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.

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.’
And

‘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

CONTENTS
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: http://digitalcollections.dordt.edu/pro_rege/vol45/iss4/1

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.





CONTENTS

Preface 
Abbreviations 
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
Bibliography
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.



Saturday, 6 May 2017

A new heaven and new earth - Richard Middleton at Trinity College, Bristol

J. Richard Middleton at Trinity College 4 May 2017.
 

The lecture covered the full gamut of scripture from Genesis to Revelation; from creation to eschaton. The tour was organised by ThinkingFaith Network.

Below are a few selections from my copious notes taken at the time (they obviously don’t fully represent all that Richard said and at times may have inadvertently misrepresented him).

Starting with creation and looking at Proverbs 3, 24 and Job 38 he showed that the cosmos, the creation was seen as a building. Heaven is also part of creation. Although the sky/ heaven was seen as transcendent and as a symbol of God’s place it is also part of the created cosmos. This view is contrary to much of modern theology that sees heaven as uncreated. God indwells the cosmos. 

Earth is part of the human realm (Ps 115:16). The entire creation is called to worship. In Genesis we have a macrocosmic tabernacle. All of creation is made to worship God. We have a far too anthropocentric view of worship. Stars, mountains, …  are created to worship God. How do they do that? By being mountains, by being stars … How are humans to worship? By being humans! 

Part of being human is to transform our environment. This is idea captured in what is called the cultural mandate. The creation was described as very good - but not perfect! Contra Augustine creation was not instantaneous, but rather a process: a shaping of the wild waste into cosmic dwelling. There was an expectation that humans actualize the God-given potential. This is our Royal task, our sacred calling. 

This idea turns on its head the Ancient Near Eastern idea of kings and humanity. The cosmos was seen as a building but the king as God’s representative was the builder.


This worldview is subverted by the scriptures:



There is not an elite that is the image or representative of God but the entire human race are all created in the image of God. The Bible radically democratises/ universalises the image of God. Israel is the only known nation without a king (unit 11th century)! All of the nation is to be a royal priesthood, to bring mediation, blessing to all. 

Humanity is God’s prism – creation is refracted into cultural activities. However, sin blocked that developmental task. God’s presence has not filled the earth yet. But he has not given up on his creation: there is cosmic redemption. The scope of salvation in the New Testament is comprehensive. Five key biblical texts give ample evidence of this – the table is a summary:



Salvation in the New Testament is seen as restorative, comprehensive and holistic. 
The ‘world’ in John 3:16 is meant to be seen in the most comprehensive sense possible. 

1 Cor 15 – ‘so that God may be all in all’.
In Revelation 21 we have the removal of the curse, a reversal of Genesis 3:17 in Revelation 22 the throne is shifted to earth.  
This renewal of all things changes everything. All of life! 


“God doesn’t make junk; and God doesn’t junk what he makes.”



Much of the lecture was drawn from material in two of Richard's recent books:

 
The Liberating Image. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005
A New Heaven and a New Earth. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014 - see my review here



Saturday, 22 April 2017

Review of The Evangelical Age of Ingenuity in Industrial Britain by Stubenrauch

The Evangelical Age of Ingenuity in Industrial Britain
Joseph Stubenrauch
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016
ISBN: 9780198783374
Hbk, 304pp, £65.00

Publisher’s website here


British evangelicalism is now a flourishing area of research - thanks largely to David Bebbington’s seminal work and efforts. Bebbington’s quadrilateral has dominated the research area. Stubenrach’s work is an important addition - it covers in more detail areas that have previously been covered by large brushes strokes. Bebbington identified the influence of Romanticism and the Enlightenment on evangelicalism. Stubenrauch develops this idea identifying areas in which Romanticism had an impact of Evangelicalism and vice versa:

‘ … Evangelicals must be understood as contributing to the development of Romanticism, rather than being influenced by it in the decades after its heyday’ (98).

Not only that but Stubenrauch shows the almost symbiotic relationship between evangelicalism and modernity. In particular, he focuses on the work of the Religious Tract Society (RTS).

In his introduction he expands Bebbington’s quadrilateral into a pentagon with the addition of the workings of the Holy Spirit as an additional vertex; sadly, this aspect is not developed in the rest of the book.  But what he does do in keeping with the five point theme is look at the roles of urbanisation, mass production, literacy, mobility, and consumerism. He poses the fascinating question: was evangelicalism a component part of modernity? His aim is to examine the role of evangelicals in the industrial age and he does this through the five areas mentioned.

In chapter 1 he develops another five points: agency, instrumentality, interdenominalisation, postmillennial optimism, and sentimentalism. All of which shaped Evangelicalism from the period of the French Revolution to the Great Exhibition in 1851. The sentimentalism is an influence of Romanticism. This can be seen in the work of Revd Legh Richmond (1772–1827)  and in particular in his tract The Dairyman’s Daughter. [1] The 52-page book told the story of the religious experience of Elizabeth Wallbridge on the Isle of Wight. The book was published by the Religious Tract Society (RTS) as tract No 9 in 1825, which was later part of a book called Annals of the Poor. This and similar material is the focus of Chapter 2. Richmond’s work led to Christian tourism around the Isle of Wight and the visiting of gravestones as a devotional activity. This rise in Christian sentimentality was in part attributed to the rejection of Calvinism (89). The RTS and others were able to capitalise on this sentimentalism by producing numerous souvenirs, miniature books, tracts, guidebooks, travellers accounts, jigsaw and stereoscopic photographs. As Stubenrauch puts it:

‘Evangelical sentimentalism did not just have affinities with consumerism; its desires spurred the creation of actual products that furthered this religious mode’ (93).

Chapter 3, Hawking the Gospel’, looks in more detail at the role of the RTS and Stubenrauch makes good use of, as yet underutilised, primary sources as such as RTS executive committee minutes. Although spreading the gospel was primary the RTS weren’t unaware of the economic aspects. Stubenrauch notes:

‘Religious commitment and the logic of “means” overlapped with commercial strategy …’ (115).

Design, paper quality, price were all considered in their production of tracts and they saw the distribution of tracts by the hawkers who made a small profit from them, as a means of social betterment. The RTS in a way were commercial entrepreneurs.

Urbanisation and social mobility have been seen as some of the causes of secularisation, but here, in Chapter 4, Stubenrauch shows that the RTS embraced them both as a means of distributing their tracts. 

Chapter 5, ‘Faithful Monitors’ examines the numerous religious decorations produced, these included biblical texts on pottery, wall maps, and wall hangings. Clergy it seemed became the ‘home decoration gurus’ of their time! 

The final chapter looks at Evangelical responses to the Great Exhibition. What is surprising is the almost exclusive endorsement of it. It was seen not as worship of the idol of progress, but as an anticipation of the day when the earth would be full of the knowledge of the Lord, and as a means of spreading the gospel. This shows how evangelicals of their time adopted a pragmatic instrumental means approach to the gospel. The Evangelical Magazine even accused those who described it as a Babel as being ‘chargeable with the grossest calumny’ (239). The Revd J.A. Emerton even compared it to the New Jerusalem! 

The strengths of the book are that it draws upon important primary sources and it shows the relationship of evangelicalism with Romanticism and modernity. An approach that seems to be one of accommodation.



[1] The Dairyman's Daughter can be read here http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19615

Contents
Introduction: The Evangelical Revolution
1: Wise in Their Generation : Evangelical Ingenuity and Enterprise
2: Leaves of Edification : Material Means and Evangelical Sentimentalism in Practice
3: Hawking the Gospel: Evangelical Means in the Marketplace
4: Sprung up like the gas lights : Urbanization, Trade Networks, and Mobility
5: Faithful Monitors: Religion on the Walls
6: The Crystal Jerusalem: Evangelical Methodology and the Great Exhibition
Conclusion
Bibliography






Saturday, 15 April 2017

An interview with John Van Sloten

John Van Sloten's new book Every Job a Parable will be published in June. My review is here. I caught up with him and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the book.






Could you say a little about yourself, where you are from and where you are coming from and what you do?

I am a 55 year old Canadian who grew up near Toronto, studied architecture, became a land developer, had a spiritual awakening at 29, had a son with Down syndrome, went to seminary, planted a church in Calgary, was given a big new idea, (which was really a big old idea), and who has, ever since, been passionately unpacking that idea via my preaching, teaching and writing.


Which thinkers or resources have you found most helpful in your Christian walk?

15 years ago I sat in a Fuller Theological Seminary boardroom and spoke with Dr. Richard Mouw and Dr. Neal Plantinga about the idea of engaging general revelation as text; whether one even could do that and about how authoritative God’s word via creation really was. I’ve read everything these two have written and have been deeply formed by the worldview they espouse. Sitting in behind them (historically) were theologians John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. I continue to be shaped by these reformed thinkers (and others who have been shaped by them). Comment Magazine and Books and Culture have also been big influences over the years.


How did the book Every Job a Parable come about? What was the catalyst for it?

As I was finishing up my first book, The Day Metallica Came to Church; Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything (Square Inch, 2010), my publisher Mark Rice planted the seed; suggesting I write a different kind of book on the topic of work, one that builds on the big view of revelation I’d been leaning into. At that same time the concept of jobs being parables was starting to break through in my preaching. While researching a sermon I planned to preach on a newly ‘discovered’ stress reducing mechanism in the brain, I noticed the passions and aptitudes of the neuroscientist I was interviewing; how she uniquely imaged God’s empirical mind. It felt like I could see a bit of God through her. 

Then, one Easter, I was contemplating the nature of resurrection and trying to imagine what it might have been like for the Father to raise his Son. This brought to mind the life resuscitating work of emergency department physicians. I then interviewed four ER doctors and asked them what it was like to bring someone back to life. Through their responses saw God’s urgent heart to save. This vocational awareness continued to grow for years. It dawned on me that our image bearing is very much borne out through the work we do. We are made in the image of a working God. God speaks our working lives. Our jobs are parables, spoken in, through and for Jesus.


In recent years a number of books on a Christian approach to work and vocation have been published, which is an encouraging trend. How does your book differ from others? 

I’d say the revelatory angle would be the big difference; that our jobs really are parables within which and through which God is speaking. They are vocational stories that we’re a part of; that we’re protagonists in. The parable of a person’s job has meaning because God is speaking it. And because God is speaking it, God can be known through it, in moments of flow, satisfaction, achievement, pushing though, or enduring. I think God made work to be a means by which we can experience him. In the book of Genesis God gave us a cultural mandate to fill the earth. Part of that filling included the tending of a garden… as Dr. Rich Mouw would say, somebody started raking. And that work was good. Even now, post-fall, work is good. And I firmly believe that we’ll have a lot of good work to do on the new heaven-on-earth when that time comes. And we’ll then know God through our work perfectly. The premise of Every Job a Parable is that our present day experiences of work can offer a foretaste of that one-day perfectly working world.


In the book, you mention icons - particularly the work of Andrei Rublev. Some Christians may be a little suspicious of icons. Could you say something about how you understand the use of icons and how they can provide insight?

Icons, for me, are things through which God speaks; like how God speaks through the bible, the lilies of the field, the nature of a supernova, or the corrective words of a parent. In a very real sense I believe that all that is can be iconic; can be something through which we see, hear or sense something of the nature of God. If the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was right in asserting that “Christ plays in ten thousand places”, then I think it is reasonable to assume that Christ speaks ten thousand languages. Jesus speaks particle physics, impressionist brush stroke, shrewd management methods, good agricultural practice, knee surgeon and WalMart greeter. I know this is a bit mystical for some, but think about what Calvin said, that “All truth is inspired by the Holy Spirit”, and what Kuyper affirmed, that “The whole creation is nothing but the visible curtain behind which radiates the exalted working of [God’s] divine thinking.” (italics mine), and what Bavinck wrote, that “Revelation, while having its centre in the Person of Jesus Christ, in its periphery extends to the uttermost ends of creation. It does not stand isolated in nature and history, does not resemble an island in the ocean, nor a drop of oil upon water. With the whole of nature, with the whole of history, with the whole of humanity, with the family and society, with science and art it is intimately connected. The world itself rests on revelation; revelation is the presupposition, the foundation, the secret of all that exists in all its forms. The deeper science pushes its investigations, the more clearly it will discover that revelation underlies all created being. In every moment of time beats the pulse of eternity; every point in space is filled with the omnipresence of God; the finite is supported by the infinite, all becoming is rooted in being.” If these three had it right, then surely everything has iconic potential. I believe that those parts of the church that have specialized in icons have a lot to teach us reformed theological types. How can we hold such a high view of creation, revelation, and the Holy Spirit and not believe that God speaks in iconic ways through the things he’s made? Until I read Fr. Gabriel Bunge’s book on Rublev’s Holy Trinity, I had no idea how icons worked. In my book I took some of the concepts he outlined in relation to a painting and applied them to creation.

Could you say something about the term lectio vocatio which is one you use in the book. 

It’s kind of a play on the more common term lectio divina (a Benedictine practice of scriptural reading that aims to enhance communion with God). At the end of each chapter of EJAP are questions, exercises or stories that are designed to help the reader better orient themselves to God’s on the job presence. God is already there - in the stories of the bible and at everybody’s work. What might it look like to pay more attention, to have a better theology of God’s vocational presence, to listen for God’s work words like you listen for God’s scriptural words?  

You didn’t mention anything about undertakers or the unemployed in your book. How do those speak of God?

Ha! My editor at Navpress, David Zimmerman, made a similar observation in relation to those with disabilities. He asked me, “What about a person with Down syndrome?” (not knowing I had a 25 year old son with DS!). Big omission on my part! So I added a story about my son Edward to the book. And while unemployment is not dealt with in the book (nor is retirement) I did preach on the topic last year. And as for an undertaker… I haven't gotten to that vocation yet. Which is why I’m hoping this book will inspire ten thousand preachers to take up the exegesis of ten thousand jobs, so that the whole counsel of God’s vocational revelation can be proclaimed.

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?

Yes. I’m currently building a preaching course for Ambrose Seminary here in Calgary - ‘Preaching Science, Film, Sport, Music, Work, Art and Nature as Text’ - which will probably run next year (Spring 2018). I’m also working on a second Templeton Foundation grant - looking at the intersection of a scientist as parable and their field of study as icon. I’ve started a third book on the human body as text. To date I’ve preached sermons on the kidney, knee, neurons, hearing, epigenetics, wound healing, biological interdependence and more. You can view these sermons here. All of the vocation-based sermons that led to the writing of EJAP can also be watched here.  


What do you do for fun?
I love macro photography (seeing unseen worlds), recreating Rembrandt etchings (currently working on Christ at Emmaus), and going on long walkabouts and getting lost.


Friday, 14 April 2017

Every Job a Parable by John Van Sloten

Every Job a Parable
What Walmart Greeters, Nurses & Astronauts Tell Us About God
John Van Sloten
ISBN 978-1-63146-548-2
Nav Press
Pbk, £12.13, 208pp

Publisher's website here







John Calvin stressed that the everyday activity of Christians has religious significance. The first and third verse of George Herbert’s poem ‘The Elixir’ expresses this insight:

Teach me, my God and King,
 In all things thee to see;
 And what I do in anything
 To do it as for thee.
A servant with this clause
 Makes drudgery divine;
 Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
 Makes that and the action fine.

We spend ten times more hours at work than we do at church. And yet most of the sermons in church are about church and church activities. However, not at John Van Sloten’s church. This book arose out of a sermon series he did looking at different vocations and what they can tell us about God. Van Sloten is a church pastor, before that he has worked as a real estate developer. In this book, he draws upon his own experience in the workplace as well as conducting extensive research into other people’s jobs, by visiting them in their workplace.

Van Sloten provides a succinct summary of this book: it is about ‘understanding how Jesus is speaking directly to you (via your personal experience of work) and how he is speaking through you (to the broader world)’. What he wants to do is to ‘kindle a new kind of vocational imagination’. To this end, he develops a lectio vocatio - a seeing of God in and through our work. And the end of each chapter is a short series of exercise that will help to shape this.

He sees jobs as parables and draws biblical insights from a wide range of careers. What is God saying to you and others through your job? This is an important question and one that this book sets about to answer. He also explores how we can be icons of grace in our work. Here he applies some insights of Rublev's work 'Holy Trinity' and applies them to the workplace.

Obviously not all jobs or careers are covered, for example no mention of undertakers or the unemployed, but there is an extremely wide range covered - almost fifty of them ranging from accountant to Walmart worker.

For many a job is a way of earning money and not much more; ministry is something done in church at the weekend. And for others church is where there is ‘a tacit obligation to turn up, sit up, pay up and shut up’. This book will help with a paradigm shift, it shows that God is concerned with our daily job and, not only that, is able to speak in an through it.

As someone commented to Van Sloten: ‘I think I see what you are doing. I’ve spent my entire life connecting the Jesus of the New Testament to the Jesus of the Old Testament. You are connecting the Jesus of the New Testament to the resurrected Jesus today.’ This is exactly what this book does. It endorses jobs as ministry. Van Sloten shows that God speaks through our careers.

It is an important book. It provides a model for pastors in relating church to work, and for labourers in whatever field to show that God is working in and through our labours.



Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.
The book will be released in June.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Understanding Legitimacy by Philip Shadd

Understanding Legitimacy
Political Theory and Neo-Calvinist Social Thought
Philip D. Shadd
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books
ISBN: 9781498518963
Hbk, £54.95, pp viii+207

Publisher's website 

This book addresses an important but the often ignored question of the legitimacy of political power. Shadd examines it from a philosophical perspective. By legitimacy, he means, in part, what constitutes the use of political power legitimate even if it is imperfectly implemented?
One approach to legitimacy is justificatory liberalism as epitomised by the work of John Rawls. Justificatory liberalism grounds legitimacy in a version of popular sovereignty. In essence, justificatory liberalism holds that coercive power is legitimate if it is based on reasons that all reasonable people can accept.

Shadd critiques justificatory liberalism and develops a fresh perspective utilising the fruitful approach of neo-Calvinism. He proposes that political theorists ‘mine neo-Calvinist through for conceptual insights’ (4). He sees the neo-Calvinist approach as a ‘reservoir of conceptual insights and resources from which political theorists can, and should, draw’. I agree - but I’m not sure that in the current highly polarised political climate such views would be welcomed. It certainly provides a more biblical approach than the almost consensus of justificatory liberalism.

Shadd’s key question that he seeks to answer is 'what is the right framework for thinking about political legitimacy?' (76). He finds justificatory liberalism wanting and looks towards the rich resources of neo-Calvinism. He expertly shows the flaws in justificatory liberalism and that it leads to unacceptable consequences. He aims to provide a better philosophical framework from which to understand the conditions that provide for political legitimacy (77, 181).

He provides a helpful general overview of the neo-Calvinist perspective in nine tenets. These provide a useful outline for a neo-Calvinist political framework. The nine tenets are as follows.

Tenet 1 all people are equal, naturally free, and ultimately accountable only to God.
Tenet 2 All are commissioned to sociocultural development, renewal, and transformation
Tenet 3 There is something unnatural about coercive political power. It is only necessary "by reason of sin."
Tenet 4 Sociological renewal ought be pursued along the lines of divine creation order
Tenet 5 The normative creation principles for culture and society are accessible to all (not only believers).
Tenet 6 Society is composed of different spheres, and each ought be free within its respective domain.
Tenet 7 The state ought be superset from the church (and other religious institutions).
Tenet 8 The purpose of the state is public justice.
Tenet 9 All reality is ultimately ordered by God and all human authority ultimately delegated by God.

From these tenets he begins to develop a neo-Calvinist approach to legitimacy and shows that such an approach provides a better understanding of political legitimacy than the one offered by justificatory liberalism. The state is to uphold laws that protect the basic dignity and interests of all, to prevent basic wrongs, but also to enable basic human flourishing and to represent a normative standard.

This book works on many levels. It provides a brilliant critique of justificatory liberalism, exposing its many flaws, and it illustrates the rich resources of the neo-Calvinist perspective for politics. It provides a great example of how to debate with political theories from a Christian perspective. I hope it will be widely read and not just by neo-Calvinists.