An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Andrew Basden's new book: The Foundations of Information Systems

A new book from Andrew Basden has just been published: The Foundations of Information Systems. Routledge, 2017.

Inline images 1

Table of Contents


1. Introduction
2. Philosophies
3. Dooyeweerd's Philosophy
4. Foundations, Research and Practice


5. The Nature of Information and Communication Technology
6. Understanding ICT Use
7. Understanding ICT Features
8. Understanding ICT and Society
9. Understanding ICT Development


10. Overview and Reflection
11. Contributions and Limitations
12. Opportunities and Recommendations

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Faith Formation in a Secular Age - a review

Faith Formation is a Secular Age
Responding to the Church's Obsession with Youthfulness (Ministry in a Secular Age) 
Andrew Root
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017
ISBN  978-0-8010-9846-8
240pp, pk, £13.99

How do we form faith in a secular age? Drawing upon the Catholic Canadian Charles Taylor’s insights, Andrew Root attempts to answer this question. Root challenges popular faith formation programmes - faith is more than assent to some variables of belief or going to church. 
What is refreshing that he exposes the idolatry of youth culture within the contemporary church - this is particularly telling as it comes from someone who is a Chair of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota! 
The first half of the book looks at where we have come from. How the search for authenticity and the rise of youthfulness has come about. He highlights a number of factors these include consumerism, the influence of Keynesian economics and Freudian theory seen in the ‘glorifying youthfulness as the pursuit of the id’s desires’. These have all contributed to a separation and segmentation between the youth and adults and a loss of transcendence which in turn have all contributed to MTD: moralistic (the need to be a good person), therapeutic (God is there to help me feel good about myself), deism (God as a concept but not as someone acting in the world). Consumerism post world-war arose from a response from fear; the fear of communism - the idea in the States was that they could consume their way to prosperity and thus keep the red devil of communism from the door. Fear is also prevalent in the contemporary church: we have a fear of being irrelevant, or, worse, being inauthentic. Buzzwords such as ‘the nones’, ‘spiritual not religious’, have all been coined to feed that fear. Post-war consumerism was connected with duty. As Root puts it: ‘Conformity to the mass society became the call to duty; keeping up with your neighbor’s buying became your national obligation.’ 
A clear indication that idolatries are at work is that the worst insult you could pay someone is to say they are inauthentic or that they have lost their youthfulness. The link between youthfulness and authenticity is ably examined by Root. As he suggests Bonhoeffer would say: ‘ you’ve become obsessed with the youthful spirit, and you actually imagine that youth will save the church. It is no wonder you feel like you’re struggling with faith and its formation; you’ve given your attention to the cultural benefits of an age group over concern for the working of the Holy Spirit who is the very giver of that which you seek’. 
Youthfulness, then, is a spirituality without transcendence or divine action (the deistic element of MTD), with an anthropology of self-pursuit (the therapeutic) and an ethic for individualism (the moralistic).
For me, the sociological analysis in the first part of the book was its strength. The second part is more theological. Here Root examines the nature of faith and faith formation. He rightly wants to avoid the notion of faith formation as being ‘doomed to serve the master of youthfulness’. In this part he draws upon the three notions of secular that Taylor has developed secular 1,2,3). For example:
Where Secular 1 sees transcendence in different planes of existence and Secular 2 relegates transcendence to a spatial division between the religious and the a-religious, Secular 3 ultimately finds transcendence and divine action unbelievable.
Root develops the idea of faith and faith formation as embracing the negation and wants to connect it with divine action while avoiding hyper-pragmatism. To do this he draws upon case studies in the apostle Paul and, less predictably, Phineas, the grandson of Aaron (Num 25). He develops a refreshing Christocentric rather than an anthropocentric view of faith formation. It is a negation of self, but an embracing of unity with Christ; being ‘in Christ’. This with the help of Philippians 2 he sees faith formation as taking the form of a ‘kenotic chorus “although [x] not [y] but [z]” to structure your life, calling you to be a minister in the world’. I wasn’t fully clear how this kenotic thesis could form faith formation. But this book is the first volume of what promises to be a trilogy. I look forward to reading how these ideas can be developed.


Introduction: Bonhoeffer Thinks We're Drunk
Part 1: A History of the Age of Authenticity: The Challenge of Forming Faith
1. The Boring Church and the Pursuit of Authenticity
2. The History of Youthfulness
3. The Perceived Scam of the Mass Society
4. The Rise of the Hippie and the Obsession with Youthfulness
5. The Rise of Hip
6. Churches Filled with Bobos--the Beasts of Authenticity
Part 2: A Secular Age Meets Paul, and the Youthful Spirit Meets the Spirit of Ministry
7. Faith and Its Formation in a Secular Age
8. What Is Faith?
9. From Membership to a Mystical Union
10. The Music of Formation
11. Is God a Favor Bestower or Gift Giver?
Conclusion: Practical Steps to Consider as the Household of Ministry


Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Power Of The Church: The Ecclesiology Of Abraham Kuyper by Michael R. Wagenman

Mike Wagenman's brilliant 2014 PhD Thesis (Bristol University and Trinity College, supervised by Craig Bartholmew) has now been published as:

The Power Of The Church: The Ecclesiology Of Abraham Kuyper 
by Michael R. Wagenman.

Mike is the Christian Reformed campus minister at Western and a member of the faculty of Western's School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

The contents will give a flavour of the treats in store:

CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION ‐ The Disappearance of the Church, Power, and Abraham Kuyper
CHAPTER 2 ‐ Disappearing No Longer: The Ecclesiology of Abraham Kuyper
CHAPTER 3 ‐ Sovereignty, Authority, and Power: Abraham Kuyper's Worldview
CHAPTER 4 ‐ The Ecclesial Sphere and Kerygmatic Power
CHAPTER 5 ‐ The Nature of Ecclesial Power: A Theological Interpretation of Acts 10
CHAPTER 6 ‐ The Sacramental Nature of Ecclesial Power: Abraham Kuyper's Ecclesiology and Vatican Council II
Chapter 7 ‐ CONCLUSION

Appendix 1 ‐ A Chronology of Abraham Kuyper
Appendix 2 ‐ A Linguistic Study of δύναμις in the Greek New Testament
Appendix 3 ‐ The Church in the Reformed Confessions.


It is available here.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Alleen God kan ons nog redden. Biography of Egbert Schuurman

Last month saw the launch of a biography of Egbert Schuurman, written by the Catholic historian Remco  van Mulligan.

The event was staged in the meeting hall of the First Chamber of the Dutch parliament, where Schuurman worked as a senator for several decades.
The book is entitled Alleen God kan ons nog redden. Egbert Schuurman: tegendraads christen in een seculier land [Only God can still save us. Egbert Schuurman: A dissenting Christian in a  secular country]. Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 2017. Pp. 432. 15 photographs.

The main title is a play on a famous quote from Heidegger: "Only a god can save us."

Schuurman taught reformational philosophy at the Technical University of Delft and the Agricultural University of Wageningen.
He sat in the First Chamber for the Christian Union party, 1983-2011.

Some themes: reformational philosophy; conduct of air bubbles in clay and water [yes, Schuurman was a graduate (cum laude) in civil engineering); enslaved to technology; neither creationist nor evolutionist; the good and the bad about computers and robots; the cultural mandate; euthanasia and palliative care; our duty toward animals; Islam's appreciation of the good creation; crisis in agriculture; genetic manipulation; adopted children and their biological parents; the world as a garden.

There is a complete bibliography on pp. 401-414.

A well-written account of a fascinating career. Five stars.
Tolle lege!
Harry Van Dyke

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Still Christian - a review

Still Christian
Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism
David P. Gushee
Westminster John Knox Press
ISBN 9780664263379
Pbk, 176pp, £10.99

This is a bold, honest and fascinating book. Gushee was perhaps best known initially for his Kingdom Ethics book written with one of his mentors Glenn Stassen - he then changed his mind regarding the Christian approach to homosexuality and became infamous. As a result of his change of mind, IVP refused to reprint Kingdom Ethics, so Eerdmans took up the option.
Still Christian is the inside story of one person’s move from Catholicism to fundamentalism to neo-evangelicalism, to his present position 'out of American evangelicalksim'. As Gushee puts it: 

‘So this book will resolve my inner conflicts, profile some fascinating people, dish some really interesting dirt, explain the culture wars—and talk about what God might have to do with any of this.’

But not for one moment did he stop believing in the risen Christ - hence the title of this book Still Christian. He writes: 
‘I still believe in Jesus. Indeed, I believe in him more than ever. I need him more than ever. Some days the only thing I have left of my Christianity is Jesus. And that’s okay.’
Whatever you think of Gushee’s present views this book provides a fascinating insider account of some recent trends in evangelicalism; obviously, he is only presenting one side, but in many ways, that is what makes this book such a great read. His view of evangelicalism may be slightly warped but it has more than a smidgin of truth:

‘But hard experience over several decades leads me now to conclude that evangelicalism was in one sense a rebranding effort on the part of a cadre of smart fundamentalists around 1945.’

‘My analysis is that if evangelicals are best identified as essentially a massively successful rebranding effort of old-school fundamentalism, the starting point from which the modern evangelical community emerged was obscurantist and provincial, routinely anti-intellectual, antiscience, and antimodern. It has only been seventy years since evangelicalism emerged from this musty closet, and it sometimes shows.’

Gushee is honest with his struggles and this is one of the things that makes this book so interesting. It is certainly worth reading. I for one am glad to have read it - even though I wouldn’t agree with everything that Gushee holds; not least his view of Calvinism: ‘This is my best chance to say that I believe the resurgence of a doctrinaire Calvinism in contemporary evangelicalism is among the most odious developments of the last generation.’ 
It is a bold book and hopefully, evangelicals will read it and take time to reflect on his criticisms.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

#Kuyperania Sept 2017

There have been two fascinating articles on Kuyper recently - both well worth checking out:

Joustra, R. 2017. Abraham Kuyper among the Nations. Politics and Religion, 1-23. doi:10.1017/S1755048317000554

van Vliet, J. 2017. Islam According to Journalist Abraham Kuyper. Pro Rege, 46(1): 12 - 25. 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Interview with Robert Sweetman (part 2)

This is the second part of an interview with Robert Sweetman. part 1 is here. His recent book, published by Wipf and Stock, is Tracing the Lines: Spiritual Exercise and the Gesture of Christian Scholarship  (details available here) ISBN9781498296816.

In Tracing the Lines, you identify three main approaches to Christian scholarship: complementarist, integrationist and holistic approaches. Could you briefly describe the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches?
In the book I identify two distinct sets of questions around Christian scholarship in discussions that seek to give an account of it. The first question addresses itself to the integrity of Christian scholarship. The answers given to it try to account for that integrity, i.e. the integrity of Christian faith and the scholarship produced by persons of Christian faith. I identify three generic accounts and illustrate them using prominent representatives of each account. So complementarist accounts of Christian integrality use a teleological understanding of the order at play between the various disciplines of the academy and the forms of understanding they afford the scholar. Theology and its faith-driven understanding stands in a position of finality with respect to all other disciplines and their “natural” horizon of understanding. Hence theology acts as the hidden director of all the other disciplines, their hidden ground of unity as ends or final causes are first in the order of causation, always already presupposed and formative in the elaboration of the other academic forms of understanding inasmuch as the other forms exist as it were in virtue of theological or faith-driven understanding. The strength of the tradition is its trust in the sturdiness of the creation. Not even sin and unbelief can deflect the human capacity to explore, understand and delight in God's good creation for God made his world capable of withstanding the most terrible wounding that God foresaw from before the very beginning. There is something wonderful and admirable in such trust. However, in our present environment when the position of theology is no longer acknowledged and the other disciplines have increasingly reconstructed themselves as naturalizing in ethos and horizon, the academy has come to divide into two in such a way that faith-driven and directed scholarship is restricted to the suspect margins wherein theology increasingly finds itself.

Integrationist accounts of Christian integrity allow that faith can operate in any and all disciplines, not just in theology. Faith can operate in any discipline but it needn't. The Christian scholar will want to bring her faith into her scholarship because she understands herself to be a unity. Moreover she knows that faith can add value to her scholarship when it operates properly. The advantage of this position is that it acknowledges the fragmentation of the old medieval and renaissance academy in the context of the emergence of ever more naturalizing assumptions about academic methods and claims in ever more disciplines. It has an eye for the presence of spiritual struggle within the contemporary academy and its dramatic complexification since the end of the nineteenth century. One cannot expect theologians to have the expertise to direct the course of Christian scholarly work across the disciplines. Christians must trust Christians in the disciplines to figure out what it means to bring their faith into the disciplines in an authentic scholarly way, i.e. properly. The criterion by which one confirms that faith is operating properly is that the scholarship produced receives general scholarly approbation while also being of a piece with their life of faith.  The weakness is the limit unconsciously placed on the possibility of spiritual struggle in the disciplines by the appeal to general approbation as a guide to scholarly authenticity.  In a generally secularized academic culture, general approbation will tend to be secularizing

Holist accounts deepen the sensitivity to spiritual struggle of the integrationist tradition but denying that religious identity and the faith it gives expression to can ever be held distinct from scholarly work. The question is never whether a given scholarly formation or result is suffused with religious dynamics but rather which? Christian scholarship is then scholarship suffused by the religious dynamics of Christ following. Its strength is its radicality. Since it does not recognize such a thing as secular scholarship that is religiously neutral it becomes deeply sensitive to the presence of spiritual struggle in places that integrationist and complementarist theorists do not. This is a gift to the community of Christian scholars as a whole.  Its weakness has to do with a tendency to become isolated from other types of scholars.  It tends to develop a heavily accented scholarly discourse that makes it hard for others to hear and understand its contribution to scholarly discussion and that makes it hard for holists to hear the insight into God's world that others contribute because that insight is articulated in vocabulary that triggers religious suspicions.

You mention Dooyeweerd as one who exemplifies a holistic approach. Why do you think his philosophy is not as widely known as it should be?
Partly I think it was a matter of style. He came into his own in a university context in which one's work was properly, deeply critical. One's appreciation of a thinker was manifest in the fact that one took that thinker up for discussion at all, but the texture and tenor of one's discussion was overwhelmingly negative and critical. If one thinks of the Prolegomena to the New Critique of Theoretical Thought Dooyeweerd's debt to Kant is crucial. Transcendental questions mark the proper starting point of philosophy as a theoretical practice. But one knows this only by Dooyeweerd's constant return to Kant and his way of accounting for theoretical thought. The discursive tone is overwhelmingly negative. That way of operating while widespread in the 1930s does him no favours in more irenic ages.

In the second place, the way in which the antithesis operated in his discourse made him equally critical of fellow Christians who did not see what he saw. On his own terms, he was quite ecumenical. His interactions with transcendental Thomists, for example, inspired him to speak of Christian philosophy in contradistinction to the older moniker: Calvinistic philosophy. But that does not come through so easily as I have experienced over and over when teaching an introduction to Reformational philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies. My students have often been put off and I have to do a lot of damage control in order to create space for him to be read with the empathy necessary to see what he was driving at.

And lastly, my guess is that holistic stances just because they are radical seem improbable to many. We are mostly closet “Aristotelians” more comfortable locating ourselves somewhere between positions we identify as extreme. Radicality can so easily be interpreted as extreme. I think in this context of Aquinas's discussion of what he called natural and supernatural virtue. When discussing courage or temperance or prudence for example he was all about finding the golden mean between excess and lack. But, when discussing theological virtues and especially charity or agape which he called the form of the virtues he admitted it wasn't a mean at all but indeed very like an extreme (although he also tried hard to identify a sense in which it could also be thought of as a mean). It seems to me that here too we see a Christian thinker bumping up in his way against the reality that what penetrates to the root, what is radical, is not well understood as a mean between extremes, but neither is it well understood as an extreme. Perhaps we could say that what is radical just doesn't fit on that particular map at all. And that radicality calls out to us. It calls for energy and imagination; for there are no cheats from the old discussion you can trust, and that demand, never-ending and insistent puts people off too. How exhausting; what a break on forward movement.

Do you have any advice for Christians starting out to explore what Christian scholarship might look like?
Yes, I put it in my book. Identify what in Christian faith and being it is that moves you at the deepest level and make that your anchor. It will not exhaust Christian identity by any means but you don't have to be able to contribute to or stand in judgment of Christian scholarship as a whole. You make your contribution in terms of what you see and are moved by and you count on others to do the same. It is together in mutual learning and correction that the whole community of scholars sings its theoretical praises to our shared Lord. Be prepared to give an account of what lives in your heart as it operates in your scholarship as indeed in life as a whole. Be prepared to take correction for since none of us have the all of Christian faith we can expect that others will see things we can't. Mutual witness in our scholarship and mutual correction—that is how we together build something greater than the sum of its parts.

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?
I am trying to finish off a monograph on Thomas Aquinas on science and religion when he speaks about them as virtues moving us toward flourishing living. It is an attempt to use a monument of the Western Christian tradition to try and contribute to changing the modern discussion around science and religion. I've also an article on reading ancient and medieval philosophy after Vollenhoven that I need to get off to a journal.

What do you like to do for fun?
I like to read novels, cook South Asian and East Asian dishes, yak with friends over a decent bottle of wine, praise obnoxiously the doings of my first grandchild born this past July. Oh, and dodge all the impatient drivers on Toronto streets as I pedal my way to and from work. Never a dull moment there although I am so slow that it probably looks dull from the outside so to speak.

If you were stranded on a desert island what two luxury items would you take with you?

A Kindle reader with a really big capacity (with a whole library downloaded) and a big BBQ (a mini-crematorium really) with a sufficient supply of propane.