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.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Harry Van Dyke on Gleason's Bavinck

Guest post by Harry Van Dyke

Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian
Ron Gleason. With an introduction by Roger Nicole.
Phillipsburgh, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2010. Pp. xvi + 511. $29.99.

We are greatly indebted to the Rev. Dr. Ron Gleason, pastor of a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation in the bucolic setting of Yorba Linda, California, for surprising us with this book at this strategic time. For now that the four imposing volumes of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics are available in English, who does not want to know more about the man behind the work and the context in which it was written?

Ron Gleason would seem to be well qualified to write this book. After receiving his M.Div. degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, he went to the Netherlands and between 1975 and 1981 studied under Jan Veenhof in Amsterdam and Herman Ridderbos in Kampen. In 2001 he was awarded a Ph.D. at Westminster Theological Seminary after submitting a dis­ser­tation entitled The Centrality of the Unio Mystica in the Theology of Herman Bavinck.

Gleason’s biography is a robust soft-cover volume with a well-placed portrait of Bavinck on the cover. It comes with a handy Index of Names and Subjects (501–11) and contains no less than six extensive Appendixes (431–99), three of which are valuable synopses (in English) of keynote addresses by Bavinck published (in Dutch) during his lifetime.

The work is based on a variety of sources. Among the primary sources used are Bavinck’s Stone Lectures, several of his smaller publications, and articles in the church weekly De Bazuin. Use is made of the Acts of the synods during these years. In addition, an auto­biography by Rev. Jan Bavinck, the father, provided infor­mation on Herman’s formative years growing up in a devout home appreciative of learning and culture in a Christian spirit. An interview with a granddaughter of Lucas Lindeboom proved useful for a better under­standing of that forceful personality and powerful opponent of Bavinck on more than one occasion. Finally, there are Bavinck’s recently discov­ered lecture notes for his course in ethics. (One only wishes that another appendix had sum­marized the basic thrust of those lectures.)

For a life of Bavinck, the main secondary sources available are the existing Dutch-language biographies. There are five: the 80-page In Memoriam by Bavinck’s one-time pupil J. H. Landwehr (1921) and the biographies by his successor V. Hepp (1921), by A. B. W. Kok (1945), J. Geelhoed (1958) and R. H. Bremmer (1966). Gleason does not use Kok or Geelhoed, quotes Landwehr six times, relies quite frequently on Hepp, and follows Bremmer chapter by chapter, almost page by page.

Gleason includes numerous illustrative citations from corres­pondence held in archives; these, however, appear to be directly quoted from Bremmer. Almost as numerous are a host of very helpful thumbnail sketches of secondary figures, gleaned from the Christelijke Encyclopedie (2nd ed.) and placed in footnotes.

Composing a work in this manner involves constantly transposing into English an enormous amount of prose that one is reading in Dutch. Gleason is generally felicitous in his choice of translations, but before getting to the content of the book I should point out some puzzling choices. For example, “a convent-like mentality” is not the equivalent of con­ven­ti­kel­geest (120); in context, the word denotes the “sectarian mindset” prevalent among the initiated members of a conventicle, i.e., of a small group of disgruntled parishioners meeting privately for mutual edification. The word“union” is not always the right word for vereniging (157); the Free University, for example, was owned and operated, not by a “union,” but by an “associ­ation.” Some other slip-ups may have been almost inevitable: tenure instead of tenor for teneur or strekking (222), Christendom instead of Christianity for christendom (350), field preacher instead of padre for veldprediker (381), and grace instead of pardon for (judicial) gratie. Dutchmen may “climb in the pen” (passim) but Americans just take it up. I do not wish to be a purist, but I protest that Bavinck is made to appear guilty of resorting to an “underhanded method” (297) when all he did was convey a confidential communication (onderhandse mededeling).

Gleason’s book is both edifying and entertaining. The noble figure of Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) rises before us as a consummate theologian, a leading statesman in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, and an enthusiastic champion of a culture-engaging Neo-Calvinism, justly renowned in the Reformed world internationally, yet at the same time a discreet and humble man leading a life of self-sacrificial service to his church, his academic institution, and his country. To describe all this in detail, Gleason organizes the story of Bavinck’s life in chrono­logical order. He patiently traces three phases in Bavinck’s career: a brief but fruitful pastoral charge of two years in the Frisian town of Franeker, followed by 20 years of teaching in the Theological Seminary in Kampen (the phase that culminated in the publication of the four-volume Gerefor­meerde Dogmatiek), and the final phase of another two decades spent in the chair for systematic theology in the Theological Faculty of the Free Uni­ver­­sity (VU) in Amsterdam. This last phase was marked by an almost abrupt switch around 1911, away from the pursuit of theology in the strict sense (other than giving his lectures) to a concentrated effort at outlining principles for philosophy, pedagogy and psychology in a number of what were then pioneering studies, both academic and popular.

In my opinion, Gleason underemphasizes the significance of the 1911 switch. True, Bavinck’s new focus in Amsterdam was not a break with theology as such. Yet it offers clear evidence of his burning zeal to branch out and take Reformed principles (which are nourished by theology but which embrace far more) and apply them in the very midst of the cul­tural battle zones of his day. He realized that the rock on which Christ built his church was not theology, but “hearing, confessing, and doing” (see Matt. 7:24; 16:18). To my mind, Gleason would have done greater justice to this phase in Bavinck’s life if he had included more details about these non-theological writings which clearly show him to have been a leading thinker and writer in the Neo-Calvinist movement of his time—to some extent, and in his own way, the equal of Abraham Kuyper. The descriptions of this aspect are too brief and lack substance (229, 253, 276).

A frustrating episode in Bavinck’s life fell in the period between 1892 and 1902. The year 1892 saw the the unification of the churches from the Afscheiding of 1834 and those of the Doleantie of 1886—a unification that was achieved, Gleason makes clear, thanks in no small part to Bavinck’s exertions. The year 1902 saw Bavinck’s move from Kampen to Amsterdam—a change of workplace he had considered and declined on four previous occasions. In the intervening ten years Bavinck campaigned for what should have been the finishing touch to the church merger: creating a single training school for future pastors through a merger of the Kampen seminary with the theological faculty of the Free University. Both institutions trained ministers for the unified denomination. Bavinck’s intent was to eliminate expensive duplication and to raise the scholarly level of the seminary inherited from the Afscheiding churches by taking it out of its relative isolation in the eastern province and bringing it in touch with modern life and academia in the heart of the country. Gleason traces the intricate and crisis-ridden campaign through its various phases with patient and painstaking accuracy (153-68, 187-201, 239-91). Several different config­urations for a unified seminary were tried, but each time Bavinck failed to gain sufficient support. The whole episode suffered from a bitter power struggle: mutual suspicion; public innuendos; unrestrained agitation by both sides in local and regional church papers; and similar all-too-familiar sins that tend to mark dissension in ecclesia. Bavinck campaigned at synods, in committees and by private correspon­dence, but the difficult, protracted and at times acerbic negotiations were a trial for his irenic soul. A hot issue was: Who would control the unified seminary? In his final compromise draft Bavinck proposed that the new theology depart­ment function as an integral part of the Free University but that the appointment of professors for the department be the prerogative of the churches. He felt strongly that the latter could not be left to a private asso­ci­ation such as operated the Free University. Predictably, “Amster­dam”—its professors, supporters and the associ­a­tion—refused to accede to such an arrangement because, after all, the Free University was founded “free of state and church.” At the same time, the supporters of “Kampen” could not abide the thought that “our beloved school” would be absorbed into a university over which the church had no control, and so they accused their own Professor Bavinck of conceding far too much and selling out to the competition.

It would have been helpful if Gleason had quoted Bavinck’s deepest motive during this protracted struggle. It is right there on page 124 of Bremmer’s biography: “At stake is keeping theology pure and keeping the churches on the path of truth.” Without explicitly mentioning this motive, Gleason’s account creates the impression that Kuyper, Rutgers and others, in their exchanges with Bavinck, were tilting at windmills (no pun intended, as Gleason would say).

For all that, I applaud Gleason for not being afraid from time to time to draw lessons from the history he recounts—for example, that churches and church leaders should avoid party spirit and not draw caricatures of their opponents’ position. Obvious enough, but still worth saying. Throughout these years, Bavinck for the most part emerges as an exemplary churchman: fair, patient and conciliatory, courteous but persistent. Gleason’s account at times borders on hagiography. Still, he does not hesitate to record how even Bavinck could run out of patience and pass harsh judgments. His vacillation and indecision was another character flaw and could exasperate colleagues and critics alike. Gleason also deplores the fact that Bavinck, though teaching and publishing balanced views concerning election and covenant, nevertheless did not put up more vigorous resistance to Kuyper’s doctrine of presumptive regeneration in reports he helped draft for the church assemblies (194, 339–42).

Bavinck’s disappoint­ment at failing to achieve a unified centre for Reformed theo­logical study ran deep. Bremmer indicates that Bavinck saw it as weakening the strength of the revived Calvinism of his day. Unity on this score would have made for a stronger basis of operation for addressing the issue of Scripture in the face of Higher Criticism and for developing alternatives to the many secular movements gaining ground in society.

Toward the end of his life, Bavinck called for revisiting the doctrine of Scripture as traditionally applied in the Reformed Churches. Gleason, following Hepp and Bremmer, denies that he was capitulating at last to modernist elements in the biblical criticism to which he had been exposed as a student at Leiden. Rather, Bavinck felt that the churches needed to apply its view of Scripture in a more nuanced way. He may have feared a slide from an infallibility standpoint to one of inerrancy. Would he have approved of the defrocking of Rev. Netelenbos over his view of Scripture? Hepp (338) claims he did and that he said so explicitly to fellow delegates to the synod that had to deal with the case. (Bavinck wrote the pre-advice but was unable to attend any further sessions due to failing health.) Bremmer reports (266) that in his pre-advice Bavinck had urged the improvement and expansion of the confessions with respect to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Gleason stops his account with Bavinck’s death in 1921, but in this connection one cannot help but speculate what Bavinck’s position might have been in 1926, when Rev. Geelkerken was deposed over a similar issue. Interestingly, at that time Bavinck’s widow, together with his daughter and son-in-law, joined the seceding Geelkerken churches.

For all my appreciation of Gleason’s effort, I must put my finger on some mis­state­ments. The author studied for some years in Kampen and writes about Bavinck growing up and laboring for twenty years in “the bucolic setting” of Kampen. This description may refer to the outskirts of the provincial town, but the late-medieval Hanseatic city with its red-brick buildings, its white-washed city gates and its Gothic basilica can hardly be described as “a small, rural village” (136, 224, 307, 399 et passim). The initial description on page 29 is more to the point. And in case readers wonder, marriages in Holland are performed by a Justice of the Peace (39, 416) only when bride and/or groom are minors and lack parental approval; normally, marriages are performed by the local mayor or his deputy.

I admit that there are times when one does not know whether to take the author seriously. Surely it was not global warming (435) but rather unsanitary conditions in town and country that caused a lack of clean drinking water around 1830. But wait, a similar indictment in a note on page 139—blaming global warming for what has become known in Dutch history as “de barre winter van negentig” (the severe winter of ‘90)—persuades me that the author has planted his tongue firmly in his cheek. Rather odd, for a serious biography.

For the record, readers should be aware of a few instances where the text states the opposite of what was actually the case. For example, Hovy was not president of the VU association “from 1895 on” (176) but until 1895, the year he resigned in protest over the dismissal of Professor Lohman, in which Bavinck was complicit with Kuyper in flouting proper procedure. Keuchenius was not Lohman’s nemesis (217) but rather the other way around. Were Doleantie preachers “experiential” and Afscheiding preachers “less subjective” (261)? If anything, the opposite was the case. Did Bavinck “dismantle” the defence published by a certain Mr. Huisman of some of Kuyper’s theological ideosyncracies (264)? That could hardly be, since Huisman actually critiqued Kuyper, and Bavinck largely agreed with Huisman. Was Bavinck’s colleague Professor Lindeboom the eternal waffler in Bavinck’s eyes, and was Bavinck impossible to work with in Lindeboom’s eyes (296)? No; the relationship was exactly the reverse. And finally, to name no more, it was not Bavinck but Kuyper who became “president of the Council of Ministers” (374); that was the old title for the rotating chairman of the Cabinet, which Kuyper proceeded to have renamed “minister-president” or prime minister. Most of these reversals of meaning are due to misconstruing passages in Bremmer.

In the end, however, these are little more than momentary lapses. They do not affect the overall thrust and sweep of Gleason’s sympathetic account of Bavinck’s life. As mentioned, I was edified and entertained by this important book. I hope it will soon need a reprint, so that with the removal of these lapses it can become an editio castigata.

Harry Van Dyke
Redeemer College
Originally published in Calvin Theological Journal 46.1 (April 2011): 192–197.

Republished here by permission of the author.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Wisdom and Wonder by Abraham Kuyper announced

The first part of the translation of Kuyper's Common Grace is announced:
Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art is a new and complete translation of two sections that the Dutch Reformed theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper appended to his larger three-volume work on common grace. During his life Kuyper labored tirelessly, publishing two newspapers, leading a reform movement out of the state church, founding the Free University of Amsterdam, and serving as Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Popular in our time for his devotional work, Kuyper’s Wisdom & Wonder displays his talents as a public theologian, focusing on his comprehensive and Reformed vision of science and art, still relevant for Christians today.

Full details here.

There is an excerpt here.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Recent (re)readings on Kuyper

Edward E. Ericson Jr 'Abraham Kuyper: cultural critic' Calvin Theological Journal (1987) 22 (2): 210-237

In this paper Ericson examines the notion that Kuyper was influenced by the Romantic movement.
He claims two Kuyperians have maintained this position - however, he doesn't name the two.

Ericson's thesis is that Kuyper rejects Romanticism and that Kuyper saw Romantic and Enlightenment thought as allied, the one issuing from the other.

He starts by outlining the contours of Romanticism then examining some of Kuyper's key writings and in particular 'Pantheism destruction of the bondaries' shows how these contours are absent in Kuyper and that he even undermines them.

He focuses on the term 'organic'. A term much loved by the Romantics and much used by Kuyper. Kuyper uses the term imprecisely. Kuyper applied the term to:
  • the organic unity of the body of Christ
  • the organic unity of the cosmos
  • the organic character of Encyclopedia
  • the organicism of science
  • the organicism of theology

He notes that for Kuyper 'the notion of organic seems to mean coherence, fittingness. All things fit together coherently. And the reason that things are inextricably intertwined in an overall unity is that God has placed an order in his creation.' (p. 223)

Ericson is Professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the editor of Academic Freedom and Christian Scholarship (Eerdmans, 2000) and author of Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World.

Roger D. Henderson 'How Abraham Kuyper became a Kuyperian' Appendix to Abraham Kuper The Problem of Poverty (Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 2011)
Previously published in Christian Scholar's Review 22 (1992): 22-35.

Hendrson's aim is to examine why Kuper didn't end up as a liberal theologian as did so many of his University of Leiden contemporaries. He looks at a number of different context: Kuyper's family background, his goals and achievements and his conversion. Their is alos a short biographical introduction.

The paper is a helpful examination of the early life of Kuyper and the early influences that shaped him.

Roger Henderson is a former professor of philosophy at Dordt College. He now lives in The Netherlands.

James C. Schaap 'A writing exercise in identity: Abraham Kuyper's To Be Near Unto God' In J Kok (ed) Celebrating the vision: the Reformed perspective of Dordt College (Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 2004): 39-54.
Schaap recently rewrote Kuyper's devotional classic To Be Near Unto God. This short piece explains why he came to do that. One thing that he discovered was that 'those who claim that the inheritors of a Reformed or Calvinist worldview have no tradition of piety are, at best, uniformed. No one can read this book and come away believing such nonsense. Kuyper's spirituality is a witness, a century after the devotions were penned' (p. 44).

James Schaap blogs here and is professor of English at Dordt College

Thursday, 22 September 2011

George Grant on Kuyper

Steve Macias has posted a talk by George Grant on Abraham Kuyper here.

Some notes from the talk are available here.

Grant maintains, citing Otto Klassen, that Kuyper was a man feared by Hitler - despite the fact that Kuyper had been dead for almost 20 years!

He also places the blame for the fall from Kyuperianism in Holland on Hitler. Hitler hunted down all the leaders Kuyper had trained and attempted to destory all the institutions. An interesting thesis.

Work as/is worship

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dooyeweerd's The Crisis in Humanist Political Theory review by Bruce Wearne

Guest post by Bruce Wearne. This review first appeared in Sight - used here by permission of the author.

The Crisis in Humanist Political Theory: as seen from a Calvinist cosmology and epistemology
Herman Dooyeweerd (Translated M. Verbrugge, edited by D.F.M. Strauss, co-edited Harry van Dyke)
Paideia Press, 2010
ISBN-13 9780888152121

This volume is the translation of an early work of Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), originally written and published in Dutch in 1931. It is the summation of extensive study made while he was a policy researcher for the Abraham Kuyper Foundation, think-tank of the major Calvinist political party in The Netherlands. It contains an initial systematic formulation of the Christian philosophy that is associated with his name.

The term Calvinist in the book's title, will for some suggest a political justification of the doctrine of predestination and the Biblical teaching of the "chosen people". Such a suspicion is not entirely unwarranted, given for example the historic connections between Dutch reformed theology and the apartheid ideology in South Africa. But readers of Dooyeweerd's work will discover that his "reformational" perspective is cut from another cloth. This is no work of Protestant triumphalism. It self-critically maintains a critical distance from the worldly pride that has repeatedly dogged many political contributions of those claiming a Calvinistic inheritance since the 16th and 17th centuries.

Indeed, in his line by line analysis of the then current body of political thought - an incredible library of weighty scholarly tomes from the German historical tradition, in the tradition of humanistic idealism of Kant and Hegel (and many more) - Dooyeweerd presents himself as a reformer of the intellectual tradition. He sifts and evaluates the theories and analyses of those who had formed, and those who were shaping, the contours of political science.

Political theory is assumed to be an important, though not totally indispensable, scholarly contribution to the work of those called to political office in the administration of public justice. Led by the concept of public justice, this is the discussion of a reformer of political theory. He does not proceed to the articulation of his own contribution before "doing yeoman's duty" as one who has mastered the strengths and weaknesses, twists and turns, and most importantly the underlying "ground principles" (what he would later come to refer to as "religious ground-motives"), of the prominent political theories of the day.

It is also important to note that this is a work that was written to be appreciated by a predominantly German post-World War I readership. The Netherlands had remained neutral in the Great War and this analysis was penned during the years of the Weimar Republic, said to have been sympathetic to the neo-Kantian democratic perspectives of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch. This was a few years before Hitler became Chancellor of the Reichstag in 1933. Of interest to historians of political theory will be Dooyeweerd's analysis of the apologia for dictatorship from Carl Schmitt (1888-1985). Schmitt's theory, forged in the heat of the inner spiritual crisis of humanism, prepared the way for the Fuhrerstaat.

The second half of the book provides Dooyeweerd's (neo-Calvinist) view of the way the State must function if it is to carry out its calling "under heaven", and "do" public justice. Dooyeweerd, the professor of jurisprudence, was keen to appropriate positive aspects of Abraham Kuyper's vision of "sphere sovereignty". But that also meant avoiding some of the dogmatic concepts implicit in Kuyper's uncritical view of science and scholarship. For Dooyeweerd, political theory in the Calvinistic line (from Johannes Althusius (1563-1638), required its own Christian philosophical critique of the scientific task, and those a radical critique of any theological endorsement of science's autonomy that go all the way back to Aristotle and Plato.

For Dooyeweerd, Christian political theory is born outside any attempt to bring Christian and pagan thought into a synthesis. Such an attempted marriage has diverted Christian scientific endeavour since the days of the early church. That is not to say that Dooyeweerd's argument defaults to a triumphalist view of Calvinism's contribution to world-history. Not at all. Calvinism as much as other strands of Christianity have all been implicated in this attempted "monster marriage". Calvinism's distinctiveness is to be found in its idea of law centred on God's will for His creation. Dooyeweerd's "philosophy of the idea of cosmic law" thus is a signpost to Christians "doing political theory" that they need to exercise self-critical discernment about the concepts they develop and avoid presuming on their "purity".

The significance of Dooyeweerd's contribution to political theory is in his comprehensive definition of the State's task in the promotion and maintenance of public justice. His analysis rejects any view that suggests the State should impose or justify any nationalist, ethno-supremacist or religious community's ideology. This "neo-Calvinistic" political theory also decisively rejects any presumption of its "manifest destiny" to succeed where all other world-views have failed. The implication is that it is not only neo-pagan America which fails but also any neo-pagan Calvinism! Calvinism's decisive contribution to political theory is thus interpreted from the standpoint of a Christian world-view which promotes scientific engagement motivated by the Christian-Biblical ground-motive of creation, fall and redemption in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

J. R. R. Tolkein by Mark Horne

J R R Tolkein
Christian Encounters Series
Mark Horne
Thomas Nelson, 2011

This book by Mark Horne is a welcome addition to the series of short biographies in the Christian Encounter series published by Thomas Nelson. Others include J. S. Bach, D. L. Moody, Schweitzer, Columbus, Newton and Galileo.

J. R. R. Tolkein (1892-1973) needs no introduction, he is the author of one of the most popular books of the previous century, The Lord of the Rings. In this short, accessible and well-written book we are introduced to Tolkein the man. The biography is chronological and chronicles Tolkein's life from birth in Bloemfontein, South Africa to his death in Oxford.

This book breaks no new ground, but that is not its aim. It's aim is to provide a simple introduction to the life of Tolkein. Horne recognises that 'Tolkein's faith is important to understanding his works.' Unfortunately, this aspect is not fully developed.

We are told that 'Tolkein's faith helped him to persevere in the midst of severe losses and taught his patience as he forced himself to work at his job and support his family.' His father died while Tolkein was young. Horne makes the interesting observation that Tolkein's religious imagination and faith would have been different if his father had lived. Tolkein's mother later converted to Catholicism and brought up her two children as Catholics. The influence of Catholicism was also evident through Tolkein's guardian Father Francis Morgan, who took over his care when his mother died.

The role of the TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society) is expounded in some detail but little is made of the Inklings - the group that comprised Tolkein, C. S. Lewis, etc. The fellowship and camaraderie of small groups was obviously important to him.

As Horne concludes:
While God calls Christians to proclaim his truth in a variety of ways and situations ... we can learn from Tolkein that sometimes a mere story can change lives.
This book provides a good brief introduction to the life of Tolkein. If you like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit then this book will help you understand a little more the man behind them.

There is a helpful short appendix on the bibliographical sources.

Disclosure: This book was provided as part of the BookSneeze program - the views are my own.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Johann Sebastian Bach by Rick Marschall

Johann Sebastian Bach
Christian Encounters Series
Rick Marschall
Thomas Nelson, 2011

This book is one in a series of short biographies in the Christian Encounter series published by Thomas Nelson. Others include D. L. Moody, Tolkein, Schweitzer, Columbus, Newton and Galileo.

Before I read this book I knew little of the life of Bach. I had enjoyed his cello suites and knew that his Christian faith influenced his work. I wanted to know more about how his faith influenced him and to see how his faith integrated with his music. I read this book hoping to find these answers. Marschall largely succeeds in this. As he notes, 'there have been very few studies on Bach's faith life' and he writes to fill that gap.

Although Bach never travelled more than a few hundred miles from his birthplace his music has global appreciation. It is clear from this book that Bach's faith permeated all of his life and his music in particular as these quotes from the book reveal:

 'Bach too, was a preacher, as effective and doctrinally pure as many saints since apostolic times, but he exhorted through his music'.

'He did not preach about music. His music preached about Christ.'

The book shows Bach as an orthodox Lutheran having a close relationship with his saviour. He read the Bible daily and also read Luther's writings. He began almost all his compositions with 'Jesus help me' written at the top left of the first page and 'To God alone the glory' at the bottom right corner of the completed score.  Bach wrote for an audience of one: Jesus Christ his saviour.

Marschall shows that we can't understand Bach without understanding his faith and the other main factor on him, his family: he had twenty children!

This is a helpful biography of Bach that does justice to Bach's faith and his music.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Radical Together by David Platt

Radical Together
David Platt
Multnomah Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-1601423726

Imagine two churches. The first is seeker-sensitve.
Newcomers are welcomed at the door and provided with a latte and croissants. They settle down in a large auditorium, astounded by the hundreds if not thousands of others who have joined them. Their children are taken care of and entertained in an adjoining room. They listen to a professional band play amazing music accompanied by sensational graphics on HD screens around the auditorium. There are no obvious Christian symbols on display, no cross or crucifix, no stained glass windows, no Bibles. It could be any theatre in any town. The pastor then stands up and gives an excellent and inspiring talk again accompanied with amazing projected graphics on the screens.

The second church is also seeker-sensitive.
But for this church it's a different seeker. This seeker is the one one who seeks worshippers (Jn 4:23). There is very little entertainment, but what takes place is worship and praise to the God who is the creator of all things, the music may not be note perfect, but there is honesty, integrity and sincerity in the singing. This church is attempting to show people the love, justice, holiness, grace and character of God - no gimmicks.

In which place is God most glorified? How can we be radical together and not succumb to the American dream? That is the question that David Platt asks in this book. Platt's previous book Radical was a bestseller. This book takes shows the next step - it provides ideas and examples of how we can be radical together.

It is a challenging if not uncomfortable read. It will challenge you to consider how the radical impact of the gospel affects church life. Platt is refreshingly iconoclastic. Here he wants to consider what could happen if 'we apply the revolutionary claims and commands of Christ to our communities of faith'.

He has six key ideas:

1. The good things of church can become the enemy of the best - programmes, as good as they are, may not be the best thing for a church.
2. The gospel saves us from work so that we can work. We don't earn God's acceptance.
3. The Word does the work - the Bible is our guide and motivation. Living according to God's word will mean making big changes.
4. Building the right church depends on using the wrong people - God is interested in people. Dedication to church programs is not the same as 'devotion to kingdom purposes'. The issue is not performance in church, it is not professionalism but as he puts it 'Performance has nothing to do with it. People have everything to do with it'.
5. We are living and longing for the end of the world - by this he means that we need to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Mt 24:14 )
6. We are selfless followers of a self-centred God. All this is done not because God needs us - God is self-sufficient, he needs no ones help - but he wants to involve us because he loves us.

These he claims are radical claims. By following these we can be radical together. I was particularly pleased to see the emphasis on the self-sufficiency of God; otherwise the book can become yet another programme to follow, something more for us to do. But at essence what Platt is calling for is for each of us, for the churches, to seek what God call us to do and to do it - and that my be very different from what his church at Brook Hills, Alabama, or our prevailing culture call us to do.

He provides some concrete examples which his congregation in have followed. These include reducing church budgets so that more money can go to mission, lifestyles rearranged, downsizing, a large adoption programme in the church and reallocating resources.

One needn't agree with all that Platt is advocating, but it makes for an interesting read. It will challenge each one of us and each congregation to think what can we do to make sure that we are being sensitive to the right seeker. It is a message that the rugged individualism of evangelicalism needs to hear.

Resources to support he book are available here

Disclosure: WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group sent me this book for free for this review - the views expressed are my own.