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.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Visualising the Bible

Chris Harrison has produced this visualisation of the Bible; for more details see here.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Drama of Scripture Act 4 - slides

Here are the slides to acompany my talk. They were originally keynote but I had to convert them to PowerPoint to upload to slideshare - hence the clunkiness.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The Drama of Scripture: The king arrives

Here are my notes for a talk I'll be doing on Sunday night. We are in the middle of a series based on Bartholomew and Goheen's book The Drama of Scripture. There are a set of slides to accompany it which I'll upload later.

Where are we in the story?

Act 1 Creation
There is one God, who is king over all

Act 2 Fall,
We’ve messed it up – we want to be our own king

Acts 3 The promise of restoration

Act 4 Redemption
Jesus comes onto the scene – the kingdom is restored.

We find ourselves at a crossroads: at the intersection of two stories. Two stories that claim to be comprehensive and both claim to be true. The question is which story are we part of?

An atheist was walking through the woods.
"What majestic trees"!
"What powerful rivers"!
"What beautiful animals"! He said to himself.

As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him.

He turned to look. He saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him.

He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him.

He looked over his shoulder again, & the bear was even closer. He tripped & fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw & raising his right paw to strike him.

At that instant the Atheist cried out, "Heaven help me!"

Time Stopped.
The bear froze.
The forest was silent.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. "You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident." "Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer"?

The atheist looked directly into the light, "It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR do something like a Christian"?

"Very Well," said the voice.

The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head & spoke:

"Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive, Amen."

What would we do when asked to something like a Christian? If we know and live out of the Christian story of creation, fall and redemption we won’t need to do something Christian – we will be Christian it all that we do.

How can we be living out of the biblical story if we are not living, soaking and immersed in it?

Let’s look at the quick overview we had two weeks ago.

The Greeks and Romans in a way had paved the way for the coming messiah.

The Greeks provided a common language Koine Greek, most of the world understood Greek.

Pax Romana meant there was much stability in the “known” universe and Roman roads were straight and durable and could be found in most places the Romans conquered so the early missionaries were able to make good use of them.

We come now to the turning point of history: Jesus; our calendars testify to the importance of his birth. Yet as James Allen Francis wrote in One Solitary Life:

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Twenty long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

We often say that every preacher has only one sermon and most of you will be thinking, yes here’s Steve’s one talk regurgitated once again. But in the Gospels we have one sermon between three people. Such was the importance of the gospel of the kingdom.

Let’s look at this one solitary life that change the world.

Jesus’ early life is seen in his baptism, the descent of the Spirit and his immediately going into the desert.

His mission has three main focuses: his initial obscurity, his increasing popularity around the Galilee area, this brings him to the attention of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, form which he faces some opposition. Jesus then goes up to Jerusalem to confront the opposition.

Jesus’ mission is the mission of the kingdom. The king has come and he wants his kingdom back. However, it’s not the type of kingdom most of the Jews were expecting.

They expected that the kingdom of God would be "the age to come " ushered in by the coming of God and the Day of the Lord. God would assume his royal power, vindicate Israel, liberate them from their (Roman) oppressors and bring peace and prosperity for his people. It meant that God would rule Israel and that Rome would not. It was seen in nationalistic and even militaristic terms.

Jesus took up this theme of the kingdom and transformed it. He stripped it of any nationalistic and militaristic overtones. He redefines Israel's enemies: it is not Rome but Satan who "has made his home” (as Tom Wright says) “not in the ... Roman forces but in the central institutions of Judaism itself"; he redesigned Israel: it included the outcasts, the Gentiles, tax collectors and women.

The Jews had a one-stage view – God would come and the age to come would be established. However, there is an overlap. The kingdom has come with Jesus – we are now living in the overlap.

Most of Jesus' teaching was in parables, 40 odd of them, where he constantly transformed and challenged the prevalent Jewish view of the kingdom (eg Lk 8:9; 13:18-20); however, perhaps the most dramatic reinterpretation was that the future kingdom was already present (Lk 11:20; 16:16). It was already here, but not yet in its fullness. The kingdom is now and the kingdom is not yet.

Jesus’ miracles also testify to the kingdom. It is now – the rule and reign of God has come, people are set free, but it has not yet arrived in its fullness, if it had there would be no need for miracles.

Miracles make the abnormal normal. They restore creation. The naturalist says that the world is normal and miracles are abnormal, but for the Christian it is the opposite, the world is abnormal and miracles are normal.

As sin has affected every area and aspect of life, so too does Jesus’ work of redemption. Redemption potentially ‘undoes’ the consequences of the fall. The work of Jesus redeems and restores the whole of creation; as Al Wolters writes: ‘redemption in Jesus Christ reaches just as far as the fall’ (Creation Regained, 1985, p. 71).

There have been a number of glimpses of redemption in the Old Testament, the flood – incidentally Noah was perhaps the first financial entrepreneur, he floated his business when all else was in liquidation – the sacrifices, the Sabbath and jubilee legislation all point towards a redemption and restoration of creation. They are hints that life isn’t as it should be and point the way towards a more harmonious way of being and living, not only for humans but also for animals and the rest of creation.

Redemption means a number of things, including restoration and reconciliation. It means a restoration of all that was lost at the fall, relationships are restored: the relationships between humans, relationships between the sexes, between humans and the rest of creation can be healed and reconciled. It is this ministry of reconciliation that we have been charged with.

The cross – Jesus’ death and resurrection - is the instrument of redemption.

The cross does deal with the sin of individuals and it does enable us to have a relationship with God and in this sense it is personal. Jesus paid the death penalty that we were guilty of and died in our place, so we can have a relationship with God the father.

However, to restrict it to that limits the cross; the cross is good news for all of creation! It is all embracing; it touches every area and aspect of life. The cross is not a private personal thing. Lesslie Newbigin says:

We privatize this mighty work of grace and talk as if the whole cosmic drama of salvation culminates in the words ‘for me; for me.

(i) The cross is cosmic in scope
To limit the work of the cross to dealing with ‘personal’ sin or salvation emasculates it. Jesus achieved so much more than this. Paul writing about Jesus in Colossians gives us its full impact. He describes Jesus as: the image of the invisible God; the firstborn of all creation; the creator of the heavens and earth; the means of, and the reason for, the creation of all things; the pre-existent one; the sustainer of all things; the head of the church; the firstborn of the dead; the fullness of God. It is in this context that he says of Christ, that he is the one, ‘to reconcile all things [Gk: ta panta] to himself, making peace through the blood of the cross’.

Jesus’ work on the cross is cosmic in scope. It reconciles all things (ta panta). I’ve said before, that in the Greek the word ‘all things’ means ‘all things’. Hence nothing is exempt from its power; it has implications for the whole of the created order, whether it is humans, animals, institutions, the principalities and powers, Satan and his hordes or the earth.

(ii) The cross vindicates creation
The cross redeems creation; it also declares God’s love for his world. ‘God so loved the world [Gk: kosmos] that he gave his Son’ (Jn 3:16). Because all of the creation is included in the work of the cross it shows the love that God has for it. It is in the cross that God reaffirms his ownership of the earth (Ps 24:1; Job 39). Humanity is not to be redeemed apart from the created order but with it. Indeed the earth will be the scene of God’s total completion and consummation of the ages-although it will be a renewed and transformed heaven and earth (Rev 21: 1-2).

(iii) The cross deals with the consequences of the fall
The cross dealt with all the consequences of the fall. On the cross Christ completed a cosmic reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19), the relationships between humanity, God and the earth, were restored and the barriers of hostility were destroyed (Eph 2:14-18). We can once more experience shalom. This, though, has not happened automatically - it is to be fulfilled by the ministry of the body of Christ. We have been entrusted with this ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). We are to bring shalom to the earth (Matt 5:9) by proclaiming the cross and resurrection of Christ. But that’s the topic of the next talk that Si will deal with.

The cross then has manifold implications. Its significance to Christianity cannot be over-emphasised. By failing to grasp its full implications we water-down Christianity; it becomes domesticated and irrelevant to God’s creation and the kingdom of God becomes other-worldly.

Of course, the cross wasn’t the end. Jesus destroyed death, the last enemy, and rose again.

The resurrection and the sending of the Spirit marked the dawning of a new creation. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead, the first fruits. These are pledges of our resurrection – resurrection comes in three stages: Jesus, the church experiencing the resurrection life and then the whole of creation and the return of Christ.

The Holy Spirit comes and equips us he enables us to experience the future kingdom today; he equips us to carry on the words, works and wonders of Jesus, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of all of creation (Mk 16:15)

So, what has the drama of scripture told us so far?

Where are we?
We are in a purposeful, lawful creation.

Who are we?
We are the image bearers of God.

Why are we here?
To subdue and rule the creation as stewards of God.
To develop and unfold God’s good creation
To play our part in God’s developing story

What’s wrong?
We are in a fallen distorted and broken world

What’s the remedy?
Redemption and restoration through Jesus Christ

Jesus on the cross accomplished it all – that why he was able to declare, it is finished.


Friday, 16 January 2009

Odds and sods

Review of Biblical Literature now has its own blog [HT Evanggelion]
A new Bible backgrounds series on Koinonia blog
BAG - Greek dictionary is on-line [HT NT Resources blog]
Christian History now has a blog [HT Between two worlds]
The Devil Reads Derrida - a new book by Jamie Smith
Trinity Media blog has podcasts of lectures from Trinity College, Bristol.
A church history rap
John Ortberg's misconception of faith and doubt exposed by Mike Wittmer
Monergisms mp3 library

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Trevin Wax interviews Tom Wright

Trevin Wax interviews Tom Wright and grills him on his new book Justification - which is a response to John Piper - here.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

All of life redeemed website 2008 new materials

It's been a busy year for the allofliferedeemed website:

My thanks to all those who have given permission for me to post their work, for those who have scanned materials and for those who use it.

Here is a list of the new additions in 2008:

New pages added:

Jacob Klapwijk pages
Gordon Spykman pages
H Van Riessen pages
S U Zuideman pages
J P A Mekkes pages
K J Popma pages
A Janse pages
H G Stoker pages
J A L Taljaard pages
Robert Knudsen pages
Jim Skillen pages
Mike Goheen pages
Craig Bartholomew pages
Andrew Basden pages

New articles:

Andrew Basden

1999. On the ontological status of virtual environments
1999. A new framework for sustainability
2001. Beyond emancipation
2001. A philosophical underpinning for IT evaluation
2002.The critical theory of Herman Dooyeweerd?
2002. A Philosophical Underpinning For ISD
2003. with A. Trevor Wood-Harper A Philosophical Enrichment of CATWOE
2003. Enriching critical theory
2003. Levels of guidance
2004. Emancipation as if it mattered
2004. On Appealing to Philosophy in Information Systems
2005. Enriching humanist thought
2006. Information systems as a life-world
2007. 'Fresh light thrown on the Chinese room'
2007. A brief overview of Dooyeweerd's philosophy
2007. Frameworks for understanding IS and ICT
2008. Understanding everyday experience and use of facebook and games
2008. A slow journey towards Social Theory in information systems

Roy Clouser

2008. Is belief in God made obsolete by science?
1985. Dooyeweerd on religion and faith: a response. ICS Conference paper.

Mike Goheen

Creational Revelation, Scriptural Revelation, and Science, in Facets of Faith and Science. Volume 4: Interpreting God's Action in the World,ed. Jitse van der Meer. Lanham: The Pascal Centre for Advanced Studies in Faith and Science/University Press of America, 1996, 313-330.

Organism of Revelation, in Facets of Faith and Science. Volume 4: Interpreting God's Action in the World, ed. Jitse van der Meer. Lanham: The Pascal Center for Advanced Studies in Faith and Science/University Press of America, 1996, 331-345.

Bob Goudzwaard

10 A Christian Political Option book - 1972
13 Economic Stewardship versus Capitalist Religion syllabus - 1972
17 Interview - Goudzwaard and Cramp Vanguard - 1974
18 "From Death to Shalom" Vanguard article - 1974
31 "Norms for the International Economic Order" with J van Baars - 1978
35 Towards Reformation in Economics ICS class syllabus - 1980
36 "Types of Government Economic Policy" ICS paper - 1980
40 "Christian Social Thought in the Dutch Neo-Calvinist tradition" - 1986
42 "Creation Management: " conference paper and journal article - 1987
43 with H M de Lange, book review - 1988
45 "World Poverty - A Contribution" WCC Minutes, Moscow - 1989
46 "Why poverty grows" journal article - 1989
49 "Christian Politics and the Pirnciple of Sphere Sovereignty" - 1991
51 "Freedom and Justice: ..." journal article - 1992
52 "Economics and Theology" journal article - 1992
60 "Who Cares?" CPJ conference paper and book chapter - 1996
63 "Globalization" WARC conference paper and journal article - 1996
69 "New Introduction" to Capitalism and Progress - 1997
75 "Spirals of life and death ..." journal article - 1998
76 "Globalization, regionalization and Sphere-Soverengty" speech - 1998
83 with Aad Vlot, VvCW conference summary and journal article - 2001
90 "Ethical Dimesnions of a Globalising Economy" Potter festschrift - 2002
113 "Economic theory and the normative aspects of reality" (1961) - 2008
114 "Market, Money, Capital" (1999) with Rob van Drimmelen - 2008

Jacob Klapwijk
2008. Reason Reversed? chapter 1 and 9
1991. Antithesis and Common Grace
1991. Epilogue: The Idea of Transformational Philosophy
1980. The Struggle for a Christian Philosophy: Another Look at Dooyeweerd
1980. Dooyeweerd's Christian Philosophy: Antithesis and Critique

Abraham Kuyper

Days of Glad Tidings - Pentecost( with Ascension Day) vol. III (translated from Dagen van Goede Boodschap -Op den Pinksterdag (Met Hemelvaart) J.A. Wormser: Amsterdam, 1888 - by Jack Van Meggelen)

Duncan Roper

'The earth as a garden for all creatures' (2008) Stimulus

Mark Roques and Arthur Jones:

What is Distinctive about the Reality Bites Approach to Schools Work? I. Telling the Stories of Culture-Transforming Christians

What’s Distinctive about the Reality Bites Approach to Schools Work? II. Engaging in ‘Immanent Critique’ of Secularism

Jim Skillen

'Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea: Herman Dooyeweerd’s Political and Legal Thought' The Political Science Reviewer XXXII (2003) pp.318-380

Gordon Spykman

1985. Spectacles: Biblical Perspectives on Christian Scholarship. PU for CHE: Potchefstroom.

1982. 'Beyond words to action' in Confessing Christ and Doing Politics ed. James Skillen (CPJ: Washington)

1984. How is scripture normative in Christian ethics? In The Interpretation of Scripture Today: RES Theological Conference, Chicago 1984. Grand Rapids, MI.: Reformed Ecumenical Synod, 1984 (pp. 39-57).

1992. Theology queen or servant? Orientation: international circular of the PU for CHE; nos. 63-66. 13-23.
A Confessional Hermeneutic Alternative to the Historical-Critical Method. The Reformed Ecumenical Synod Theological Bulletin (December), Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 1-13.

D. H. TH Vollenhoven

'Lecture notes on Kant' from the syllabus 1958-59; translated by Bill Rowe (1977)

'The foundations of Calvinist thought' - lecture delivered in 1934 at Dusseldorf
Het Calvinischme en de Reformatie van de Wijsbegeerte Ch 2 (pp 22-48) (in English)

Bruce Wearne

2008. Cultivating Care within a Vulnerable Economy: an annotated bibliography of the English writings of Bob Goudzwaard 1967-2008.

2008. Public Justice for All: An Annotated Bibliography of the Works of James W. Skillen, 1967-2008 (2nd updated edn)

2008. A Collection of Essays: Concepts, reviews, positive contributions.

1992. Social Theory and the Myth of Religious Neutrality: Introductory Theses for a Christian Sociology. Paper Presented to Author Meets Critics Session : Roy A Clouser The Myth of Religious Neutrality University of Notre Dame Press. Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. November 8th, 1992. Washington D.C.

1991. Book Review: The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories Roy A. Clouser Notre Dame and London : Notre Dame University Press, 1991.

1989. "And miles to go before I sleep" Naked Wasp (Chisholm Student Union Inc) Vol. 12(6) p. 18.

Albert Weideman

2008. Constitutive and regulative conditions for the assessment of academic literacy.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Themelios online

The journal Themelios now has most of its articles online.  
These include three of my articles:

  • Introductory Source for the Interaction of Science and Christianity by Steve Bishop (PDF)
  • Science and Faith: Boa Constrictors and Warthogs by Steve Bishop (PDF)
  • Green theology and Deep Ecology: New Age or New Creation? by Steve Bishop (PDF)

Articles of interest include:
  • Qoheleth in the Canon?: Current Trends in the Interpretation of Ecclesiastes by Craig Bartholomew (PDF)
  • Architects of Evangelical Intellectual Thought: Abraham Kuyper and Benjamin Warfield by Peter S. Heslam (PDF)
  • Post/Late? Modernity as the Context for Christian Scholarship Today by Craig Bartholomew (PDF)
  • Destroyed For Ever: An Examination of the Debates Concerning Annihilation and Conditional Immortalit by Tony Gray (PDF)
  • The Roles of the Woman and the Man in Genesis 3 by Richard S. Hess (PDF)
  • The Image of God in Humanity: a Bibical-psychological Perspective by R. Ward Wilson & Craig L. Blomberg (PDF)
  • New Horizons in Hermeneutics: a Review Article by Richard S. Hess (PDF)
  • A Stalemate of Genders? Some Hermeneutical Reflections by C. Powell (PDF)
  • The Value of Women and World View by E. Jensen (PDF)
  • The Mystery of Male and Female: Biblical and Trinitatian Models by R.P. Stevens (PDF
  • The Kansas City Prophets: an Assessment by Nigel G. Wright (PDF)
  • Charismatic Prophecy and New Testament Prophecy by Mark J. Cartledge (PDF
  • Restoration and the ‘House Church’ Movement by Nigel G. Wright (PDF)
  • The New Testament and the ‘State’ by N.T. Wright (PDF)
  • The People of God and the State in the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright (PDF)
  • The New Testament View of Life After death by Murray J. Harris (PDF)
  • Explaining Social Reality: Some Christian Reflections by Richard J. Mouw (PDF)
  • Godliness and Good Learning: Cranfield’s Romans by Tom Wright (PDF)
  • Towards a Biblical View of Universalism by N.T. Wright (PDF)
  • Shall you not surely die by Edwin A. Blum (PDF)
  • Universalism: a Historical Survey by Richard Bauckham (PDF
  • The ‘Rapture’ Question by Grant R. Osborne (PDF)
  • Five Ways to Salvation in Contemporary Guruism by Vishal Mangalwadi (PDF

  • Sunday, 4 January 2009

    The Drama of Scripture Act 1

    The Drama of Scripture: The King and his Kingdom
    This is the text of a talk I will give this evening at 'church'.

    This is the first in a series based on a brilliant book by Mike Goheen and Craig Bartholomew The Drama of Scripture.

    Tonight we will look at the King and the creation of his Kingdom - the beginning of the grand story.

    Another great book which will take less than a couple of hours to read is Lesslie Newbigin’s A Walk Through the Bible.

    Why the need for an overview of the biblical story?

    The reason is that so many are ignorant.

    I was visiting a school recently and in a RE lesson I asked little Johnny, "Who knocked down the walls of Jericho?"

    Little Johnny replied, "I dunno, but it wasn't me!"

    I was shocked by his lack of basic Bible knowledge went to the head and to report what Johnny said.

    She replied, "I know Little Johnny as well as his whole family very well and can vouch for them; if Little Johnny said that he did not do it, then I, as head am satisfied that it is the truth."

    Even more appalled, I e-mailed the regional Head of Education and related the whole incident...

    He quickly replied: "I can't see why you are making such a big issue out of this; just get three quotes and fix the wall!"

    Gary Burge a lecturer at Wheaton, a Christian college in the States, gave his students a simple Bible test he discovered that:

    One-third of the freshmen could not put the following in order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost.
    Half could not sequence: Moses in Egypt, Isaac's birth, Saul's death, and Judah's exile.
    80 percent could not place Moses, Adam, David, Solomon, Abraham in chronological order.

    Why do we need to know the biblical story? How do we view the Bible?
    An Indian scholar once said to Lesslie Newbigin:

    I can't understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion - and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don't need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it.

    Mike Goheen:

    We have fragmented the Bible into bits—moral bits, systematic-theological bits, devotional bits, historical-critical bits, narrative bits, and homiletical bits. When the Bible is broken up in this way there is no comprehensive grand narrative to withstand the power of the comprehensive humanist narrative that shapes our culture. The Bible bits are accommodated to the all-embracing cultural story, and it becomes that story—i.e. the humanist story—that shapes our lives.

    We are marching to a story line – the issue isn’t ‘should we?’ the issue is ‘which story?’ Is it the world’s story or the biblical story?

    We find ourselves at a crossroads: at the intersection of two stories. Two stories that claim to be comprehensive and both claim to be true.

    And how can we be living out of the biblical story if we are not living, soaking and immersed in it?

    Tom Wright uses the image of a several act play: the final act is us working it out, improvising from what we know – but we can only improvise if we are soaked in the story.

    A great jazz player can improvise because she knows her scales, she knows her instrument and she knows her band members and how they respond and react.

    So too for us to be improvisers we need to know the biblical story to be able to live out that story and not some other story.

    The antidote? Is to see the whole of the biblical story in context.

    First I want to give a grand overview and then look at the creation - the beginning of the story.


    The Bible in one minute - YouTube clip

    A simplified line diagram of biblical history:

    This basic line diagram provides a simplified version of biblical history
    We have the patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, Isaac), then the monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon) – the people of God wanted to be just like the other nations so that had another king other than God. The kingdom divided: Israel to the North and Judah to the South. Israel and the tribes were carried off into captivity by the Assyrians – the tribes of Israel were lost. Judah – then went inot exile carried off by the Babylonians, the Babylonian empire faded and Cyrus of the Medes and Persians let Judah go back to their land.
    The Persians faded – the Greeks became the dominant power and during this time the Scriptures are silent. The Romans come to power and we see the start of the New Testament.

    The biblical story can be split into six acts.

    The story starts, in good “Sound of Music” fashion, in Act 1 at the very beginning ….

    Genesis as a subversive document
    Genesis has many parallels to other ancient near Eastern creation stories. However, there are also marked differences. Most creation stories are concerned with the origin of the gods(plural), most of the creative work done by these gods is organisation rather than creation - they deal with pre-existing matter. Most of the stories are marked by a conflict or a struggle. Humans are created as an afterthought, they are to be the slaves of the gods, they are to do the work that the gods are tired of. it is the kings that are the representatives of the gods.

    The genesis creation story subverts all that. God alone is pre-existent, Genesis is not about the creation of God - he is already there. There is one God. There is no conflict whatsoever: God speaks and it is done. In Genesis it is all of humanity that is created in God’s image - humanity is granted a royal status. Humans are the climax of the story - the work we are given to do is to continue the task of filling the earth, of cultivating the earth, developing it so that it can be filled with God’s glory.

    Creation of the stars
    In many other creation stories the sun moon and stars were regarded as gods. Not so in Genesis.

    How many stars are there in the universe? No one knows! It is impossible to count them. if we started counting as soon as we were born and we lived to be over 70 and counted one star each second then we could count up to perhaps 2.2 billion stars. There are more stars than that in our galaxy alone! If we dedicated 3,000 years to counting the stars we wouldn’t have counted them all - let alone name them
    It is estimated that there are 10 to the power 10 (1 000 000 000) stars in the Milky Way. and there are are an estimated 10 to the power 10
    (1 000 000 000) galaxies in the universe. So that makes 1020 stars in total.

    The creation narrative tells us important things about God, humans and the rest of creation.

    In the beginning God
    There wasn't anything else! God is eternal and he is uncreated. All else is creation. All else but God has a beginning. He is one.

    There is a distinction between creator and creation - if that get blurs it distorts everything. Nothing in creation is uncreated. Everything is dependent upon God.

    Because God created everything it follows that the Creator and creation are distinct. As C.S. Lewis observed, what makes and what is made must be two and not one.
    He is the sovereign king over his creation.
    God is powerful – he speaks and it is!
    But also God is personal – he wants to have a relationship with us. He names and numbers the stars but he also knows the number of hairs on our heads.

    the heavens and the earth
    The world is a creation
    The important thing is that God created not only the heavens but also the earth.

    We are created from the earth; we are of the earth, earthy.

    Too many of us try to escape from the earth. Why when God has created it and he created it good? The world is our home! We are not saved out of the earth, but on earth, for service on the earth. Heaven is not our home – we will be resurrected to live on the new earth.

    Creation is good
    Five times in the first chapter we have the refrain "And God saw that it was good" (vv 10,12,18,21,25) and once at the end of God's work of creation, "it was very good" (v 31). This affirmation undermines any potential dualism. By virtue of his creating it the earth and everything in it (i.e. all its contents) belongs to God (cf also Job 41:11; Ps 24:1; 50:12). Dualistically oriented worldviews see one aspect of creation as superior to another, whether it be spirit/ body, form/ matter, grace/ nature, sacred/ secular... . The biblical picture is that everything in it is good and important; nothing is evil and nothing is inferior.

    God is so positive about his creation – and so should we!

    God speaks ‘Let there be …’ and there is. All things are created and ordered by God’s word. There are laws and norms for the creation. It is an ordered creation. All things are ordered in response to God and his word.

    Creation has value
    Creation has meaning and value because God created it. It is not ours to use as we see fit.

    The universe is a creation and not a product of chance
    The creation is fine-tuned.

    Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. if it boiled much lower then this would mean that very little water would be left on the surface of the Earth. Most of it would be in the atmosphere. Life would be impossible.

    Water becomes ice at 0 deg C If Water changed into ice at say 15 deg C then most of the water would be ice; this would have a devastating effect on the whole ecological system; life would probably be unsustainable.

    If there were no moon it would mean it would be darker at night. The tides would be affected; no tidal power; no high/ low tide ecological niche: impact on food chain etc. The moon slows the rotation rate of the earth from 8 hours with wind speeds of around 500 mph to 24 hours.

    The level of oxygen in the air is 21%. Above 25% oxygen combustion is instant. Even damp vegetation would probably burn.
    Below 15% oxygen nothing will burn. Breathing would become very difficult.

    If the tilt of the Earth was greater, then the surface temperature differences would be too great for life.

    If the rate of rotation of the Earth around the sun were greater then a atmospheric wind speeds would be too great for life

    If the Earth's crust was thinner volcanic and tectonic activity would be too great. The tectonic activity recycles minerals and nutrients and hence important for maintaining life.

    Earth’s magnetic field if it was stronger electromagnetic storms would be too severe to maintain life and if it was weaker we wouldn’t be protected from stellar and solar radiation.

    The universe is not the product of time plus chance plus matter. And neither are humans

    The biblical understanding of humanity:
    Humans are created in the image of God – as rulers of creation. But it is rulership as stewards – the world is not ours to do with as we please. We are to continue the task of creation, unfolding and developing God’s good creation; discovering the laws and structures within creation and opening them up in accordance with God’s will.

    Creation is not static it is moving towards a goal.
    In the first three days we see God forming the creation.
    In the next he fills the creation.

    The culmination of the creation is humanity. We are the apex not the ape of creation!

    It is this act of filling and developing the creation that humans are to continue. We are to cultivate, develop and unfold the creation. We are created to embrace God’s good creation. Not to deny it.

    Act 1 of the biblical story then gives us some answers to important questions:

    Where are we?
    We are in a purposeful, lawful creation.

    Who are we?
    We are the image bearers of God.
    To play our part in God’s developing story.

    Why are we here?
    To subdue and rule the creation as stewards of God. To develop and unfold God’s good creation.

    It’s incredible that the God who cast the stars into space, who created innumerable creatures in the depths of the oceans that we may never see, created us and wants to have a relationship with us.

    He is an amazing God.

    Cue song!

    Saturday, 3 January 2009

    B J van der Walt - When Western and African Cultures Meet - a review

    Here is my review from Philosophia Reformata 73 (2008): 212-213.

    B. J. van der Walt, When African and Western Cultures Meet: From Confrontation to Appreciation. Potchefstroom: ICCA, 2006. 317 pages.
    ISBN 1 86822 510.

    The South African Bennie van der Walt has been a Christian scholar for over 40 years. For 40 years and more he has been producing papers and books that are replete with wisdom, understanding and insight. This book is no exception. In recent decades he has turned the focus of his studies to Africa. This book is the product of some of these studies.
    This volume comprises a collection of essays that have largely been published elsewhere – chapters 3-7 originally in his native Afrikaans in the journals In die Skriflig and Koers. The book, is however, no less coherent for that. He starts by looking at the meaning of three important concepts: cultural diversity (ch 1), development (ch 3) and globalisation (ch 4).

    The first chapter looks at why cultures differ, how we can evaluate their differences and what is unacceptable and acceptable in a culture. Cultural differences he sees as having their origin in the cultural mandate, different environments bring different challenges and hence different cultures. Culture is a religious response to a divine calling. No culture can become a norm and no culture is fully obedient to God’s call. He sees cultural diversity as a means of enrichment; there should be no tension between cultures, rather a mutual enrichment and appreciation (hence the subtitle of the book).

    Chapter 2 puts the spotlight on Africa, one of the poorest continents. First he examines its richness before looking at Christianity on the continent and some of the socio-political-economic conditions. The condition of the church is described in five catchwords: escapistic, dualistic, pietistic, ecclesiasticism and secularism. Five words which could also describe the state of the church in the so-called developed West. The issue of poverty and wealth is then looked at. He concludes that the biblical message about poverty is clear: ‘we have to do something about it’ p. 44.

    The next chapter looks at the issue of development. Here he surveys recent research that indicates that development isn’t “all it’s cracked up to be”; it isn’t the success story hoped for, the concept is not as clear as it should be and that development isn’t the only way to advance human well-being. Development is a belief that distinguishes western culture from others. It maintains that more is better! Development as it stands ‘lacks a clear normative consciousness’ (p. 63) and has become ‘a kind of secular religion’ (p. 65).

    Globalisation is examined in chapter 4. Here is a brief description of globalisation, some of its characteristics, some of its consequences, an analysis of the capitalist economy that drives it and some ideas as to how it should be viewed from a Christian perspective. He utilises and develops Jonathan Chaplin’s ideas of globalisation and the essence of space, looking at retrocipations and anticipations of space. Space is the qualifying aspect of globalisation.

    The issue of leadership in Africa is one that van der Walt has dealt with before in Leaders with a Vision (IRS F2 series no 59. Potchefstroom: PU for CHE, 1995), he revisits it in chapter 5. He focuses on what leadership entails. He sees leadership as ‘holding an office and having the right or authority as well as the competence or power to organise in such a way a particular community of people or a social power or a societal relationship that while obeying definite norms it can fulfil its vocation or reach its goal in a responsible way’.

    The next two chapters (ch 6 and 7) compare African and Western culture and worldview. Van der Walt does it sensitively and compassionately, he is never patronising of either position. He sees cultural pluralism as an answer to the problem of cultural superiority. Diversity should be an enrichment and not a threat.

    Chapter 8 looks at the important question of the role of women in Africa. Women have a low position in African society, and so the Bible brings good news for them. He looks at the biblical data and provides a convincing case for an egalitarian position of women. He examines the concepts of headship, authority and submission. He sees the meaning of head(ship) as ‘source, unity or responsibility’ (p. 262). His arguments are convincing, and ‘liberating, refreshing and healing’ for women. He offers a timely warning to husbands: ‘by keeping your wives in subservient positions, you place not only them but yourselves at a disadvantage’ (p. 277).
    The final chapter (ch 9) looks at the crises in agriculture; an important issue for rural Africa, where subsistence agriculture is a way of life for many. He argues the need for a more holistic view of agriculture, a multi-dimensional view.

    This book is written for the West to help us better understand Africa. It is a book that will aid mutual understanding and its insights will prove useful whatever continent we live on. It will help us appreciate other cultures and worldviews. It is a timely, accessible and important contribution to reformational thinking about culture, globalisation and development.