Bert Witvoet is retiring. Again.
Bert Witvoet is stepping down this month as Contributing Editor to Christian Courier, marking an end to his long and vigorous adventure with this publication. It is, in fact, the third time he’s retiring, and if readers had a vote it wouldn’t be the last.
Witvoet began as Editor of CC in 1982 and wrote more than 2,500 editorials over the next 17 years. Under his leadership, the paper transitioned from being printed in Dutch to English and from focusing on immigrant issues to Canadian ones. He updated the name of Calvinist Contact to Christian Courier because, in his words, “we are not called to be exclusive in our claims to be followers of Christ.” The paper’s goal was, then and now, to redeem culture, not complement or oppose it.
Witvoet first retired in 1999 but was called back into service nine years later when his successor Harry der Nederlanden battled cancer and went home to be with the Lord. In 2009, two young 20-somethings became co-editors with Witvoet as their mentor. As one of those young editors, I have been grateful for Bert’s wisdom, and wit, at every turn. He scaled back involvement when I took on a full editorial position in 2010. Since then, he has written monthly and continued to give advice on the content and direction of CC. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine CC without Bert’s words lighting up – and lightening – its pages.
CC editorial team, 2015.
Witvoet’s unique writing style will be sorely missed, especially the way he can cover a serious topic without taking it too seriously. He’ll make you laugh and then stop to think. Let me illustrate with a few excerpts from a piece he wrote in the 1990s called “Peppermint Christianity.”
“Critics have called the peppermint a kind of ‘opium’ that permits the congregation to settle back and allow the most fiery sermon to wash over them without the least bit of damage. But that accusation has been dismissed by several theologians of high repute. The latter have pointed out that the Israelites of old used to tithe mint as part of their religious obligations, providing therewith the Old Testament foundation for the New Testament eating of mint. The Pharisees were, of course, condemned for relying on this tithing of mint to the exclusion of seeking judgment (not to be confused with ‘judgemint’), mercy and faith. But peppermints have never been idolized that way in the Reformed tradition, say such doctrinal stalwarts as Berkhof and Bonhoeffer.
“[…] Actually, the truth about the peppermint lies somewhere between the status of opium and ecstasy; somewhere between a nasty habit and a third sacrament. Scientists have come to our aid in determining the value of eating a peppermint just before the preaching of the Word.
“According to a recent news item, William Dember, a professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati, has conducted a study of the impact of the scent of peppermint on people required to do ‘sustained vigilance tasks.’ What did he find? That the mere smell of peppermint increased attentiveness and concentration by 15 percent! The smell of the lily of the valley has the same effect, but that lies beyond the scope of this article. Reformed people are not known for consuming quantities of lilies of the valley.
If the mere smell of peppermints can increase concentration, think what the smell and taste can do! It appears, then, that Reformed people have been entirely correct in maintaining the custom of eating peppermints at the beginning of the sermon. Preaching is so important to Reformed people that they will gladly make themselves look foolish in the eyes of non-peppermint Christians by sliding a little white attention stimulant into their Word-hungry mouths.”
See what I mean? Inimitable prose.
Readers, find past pieces by Bert at christiancourier.ca and drop him a line at his new email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bert, on behalf of the writers and staff at CC, let me convey our heartfelt thanks for your wonderful work in the field of Reformed journalism. Please stay in touch! Please pass the peppermints!
Thanks from other CC folk
Bert embodies what I take to be the ethos of Christian Courier. He is inquisitive, earnest, light-hearted, good-humoured and highly invested in the marriage of depth to practicality. He’s also a bit contrarian, not willing to take things at face value, and it’s hard to know exactly what he’s going to say about a given topic – which makes him interesting. Yet he remains firmly rooted – unshakeably rooted – in the Reformed worldview that determines his practical (there’s that word again), down-to-earth, and hands-on faith. Bert truly has one of the best engines in the business, and his long-running humility, wisdom and thoughtfulness will be missed.
–Mike Buma, Contributing Editor
There is much I appreciate about Bert: his passionate contemporaneity – an insistence that our callings, though rooted in a cherished Christian heritage, must be worked out in our present context. His fearless readiness to declare an opinion. Combine such conviction with a willingness to re-evaluate and you have a leader who models life-long Spirit-driven learning.
Bert’s faith was the pivot for his consistently positive outlook. Editorials and articles, always honest, sometimes hard-hitting, invariably circled back to hope. From 1988: “This is still the age of Pentecost. The flame has not died down throughout all the centuries.” From a 1992 Thanksgiving reflection: “Underlying our pain and lamentation can run a steady current of thanks and praise.”
Bert’s editorial longevity attests to his commitment to his Saviour and his community. We’ve been blessed by his perspicuity and dedication. Sincere thanks, Bert!
–Cathy Smith, former columnist and Features Editor
Bert is a true Renaissance Man, or should I say Reformational Person. He is a story-teller with an interest in every corner of God’s good creation, embodying that “faith integrated with life” Calvinism not just in word but in his lifestyle. He marches to the beat of his own drummer and will cross uncertain boundaries with relative nonchalance. I remember him joining the liturgical dance troupe for the Sunday worship at an ICS camp conference. Not too many males signed up for that! And he enjoyed every moment of swaying in front of the congregation. He knows how to stir the pot – not recklessly or cheaply, but just enough to stimulate good conversation and maybe one or two letters to the editor.
I remember once I was claiming all patriotism as nationalistic idolatry. He corrected me, saying we make vows of loyalty to our spouses. Why not to place and society, too? That’s not idolatry. It’s just commitment to the common good of our country and its people. Jingoism is the more serious issue.
I appreciate, too, that he was able to let go of the paper, come back to it, let go of it, and come back again. I suspect he was mostly a great help and not the hindrance that a former lead editor could be when returning to the place of their former leadership. His stroke did not deter him that much, I suspect. He doesn’t get in the way, but he’ll step up when needed.
I remember just after the death of a pastor named Peter Nicholai, Bert had a dream of that same Pastor Peter in the next world. He said he saw the good reverend, somewhat pensive in the new earth. He turned to look at Bert and said somewhat wistfully, “If I could do it again, I would do it differently. I would preach more about beauty.” Good dreams. Bert thought it was a good word to us.
–Peter Schuurman, Contributing Editor