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.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review of The Mission of the Church

Mission of the Church
Five Views in Conversation
Edited by Craig Ott
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic
ISBN 9780801097409
Pbk, 224pp, £13.99

What do you get when a Catholic, an Eastern Orthodox, a female evangelical and two male evangelicals are asked to discuss the mission of the church? We’d expect sparks, disagreement and fiery arguments - but that’s certainly not what we do get here - there is a real sense of a listening dialogue and understanding. This book’s aim is to explore commonalities and differences. Perhaps there is hope for ecumenical dialogue!
The contributors are Stephen B. Bevans, a Roman Catholic, Darrell L. Guder a mainline Protestant, Ruth Padilla DeBorst a Latina evangelical, Edward Rommen an Orthodox and Ed Stetzer a North American evangelical. The Catholic view advanced here is that of prophetic dialogue, but its not really clear how this is different from other Christian views.
Missing from the discussion is the distinction between church as institute and as organism (but being a good Kuyperian I would say that!). Having said that, however, the Orthodox view seems to focus on the church as an institution with the focus on sacrament as mission, and Padilla DeBorst on the church as an organism with the different social actions taken by the church and her support of integral mission. Both are needed.
After each author has provided their perspective, they each get an opportunity to provide a response to each other. This adds to the value of the book. The introduction by Ott provides a clear overview and justification for the book. 
All the authors endorse a trinitarian view of mission, the concept of missio dei, an awareness of the global nature of the church, a shift from mission to missions and a recognition of the place of the church in mission - even though the authors would all endorse the same ecclesiology.   
The strength of the book is the range of agreement. The book lives up to its aim of a charitable dialogue. That in a way is also its weakness - I would have liked to have seen more on what is most distinctive about mission according to evangelicalism and the same for the other views. The stress here is on the similarities. And that is a good place to start.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Brief review of James Hamilton's Work and our Labor in the Lord

Work and our Labor in the Lord
James M. Hamilton Jr.
Pbk, 128pp, £12.31
ISBN: 978-1433549953

James Hamilton, a professor of biblical theology at The Souther Baptist Union, has produced in this book a brief biblical theology of work. The book is part of a new series from Crossway: Short Studies in Biblical Theology. The four chapters look at work from the perspective of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. In other words, he explores work ‘as it was meant to be, as it is, as it can be, and as it will be’.

I was surprised to see the use of inclusive language - but it soon becomes clear that this is deliberate. Hamilton approaches and interprets the scriptures through the lens of a complementarian position. Unfortunately, this position is assumed and not justified. This is a shame as it limits the usefulness of the book.

‘God put Adam in the garden to work and keep it, and he put the woman in the garden to help the man’ (p. 41).

Woman is  man’s helper:

‘What does the woman’s role of helping entail? Perhaps it would be easier to say what helping does not entail, for helping would seem to involve everything but what the man is to do. God created the woman so that together they could be fruitful and multiply, and God created her to help the man lead, protect, and provide. The jobs were given to the man to do, and the woman was given to help him do them. These roles are established so that together the man and woman can accomplish the tasks set out in Genesis 1:28 and 2:15’ (p.25, man the garden italics).

And this despite that the term helper is used of God (e.g. Ps 70:5; 115:9) but no limits seem to be placed on God’s role as a helper!

There is much own the book which is useful and insightful. But, for me, the complementarian framework through which Hamilton reads the scriptures mars the book. For those who agree with the complementarian position, the book will be well received.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Creation: Work in the Very Good Garden
God’s Design for Work 
Work in the Garden Genesis 1–2
The Blessings of the Covenant Deuteronomy 28:1–14
Judgment on God-Given Tasks Genesis 3:16–19
Work Outside Eden

Chapter 2 Work After the Fall Fallen, Futile, Flourishing
Work under the Old Covenant

Chapter 3 Redemption: Work Now that Christ Has Risen
Redeemed Work
Renewal of Mind: Work unto the Lord That Adorns the Gospel
Work in Christ

Chapter 4 Restoration: Work in the New Heavens and New Earth
What We Were Made To Do
The Building Materials
The House They Build


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Review of Mouw's Adventures in Evangelical Civility

Adventures in Evangelical Civility
A Lifelong Quest for Common Ground
Richard J. Mouw
Grand Rapids: Brazos Press
Hbk, 256pp, £15.99
ISBN: 9781587433917

Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological seminary, has produced a number of great little books. Not least his introduction to Abraham Kuyper. This is another one. Sadly though, this is not a biography but a memoir. However, it does contain biographical information, though we learn some things about his upbringing and his parent these insights are tangential to the chapter topics. But what we do have is a commentary on his life and on several of the books he has written. This memoir is more thematic than chronological. Mouw is clear that it’s not can autobiography and it seems he has no plans (as yet) to write one; he is also clear that it is not a detailed report on his ‘intellectual pilgrimage’.

As always with Mouw’s books, this one is packed with perspicacity, perceptivity and propriety. It provides a wonderful insight into the mind of a great philosopher-theologian partitioner and academic. Mouw has spent much of his time in civil dialogue with other Christian traditions as well as non-Christian traditions. He makes an interesting distinction between inter- and intra-faith discussions. These intra and inter dialogues shows Mouw’s concern to find common ground. 

Mouw straddles the gap between the academic and the public. He dislikes the concept of a public intellectual, but it is a fitting description of him. He also straddles the gap between evangelical and Calvinist - he describes refers to himself by both descriptions. His is certainly a life lived on common ground. This is perhaps shown in at one time his two favourite authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Cornelius Van Til. Two very different conversation partners. In the book he discusses common grace, the antithesis, the image of God and total depravity - and show how these have provided important theological tools for his engagement with others. 

He traces his moves from his philosophical studies at Chicago to social-political studies at Calvin and his beginning discussions with Yoder and the Anabaptist movement. His developing cultural discipleship linked with civility is the broad topic of chapter 7 but these also characterise his life and attitudes. This is particularly seen in his discussions with Catholics, Anabaptists and Mormons. 

All in all this book presents a portrait of Mouw as a man of wisdom, civility, commitment and a Kuyperian concern that the gospel shapes all of life. It is well worth reading.

1. Calvinists in an Edinburgh Pub
2. A Tale of Two Authors
3. A Many-Faceted "Imaging"
4. More Than "Calisthenics"
5. Lessons from the Philosophical "Moderns"
6. Commonalities in the Public Square
7. Preaching Civility
8. Depravity: Less Than "Total"?
9. Our "Direction-Setting"
10. Paying Attention to Context
11. Reformed and Evangelical
12. When Truth Is Distorted
13. On Being a "Public Intellectual"
14. Interfaith Engagements
15. Of Hymns and Dialogues
16. Concerns about the Journey

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Kuyper's On the Church - a review

On the Church
Collected Works in Public Theology
Abraham Kuyper
Edited by John Halsey Wood Jr. and Andrew M. McGinnis
General Editors Jordan J. Ballor and Melvin Flikkema
Translators Harry Van Dyke, Nelson D. Kloosterman, Todd M. Rester, Arjen Vreugdenhil
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016
Hbk; xxxix+ 495pp; £40
ISBN 978-1577996750

This volume, published by the Abraham Kuyper Translation Project, is a fresh translation into English of seven of Kuyper’s essays on the nature of the Church:

Commentatio (1860)
Rooted and Grounded (1870.25)
A Tract on the Reformation of the Churches (1883.06)
Twofold Fatherland(1887.23)
Lord’s Day 21 (1905.17)
State and Church (1916.06)
Address on Missions (1890.05)

As John Halsey Wood Jr. notes in his introduction, Kuyper’s ‘concern for the church predated and permeated all … other concerns’. Kuyper was a church historian and a church pastor - among other roles and callings - and this is evidenced by the first of the essays translated in this volume. Commentatio is Kuyper’s prize-winning essay, that formed his doctoral thesis, comparing John a Lasco’s and Calvin’s conception of the church. The sections reprinted here are mainly from the third section. In it, in seed thought, are much of Kuyper’s ideas on the nature of the church. It is clear that Kuyper preferred a Lasco’s view over Calvin’s, chiefly because the former’s view was closer to the Dutch spirit. This, of course, was before his conversion to Calvinism. 
Kuyper’s later major contribution to ecclesiology was the distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism. For Kuyper, the church has to do not only with Sunday services or missions but the reforming of all facets of life and culture. Kuyper uses several metaphors to illustrate the church as organism—institute distinction. In essence, the institution is the church organisation, its sacraments, its ministers; the organism is the church in the world, Christians at work in society, the body of Christ, strengthened and served by the church as institute. The church as institute does not run schools, universities, or trade unions; that is the role of the church as organism.
This distinction is to the fore in the second selection in this volume. Rooted and Grounded has previously been published in 2013 in booklet form - see the review in Bishop (2014). In this sermon, Kuyper places an emphasis on the priesthood of all believers. For the church to be truly an institution and organic the role of the institutional leaders is to equip the church as organism to be able to do the works of service in the market square, in the classroom, in the business place, in the political area, in the laboratory and so forth. 
The church as institution is the main focus of the next piece, A Tract on the Reformation of the Churches. This was written three years before the Doleantie secession from the Dutch Reformed Church led by Kuyper. It has been previously translated by Herman Hanko and serialised in The Standard Bearer (1977-1986)Kuyper writes here as a church pastor with a heart for the right functioning of the church. His concern is for a pure church. Kuyper argues for a severing of the church and the State. This text is a basis for a manual for Reformed church government. 
In Twofold Fatherland, an address delivered at the seventh annual meeting of the Free University, Amsterdam just after the Doleantie secession, we have Kuyper as an almost Lutheran:

‘we have a twofold fatherland and live as a twofold people under a twofold King’ (226) 

A cursory read of this piece seems to suggest that Kuyper is promoting a two-realm approach. But digging deeper this is far from the truth. He does suggest that there is a fatherland above and below, but both are given by God’s grace - one by common grace, the other particular grace. Both are to give God the glory. The tension of hyper-spirituality (287), suggests Kuyper, is to devalue the earthly fatherland. He also posits that the earthly fatherland has been disrupted by sin and that there is a distinction between the (sinful) world and the earthly field of common grace. 
The Lord’s Day  21 is taken from Kuyper’s E Voto Dordraceno - his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. This selection looks at three questions from the Catechism:

Question 54: What do you believe concerning the ‘Holy Catholic Church’? 
Question 55: What do you understand by the ‘communion of saints’? 
Question 56: What do you believe concerning the ‘forgiveness of sins’? 

The essay State and Church is extracted from a two-volume work written for members of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in 1916, was written by Kuyper for party leaders who had had no formal academic training and was designed to provide clarification to Ons Program.
The final selection, the address on missions, provides a fascinating insight into Kuyper’s attitude to mission. These are verbatim notes taken from an address by Kuyper to a missions conference in January 1890. What we have here are Kuyper’s main theses and then a verbatim report. What is particularly interesting here is Kuyper’s stress that missions should be the work of the church and not of voluntary organisations as was primarily the case at the time.

The book closes with a detailed table of contents a brief section of biographical details on Kuyper and the contributors but not of the translators. There is also an extensive subject/ author index and a scripture index. The essays by Wood and de Bruijne serve as excellent introductions to the context and to the relevance of Kuyper’s essays.

Within these pages, we can see the distinctiveness of Kuyper’s ecclesiology, although not always fully spelled out. Here we can see the distinction between organism and institution, the key role of common grace, sphere sovereignty especially in that the church should be free from state involvement and the state free from church meddling, and the key roles of the church in looking beyond itself in mission, evangelism and philanthropy.

This book is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding publications of the Abraham Kuyper Translation Project. It deserves to be read widely as Kuyper’s conception of the church is not merely of historical interest only; his distinction between organism and institute provides an excellent framework for ecclesiology today.

Bishop, S., 2014, ‘Kuyperania in recent years’, Koers – Bulletin for Chritian Scholarship 79(1), Art. #2138, 6 pages. 
http:// v79i1.2138