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, 31 January 2014

Recent Kuyperania (January 2014)

Jan de Bruijn's Abraham Kuyper: A Pictorial Biography has still not yet been published. It looks like it will be released in February.

This was first announced in April 2013. Still, it should be worth the wait.
Glimpses inside the book are now available at Google Books here

James Bratt looks at The Twelve looks at what might be an appropriate image for Kuyper's model of Christian engagement. He concludes:
I don’t think we can capture Kuyper’s purpose or legacy in one image. We need to deploy the whole fleet and let people find the one appropriate to their occasion and circumstance. Kinda the way the Bible plays it, no? 

James Schaap has some reflections on reading Bratt's biography of Kuyper: here, here and here

Monday, 27 January 2014

Martyn Lloyd-Jones by John Brencher - a review

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)  and Twentieth Century Evangelicalism
Studies in Evangelical History and Thought
John Brencher
Paternoster: Milton Keynes, 2002
Pbk. xiv + 266pp  

Lloyd-Jones (DMLJ) has been credited with the revival of interest in Calvinistic theology in the UK during the twentieth-century. He has also been described as one of the greatest British preachers of the twentieth century. A number of biographies and studies of Lloyd-Jones have been published, notably those by Lloyd-Jones’s one-time assistant Iain Murray. This book by Brencher, a former President of the FIEC, began life as a PhD dissertation. In it he seeks to examine the significance of LLoyd-Jones in post- Second World War British evangelicalism. Brencher shows that DMLJ was a major force in evangelicalism and maintains that preaching was “Lloyd-Jones’s greatest contribution to twentieth-century evangelicalism”.

Brencher begins with a biographical chapter but then takes a thematic approach. He looks at his preaching, his leadership of Westminster Chapel, ecclesiology - or rather lack of it - and his approach to ecumenicalism. Brencher writes with respect for Lloyd-Jones but is not afraid to highlight weaknesses of the doctor’s position. 

Westminster Chapel was a great preaching centre, but it fells short of being a local church. Little emphasis was placed on baptism or the breaking of bread. It was very much a one man ministry: “it was an autocracy or at best a ‘begging dictatorship’” (78). Lloyd-Jones was sceptical about denominations. He was involved in the ecumenical scene but his approach was one of separation not inclusion. He had a particular distrust of Anglicanism and couldn’t understand why evangelicals such as John Stott and Jim Packer were committed to it. This was particularly apparent post-1966 after DMLJ’s call for evangelicals to come out of mixed denominations. His anti-Anglicanism Brencher suggests comes from DMLJ’s Welsh view of the English. 

Brencher provides us with a view of DMLJ that reveals him be be a flawed human being, but one who nevertheless God, in his grace and mercy, was able to use. As such it provides a helpful antidote to the other many hagiographic writing. Brencher concludes: DMLJ “was, without question, one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century."

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Affairs of the heart: The Sermon on the Mount 5:21-

My notes for this morning's talk. (Slides in previous post)

The Danish philosopher Soren Kirkegaard apparently loved to tell stories. Here’s one of them:

There once was a little town of Ducks. Each Sunday the ducks waddle out of their homes and waddle down the High Street to their church building. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and sings the opening psalm. Then the duck minister comes forward and reads from the duck Bible: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!” All the ducks shouted “Amen!” and all waddled home.

Jesus also loved to tell stories. Stories that were hard hitting. People would gladly gather to listen to Jesus to tell his stories – even gather on a mount to listen.

The Sermon on the Mount is packed with wisdom, insight, understanding and it packs no mean punch. It subverts the dominant worldviews. This is an upside down kingdom.

I’m a great believer in putting things in context. In fact there are three things that are crucial to understanding the meaning of any biblical passage: context, context and context.

The biblical, historical-cultural and today’s contexts. We can’t do all that this morning. But let’s quickly look at the first. Where does the SoM fit into Matthew’s Gospel? And where does the passage we are looking at now fit into the Sermon on the Mount?

Matthew is split into 5 main parts with an introduction and an ending.
Intro – the coming of the king
Conclusion – the crucifixion and resurrection – the fulfilment of the kingdom

The 5 main parts have a narrative section and close with a teaching section.

The first main block of teaching is 5-7 the Sermon on the Mount – the kingdom values
The second is ch 10 the sending out of the disciples with the kingdom message
Third ch 13 are the parables of the kingdom
Fourth ch 18  sermon of the community of the kingdom
Fifth 23-25 is the coming of the future kingdom

We’ve had the be-attitudes. It’s important to note that they are not called the do-attitudes! The sermon on the mount is about conduct and character. But Jesus starts straight away by laying the foundation it’s about character first. Out of character comes conduct.

Jesus then looks at our role in society as salt, light and a city. We are the light of the world, but we can only be the light if we are resting in Jesus who is the light.

He then looks at his relationship with the law. He comes not to do away with it but to fulfil it. Our conduct flowing out of our character, shaped by Jesus is us, should out do even the teachers of the law!

We then come to 5:21 onwards. Our section for today. Jesus pick us the theme of the law but gives it an important twist.

He uses the phrase You have heard it was said …. But I tell you …
He uses it six times about:

What Jesus was doing was not reinterpreting the law, he was deepening, not destroying, its demands

Jesus wants us to go deeper. It’s about character not just conduct.

This passage raises many important questions – which we can only gloss over here. (For those concerned about the issues of divorce, I wrote a paper for discussion here.)

Law looks at the surface act: murder and adultery, but Jesus takes it to its root.

The root of murder is anger.
The root of adultery is lust.

It’s all about the heart. What’s in our hearts overflows into our action.
Jesus gets to the heart of the matter and what matters is the heart.
It’s character not just conduct.

Anger obviously doesn’t lead to murder in every situation. But what Jesus says here is that it is liable to the same judgment –it’s the same to God.

Does this mean that anger is always sinful? Not necessarily. Jesus was angry. He didn’t sin.

Anger is a created part of human life. At times it can be the right response to sin.
Paul wrote Eph 4: “In your anger do not sin”. Implying that there was an anger that wasn’t sin.

Anger is part of the created structure.
We can take it in one of two directions: obediently or disobediently to God’s ways.

There is then a created structure to it which is good, but a direction in which we can take it. Anger can be good, but it can also be perverted and used wrongly.

We need to sanctify not suppress anger. One way to sanctify anger is reconciliation.

Jesus then goes on and focuses on reconciliation. Murder is the opposite of reconciliation.

Settle matters – get it sorted. Jesus is very serious about this. He gives two examples: the temple and the court.
For those who ha come to the temple it wasn’t a short waddle! They may have travelled for hours or even days to come. But Jesus says – leave your gift and go back home if you need to sort something out. Then do your worship.

Nothing says kingdom as reconciled relations.
Scot McKnight: “we must be intentional about reconciliation for it to become a pervasive lifestyle”
Lesslie Newbigin: "A gospel of reconciliation can only be communicated by a reconciled community" 

Will we waddle or will we fly?

Jesus then turns to adultery. But again he takes it deeper. He goes to the root of the issue.
The law is not enough – it begins with our hearts.

It’s all about the heart. What’s in our hearts overflows into our action.
Jesus gets to the heart of the matter and what matters is the heart.
It’s character not just conduct.

In the culture of the time it was the women who had to dress modestly, so as to prevent the males falling into lust. Jesus turns it around – he expects the men to control themselves.

Again Jesus shows how serious he is: cut out your eye or chop of your right hand if they cause you to sin. Some took this literally Origen of Alexandria chopped off his privates, Democritus blinded himself. In AD 325 the Council of Nicea had to forbid the practice.

Neither Origen nor Democritus found it solved the problem! The problem is the heart.

From adultery, Jesus moves on logically to the issue of divorce.
Scott McKnight has this important insight:

Divorce confuses the church today because marriage confuses. And marriage confuses the church today because love confuses. 

Gary Thomas wrote a book on marriage called Sacred Marriage. The subtitle of the book is a challenging question: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?

We have swallowed the lie that marriage is primarily for us to be happy. Love is not about romance, self-expression and sexual satisfaction. It is that but it involves so much more than that.

Love is about commitment, self-sacrifice, it’s an act of commitment not feeling it’s about discipleship. When we get married the commitment we make to each other is I will not I do. Do is how you feel in the present but I will includes the future; it’s making a commitment. When we get that right then lust, divorce and adultery will be much less of a problem in the church.

The Sermon on the Mount is about conduct and character. Our conduct comes from our character. Our character comes form hearing and obeying what Jesus has said. It is difficult and hard it is challenging – but we need to stay close to him. He’s the one who helps us fly.

Will we waddle or will we fly home today?

Affairs of the heart Mt 5:21 ff slides for talk

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The other Sermon on the Mount

Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain and gathering them around him, he taught them saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are they who mourn.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are they who thirst for justice.
Blessed are you who are persecuted.
Blessed are you when you suffer.
Be glad and rejoice for your reward in heaven is great.

Then Simon Peter said, Do we have to write this down?
And Andrew said, Do we have to turn it in?
And James said, Does spelling count?
And Phillip said, Will this be on the test?
And Bartholomew said, What if we don't know it?
And John said, The other disciples didn't have to learn this!
And Matthew said, When do we get out of here?
And Judas said, What does this have to do with real life?
And the other disciples likewise.

Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus' lesson plan and inquired of Jesus his terminal objective in the cognitive domain.

And Jesus wept.

Friday, 24 January 2014

The difference between charismatics and cessationists

The Diocese of Bath and Wells' twitter 'rules'

The Diocese of Bath and Wells have issued some helpful guidelines for its staff and clergy when tweeting:

  • Don't rush in 
  • Remember tweets are transient yet permanent
  • Be a good ambassador for the Church 
  • Don't hide behind anonymity
  • Be aware of public/private life boundaries
  • Maintain a professional distance 
  • Stay within the law 
  • Respect confidentiality 
  • Be mindful of your own security

Kirkegaard and the ducks - a parable

It is alleged that the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, told a story about ducks. I've not been able to find the original source. But it goes something like this:

There once was a little town of Ducks. Each Sunday the ducks waddle out of their homes and waddle down the High Street to their church building. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and sings the opening psalm. Then the duck minister comes forward and reads from the duck Bible: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!” All the ducks shouted “Amen!” They sing the closing psalm and all waddled home.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Jim Skillen's new book: The Good of Politics

The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction
by James W. Skillen has just been announced by Baker Books and is due out in March.

It promises to be on of the best books of 2014. The contents look mouth-wateringly good:


Part 1: The Biblical Drama
1. God's Kingdom Coming
2. The Revealing Image
3. Citizenship in the Kingdom
Part 2: Key Historical Developments
4. Constantine, Augustine, and the Fraught Future of "Christian"
5. From Augustine to the Splintering of Christendom
6. Nations, States, and Protestant Reformers
7. From the Reformation to Contemporary Engagement
Part 3: Engaging Politics Today
8. Viewpoint as Standpoint: Where Do We Begin?
9. Engagement for What Kind of Political Community?
10. Citizenship as Vocation
11. Family, Marriage, and Education
12. Economics and the Environment
13. Politics in One World

Muether's Van Til - a review

Cornelius Van Til
Reformed Apologist and Churchman
(American Reformed Biographies)
John R. Muether
Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008
Hbk, 288 pp, £16.99
ISBN 978-0875526652

Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) is seemingly something like marmite: either loved or hated. Or as Muether puts it: "…Van Til's readers could be divided into those who did not agree with him and those who did not understand him." (p 15) This excellent biography has certainly helped me to understand Van Til as a person a little more.

Van Til was the longest serving member of J Gresham Machen's then newly founded Westmister Seminary. He remained there teaching apologetics until his retirement in 1972. As a polemicist and controversialist he fought against modernism, arminianism, Barthianism, new evangelicalism, and Catholicism. He wasn't a populariser, and he regretted that he couldn't write as clearly and accessibly as Machen in Christianity and Liberalism. Nevertheless, John Frame described him as "perhaps the most important Christian thinker since Calvin.”

Van Til developed an apologetic method known as presuppositionalism. He maintained that
 "that unless God is back of everything you cannot find meaning in anything. I cannot even argue for belief in Him without already having taken Him for granted. And, similarly, I contend that you cannot argue against belief in Him unless you also first take Him for granted. Arguing about God's existence, I hold, is like arguing about air. You may affirm that air exists, and I that it does not, but as we debate the point we are both breathing air all the time. (In Why I Believe in God)
He attempted to forge a path between the views of Kuyper and Warfield. Francis Schaeffer was influenced by his approach though Van Til didn't fully approve of Schaeffer's adaptations; he thought that it wasn't consistent. For Van Til Calvinism was the most logical and consistent worldview. No other approach was consistent and he took it upon himself to point out where inconsistencies lay.

Muether posits that we can't understand Van Til's theological commitments without understanding his ecclesiology: "His apologetic was self-consciously ecclesiastical as much as theological" (p 15). Consequently, the biography focuses more on Van Til's ecclesiastical life than on other aspects of his long academic career. But this means that what it doesn't do in any depth is explain Van Til's more novel  ideas. But then perhaps that's going beyond what Muether aims to do. As Muether notes "To focus solely on Van Til's novelty fails to appreciate the many ways in which he tried to preserve tradition by standing on the shoulders of those who went before him."

For Van Til, and Kuyper before him, Calvinism alone does "full justice to the cultural mandates of Christ." The touchstone for Van Til was consistency. The problem with everyone else such as Schaeffer, Gordon Clark, Oliver Buswell and Barth et al was that they were not being, as Van Til saw it, consistent Calvinists.

Van Til comes over as someone who is zealous for truth and is keen to defend it at any cost. He seems to see things in black and white there are few greys. Perhaps because of this he was involved with a number of controversies. These are dealt with well in the book. Murther even suggests that the Clark-Van Til controversy should really be the Murray-Van Til controversy. His disagreements with Dooyeweerd are mentioned only briefly. The issue of common grace is dealt with somewhat more fully.

In the useful bibliographic essay that concludes the book Muether suggests books and papers that could provide more information on the novelties of Van Til. (Muether recommends Banshan's Van Til's Apologetic and Frame's Cornelius Van Til)

Muether writes with great respect and understanding for Van Til. He has drawn on a wide range of resources, including interviews with many of Van Til's  colleagues, family, and friends, as well as having access to many of Van Till's personal letters.

The book is a pleasure to read. It is well produced  - a rarity in these days of POD - and well written. It explains Van Til the man. It gave me a much better understanding of the motivations of Van Til and helped me to appreciate the man more. We can't ask more from a biography.

Series Preface 9

 Acknowledgments 11
 Introduction: Apologist and Churchman 15
 1. A Child of the Afscheiding 21
 2. “Fit Modesty and Unreserved Conviction” 41
 3. From Dutch Reformed to American Presbyterian 65
 4. Reformed or Evangelical? 91
 5. The New Machen against the New Modernism 119
 6. Through the Fires of Criticism 149
 7. Presbyterian Patriarch 179
 8. Steadfast, Unmovable, and Abounding 207
 Conclusion: Against the World, for the Church 229
 Notes 241
 Bibliographic Essay 265
 Index 279

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Dirk H. T. Vollenhoven Reformed Epistemology - new from Dordt College Press

Reformed Epistemology: The Relation of Logos and Ratio in the History of Western Epistemology
by Dirk H. T. Vollenhoven
Translation and introduction by Anthony Tol
Edited by John H. Kok

$ 14.00. 170 pages paperback
ISBN: 978-0-932914-98-9


Dirk H. T. Vollenhoven (1892–1978) was professor of philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam from 1926 to 1963 and one of the founders of Reformational philosophy.

As Anthony Tol explains in his general introduction to (his translation of) Vollenhoven’s 1926 inaugural address, the Reformed epistemology that Vollenhoven espouses here is essentially three-layered. Most basic is the intuition—the starting point of all knowing. It starts with discerning. Then there is knowledge. At this point language, communication, and judgments are relevant. The third layer is thought. Thought may disclose and renew or criticize and correct against the background of what we know. Thought is also central to concept formation. The factor that runs through these three layers is truth, taken realistically. It has its seat in the intuition of discerning. It is central to knowledge, for the essence of knowledge is said to be “possessing truth.” And in connection with thought, or more particularly in concept formation, the latter is described as “truth grasped in a form.”

Apart from advocating his own understanding of epistemology in this inaugural address, Vollenhoven takes issue with how epistemology is generally understood. The critique is cast in a historical overview. Vollenhoven is particularly critical of two features that were prominent during the first half of the 20th century, namely, scholasticism, which turns the religious presupposition of philosophy into an ontological feature of reality itself, and humanism, which interprets the responsibility that one has for one’s acts and dealings with one’s neighbor and the world as essentially derived from self-responsibility.
Vollenhoven ends his academic discussion with Husserl, who is portrayed as caught in a web of humanism (“creative Ego”; “idealism”) and a version of scholasticism. Vollenhoven counters this not only in the interest of “the free development of epistemology,” but also to forewarn Christian academics to withstand the temptations of synthesis with scholasticism and/or humanism, and to understand Christendom as calling for a different development, one that is informed and encouraged by different presuppositions.

Update: contents here

Calvin Seerveld Biblical Studies and Wisdom for Living - new from Dordt College Press

Biblical Studies and Wisdom for Living: Sundry writings and occasional lectures by Calvin G. Seerveld
John H. Kok, editor
Dordt College Press
ISBN 978-1-940567-05-1

In these 30-plus essays, talks, and articles, Seerveld opens Scripture in a variety of life contexts in which God’s people find themselves today. In both his professional studies and popular lectures Seerveld seeks to explicate, both devoutly and playfully, a biblical wisdom for daily living, convinced as he is that the Holy Spirit-given biblical writings bespeak God’s everlasting care and wisdom for us corporeal mortals. Just as Susanna Oppliger’s ceramic angel (on the cover) shelters the exhausted, scared Elijah (1998), waking him up to carry on the Lord’s appointed tasks, just so, suggests Seerveld, following Jesus Christ through this wonder-filled, troubled lifetime bodes strength and hope for the morrow.

Calvin Seerveld Normative Aesthetics - new from Dordt College Press

Normative Aesthetics: Sundry Writings and Occasional Lectures by Calvin G. Seerveld
John H. Kok, editor
Dordt College Press
ISBN 978-1-940567-00-6

Seerveld is convinced that philosophical aesthetics—systematic reflection on the nature and task of human imaginative life—will be normative when the thought is wholesome, edible, worth chewing, and builds the body of a community with joyful shalom. These 13 sundry writings and occasional lectures aim to spell out some of what this aesthetic imperative means for human imaginative acts, for the arts, and for the other acts and institutions where aesthetic functions play a role.

"We need either bigger needles or smaller camels"

HT Charles Strohmer via Thinknet
Original here

Friday, 3 January 2014

arXitecture - a christian approach to the built environment

I have recently come across a fascinating website that deals with the built environment from a Christian perspective:

The site is run by Leslie Barker "to promote an ethical approach (based on Christianity) to the study and practice of architecture, and to share the Good News of Christianity with other architects, especially those of Generation X onwards." He calls this the Great Commission for Architects:

The Great Commission for Architects has three components which interact in a circle which can be joined at any point.

GC is the Great Commission given by Jesus to all his followers Go and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
CM is the Cultural Mandate developed from God's command to Adam and Eve to tend the garden, to fill the earth and subdue it, making use of its resources in a sustainable way for the equal benefit of all mankind, across the world, for the present and into the future.
CCPD is Continuing Christian Professional Development which applies the teaching of the Bible to professional development, here specifically for architects and planners. It covers not only the process and product but also the people (whether architects or not, professionals or not) who contribute to the built environment.

Kuyper's Common Grace #CG1.1 Chapter 25

25 The Probationary Command

The issue of language discussed in the previous chapter is important as when Adam and Eve  were told “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” it must mean something to them. If they did not understand this prohibitory command then humans are not culpable.
Adam knew nothing theoretical about the animals, yet they were not unfamiliar to him through “life contact”. 
“Man had been created in God’s image, and thus in human measure and human form, God mirrored his own knowledge in man’s consciousness. Man knew nothing by way of study, and even less from within himself. Neither did nature as such teach him. All his knowledge in which he had been created was light from God that glowed in the mirror of his consciousness” (233).
Adam would have filed a biology assessment yet his “immediate awareness nevertheless functioned impeccably”. Kuyper thus rejects the idea that Adam’s moral self-awareness was only awakened through the eating of the tree. Sin did bring an opening of the eyes, but sin brought darkness not clarity of insight. 

 The probationary command was a “sovereign ordinance based on nothing but the sovereign determination of God’s will” (235). It stands outside of the moral world order and of the law of God, “the eating or not of the tree was such as morally indifferent”. What mattered was not the tree but “but only that God presses upon man his absolutely sovereign will and forbids him something by virtue of that sovereignty.” (235)
“[I]f Adam had continued entirely to follow the good for the sake of the good, because that good drew him and comported with the inner exhortation and sense of his heart, then he would have been a lover of virtue but of such a kind that he would have denied the God of his life in whose image he had been created. “ (236) 

The content of the command is in one sense irrelevant as Kuyper in his final sentence notes: “The more insignificant the matter, the more decisively and certainly it would be clear whether obedience was because of God’s will.” (238)

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Harry Van Belle Explorations in the History of Psychology from Dordt College Press

Harry A. Van Belle, emeritus professor of psychology at The Kings University College, has a new book published by Dordt College Press:

Explorations in the History of Psychology
Persisting Themata and Changing Paradigms

Van Belle traces the history of psychology from its roots in Greek philosophy and includes a description of the later influence of the Hebraic-Christian mindset on that history. Subsequently, he follows the journey of psychology through the Middle Ages and the scientific revolution of the sixteenth century. Next, he describes the birth and trajectory of psychology proper during the nineteenth century and closes with a description of a number of the more contemporary schools of psychological thought. The underlying thesis of the text is that the history of psychology gives evidence of both continuity and discontinuity in interaction with one another. Thus, to do justice to the actual history of psychology one must take note of both persisting themata and changing paradigms.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Kuyper's Common Grace #CG1.1 Chapter 23

23 The Basis for Further Development

Humanity was in Paradise In good relationship with God, with a “perfect flawlessness”. What hen about development? With development comes a choice: development in accordance with God;s will or against it: “a choice that would correspond to the requirement implicit in the position of image-bearer or that would go against being that image.” (212)
“Adam had to move forward. The state of simply being a product of creation could not continue. He had to move from that state to go on to that second state, which would be the product of creation together with a choice of will. Man himself working in God’s work and as his work. Or, if he chose against God, working against God’s work and therefore immediately locked in punishment and curse by the reaction of God’s sovereignty.” (213)
Original righteousness was the starting point, but only a starting point. There had to be development.

Kuyper then turns again to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He prefers to call this tree “the tree of conscience” (215).  The tree of life, the other named tree, is found in other places in the scriptures but the tree of conscience is not.

The two trees, Kuyper maintains, show a duality in humanity. The tree of conscience relates to our body and the tree of life to our soul. He rejects a trichotomous view as being “twaddle” and “simply absurd” (216); “the duality of our existence is understood as a necessary [doctrine]” (219)