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, 26 May 2011

God and Government - a review by Bruce Wearne

Guest post by Bruce Wearne - originally published in Sight - used by permission of the author.

God and Government
Nick Spencer and Jonathan Chaplin (eds); foreword by Rowan Willliams, Archbishop of Canterbury.
SPCK, London, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0-281-06071-9
This collection of essays by ten competent British Christian writers is the outcome of a creative joint project between Theos, an ecumenical "public theology think tank" located in London and the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, at Tyndale House, Cambridge, England.
The book formed the basis of a "God and Governance" conference held in Saint Matthew's church, Westminster, 10th November, 2010. The aim was to explore what such Christian reflection has to say about the vital issues of government in Britain today. (At least three lectures from that conference are available - Jonathan Chaplin's at; Nick Spencer's at, and NT Wright's at www.chirbit.con/chirbit/33848.)
Chaplin, Spencer and Wright are featured in the book along with seven other writers, academics, journalists and churchmen.
Nigel Wright, former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and principal of Spurgeon's College, outlines in his essay, "Government as an ambiguous power", what he believes are the implicit ambiguities of government. In order to clear a path for Christian political thought and action he outlines what the separation of church and state does and does not mean.
Julian Rivers, professor of jurisprudence at the University of Bristol begins his contribution, "The nature and role of government in the Bible", by agreeing that the Bible is profoundly ambivalent about government but he does not thereby suggest that we should be ambivalent about our political life as service of God. As we read, it becomes clear that the ambivalence which the Bible presents is about government acting illegitimately and presuming unlimited competence.
Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, presents "Neither anarchy nor tyranny: Government and the New Testament". This is a re-iteration of what he has said in numerous publications and Biblical commentaries: the New Testament writers, in proclaiming the Gospel of the Messiah, God's Chosen Ruler of the Princes of all the earth, expose religious idolatry and in particular that which was basic to Roman Imperialism. Thus the New Testament shines a bright light upon any "new imperialisms", including America's world-wide military and economic dominance.
David McIlroy, a practising lawyer, academic and research fellow at Spurgeon's College, outlines "The role of government in classical Christian political thought". Drawing upon Christian writers ancient and modern he presents a view of the positive "common good" task of limited and accountable government. It is a public service, standing in need of a well developing and developing wisdom.
Nicholas Townsend, teacher of Christian ethics at the South East Institute for Theological Education and the University of Kent outlines a view of social justice in "Government and social infrastructure", developing the view of John Courtney Murray that connects Catholic social teaching to the New Testament. His aim for "government as social infrastructure" is as much a challenge to oppressive hierarchy as it is to place a principled limit upon the state's role in fostering the common good. He says: "The gospel is not about politics. The gospel is political." Political authority is therefore secondary or indirect; government's task is to establish the preconditions for all to live with one another as God intends. 
Philip Booth, professor of insurance and risk management at City University, draws on Catholic social teaching to clarify the inter-dependence of "Government, solidarity and subsidiarity". He draws on papal encyclicals to explain why a minimalist view of subsidiarity and solidarity, that "grudgingly" allows government intervention in the economy to help the poor and the homeless, can be avoided. The responsibilities of what he calls "lower-order communities" should not be displaced by government over-stepping its limits and usurping lower-level government and voluntary associations.
Clifford Longley an author and journalist also draws on Catholic social teaching in "Government and the common good", but, in contrast to Booth, his starting point is that the common good is the fundamental governing principle, "from first to last". His presentation seeks to offset the idea that Catholic social teaching is compatible with classical liberal (or American neoconservative) free-market economics. To promote the common good is the true object of all social activity.
Andrew Bradstock, one-time director of the Christian Socialist Movement and professor of theology at the University of Otago, discusses "Government and equality". His paper has two major themes: the fact that all are created in the imageo Dei already places moral demands upon all people to ensure basic needs are met by all; government have good reason to develop policy that narrow the gap between rich and poor.
The foreword by Rowan Williams is a brief endorsement of the need for sound Biblical and theological reflection on "God and government". Nick Spencer's "Introduction" explains how the project arose and why reflecting together on political differences is an important and immediate part of political obedience for followers of Jesus Christ. The fact that all contributors to the volume are male may provide those developing the Theos/KLICE project with an important question that needs to be addressed. Chaplin's "Conclusion" concludes in the hope that the book will spur practical Christian political wisdom, promoting justice and the common good for a contemporary Britain crying out for much more of both.
For us in Australia, the God and Government project and its associated publications, provides an example of what can be achieved by a sustained Christian effort to jointly reflect upon and discuss our political differences as part of our responsibility as followers of Jesus.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Shari'a in the West - review by Bruce Wearne

Guest post by Bruce Wearne - first published at Sight - used here by permission of the author.

Shari'a in the West
Rex Ahdar and Nicholas Aroney (eds)
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010
ISBN-13 9780199582914

This is not a critical review. Instead, I would strongly recommend this collection of essays to readers of Sight. Those seeking a Christian political response to the issues that have been raised about minority Muslim communities, whether as migrants or asylum seekers, will find helpful insight and analysis in this book.
When I began writing this review, the internet was all a twitter with news of the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. This seemed an apt moment to pen this review, but I should add that this book is not about Al-Qaeda. The notorious terrorist organisation is mentioned once, and in passing, when the two editors describe "The Topography of Shari'a in the Western Political Landscape."
Their focus, rather, is in the book's title: Shari'a in the West. In the initial chapter they discuss the difference between Islam and Islamism, and the prospects for the various reform movements within Islam. So I have no doubt that this book would have been written differently if "9/11" had not happened, but even with the death of Bin Laden important issues of jurisprudence still have to be addressed in our political life in the years ahead.
In particular there is the question of how "western" Muslim adherence to "shari'a" relates to "shari'a" practised in the dar-al-Islam, the lands where Islam prevails. And of course that means we also have to be alert to how "shari'a", wherever it is practised, relates to what has been termed "extreme Sharia", whether of the Saudi Wahhabi variety or that advocated by Ayatollah Khomeini in his Iranian revolution in 1979. Wahhabism seeks to completely remove Islamic tradition from the religion, with threats of death for those who defend tradition. Hence, it engages in ferocious persecution of fellow Muslims. Al-Qaeda's "terror war" against the west is but the "other side" of that ongoing violent purging of Muslim people and communities. Now with Bin Laden's death we hope and pray that Al-Qaeda will shrivel and die - but the question of how the "west" is to respond politically to Muslim people and their religion within its polities is still before us and in need of our consideration.
And that is precisely what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev Dr Rowan Williams, was concerned about when he gave his 7th February, 2008, address, "Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective". In this now famous speech he stated that it seemed unavoidable that certain aspects of Islamic law (Shari'a) would be recognised and incorporated into British law. The volume includes two appendices: Williams' address and another by Lord Phillips, president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, titled "Equality before the Law", delivered 3rd July, 2008, at the East London Muslim Centre, giving qualified support to the archbishop's views.
This is a topic which demands much effort and concentration. The editors - Rex Ahdar, professor of law at the University of Otago, and Nicholas Aroney, professor of law at the University of Queensland and an ARC Future Fellow - have rendered an important service by collating these 16 commissioned chapters in this absorbing volume. These are issues of jurisprudence that simply cannot be avoided. We need to be rightly informed as we enter into the political debate about the relevance of Islam, Islamism and Shari'a to Western democracies.
This book not only advances understanding of Islam as it is lived by Muslim people, it also gives a penetrating overview of how European and Anglo-American polities are currently responding to the political and legal challenges that arise from welcoming significant Muslim minorities into their societies. And so, as we develop our understanding of Islam as a world religion, with its own particular juridical ideas and processes, we also learn to make clear distinctions between Islam and Islamism, and note the way Muslim communities actually form their lives and understand the spiritual principles to which they are committed. We then get a sense of the traditions that keep Muslim people apart from each other, and what unites them as a 'People of the Book' in a common religion. This an exploration of the various concepts of Shari'a that have arisen in different Muslim communities and the various ways in which Shari'a principles are to be adopted in lands where Islam is not observed - the dar al-harb.
Although one can read each of the 16 chapters and two appendices separately and in their own right, these writings together make a significant contribution. They should be read and studied carefully. Our challenge is to grow insight about Muslim rituals, symbolism, beliefs and practices, and deepen our appreciation for what happened almost a decade ago with that murderous act of terror. Our responsibility as Christians is to gain wisdom to understand how many of our neighbours see and understand themselves as participants in this world-wide religion.
To briefly list the essays which comment upon Williams' address:
• Tariq Modood is a prominent scholar who defended Williams in the days immediately after he delivered his lecture. For Modood, multicultural citizenship presupposes a 'multilogical' dialogue among equal citizens of all faiths in a secularised civil order which makes room for, and welcomes, various expressions of religion.
• John Milbank's essay examines the argument Williams has put forward, and its reception, in the context of the complex and contradictory place of the archbishop and Anglicanism within the British polity. It is a notable sociological analysis of the political-psyché of the established church in England.
• Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens draws attention to an ambiguities in Williams' argument that suggests the possibility of Muslim people "opting out of state institutions on religious grounds" and at the same time seeking legality for faith-based jurisdictional authorities.
• Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, well-known as the plain-speaking Bishop of Rochester, explores a range of important topics - the role of women, blasphemy, apostasy, jihad, Islamic banking and finance - and with qualified support for Islamic councils of limited jurisdiction, he notes that appropriate and just monitoring will be needed.
• The final essay in this section of the book by James Skillen raises the question whether the Islamic world-view can furnish its adherents with the conceptual resources which will be needed to justify and defend a complex, plural and differentiated social-authority structure.
The second section deals with broader theoretical and policy analyses of the "Shari'a in the West" issue: Jeremy Waldron (minorities), Ayelet Shachar (family law), John Milbank (group rights), Jean-Françios Gaudreault-DesBiens (religious courts) and J Budziszewski (natural law and democracy). The editors note that for Milbank's analysis "readers will need to strap themselves in for an exhilarating ride" since only "a distinctly Christian polity - not a secular post-modern one - can actually accord Islam the respect it seeks as a religion." That is a point worth exploring further.
The third section of the collection examines how Shari'a is, or could be, accommodated within particular jurisdictions. Senator Sophie van Bijsterveld, a member of the European parliament, discusses Dutch responses to Islam. Abdullah Saeed and Ann Black provide perspectives from Australian experience. In a fourth section two essays consider the position and prospects of Islam in western polities. Erich Kolig explains why a 'Shari'aticized' legal system would not be a good idea and John Witte Jr raises the question of Muslim expectations about how marriage relates to civil law. Are Muslim migrant communities going to seek a firmer constitutional grounding for marriage than western legal systems can now provide?
This is a book to be read slowly, re-read and studied carefully.

Jim Skillen on Sharia law and the West

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Creation and Salvation: Dialogue on Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for Contemporary Ecotheology

Creation and Salvation: Dialogue on Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for Contemporary Ecotheology
edited by Ernst M. Conradie
Brill, 2011
ISBN 9789004203365

This volume explores the legacy of the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper for contemporary Christian ecotheology. A crucial problem in ecotheology is how to do justice to both creation and salvation as acts of God, given the impact of the environmental crisis and the concern for creation (as creatura). Can Kuyper help one in this regard, given his controversial legacy, especially in South Africa? The volume explores Kuyper's notions of revelation, common grace and re-creation on this basis. It is structured as an inter-continental dialogue with a set of essays by Ernst Conradie, responses from Clifford Anderson, Vincent Bacote, Hans Engdahl, Dirk van Keulen, Cornelis van der Kooi, Benjamin Myers, Leslie van Rooi and Günter Thomas, and a rejoinder

Workplace ministry - Mark Greene

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Andy Crouch at Everything Conference

The 1st of 3 talks given by Andy Crouch at Everything London 2011.

For more articles, resources & information, please visit

The 3rd of 3 talks given by Andy Crouch at Everything London 2011.

For more articles, resources & information, please visit

Music for a Sunday morning

Saturday, 14 May 2011

What full-time Christian minsters need to know about secular work

1. All Christian are involved in full-time Christian ministry. There is no such thing as part-time Christians. Never use the term "full-time Christian ministry" to describe only those with a role in the church or a church-related activity.

2. There is no sacred-secular divide. It’s not the activity that makes it secular, it’s the attitude and approach.The term secular shouldn't only be used to describe work that's done outside of church.

3. Serving Christ is not all about church-related activities.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Abraham Kuyper on God's Word

It is so profoundly false that God's Word lets us hear only calls for the salvation of our souls. No, God's Word gives us firm ordinances - even for our national existence and our common social life. It marks out clearly visible lines. We are unfaithful to God's Word if we fail to take notice of this fact and, for convenience sake, impiously permit our theory and practice to be determined by prevailing opinion  or current law. 

Abraham Kuyper The Problem of Povery Dordt College Press, 2011

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Sabbath by Dan Allender

Dan B. Allender
Thomas Nelson, 2009
(Ancient Practices Series ed. Phyllis Tickle)
ISBN 978-0-8499-0107-2

This book is part of the eight book Ancient Practices series under the general editorship of Phyllis Tickle. Others have included Fasting by Scot McKnight and Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher.

Dan B. Allender, of Mars Hill Graduate school, has a Masters from Westminster Theological Seminary and a PhD in Counselling Psychology from Michigan State University, so is well placed to look at this important topic of Sabbath from the theological and pastoral aspects. This is a well written book, it it light, anecdotal, refreshing and lively. Sabbath, he writes, is 'not a day off, but a day of celebration and delight. The Sabbath is a day when the kingdom to come has come and is celebrated now rather than anticipated tomorrow' is 'far more than a diversion; it is meant to be an encounter with God's delight' (p.12).

As with all in this series the aim of the book is to consider an ancient practice, here Sabbath, in its ancient roots to its current practice. However, it concentrates on current practice with only glimpses of its 'ancient roots' in the scriptures. There is no looking at how the biblical horizon might fuse with the contemporary horizon - it's not that kind of book.

What springs to mind when we think of Sabbath? Church going, no shopping, no driving - unless its to church - a day off from the pressures of work? Allender maintains that it should be a day of delight not merely the cessation of work. God rested on the seventh day, not because he was weary, he celebrated and delighted in his creation. Allender's enthusiasm for the Sabbath comes over and provides some inspiring examples. It's a book that promises much - the first chapters were really inspiring, but the promise seemed to fade the further I went into the book, which was a shame.

This is an important topic, particularly in our work-driven culture. If this book does no more than raise the question: what does Sabbath mean for me,  how can I delight in God in it and encounter God's delight through it? it will have been worthwhile.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, 2 May 2011

Lesslie Newbigin mp3 on Confessing Christ in a multi-racial society

Lesslie Newbigin's talk on "Confessing Christ in a multi-racial society" is available here.

odds and sods

An interview with Glenn Peoples at apologetics 315
Baptist Review of Theology is now up at Rob Bradshaw's Biblical Studies site.
Brian Walsh on coalitions
Nelson Kloosterman on the latest edition of The Kuyper Review
Trevin Wax's list of urban legends used by preachers
Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics - abridged in one volume
Bob Robinson on James Davison Hunter's To Change the World
Jamie Smith on the new universalism
Mike Wittmer's new book Christ Alone - a response to Rob Bell
Mike Schutt on the Lawyer's calling mp3
Scottish Bulletin of Evanglical Theology 29 (1) - a special edition on Bavinck