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, 14 December 2017

December #Kuyperania

Wes Bredenhof has had two posts regarding Kuyper in the Reformed Perspective blog. Wes regularly blogs at Yinkahdinay.

One piece is a brief but helpful biography and the other is a look at good and the not so good of Kuyper's legacy. Not all would agree that common grace is one of the not so good aspects of Kuyper's work.

Kuyper’s legacy: for better and for worse

Abraham Kuyper: larger than life

A new translation of Kuyper's The Cross Versus the Tree of Liberty by Jan Boer is now available at CCEL. It was originally a lecture delivered at the opening of the tenth annual meeting of the
Anti-Revolutionary Party during the centennial of the French Revolution (1889.07)

The original Dutch text is available here.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Interview with Mike Wagenman

Mike Wagenman has recently published a book: The Power Of The Church: The Ecclesiology Of Abraham Kuyper. He has taken time to respond to some of my questions about the book and his research. Mike is also author of Together for the World: The Book of Acts 

Hi Mike, could you begin by saying something about your story? Who you are and what you do?
I was born and raised in a US Baptist megachurch. The pastor was Calvinistic in his preaching so I grew up understanding the sovereignty of God, the lordship of Christ, the authority of Scripture, sin and grace. But I wondered how it all fit together and how it made a public contribution beyond evangelism and personal piety. So when I stumbled across the Reformed tradition while in university I felt like I had come “home” theologically. That lead me to study at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and enter the pastoral ministry of the Christian Reformed Church. For the last 12 years, I have been the CRC chaplain at Western University in London Ontario Canada. I also teach New Testament courses at Redeemer University College and theology and religious studies courses at Western’s School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Who or what have been your main influences?
I got to know Craig Bartholomew while he was teaching at Redeemer, just over an hour drive from where I’m serving, and I found in Craig many of the same interests and influences as I have in my life. Theologically, I have been strongly influenced by Kuyper across the whole scope of my theological orientation. I am very interested in the Reformed-Roman Catholic interface so post-Vatican II scholars such as John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, Avery Dulles, and Karl Rahner figure strongly in my thinking. When it comes to my evangelical influences, people like Leith Anderson, John Stott, Rene Padilla, and Eugene Peterson come to mind. A number of Anglican scholars have influenced how my theological outlook interfaces with public life, like William Stringfellow and C. S. Lewis in particular. And there’s a heavy dose of Jacques Ellul in everything also.

How did you get introduced to a Kuyperian perspective?
While studying at Calvin Seminary I discerned that Abraham Kuyper and the Kuyperian tradition were either loved or hated (that’s overstating it but you get the picture). I sensed that there was a general national divide to this: Canadians more often embraced Kuyper than Americans who tended more toward the pietistic or evangelical wing of the Reformed tradition. This intrigued me and drew me to the primary sources to discover this man for myself. What I found in Kuyper was a Christian who didn’t want his faith locked up in the private enclave of the church but on full public display and fully engaged to make a constructive contribution to the social and cultural debates of the day. Of course, Kuyper was not a perfect person or Christian – something that I relate to because of my own struggles with Christian piety. But I deeply appreciated his unwillingness to cave into the privatization of Christian faith or the church as a cultural institution in the Modern era. I deeply resonated with Kuyper (as he resonated with the Apostle Paul) that Christ is Lord of all things, not just my “heart.”

You studied for your PhD in Bristol. That a long way for a Canadian to travel! How did that come about?
There are two separate answers I could give to this question. The first would be this: I had gotten to know Craig Bartholomew and one day over a hamburger together he suggested that my ministry questions needed rigorous academic study if I were to be satisfied with myself. And since Craig was adjunct faculty at Trinity College Bristol, the decision was made. I knew I wanted to study with Craig so I went where I had to in order for it to happen. And, it didn’t hurt that a close family friend of ours had studied for his PhD at Trinity College Bristol as well. Trinity was such a positive community to spend time with that it holds a dear place in my heart now.
But the other answer is more difficult. Being an American-Canadian, going to the UK to study offered me a certain distance from my setting from which to reflect on my own ministry experiences and theological questions. I have served for almost 15 years in the CRC and in that time I have come to know many fine Christians and many who want to bring the Kuyperian tradition to bear in captivating ways on our broken but beautiful world. But I have also experienced outright harassment and abuse at the hands of church leaders animated by destructive conceptions of power. So by going to the UK to study Kuyper’s thought on the power of the church, I was able to achieve a measure of healing and insight that I don’t think I would have found staying “at home.”

What were the highs and lows in studying for a PhD on Kuyper? What advice would you give to prospective PhD students?
Most PhD students or graduates would never say this but, for me, working on my PhD on Kuyper was one of the most healing and life-giving things in my life. It was an encouragement to identify and use my gifts. And as I mentioned above, it was the means God used to bring healing to me after a series of traumatic events. I know we all have different gifts and experiences but, for me, spending three years immersing myself in Kuyper and his world and thought was a great joy.
Of course, that doesn’t mean every step of the way was a walk in the sunshine. If you don’t know Dutch, like I didn’t (though I had studied German before, which was a help), you simply have to embrace that particular challenge. There were also the academic differences between the US and UK post-graduate educational systems. I was not prepared for the rigour of UK comprehensive exams or the focus on research and original thought or argument compared to the US where I had done all my previous education. And while I had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful scholars who were a great help to my work I also had to endure scholars whose personalities leave much to be desired. So in these ways, I was stretched.
The advice I would give to prospective PhD students would be threefold: 1) Make sure you know why you’re doing a PhD because there are all kinds of reasons, including pride. I worked on my PhD simply to pursue an academic topic I was interested in. I didn’t do it to get a job at a college, university, or seminary – which would have been silly in this job market. 2) Study with the right supervisor, not necessarily a “big name” at “the right” institution. I understand education to be about the formation of the person, not the credentialing of a consumer. Doing a PhD shapes you in profound ways so you need to study with someone who will shape you in the way you want to be shaped. I know many PhD graduates who are “misshapen.” 3) Once you’ve applied and been accepted, throw yourself into it with a sense of vocation. Working on a PhD dredges up a lot of unfinished personal work in the student and calls from the student things that the student will be convinced they don’t have. So in the midst of the fog that often descends, a student needs to be committed to seeing the project through as a way of serving Christ with all of who they are.

How did your recently published book, The Power of the Church, come about?
The publishing world is crazy today. Since finishing the project over two years ago now, many have asked me for a copy of the dissertation because it works on an area of Kuyper’s thought that hasn’t been explored before. But after pursuing a number of different publishers with the manuscript, and hearing back time and again that publishers needed to go with projects that would sell because of the celebrity status of the author or the easy answers of the book, I put mine on the shelf for a while. But the requests kept coming in. Thankfully today there are many avenues outside of the traditional mainstream publishing routes and I simply wanted to get it “out there” to respond to the requests. 
The published version of the manuscript is identical in almost every way to my dissertation except for the relocating of an appendix to a chapter in the overall progression of the argument. Because of a word limit for the dissertation, I had to put the historical chapter on power into an appendix (which wasn’t counted in the word limit). But in published form, I returned it to its place in the chapter sequence so that readers get both an overview of Kuyper’s ecclesiology and an overview on philosophical and theological reflections on power before diving into the more constructive part of the book.

Who should read it - and why?
Obviously, I think everyone should read it! 😊 But here’s my more serious reply. We live in a #MeToo age, where people are legitimately asking questions about the abuse of power in a variety of cultural institutions. We also live in an age where Christianity and the church are being ever-more culturally marginalised. Christians no longer live in a Christendom society where faith and church are obvious moral and civic forces. And, in addition, the media are reporting regularly on instances where even Christians or the church as an institution abuse people. It is into this nexus that this book enters because it seeks to ask a number of important questions: 1) What is the nature of the church as a civic institution (even in a post-Christendom era)? 2) What is the nature of power and particularly what is the unique cultural power that the church has? And 3) How can we stretch our traditional thinking about the church and power to respond to these important questions? These are all questions that Kuyper was pushed to reflect on to some degree and this book, I think, can contribute to important conversations about these topics in meaningful ways.

What do you think is the strength of Kuyper's ecclesiology?
In his day, Kuyper sought to navigate an ecclesiological pathway between two camps that still remain with us today to some degree. The one camp is “cultural Christianity” – a form of Christian faith and church life that seeks the romanticised past when the church was culturally central and Christian faith obvious, with a bunker-like mentality against the evils of the present until the past can be retrieved. The other camp is what I call “modernist Christianity” – a form of Christian faith that has been unhooked from its central theological convictions, immanentised, and accommodated to the “scientific” and “technological” promises of Modernity. Kuyper recognised that both camps made the church irrelevant. The cultural Christian approach removes the church from the public realm in an effort to retain the purity of faith. But the modernist Christian approach also contributes to the invisibility of the church in the public realm because it sees God working at our point in history through the scientific technologies of the State instead of the church. It’s so obvious but needs pointing out: We all instinctively know today in “the West” that our deepest hopes and dreams for the world will be achieved when the right political candidate/party is finally voted into government! Kuyper’s ecclesiology charted a way for the church to remain publicly engaged while at the same time retaining its orthodox confession of faith. In these ways, Kuyper is a precursor to many of the conversations happening these days about “principled pluralism” and can have an enormous impact in helping Christians enter the diverse public square with conviction measured with hospitality and humility.

And what are the weaknesses?
The weaknesses of Kuyper’s ecclesiology depend on what you think of its strengths. Many people find Kuyper’s ecclesiology strikingly absent of piety. Even Kuyper himself withdrew from public worship in church to attend to his other (more important?) public engagements. My Baptist friends are right to point out that while Kuyper’s ecclesiology has a lot to say about the church as a cultural institution what seems to be missing is the role of personal evangelism. It’s one thing for the church to offer its moral principles to society but at some point the church should be the place that equips people to invite others to place their ultimate loyalty in Jesus Christ. In these ways, Kuyper’s ecclesiology can come across as overly intellectualist or “top down.” Personally, I think much has been done to address these questions since Kuyper’s day but one can still observe the confessional or moral drift in many “Kuyperian institutions.” I think this just points to the work that still needs to be done to truly understand Kuyper and retrieve his thought for today.

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?
I have a book coming out in 2018 on Kuyper with Lexham Press. I think it will serve as an introduction of sorts to Kuyper and his life and thought, a companion to the large translation project that is bringing many of Kuyper’s works to fresh English translation. Basically, in the book, each chapter identifies an area of Kuyper’s cultural work and then teases out Kuyper’s thinking that animated him in each endeavour with some concluding thoughts about how this might all relate to us today. The challenge with a project like this is that each day seems to present a new challenge of how to apply Christian faith to our diverse world. But I hope that it will introduce Kuyper’s dynamic life and thought to a new generation and spark further reflection on what it means for Christ to be lord of all. I sit in many different churches and often hear the Gospel summarized as Jesus being Lord of “our hearts” – and I keep thinking, “What a demotion!” I hope this book will spark us to think more biblically about Christ’s comprehensive sovereignty and lordship as well as Christ’s call to go into “all the world” as his ambassadors.
In the long range, I have been sketching out a book on prayer and another on biblical hermeneutics. Both would be more popular level works that would seek to bring the most recent scholarship to the level of everyday Christian faith. This description I’ve jotted down sounds a little boring but I envision both of them being addressed to those for whom the “easy answers” of contemporary North American evangelicalism haven’t rung true to life. I’m also working on a chapter for a book on how Scripture can relate to the lives and academic pursuits of Christian students studying at the contemporary secular research university. How do you study, as a Christian, in a way that goes beyond just citing Bible verses for your argument (in a time when the Bible is anything but an authority on campus)?

What do you like to do for fun?
Besides the fun of journeying with students at university or engaging in my academic work, I enjoy being outdoors with my wife and our dog. Movies, concerts, and travelling to see our university-aged children takes up most of the rest of the time.

What music are you listening to at the moment?
My work and life continue to be sustained by some of my favourite artists like The National, The Hold Steady, Mumford & Sons, The Tragically Hip, Passenger, and U2. But some new artists who have found their way into my playlist are Kaleo, The Lumineers, Alana Yorke, Bobbi Bazini, Brett Dennen, Daughter, Iron and Wine, and Old Man Luedecke.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Perception of Reformational philosophy - an empirical study

My paper looking at a survey I conducted of Reformational scholars has now been published:

Bishop, S., 2017. ‘Perceptions of Reformational philosophy - an empirical study.‘ KOERS — Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, 82(1). Available at: KOERS.82.1.2281

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Andrew Basden's new book: The Foundations of Information Systems

A new book from Andrew Basden has just been published: The Foundations of Information Systems. Routledge, 2017.

Inline images 1

Table of Contents


1. Introduction
2. Philosophies
3. Dooyeweerd's Philosophy
4. Foundations, Research and Practice


5. The Nature of Information and Communication Technology
6. Understanding ICT Use
7. Understanding ICT Features
8. Understanding ICT and Society
9. Understanding ICT Development


10. Overview and Reflection
11. Contributions and Limitations
12. Opportunities and Recommendations

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Faith Formation in a Secular Age - a review

Faith Formation is a Secular Age
Responding to the Church's Obsession with Youthfulness (Ministry in a Secular Age) 
Andrew Root
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017
ISBN  978-0-8010-9846-8
240pp, pk, £13.99

How do we form faith in a secular age? Drawing upon the Catholic Canadian Charles Taylor’s insights, Andrew Root attempts to answer this question. Root challenges popular faith formation programmes - faith is more than assent to some variables of belief or going to church. 
What is refreshing that he exposes the idolatry of youth culture within the contemporary church - this is particularly telling as it comes from someone who is a Chair of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota! 
The first half of the book looks at where we have come from. How the search for authenticity and the rise of youthfulness has come about. He highlights a number of factors these include consumerism, the influence of Keynesian economics and Freudian theory seen in the ‘glorifying youthfulness as the pursuit of the id’s desires’. These have all contributed to a separation and segmentation between the youth and adults and a loss of transcendence which in turn have all contributed to MTD: moralistic (the need to be a good person), therapeutic (God is there to help me feel good about myself), deism (God as a concept but not as someone acting in the world). Consumerism post world-war arose from a response from fear; the fear of communism - the idea in the States was that they could consume their way to prosperity and thus keep the red devil of communism from the door. Fear is also prevalent in the contemporary church: we have a fear of being irrelevant, or, worse, being inauthentic. Buzzwords such as ‘the nones’, ‘spiritual not religious’, have all been coined to feed that fear. Post-war consumerism was connected with duty. As Root puts it: ‘Conformity to the mass society became the call to duty; keeping up with your neighbor’s buying became your national obligation.’ 
A clear indication that idolatries are at work is that the worst insult you could pay someone is to say they are inauthentic or that they have lost their youthfulness. The link between youthfulness and authenticity is ably examined by Root. As he suggests Bonhoeffer would say: ‘ you’ve become obsessed with the youthful spirit, and you actually imagine that youth will save the church. It is no wonder you feel like you’re struggling with faith and its formation; you’ve given your attention to the cultural benefits of an age group over concern for the working of the Holy Spirit who is the very giver of that which you seek’. 
Youthfulness, then, is a spirituality without transcendence or divine action (the deistic element of MTD), with an anthropology of self-pursuit (the therapeutic) and an ethic for individualism (the moralistic).
For me, the sociological analysis in the first part of the book was its strength. The second part is more theological. Here Root examines the nature of faith and faith formation. He rightly wants to avoid the notion of faith formation as being ‘doomed to serve the master of youthfulness’. In this part he draws upon the three notions of secular that Taylor has developed secular 1,2,3). For example:
Where Secular 1 sees transcendence in different planes of existence and Secular 2 relegates transcendence to a spatial division between the religious and the a-religious, Secular 3 ultimately finds transcendence and divine action unbelievable.
Root develops the idea of faith and faith formation as embracing the negation and wants to connect it with divine action while avoiding hyper-pragmatism. To do this he draws upon case studies in the apostle Paul and, less predictably, Phineas, the grandson of Aaron (Num 25). He develops a refreshing Christocentric rather than an anthropocentric view of faith formation. It is a negation of self, but an embracing of unity with Christ; being ‘in Christ’. This with the help of Philippians 2 he sees faith formation as taking the form of a ‘kenotic chorus “although [x] not [y] but [z]” to structure your life, calling you to be a minister in the world’. I wasn’t fully clear how this kenotic thesis could form faith formation. But this book is the first volume of what promises to be a trilogy. I look forward to reading how these ideas can be developed.


Introduction: Bonhoeffer Thinks We're Drunk
Part 1: A History of the Age of Authenticity: The Challenge of Forming Faith
1. The Boring Church and the Pursuit of Authenticity
2. The History of Youthfulness
3. The Perceived Scam of the Mass Society
4. The Rise of the Hippie and the Obsession with Youthfulness
5. The Rise of Hip
6. Churches Filled with Bobos--the Beasts of Authenticity
Part 2: A Secular Age Meets Paul, and the Youthful Spirit Meets the Spirit of Ministry
7. Faith and Its Formation in a Secular Age
8. What Is Faith?
9. From Membership to a Mystical Union
10. The Music of Formation
11. Is God a Favor Bestower or Gift Giver?
Conclusion: Practical Steps to Consider as the Household of Ministry


Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Power Of The Church: The Ecclesiology Of Abraham Kuyper by Michael R. Wagenman

Mike Wagenman's brilliant 2014 PhD Thesis (Bristol University and Trinity College, supervised by Craig Bartholmew) has now been published as:

The Power Of The Church: The Ecclesiology Of Abraham Kuyper 
by Michael R. Wagenman.

Mike is the Christian Reformed campus minister at Western and a member of the faculty of Western's School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

The contents will give a flavour of the treats in store:

CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION ‐ The Disappearance of the Church, Power, and Abraham Kuyper
CHAPTER 2 ‐ Disappearing No Longer: The Ecclesiology of Abraham Kuyper
CHAPTER 3 ‐ Sovereignty, Authority, and Power: Abraham Kuyper's Worldview
CHAPTER 4 ‐ The Ecclesial Sphere and Kerygmatic Power
CHAPTER 5 ‐ The Nature of Ecclesial Power: A Theological Interpretation of Acts 10
CHAPTER 6 ‐ The Sacramental Nature of Ecclesial Power: Abraham Kuyper's Ecclesiology and Vatican Council II
Chapter 7 ‐ CONCLUSION

Appendix 1 ‐ A Chronology of Abraham Kuyper
Appendix 2 ‐ A Linguistic Study of δύναμις in the Greek New Testament
Appendix 3 ‐ The Church in the Reformed Confessions.


It is available here.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Alleen God kan ons nog redden. Biography of Egbert Schuurman

Last month saw the launch of a biography of Egbert Schuurman, written by the Catholic historian Remco  van Mulligan.

The event was staged in the meeting hall of the First Chamber of the Dutch parliament, where Schuurman worked as a senator for several decades.
The book is entitled Alleen God kan ons nog redden. Egbert Schuurman: tegendraads christen in een seculier land [Only God can still save us. Egbert Schuurman: A dissenting Christian in a  secular country]. Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 2017. Pp. 432. 15 photographs.

The main title is a play on a famous quote from Heidegger: "Only a god can save us."

Schuurman taught reformational philosophy at the Technical University of Delft and the Agricultural University of Wageningen.
He sat in the First Chamber for the Christian Union party, 1983-2011.

Some themes: reformational philosophy; conduct of air bubbles in clay and water [yes, Schuurman was a graduate (cum laude) in civil engineering); enslaved to technology; neither creationist nor evolutionist; the good and the bad about computers and robots; the cultural mandate; euthanasia and palliative care; our duty toward animals; Islam's appreciation of the good creation; crisis in agriculture; genetic manipulation; adopted children and their biological parents; the world as a garden.

There is a complete bibliography on pp. 401-414.

A well-written account of a fascinating career. Five stars.
Tolle lege!
Harry Van Dyke

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Still Christian - a review

Still Christian
Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism
David P. Gushee
Westminster John Knox Press
ISBN 9780664263379
Pbk, 176pp, £10.99

This is a bold, honest and fascinating book. Gushee was perhaps best known initially for his Kingdom Ethics book written with one of his mentors Glenn Stassen - he then changed his mind regarding the Christian approach to homosexuality and became infamous. As a result of his change of mind, IVP refused to reprint Kingdom Ethics, so Eerdmans took up the option.
Still Christian is the inside story of one person’s move from Catholicism to fundamentalism to neo-evangelicalism, to his present position 'out of American evangelicalksim'. As Gushee puts it: 

‘So this book will resolve my inner conflicts, profile some fascinating people, dish some really interesting dirt, explain the culture wars—and talk about what God might have to do with any of this.’

But not for one moment did he stop believing in the risen Christ - hence the title of this book Still Christian. He writes: 
‘I still believe in Jesus. Indeed, I believe in him more than ever. I need him more than ever. Some days the only thing I have left of my Christianity is Jesus. And that’s okay.’
Whatever you think of Gushee’s present views this book provides a fascinating insider account of some recent trends in evangelicalism; obviously, he is only presenting one side, but in many ways, that is what makes this book such a great read. His view of evangelicalism may be slightly warped but it has more than a smidgin of truth:

‘But hard experience over several decades leads me now to conclude that evangelicalism was in one sense a rebranding effort on the part of a cadre of smart fundamentalists around 1945.’

‘My analysis is that if evangelicals are best identified as essentially a massively successful rebranding effort of old-school fundamentalism, the starting point from which the modern evangelical community emerged was obscurantist and provincial, routinely anti-intellectual, antiscience, and antimodern. It has only been seventy years since evangelicalism emerged from this musty closet, and it sometimes shows.’

Gushee is honest with his struggles and this is one of the things that makes this book so interesting. It is certainly worth reading. I for one am glad to have read it - even though I wouldn’t agree with everything that Gushee holds; not least his view of Calvinism: ‘This is my best chance to say that I believe the resurgence of a doctrinaire Calvinism in contemporary evangelicalism is among the most odious developments of the last generation.’ 
It is a bold book and hopefully, evangelicals will read it and take time to reflect on his criticisms.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

#Kuyperania Sept 2017

There have been two fascinating articles on Kuyper recently - both well worth checking out:

Joustra, R. 2017. Abraham Kuyper among the Nations. Politics and Religion, 1-23. doi:10.1017/S1755048317000554

van Vliet, J. 2017. Islam According to Journalist Abraham Kuyper. Pro Rege, 46(1): 12 - 25. 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Interview with Robert Sweetman (part 2)

This is the second part of an interview with Robert Sweetman. part 1 is here. His recent book, published by Wipf and Stock, is Tracing the Lines: Spiritual Exercise and the Gesture of Christian Scholarship  (details available here) ISBN9781498296816.

In Tracing the Lines, you identify three main approaches to Christian scholarship: complementarist, integrationist and holistic approaches. Could you briefly describe the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches?
In the book I identify two distinct sets of questions around Christian scholarship in discussions that seek to give an account of it. The first question addresses itself to the integrity of Christian scholarship. The answers given to it try to account for that integrity, i.e. the integrity of Christian faith and the scholarship produced by persons of Christian faith. I identify three generic accounts and illustrate them using prominent representatives of each account. So complementarist accounts of Christian integrality use a teleological understanding of the order at play between the various disciplines of the academy and the forms of understanding they afford the scholar. Theology and its faith-driven understanding stands in a position of finality with respect to all other disciplines and their “natural” horizon of understanding. Hence theology acts as the hidden director of all the other disciplines, their hidden ground of unity as ends or final causes are first in the order of causation, always already presupposed and formative in the elaboration of the other academic forms of understanding inasmuch as the other forms exist as it were in virtue of theological or faith-driven understanding. The strength of the tradition is its trust in the sturdiness of the creation. Not even sin and unbelief can deflect the human capacity to explore, understand and delight in God's good creation for God made his world capable of withstanding the most terrible wounding that God foresaw from before the very beginning. There is something wonderful and admirable in such trust. However, in our present environment when the position of theology is no longer acknowledged and the other disciplines have increasingly reconstructed themselves as naturalizing in ethos and horizon, the academy has come to divide into two in such a way that faith-driven and directed scholarship is restricted to the suspect margins wherein theology increasingly finds itself.

Integrationist accounts of Christian integrity allow that faith can operate in any and all disciplines, not just in theology. Faith can operate in any discipline but it needn't. The Christian scholar will want to bring her faith into her scholarship because she understands herself to be a unity. Moreover she knows that faith can add value to her scholarship when it operates properly. The advantage of this position is that it acknowledges the fragmentation of the old medieval and renaissance academy in the context of the emergence of ever more naturalizing assumptions about academic methods and claims in ever more disciplines. It has an eye for the presence of spiritual struggle within the contemporary academy and its dramatic complexification since the end of the nineteenth century. One cannot expect theologians to have the expertise to direct the course of Christian scholarly work across the disciplines. Christians must trust Christians in the disciplines to figure out what it means to bring their faith into the disciplines in an authentic scholarly way, i.e. properly. The criterion by which one confirms that faith is operating properly is that the scholarship produced receives general scholarly approbation while also being of a piece with their life of faith.  The weakness is the limit unconsciously placed on the possibility of spiritual struggle in the disciplines by the appeal to general approbation as a guide to scholarly authenticity.  In a generally secularized academic culture, general approbation will tend to be secularizing

Holist accounts deepen the sensitivity to spiritual struggle of the integrationist tradition but denying that religious identity and the faith it gives expression to can ever be held distinct from scholarly work. The question is never whether a given scholarly formation or result is suffused with religious dynamics but rather which? Christian scholarship is then scholarship suffused by the religious dynamics of Christ following. Its strength is its radicality. Since it does not recognize such a thing as secular scholarship that is religiously neutral it becomes deeply sensitive to the presence of spiritual struggle in places that integrationist and complementarist theorists do not. This is a gift to the community of Christian scholars as a whole.  Its weakness has to do with a tendency to become isolated from other types of scholars.  It tends to develop a heavily accented scholarly discourse that makes it hard for others to hear and understand its contribution to scholarly discussion and that makes it hard for holists to hear the insight into God's world that others contribute because that insight is articulated in vocabulary that triggers religious suspicions.

You mention Dooyeweerd as one who exemplifies a holistic approach. Why do you think his philosophy is not as widely known as it should be?
Partly I think it was a matter of style. He came into his own in a university context in which one's work was properly, deeply critical. One's appreciation of a thinker was manifest in the fact that one took that thinker up for discussion at all, but the texture and tenor of one's discussion was overwhelmingly negative and critical. If one thinks of the Prolegomena to the New Critique of Theoretical Thought Dooyeweerd's debt to Kant is crucial. Transcendental questions mark the proper starting point of philosophy as a theoretical practice. But one knows this only by Dooyeweerd's constant return to Kant and his way of accounting for theoretical thought. The discursive tone is overwhelmingly negative. That way of operating while widespread in the 1930s does him no favours in more irenic ages.

In the second place, the way in which the antithesis operated in his discourse made him equally critical of fellow Christians who did not see what he saw. On his own terms, he was quite ecumenical. His interactions with transcendental Thomists, for example, inspired him to speak of Christian philosophy in contradistinction to the older moniker: Calvinistic philosophy. But that does not come through so easily as I have experienced over and over when teaching an introduction to Reformational philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies. My students have often been put off and I have to do a lot of damage control in order to create space for him to be read with the empathy necessary to see what he was driving at.

And lastly, my guess is that holistic stances just because they are radical seem improbable to many. We are mostly closet “Aristotelians” more comfortable locating ourselves somewhere between positions we identify as extreme. Radicality can so easily be interpreted as extreme. I think in this context of Aquinas's discussion of what he called natural and supernatural virtue. When discussing courage or temperance or prudence for example he was all about finding the golden mean between excess and lack. But, when discussing theological virtues and especially charity or agape which he called the form of the virtues he admitted it wasn't a mean at all but indeed very like an extreme (although he also tried hard to identify a sense in which it could also be thought of as a mean). It seems to me that here too we see a Christian thinker bumping up in his way against the reality that what penetrates to the root, what is radical, is not well understood as a mean between extremes, but neither is it well understood as an extreme. Perhaps we could say that what is radical just doesn't fit on that particular map at all. And that radicality calls out to us. It calls for energy and imagination; for there are no cheats from the old discussion you can trust, and that demand, never-ending and insistent puts people off too. How exhausting; what a break on forward movement.

Do you have any advice for Christians starting out to explore what Christian scholarship might look like?
Yes, I put it in my book. Identify what in Christian faith and being it is that moves you at the deepest level and make that your anchor. It will not exhaust Christian identity by any means but you don't have to be able to contribute to or stand in judgment of Christian scholarship as a whole. You make your contribution in terms of what you see and are moved by and you count on others to do the same. It is together in mutual learning and correction that the whole community of scholars sings its theoretical praises to our shared Lord. Be prepared to give an account of what lives in your heart as it operates in your scholarship as indeed in life as a whole. Be prepared to take correction for since none of us have the all of Christian faith we can expect that others will see things we can't. Mutual witness in our scholarship and mutual correction—that is how we together build something greater than the sum of its parts.

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?
I am trying to finish off a monograph on Thomas Aquinas on science and religion when he speaks about them as virtues moving us toward flourishing living. It is an attempt to use a monument of the Western Christian tradition to try and contribute to changing the modern discussion around science and religion. I've also an article on reading ancient and medieval philosophy after Vollenhoven that I need to get off to a journal.

What do you like to do for fun?
I like to read novels, cook South Asian and East Asian dishes, yak with friends over a decent bottle of wine, praise obnoxiously the doings of my first grandchild born this past July. Oh, and dodge all the impatient drivers on Toronto streets as I pedal my way to and from work. Never a dull moment there although I am so slow that it probably looks dull from the outside so to speak.

If you were stranded on a desert island what two luxury items would you take with you?

A Kindle reader with a really big capacity (with a whole library downloaded) and a big BBQ (a mini-crematorium really) with a sufficient supply of propane.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Zombie Gospel- a review

The Zombie Gospel
The Walking Dead and What It Means to Be Human
 Danielle J Strickland
Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press
112 pages; pbk; £10.05
ISBN  978-0830843893

I have a confession to make: I am a fan of the Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. After a tentative start watching the first season, I gave up at the beginning of the second. But I came back to it, and from then on I was hooked. There are so many layers to it. It raises many philosophical, theological and sociological issues.  So, I was delighted to find this book that deals with The Walking Dead and the gospel. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

There is so much depth to The Walking Dead. It raises deep questions such as:

  • What is the purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation? 
  • What is the right use of power?
  • What happens when power is abused? 
  • What is the role of revenge?
  • Is there a place for force and violence? 
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • Are zombies human? Are we more than the physical form?
  • Can zombies exist?
  • What is the role of crime and punishment in a (seemingly) lawless society?
  • Can there be a lawless society and still be society?
  • What is family? Is it more than blood and kinship?
  • What is the role of religious belief?
  • Is there a role for the church?

Sadly, this book only scrapes the surface. Scenes from The Walking Dead are used only as a springboard to develop a moral or theological parallel, with some personal anecdotes added. Sadly, there is no attempt to get beyond the surface. That is not to say there are not some good points in the book (not least the cover design!), only that it is a missed opportunity to explore deeper the meanings in and behind the TV series. Rob Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson’s How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World is a better example of what is a Christian ‘take’ on The Walking Dead.

For someone who likes The Walking Dead and has an interest in finding out something about the Christian faith then this might be the book to get for them. However, there are so many spoilers in the book — so make sure they have seen at least the first five seasons before you give it to them, or they may not thank you!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Interview with Robert Sweetman (part 1)

This is the first part of an interview with Robert Sweetman. Robert's latest book Tracing the Lines: Spiritual Exercise and the Gesture of Christian Scholarship (ISBN 9781498296816) is well worth checking out. Full details are available here. In this interview he discusses some aspects of his work and the book.

Thanks for doing this interview Bob. Could you start by telling us something about yourself and what you do?
I teach the historiography and history of philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Canada. I have been at it since 1991-1992. I was not trained as a philosopher in the disciplinary sense. Rather, I was trained as an interdisciplinary medievalist at the Centre for Medieval Studies of the University of Toronto (PhD 1989) and the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies (Toronto—Licentiate 1984). I was interested in the mutual impact of schooled categorizations of the world on ordinary lived experience and of ordinary lived experience on the development of schooled categorizations of the world. I used university educated mendicant preachers as my “meeting point” and that meant attending to the philosophical dimensions of their theological work on the one hand, and their “accommodations” to the expectations of their hearers (and penitents in the confessional), on the other. So lots of Aristotle commentaries and Lombard commentaries but also guides to confessors, sermon collections, story collections, saint's lives and so on. I wandered in and out of philosophy, theology, and the history of religious mentalité, until I could not longer say with any certainty what side of what disciplinary boundary I was on. Of course, I did all this as a person already exposed to the Reformational tradition via undergraduate courses with H. Evan Runner at Calvin College where I did my undergraduate study and with Albert Wolters, Thomas McIntire, and Sander Griffioen at the Institute for Christian Studies. Reformational problematics around medieval Christian thought and the plurality of ancient wisdoms it appropriated were constant subtexts in my thinking. They were problematics to use to open up the spiritual depth dynamics of medieval texts but also to criticize in light of the unwillingness of those texts to conform to Reformational expectations. I have done my share of appropriation and criticism in the course of my 26 years as Senior Member at the Institute for Christian Studies.

Who or what are your main influences?
I have invested heavily in understanding quite a number of medieval and ancient thinkers. It seems impossible not to have had them work their way into my thinking and speaking. The influence of Aquinas, Augustine, Bonaventure, Eckhart and a variety of mystical figures both men and women could probably be documented chapter and verse. I think I have learned a lot from Julian of Norwich's Showings to give one example. Augustine who anchors the genealogy of all traditions within Western Christianity has also bequeathed many striking turns of phrase. The extension of kenosis by analogy into social and political theology by Aquinas, Bonaventure and other mendicants has come to stay with me as has the struggle to live and speak in the presence of Mystery I have witnessed in Eckhart's sermonic paradoxes, or in the lush eroticism of Bernard of Clairvaux's Discourses on the Song of Songs. But when it comes to Reformational thought I have been most influenced by Vollenhoven as a reader of the history of philosophy. And I have been a happy colleague of first generation ICS Senior Members. I have learned immeasurably from Hendrik Hart, James Olthuis, Calvin Seerveld, George Vandervelde and my two predecessors in the History of Philosophy Albert Wolters and William Rowe. They taught me I think how to take all the historical erudition I had acquired from my first-rate graduate training and use it in service of the Reformational project of Christian philosophy.

Your new book Tracing the Lines has just been published. What are the main aims of the book? What prompted you to write it?
Around the beginning of the new millennium, ICS's Senior Member body began a project of thinking about their attachment to the Reformational tradition and its founding texts and concepts so as to reflect again on what it meant to work within a notion of philosophy as a traditioned practice of thought. In that context some remarks were made about George Marsden's then newly appeared volume The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. I wondered about those remarks; had they been fair? So I bought the book and wrote a 6 page review and presented it to my colleagues. We had a good discussion, I went back and rewrote it and ended up sending to George with an invitation to respond to it and have the exchange published in Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought. Then an association of Reformed colleges in North America now called the Association of Reformed Colleges and Universities put together a lectureship to help stimulate discussion on member campuses about the character of Christian scholarship. I used my Marsden discussion (much improved by his criticisms) in response to make a proposal to serve as one of these lecturers. The 6-page book review had by then become three lectures covering about 40 pages of text. John Kok of Dordt College encouraged me to put them into a publishable form. So I began to work at that in 2005-06. I also began to broaden the intended audience from a largely Reformed audience to one that included other kinds of evangelical Protestants and included Catholic thinkers as well, an audience that included students of the STEM disciplines as well as those at work in the Humanities, and one that invited into the conversation scholars working in public and other secular university contexts as well as those like me at work in faith-based institutions. I finally finished the book in 2014 and it appeared two years later in the late summer of 2016 thanks to the support of colleagues Ron Kuipers and Allyson Carr and the good people at Wipf and Stock.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Dooyeweerd by Marcel now in French

Pierre Marcel's two volume books on Dooyeweerd are now available in French from here.
They are edited by Colin Wright.

The English versions - translated and edited by Colin have been available for a while and can be obtained here.

Ebook versions of the English translation are also available from here.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Kuyper family tree (c) Peter Kuyper

This is part  of the Kuyper family tree courtesy of and copyright of Peter Kuyper, Abraham Kuyper's grandson:

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Johanna and Henriette Kuyper: Daring to Change their World - a review

Johanna and Henriette Kuyper: Daring to Change their World
Abigail Van Der Velde
Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
ISBN 9781629952765
Pbk, 268pp, £7.99

This book is different from the books I usually read and review. It is a novelisation cum biography of two female Kuypers: Johanna (Abraham’s wife) and their daughter Henrietta. It is facts plus imagination. Unfortunately, it is more imagination that fact. It is aimed at female teenage and is part of a series published by Presbyterian & Reformed entitled Chosen Daughters.

The book is split into three parts. The first dealing with the childhood of Johanna, the second with ‘Jo and Bram’ and the third ‘Harry’. It provides an interesting insight into the patriarchal culture of the time and gives a good feel for what life might be like in the Kuyper household.

The main aim of the book appears to be to help the readers be true to themselves and true to what God intended them to be - just as Jo and Harry did. For example:
‘Above all, honor the Lord and be true to your heart’. (114)
‘When I surrendered to the Lord, I didn’t lose myself; I gained the true me’. (188)
‘The Lord gave each of you a unique personality. He wants you to honor him and be true to yourself.’ (269)
The historical aspects are then given second place to moral examples for the readers to follow. This becomes particularly clear in the ‘Go deeper’ section at the end of the book where questions such as: ‘What in Jo’s story could help you to be friends with that girl [ie someone who doesn’t have a Christian faith]?’ and ‘At her sewing class, she saw a girl being mistreated. How did Jo stop the bullying and help the girl to feel welcome in the class? How can you help if you see a girl being bullied?’

The book has some appropriate photographs, a recipe for Dutch apple pie and details of how to make a textile book cover. There are a useful timeline and a two-page list of bibliographical resources, which includes Bratt’s 2013 biography of Kuyper and Heslam’s 1998 book based on his PhD of Kuyper’s Stone Lectures - both of which would be challenging reads for teenagers.

I hope this book will provide a catalyst for more research into Harry Kuyper, in particular, as there is so much more to learn from her than is suggested in this book. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

New book by Bennie van der Walt

Thomas Aquinas and the Neo-Thomist Tradition: A Christian Philosophical Assessment
Potchefstroom: ICCA, 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-86822-685-6

Preface i
Introduction   iv
Chapter 1
The religious direction of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas 1
Chapter 2
The idea of law as a key to the philosophy of the Catholic 'Doctor Communis’ 24
Chapter 3
An analysis of the ontology of the 'Summa Contra Gentiles"
(1261-1264) 44
Chapter 4
The Thomist anthropology and epistemology 66
Chapter 5
Divine providence in the philosophy of the ’Doctor Angelicus'.... 90
Chapter 6
Christianising Hellenism implies the Hellenisation of the Christian faith 128
Chapter 7
Seven centuries of Neo-Thomist thinking after Aquinas 159
Chapter 8
A problem-historical analysis of Neo-Thomist scholarship 176
Bibliographies of Chapter 1-8 198
Acknowledgments 229
Appendix: engravings illustrating the life of Aquinas

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Kuyper and Korea: more #Kuyperania

A new book dealing with the implications of Kuyper's sphere sovereignty for the Korean Presbyterian Church has recently been published:

Jeom Ok Kim, Luther. 2017. A. Kuyper’s View of Sphere Sovereignty and the Korean Church: For its Preparation of the Post-Secular Society. Atlanta, GA: Covenant Innovation Pub.

The following is my mindmap summary of the main points:

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Recent #Kuyperania

There have been a number of fascinating pieces on Kuyper recently. These include:

Henderson, Roger (2017) "Rumors of Glory: Abraham Kuyper's Neo-Calvinist Theory of Art," Pro Rege Vol. 45(4): 1-9.  Available at:

Henderson provides a fascinating analysis of Kuyper's attitude to art.

The Journal of Reformed Theology 11(1-2) has a series of articles looking at neo-Calvinism and race, edited by George Harinck. The papers were all delivered at the Kuyper Conference of the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2015.

Eglinton, J. 2017. ’Varia Americana and race: Kuyper as antagonist and protagonist. Journal of Reformed Theology, 11(1-2):65-80.
Liou, J. 2017. ‘Taking Up #blacklivesmatter: A Neo-Kuyperian Engagement with Critical Race Theory. Journal of Reformed Theology, 11(1-2):99-120.
Joustra, 2017. ‘An Embodied Imago Dei’ Journal of Reformed Theology, 11(1-2):9-23
Harinck, G. 2017a. ‘Introduction’, Journal of Reformed Theology, 11(1-2):1-7
Harinck, G. 2017b.”Wipe Out Lines of Division (Not Distinctions)” Bennie Keet, Neo-Calvinism and the Struggle Against Apartheid’, Journal of Reformed Theology, 11(1-2):81-98
de Brujine, A. 2017. ‘Abraham Kuyper’s Surprising Love of the Jews’, Journal of Reformed Theology, 11(1-2):24-46.
Van der Jagt, H. 2017. ‘Coffee-Colorer Calvinists: Neo-Calvinist Perspectives on Race in the Dutch Colonial Empire’, Journal of Reformed Theology, 11(1-2):47-64.
Turner, J. T. 2017. ‘On two reasons Christian theologians should reject the intermediate site’ Journal of Reformed Theology, 11(1-2):121-139.

Also recently published is a novelisation biography of Kuyper's wife (Johanna) and daughter (Henriette):
Van der Velde, A. 2017. Johanna and Henriette Kuyper: Daring to Change their World. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
The book is a mixture of fact and imagination. With more emphasis on the imagination; partly, because of the lack of sources available.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Craig Bartholomew's Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition

Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition
A Systematic Introduction
Craig G. Bartholomew
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic
ISBN 978-0-8308-5158-4
Hbk; xiii + 363pp; £31.00

There has never been a better time for an anglophone to study Abraham Kuyper. We have the Kuyper Translation Society’s work published by Lexham Press, and now Bartholomew’s guide to all things Kuyperian. In this book, Bartholomew presents an excellent introduction to Kuyper’s ideas and his legacy.

Bartholomew is right when he suggests that Christians need ‘to develop an integrally biblical Christian worldview and to live creatively and thus plausibly from this perspective …’ (9). There is no better place to begin this development than by looking at the resources Kuyper has to offer, and no better place to begin to find out those Kuyperian resources than in this book.

In Chapter 1 Bartholomew presents a brief biography of Kuyper - and suggests that the notion of palingenesis — the new birth—is key to Kuyper’s work. In chapter 2 he looks at the crucial issue of creation and redemption. Too often evangelicals have emphasised redemption at the expense of creation — not so Kuyper. As Bartholomew notes: ‘For Kuyper, we should not make the mistake of thinking that God preserves his creation only in order to make possible the salvation of the elect’ (37). Salvation is not unconnected to creation and grace is not external to nature. Kuyper’s holistic view, as Bartholomew stresses, ‘stems not only from Christ’s work but also from [Christ’s] identity’ (41). This chapter also has an excellent summary of the way in which nature and grace have been expressed, with a justification of the way in which Kuyper and Bavinck see it, as grace restoring nature. Bartholomew supports the view that this is a biblical approach by examining both covenant and kingdom.

The issue of the scriptures, how we read and interpret them is often very divisive. Chapter 3 looks at the Kuyperian approach to Scripture. Kuyper was not a fundamentalist and he, like Bavinck, makes a distinction between Scripture and the Word of God — though they both hold to Scripture ‘as being God’s infallible word’ (96). Kuyper’s approach is  best described as belonging to the redemptive-historical school. Bartholomew closes this chapter with an important warning that we do not loosen ‘our hold on Scripture as God’s infallible Word’ (99).

Chapter 4 focuses on the important issue of worldview. This is an important Kuyperian concept appropriated and popularised by Kuyper in his Lectures on Calvinism. It is also probably the most misinterpreted aspect of Kuyper. There has been a tendency to intellectualise the concept and to equate it with philosophy. Bartholomew identifies five shadow sides to the notion of worldview: it intellectualises the gospel; it universalises the gospel; it relativises the gospel; it becomes disconnected from Scripture; and it can entrench middle-class values and lead to an unhealthy messianic activism (118-123). Even so, Bartholomew is right, it is a ‘rich and useful’ term. 

Another broad theme that Kuyper developed and was central to his social and political philosophy was sphere sovereignty - this is the topic of Chapter 5. Sphere sovereignty was developed by Kuyper from hints of the idea in Groen van Prinsterer, F.J. Stahl and Althuis.  Although its formulation was unique to Kuyper. It was central to Kuyper’s view of the State, education and the church. It  was also central to the pillarisation (verzuiling) of society in the Netherlands. It was also misused by some to justify apartheid in South Africa - a point well dealt with in this book.

Another of Kuyper’s important insights was the distinction between the church as institute and as organism. This is examined in the next chapter. Here Bartholomew is right to stress the importance of the church in Kuyper’s thought: ‘From his conversion to the end of his life the church remained an issue of major concern for Kuyper’ (162). Kuyper’s concept of the church was in part formed from his reading of Charlotte Yonge’s Heir of Redclyffe. Yonge was influenced by the Tractarian Movement in the UK and in particular Cardinal Newman. It was their high view of the church and the role of the church as mother that Kuyper appreciated. Even though Kuyper, as Bartholomew carefully points out, as he traces the changes in Kuyper’s ecclesiology, later adopted a more congregational view of the church (188).

Bartholomew disagrees with Kuyper — as most contemporary Kuyperians do — regarding Kuyper’s view of government as being a post-fall institution (192). Nevertheless, Kuyper did develop a Christian perspective on politics and government as Bartholomew shows in chapter 7. This is perhaps not unsurprising as Kuyper as well as being theologian he was a politician (he was the Dutch prime minister for a short period) and founded the first modern political party in the Netherlands (the ARP) and did so with Christian principles. He also fought for a new electoral system within the Netherlands. Bartholomew closes this chapter on a sad note: ‘ … when it comes to Kuyper’s thought on the social issues of his day, one cannot help but fear that Kuyperians have failed to hear his call’ (212).

Chapter 8 moves on to look at mission. This chapter mainly focuses on the work of J.H. Bavinck — Herman Bavinck’s nephew.

Chapter 9 looks at two philosophical schools that developed largely out of Kuyperianism. Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven’s reformational philosophy and the more popular, but less insightful, approach of reformed epistemology.

Theology is the subject of chapter 10. Kuyper was a theologian but this aspect of his work has been largely neglected. Bartholomew discusses some reason for this - the liberalisation of the Free University (VU), the conflict at the VU between theologians and philosophers, on-going church conflicts and then the impact of two world wars. He thinks now is the time to ‘retrieve, renew, and develop the Kuyperian theological tradition for today’ (271). I whole-heartedly agree! This chapter represents a good first step towards that aim. 

Education is under review next (Chapter 11) — education, like the church, theology, politics, mission was close to Kuyper’s heart. As elucidated here, for Kuyper, education, church and the home were intertwined. Nature and education are inseparable, as parents hold primary responsibility for the education of their children.  Teachers must make their own decisions about pedagogy — the role of the state is not to dictate how teachers should teach. Hence, the need for Christian schools.

The final chapter concludes the book with a look at ‘The need for a spiritual formation’. This has often been a weak spot in the Kuyperian approach - although not in Kuyper.

Bartholomew writes as one steeped in the Kuyperian tradition, but this doesn’t mean he is uncritical of it and he is aware of the danger of absolutising the man. At times Bartholomew seems to prefer Bavinck’s approach over Kuyper’s. He sees the weaknesses in the Kuyperian tradition as well as its strengths and he is not afraid to point out what he perceives as its faults. For example, he thinks the Kuyperian tradition can be enriched by the Pietistic tradition (245). He also aware that Kuyperians need to learn from non-Kuyperians, not least, according to Bartholomew, Max Weber and Mother Theresa.

Bartholomew concludes: ‘The Kuyperian tradition has the resources to produce culturally savvy Christians today’ (323). He is right - and this book is a great place to begin to understand and then go on to appropriate those resources.


Introduction: Seeking the Welfare of the City
 1. Abraham Kuyper's Conversion
 2. Creation and Redemption
 3. Scripture
 4. Worldview 
 5. Sphere Sovereignty: Kuyper's Philosophy of Society
 6. The Church
 7. Politics, the Poor, and Pluralism 
 8. Mission
 9. Philosophy
10. Theology
11. Education
12. The Need for Spiritual Formation
Postscript: Resources for Studying the Kuyperian Tradition
Author Index

Subject Index

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Roy Clouser on Genesis, creation and natural theology

Roy Clouser recently gave a series of talks in the Washington DC area. It's well worth taking the time to watch these:

Saturday, 13 May 2017

An interview with Philip Shadd

Philip Shadd is the author of the recently published Understanding Legitimacy, reviewed here. He is a Research Associate at the CPRSE  at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto.

Who or what are your main influences?

I think there've been two main influences in my work, including this book. The first is my Christian faith and church upbringing. The questions that interest me most are those that intersect with religious concerns. The second is my secular academic training. My undergraduate and graduate degrees were completed at public, secular universities, and in philosophy departments that were similarly secular. I cut my teeth not on Christian philosophy, but mainstream, non-religious philosophy. Both influences are clearly reflected in the book.

How did the book come about?

It came about in two phases. The first was the writing of my doctoral thesis. When determining my thesis topic, I knew I wanted to critique the political theory of John Rawls (1921-2002) - the leading Anglophone political theorist of the 20th century - from a religious perspective. In successive iterations of my thesis proposal, my supervisor encouraged me to increasingly focus on the religious dimension of the project, as in his view it was the project's religious dimension that was most unique. Hence my book's unabashed appeal to political theology. The second phase was a significant set of revisions that narrowed the work's focus from Reformed political thought more broadly to specifically neo-Calvinist thought. I was greatly helped in this shift by my affiliation as a Research Associate at the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS, Toronto, Canada), a bastion of neo-Calvinism in North American.

Why is the issue of legitimacy so important? (Or at least important enough to write a book on it!)

While the book is largely critical of Rawls' conception of legitimacy, here I agree with him: legitimacy is important because of the pluralism which marks contemporary liberal democracies. This pluralism raises an existential question for many citizens, especially those whose beliefs lie outside the mainstream: Why ought I respect a government that doesn't endorse my worldview? Similarly, what laws can such a government legitimately implement, and on what grounds? In short, the issue of legitimacy is basically this: what makes a government legitimate - that is, justified in enforcing laws and deserving of the respect and support of citizens - even if it's imperfect?

Why did you choose John Rawls as a discussion partner?

It's hard to overstate the influence of Rawls to contemporary Anglo-American philosophy. Among the other things, he set the terms of the contemporary philosophical debate over legitimacy with his book Political Liberalism. You can't really talk philosophically about legitimacy without talking about Rawls. Additionally, though, Rawls made a special effort to address the concerns of religionists. I don't think you can say he was sympathetic to religion, but he at least appreciated the fact that religious beliefs would present a special obstacle for many in accepting his explanation of legitimacy. Whether or not he sufficiently and cogently addresses religious concerns, though, is another question.

What can Christians learn from his approach?

Many things, but perhaps more than anything, I believe Rawls gives Christians reason to pause when tempted to pass any legislation on religious grounds. Does he categorically show that governments should be religiously neutral? No. Even if he thinks he does, I don't think he does, and as neo-Calvinists would be quick to point out, a religiously neutral government is an illusion. But Rawls issues a powerful call - one that will resonate with sentiments of procedural fairness and equal liberty shared by secular and religious persons alike - to justify laws in ways that are as impartial as possible, even if full impartiality is both impossible and undesirable.

How did you come across the neo-Calvinist approach?

Unwittingly, gradually, and relatively late. Before I was aware of neo-Calvinism or its close ties with the Christian Reformed church, I became involved in Bible studies run by Christian Reformed campus chaplaincies which, at the time, I simply attended as Bible studies. In my doctoral studies, I became acquainted with the work of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a theorist and Christian who helped give voice to my twin concerns of politics and faith. It wasn't really until my affiliation with ICS, though, that I became fully immersed in the neo-Calvinist tradition of social thought, of which Kuyper is a founding figure.   

What do you see as the strength of the neo-Calvinist position?

In terms of its content, one of the most striking features of neo-Calvinism is its ability to reconcile two convictions that might seem in tension with one another: principled church-state separation and uncompromising Christian commitment. In large part it accomplishes this by its well-known doctrine of sphere sovereignty. This idea is basically that, by divine design, society is broken into several spheres of activity, each of which is sovereign within its own sphere. Among these distinct spheres are church and state. 
Aside from its content, neo-Calvinism is impressive for its intellectual pedigree. Unlike some evangelical Christian traditions which lack a strong intellectual component, neo-Calvinism has been, and continues to be at places such as ICS, rigorously and academically developed as a system of thought.  

What about its weaknesses?

The concept of sphere sovereignty is a profound and fecund insight. Two related challenges it faces, though, are how to square it with the now widespread expectation of governments that provide a wide array of social services and how to affirm sphere sovereignty while avoiding libertarianism. Many contemporary neo-Calvinists, it seems to me, share the sentiments that modern governments should offer such services and should go far beyond the minimal state of libertarianism. This doesn't necessarily call for a rejection of sphere sovereignty, but for a nuanced, sophisticated and reformulated version of it. Another major challenge for neo-Calvinism is how to articulate its insights in a way that is accessible and persuasive to secular persons. Why think that society is designed to have distinct spheres if you reject the very notion of a designer? This doesn't necessarily represent a weakness, but at least a challenge.  

In the book you often stress Kuyper’s point that political power is only necessary ‘by reason of sin’. If there had been no sin would there still be the need for politics and government? Or to put it another way is politics creational?

As I note in the book, whether politics would be needed in the absence of sin is actually a point of disagreement amongst neo-Calvinists. Kuyper is the founder of neo-Calvinism, and, for his part, thought government superfluous without sin. But contemporary neo-Calvinists, such as Jonathan Chaplin, seem to better appreciate that governments promote the public good in many ways that don't involve punishing wrongdoing and aren't predicated upon the presence of sin - Chaplin gives the example of regulating currency. I don't think these two viewpoints necessarily represent a disagreement as much as simply different points of emphasis. For while I take it that states do, and ought to, play many coordinating roles that aren't necessitated by sin, in the world as it is - postlapsarian as it is - national security and dealing with crime are certainly among the most important, if not the single most important, responsibility of governments. 

Closely related to the previous question: Will there be politics on the new earth?

Yes, I certainly believe there will be, though in the absence of sin politics will look different than it does now. One reason for thinking this is the various coordinating roles played by governments even where no sin is involved. Another reason is Scripture. Passages such as Revelation 5:10, where it is said that the redeemed will "reign" on the earth, suggest our activities on the new earth will include politics. Although one must hold one's interpretation of such passages with an open hand, I do think they're suggestive.

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?

My current research focuses on the issue of institutional conscientious objection. It is occasioned by the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that doctors should be allowed to provide medical assistance in dying. While the ruling leaves open the possibility of objecting doctors having a right of refusal, a more controversial question raised is this: Can institutions, and not just individual doctors, claim conscientious objector status? Would-be claimants might include Catholic and Mennonite hospitals. One of the distinctive attributes of neo-Calvinism, which flows out of the idea of sphere sovereignty, is its emphasis on institutions and not just individuals. Hence, even if not obvious, my previous research informs and inspires my current research.    

What do you do for fun?

I'm blessed with a fantastic and beautiful wife, Jessica, the love of my life. We have three wonderful little children, all under 5. In addition to spending time with my wife and kids, I enjoy our church and am a fan of pretty much all things sport.