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.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

#Kuyperania June 2016

The first volume of Kuyper's Pro Rege is about to be published by Lexham Press:

David Engelsma's Chritianizing the World is a book that began life as a lecture. In it he criticises Kuyper's view of common grace.

The prolific polymath Vern Poythress has a new book The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, in All of Life, with All of Our Heart - in it there is a brief chapter on Kuyper and his sucessors.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Tribute to E.L. Hebden Taylor (1925-2006): British Export to North America

My paper on Stacey Hebden Taylor has know been published in Pro Rege:

Bishop, Steve (2016) "Tribute to E.L. Hebden Taylor (1925-2006): British Export to North America," Pro Rege: Vol. 44: No. 4, 1 - 8.
Available at:

Friday, 3 June 2016

Our Program by Abraham Kuyper - a review

Our Program
A Christian Political Manifesto
Abraham Kuyper
Collected Works in Public Theology
Translated and edited by Harry van Dyke
Bellingham WA: Lexham Press/ Acton Insitute
ISBN 978-1-57-799655-2
hbk; xviii+ 410pp; £34.81

The Antirevolutionary Party (ARP), the first national political party in the Netherlands, was founded on 3 April 1879. Kuyper was its chief architect and leader. He took the movement started by Guillaume Groen Van Prinsterer (1801-1876) and formed it into a political party. Kuyper wrote a series of commentaries on the ARP’s political programme, and these were published as an Ons program [Our Programme] in March 1879 (1879.04 in Kuipers, 2011). Our Program is the English translation of Ons program; it is the latest product from the Kuyper Translation Project. It provides fascinating reading and insight into what a Christian political programme looked like. Harry Van Dyke does an excellent job as a translator. (My interview with Harry Van Dyke is here.)

As Kuyper points out the ARP had another name: ‘Christian-Historical’. The name ARP indicated what they opposed, and the Christian-historical approach was what they promoted. The revolution mentioned in ARP is the French Revolution. The ARP was against the principles that were behind the French Revolution, namely the attempt to place humanity and reason over and above God. The name indicates that the party was a ‘militant party, unhappy with the status quo and ready to critique it, fight it, and change it’. Kuyper preferred the term ARP to Christian-historical, as ARP was more ‘energetic and compelling’ (p. 4). 

Kuyper steers a political course between a Calvinistic utopia, which he recognises is untenable, and a political arrangement for ‘a pure, unmixed Calvinistic nation’ (p. 377). Kuyper didn’t intend for a theocracy, unlike the theonomists in the United States who (mis)appropriated some of Kuyper’s ideas. Kuyper recognises that what is presented here is a ‘rough and very cursory and unfinished sketch of our view of the state’ (p. 377). Nevertheless, this programme was still used by the ARP (with modification in 1916, 1934 and 1961) into the early sixties.

The scope of the topics is impressive: from church and state to overseas development. We have 22 chapters that are a commentary on 21 articles (Article 4 is split into two parts in chapters 4 and 5)

1. The movement 
2. Authority 
3. The ordinances of God 
4. Government 
5. No secular state
6.’By the grace of God’
7. The forms of government 
8. The constitution 
9. Popular influence 
10. Budget refusal 
11. Decentralisation 
12. States and councils 
13. Education 
14. The justice system 
15. Public decency 
16. Public hygiene 
17. Finance 
18. National defence 
19. Overseas possessions 
20. The social question 
21. Church and state 
22. Party policy

 The first part focuses on God, as one might expect from a Christian political party manifesto. God is the source of authority for the movement and that authority comes through his ordinances - all else is delegated through the notion of sphere sovereignty. The ‘source of authority does not reside in the law or the will of the people but in God’ (p. 16 - Article 2); sovereignty ‘flows over all creation, not just in the political field but in every domain’ (p. 20). It starts with God and flows from him to all of creation. God is no gloss over a secular political philosophy – he is integral in all the positions taken by Kuyper in this programme. 
For Kuyper then the role of government is to determine the law of the land and to uphold that law. The laws that the government makes can only be done on the basis that justice already exists. Justice is an ordinance of God and not the whim of the people or of rulers. As Kuyper makes clear: 
… sound and comprehensive knowledge of those principles can only be attained by studying God’s Word and researching God’s ordinances (p. 30). 
The state exists so that communal life can exist; the state is not an end in itself. This communal life is only a foretaste of that which will be revealed in the kingdom of God. As the title of chapter 5 states there is no secular state. The state cannot exist without God and so a secular state is a contradiction. There is no private/ public divide in Kuyper’s thought. Government is a servant of God and as such Kuyper maintains it should: 
allow unrestricted freedom for (1) the gospel’s influence; (2) the people’s spiritual formation; (3) the manner in which people choose to worship; and (4) people’s conscience’. … government is duty-bound to (1) maintain law and order; (2) honor the oath; and (3) dedicate one day a week to God. (p. 57-58) 
It is important to remember that Kuyper was writing this when the Netherlands was a “Christian nation” and atheism was the exception. The situation is very different today. Today, in most western countries, Christianity is the exception. But what is clear here is that Kuyper does not want a theocracy or a government that eliminates all other opposing views; instead, space is created for opposing religions and worldviews.

Inevitably, this is a document of its time. Some of the Sunday restrictions and alcohol control seem very dated. Vaccinations he thinks should be limited – compulsory cowpox vaccination should be ‘out of the question’ (p. 248) – as it means that government is overstepping its bounds: ‘the government should keep its hands off or bodies’.

 Surprising to those who are not aware of Kuyper’s views is the discussion of church and state. He likes the separation of church and state and sees it in a three-fold way: political unity is not coupled to church unity; each have ‘a unique zone in life where each functions as a minister of God’ (p. 354); and there should be a bilateral relationship. But what is clear in the programme is that the form of government is ‘relatively immaterial’ although Kuyper prefers a constitutional monarchy, however, God is the real ruler.

This is not a document that could be adopted wholesale as the manifesto of a contemporary political party; the programme is too historically and geographically bound for that, nevertheless, what it does do is show how political principles arise from faith in God. Politics and faith were intertwined for Kuyper. As with politics so too with education and scholarship: scholarship as politics is to be performed under the sovereignty of God. Both require the realisation that they are creaturely and cultural callings but are contaminated by sin and both require the direct revelation of God through his divine ordinances. 

Review adapted from Bishop, S., 2015. "More Kuyperania". Koers — Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, 80(3). 
Available at: http:// koers.80.3.2240

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

#Kuyperania May 2016

James Bradford Pate's  A review of Common Grace Vol1.
My areas of confusion notwithstanding, I still found Kuyper in this book to be lucid, winsome, engaging, interesting, and thoughtful.

Bruce Ashford looks at 4 Essential Guidelines for Mixing Christianity and Politics drawing on Kuyper: the first guideline is three key questions:
What is God’s creational design for this sphere of culture or this aspect of public life?
In which ways has sin and sin’s consequences corrupted and misdirected God’s design?
How can we bring healing and redirection to this sphere of culture or this aspect of public life?
The second, principled pluralism; the third, the separation of church and state; and the fourth, the distinction between the church as institute and as organism.

Micah Watson Review of "Abraham Kuyper, Conservatism, and Church and State" by Mark J. Larson Journal of Markets and Morality 19(1)

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Modern Art and the Life of a Culture by Jonathan Anderson and William Dyrness - a review

Modern Art and the Life of a Culture
The Religious Impulses of Modernism
Jonathan A. Anderson and William A. Dyrness
InterVarsity Press
Pbk; 265 pp; 
ISBN: 9780830851355

This book is part of a new series on Studies in Theology and the Arts (STA). The book, written by an artist (Anderson - professor of art at Biola University) and a theologian (Dyrness - professor of theology and culture at Fuller Seminary), responds to Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (MA&DoC). 

MA&DoC was a ground-breaking book written over 45 years ago. It was even one of Malcolm Muggeridge’s Books of the Year in 1970. It is testimony to its legacy and impact that it is in print and is still written about today. Rookmaaker drawing off Dooyeweerd’s Christian philosophical framework analyses art and culture. Art for Rookmaaker needed no justification. By that he meant that art (and music) was a good cultural activity for Christians to be involved in. Art wasn’t only useful as an apologetic or evangelistic tool: the aesthetic is an important part of creation. 

However, Rookmaaker had a largely negative view of modern art. This book has a much more positive view - hence the change from death to life in the title. MA&DoC was a polemical work, modern art represented a decline; this book is much more eirenic. As they put it:
‘In what follows we intend to pay tribute to Rookmaaker’s pioneering study and to the generative thinking it fostered for many Christians, yet at the same time we will critique and supplant the central theses of that book’ (p.10)
Anderson and Dyrness see modern art as a ‘theologically meaningful project’ and look at the various religious beliefs underpinning several key modern artists. They hope to ‘decipher’ the way that 
‘“spiritual values,” even theological values, are already in play and at stake throughout modern art, even (perhaps especially) in artworks that do not set out to convey any such thing’ (p.40).
They maintain that the crises and labours of modern art were essentially ‘theological crises and labours’. The book is split into two main parts. Part I takes an appreciative but critical look at Rookmaaker’s approach. Part II takes a geographical journey from Europe to North America and examines several key artists. They begin in France and Britain (Chapter 3) and look at, for example, Gustave Courbet, Paul Gaugin, Van Gough and Georges Rouault; the British artists examined include the Eric Gill and Graham Sutherland. What is noticeable in this chapter is the influence of Roman Catholicism. Whereas, in Germany and Holland (the focus of Chapter 4)  the influence of Protestantism is more marked. Here they examine the works of Caspar David Freidrich and see the influence of German Pietism on his work.

Their analysis of Fredrich’s Monk by the Sea and The Abbey in the Oakland is particularly interesting.

They write:
‘This decrepit manmade structure [The Abbey] was built to celebrate the glory (fullness) of God, but it is now a wreckage, undone by the centuries-long inertia of social transformation and natural entropy.  The “soft  wind” that Friedrich had in mind erases both footprints and cathedrals alike. And in Abbey the two are in fact drawn together: the ruined body of the man being carried through the doorway is directly analogized with the broken body of the cathedral; both are images of God that are  finally unable to generate their own lives or to contain that Life to which they refer. Both human life and human theology are thus faltering pointers toward realities beneath or beyond what is speakable and thinkable. … Whereas Monk pushes the religious seeker to the brink of the abyss, Abbey pushes him to the brink of death; and, in both, religious structures and rituals are found outstripped by the unspeakable Beyond to which they point’ (p.152-153).
They also revisit van Gogh in this chapter, tracing the influences in his work of northern romantic Protestantism.  Piet Mondrian, raised in a Dutch Calvinist home, was later influenced by Rudolf Steiner, also comes under scrutiny in this chapter. They note that Mondrian wouldn’t recognise his work in Rookmaaker’s assessment. They assert that: ‘Mondrian’s theory of art could have found its grounding entirely in Kuyper’s neo-Calvinism'. This is an interesting and intriguing assertion - but I think it needs a little more justification than Anderson and Dyrness produce here.

They then move on to look at Kandinsky. Next, in Chapter 5, they look at the developments in Russia and in the, alleged, nihilism of Dada. This chapter looks at the work of Natalia Goncharova, Kazimir Malevich and Hugo Ball. Ball one of the forerunners of the Dada movement was born into a devout Catholic family. In his later years he reconverted to Catholicism. Anderson and Dryness pose an important question: 'How should we understand Hugo Ball’s Dadaism in relation to his Christianity?’ (228).  The authors here show how these artists were  rooted in Christian traditions.

The next two chapters move from Europe to look at North America. They explore the artists Thomas Cole and Fredric Edwin Church and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Alfred H. Barr Jr, a practising Presbyterian, was the key figure behind MoMA. We are then moved onto a discussion of John Cage’s work. Particularly helpful is the discussion of Cage’s (im)famous 4’33” and the relationship between noise and music. Cage was originally a devout Christian, but the churches he attended were ‘were anemic institutions preoccupied with otherworldly sentimentalities’ (p.197). The authors thus see Cage’s work as ‘oriented toward the practical recovery of a more thoroughgoing creational theology’ — a far cry from the view of Cage espoused by Francis Schaeffer! Another artist that comes under close scrutiny is Andy Warhol. Again the authors reveal Christian perspectives that come through in Warhol’s work.  

What Anderson and Dyrness have done in this volume is to highlight the deep religiously held views of many of the exponents of modern art. The book provides an excellent compliment, and corrective, to the pioneering work of Rookmaaker. They have shown that modern art is theologically significant and modern art cannot be written off as symptomatic of nihilism and secularism. 



Part I: Critical Contexts
1. Introduction: Religion and the Discourse of Modernism 
2. H. R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture

Part II: Geographies, Histories and Encounters
3. France, Britain and the Sacramental Image 
4. Germany, Holland and Northern Romantic Theology 
5. Russian Icons, Dada Liturgies and Rumors of Nihilism 
6. North America and the Expressive Image 
7. North America in the Age of Mass-Media

Afterword by Daniel A. Siedell
List of Illustrations

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The book of the decade?

This long-awaited book from Keith Sewell is now out. It promises to be the book of the year, if not decade:

Sewell, Keith C.
Wipf and Stock
ISBN 13: 978-1-4982-3875-5

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Corey Willson's PhD Shaping the Lenses on Everyday Work

Cory Willson's PhD has now been published online:
Shaping the Lenses on Everyday Work: A Neo-Calvinist Understanding of the Poetics of Work and Vocational Discipleship
In order to take the theology of work conversation forward, “Shaping the Lenses on Everyday Work: A Neo-Calvinist Understanding of the Poetics of Work and Vocational Discipleship” uses an interdisciplinary methodology that incorporates methods from qualitative research to explore the lived realities of contemporary Christians in their work and church contexts. The first third of the dissertation provides an historical analysis of the early theologies of work written by Pope Leo XIII and Herman Bavinck as well as critical reflection on the leading contemporary theologies of work. These historical and literary analyses outline the necessary methodological and theological issues that must be addressed in a theology of work for the Twenty-First Century. The guiding theological framework of human work is a biblical theology of the missio Dei, the mission of God. This theological framework used to interpret the ethnographic research conducted in three congregations. A concluding chapter draws several conclusions for constructing a theology of work for congregations as well as suggestions for how to cultivate a theological imagination for everyday work in Christians.

Chapter 1: Exploring Work Anew
Chapter 2: Historical Background: Herman Bavinck’s Engagement with the “Social Question”
Chapter 3: Overview of Contemporary Theologies of Work
Chapter 4: A Biblical and Theological Grounding of the Manifold Mission of the Triune God
Chapter 5: An Interdisciplinary Methodology for Cultural Hermeneutics
Chapter 6: A Theology of Work from the Road: Congregational Approaches to Vocational Discipleship
Chapter 7: A Theology and Spirituality of Work Fit for Our Times