An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Friday, 20 April 2018

New Research on Groen van Prinsterer and the idea of Sphere Sovereignty by Glenn Friesen

Glenn Friesen has a soon to be published paper in Philosophia Reformata - it is available here as a preprint. In he he questions the current consensus view that Kuyper's view of sphere sovereignty was developed from Groen van prinsterer, and suggests that it has its source in non-Clavinistic ideas.

Historians of reformational philosophy often claim that Abraham Kuyper obtained the idea of “Sovereignty in its own sphere” from Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer. But very little historical research has been done on Groen’s sources for and development of this idea. The first use of the Dutch phrase “souvereiniteit in eigen sfeer” is much earlier than previously thought; it was used in 1853 by J.I. Doedes, an associate of the “ethical theologian” Chantepie de la Saussaye. Groen became aware of the ideas of Franz von Baader through journals founded by them, and by reading and corresponding with them and others like J.H. Gunning, Jr. and Friedrich Fabri. Groen himself owned copies of some of Baader’s books. Groen also relied strongly on the work of the jurist Friedrich Julius Stahl, who was 37 years younger than Baader, but taught for a while at the same Munich university, and shared Baader’s antirevolutionary ideas.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Review of Choi's George Whitefield Evangelist for God and Empire

George Whitefield: Evangelist for God and Empire
Peter Y. Choi
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans
ISBN 978-0-8028-7549-5

The triumvirate of the early days of Evangelicalism has been Jonathan Edwards, John Wesly and George Whitefield. Of the three Whitefield has been the least written about as this graph shows (the data is from a detest taken from mentions in google books):

Interactive version here

D. M. Lloyd-Jones regarded Whitefield as 'the most neglected man in the whole of church history. The ignorance concerning him is appalling.' However, more recently there have been a number of books written on Whitefield. These include: Harry Stout's  Divine Dramatist (1991); Arnold Dallimore's full two volume biography (1970, 1980) and his one volume  published by Crossway (2010); Frank Lambert’s Pedlar in Divinity (2002); John Pollock's George Whitefield (2009); Jerome Dean Maffety’s The Accidental Revolutionary (2011); Thomas Kidd’s George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (2014), who sees Whitefield as a 'creative religious entrepreneur'; and the excellent George Whitefield: Life, Context and Legacy edited by Geordan Hammond and David Ceri Jones (2016). And now we have this offering from Peter Choi, who was one of the contributors to the aforementioned edited volume.

This book is the fruit of Choi's PhD dissertation under Mark Noll, who authored the foreword. Choi takes a fresh perspective on Whitefield and sees him in his cultural and political context. He summarises the central focus of his book as: ‘The relationship between George Whitefield’s religious and imperial agendas’.

He primarily focuses his work on Whitefield's later ministry and on his time in Georgia. This enables Choi to develop a broader picture of Whitefield as more than an itinerant revivalist preacher. He rightly observes:
‘Although historians have never treated the last half of Whitefield’s public life as thoroughly as the first half, pursuing his importance for religion in the Atlantic world as a whole will show those latter years were just as important as the former’ (128).
Choi shows how Whitefield's concerns broadened out into social, economic and political areas:

‘For all of his early energy advocating the new birth, Whitefield’s later years witnessed much less attention to regeneration in his public ministry’(100).

These broader concerns were epitomised in his desire to turn the Bethesda orphanage, which he built in 1740 near Savannah, Georgia, into a college. Sadly, this ambition was unfulfilled. 

Choi presents us with a picture of Whitfield that goes beyond the revivalist preacher and grand itinerant, whose parish was the world. Whitefield’s concerns took on a broader perspective after the ‘Great Awakening’, they took on cultural and imperial aspects. Whitfield was more than a religious leader (14). According to Choi, it would have been accurate for Whitfield to declare ‘the empire is my parish’! (102). 

Choi identifies much of the work that Whitfield did ‘was an agent of British culture who used his potent mix of political savvy and theological creativity to champion the cause of imperial expansion’ (3). His desire to see Georgia develop sadly led him to the acceptance and even advocacy of slavery:
‘He recoiled at the horrors of slavery but also recognized the necessity of slave labor for the colonial cause in the South and even pointed out the possibility of redeeming virtues’ (146).
 He saw the economic and cultural development of Georgia as being dependent on the need for a large labour force, which slaves could provide.

Embed from Getty Images

The development of Bethesda orphanage into a college was to be the pinnacle of his career. For many, it is perhaps surprising that he wanted a college rather than a church. In particular, the reasons for the development of a college were also much broader than to provide a church or missionary workforce.

‘Bethesda was nothing less than a test site for the limits of imperial expansion and coercion. Significantly for evangelical religion, Bethesda also represented an effort to harness the revival spirit in an ongoing institutional form’ (218).

In his applications for the development of the college he focused on the economic, cultural and empire-wide benefits it would bring to the area; ‘he argued that a college in Georgia would help build the region’s cultural base’ (211).

In examining the latter part of Whitfield’s career and focusing on his work in Georgia Choi has shown us a much broader, and more complex, picture of Whitefield than has been portrayed in many of the popular biographies.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Review of A Documentary History of Religion in America

A Documentary History of Religion in America
Fourth Edition
Edwin S. Gaustad, Mark A. Noll & Heath W. Carter (eds)
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7358-3

The first edition of this mammoth book was published in 1982 and edited by Edwin Gaustad (1923-2011). His aim was in part ‘to enable the “amateur” to reconstruct the religious history of America with the building blocks provided here’. The first three editions of the book comprised two volumes. This fourth edition is a condensed one-volume edition and takes us from the sixteenth century up to the Trump presidency. Inevitably this has meant a reduction in the number of documents form the first editions but also the inclusion of newer documents.

Heath Carter has taken up the reins from Gaustad and Mark Noll, who co-edited the third (2003) edition. The format here is similar to the previous incarnations. But Carter has taken the opportunity to update ‘some of the contents and approaches in order to reflect the latest scholarship in the field’ (xvii). He also puts the focus on public rather than private aspects of religion.
What is presented here is an impressive display of primary sources and illustrations.  Each of the chapters has an introduction as well as an impressive number of primary sources and end with an annotated list of suggested readings.

Typical of the chapters is the final chapter 8: ‘Into the new millennium’. It begins with a brief 4-page overview and then under the headings of Pluralism and politics, Trauma and transition, Religion and national upheaval has selections from diverse a range of writers and social commentators as Billy Graham, George W. Bush, Albert Mohler, Jr., Jim Wallis, and interviews with Arsalan Iftikhar and Eric Metaxas reading the Trump presidency. The chapter concludes with a two-page essay on suggested reading. 

This book will invaluable for anyone interested in the wide range of religion in America. It lives up to the aim of its original editor in that any amateur will find plenty of building blocks here to understand the religious history of America.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Summary of Kaemingk's Ch3: The emergence of Christian pluralism

Kaemingk begins part 2 of his Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear by looking at the emergence of pluralism in the Netherlands and the influence of Abraham Kuyper on that pluralism. Here is my mindmap summary of Chapter 3:

Monday, 2 April 2018

Kaemingk - interlude: beyond Kuyper

After examining Kuyper's approach to pluralism (see mindmap here) Kaemingk, in his Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear,  identifies three weaknesses/ deficiencies in Kuyper's approach: his narrow Christology, the need for worship to develop character formation, and  a blind spot for action:

These weaknesses are examined and addressed in subsequent chapters.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Mindmap summary of Kuyper's construction of plurality (Ch5 of Kaemingk)

Matthew Kaemingk's Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear (Eerdmans, 2018) is a truly superb book.

Here's a mindmap summary of Kaemingk's take on Kuyper's construction of plurality - summarised from chapter 5:

(Click on the mp to enlarge it)

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Believe Me by John Fea

Believe Me
The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
John Fea
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018
ISBN 978-0-8028-7641-6
Hbk; ix + 189pp 
Publisher's website here

A staggering 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump! How are we to explain this? Fea, an astute historian from Messiah College, identifies an unholy trinity of fear, power and nostalgia as being at the roots of this bizarre voting pattern. As he explains:

‘I approach this subject not as a political scientist, pollster, or pundit, but as a historian who identifies as an evangelical Christian. For too long, white evangelical Christians have engaged in public life through a strategy defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for a national past that may have never existed in the first place.’ (6)

As one would expect from a professional historian the book is well documented - there are over 20 pages of endnotes. The book then is no knee-jerk response to a strange event. Fea carefully analyses the background to Trump’s victory. He examines why Trump was chosen by evangelicals over Cruz, Rubio and Walker - all had strong Christian leanings - they perceived Trump to be a strong man who would protect them from the cultural shifts of the Obama legacy. Fea shows how Trump followed the playbook written by the Christian right such as those that comprised the Moral Majority. A playbook that that tapped into fear and anxiety. Fear of communism, of immigrants, of non-whites, and more recently of Islam — and fear of big-government interference. In Chapter 3 he examines the history of this fear, tracing it back to the Puritans and their fear of a spiritual and moral decline, and with creating a moral panic against witchcraft and Catholics. As Fea rightly observes:
‘Nearly all the anxieties evangelicals faced in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries carried over into the fundamentalist movement of the twentieth century.’ (90).
All this shows to understand the present we must understand the past.

Chapter 4 examines those that Fea has labelled the ‘court evangelicals’:
‘The roster of court evangelicals includes Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., Southern Baptist pastor and Fox News commentator Robert Jeffress, radio host and “family values” advocate James Dobson, evangelist Franklin Graham, Christian public relations guru Johnnie Moore (who claims to be a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer”), longtime Christian Right political operative Ralph Reed, culture warrior Paula White, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, and megachurch pastor Mark Burns.’ (57)
Paula White is allegedly the person who ‘led’ him to Christ. These evangelicals it seems have endorsed Trump in return for political influence, for power (albeit illusory); they see Trump, as a ‘baby Christian’, and as a strong man who will save the USA from secularisation. Some even have described Trump as a Cyrus figure! 

The final chapter examines possible meanings behind Trump’s phrase ‘Make America Great Again’. What exactly does ‘again’ mean? Fea with his great historical insight shows that there hasn’t been a time when America was great! All that Trump has done with that phrase is tap into a sense of nostalgia for an illusionary vision of America as a Christian nation.

The book probably won’t convince all the 81% of evangelicals of the error of their ways— not least because the majority won’t read it. But, for those that do, it will give them pause for thought and hopefully help them to see that in supporting Trump they have colluded with the spirt(s) of the age and have bought the term evangelical into disrepute. As Fea has shown it is more fear, power and nostalgia rather than the lordship of Christ that caused them to support Trump.
This book should be required reading for all US evangelicals.

Aknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
1.   The Evangelical Politics of Fear 11
2.   The Playbook 37
3.   A Short History of Evangelical Fear 65
4.  The Court Evangelicals 99
5. Make America Great Again 133
Conclusion 155
Notes 167

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Interview with Danie Strauss

D. F. M. (Danie) Strauss is one of the world's foremost Dooyeweerd scholars. He is the editor of Dooyeweerd's Collected Works and was the first director of the Dooyeweerd Centre in Canada. His Introduction to Dooyeweerd's Philosophy - does exactly that!

His seminal work is Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines published by Paideia Press (2009).

The majority of his academic papers are available on and on his own website
This is the interview I conducted with him.

Danie, could we begin by you telling us something about yourself?

Brief family history
Tharina and I got married on December 6, 1969 at Ventersburg in the Free State. During our first extended stay in the Netherlands Louise was born (Jan 6, 1971). Hélène arrived on October 24, 1974 (the year after our second year-long stay in the Netherlands – completing and publishing my PhD on the distinction between Concept and Idea). Herman joined the family on November 10, 1982. Tharina, Hélène, and Herman obtained Canadian citizenship and I am a Permanent Resident of Canada. Louise got married on May 28, 1994, just before the rest of us moved for some time to Canada where I established the Dooyeweerd Translation Project.

Tharina taught Didactics and Philosophy of Education in the Faculty of Education for a number of years and after our return from Canada she taught academic literacy (academic reading and writing skills) for 15 years. Before that, she taught English and German at “Oranje Meisieskool” in Bloemfontein. She has published a novel in 2010: “Inkayamba, monster snake in the sky, African Legend” (also available on Kindle) and recently has completed another novel to be published soon.

When we left for Canada in 1994 my advice to Louise and her husband Steph was to become entrepreneurs. They initiated a number of businesses until Mercedes Benz offered Steph a position in their Executive. After having had three Spar Supermarkets Steph has now entered into a new business supplying 45,000 kg chicken per week (contracts with large Supermarkets: Pick n Pay and Checkers).
Eventually, after she received the award for the best M.A. Thesis in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Free State (in 2000), Hélène returned to Canada where she first completed the theoretical part and then her PhD dissertation in 2005. (She received the Governor General's Golden Award for the best PhD at the University of Western Ontario and at the same time was appointed in the Department of English at McMaster University in Hamilton.) On a visit to South Africa prof Jonathan Jansen (then Rector at the UFS) invited her for an interview after which she was appointed as full professor at the UFS – and soon thereafter as head of the Department of English.
Herman plays the cello (was elected for the National Youth Orchestra and also won a competition as the best fiddler), has a master's degree in Computer Science (he works as a freelance Web-Developer) and he is one of the singers of Arco Musica)

Brief academic history
I was appointed as senior lecturer in Philosophy at the then UOFS in 1971. Then I was promoted to associate professor in January1976 and in October 1977 I became professor and head of the Department of Philosophy at the UOFS. In 1994 I went to Canada as the first Director of the Dooyeweerd Centre, where I initiated the publication of the collected works of Herman Dooyeweerd in English. I returned to South Africa in 1997 and from 1 April 1998 to 31 December 2001 I was Dean of the new Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Free State. Apart from 15 independent publications, 42 international conference papers and 20 contributions to collected works, I have published 295 articles in national and international journals. In 2005 my work on the philosophical foundations of the modern natural sciences was published by Peter Lang Publishers – Paradigmen in Mathematik, Physik und Biologie und ihre philosophischeWurzeln (216 pp.) (Frankfurt am Main). In 2006 Peter Lang published my work Reintegrating Social Theory – Reflecting upon human society and the discipline of sociology (310 pp.) (Oxford / New York). In 2009 my work, Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines was published by Paideia Press, Grand Rapids, USA (715 pp.). In 2011 this book received the award for outstanding work in the fields of systematic philosophy or the history of philosophy advancing the cause of the “Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea”. Since 2013 I am is a Research Fellow at the School of Philosophy, North West University, Potchefstroom campus. See and the Introduction to Dooyeweerd's Philosophy.

Who or what were your earliest influences?
During my schooldays I was always fascinated by technical inventions and playing with numbers and patterns. I was also intrigued by the experience I had with my father for he appeared to know a good answer to almost any question I could ask him. What I did not realize was that he went to Germany (in 1937) to study economics at Heidelberg but soon found out that there was a Nazi finger in the pie of his scholarship – which he then immediately gave up, relocated to the Netherlands (using money he inherited after his mother and father passed away respectively in 1927 en 1933) to continue his studies in economics with P.A. Diepenhorst (interestingly, Diepenhorst completed his PdD in 1904 on Calvin and the Economy). This enabled him to take the Encyclopaedia of the Science of Law (with Dooyeweerd) as one minor subject alongside economics as major. This enabled him (during the thirties of the previous century) to embark first upon studying Dooyeweerd’s three Volume work, De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (WdW) – later translated and expanded as A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (NC).

During my second last school year, I asked my father two questions, one on the slogan of the French revolution and another one on Achilles and the tortoise. He responded by explaining that Zeno attempted to reduce motion that static spatial positions and then added a remark about the theory of the various aspects of reality. He continued by saying something about the slogan freedom, equality and fraternity. He explained that the slogan was informed by Locke's classical liberal idea of the state (freedom), Rousseau's radical revolutionary democracy, surrendering freedom to the Hobbesian Leviathan, the “general will” (equality) and early socialistic ideas (fraternity).

My next question was why we do not find these background perspectives in the textbooks prescribed to us? My father responded by saying: “because they are not trained in philosophy” (he was professor of political philosophy). The next question is the one I should not have asked: What is philosophy?!
He gave me the fourth edition of Spier's “Inleiding tot de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee” (1950) and I immediately started to delve into the WdW and NC – and this brought me, among others, in contact with WdW-II pages 75-76 and NC-II pages 103-106. I was inspired to understand this philosophy and spent most of my leisure time to accomplish this goal. I came across so many unique and illuminating insights that I soon realized that it might be useful for me to note the pages on which I found these significant insights, for otherwise, I could be wasting time trying to get back to sections where Dooyeweerd explained important distinctions. Later on, finding myself involved in discussions of Dooyeweerd's philosophy it was helpful to know where key insights are found.

Why do you think Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is so little known?
There may be a number of reasons. First of all one may mention the resistance of those scholastic theologians who still adhered to the (Aristotelian) view that theology is the queen of the sciences without realizing that like every other special science also theology is dependent upon philosophical presuppositions. Secondly, while the Protestant churches struggled with doctrinal issues (such as predestination) Descartes converted to the intellectual world of Western Europe to modern Humanism. Although Roman Catholicism continued to be a formidable spiritual and intellectual power even after the Reformation, modern Humanism, driven by the ideal of rational scientific control and that of an autonomously free person, actually dominated the philosophical world during the past five centuries. Introducing a radical Christian philosophy within such an intellectual atmosphere is therefore not an easy undertaking. Thirdly, Dooyeweerd should rather have published more in German and English for then a wider world would have had the opportunity to take note of his original and radically new philosophy. Just compare the status within the English-speaking world of the Austrian contemporary legal scholar, Hans Kelsen. Fourthly, Dooyeweerd should have published his entire Encyclopedia of the Science of Law already in the 1940s. Not only would this have given him a chance to present his new philosophy by using his own Introduction to it, for it would have shown the academic world at once how effective his new philosophical insights and distinctions are for the various academic disciplines (special sciences) – in particular, his own field of specialization, the science of law. It should have been translated into English before or concurrent with his A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Fifthly, instead of publishing at least six versions of the transcendental critique during the latter part of his intellectually productive life, he should have focused on completing and publishing his Encyclopedia and the third Volume of Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy. Lastly, practically all the Introductions to Dooyeweerd's philosophy commenced with a fairly distanced explanation of the main contours of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, focused on the theory of modal aspects and individuality-structures. Such an alternative should imitate the path pursued by Dooyeweerd in his own intellectual development, namely first to test the fruitfulness of his new insights and distinctions within his own field of specialization (the science of law) and then to broaden the perspective towards the general philosophical implications of his new insights and systematic distinctions. Approaching his philosophy from this angle will enable one to highlight from the outset why this philosophy is so fruitful for relating an understanding of reality to an analysis of what takes place within the various academic disciplines, including the natural sciences. Such an Intro would have made this philosophy more accessible to a wider range of students, not merely philosophy students.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of his approach?
Dooyeweerd's philosophy has two major strengths:
1)         The systematic import of its philosophical distinctions; and
2)         The intellectual power of applying (his discovery) of the inter-modal ontic principle of the excluded antinomy, lying at the foundation of the intra-modal logical principle of non-contradiction.
Its weakness is given in developing a distinct systematic terminology, but once it is mastered it turns out to be one of the strong points.

You are General editor of the Collected Works of Dooyeweerd:
what does that entail?
First of all it entails endless patience, dedication and perseverance, such as being willing to translate one page a day for more than 10 years. Translating Dooyeweerd's Dutch texts into English is also not the easiest task. Fortunately, on a part time basis (and everyone involved in this project since 1986 contributed on a part time basis) it was possible to utilize the expertise of competent copy editors. None of them lasted for more than two years, except for Harry Van Dyke who supported me in an unequalled way during the last seven years.

I have taken responsibility for the format and lay-out also after we have switched from Mellen Press to Paideia Press as publisher of the project – including generating Subject Indexes and Name Indexes (Harry VanDyke more recently helped with three Volumes – Reformation and Scholasticism, Volume II, The Crisis in Humanist Political Theory and Time Law and History).

In some cases, additional time was needed owing to well-meant but non-productive initiatives. Allow me to mention two examples, Reformation and Scholasticism (RS), Volume I and The Roots of Western Culture.

RS-I was translated by Ray Togtmann but somehow Bob Knudsen mediated sending this text to me when I received most of the manuscripts in process from Magnus Verbrugge. When I checked with Ray it turned out that Knudsen has change Ray's translation substantially in a way that was not approved by Ray and unacceptable to him – so I had to start all over again. The extensive Greek quotes were finally taken care of by Al Wolters, who did an excellent job in this regard. As General Editor I had to add all the text connections (and corrections to the Greek quotations) to the master copy (by using Corel Ventura as Desk Top Publishing program). More than 5 000 hours of my time went into this single Volume.

A similar delay was caused when Herman Dooyeweerd Junior, a substantial and much-appreciated donor to the project, offered to help with the copy editing of Roots of Western Culture. The original translation was not quite accurate and left out some connecting paragraphs between subsequent articles originally published in Nieuw Nederland. He worked on the best part of the first 100 pages of Roots, sent it to me by mail and then, after I have inserted (and sometimes corrected) his editing suggestions, I sent the whole package back to him. I was waiting for his continued copy editing but a number of months later at a meeting of the Advisory Council of the Dooyeweerd Centre he reported that he did not receive the manuscript of Roots back from me. Back home in South Africa I checked my files and retrieved the Post Office slip providing the date on which I did send it to him. Once more, a few months later, Herman reported that he mislaid the manuscript but did find it again. A couple of months later he informed me that other obligations made it impossible for him to continue with the last two-thirds of Roots. After having thus lost more than a year on this manuscript I completed it in a month and with the help of Michelle Botting, at the time helping at the Dooyeweerd Centre, published this Volume straightaway.

The entire project obtained a new face when Kerry Hollingworth from Paideia Press established a connection with Lightning Source as Printer, located in Tennessee, near Nashville. Volumes printed through this link are much more affordable (on average around about US$10.00). Once the entire set of (plus-minus 25 Volumes of the) Collected Works would be in print (currently 16 are in print) a full set could be purchased for about US$200.00-US$250.00.

A soon to be published volume is Dooyeweerd’s 1926 inaugural lecture, could you tell us something about that and why it is so important?

The level of erudition displayed in this Inaugural Address is exceptional and deserves wider recognition and appreciation. I published an article on this issue: The place and historical significance of Dooyeweerd’s Inaugural Address of 1926. Journal for Christian Scholarship, 2012: 48(1):205-221).

Your website has over 130 articles and you have had over 300 articles and books published. How do you manage to be so prolific? What is the ‘secret’?

Exploring multiple academic fields while focusing mainly on the philosophical foundations of the various academic disciplines, became a way of life to me. Perhaps I should add that by and large I have played squash every day for the past 45 years (except for Sundays).

What advice would you have for budding Christians scholars?

I would advise them to approach academic issues with a threefold agenda:
1)         First of all, investigate the history of the problem.
2)         Then contemplate the systematic import of the issue and consider which systematic philosophical distinctions may helpful in elucidating the history and significance of the issue.
3)         Finally, assess the special scientific implications of the issue.
In all of this, it will be helpful to gain a solid grip on perennial philosophical problems, such as: the one and the many; unity and multiplicity; the whole-parts relation; universality and what is individual, constancy and change and so on. In addition, a proper understanding of ism-ic orientations is also needed (what is at stake in atomism, individualism, holism, universalism, rationalism, irrationalism, realism, nominalism and so on.

What do you do for fun? 
I enjoy actuality programs (such as CNN and the History channel) and I watch some sports programmes. I have mentioned that I like it to play squash

If you were on a desert island what two luxuries would you take with you?

First of all the luxury of my computer – with 568 downloaded PDFs including works from (or about) the history of philosophy and the various academic disciplines (natural sciences and humanities). And secondly, my reading glasses enabling me to read them!

Saturday, 24 February 2018

NEO-CALVINISM AND EUROPE Conference, Leuven 29-31 August

5th European Conference on Neo-Calvinism Leuven, Belgium, 29-31 August 2018

The conference organisers would be pleased to receive proposals for short papers that address issues related to Neo-Calvinism and Europe: Religion, Nation, Culture.
Proposals must be approximately 200 words, and should be sent to by 1 April 2018.
Proposals will receive a final response by the conference organisers by 15 April.
At present, Europe - in its modern globalised form - is faced by numerous questions of profound significance. How will its identity and role in the world change in response to the resurgence of populist political leadership both within and beyond its own borders? How should it respond to Brexit, intra-European independence movements, and the ongoing significance of the (largely Muslim) migrant crisis? 
This conference will focus on neo-Calvinism, as a theological and cultural tradition that developed in late-modern Western Europe, and aims to understand it vis-à-vis Europe in both historical and constructive senses. How did the architects of neo-Calvinism - the likes of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck - view the late-modern European identity? What did it mean to them that humankind consisted of different peoples and races? To what extent did they view Europe, as a culturally Christian continent, to have a unique geopolitical calling? How should those views be understood in our post-colonial context? What is the relation between religion and the idea of the nation? How have these neo-Calvinists, and more contemporary exponents of the neo-Calvinist tradition, considered the place of Islam in Europe? Does neo-Calvinism offer promising resources for human flourishing in a continent marked by a profound diversity of ethnicities, languages, cultures, forms of secularism, and religion?

Plenary speakers
Among others:
Dr. Matthew Kaemingk, Fuller Texas, Houston
Prof. Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Media, Journalism, and Communication by Read Mercer Schuchardt

Media, Journalism, and Communication: A Student's Guide
Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition
Read Mercer Schuchardt
Crossway Books
Pbk; £8:56; 128pp.
ISBN 978-1-4335-3514-7

Media, Journalism and Communication is the latest addition to Crossway’s Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition.

Schuchardt seems to be channelling Ellul in his critique of media. He provides pertinent and apposite warning of the proliferation and all-encompassing nature of the media. This is a warning that needs to be heard and taken on-board by all students.

It has often been said we can identify someone’s worldview by what they do rather than what they think. As Schuchardt points out:

‘When times are compared, our media consumption habits, in terms of hours spent, are far more holy to us than the Sabbath, by any stretch.’
The aim of the book is ‘ to make you a more conscious user, and a less susceptible usee’. The book certainly does that. He ably demonstrates the ubiquity of media and why it matters, particularly today:

‘In the past, media was something you picked up, used, and then put down to get on with your life. Now media is your life, or at least the way you access everything else necessary to get on with your life.’

So much so that media is shaping us into its image.
‘Emojis are the new hieroglyphics’
‘Txtng is the new Hbrw’
This book will help all who read it to better discern the ideologies and assumptions behind most media (clue: it’s usually mammon).

My only gripe with the book is that it focuses on the fallen aspects of technology. And it seems, following Ellul (?), that Schuchardt regards technology as a product of the fall and not creation.
‘There was no technology in this environment [Genesis 1] because in a perfect world, you cannot improve it by inventing any form of labor saving or time-saving devices.’
What we need then is a complementary book that deals with the creative and redemptive aspects of technology and media. Nonetheless, this is an important book that demands to be read by all students, and not just students of media.

Book website:

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Smith's Awaiting the King - a review

Awaiting the King
Reforming Public Theologies
James K. A. Smith
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic
Pbk, xvii+233, £14.99
ISBN 978-0801035791

This is the third and final part of Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project. As Smith notes in the introduction ’it’s a very different book than the one I envisioned when Desiring the Kingdom was published in 2009’ (xi). Rather than being a ‘Hauerwas for Kuyperians’ it is now more a riff on Oliver O’Donovan as Smith wants to ‘work out the implications of a “liturgical” theology of culture for how we imagine and envision political engagement’ and hopes to ‘“reform” Reformed public theology, offering something of an “assist” to the tradition in order to articulate what I hope, in the end, is a catholic proposal’.

I was pleased to see his avoidance of a natural law approach that seems to be having a resurgence even among Reformed scholars. There is a renewed emphasis on church as institute. He develops a liturgical view of politics. By liturgical he means more than church liturgies. He sees them as communal love-shaping practices. And by politics, he means more than government: he evokes Aristotle's view of polis as our civic life that we share in common. His desire is that the church in its broadest sense embraces the polis, the common civic good.

The book is in one sense a warning against an over-optimistic view that Christians can easily transform culture. Particularly pertinent is his warning of a secularised Kuyperianism. Unfortunately, he doesn’t name those whose approach he criticises and I don’t recognise any of his critique in those of the Reformational stand of Kuyperianism (perhaps that’s my blind spot?). In fact, much of the critique Smith offers is an echo of that provided by some Reformational philosophers and Reformational political theorists. These all advocate a robust confessional pluralism but reject theocracy, see the need for organisations to be unfolded to develop culture, and who see the good in politics. All themes Smith seems keen on.

Smith seems to be moving away from Kuyper to embracing a more Augustinian approach shaped by O’Donovan and Hauerwas. It is a shame he hasn’t engaged more with Dooyeweerd, whose starting point for philosophy is the heart rather than the mind. Smith might have found there other (more) useful resources.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Interview with Andrew Basden (part 2)

This is part 2 of the interview with Andrew Basden, whose book The Foundations of Information Systems: Research and Practice has just been published. Part 1 of the interview is here.

The book utilises the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd and Andrew maintains the Dooyeweerd Pages.

Dooyeweerd was  Christian philosopher - how have non-Christians responded to your use Dooyeweerd's ideas?

Interestingly, I found it was non-Christians rather than Christians who liked his ideas:  Humanists, Muslims and Hindus.  I think Humanists liked Dooyeweerd because his aspects provide a welcome holistic view of things, which gets over the usual dualisms that occur.  I think that Muslims and Hindus especially liked the fact that in Dooyeweerd's scheme the religious (pistic) aspect is laid alongside all the others, not as dominating them nor as ignored, but as of equal value.  It led me to be able to say in class, something like "In the pistic aspect, my own belief is that God has created all and that he sent Jesus to open up a way to himself; now, please tell my your beliefs ..."  With Dooyeweerd's aspects I can be open about my faith and its effects on my thinking without forcing it on others, and can recognise that religious or ideological beliefs affects thinking.  

What challenges have there been to your Christian beliefs working in a non-Christian academic setting?

None.  At least, it has not caused me to doubt or anything like that.  On the contrary, it has enlivened my Christian faith.  You see, alongside various other influences like Calvinism and the Charismatic movement, I was brought up on what some might deem pietistic theology, such as holiness or the ideas that were important in the East African revival of the 1920s, of deep honesty and fellowship of equals around the Cross of Christ.  This view challenges us to humility, gentleness, and all the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and all aspects of his fruit are very helpful in the living situation of a non-Christian academic setting.  How to be gracious, gentle, how to forgive, how to allow myself to be forgiven, and so on.  Listening and genuinely understanding is part of that.  Just as we might find in any church community if we are honest.  

It has *shaped* my Christian faith, even if not challenged it.  For example, I discovered that many non-Christians can actually do genuine good (which the Calvinistic streak in my upbringing would deny), so it challenged me to work this out theologically.  I also discovered that many non-Christian thinkers generate really good academic material.  Example:  J¸rgen Habermas, John Searle, Michel Foucault.  Each one has explored and opens up something of the wonder of God's created reality, helping us understand it - even though each one is constrained by his (what Dooyeweerd called) Immanence-standpoint or other such deep beliefs.  

As a result of seeing this, I began to really appreciate the beauty, power and usefulness of Dooyeweerd's ideas.  Dooyeweerd's ideas are both so practical and also so deeply philosophical, and are not so limited as conventional philosophers seem to be.  What I find is not that Dooyeweerd stands against these philosophers, but that he can affirm, critique and enrich them.  The key ideas of each one finds a resonance somewhere in Dooyeweerd's ideas.  

This sounds, of course, as though "Dooyeweerd is the answer to all questions".  Not so.  Dooyeweerd might have offered a framework for understanding philosophy, but he did not work out the details, and where he did work out the details, some of his thinking is at best unfinished and at worst, just wrong.  Many of the insights from mainstream philosophers can inform Dooyeweerdian ideas.  

Dooyeweerd himself recognised this.  He is accused by some of being too influenced by the Existential and Linguistic Turns in philosophy.  I would see it, rather, that both he and they recognised the importance of meaning.  He proceeded to work from the idea of cosmic meaningfulness, while they worked from what they could empirically experience, and Dooyeweerd and they met half way, and Dooyeweerd realised they could inform him.  

What advice do you have for Christians scholars working such a setting?

One is to get your relationship with Christ right; learn to walk with Father God in life, with Christ on the throne of your life, rather than yourself on the throne.  See yourself not as right, nor as being blessed by God (though both are probably true), but as having the responsibility to be used by God to bless the world He made.  Anything done 'to advance my career' or for other similar motives, will ultimately fail.  Treat all failures as gifts from your Heavenly Father to help you learn to walk with Him.  

Another is to recognise that the world that God is blessing, through you, the academic world of scholarship.  That reverses the direction of the last 100 years, in which Christians have retreated from contributing to the theoretical content of humanity's bodies of knowledge, and I believe there might be a move of God today towards engagement with His world that is new.  

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?

Too many!

1.  A book that introduces Dooyeweerd's philosophy in a way that researchers in a wide range of disciplines can find useful as a reference volume.  Hopefully to be delivered by end of 2018, to come out 2019.  

2.  To write several major papers in major international journals that apply Dooyeweerd's ideas in various ways - expanding on ideas in my book.  

3.  To establish a Dooyeweerd Research Fund, which will be funded by continuous subscription or donations, and will provide small amounts of funding to stimulate research in all fields using Dooyeweerd's philosophy.  I am sad at the very limited penetration of Dooyeweerd into the various fields, compared with other philosophers.  

4.  To not only keep developing the Dooyeweerd Pages website but to revamp it before I get senile!  ("") 

5.  To develop and promulgate a theology in which engagement with the world and especially environmental responsibility is not just a bolt-on but is central to God's Plan of Creation and Salvation.  We need a theology of this, which does not ignore the various movements of God throughout the centuries but incorporates their insights.  ("")  

6.  To publicise all of these especially in the mainstream media.  

7.  Oh, and I would love to get the Dooyeweerd Pages and my books translated into Chinese and Arabic, so that people in other cultures could benefit from Dooyeweerd's ideas.  

What do you like to do for fun?

Walking in the Pennine hills and other places - I would love to get back to Scotland.  Seeing hills, streams, plants, birds, insects, etc.  Visiting historical sites.  Playing computer games with good content: ZAngband and Settlers on my Amiga computer, and Clash of Clans, Settlers of Catan and Minecraft on my tablet.  Playing non-computer games.  Listening to some comedy (love Henning Wehn).  Reading biographies of people who took God seriously.  Hearing music of nearly all kinds (love Sibelius, The Proclaimers).  Adding material to various websites, including the Dooyeweerd Pages ("").  Electronics if I have time (which I don't).  And being a domain reseller, making up new Internet domains!