This Festschrift honours George Vandervelde for his faithful work as a scholar, teacher, and ecumenical leader.
If you ask people involved in ecumenical dialogue about George Vandervelde, they would say he is really remarkable. How does he achieve so much? He remains thoroughly, deeply embedded in his own church tradition, the Christian Reformed Church. He speaks also from the heart of the evangelical movement that enlivens his tradition. But from this firm location, he is able to enter into many different settings.
Of course, he has been active at his own institution, the Institute for Christian Studies, and in the Toronto School of Theology. Some of his colleagues and former students from there have contributed to this Festschrift. In addition, he has always been active in his own Christian Reformed Church, year after year offering theological scholarship and leadership on important disputed questions, such as the eucharist, ecumenical dialogue with other churches, and the ordination of women. Colleagues from his church communion are among the contributors to this volume.
But George Vandervelde is a familiar colleague at major ecumenical gatherings as well. He has been an active member of Faith and Witness in Canada, Faith and Order in the United States, the Reformed-Roman Catholic Dialogue in North America, and the North American Academy of Ecumenists. Some of his dialogue partners from those settings have written for this Festschrift.
North America is too small an arena for his ecumenical interest, however, so George Vandervelde is a frequent world traveller in pursuit of the unity of the Church. His travels to Asia, Europe and South America have allowed him to exercise leadership with the World Evangelical Alliance, continually urging them toward greater involvement in the ecumenical movement. He represented evangelicals at the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1999 and at the International Faith and Order meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 2004. His commitment to dialogue for the sake of evangelization has also led him into the challenging task of co-chairing the World Evangelical Alliance-Roman Catholic International Consultation. Colleagues from these international activities also added articles to this collection.
Throughout these varied activities, George Vandervelde has consistently emphasized the link between the unity of the Church and mission. For him, the divisions among Christians weaken their witness to Christ and prevent others from hearing and seeing the gospel clearly. George always links the work of unity with mission, and so the contributors of this volume have shaped their reflections on the link between unity and mission. The reader will see how this link, in different ways, is present in every contribution.
How has George sustained his commitment to ecumenical work in so many settings and over so many years? To begin with he has perseverance. His commitment to the unity Christ wills for the Church is unshakeable and this leads him to persist in his ecumenical work. When we look at the lengthy process of his involvement with the reconsideration by the Christian Reformed Church of the Heidelberg Catechism’s teaching on Roman Catholic understanding of the eucharist, we have only one striking example of his perseverance. But his ecumenical partners could give many others. They experience George as a reliable colleague who is with them on the ecumenical journey for the long haul.
George also has an open mind. He is ready to reconsider earlier positions and try new approaches used by other churches if it will help Christians work together to evangelize the world. Only the gospel is non-negotiable. For him, the mission of the Church demands its unity, and he’s glad to explore anything that will work, as long as it is faithful to the gospel. In seeking the mind of Christ, he is able to open his mind to other Christians on the same search.
Finally, colleagues know George to be a considerate, even a gentle, dialogue partner. He really seems to have understood the meaning of the teaching: to speak the truth in love. Rather than sharp criticisms of his ecumenical partners, he brandishes good arguments and outrageous jokes. Rather than stinging attacks on the positions of other churches, he turns a calm self-critical eye on all the churches for their foolish competition, for their unfaithful tendency to seek the mote in each other’s eye rather than the beam in their own. Because George can seek the truth and seek it with such consideration for his students, colleagues, and ecumenical partners, he has become dear to them.
It will be easy for the reader of these articles to sense this, and to recognize the high regard in which George is held by the contributors. We who are colleagues, students, and ecumenical partners of George, we say of our relationship with him, “We’re the lucky ones.”
Out of this appreciation for George come seventeen essays that deal with two closely related issues that are central in his academic career—mission and unity. These essays come from authors who stand in two different Christian traditions—Reformed evangelical and Roman Catholic. George himself stands in the Reformed evangelical tradition and has worked extensively in his academic and ecumenical work with Roman Catholics.
A number of the papers find their primary emphasis in mission. Mission iscentral to the Biblical story. This informs Al Wolters’ opening article on the interpretation of Zechariah 8:20-23. He offers an historical survey of the interpretation of this text noting various traditions of interpretation that do not interpret this text as being fulfilled in the mission of the church. Wolters argues for a missional reading that sees the gathering of Gentiles to Jerusalem being fulfilled in the church’s mission today. Mission is also central to the identity and existence of the church. Jerry Gort opens up this topic offering an interpretation of the missionary calling of the church from an historical and theological perspective. He analyses the goal, content, message, necessity, and approach of the church’s missionary calling. If a church is faithful to its missionary calling, there will be a missionary encounter with its culture in which the biblical story challenges the cultural story. Timoteo Gener takes up this theme and gives a critical analysis of David Tracy’s correlational approach. In his critique of Tracy, Gener offers his own Reformational approach that gives a larger place to the authority of Scripture. In a missionary encounter with culture there are two issues that are unavoidable today—globalization and religious pluralism. Cal Seerveld takes up the challenge of interpreting globalization, offering an insightful analysis of the economic idolatry of globalization along with the Islamic reaction. He believes that the clash in our global world is between two oversimplifying fundamentalisms capitalistic secularism and Muslim theocratic fundamentalism. He concludes by challenging the Christian church to live by the creational norm of ‘glocal culture’—that is, recognising our local responsibilities in the context of interconnected peaceable communities. Considering religious pluralism, Sander Griffioen gives a fine example of dialogue between the Christian faith and other religious traditions, which is loving and respectful while at the same time holding the truth of Christ in the midst of difference. He wrestles with the puzzle of multiple religious participation, asking how one can participate in many religions when those religions demand ultimate commitment.
A church that is faithful to its missionary character will feel the impulse for unity. Michael Goheen argues that reflection on the theological dynamic of comity, as practiced by foreign mission organizations in the nineteenth century, can help us to see the intrinsic connection between mission and unity. Comity fosters a missionary responsibility that makes clear the essential correlation between unity and mission. Jan Jongeneel explores this connection further by tracing the theological development of mission-and-unity and mission-in-unity in the ecumenical tradition, the Reformed tradition, and in migrant churches. He believes that the divide between the ecumenical tradition that stresses unity over mission and the evangelical tradition that stresses mission over unity can be bridged by the theological reflection done on mission and unity by the divided Reformed churches.
The impulse of mission toward unity has led to various kinds of ecumenical approaches. A number of papers investigate various aspects of ecumenical experience. Richard Mouw struggles with the exclusionary ecclesiology of the Belgic Confession. Mouw acknowledges a kind of confessional ‘messiness’, and urges us in our ecumenical journey to maintain what is biblical in our confessions while embracing believers who are clearly on the same Christ-following journey. Martien Brinkman argues that the Reformed tradition is uniquely located to offer some insight concerning unity today. Since it has struggled with the contextuality of confessions and its relationship to the universality of Scripture’s message it can bring that insight into ecumenical discussion. Margaret O’Gara reflects on the theological significance of friendship in the ecumenical movement. Friendship sets the collaborative context, leads to understanding by careful listening, and sustains one in perseverance necessary for ecumenical dialogue. Pope John Paul II has noted in Ut Unum Sint , his encyclical on commitment to ecumenism, that any ecumenical encounter will raise the issue of the healing of memories. Miroslav Volf explores how memories can be healing as well as how they can be destructive.
The ecumenical impulse has led to many ecumenical dialogues between various confessional traditions over the last century. Some of these dialogues arise in several articles. Lyle Bierma narrates the history of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) on Q&A 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism, a dialogue in which George Vandervelde played a key role. This part of the catechism interprets the Roman Catholic mass is a ‘condemnable idolatry’ and a ‘denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ.’ He believes this reexamination of the catechism is a positive step for the CRC as it struggles with past mistakes and misunderstandings, with the role of confessions, and with what it means to be ecumenical. From the Roman Catholic tradition Jeffrey Gros offers a careful documentary reading of this same CRC-RCC dialogue on the Heidelberg Catechism. He also examines another key text that has been important in the Roman Catholic-Evangelical dialogue, viz , the joint statement ‘Church, Evangelism, and Koinonia’ that issued from the dialogue between the World Evangelical Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church. John Radano gives a brief overview of international dialogues and contacts between the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelicals since Vatican II, and then comments on the most recent report of the recent international consultation between the Catholic Church and the World Evangelical Alliance. George Tavard asks how the Reformed tradition might relate to the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. Tavard takes us through an historical journey of the Reformed tradition’s understanding of justification and then puts that tradition in dialogue with the Joint Declaration.
Ecumenical dialogue is not only a matter of theological traditions but also in terms of academic traditions. Both the Reformed and Roman Catholic traditions have noteworthy records of struggling with the relationship between the gospel and scholarship. There have been significant differences and misunderstandings. Bob Sweetman and Jonathan Chaplin seek to bridge the divide. Sweetman takes up the differences between the traditions on faith and reason, and on the unity of scholarship, by analysing Pope John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio. He concludes that a dialogue between these two traditions can lead to mutual enrichment and critique. Chaplin addresses a deeply-entrenched misunderstanding of Roman Catholic social thought that has had a formative role in the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition of scholarship, concluding that perhaps the traditions are much closer than originally thought.
These essays are offered, at the occasion of George Vandervelde’s retirement, in appreciation for the work that that he has done in theology, especially ecumenical and missionary theology, at the Institute for Christian Studies over the past twenty-seven years. We would like to thank all the contributors who have taken time to write these essays. We would also like to thank some people who have helped us with this project. Erin Goheen spent many hours editing the articles and putting them into a uniform format. Ben Goheen designed the cover of the book; the design is an artistic rendering of an illustration George once used to illustrate that if there is to be unity in the church we must put the gospel of Jesus Christ at the centre and not our ecclesial traditions. All of our ecclesial traditions must be judged by the gospel. Mark Yenson helped with a final edit of the articles. Dan Postma prepared the book in camera-ready form. To these people we say thank-you.
We bring this work to completion during the season of Pentecost. There is no better time to be reminded of the missionary and ecumenical task of the church than during a time when the church celebrates the gift of the Spirit who gathers the church into “the unity of the body of Christ” and “thrusts them into worldwide mission.” Further it is a time to grieve that the church is a “broken communion in a broken world” but also to marvel that the Lord “gathers the broken pieces to do his work.” In the words of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony of the Christian Reformed Church, a document that George helped to author:
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit
was given to the church.
In pouring his Spirit on many peoples
God overcomes the divisions of Babel;
now people from every tongue, tribe, and nation
are gathered into the unity
of the body of Christ. 
The Spirit thrusts
God’s people into worldwide mission.
He impels young and old,
men and women,
to go next door and far away,
into science and art,
media and marketplace
with the good news of God’s grace.
The Spirit goes before them and with them,
convincing the world of sin
and pleading the cause of Christ. 
We grieve that the church
which shares one Spirit, one faith, one hope,
and spans all time, place, race, and language
has become a broken communion in a broken world.
When we struggle for the purity of the church
and for the righteousness God demands,
we pray for saintly courage.
When our pride or blindness blocks
the unity of God’s household,
we seek forgiveness.
We marvel that the Lord gathers the broken pieces
to do his work,
and that he blesses us still
with joy, new members,
and surprising evidences of unity.
We commit ourselves to seeking and expressing
the oneness of all who follow Jesus. 
Michael W. Goheen