The history of the Institute for Christian Studies is a story with many dimensions. On a philosophical level, the ICS has brought into existence an enriched understanding of God's hand in all the world, including academic research and teaching, a viewpoint unprecedented as the leading motif in any other Christian college or university. On a more fundamental level, because freestanding independent colleges and universities were almost unknown in Canada, except for seminaries and Bible colleges, finding the legal room for the Institute to exist is an extraordinary story. The new ground opened by the Institute was often controversial. The Institute and its story show how Christian higher education can move beyond the dichotomistic view of Christians who demonstrate personal faith even as they teach material that assumes God's absence from the subject matter.
Dutch immigrants to Canada in the early 1950s had an urgent vision for preparing Christian leaders to serve their subculture and other Canadian Christians. They understood that a Christian university was essential to give leadership to their people in a new world. They wanted scholars to work out the meaning of Christ's rule over all of the world, especially in higher education and theoretical study, but also for the benefit of all people. They wanted the benefits of this higher education to reach down to all people of their culture, educated or not, and in that sense the Institute was designed to serve all the people within that culture. The culture these immigrants had left following the Nazi devastation in the Netherlands gave them the hope that the new world would be open to their unique vision.
This manuscript is the story of how that vision unfolded over the first fifty years of the Institute. People who embraced this vision set up an independent graduate school that reached throughout the world, even though it remained almost invisibly small. Along the way, the Institute shaped the culture of Dutch Reformed immigrants in Canada. Its vigorous publishing program has reached surprising places in every continent, including Asia, Africa, and Latin America, bringing to its Toronto classrooms many international students in addition to Americans. And in 2006, its alumni held academic positions in thirty North American colleges, universities, and seminaries and in fourteen universities overseas.
Structure of the Book
This book begins by describing the eleven-year gestation period from the first private conversations about the Institute to its opening (with only one professor) in 1967.
This book presents the ways in which the Institute's unique Christian insights are expressed by its professors and organized in their courses. Books are identified that give expression to Institute research by faculty members and graduate students, as well as special Christian insights brought to the Institute by visiting scholars at academic conferences. The heart of the Institute's educational conviction is that nothing in the world is secular, and that God's law underlies and gives unity and meaning to all the world and all education. In the tradition of Calvin, Kuyper, and Dooyeweerd, all academic and philosophical systems are understood to be ultimately and inevitably rooted in religious belief. The Institute is unique in centering its graduate program on philosophy rather than theology or ethics. This book shows how this special vision for Christian higher education became a reality, but it also opens room for disagreement about the validity of these insights.
Included is the Institute's special initiative to include worldview studies in its curriculum, which includes a special department offering a degree called Master of Worldview Studies. This program and its publications have drawn wide interest among Christian scholars and have developed through contact with people like James Sire and Arthur Holmes.
The People of the Institute
This book is written as a tribute to the people who wanted the Institute to exist—they prayed for it, worked for it, and were willing to pay for it. They had a vision of Christ's rule over the world, and, in their new nation, a graduate school like the Institute was at the heart of their vision. Many of the people who rallied to this vision and paid money to build it did not themselves have a higher education. This book about the development of that vision is written to be read by people without advanced education as well as by academicians.
I am not a Dutch immigrant, but I served as an executive administrator at the Institute from March 1974 until 2000. I started as Executive Director of the nonacademic work of the Institute and continued that service in a variety of positions until my retirement. I was close to much of the work of the Institute during those years and was strongly engaged in the vision behind it. Consequently, this history of the Institute is not objective (though it should be noted that the vision behind the Institute insists that no one's work is truly objective). Nor is this book a critical history. You will find criticisms on these pages, but they are muted because the people involved are my friends, people with whom I worked very closely. Rather, this is an anecdotal recollection, the account of one who has long been involved with the Institute and its vision.
There are some issues of terminology in writing about this school, terminology that has undergone some changes over the years. The Institute is often called ICS, and throughout the text I have used Institute and ICS interchangeably.
The school was started by a nonacademic association, first called the Association for Reformed Scientific Studies, later the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship. That association was disbanded in 1983 when the Institute received its charter to grant degrees from the government of Ontario. These names are cumbersome and the enabling body itself no longer in force, so I have simply referred to it throughout as the Association. The Association began with the aim of advancing Christian higher education to give leadership to a certain group of people and to educate some of its people for leadership service.
In the early years, the faculty decided to refer to each other as Senior Members and to the graduate students as Junior Members. The faculty had a vision of a graduate school as an academic community in which senior and junior partners work together and learn together in shared commitment to the development of quality Christian scholarship. Together they would embody and advance a Christian tradition of scholarship in critical dialogue with leading contemporary schools of thought. This aim is largely realized, though in practice the professors and graduate students at the Institute relate together in much the same close and congenial way as do professors and students at any other small graduate school. I generally use the ordinary terms professor and student because the meaning and implication of these terms are more widely understood.
This text has no footnotes, though there are numerous citations. Nearly all citations are taken from reports and minutes originating at the Institute and from its published newsletters. Though these are not generally secret or confidential documents, neither are they readily accessible to a scholarly reader, so citation in the style of academic footnotes is inappropriate. In certain places, I use expressions that were first written by someone else, but explicit credit in all of those cases has not seemed appropriate.
The help of many people was needed to produce this record of Institute history. I am thankful to the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Christian Studies and to its President, Harry Fernhout, for their readiness to give me access to Institute records and historical papers. I give special thanks to Hendrik Hart, Calvin Seerveld, John Meiboom, and my son Mark Vander Vennen for their careful review of the text and suggestions of many corrections and improvements. Bert Witvoet, Gerald Vandezande, and Calvin Seerveld gave special service by preparing the personal vignettes of early people who helped bring the Institute to reality. Harry Fernhout was very helpful, and I thank him especially for his insights and information on the status of the Institute in 2005 and his sense of how it might develop in the future, contained in Chapter 17.
Behind the scenes is the very great support I have received from my loving wife Mary, who has walked with me every part of the way and whose help is beyond measure.