Monday, 31 December 2007
He wants us to move from being consumers of to being contributors to culture via being self-conscious about culture and being a critic of culture. This process follows along similar lines of this book from worldview through wisdom to witness.
Sunday, 30 December 2007
He draws upon the advice of Leyland Ryken in Windows to the World and applies Ryken’s points to a brief analysis of Jude the Obscure and London’s Cry of the Wild two books where the authors’ worldviews are easily discerned. It would have been good to have these points applied to a text with less obvious worldview overtones.
Saturday, 29 December 2007
The first lesson is: take responsibility for your walls. The virtue is: personal responsibility. Here Bertrand steers a much-needed clear course between personal autonomy and over-reliance on spiritual mentors:
Treat spiritual advice as you would a movie review. Draw upon the wisdom of others to form your own judgments – but form your own judgments (p 150).
In this section he also deals with discernment and makes an interesting distinction between engagers and discerners. The table summarises his views:
| Engagers ||Discerners|
| Descriptions|| Getting involved with culture|
Looking for ways to appreciate culture
Measuring cultural expressions against Christian norms
Looking for ways in which to screen books and films for objectionable or uplifting content
| Strengths||Look for something good|
Give more space to fiction
|Trying to protect from something bad|
More interested in testing the spirit of non-fiction
|Weaknesses||May end up christening some questionable stuff||May flip the baby out with the bathwater|
This is an interesting distinction but as Bertrand acknowledges, we all in some sense do both, but tend to gravitate to one or the other. I would want to say that both are important and that we need to engage with discernment.
His second lesson is that we should constantly repair the walls; the accompanying virtue is self-control. This sounds a little dull, but Bertrand describes self control as ‘stewardship of the passions’. If we see it in this light then self-control can become sexy!
Lesson three is ‘guard your foundations’. We need to have a worldview awareness and cease to be a passive receptor of others’ influences.
Plan for unexpected attacks – is lesson four. We can do this by being flexible:
… our confidence must be based not on circumstances (which change) but on the Lord of the circumstance (p 160).
The fifth and final lesson is ‘remember to close the gate’. An unclosed gate was the eventual downfall of Constantinople. Care is required at all times.
Bertrand concludes this chapter thus:
The defense of Constantinople was unsuccessful. By cultivating the virtues of personal responsibility, self-control, worldview awareness, flexibility and care, perhaps the battle for our own minds will yield a far happier result (p. 163)
Friday, 28 December 2007
- Pagan Christianity has been revised and expanded - see my review of the original edition here. Update Tom Gilson reviews the new edition here.
- Reforming My Mind has an extensive list of mp3 sermons on that over-neglected book Ecclesiastes.
- Peter Enns, of WTS, is now blogging [HT sets 'n' service]
- Rudi, at Intermezzo, has a list of sphere sovereignty articles available on-line here.
- Tyndale Tech is now available as a blog - much good stuff here.
This review appeared in Perspectives of Science and Christian Faith 59 (3) (Sept 2007): 239.
ESCAPE FROM REASON: A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought by Francis A. Schaeffer. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006. 123 pages. Paperback; $8.00. ISBN: 10: 0 8308 3405 2.
Schaeffer is incredibly difficult to pin down. He has been described as a (compassionate, inconsistent and modified) presuppositionalist , an inconsistent empiricist and a verificationist– this is, I suspect, because he is more an evangelist and apologist than an academic philosopher. Schaeffer's books have been incredibly influential, not least his trilogy of which Escape from Reason (EfR) is the second part – the first being The God Who is There and the final part He is There and He is not Silent. EfR is the shortest of the two and has sometimes been mistaken for the introduction to the trilogy.
Reading Schaeffer is a bitter sweet experience. I rejoice at his desire to see the lordship of Christ expressed over every area of life, but get frustrated at his broad brush strokes that often over-simplify. Schaeffer is rarely subtle!
The villain of this piece is Aquinas. It’s perhaps an understatement to say that Schaeffer is a little hard on Aquinas; a better Reformed analysis of Aquinas is found in Arvin Vos’s Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought. Nevertheless, Schaeffer does highlight the problems scholastic dualism has caused Christianity.
He sees the most crucial problem facing Christians today as being rooted in the Middle Ages and in Aquinas in particular. It was Aquinas that opened the way for autonomous rationality. According to Schaeffer, Aquinas claimed that the human will but not human intellect is fallen. This assumption, once popularised, provided the fertile soil for the belief that humans could become independent, autonomous.
In EfR Schaeffer he examines the relationship between ‘grace’ and ‘nature’. He argues that nature has slowly been ‘eating up’ grace. Yet a ‘line’ or ‘gap’ exists between the supposed upper realm of grace and the lower realm of nature. Western society has gone below this line and it has led to despair. This despair is revealed first in philosophy; subsequently, it spreads to art, then music and general culture, before reaching theology.
Schaeffer had a way of communicating Christianity to modern culture – we need more like him today. He awoke his generation to the presence of secular humanism and showed that it was possible to think and be a Christian at the same time. This book provides an excellent introduction to his ideas, though it shows its origin in the lecture format: there are few footnotes and references. His analysis is often derivative of the Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. Schaeffer's close friend Hans Rookmaaker once remarked that ‘Escape from Reason is Schaeffer's version of what Dooyeweerd develops in [In the Twilight of Western Thought].'1
It is a shame that this book is not illustrated, for Schaeffer makes some excellent points regarding grace and nature using descriptions of art works and having them illustrated would have greatly enriched the reading experience.
1 ‘A Dutch view of Christian philosophy’ in The Complete Works of Hans Rookmaaker edited by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker Vol 6 Part III The L'Abri Lectures. (Piquant, 2005).
The second part of the book turns from worldview – thinking - to wisdom - living. A worldview provides a context, wisdom ‘plays a central role at the heart of Christian living’ (p 21).
This section on wisdom is replete with wisdom. Bertrand makes some excellent observations on seeking guidance:
Seeking counsel is wise, but it’s not the same thing as abrogating responsibility for one’s own decisions.
If knowing God’s will was that easy, why bother with all that wisdom literature in the first place?
Chasing after fleeces and green lights and open doors, whatever its virtues, can have the unintended effect of displacing the text in the hunt for a deeper subtext.
Thursday, 27 December 2007
His three points are:
1. WISDOM is not what you think – we have misguided views as to what wisdom is.One, of the many, excellent points he makes is that wisdom starts with worldview. Thoughts don’t make us wise, but what we do flows from our worldview. He then examines three questions: where is wisdom? What is wisdom? and why is wisdom portrayed as female in Proverbs? Along the way he exposes the poverty and unbiblical nature of a utilitarian approach to wisdom; maximise happiness and minimise pain. Sometimes we have to suffer for good.
2. Wisdom is not what YOU think – it is what God thinks.
3. Wisdom is not what you THINK – it comes from the will and not the intellect.
Wednesday, 26 December 2007
The final chapter of the first part of the book on worldview, deals with the well-known framework of creation, fall and redemption, this provides the narrative, or story for a Christian worldview. The third chapter dealt with worldview as a system here we have worldview as a story. However story still needs an abstract systematic approach, as this illustration shows:
Not long ago , I found myself in a small college town, overhearing a deep conversation between two students. They were explaining to each other how abstractions were dead and story was everything. It sounded good. I imagined this was something a professor said in class and the two men were trying the perspective for size. What didn’t occur to them, though, was the irony of having a rational, abstract conversation about the death of abstraction. They were crowing story king without engaging in one hwit of storytelling. They were bright young men, but they managed, as many of us do, to miss the forest for the trees. Things are rarely as simple as exchanging a bad paradigm for a prefect replacement (p.p 98-99)
There is much on the role of story in this chapter, but I would have liked to have seen a little more of the story of creation, fall and redemption spelled out a little more.
Monday, 24 December 2007
Bertrand is unhappy with the concept of the Christian worldview. This is because there are too many divisions within Christianity and that we are fallible.
Using the illustrations of Frankenstein and Hyde he looks at anthropology as being a major difference between a Christian worldview and all others. Some have a Frankenstein view: humans are essentially good; or a Hyde view: humans are essentially evil. He quotes, favourably, Herman Bavinck who wrote: ‘all religions except Christianity are autosoteric…’. For Christianity only God can save – humans are good, created in the image of God, but fallen.
As Bertrand concludes this chapter he writes:
‘Worldview functions on the level of system, and there’s no reason to be afraid of that fact. Where we must be careful, though, is in not allowing our systems to become closed systems – or in mistaking our conclusions with God’s’ (p 91).
Sunday, 23 December 2007
Rationality is fundamental to a coherent view of reality. Those who challenge it seem to do so because they reject the possibility of a coherent view of reality – on what basis could they challenge it?
Though it did leave me thinking, whose rationality? Which rationality? There is not one version of rationality that everyone holds to.
He uses Robinson Crusoe – apparently Crusoe undergoes conversion while he is shipwrecked – Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and Job to make some excellent points. He then draws upon Paul (1 Cor 13:8-12) to develop some interesting points about knowledge:
… if we do not share Paul’s sense of the partial, incomplete nature of our knowing, then we have a sub-Pauline comprehension of our circumstances … if we don’t share Paul’s sense that our knowledge is true and reliable we’ve slipped into a sub-Pauline mode. We may not have perfect knowledge, but we do know things, and that knowledge comes with obligations.He concludes with a brief description of the pillar of ‘fear of the Lord’. An often neglected aspect.
It would be easy to be pernickety and point out the use of exclusive language (man instead of humanity) and the overemphasis on rationality – here the influence of Schaeffer is evident - but Bertrand is right to assert the possibility of knowledge, but also ‘the limits of knowledge’ (p 72). And he comes out with some great one-liners; eg: 'It took the cross to deconstruct the dead/alive binary forever' (p 71).
Saturday, 22 December 2007
Although it is another book on worldview it is much more than that - it will be great for all those suffering 'worldview fatigue'. Bertrand writes not as an academic but as an artist. He has a way with words and images.
The first chapter is replete with the old images of worldview, a pair of spectacles, a map and so on and yet Bertrand breathes new life into these metaphors and brings out fresh nuances. One that struck a chord with me was that the spectacles are not sun glasses but prescription lenses:
The task of a worldview is to see the world as it is, to correct your vision, The test of a good worldview will be whether it brings reality into sharp focus or leaves things blurry. (p. 27)He sees worldviews as being not only propositions and perspectives but also as stories. This theme will be developed no doubt in subsequent chapters.
J Mark Bertrand blogs here and has a blog on the book here - check it out.
* Surprisingly both these books are omitted from the index! Though Kuyper and Schaeffer references are there in force!
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
The bibliography has links to most of Bob Goudzwaard's writings - which can be found on All of life redeemed.
This annotated bibliography of the English-language writings and publications of Bob Goudzwaard, is the second in a series compiled as part of research into the normative foundations of social science. As reports of "work in progress", the series documents an initial response to the published writings of some or other leading exponents of reformational philosophy in the English-speaking world. These bibliographies provide "one at a time" annotations for each of the listed publications of these authors. Public Justice for All (February 2007) was the first.
In the opening pages of this document readers will find a list in which Goudzwaard's publications are grouped under various headings. For instance, there will be some headings that relate to the different subdivisions of economics, of related social sciences (political science, social policy research, sociology) as well as history and ethics. There will also be groups of articles under more general topic headings like: Christianity, neo-Calvinism, care, stewardship, capitalism, poverty, ecumenism, globalization, environment.
The different items listed in this bibliography will give the researcher a glimpse of how Goudzwaard has developed his scholarly contribution over the years. By his extensive networking he has tried to indicate serviceable paths by which economics can fulfill its vocation. The articles attempt to connect the world of "science" with policy-making and everyday life, but they also relate economics to other fields of scientific research as well.
Monday, 17 December 2007
Saturday, 15 December 2007
Friday, 14 December 2007
Philip Pullman & Christianity
Dartman, Longman + Todd, 2004.
This is the quickest review I have ever written. I bought this book at the bargain price of 50p yesterday, I read it while taking a bath and am writing this review just 24 hours after purchasing it. From that we can deduce that it is an easy read and pretty short (117 pages). It’s also a great review of Pullman and his work. This book doesn’t stop at examining His Dark Materials trilogy but also looks at his other writings. I have only read the trilogy so I can’t comment on how accurate Rayment-Pickard’s (HRP) take is on Pullman’s other books.
I got this book primarily because the film of Pullman’s first book in the trilogy is causing quite a stir. The film The Golden compass takes its title from the US title of The Northern Lights, presumably American’s are ignorant of the norther lights phenomenon (only joking!). This book is no blunt hatchet job. It is a considered and thoughtful critique. He ably pulls apart Pullman’s worldview and shows where he is inconsistent – HRP uses a transcendent and immanent critique to analyse Pullman’s writings.
Pullman was born in 1946 the golden age of Lewis and Tolkein. Pulman went to live with his grandfather, a traditional Church of England priest (1666 and all that), after his father died in an air crash when Pullman was young. This accounts for the many Christian images that are found (and twisted) in Pullman’s work. Pullman says:
…I have to consider myself an atheist. But because of my upbringing I’m a Christian atheist, and I’m a church atheist …’
This influence is explored well by HRP. HRP has obviously spent time researching Pullman and his writings. It is fascinating to see the (a)theological themes in Pullman’s Dark Materials foreshadowed in his earlier writings.
The themes and issues that HRP discusses includes violence, the church, the soul, dust, sexuality, innocence and experience, the death of God and heaven. HRP makes clear the problem of violence for Pullman. One the one hand Pullman deplores the violence in C S Lewis’ Narnia; he finds it ‘objectionable’ hat the children are killed in a train crash at the end of the books. And yet no justification is provided for Lord Asriel’s murder of Roger in his own book. As HRP notes:
Pullman’s moral difficulties with violence are connected with his godless universe. With God out of the picture Pullman’s ethics cannot be based upon any theological or metaphysical system of justification. Pullman does not believe in the theological categories of ‘good’ and ‘evil’.HRP goes on to comment:
Pullman’s ambivalence about the ethics of violence reveals a deeper theological ambivalence. On the one hand Pullman objects to a divine authority who lays down the morals. On the other hand he is not entirely comfortable with an ethic worked out in purely human terms. So he is left giving two cheers to ethics without God. It nearly works; but not quite. Not unless you have an alethiometer – but in real life aleithometers are in short supply.Here lies the problem for the atheist – how can we do morals without a transcendent being? Morality must be a ‘natural’ phenomenon – so why not pick and choose our morals? It also highlights the problem of evil for the atheist. Traditionally it has been seen as a problem for the theist and much Christian writings have been devoted to developing a theodicy; however, the problem is even more acute for the atheist – why is evil evil if there are no God-given norms? Alethiometers may work in fiction but not in the real world.
The death of God in His dark materials is liberating, but not dangerous. Will and Lyra are liberated to fulfil their duty to ensure that Dust does not escape from the universe. They are liberated from the Authority, only to fall under the spell of a new ‘authority’: the absolute obligation to build the republic of heaven. But they are not liberated to moral oblivion, or confusion, or an emptiness of meaning. This is ‘death-of-God-lite’: God dies but the cosmos retains its theological meaning. Humans still have a destiny, there are still objective ethical rules and Dust still gives the universe a warm glow.
The god that Pullman kills – kills is perhaps too strongh a term, as Pullman’s god withers away and dissolves into nothing – is a far cry from the robust good creator God of the Bible; Pullman’s god is a pathetic imposter god, a first angel formed from the Dust. However, because he was the first angel he was able to fool the others he was their creator.
Pullman’s atheism is parasitic upon theism. As HRP comments: ‘The dilemma of atheism is that it must always be dependent upon theism’. HRP closes his analysis with a warning for the church:
Pullman (and his readers) find Christianity life-denying and authoritarian. To them the church appears more concerned with preserving its doctrines and traditions than in celebrating the vitality and goodness of life, more concerned with the power and prestige than with people and their sufferings.
Unfortunately, all the talk of boycotting the Golden Compass film confirms these misconceptions. As most Christians know Christianity is life-affirming – how have we failed to convey the liberating message of the gospel?
The book ends with a synopsis of Pullman’s writings. Incidentally, the title The Devil’s Account comes from William Blake’s ‘The marriage of heaven and hell’:
It indeed appear'd to Reason as if Desire was cast out, but the Devils account is that the Messiah fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.
This book is a is a refreshing break from the knee-jerk responses to the film; it well researched by someone who appreciates Pullman as a writer but is sensitive to the non-Christian themes and issues.
There is an interesting interview with Pullman here.
Thursday, 13 December 2007
How Christian leadership can tackle the African crisis
B J van der Walt
Potchefstroomse Universitet vir Christelike Hoer Onderwys, 1995.
This 101-page book started life as the lectures for the Pan African leadership Assembly II in Nairobi, 22-30 November 1994. B J van der Walt is no stranger to the African situation; he is a South African Christian philosopher and founder of the Institute for Reformational Studies based at the Potchefstroom University in South Africa (he retired in 1999). He writes about Africa from first-hand experience.
Although this book’s context is Africa its value extends beyond that continent. The four main chapters deal with: the nature of office, authority, power and responsibility; the structuring of society; social involvement and change; and the nature of the state. Important and crucial issues for Christians wherever they may live and work.
Vand der Walt is a clear and insightful writer. He applies reformational thinking to important cultural issues. I particularly appreciated the tables and diagrams that served to summarise and illustrate the main points made in the text.
He sees leadership as being a key to the African crisis. However, he rightly maintains that it will mean much more than leaders who are Christians. It needs Christian leaders with a clear vision that they can communicate and inspire others.
The first main chapter (Ch2 – chapter 1 is a brief Introduction) examines a Christian perspective on office, authority and power. As the author states’ If one does not know what office, authority, power and responsibility means, one cannot be a real leader’ (p 8). He sees office as God’s mandate to render service to the members of the societal relationship. Authority is the right to render this service, which requires insight into and obedience of the God-given norms for the specific relationship. Power is acted-out authority and is dependent on insight and obedience to god’s norms; and finally responsibility is towards God and the people of the societal relationship. This is important for Africa and equally so for the church everywhere.
Chapter 3 looks at the structuring of society. Here he looks at three biblical perspectives: from the perspective of the image of God, the perspective of different offices and from the perspective of diversified love. Individualim, communalism and pluralism are then examined. A Christian view is a pluralist view: it wishes to do justice to both individuals (individualism) and society (communalism).
In ‘A Christian perspective on social involvement and change’ (Ch 4) three models are mentioned and critiqued. The first two the dualist-pietist view – common among many evangelicals - and the revolutionary views are found wanting and the biblical reformational view is briefly expounded. The reformational view is radical – God transforms the world – and positive – it seeks to be obedient to God for the sake of God’s world.
Chapter 5 examines a Christian perspective on the state. Here the African background comes to the fore and he uses this turbulent context to draw out some biblical perspectives, including a useful discussion on civil disobedience. He discerns four viewpoints radical passivists, partial passivists, partial militarists and radical militarists. He concludes ‘In the final instance it is the duty of especially Christians to keep on talking, trying their best to convince the government that it has to change’ (p 90).
In the final chapter – the conclusion – he looms briefly at the different leadership models that have shaped Africa: the paternalistic elder tradition (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah), the sage tradition (Leopold Sedar Senghor or Mwalimu Julius Nyrere), the arrior tradition ( (Gadafi or Idi Amin), the charismatic style of the inspiring personality (Kenyatta, Nyere or Amin) and the monarchical style (Nkrumah, who was sometimes known as Osagyefo, the Redeemer). He concludes that what is needed in Africa – and we might add everywhere – is responsible servant-leaders.
This is an excellent book and one that should be read by all leaders and aspiring leaders wherever.
Details of how to obtain Bennie van der Walt’s books are available here.
Sunday, 9 December 2007
Dr B J van der Walt
Potchesfstroom University for CHE: Potchesfstroom, 1979
Series F: Institute for the Advancement of Calvinism (F2, No 10)
ISBN 086990 482 5
The South African scholar Bennie van der Walt has produced an original and fascinating study on Calvin. It is a photo history and tour guide. He has followed in the footsteps of Calvin and along the way he has written this short (71 pp) but marvellous tour guide, complete with 66 photographs.
He traces Calvin from his birth place in Noyon to his time as a student in Paris, his days as a fugitive in the south of France and then on to Strasbourg and Geneva. Along the way we are also given a brief history of the Huguenot’s. Van der Walt’s writing is very clear and he has many suggestions for the would-be Christian tourist/ pilgrim. He identifies places that the heritage of Calvin still lives on and places where his influence has been all but lost. The 66 photographs serve to make this book a first-class tourist guide for the modern Reformed pilgrim.
Unfortunately, at present it is out of print. Details of other books by B J van der walt are available here.
The Edinburgh 1910 Missionary conference lectures have been digitised [HT TallSkinnyKiwi]
A test on one of my favourite books of the Bible the book of Revelation
Links to pieces on the atonement, which is a good enough reason to post this photo my eldest son took in the chapel at Little Bridge House, where my other son died just over two years ago.
Saturday, 8 December 2007
I want to go into a shop to buy a bottle of whisky.* A theologian might ask should a Christian buy and drink alcohol? and he may want to discuss the issue with me using the Scripture. If an ethicist were watching, as an ethicist, he might ask where is the best place to buy the whiskey, should I buy fair trade whiskey? Should I spend more than £30 on a single malt when a blended can be bought for under £20? A jurist might discuss the times that it legal to buy the bottle and ask is it right that so much of the price of a bottle of whisky (in the UK) is tax. An aesthetician would consider the size and shape of the bottle and the colour of the whisky, the way it is packaged, he might also pay attention to the display of the bottles in the shop and the way the shop is laid out. An economist might be primarily be interested in the cost and value of the bottle. A sociologist looking on might consider the impact of alcohol on society and she might also look at the interaction between the shopkeeper and myself. The ways of communicating between the customers and the shop keeper would come under consideration by the linguist, she might wonder about my Potteries accent and the shopkeeper’s Bristolian accent; and also ponder what does the label say about the whiskey? And what did that wink of the shopkeeper mean? A psychologist might think about what drives me to want a drink of whisky and what motivates the shopkeeper to please me.
The bottle of whiskey itself also has a number of aspects: there are a certain number of bottles on the shelf, each take up a certain amount of space, the whiskey in the bottle could be described by a chemical formula (C2H5OH), but of course it is more than that, the whiskey stays on the shelf because it obeys Newton’s laws of motion and so on.
This apparently simple task of buying a bottle of whiskey has many facets to it; God's good creation is many-faceted as Dooyeweerd has long maintained.
*With apologies to Calvin Seerveld and his discussion of cigars in 'Dooyewerd's legacy for aesthetics'.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Carl Trueman has an excellent thought on it:
If intention is the key to Pullman's error, then I guess we should also discourage Christians from reading Milton's polemically anti-Trinitarian, anti-orthodox Paradise Lost. And Pascal's anti-Protestant Pensees. And Gibbon's anti-Christian Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And Swift's anti-theological Gulliver's Travels. Etc. etc.etc. And what about the Manicheeism of William Blake? Better scratch The Songs of Innocence and Experience. Come on, guys, face it -- Lewis was a decent children's novelist with terrible theology; Pullman is a passable children's novelist with terrible atheology. If you can't read them without being led astray, don't read them; but a good fantasy story is a good fantasy story.
The good, the bad and the ugly of evangelicalism - courtesy of exiled preacher.
Lee Irons on Wright's 'God and politics' [HT between two worlds]
Powered by ScribeFire.
I have now completed the scanning of Pete Steen's The Structure of Herman Dooyeweerd's Thought and the complete book can be found here.