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.

Monday 6 May 2024

Prayer Letter: May 2024

Monday, May 6 - Friday, May 10:

Reformational economist and professor at the Vrije Universiteit Bob Goudzwaard passed away on April 20. His memorial service took place on April 26. If you would like to watch the recording of the service, it will be available online for a short time. Please join us in prayers of consolation for Bob’s colleagues, friends, family as they mourn his loss and await reunion in resurrection hope.

Two ICS staff have also lost family members this past month. Please join us in prayer for them and for their extended families as they navigate the travel, logistics, and mourning that accompany these losses. We pray that each of them may feel God’s comfort in spending time with their families and celebrating the lives of their loved ones.

Please pray this month for the instructors and students in our online Spring-Summer 2024 courses as they prepare for their time of study together. Three of these courses have already started, but one starts this week on May 7th: State, Society, and Religion in Hegel’s Philosophy (with Andrew Tebbutt). This course considers the interrelation of political, social, and religious life in the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel. Explore the political and social conditions of human experience, Hegel’s account of the human engagement in ‘absolute spirit’, and Hegel’s role in the historical construction of the modern West’s category of religion. There’s still time to apply so email academic-registrar@icscanada.edu if you’d like to learn how to join! Please also pray with us for fruitful discussions among participants as this course gets underway.

Monday, May 13 - Friday, May 17:

We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who participated in the Beyond Culture Wars conference April 18-20th! In particular, we’d like to thank keynote speakers Kristin Kobes Du Mez and James K.A. Smith for their contributions to our collective conversation, our Senior Members and colleagues from fellow institutions for leading workshops, and our partners at Martin Luther University College for graciously hosting the event with us. To everyone who traveled to Waterloo to attend and joined us online: we are very appreciative of your active participation in the sessions and workshops! Thanks for making this event a huge success!

On May 20-22, Academic Dean Gideon Strauss will be participating in the 2024 Crouse Seminar in Toronto. Dr. Mark Elliott, Professor of Biblical and Historical Theology at Highland Theological College in Scotland and Professorial Fellow at Wycliffe College, will lead this year’s Seminar on Augustine's City of God. Please pray that this will be a fulfilling time of study, conversation, and camaraderie for Gideon and all those in attendance.

On May 20-23, Senior Member Neal DeRoo, PhD candidate Mark Standish, and alumnus Theoren Tolsma will all be presenting at the joint Annual Conference of The Society of Phenomenology and the Human Sciences (SPHS) and The Interdisciplinary Coalition of North American Phenomenologists (ICNAP) at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. The theme of the conference is “Phenomenology at the Borders.” Please pray for their safe travels and that they may enjoy rich conversations with peers at this conference.

Monday, May 20 - Friday, May 24:

This is the week of our end-of-year celebrations and events! First up, our annual Senate meeting is taking place on Thursday, May 23. Many ICS Senators will travel to Toronto in order to spend the day considering key academic concerns and strategizing academic plans for the future, with special care taken to steward our particular intellectual legacy at ICS. Please join us in prayers of gratitude for each of these Senators and the time and expertise they share with the ICS community in this way. Please also pray for the ICS Academic Office as they arrange the numerous details of this meeting.

The following day on Friday, May 24, the ICS Board of Trustees also has its annual meeting in Toronto. Board Members will gather in person and online to attend to important budgetary and business matters of ICS. Please join us in prayers of gratitude for each of these Trustees and the time, wisdom, and insights they provide in the task of stewarding ICS’s financial gifts and responsibilities. Please pray in particular for Board Chair Dan Beerens as he leads discussions during this meeting and for the ICS Finance office and Executive Leadership Team as they provide reports and substantively contribute to the planning.  

Also on May 24, we will be hosting our 2024 Convocation ceremony at Christ Church Deer Park in Toronto. The ceremony will feature a convocation address by President Ronald A. Kuipers. Please pray for each of our three graduands whose academic accomplishments at ICS we will be celebrating this evening. This is a wonderful opportunity for the broader ICS community to gather and hear more about the diverse projects our Junior Members have brought to completion and to celebrate their achievements. 

Monday, May 27 - Friday, May 31:

Our final Summer 2024 course will begin June 10th: God of Solidarity: Liberation Theology as a Social Movement (w/ Dean Dettloff). In the latter half of the 20th century, a wave of liberation movements swept across the globe as colonized and exploited people undertook seismic struggles for self-determination. In this class, consider liberation theology in historical perspective—specifically its Latin American expressions—examining its relationship to a revolution in global Christianity and revolutions in various political contexts. If you would like to participate in this course, email academic-registrar@icscanada.edu. And please pray with us for a rich learning experience for all involved in this course.

Please join us in prayer as we near the end of our fiscal year, that we might receive a strong response to our annual spring appeal. Our appeal mailing, along with the newest issue of Perspective, is being mailed out now! In this issue, you’ll be able to read some reflections on collaboration, and its importance to ICS as a Christian educational institution. We give thanks for the issue’s contributors, particularly our friends and colleagues at the Toronto School of Theology, and we give thanks for the generosity of our supporters so far this year. We rely on your gifts to meet our budget goals and we’re grateful for your continued support of the vital work of Christian education! 

What Time is It?

Walk wisely toward those who are outside, rescuing lost time.
—Colossians 4:5 (Revised Geneva Translation)

In his brief but profound book How to Inhabit Time, my good friend (and ICS alumnus) James K.A. Smith introduces us to “the art of spiritual timekeeping” (see HIT, 16 ff.) This art, Smith tells us, attunes us to something more than chronological time, which the German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin describes as “homogenous, empty time,” where one moment is qualitatively indistinct from the next, just another tick of the clock (for this and more, see Benjamin’s profound Theses on the Philosophy of History).

As Jamie points out, scripture often uses another Greek word, kairos, to speak of a different kind of time. Unlike chronos, Smith says, kairos names “a fullness of time, a time charged in a way that can’t be simply measured” (HIT, 18). This is the time that shelters the messianic possibility of redemption, a possibility which we might say inhabits chronological time like a wound coil, ready to spring into actuality at any moment.

In its translation of Colossians 4:5, the Revised Geneva Translation does a great job of evoking this kairological understanding of time. The New Revised Standard Version translates the Greek phrase in question, ton kairon exagorazomenoi, as “making the most of the time,” which to my ear sounds way too chronological. That last word, exagorazomenoi, literally means “to buy back” or “to buy out of,” and is often translated as “redeem.” We are closer here to the idea of “rescue,” I submit, than we are to the idea of “making the most of”!

The Revised Geneva translation provokes us to think more deeply about what Paul might be saying about time. In what way is our time lost, and how can it be rescued? Smith tells us that “spiritual timekeeping tries to discern where the Spirit’s restoration is already afoot in creation’s groaning” (HIT, 18). Could our attempts at such discernment be the way that we “walk wisely toward those who are outside,” thereby giving witness to God’s transformative work in the world, in time? Could that be what it means to rescue lost time?

So what time is it? Is it the time that is lost or the time that can be rescued? We put our hope and trust that God in Christ is bringing the latter to fruition, even as we are invited to participate in this dramatic salvage operation in our time. As Smith tells it: “In spiritual timekeeping, the watchword is ‘discernment’; faithfulness requires knowing when we are in order to discern what we are called to do” (HIT, 19). 

ICS’s Mission Statement reminds us that “the Gospel’s message of renewal shapes our pursuit of wisdom.” Stated in more explicitly kairological terms, we might say that “the Gospel’s hope for the rescue of lost time shapes our daily dance of (Smith again) ‘keeping time with the Spirit’.”

Shalom, friends!

Ron Kuipers

In Memoriam: Bob Goudzwaard, Friend of ICS

by Mark Vander Vennen

On April 20, 2024, Bob Goudzwaard, Christian economist, politician and academic scholar, died peacefully, surrounded by the love and care of his children and grandchildren. He had recently celebrated his 90th birthday. At ICS, we mourn his loss but give thanks to God for the gift of Bob—for this cherished friend whose scholarship has been so formative for ICS.

Goudzwaard was passionate about justice, sustainability, the needs of the poor, and care for people and the creation. He moved seamlessly from brilliant Scriptural exegesis to the structural roots of Western culture to complex economic arguments. He was a paragon of hope and a dear friend to many. 

Two early influences significantly shaped Goudzwaard’s future direction. He studied economics under Jan Tinbergen, the first Nobel prize-winner in economics. He also took lectures from J.P.A. Mekkes, one of the founders of reformational philosophy. From Mekkes, he learned to think “the other way around.” Rather than formulate principles and apply them to reality, Mekkes taught him to look first at reality, and then to dig deeper to find the ideological and spiritual impulses that lie structurally underneath. This approach is evident in all of the ground-breaking analyses of Western social and economic theory and practice that Goudzwaard undertook—analyses that were and continue to be far ahead of his time. 

Goudzwaard became the primary articulator of “the economy of enough.” To give a sense of how isolated this pioneering work left him, consider that in 1971, discussions took place with the Free University of Amsterdam about a professorship there. In an interview in 2023, Goudzwaard noted that the dean of the Economics Department told him that “there was opposition to me coming as a professor in the economics faculty, not for political reasons, but for academic reasons—I would confuse the students.” This was because of his insistence to link ethics to economics, and to question the drive to pursue economic growth at all costs. As a result, he was hired as an economist in the Social Faculty. “My books were not available in the Economics Faculty library.” Nevertheless, “50 years after the visit from the dean, the ideas and concepts that I defended are now broadly taken up and taught at the Free University.”   

Goudzwaard’s magisterial work, Capitalism and Progress, was published in 1976. Some of its content was developed in lectures that he delivered at ICS. In it he critiques equally capitalism and socialism as children of the Enlightenment pursuit of human progress expressed as limitless expansion in material prosperity. Each is a materialist framework. Each displays a fixation on the production side of the economy focused on government involvement in the means of production—“freedom from” for capitalism, “control over” for Marxism. By contrast, the economy of enough looks to the consumption side of the economy, to reign in the insatiable pursuit of harmful desires. Goudzwaard was not “anti-market”; instead, in an already wealthy society, he opposed a market-driven economy. He advocated a care-driven economy which uses markets, a slackening of material expansion to create growth in care for people and the environment. 

In 1977 Goudzwaard was the lead author of the election platform of the newly formed Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) political party, entitled, in a biblical reference, “Not By Bread Alone.” The CDA then became the lead partner in several successive governments. Goudzwaard was offered two cabinet positions but declined both, in part because prime minister Van Agt said he had “little affinity” for the party’s official platform.

In the early 1980s Goudzwaard, in a highly public decision, resigned from the CDA, because it approved a request from the United States government to install first-strike medium-range nuclear weapons of mass destruction on Dutch soil, aimed at the Soviet Union. Goudzwaard could not square this escalation of the Cold War nuclear arms race with his deeply held gospel convictions. He was shunned by many whom he had considered friends and colleagues; he paid a high personal price for standing by his convictions. With his integration of peace and economy (which he learned in part from Tinbergen), he continues to stand alone.

Goudzwaard was heavily involved in the ecumenical movement. He chaired large ecumenical development organizations in Holland and in Brussels. In 2004 he chaired a consultation between the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Council of Churches. Thanks in part to some churches in the UK, in 2009 his proposal to permit poor countries a modest amount of money creation to pay off debts made it to a G7 meeting but was rejected: instead the rich countries used that method to prop up their own economies. He took a lead in labour developments in The Netherlands and was heavily involved in anti-apartheid activities during the apartheid era in South Africa. His work on climate change provides a crucial dimension missing almost altogether in the current debate.

Bob was also a dear friend of ICS. He accepted an appointment as Senior Member at ICS in 1971, but had to decline because the Canadian health system could not pay for the special needs of his handicapped son, Theo. Nevertheless, as an ICS “Fellow,” he lectured often at ICS, over many years. He also served as a friend, advisor and “peacemaker” during some of the early tumultuous years at ICS. And in 2014 ICS honoured him by bestowing upon him an Honourary Doctorate degree.

All of the major newspapers in Holland carried articles profiling Goudzwaard on the occasion of his death. Capitalism and Progress is now being re-published in both Dutch and English. A new Bob Goudzwaard Foundation has been established to promote a sustainable and just economy supported by Goudzwaard’s ideas. And a biography of Goudzwaard, currently being written under the direction of the Free University, will be published in 2026.

I will conclude with Goudzwaard’s own words. In 1999 Bob gave the plenary address at an ICS family conference, delivered in the midst of the international Jubilee 2000 campaign, supported by Bono and many others, to reduce and forgive insupportable debt held by impoverished countries. In light of more recent debates about development aid, Goudzwaard’s words are, in my hearing, utterly contemporary:

Let me tell you a story. At the end of the conference in Lesotho—the ecumenical conference that dealt with the awful consequences of the ongoing debt burdens in Africa—I asked my black brothers and sisters if they could give me a message, even a one-line message, to bring back to the people and churches of the North. I will never forget their answer. They said that, poor though they were, they would never ask for more money. They used only one word. They said, “Speak about our dignity. We ask you and them to respect our dignity.”

What does such an answer mean? What are its implications? I have thought a lot about that. One of the main implications is that we should be willing to share with them access to resources, especially access to the sources of international money creation. But there is more. The reason that we do not share such access is not simply a question of a lack of good will. In fact, the reason may relate entirely to our own need for conversion, for repentance, for asking forgiveness from our debtors.

For what is dignity? Dignity implies that you do not treat the other as an object, not even as an object of your good will or your feelings of generosity. It was not until that meeting in Lesotho that I realized the degree to which that is the prevalent attitude of the North to the South. We want to be accepted and even admired by them for our desire to do good. But we become hostile as soon as they speak to us about our own evildoings, about our ways of bringing impoverishment upon them. The way in which we view poor nations and poor people is coloured much more by our own search for self-affirmation than by a desire to affirm others in their dignity.

The reality of sin therefore exists on our side—and the pain of knowing that we have sinned. And that cries out for Atonement, that undeniable part of Jubilee: Please forgive us our debts, our trespasses of not recognizing the dignity of other persons and peoples, especially if they are poor, as we have already forgiven their debts and have stopped our acts of contributing to their impoverishment. And please Lord, show us new ways of justice and compassion by which to seek to affirm others more than ourselves.” 

- - - 
Mark Vander Vennen worked with Bob Goudzwaard—closely—for 42 years, serving as his primary English-language translator, editor, and occasional co-author. He is co-author, with Goudzwaard, of Hope in Troubled Times (Foreword by Desmond Tutu) and former Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network.  

Thursday 2 May 2024

2024 Convocation Livestream and How to Attend

On May 24th, the ICS community will gather to celebrate our annual Convocation. This year's ceremony will include the granting of degrees to our Junior Members, and the delivery of the Convocation Address by ICS President Dr. Ronald A. Kuipers titled "Rescuing Lost Time."

Convocation will begin by 6:30pm ET on May 24th. The event is taking place in person in Toronto, but will also be available to livestream. If you'd like to join the livestream, you can watch the whole ceremony in real time on our YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/live/vPmQyHneo8c

We hope you will be able to join us either virtually or in person for this special night celebrating the accomplishments of our Junior Members.

Join the Livestream!

Want to attend in person? Please email Danielle at dyett@icscanada.edu so we can plan to expect you in person and we'll send you more details. Feel free to also email if you have any questions about how to join online. 

Lecture - Nurturing a Postcolonial Imaginary: Art and Spirituality

On Wednesday, May 15 at 5-6pm, the Toronto School of Theology is hosting a lecture by Br. Emmaus O'Herlihy and a reception at Regis College (Classroom C, 100 Wellesley St. W, Toronto). The lecture is titled "Nurturing a Postcolonial Imaginary: Art and Spirituality," and would be of particular interest to all those keen to explore ways that the visual arts intersect with spirituality and theological understanding.

If you'd like more information, please email tstadmin@utoronto.ca.

Lecturer bio: Emmaus O’Herlihy, a Benedictine monk from Ireland, holds a BDes from the National College of Art and Design (Ireland) and an MTS and PhD in Theology (Toronto School of Theology). A working visual artist, Br. Emmaus’ commissions hang in Toronto, London, Los Angeles, Dublin, and Limerick. Dr. O’Herlihy’s area of research focuses on the relationship between the visual arts and theology, in particular, how recent strategies in art reshape aesthetic priorities that help awaken an ethical summons to the other.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Work Opportunities with Citizens for Public Justice

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) has a long history of engaging students and recent grads in their work through school placements, the Canada Summer Jobs program, and a one-year paid internship. As a small team, students and interns have a great opportunity to make meaningful contributions to the work of CPJ while gaining valuable experience working in public policy research, non-partisan advocacy, and networking with both civil society and government representatives.

CPJ is currently accepting applications for the following paid positions (as well as being open to student placements for course credit):

Applications for both positions close May 12. PDF application guides for each of these positions are linked above, and people are welcome to contact Natalie Appleyard at natalie@cpj.ca with any questions.

Saturday 6 April 2024

Prayer Letter: April 2024

Monday, April 1 - Friday, April 5:

April 1 was the application deadline for our MA-EL program and MWS-ART program. Please pray now for the students who applied to these programs as they patiently await word on their admission, and pray too for the admissions committee as they consider the applicants and whether ICS might offer them what they need in an academic home. 

Please join us in prayers of thanksgiving after a successful search as we welcome Anthony Holl to the ICS community as our new Project Manager helping develop our upcoming Capital Campaign. Anthony is a passionate Christian leader with over 20 years of experience in the fundraising sector. We are already encouraged and excited by Anthony’s ideas and energy, and we pray he may settle into his new role quickly and easily as he becomes familiar with our unique support community.

Senior Member Edith van der Boom is travelling to Malawi for 10 days with a colleague from EduDeo Ministries to mentor Christian educators there. Please pray for Edith as she travels and pray that the Lord may work through these conversations with fellow educators about their hopes, their challenges, and their vocations.

Monday, April 8 - Friday, April 12:

Please pray for our Perspective production team and the Advancement office as they work hard to finish compiling the content for the upcoming spring issue and organize the Spring Appeal.  In this issue, you’ll be able to read some reflections on collaboration, and its importance to ICS as a Christian educational institution. We give thanks for the issue’s contributors, and we give thanks for the generosity of our supporters so far this year. We rely on your gifts and we’re grateful for your continued support of the vital work of Christian education! 

April 11, the Academic Office will host its winter Writing Workshop. This is a time for Junior Members to come together to ask questions about their current writing projects, to work through any writing challenges they may be facing, and to improve their writing craft. Please pray that all the participants may have a productive time together and feel supported in their academic work.

As Thursday, April 13th is the last day of classes, we ask for your prayers this week for the Senior Members and Junior Members as they finish up their class time and move onto finishing their course assignments. We offer thanks for another academic year successfully completed and for the rich discussions that took place in all our classes this year. We ask for prayers particularly for those Junior Members who wish to convocate on May 24th,  that they would have clarity and inspiration for finishing their assignments before the end of this month. We also ask for prayers for our Registrar, Parker, as he coordinates all the academic administrative details that are necessary at this time of year.

Monday, April 15 - Friday, April 19:

On April 18-20, the CPRSE team will be hosting the spring conference “Beyond Culture Wars: Fostering Solidarity in an Age of Polarization” in Waterloo, ON. Offered as a collaboration between ICS and Martin Luther University College, this conference will feature keynote speakers James K.A. Smith and Kristin Kobes Du Mez, as well as workshops and conversation sessions led by Shalem Mental Health Network, Citizens for Public Justice, and our Senior Members. More information (including a workshop schedule) will be shared via the event site in the coming days. We pray for all those travelling to, planning, contributing to, and attending this event, that these days may be filled with fruitful conversations with one another.

Please pray for the ICS administrative staff who are hard at work preparing for our various end-of-term events, including a Senate meeting, a Board meeting, and Convocation ceremony. We are excited to have these celebrations and events to look forward to, Lord willing, and pray for clarity of mind as we navigate the many details involved in planning. 

Monday, April 22 - Friday, April 26:

The last Academic Council meeting of the year is happening on April 22. Council members will be hearing staff reports and reviewing the rolling 3-year academic plan. We are thankful for the work that Academic Council members have done together over the course of this year in their careful consideration of academic programming at ICS. 

Please pray this week that students will find their way to our upcoming courses being offered over the spring and summer. In particular, keep in prayer the following courses that will begin the week of April 25: Lead From Where You Are, Finding Joy in Learning, and What’s Christian About Christian Education? Please also pray for Gideon Strauss, Edith van der Boom, and Neal DeRoo as they prepare for their courses, and for inspiration and creativity in their leadership of the sessions.

There’s still time to apply for our spring and summer courses. In addition to those listed above, the following courses are also on offer later in the summer: God of Solidarity: Liberation Theology as Social Movement (with Dean Dettloff) and State, Society, and Religion in Hegel’s Philosophy (with Andrew Tebbutt). You can email academic-registrar@icscanada.edu with any questions. Please also pray that interested participants will find their way to this summer’s courses, and please share news of these rich learning opportunities!

Monday, April 29 - Tuesday, April 30:

During the Board’s March meeting, Marci Frederick stepped down as Board Chair and Dan Beerens became the new Board Chair. Marci has stepped back from her role as Chair in order to focus on her ongoing cancer treatments and recovery. We are grateful for the years of time and energy Marci has devoted to the work of being ICS Board Chair, and for Dan’s willingness to take on these responsibilities as the new Chair. Please join us in praying for strength and healing for Marci, and for wisdom and insight for Dan and the rest of the Board, especially as they prepare for their end-of-year meeting in May.

On May 20-23, Senior Member Neal DeRoo, PhD candidate Mark Standish, and alumnus Theoren Tolsma will all be presenting at the joint Annual Conference of The Society of Phenomenology and the Human Sciences (SPHS) and The Interdisciplinary Coalition of North American Phenomenologists (ICNAP) at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. The theme of the conference is “Phenomenology at the Borders.” Please pray for their safe travels and that they may receive encouraging feedback on their research. 

Recognizing the Appearance

They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

—John 20:13-14

Things are not as they appear. Or so we are told. Appearances can be deceiving. Appearances are fleeting and transitory, while reality is permanent and unchanging. Ask Plato.

I can only imagine what it was like when our risen Messiah, after his crucifixion and burial, appeared to disciples like Mary Magdalene. As John tells the story, Mary sees Jesus standing before her, but she does not recognize him. Why not, I wonder? Is it because she cannot credit precisely this possibility: that the beloved teacher she saw crucified and entombed could be standing before her, very much alive?

Even when Jesus asks Mary why she is weeping, she still fails to recognize him, mistaking him for the gardener. It is not until Jesus utters her name, “Mary,” that she recognizes the cherished pathbreaker whose untimely death she had been mourning. I wonder what it was like for Mary in that moment. Was it like viewing those ambiguous drawings that can be seen now one way, then another, but never both simultaneously? Did her moment of recognition snap into place immediately, suddenly, dramatically, like when one finally sees the duck instead of the rabbit?

“Rabbouni!” she exclaims. Teacher. The moment she recognizes Jesus, that is the appellation she uses. How fascinating, as though Jesus had chosen to make his first resurrected appearance to his favourite student, Mary called Magdalene, the one he then trusts with the task of sharing this good news with the rest of his followers.

This pattern of appearance without immediate recognition will repeat itself many times as the resurrected Jesus approaches his other followers. In John 21, the disciples do not recognize Jesus until, after the miraculous haul of fish that follows his instruction to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” exclaims to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Indeed, the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize Jesus only after he is gone.

Is there a common denominator to these instances of sudden recognition? Mary hears Jesus say her name, the disciples catch a miraculous haul of fish, the travellers to Emmaus have burning hearts as Jesus opens the scriptures to them. Perhaps these very different moments of recognition occur because these disparate followers suddenly recognize and understand the possibility the resurrected Jesus reveals and had been teaching them to recognize all along: the transformative possibility of redemption, where nothing is fatalistically condemned to be what it merely is, but can become more than that: restored, bounteous, glorious, and full.

Things are not as they appear. They are more than they appear. Thank God for that.

May we all come to recognize and embody the possibility our living Messiah reveals. Shalom!

Ron Kuipers

ICS Presence at Phenomenology Conference

On May 20-23, Senior Member Neal DeRoo, PhD candidate Mark Standish, and alumnus Theoren Tolsma will all be presenting at the joint Annual Conference of The Society of Phenomenology and the Human Sciences (SPHS) and The Interdisciplinary Coalition of North American Phenomenologists (ICNAP) at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. 

The theme of the conference is “Phenomenology at the Borders,” and the title of Neal's paper is: Stiftungen and the Border Between Phenomenology and Politics. The title of Mark's presentation is: A Hollow Definition?: Investigating the Borders of Definition with Lugones, Merleau-Ponty, and Balibar. Theoren's paper is titled: ‘Natural’ Generativity in Merleau-Ponty’s Conception of Radical Reflection

Save the Date: ICS Convocation 2024

The Institute for Christian Studies' 2024 Convocation ceremony will be taking place on Friday, May 24th around 6:30pm ET. This year, we will be celebrating our Junior Member graduands with an in person and livestreamed event at Christ Church Deer Park in Toronto. 

More details will be made available in the coming weeks. You can email ics-communications@icscanada.edu if you have any questions. 

New Hire at ICS

At the end of March, Anthony Holl (MSc Leadership, CFRE) joined the ICS Staff in the position of Project Manager, Capital Campaign.

Anthony is a passionate Christian leader with over 20 years of experience in the philanthropy/fundraising sector, working as both a consultant and a practitioner in leading major capital campaigns for such organizations as the Salvation Army and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Anthony also has extensive experience fundraising for smaller organizations like ICS, and loves working in that context. Anthony is excited about ICS's unique mission in Christian higher education, and is strongly motivated to help ICS fundraise for our upcoming capital campaign, intended to help ICS expand its program offerings in the lifelong learning space, helping seeking Christians grapple with key issues affecting our turbulent times.

We are so excited to be able to welcome Anthony to ICS and look forward to the contributions he will make to the community in this vital role!

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Prayer Letter: March 2024

Monday, March 4 - Friday, March 8:

We continue to accept program applications through the remainder of this term and into the summer. Please keep in your prayers potential students who may be juggling much as they wrap up current studies and consider what their next steps may be, those students who are considering going back to school for the first time in a while, and those students from whom we have already received program applications. We pray that these students may find their way to ICS and that we may provide a hospitable environment for them to ask deep questions about God, the world, and their callings. 

Senior Member Rebekah Smick recently gave a paper entitled "Augustine's hermeneutic of decorum in humanist art theory" at the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies at Victoria University in the University of Toronto as part of its Working Group 2023-24 on The Arts in the Post-Tridentine Era: Histories and Historiographies in Transition. Rebekah will also be a speaker and panelist at the concluding colloquium of the Working Group in mid-April. We pray in gratitude for this opportunity for Rebekah to be in close conversation with other colleagues in her field, and we pray that the preparation involved in the colloquium will continue apace. 

This academic year, the CPRSE has counted on the active engagement of two Research Assistants, Junior Members Julia Henderson and Todd Dias. While Julia has helped to lead our public outreach events, such as conferences and symposia, Todd has been hard at work editing a number of submissions to our Ground Motive blog. Please join us as we pray in thanksgiving for the contributions of Julia and Todd to the initiatives of the CPRSE as well as to the academic life of ICS.  

Monday, March 11 - Friday, March 15:

This week is March break for most of our MA-EL students. Please keep these students in your prayers, that these days may allow them time for rest, friendship, and family amid their busy semesters of work and study.

Rebekah Smick is also in the process of co-editing with Andrew Spicer volume five of the forthcoming eight-volume Bloomsbury T&T Clark series Sources and Documents in the History of Christian Art, edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona of Georgetown University. The volume is scheduled to come out by the end of 2024. Please keep Rebekah in your prayers as she collaborates to bring this project to completion.

Please keep the work of the Academic Council in your prayers this term. In addition to the regular work of considering courses and academic policies, some of our faculty will be offering Reflective Practice Reports on their research and teaching, as well as participating in status reviews. Pray with us that these meetings, which make up an integral part of our communal academic life, and all the work and conversations involved therein might prove fruitful and celebratory.

Monday, March 18 - Friday, March 22:

In one month, the CPRSE team will be travelling to Waterloo, ON for the spring conference “Beyond Culture Wars: Fostering Solidarity in an Age of Polarization.” Offered as a collaboration between ICS and Martin Luther University College, this conference will feature keynote speakers James K.A. Smith and Kristin Kobes Du Mez, as well as workshops and conversation sessions led by Shalem Mental Health Network, Citizens for Public Justice, and several of our Senior Members. Please save the date, keep an eye out for more information, and pray for all those involved in planning and execution of this event.

Our summer courses have now been publicly posted! Visit our website to find out more about how you can join an online class with Senior Members Edith van der Boom, Neal DeRoo, or Gideon Strauss; or with ICS alums Andrew Tebbutt or Dean Dettloff (course TBA). There’s also still time to join our ART in Orvieto program in Italy with Rebekah Smick this July. Please keep our Recruitment Team in your prayers as they seek to connect with potential students looking for the opportunity to pursue graduate degrees, further education, and professional development in the vocations to which God has called them.

Please keep the Academic Office and the Academic Program Review Committee in your prayers as they work on the annual academic policy compliance report and the rolling three-year academic plan for presentation to the Academic Council, and as they prepare for comprehensive program reviews that are to take place during the 2024-2025 academic year. These efforts require close attention to detail as well as big-picture collaborative thinking in line with our ongoing educational mission, so we pray for energy and inspiration for all involved.

Monday, March 25 - Friday, March 29:

The Academic Council next meets on March 25. Please pray for the work of the Academic Council as they consider together matters of academic policy, and in particular for those Senior Members who will be enjoying their annual Reflective Practice Conversations with the council over the course of this term. Please also keep its Education Policy Committee in your prayers as it considers new course proposals for the expansion of ICS's curriculum.

There’s still time to apply for ART in Orvieto 2024! The application deadline is March 31 for this three-week summer studies program in art, religion, and theology. Financial aid is available for graduate students, working artists, and K-12 teachers - and there are even a few early bird scholarships left for the next 5 applicants! To get more information or apply, visit icscanada.edu/art-in-orvieto, or email recruitment-coordinator@icscanada.edu. Please also pray that interested participants will find their way to this year’s program, and please share news of this wonderfully rich learning opportunity with everyone you know!

The application deadline for our MA-EL program is coming up on April 1. Visit icscanada.edu/academics/educational-leadership to learn more, or email recruitment-coordinator@icscanada.edu with your questions. This program is a key way in which our educational mission at ICS directly serves other Christian educators in Ontario and around the world. Please keep the program instructors, current students, and potential students in your prayers particularly as they discern whether to join the MA-EL.

The Power of "With"

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

—Matthew 28:20

The word “with” can be used to imply many different things. It can suggest potential proximity—“Put this book with the others”—or accompaniment—“Let me go there with you.” It can connote hipness, as when Grampa Abe Simpson vociferously complains, “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was!” It can imply agreement and comprehension—“I’m with you so far”—or even a deep solidarity—“I will stand with you in your struggle for justice.”

With all these different uses and connotations of the word “with,” how might we understand the way that the resurrected Jesus uses the word when he says to his disciples, “I am with you always,” words he utters moments after he has charged them with the task of spreading his shalom way to the ends of the earth?

In the song “Can’t Hardly Wait” by The Replacements (one of my favourite rock bands from the 1980s) there is a cheeky line that always makes me chuckle, where singer Paul Westerberg intones: “Jesus rides beside me, but he never buys any smokes.” While I resonate with this image of Jesus as a steadfast travel companion on the road trip of life, I hope and trust that he is more than someone who is simply ‘along for the ride,’ mooching my last cigarette to boot! (In my case, as a non-smoker, the cigarette would have to be metaphorical.)

Perhaps it might help if we connect Jesus’ promise at the end of the gospel of Matthew to a claim made near the beginning of that same gospel, where the angel, echoing Isaiah 7:14, tells Joseph that the child Mary carries is the promised Messiah, the one who will be called “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us” (Matt. 1:23)? Once we make this connection, we begin to discern the mysterious contours of this very powerful “with,” and the way Jesus’ promise includes but also moves beyond simple companionship.

The very word “with,” I think, says something about the nature of divine power itself, this messianic possibility that Jesus promises to make available to us. As ICS Emeritus Professor Jim Olthuis suggests in his book Dancing in the Wild Spaces of Love, the power of this “with” is not a dominating or oppressive power, not an “over,” but rather a power that comes alongside us and empowers us—much like Jesus did, incognito, when he joined his erstwhile unwitting disciples on the road to Emmaus. 

Jim calls this power “withing,” and describes it as the way humans are uniquely called to image a Creator who desires to be with and love creation:

As God is with-us (Emmanuel), so we are to be-with others, cum amore (with love). “Withing” (power-with rather than power-over) is our gift and calling, be(com)ing the unique selves we are through relationship with other persons (intersubjectivity), with creation and all its creatures (solidarity), and with God (spirituality). In and with the impetus of love’s promise, we live-with, work-with, wrestle-with, suffer-with, celebrate-with the whole family of earth’s creatures, all of creation, and God. (xvi-ii)

Jim later describes “withing” as “a celebrating-with and suffering-with without submission or domination, a being-with in which we are true to ourselves even as we exist in connection with each other” (87).

How wonderful is this “with,” this divine connection that empowers us to connect—with the earth and all its creatures, with each other, and with God? How different it is from the kind of power we all too often seek, the power to dominate and control others, the earth, and even God? I ponder how deeply different is the way toward which our Messiah’s promise points us.

Shalom, friends!

Ron Kuipers

Join an Upcoming ICS Open Class!

Curious about whether our online seminars might be a good fit for your learning style? Know someone who wants to learn more about ICS courses? Join us for one of our "Open Classes" on the following dates:

To RSVP to any of these sessions, please email recruitment-coordinator@icscanada.edu

Open Positions at The King's University

Our colleagues at The King’s University in Edmonton are hiring for two teaching positions: a Visiting Assistant Professor for Justice Research & Public Education and a Faculty Position in Sociology.  

Please visit their Careers page to find out more information about either of these positions. 

New Article by Edith van der Boom

Senior Member Edith van der Boom has published an article in the March 2024 issue of the International Journal of Christianity and Education (28.1) titled "Participating in God’s redemptive work: A cyclical model for learning and assessment." You can read the abstract below and access the article online via Sage Journals.


With the goal of working towards decolonizing educational practices, this article considers the Indigenous medicine wheel as inspiration for a cyclical model for learning and assessment. Many current assessment practices highlight individual achievement rather than ongoing and relational learning. This article suggests using a Learning Wheel as a tool to engage students in conversation about learning and assessment. The purpose of assessment would be to inform students’ learning. The goal of learning would in turn equip students to be mindful of learning that engages in real-world issues to partner in God’s redemptive work.

Monday 4 March 2024

Conference Registration Now Open

Registration is now open for our April 18–20 conference in collaboration with Martin Luther University College on the topic: “Beyond Culture Wars: Fostering Solidarity in an Age of Polarization.” Some of our community partners include Citizens for Public Justice, Shalem Mental Health Network, and Vision Ministries Canada.

This event will be hosted in person at the campus of Martin Luther University College (Wilfrid Laurier University), and our plenary sessions will be made available online. This event will be an education and discussion forum for faith communities, and for the larger public, to counter the ‘culture wars’ mentality and explore together more positive and mutually beneficial ways of relating religion to the broader society. 

Keynote speakers are Kristin Kobes Du Mez, (April 18 at 7:00pm) and James K.A. Smith (April 19 at 7:00pm). There will also be several workshops and conversation sessions from our community partners, as well as ICS and Luther faculty (we are in the process of scheduling these sessions now). 

Please visit https://luther.wlu.ca/events/beyond-culture-wars/index.html to register and find more information. 

Wednesday 7 February 2024

Prayer Letter: February 2024

Monday, February 5 - Friday, February 9:

On February 5, Senior Member Neal DeRoo gave an online lecture titled "The Case for a Phenomenological Politics" as part of a lecture series on "Critical and Political Phenomenology in Debate" put on by FernUniversität in Hagen, the Husserl Archives Cologne, and the philosophy department of TU Darmstadt. Neal's lecture was based on the work in his last book, The Political Logic of Experience. Please join us in giving thanks for this wonderful opportunity for Neal to connect with international colleagues in conversation and debate.

ICS is hiring! We are currently on the lookout for a Project Manager for an upcoming Capital Campaign. If you or anyone you know would be suited to this position, please visit our website for details on how to apply. Also please share this news widely and keep our search in your prayers as we look for the right candidate to fill this role.

February is tax receipt month at ICS. Please pray particularly for the Finance and Advancement offices as they lead the process of preparing the receipts for our donors and students. This is quite a time-consuming task and needs to be finished by the end of February. We ask for God’s sustaining grace for all involved.

Monday, February 12 - Friday, February 16:

Please keep the work of the Academic Council and its various committees in your prayers this term. In addition to the regular work of considering courses and academic policies, some of our faculty will be offering Reflective Practice Reports on their research and teaching, as well as participating in status reviews. Pray with us that these meetings, which make up an integral part of our communal academic life, and all the work and conversations involved therein might prove fruitful and celebratory.

Our MA-EL Open House is taking place online on February 15 at 4:15pm ET. This Open House will feature a presentation from Edith van der Boom, a conversation with current students in the program, and a question and answer time. Anyone interested in attending this event can RSVP to Brenna Wehrle at recruitment-coordinator@icscanada.edu. Please pray that teachers and school administrators who would benefit from this program may find opportunities to apply. 

Final grades for fall 2023 courses are due from our Senior Members on February 16. Please pray for the Senior Members as they engage the work of students in their courses, that they may be able to provide rich and meaningful feedback on students’ research and projects as the students continue their learning journeys.

Monday, February 19 - Friday, February 23:

It’s Family Day and Reading Week at ICS! There will be no classes this week, which will provide a welcome opportunity for Junior and Senior Members alike to focus their attention on various readings and to concentrate on their current research projects. May they find joy and inspiration in their studies this week!

Please keep our Recruitment Team, led by Recruitment Coordinator Brenna Wehrle, in your prayers as they work on promoting the various ICS programs of study and courses for the upcoming summer and fall semesters. We pray for creativity and vision as we pursue a promotional strategy that will seek out and connect with potential students looking for the opportunity to pursue graduate degrees, further education, and professional development in the vocations to which God has called them.

We give thanks this week for all the hard work of the Library and Scholarship Committee, our Librarian Anita Siraki, and the volunteers for the ongoing project with our Hamilton library collection. We’ve had to temporarily stow away the collection in order to enable renovations in response to flooding that happened late last year. This is a large-scale undertaking, but the first stages of the project are complete, the renovations nearly finished, and we look forward to getting the books back on the shelves soon! Please pray with us that the remaining tasks involved in this process will go quickly and smoothly when the time comes. 

Monday, February 26 - Thursday, February 29:

On February 26, the ICS community will welcome Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat for the Winter Term installment of the Scripture, Faith, and Scholarship Symposium. In her presentation, “Seeds of Resistance and Healing: Grounding the Bible,” Dr. Keesmaat will lead participants as they reflect on the link between the Bible and creation. Please pray for Dr. Keesmaat, the planning team, and all participants that this event be a space for fruitful dialogue and fellowship. 

There are still a few remaining $500 early bird scholarships available for ART in Orvieto 2024, and we continue to accept applications to the program until March 31. Please pray that interested artists, teachers, and students of the arts will find their way to this year’s program, and please share news of this wonderfully rich learning opportunity with everyone you know!

This month, the CPRSE team together with Senior Member Neal DeRoo will be hard at work organizing the spring conference:Beyond Culture Wars: Fostering Solidarity in an Age of Polarization” taking place April 18th-20th. Continuing ICS’s partnership with Martin Luther University College, and marking the start of a new collaboration with Vision Ministries Canada, this conference will be an opportunity to reflect on the role Christianity can have in addressing the polarization in North America. The conference will feature keynote speakers James K.A. Smith and Kristin Kobes Du Mez, as well as several workshops and conversation sessions. Please save the date, keep an eye out for more information, and pray for all those involved in planning and execution of this event.

What Might These Words Still Take from Us?

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

—Luke 1:29 (NRSV)

In my ICS seminar on Ludwig Wittgenstein, I use an essay by Stanley Cavell that attempts to explain the intimate link that Wittgenstein posits between the meaning of words and the way we learn to use them. To illustrate this relationship between meaning and use, Cavell describes his infant daughter’s efforts to learn the word ‘kitty’: Witnessing her petting the family cat and saying the word ‘kitty’, he assumes she has learned the word, yet his conclusion is thrown into doubt when later he sees her stroking a furry pillow saying the same thing.

Cavell finds himself forced to conclude that, although she is well on her way, his daughter has yet to learn the word ‘kitty’; she has yet to master the various ways the linguistic community into which he is welcoming her do and do not use that word. He makes the point rather provocatively:

Kittens—what we call ‘kittens’—do not exist in her world yet, she has not acquired the forms of life which contain them. They do not exist in something like the way cities and mayors will not exist in her world until long after pumpkins and kittens do; or like the way God or love or responsibility or beauty do not exist in our world; we have not mastered, or we have forgotten, or we have distorted, or learned through fragmented models, the forms of life which could make utterances like ‘God exists’ or ‘God is dead’ or ‘I love you’ or ‘I cannot do otherwise’ or ‘Beauty is but the beginning of terror’ bear all the weight they could carry, express all they could take from us.

(Cavell, The Claim of Reason, p. 172-73)

Cavell’s gloss (the part I italicized) leapt from the page the moment I read it roughly twenty years ago. His words caught me completely off guard, and so I pondered them. Was he right to draw the tragic conclusion that most of us today merely go through the motions, simply mouthing empty platitudes when we use words like ‘God’ and ‘love’ and ‘beauty’, and that we do not let these words demand anything too deep or personal from us? A troubling thought, indeed.

In My Bright Abyss, which I have just finished reading, the poet Christian Wiman wonders whether the decay of religious belief among educated people in the West has caused this decay of language, or whether it is the other way around: “[D]o we find the fire of belief fading in us only because the words are sodden with overuse and imprecision, and will not burn?” (p.124)

How different is Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s greeting and announcement in Luke 1:28? Mary gives herself permission to be troubled and perplexed by the angel’s words—to let them hit—leading her to ponder “what sort of greeting this might be.” In her book Into the Mess and Other Jesus Stories, Debie Thomas describes Mary’s response to Gabriel as “holy bewilderment.” She suggests that Mary’s holy bewilderment models for us a way to take distance from the all-too-settled dogmatic certainties and platitudes we have come to accept, the dead words that no longer burn, and search for ones that do. She thus finds Mary’s bewilderment to resonate with her own faith journey as she deals with the suffering, vicissitudes, and ambiguity that daily life visits upon us all:

What an interesting shock reality has been. Who knew that my life with God would actually be one long goodbye? That to know God is to unknow God? To shed my neat conceptions of the divine like so many old snakeskins and emerge into the world bare, vulnerable, and new, again and again? (p. 5–6)

I believe Thomas has hit on something important here, something of what Jesus meant when he told us to become like little children, filled with a child’s “sense of wonder, this excess of spirit brimming out of the body” (to quote Wiman once more) (My Bright Abyss, p. 160). Yet I do not think our Messiah’s admonition means that we must completely shed our first religious language. The demand we face, rather, is to prevent this first language, the basis for everything that follows, from becoming a dead letter. We must strive to maintain its original spiritual charge and vitality, so that it remains a trustworthy language that helps us love reality with the faith and hope that the restoration and renewal of all that is and has been broken is possible.

While the task of maintaining such spiritual vitality is a task we share as a community of faith, graced by God, I remain convinced that no human words, from the most inspired spiritual poetry to the most capacious and systematic theology, will ever be able to contain the profound divine mystery and charge that suffuses and transcends creation. So, the job of preventing these words from becoming settled certainties, the job of maintaining their ability to demand something from us by connecting us to the divine mystery they always fail to express, remains perpetually before us. Yet use these words we must, for as Wiman (again!) reminds us: “At some point you have to believe that the inadequacies of the words you use will be transcended by the faith with which you use them.” (p.141)

And in this way, perhaps, we may welcome God (not to mention love and beauty, or kittens) into our world again.


Ron Kuipers