The Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) in Toronto is a graduate school started by, funded by, and for folks in the Reformed Christian tradition. It specializes in Christian worldview and philosophical studies and graduates students at the master’s and doctoral levels. It has ably equipped many Christian scholars around the globe who are now profs at Christian institutions, including the Christian Reformed Church’s own Calvin College. Beyond that it has prepared many Christian scholars for service in secular universities, campus ministries, and other areas of kingdom service.
For more than 40 years ICS has made its unique and key contribution in, for example, teaching the professors who teach the teachers who teach our high schoolers and kindergartners. But today ICS finds itself in the same life-or-death financial struggle as the Big Three. Its future is arguably even more precarious.
Two reasons, I think. First, the cost of providing Christian education at the graduate level is high. Neither parents of nor doctoral students themselves (already facing massive school debts) can pay much out of their own pockets. So ICS relies heavily on donors. But economic realities no longer allow larger donors to support ICS as they once could.
Second, ICS has not managed to widen its support base. It has done an awesome job of readying scholars for kingdom service (including several of my own family members—so, yes, I readily admit my bias). But that strategic contribution has never caught the imagination of most Reformed Christians inside or outside of the Christian Reformed Church.
Maybe it’s because ICS is located in Toronto instead of Grand Rapids, Mich. Maybe it’s because early on ICS profs would occasionally bite the ecclesiastical hands that fed them. Maybe the distance from the barn, office, or shop floor to the seminar room is too far. But I suspect the larger reason is that the vision of providing Christian day school education at all levels is eroding steadily in denominations like the CRC. It’s ironic that the generations that benefited the most from the huge financial sacrifices of earlier generations on this score are exactly the ones who are fumbling the ball.
Granted, we’ve often failed to affirm the right and wisdom of many Christian Reformed parents to send their kids to public schools. Granted, we’ve done a bad job of integrating public school kids into the life and ministries of the church. We need to fix that, but not by losing our vision of providing biblically centered Christian day school education at all levels.
Time is running out for ICS. Its demise wouldn’t cause much of a ripple in our denomination. But it would bang another nail into the coffin of what we’re called to be as Reformed Christians and as Christian Reformed congregations that promote Christian day schooling. Why do we promote it? Because Jesus, our Savior and Lord, claims us as his very own. With his own precious blood he bought us 24/7: heart, hands, and head. So we take seriously our baptismal vows “to do all in [our] power to instruct these children in the Christian faith” (CRC baptismal form).
Not one thin dime in Obama’s and Harper’s rescue packages are earmarked for ICS. Who among us can and will step up to rescue it?