute of Villanova University during the Fall 2024 term.

In addition to celebrating the contributions he has made as a Christian philosopher, the ICS hopes that this association will nurture scholarly friendships in our academic community and allow our Junior Members in particular to benefit from Jamie’s wisdom.

CBC Ideas to Air Beyond Culture Wars Keynotes

The radio show Ideas from the CBC will be airing audio recordings of the two keynote addresses from the Beyond Culture Wars conference this past April. On Wednesday, June 5, Ideas will air the episode "On Culture Wars in Christianity: Philosopher James K. A. Smith." The episode will air live on Radio One at 8:00pm, and will be available for on demand listening on the CBC Listen website afterward. 

A second episode featuring the keynote address from Kristin Kobes Du Mez will air later this fall. We will share more information about that episode closer to the air date.

June 5 Episode Summary

"Culture wars" divide faith communities, as well as secular society. But Christian thinker and philosopher James K. A. Smith argues that solidarity is possible, and a state that exists beyond our identification with what we know and believe. The only way to get there, in his view, is through what he calls "the mystic crucible of unknowing." The Calvin University professor is a Canadian-born, U.S.-based philosopher and author. He spoke about Christianity and social division in April 2024 at a conference called 'Beyond Culture Wars,' sponsored by the Institute for Christian Studies, and Martin Luther University College at Wilfrid Laurier University. You'll hear his talk, and a conversation with IDEAS producer Sean Foley.