Neal De Roo is currently a member of the ICS Board of Trustees for Midwest Canada and United States, and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dordt College. He has recently been named a fellow of the Andreas Center for Reformed Scholarship and Service at Dordt, and serves as the Editor-in-Chief for inallthings.org, an online hub committed to the claim that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has implications for the entire world, including all aspects of human living.
How and when did you first come into contact with ICS, and what attracted you to it?
I probably first came into contact, broadly speaking, as someone who grew up in the CRC in Southern Ontario, but it didn't really come onto my radar until probably my senior year at Calvin. I was looking at graduate schools and Jamie Smith, who was a new prof that year, recommended that I look at the Institute as a place to go for graduate work.
What did you take away from your time studying at ICS?
That way of incorporating, looking at my faith differently, understanding Christianity differently, centrally, integrally, coherently, having that vision of the world fleshed out for me in the sort of uniquely reformational way; that I very much picked up when I was there. I finished with an MA in philosophical theology. I did a lot of courses with Jim [Olthuis] in that philosophy of religion/philosophical theology kind of camp. It gave me a really strong foundation in the continental 20th Century European tradition of thinking about what a person is and what religion is and how these things can work together. I did my PhD at Boston College and I'm now teaching at Dordt College.
There's a really vibrant subdiscipline within philosophy in this continental flux, with religion and the question "what are we doing when we're being religious?" I think that what I got at the ICS, what that reformational vision is, just has a lot to offer to those conversations: a really unique take on the way God interacts with creation and in creation, the roles of human beings as the creation of God and what that might mean for the role of humans as religion is lived and practiced. All of those things were foundational and central to me. I wouldn't be where I am, doing the things I do, if I didn't have that base from the ICS.
That body of thought that you got at ICS, and that you developed further when you went on to Boston College, is that something that has proven exciting to your students at Dordt College?
A lot of the students here at Dordt have been to Christian grade schools, Christian high schools, Christian day schools all the way through, and they find themselves very jaded by worldview talk or very jaded by even Creation/Fall/Redemption and these kind of things. When I start teaching my CORE philosophy class one of the first things I do on the first day of class, is just say "what are the words you're tired of hearing? What are the words you're sick of talking about?" And they say, you know, "worldview", "creation/fall/redemption", sometimes even things like "shalom", "fulfillment", "kingdom". They just don't want to talk about that anymore so I say "okay I'll try not to talk about those anymore for the
rest of the semester", and then try and flesh out what it is we're doing; the vision of Christianity that we’re working with, where Christ is in all things, all things are in Christ and for Christ; to flesh this vision out in a way that doesn't fall back on these old categories that they have.
"It really opens them in a new way, to look at what they're doing with their lives, with their vocations and their calling"
And they're very excited about it. It really opens them in a new way, to look at what they're doing with their lives, with their vocations and their calling, how they could be a Christian realistically and meaningfully in everything that they do, rather than that just being a sort of shibboleth that people say. People here at Dordt are very excited about that, and the possibilities that that opens up.
So you are sort of between a larger community of faith and ICS. What role do you see ICS playing in the world then, and what is the importance of that role?
When I started at Dordt College four years ago, I was surprised how many faculty members and administrators at Dordt College would pull me aside and talk to me one on one and say, "You went to the ICS, didn't you?" I said yeah, and they said, "We need more people from the ICS working and teaching here at Dordt. That's a place that gets it and they produce people that get what we're about here and we need more of that here." I think there is very much a sense of the ICS as a place where the reformational vision is alive and thriving and a place that trains, if you want to say, the next generation of reformational scholars and Christian thinkers and Christian professors, who in turn then train the next generation of teachers and engineers and farmers and nurses and everything else. We're sort of the ones who train the trainers.
In addition, I also think the ICS has a great role to play in terms of developing Christian scholarship, uniquely, and distinctly Christian approaches to philosophical problems, to religious problems, to social problems, to ethical problems. "How can religion and specifically the Christian religion, be impactful for our society, in our society, for working towards the common good?" I think the ICS is really strongly positioned to have a voice in the kinds of conversations that are going to become increasingly central to the social and political discourse of North America.