October 2011‎ > ‎

6 - A 'Threefold Cord'

The Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics continues ICS’s tradition of research and outreach in its ‘threefold cord’ as graduate school, university for the people and now research centre.

"Research and outreach will be complementary undertakings"

Francis Schaeffer used to say going to a movie or reading a contemporary novel was like going to war for a Christian. He stressed that we are in a spiritual battle and that spirits operate within the cultural fabric of our lives. Yet Schaeffer also maintained it was often the investigations of philosophers and other intellectuals that were the channels through which spiritual powers influenced these everyday experiences.

An important part of the genius of the reformational tradition isn’t only to recognize the influence of academic institutions but also to affirm that scholarship should be in the service of ordinary life. To serve is also to be accountable to the Christian community. Academic work is one step removed from the fullness of life, in the library or the lab, and this enables it to make its particular contribution. But realizing its full potential is only possible when scholarly insights are fed into and tested in the rich complexity of everyday life.

So in celebrating the launch of ICS’ research centre, we also affirm our ongoing commitment to be “a university for the people.” Along with our graduate programs, this completes ICS’ “threefold cord” (Eccles. 4:12). The strength of this cord depends on the intertwinement of its components. Many will recognize “a university for the people” as the title of Robert VanderVennen’s history of the Institute. VanderVennen played a pivotal role at ICS, and for many years oversaw our public outreach ministry. He reminds us of an aim articulated in the Institute’s Charter: “to exhibit the coherence of all reality in Christ and in this way to equip people to direct their lives by the Gospel.” As he says, “The Institute wanted to educate everyone.”

Public outreach is thus by no means a Jenny-come-lately. ICS has sought to provide contexts in which people may reflect and act on the challenges of living out the gospel in their daily lives. Grassroots outreach addresses concrete religious and social ethical concerns, and the Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics is also grounded in these concerns. As a result, next year’s conference on social justice and human rights intentionally includes not only scholars, but also speakers and other participants who are activists in social justice matters. Research and outreach will be complementary undertakings.

Social ethics draws attention to matters of conduct that aren’t individual, personal and private, but have to do with life in the public domain. Our orientations to such concerns reflect religious convictions and often draw on philosophical formulations. Working with the broader community will enable ICS to keep in touch with issues that are important as they seek to be Jesus’ disciples in their families, workplaces, and political, economic and ecological spheres. These concerns and contributions will help ground the work of the research centre, and the deliberations that take place there will hopefully serve to inform their reflections and actions.

Doug Blomberg is Professor of Education at ICS