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, 25 April 2008

Calvin Seerveld interview

Calvin Seerveld is interviewed by Comment. It is a fascinating insight into the life and work of an academic, an author, an artist and a pop song writer.

Faith and Force: Book review

FAITH AND FORCE: A Christian Debate about War by David Clough and Brian Stiltner. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2007. 304 pages, bibliography and index. Paperback; $26.95. ISBN: 9781589011656.

Faith and Force is an unfortunate title for this book. The “and” gives the impression of two separate areas of life; faith is not a separate area because it permeates all of life. However, this title was chosen, I suspect, for its alliteration rather than its theological purpose as both authors seek to show how their faith integrates with their different positions.

David Clough and Brian Stiltner have produced an excellent and innovative book. They come from different perspectives as well as different sides of the Atlantic. Clough, a Methodist at St. John’s College, Durham, UK, expounds and defends a pacifist position. Stiltner, a Roman Catholic at Sacred Heart University, USA, takes a just war position.

The impetus for this book is the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Two friends found themselves on opposing sides of the debate and long e-mail debates ensued. These debates formed the basis of Faith and Force. Each of the chapters is co-written and then followed by the e-mail type discussions which retain much of a conversational character and highlight agreements and disagreements.

The key questions addressed are: When, if at all, is it right for a country to go to war? Should a person serve in the armed forces? How much money, if any, is legitimate to spend on the military? These are urgent questions since millions of lives and dollars are at stake.
Along the way, clear and insightful discussions are directed at topics like developing a war-ethic (chap. 1), the issue of weapons’ proliferation (chap. 4), and the menace of terrorism (chap. 5).
It is a little disappointing for this neo-Calvinist not to see any major interaction with Reformed authors on the just war position as it avoids the problems of a natural law approach. Nevertheless, this book is highly recommended, not only for its ethical discussion, but also as a model for debate and discussion. Ethics involves a reflective and dialogic process and these aspects are exemplified in this book. The authors have provided useful resources in thinking about the ethical issues of war from two different Christian traditions.

Despite my reservations with the book’s title, it would be great to see a series of books using this as a model such as Faith and Global Warming, Faith and Evolution; though I suspect these debates might not be as cordial as this particular book.

Steve Bishop

Publisher's details here

Book website here

Science and Grace: Book review

SCIENCE AND GRACE: God’s Reign in the Natural Sciences by Tim Morris and Don Petcher. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006. 352 pages. Paperback; $17.99. ISBN: 1581345496.

Tim Morris and Don Petcher, professors at Covenant College, have had a long-term interest in the relationship between science and their Christian commitment. It was this interest that led them to create “Science in Perspective,” a course at Covenant College, and it was out of this course that this book developed. Both write from a Reformed perspective and yet this book would appeal to Christians of any persuasion and even to open-minded non-Christians.

The book is split into three sections. The first section looks at “Science and Christian belief in the postmodern context.” What is refreshing about this chapter is that the authors take postmodernism seriously and do not write it off as a philosophical aberration that science will eventually disprove.

Chapter 3 looks at five “dissenters,” Christians who have rejected the Enlightenment Project of the neutrality and objectivity of reason and therefore of science: Blaise Pascal, Johann Georg Hamann, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd. All of these dissenters agree that there is a need to reconsider the role of faith in relation to reason. Faith commitments are important in the development of science. If there are two different kinds of science—that of the believer and that of the nonbeliever—then how can we work together? Morris and Petcher answer: common grace.

Section two examines “Jesus Christ, the Lord of creation” and considers God’s relation to his creation. Chapter 4 looks at the Trinitarian character of God and his covenant with his creation. The extremes of immanentism or pantheism and transcendence or deism are avoided. The Trinitarian God works in the creation in a covenantal way. This means that the world is not a predictable machine. The next chapter looks at the concept of miracles and God’s freedom in the universe. Morris and Petcher rightly regard miracles as being part of God’s providence; a miracle is an “outworking of God’s purposes.” In the final chapter in this section, “The laws of nature and the gospel of grace,” they see the laws as a “faithful unfolding of God’s covenant promises” that reflect creation’s creatureliness and contingency.

The final section, “Investigating his dominion,” analyzes our place in the “doing” of science. The authors ask, “What does loving God and neighbor entail in the natural sciences?” They see science as an opportunity for obedience to the great commandment (Mark 12:30–31). It is a refreshing and inspiring perspective. Materialism and reductionism are resisted and they capture the wildness of creation that has been lost in the “Modern domesticated version” of science.

Throughout the final section is a lot of wisdom and wise advice, for example: “the use of scientific evidence in apologetics may inadvertently cede to science the ultimate truth authority” (p. 270) and “our ultimate allegiance as scientists is not to our scientific disciplines as such but to Christ’s church” (p. 191).

The penultimate chapter looks at “The kingdom of Christ and the culture of science”; science is seen as “a cultural enterprise that reflects God’s favor and yet calls for His judgment at the same time” (p. 306). The final chapter provides a clarion call for Christians to work out their science in the context of their Christian commitments. There are twenty-four pages of notes, a bibliography of 149 works and an eight-page index.

This is one of the best books on science and Christianity I have read. If you only read one book on science and Christianity this year, make it this one. The authors take seriously Kuyper’s claim that there is no inch of secular life that Christ does not declare, “It is mine.” They look at what this claim might mean for the biological and physical sciences, but as they do so, it has implications for all of the sciences—theology included. This is a book that demands slow, careful, and prayerful study for any Christian involved in academic study.

Steve Bishop

More details here.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

John Calvin rediscovered

James Bratt discusses a book he co-edited: John Calvin Rediscovered: The Impact of His Social and Economic Thought (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2007): mp3

The religious heritage of rights talk: Witte and Wolterstorff

John Witte Jr and Nicholas Wolterstorff discuss religion and human rights. Quicktime movie (228 MB) and mp3 (59 MB). This was a CCCS sponsored event.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The kingdom as Jubilee

‘Jesus’ concept of the kingdom was borrowed extensively from the prophetic understanding of the Jubilee year’ J H Yoder (Politics of Jesus p. 36)

God’s work in creation set a precedence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, rest; this is seen in the Sabbath day Deut 5;12-15 and the Sabbath year Lev 25:17

Barnabas (Paul’s apostolic companion) takes it further in The Epistle of Barnabas 13: 3, 4, he writes:

‘... And God made in 6 days the work of his hands; and he finished them on the seventh day, and he rested the seventh day, and snctified it. Consider my children, what this signifies he finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this; that in
6, 000 years the Lord God will bring all things to an end.’

Sabbath year of sabbath years = Jubilee Lev 25:8ff extra rest!

4 themes characterise Jubilee:
(ii)forgiveness of debts
(iii) liberation of slaves and the oppressed
(iv) redemption of property

Jesus and jubilee
Lk 4: 18,19 Jesus’ first public sermon – announcing the arrival of the kingdom – couched in jubilee terms

It is claimed that AD 26 was the actual year of the Jubilee – the jubilee age has arrived.

1. Celebration (jubilation) (Lev 25 v 9) - sounding of the trumpet: a proclamation everyone around knew about it.
2. Atonement (v 9) - all that we do rests upon what Jesus has accomplished in and through the cross.
3. Family (v 10) - all returned to their families; the oppressed go free
4. Work/ rest (v 11) - our work is shaped by obedience to God; the importance of rest - no workaholism here!
5. Reliance upon God (v 12) unless God blesses we starve!
6. Economics (v 14ff) land (v )- the gospel is for all of life, it affects how we buy and sell, the economic powers etc: all of life is to be redeemed.
7. Release from debt - 'forgive us our debts'. Debts were forgiven. Good news for the poor.
8. Stewardship of the land (v 23) - environmental concern
8. Care (v 35).
9. Above all it was a restoration - people were restored, redeemed.

Release and restoration characterises the jubilee themes - a message taken up when Jesus declared jubilee (aka the year of the Lord's favour) in Lk 4.

Eschatalogical anticipation - a foretaste of the 'not yet' now. Echoes of the exodus too (v 8, 55, etc)


Lk 12:22-31 cf Lev 25: 20-22.
There is much emphasis in our society on work – but not enough on rest. Paul Marshall writes:
This rest is more than recuperation and preparation for work. It is a God-given human response in its own right.

We are the image of God – God works and then he rests.

Rest is not just what we do in our spare time, it’s not just a holiday, or a day off; it is so much more:

Hebrews 3:7-4:10
sabbath rest

We rest from out labours – in more than one sense of the word. Rest is a reminder that we can’t do it in our own strength.

When most people ‘rest’ we consume; the numbers in the mall are testimony to that fact. I’m no different, I hate the mall, but I love amazon!

Forgiveness and liberation

Lk 11: 4 release (aphiemi) our debts (opheilema = monetary debts); as we release everyone that is indebted to us ie practice Jubilee

Mt 18: 23 the kingdom of heaven is like... Jubilee!
verse 27 aphiemi
(aphiemi LXX in Lev 25)

Redemption of property
land = wealth, capital
Lk 12: 32-34 sell your possessions and give to the poor
Mk 10:21 rich young ruler ‘ practice jubilee’
Lk 19: 8-10 Zacheus

The implications of Jubilee

1. It is God’s new order bursting in
economic, social, religious, political, ... cf Gal 3: 28

All areas under the influence of Jubilee – hence and image of the kingdom.

2. It shows God’s concern for the poor and oppressed

Provision for the poor:
(i)0% interest rate
(ii) third year tithe given to the poor
(iii) debts were cancelled every seven years
(iv)debtors sold into slavery were to be released every seven years
(v)fallow land was available for the poor

Jubilee prevented exploitation of the poor and oppressed – it not only provided for them it gave the a new start.

Early Israel was an egalitarian society. Later the gap between rich and poor increased; they moved away for the jubilee principles (Is 58; Amos 2:6)
It prevented Israel becoming permanent slaves.

3. It shows God’s concern for the earth
‘the land is mine’ underlines the Jubilee
It is a reminder that we are stewards
It enabled the land and the animals to rest.

4. Restoration
Amos 3:21 restoration of all things
Rom 8, Rev 21 the whole earth is to experience release and liberty – at the Jubilee of Jubilees!


R.B. Sloan, Jr, The Favourable Year of the Lord: A Study of Jubilary Theology in the Gospel of Luke. Schola Press: Austin, Texas, 1977. Pp. 213

Friday, 18 April 2008

Dooyeweerd study guides

I have recently resumed my study guides to two of Dooyeweerd's books:

I also intend to return to Roots of Western Culture guide shortly.

Two other study guides in progress are:

Odds and sods

Thursday, 17 April 2008

A brief musical interlude ....

From the new DVD.
The UNcon was the first time that Daevid Allen, Steve Hillage, Tim Blake, Gilli Smyth, Mike Howlett, Miquette Giraudy and Didier Malherbe had all been together on stage and performed since the 1977 Gong reunion in Paris.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

J P A Mekkes on Reformational wiki

Rudi Hayward has posted a useful brief biography of J P A Mekes (1898-1987) and an outline of his thought on Reformational wiki. After a spell in a POW camp, Mekkes worked for the Dutch equivalent of the FBI and then became on of the first professors appointed by the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy. He influenced Bob Goudzwaard, Dick Stafleu and Egbert Schuurman among others.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

McKnight on work

Scot McKnight is working through Darrell Codsen's excellent little book on work: The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work.

I'm really pleased that Scot is drawing this book to people's attention. It's one of the few books that treats work as being worthwhile in itself and not viewing work as a just a mission field, a place to share the gospel.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

B J van der Walt Transformed ch 4

Taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ

This is the fifth in a series of posts looking at B J van der Walt’s Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind (ICCA: Potchesftroom, 2001)

In this chapter van der Walt attempts to ‘explain what Christian scholarship entails’. It is not an easy task – either explaining it or doing it. However, it is an essential task!

He starts by looking at the importance and character of education. He describes it thus:
Education ... always implies a deliberate and conscious attempt on the part of the educator to lead the child, student or adult to a particular goal according to certain norms. To educate means to exert real formative power and to give actual direction to the development of the individual. Education, therefore, is a normative task – even in the case of those who deny this fact in their propogation of so-called neutral education (p. 131)
He then looks at the nature of higher (tertiary) education and the difference between everyday pre-theoretical thought and scientific thought. A simple but apposite illustration shows the difference:
Who knows more about the sick baby: the mother or the medical doctor? The answer of course that neither knows more: the mother and doctor have different forms of knowledge of the sick baby. Intuitively and pre-scientifically the mother suspects that her baby has chickenpox. The doctor’s scientific training, however, enables him to diagnose it definitely as chickenpox.(p 135)
Before looking at how to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, van der Walt examines some common misconceptions in practising Christian scholarship: the dualistic, modernistic and postmodernistic approaches.

In the dualistic view the Christian is both a Christian and a scholar. It is not always easy to keep these together. In the moderistic approach science is viewed as being neutral, the application of the correct scientific method will guarantee neutrality. However, as van der Walt shows, this is false: religious presuppositions are part of every scientific process. The postmodernistic approach with its emphasis on a pluralism of stories is a far more subtle and dangerous than the previous two. Christianity is now merely one of the many different ‘acceptable’ approaches. This means sacrificing the word of God on the altar of postmodern relativism.

Dualistic approaches seek to unit Christianity and the sciences, a modernistic approach rejects Christianity for the sake of science and postmodernistic approaches accept Christianity as one of many equally valid approaches. Whereas, a Christian approach seeks to transform the sciences. Christianity is not an icing on the cake (to evoke the title of another book) but permeates the whole of the cake – like salt or yeast. Every science should be practised in the light of God.

He identifies five stages in Christian scholarship which are summarised in the diagram below.

Christian scholarship should be ‘marked by fidelity to God’s revelation’. This is the light that illuminates our ‘scientific filters’.

In the next section he looks at the role of the Bible and how it is authoritative and how it is a light. He concludes this chapter with a look at the place of theology in its relationship to philosophy. Theology is an ordinary scientific discipline with limited authority.

Tom Wright in the NewStatesman