Charles Nienkirchen, PhD, MA, BA (Honours), BTh
I am Professor of Christian History and Spirituality at Ambrose University and for many years have also been Visiting Professor of Christian Spirituality at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. In 1998 I was honoured as the Distinguished Tyndale College Alumnus of the Year.
The overarching theme of my career as teacher, scholar, and writer, which spans over three decades, has been the biblical/historical, theological and formational dimensions of spiritual renewal. As a history graduate student at the University of Waterloo in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s my intellectual attention was captured by two lectureships delivered in 1978 and 1981 as the annual Pascal Lectures on Christianity and the University. The inaugural set of lectures delivered by Malcolm Muggeridge, the witty and widely read satirist/agnostic turned Christian, were entitled ‘The End of Christendom but Not of Christ.’ He prophesied the light of the Christian revelation shining brightly amidst what he saw as the impending ruin of ‘Western Civilization’ and with it the collapse of ‘Christendom.’ In the shambles of Christendom he posited the eternal reality of Christ rising to sublime heights and the renewal of the Christian faith without any of its historic dependence on political, institutional or cultural support for its vibrancy.
Two years later, Charles Habib Malik came to campus as the Pascal lecturer. His credentials were beyond reproach: distinguished Lebanese academic, renowned international statesman and devout Christian who, in addition to his many distinguished accomplishments in the Academy, was a signatory for Lebanon of the Charter of the United Nations in 1945 and contributor to the final text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He boldly critiqued the world-dominating institution of the university and confronted it with the need to return to its original mandate to seek the Christocentric truth which sets free thereby countering the anti-Christian rage of the times. His courageous words still echo in my ears…”What does Jesus Christ think of the University?” He derided secular humanism and exhorted the university, which had fallen from grace as the guardian of truth, to submit to the rigorous critique of Jesus Christ in order to be renewed for the good of civilization.
In the wake of Muggeridge and Malik, my doctoral dissertation, “The Development of Separatist Motifs in Swiss Anabaptism, 1523-1528," explored the breaking up of Western Christendom in the 16th century and focused on the factors contributing to the emergence of the separatist ecclesiology of radical Anabaptists who saw ‘Christendom’ as a theological fiction hostile to the restoration of their allegedly biblical Christianity, hence the need to separate themselves from it and the Magisterial Reformers who endorsed it.
Over the years my preoccupation with the subject of spiritual renewal has inspired me on numerous trajectories of study. As a Scholar in Residence at the University of Oxford, I investigated the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant prayer traditions seeking to identify conceptual commonalities and differences pertinent to the prayer experience and its relationship to the cultivation of a spiritual life. On my second sabbatical as Scholar in Residence at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, on the edge of the Judean wilderness, I researched and travelled the history of the desert movement of the 3rd -5th centuries CE in order to transcend its oft noted idiosyncrasies and probe the essence of its quest for God in harsh landscapes and commitment to spiritual renewal as the flip side of its rejection of the lax, self indulgent, state-sponsored Christianity brought on by the 4th century ‘conversion’ of the emperor Constantine.
My third sabbatical took me to the exotic, Indian subcontinent where I was Visiting Professor in Residence at Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary in Madurai, South India. In this setting my long established interest in spiritual renewal converged with the more expansive subject of the global spread of apostolic Christianity in the ancient world, especially the traditions of the Apostle Thomas’, miraculously empowered and extra-canonically recorded, missionary activity in first-century India.
To enhance my understanding of how spiritual renewal actually happens from a personal, formational standpoint I also studied the ancient Christian art of spiritual direction in a School for Spiritual Directors operated by a Benedictine Abbey in the mountains of New Mexico. In this high altitude, desert environment, I experienced the transformational impact of a holistic, pedagogical integration of theory and practice infused with a daily, monastic regimen of prayer, all embedded in the time honoured, spiritual wisdom contained in the 6th century Rule of Benedict.
For over 25 years I have been committed to the larger task of church renewal through conducting retreats on the themes of the classical spiritual disciplines and seasons of sacred time for a broad spectrum of churches and faith-based organizations. In addition to several publications on subjects related to spiritual renewal I have taught a micro-curriculum of courses on selected aspects of Christian spirituality at numerous seminaries and graduate schools across Canada and the US as well as giving media interviews, participating in local church congregational conversations and delivering lectureships abroad to indigenous churches and international church workers.
My research and writing interests include classical spiritual disciplines, seasons of sacred time, dreaming, traditions of spiritual direction, and the spirituality of ancient Christian traditions.
Scholarly & Professional Activity
In 2006 I received the peer-reviewed Award of Distinction for Internationalizing the Teaching and Learning Practice from the Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology. The award was part of a province-wide program launched by the Alberta Government to highlight the cross-section of globalization strategies which have been inaugurated by Alberta’s post-secondary institutions to make possible cross-cultural, international educational opportunities for their students. I created the Down Ancient Paths Travel Study Program at Ambrose University, and I'm currently the director of this program (see www.downancientpaths.com). Its objectives are twofold: first, to explore Christian antiquity and delve into the global Christian heritage as expressed through the oldest Christian traditions in the world; second, to traverse the primary biblical landscapes of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions and to analyse their impact on the biblical texts. Additionally, the geographical diversity of the itinerant and residential travel study experiences has provided dynamically textured settings for interfaith and interchurch dialogue with both leaders in the Muslim world and those in the ancient churches of the Christian East.
Previous Down Ancient Paths Travel Ventures :
2005 – The Christian Odyssey 2005: Following the Star to the Christian East (Ethiopia/Syria/Armenia/Byzantine Istanbul)
2006 - Letters from the Apocalypse for Pilgrims in the Third Millennium (Turkey /Patmos)
2006 - Summer School in the Holy Land (Israel/Jordan)
2008 - Summer School in ‘Two’ Holy Lands (Ethiopia/Israel)
2009 - The Quest for Ancient Christians in Tropical South India (India)
2009 - Summer School in the ‘Other’ Holy Lands (Turkey/Patmos)
2010 - Summer School in the Holy Land and ‘Greater’ Holy Land (Syria/Jordan/Israel)
2010 - Cities of the Baltic and the Oberammergau Passion Play: A Journey Through Civilization to the Cross
2010 - Holy Days and Holidays in Egypt: Experiencing an Ancient Coptic Christmas (Egypt)
2011 - The Malta Institute: Exploring ‘the Sacred’ at a Mediterranean Crossroads (Malta)
2011 – Pilgrims, Monks and Martyrs on the Emerald Isle: The Irish Roots of Christian Celtic Spirituality (Ireland)
2012 - Rome to Venice: Mediterranean Chapters in the History of Western Christianity (Italy/Malta/Croatia)
2012 - Summer School in the Holy Land (Jordan/Israel)
2012 - The Search for Ancient Christians on the Silk Road: China and Beyond (China/Tibet/Central Asia)
2013 - Magnificent Ethiopia: Where the Ancient Christian Voices Still Speak (Ethiopia)
2013 - The Search for Ancient Christians in North Africa (Sicily/Malta/Tunisia/Libya/Egypt)
2013 - Summer School in the ‘Other’ Holy Lands (Turkey/Greece/Albania)
2014 - The Quest for Ancient Christians in Tropical South India
2014 - Summer School in the 'Greater' Holy Land (Jordan and Israel)
2014 - Retracing the Footsteps of Ancient Celtic Christians in the United Kingdom
2015 - Following in the Footsteps of the Apostle Paul through Greece and Cyprus
2015 - Summer School in the 'Other' Holy Lands (Turkey and Patmos)
2015 - In the Footsteps of the Pilgrims from Rome to Florence via Assisi
2016 - Magnificent Ethiopia: Where Ancient Christian Voices Still Speak
2016 - From the Apostle Paul to Christopher Columbus: Milestones of Christian Memory in Southern Spain