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.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living - a review

Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living
Nick Spencer and Robert White
SPCK, 2007
pbk, ISBN 978-0-281-05833-4
x+245 pp

This book was 'conceived and nurtured' by the Jubilee Centre and the John Ray Institute. Nick Spencer was a researcher for the Jubilee Centre until 2007 and is now Director of studies at Theos, and Bob White, a geophysicist, is director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.

The book split into three parts: the nature of the problem, the biblical perspective and the Christian response.

The first takes a look at global warming (ch 1) and sustainability and well-being (ch2). Here we have the science of climate change this is explained in an accessible way and contains abundant figures and charts. Unfortunately, the issue of 'climate scepticism' isn't addressed: 'The take home message is that global warming is real and unequivocal, and is caused by humans' (p. 25).

Climate change is the result of unsustainable development and so the issue of sustainability is examined in the next chapter. As they put it: 'The way we use energy at home, the way we travel and the manner in which we consume lie at the heart of climate change. Unless they change it won't' (p. 72).

Part 2 poses the question should Christians care about the environment? (Ch 3) Their answer an emphatic Yes! - they then look at what a Christian response might look like (Ch 4-5). In response to Why care? They respond:

  • because God does
  • because it is part of what it means to be human
  • to obey the command to love 'our neighbours'
  • because of our hope for the future

Chapter 4 looks at the biblical vision of sustainable living here they draw heavily on Isaiah 40-66 as 'it offers the fullest biblical vision the Bible has to offer of sustainable living', an example of how life on earth should be lived. Next drawing upon the Jubilee theme, in chapter 5, they look at the biblical practice of sustainable living.

The final part looks at the vision (ch 6) and practice of sustainable living (ch 7). In chapter 6 they outline eight helpful - the 'shoulds' notwithstanding - principles for sustainable living:
  1. We should value and protect creation, seeing that as a joy rather than a burden
  2. We should reflect the close bond between society and environment in our decisions
  3. We should pursue justice for the vulnerable and marginalized
  4. We should not confuse wealth and value: our goal should be relational health rather than money or personal freedom
  5. We should favour regulated, market-based solutions that take account of natural, human and social capital
  6. We should express commitment to our immediate environment and favour local solutions
  7. We should aim to offer just and equitable access to natural resout=rces
  8. We should respond seriously and with hope.

Chapter 7 looks at what we can do as individuals, as part of a community, nationally and internationally.

The brief final chapter looks at the new creation. God has not given up on his creation but will re-create it.

There are 16 pages of notes, a 3-page index of biblical references and a 6-page subject index. Sadly there is no bibliography, but a list of organisations such as the Jubilee Centre, The Faraday Institute, The John Ray Institute, Tearfund and WorldVision all judging by the logos on the back cover have supported the book.

The authors close this book with the comment that 'Christians are in a unique position to live and promote such "responsible and collaborative behaviour". We need to do so now.' This book doesn't provide all the answers or solutions but it is certainly a great place to start so that we can become more responsible and informed stewards of God's good earth.

Jubilee Centre has a number of Bible studies to accompany the book here.

Available in the UK from:
book depository

Other reviews:
Geoff Stratford
Ethel White

Times OnLine

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Odds and sods

Unmasking the new age Jesus by Doug Groothuis

Piers Paul Read reviews Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith and Revolution in The Observer:
The book stems from lectures he gave at Yale in 2008 and the jokes transfer well from the auditorium to the page. It is essentially a contra-Dawkins and contra-Hitchens polemic: he conflates the two angry atheists as "Ditchkins" and successfully shreds what they say in their books. "This straw-targeting of Christianity is now drearily commonplace among academics and intellectuals - that is to say, among those who would not allow a first-year student to get away with the vulgar caricatures in which they themselves indulge with such insouciance."
Mike Wittmer reviews Blomberg's A Case for Historic Premillennialism

John Loftus claims that atheism isn't a religion: 'It's not even a worldview'.

Gideon Strauss has been interviewing the borad of the Center for Public Justice; including:

Monday 25 May 2009

Twitter 1930s style


Cherishing the earth - a review

Cherishing the Earth: How to Care for God's Creation
Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson
Monarch Books, 2008
ISBN 978-1-85424-841
978-0-8254-6275-7 pbk
254 pp £8.99

US edition: 978 0 8254 6275 7

Books on the environment from a Christian perspective are a bit like buses. You can wait for ages for one to come along and then along come several all at once. This is one of them. The others published in late 2007 and 2008 include: Serve God Save the Planet by J. Mathew Sleeth, Planetwise by Dave Bookless, Christianity, Climate and Sustainability by Nick Spencer and Robert White, Saving Planet Earth by Colin Russell and Living with the Planet by Catherine Von Ruhland. All of them are written at a popular level.

This is a very British book, a gentle book that is irenic in style. It is very Anglican - and in this lies its strengths and weaknesses. Even when controversial issues are broached it is done in a sane way. For example, they are old earth - but of the opinion that the age of the earth is irrelevant in whether or not we care for it; they are theistic evolutionists, but are quick to point out that 'all Christians, whatever their views on origins will concede that our Earth originates with God and is rightfully his' (p. 92). On nuclear power: 'I do not feel comfortable with nuclear power, but I have a strong suspicion that we may need it.'

Occasionally the dualistic language grates: 'I hope to answer some of the spiritual questions that Christians might bring' p. 14,and they write of the '... supernatural effects of the fall in creation' p. 56. It's not a great start when the authors seem to adopt an independence view of science and religion and fail to see that all of life is spiritual - not just the theological bits. However, the message of the book is an important one: we urgently need to know how to care for God's creation.

It is a good introductory book, but they do skirt over some of the tricky biblical issues. For example, the two words translated as subdue (kabash) and rule (radah) in Genesis 1 are strong words - they don't seem to convey the connotation of care. Kabash is elsewhere translated as rape (Esther 7:8) and Westermann has translated radah as "to tread out the wine press" and von Rad as "trample". This can not simply be dismissed by describing it as 'a command to interact with nature and aid its fruitfulness' (p. 29) without further understanding of context and linguistics.

Sometimes the book reads like a patchwork quilt, the scientific and the biblical patchworks are attempted to be tied mosaic-like together. Sometimes this works at other times it jars. Often it gives the impression that 'spirituality' is an icing on the cake rather than the leaven for the whole cake.

'Climate scepticism' is briefly dealt with by reference to N Oreskes's Science 306 article. They are convinced that 'human induced climate change is real, and needs our urgent attention at all levels...' p. 61.

Chapter 5 looks at the 'seeds of history', this is a broad-brush overview of green Christian history and it inevitably oversimplifies. They rightly maintain that individuals can make a difference (ch 6) and highlight some things that can be done. One inspiring example is a Green semi in Oxford (see here for details). Transport and food are also examined in this chapter.

Chapter 7 looks at 'Caring communities' and what can be done through community involvement. Again a number of helpful case studies are included. In Chapter 8 on leadership - Job is used as an example of farming; Joseph as an example of climate care and Moses as a leader of change. Here they examine what effective leadership can do as well as take a look at energy and transport issues. Chapter 9 turns from local into global issues including debt, climate change and development. In chapter 10 'Dreams and visons' GM foods and international environmental agreements and reports are examined. Christian initiatives such as the impact of the Climate Forum 2002 which involved the Hodgsons and its effect on Richard Cizik are discussed. It was this forum that was instrumental in Cizik's 'conversion experience' to green issues. Cizik was vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals in the States and has been instrumental in 'climate care'.

The final chapter looks briefly at the fate of the earth - a crucial issue for Christians - they conclude that it will be renewed not destroyed. But even if God does destroy it, this does not mean we should not protect what we presently have' (p. 202).

The strength of the book is that both authors write from complementary perspectives and we are provided a binocular vision of a number of important issues - they are strong on individual and group involvement at the grassroots level. However, there is little encouragement for Christians to get involved with politics - no sense that we can serve God in doing politics. Many of the issues require political change as well as the need for a grassroots movement.

The authors are obviously passionate about the environment; but unfortunately, it's not often that that passion comes through in the pages of the book. They are pragmatist rather than idealists - but perhaps that is not such a bad thing.

For me the highlight of the book was a brief discussion of rest - part of the jubilee and sabbath legislation. Environmental degredation means a loss of rest for many. Deforestation means that women and children have to go much further to find fuel for their fires - this results in a loss of rest. Sabbath should mean a rest for all not merely rest for the powerful at the expense of the poor (pp158-160): 'We need to act to implement Sabbath as a justice principle for our global community' (p. 160). As far as I'm concerned this section is worth the price of the book alone.

There are 24 pages of notes, 4 pages of useful websites and a 7 page index, but unfortunately, no bibliography.

It provides a useful introduction to light green thinking for Christians and one that could, because of its gentle tones, usefully be given to your local green-sceptic vicar.

Available in the UK from:
Book depository

The book has an accompanying website.
Publisher's website

Thursday 21 May 2009

Why we disagree about climate change

Mike Hulme - looks at this question on the Guardian's Science Weekly podcast: here

Mike is the fonder of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. The centre is named after John Tyndall who was one of the first scientists to recognise the earth's greenhouse effect in 1859. There is a New Scientist article on Tyndall here.

Mike is the author of Why We Disagree about Climate Change.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

AIDS, malaria and swine flu

Mike Todd's hit the mark:

I think I've figure this out:

AIDS = The poor. Therefore, who cares?
Malaria = The poor. Therefore, who cares?
Swine Flu = Could be us. Better get on this one!

Monday 18 May 2009

Angels and Demons: revisited

Dan Brown's Angels and Demons has recently been released as a film.

Thomas Hibbs provides a helpful review here.

The release of the film gives me the opportunity to recycle this post on the book:

Dan Brown is a publishing phenomenon. At present he has four books in the bestsellers list, including The Da Vinci Code at number one.

He has hit on a winning formula: short chapters that end with a hook, a conspiracy theory and an international media event such as the election of a US president, or the election of a new pope.

The Da Vinci Code has caused much stir among Christians. Though many seem to forget that Brown – despite what he says in the ‘FACT’ section at the front of the book – is writing fiction. It’s easy to confuse genres, something that postmodernism seems to encourage. Much less has been written about his other books.

What concerns me most about his Angels and Demons is his view of science and religion and how they relate – not least in one of the characters: Maximillian Kohler, the ‘director general of CERN’. Kohler has a totally out-dated positivistic view of science. It is a view not unlike that of the two evangelistic atheists Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins. For Kohler science is the angel and religion the demon.

Brown’s Kohler talks with the 'hero' Robert Langdon:
'The men and women of CERN are here to find answers to the same
questions man has been asking since the beginning of time. Where did we
come from? What are we made of?’

‘And these answers are in a physics lab?’

‘You sound surprised’

‘I am. The questions seem spiritual.’

‘Mr Langdon, all questions were once spiritual. Since the beginning of time spirituality and religion have been called on to fill in the gaps that science did not understand. The rising and setting of the sun was once attributed to Helios and a flaming chariot. Earthquakes and tidal waves were the wrath of Poseidon. Science has now proven those gods to be false idols. Soon all Gods will be proven to be false idols. Science has now provided answers to almost every question man [sic] can ask. There are only a few questions left, and they are the esoteric ones. Where do we come from? What are we doing here? What is the meaning of life and the universe?’

Langdon was amazed. ‘And these are questions CERN is trying to answer?’

‘Correction. These are questions we are answering.’

Demons and Angels Corgi edition, 2001 p. 43

…Langdon added, ‘the unification of science and religion was not what the church wanted.’
‘Of course not,’ Kohler interrupted. ‘The union would have nullified the church’s claim to be the sole vessel through which man [sic] could understand God. So the church tried Galileo as a heretic, found him guilty, and put him under house arrest. …

Demons and Angels Corgi edition, 2001 p. 51-2

As well as repeating the god-of-the gaps fallacy and the Galileo myth, Brown’s Kohler is advocating a conflict model of science and religion. This idea that science conflicts with religion and thus makes religion redundant has its historical roots, at least in a popular form, in the writings of John Draper and subsequently by Andrew Dickson White's (1832-1918) two volumed book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1897)Historians of science, such as Lindberg and Numbers, John Hedley Brooke, and Colin Russell have shown that the main thesis of White’s and Draper’s work was based on misinformation and half-truths, and have exposed the naivety of the conflict category. Nevertheless, the conflict metaphor is still prevalent. It provides a pertinent example of how worldview colours perception of reality. The combatants in the conflicts that did exist were not science and Christianity; rather the combatants were, as Brooke notes, the adherents of the new science and the adherents of the
sanctified science of the previous generation. Science and religion are not in conflict, neither are they totally independent.

The fallacious view of science as objective and value-free, and faith as subjective and value-laden, has long been demolished by philosophers of science. Unfortunately, these views are still propounded by the popular media. Faith is integral to the scientific enterprise. It is this that Brown’s Kohler misses.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Saturday 16 May 2009

Anakainosis: a journal for reformational thought

Anakainosis the journal for reformational thought is now starting to be placed on line at allofliferedeemed.

It began publication in September 1978 and ceased in 1986. It was published by the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship in Toronto under the editorship of Al Wolters. It contained articles by Robert Knudsen, Danie Strauss, Roy Clouser, Herman Dooyeweerd, Andre Troost, Bennie van der Walt, Doug Blomberg, Henk Hart, Bernie Zylstra and many others.

At present volume 1 issues 1-4 and volume 2 issues 1, 2 and 4 are up. More will be added over the next few months.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

CPJ's new President

Gideon Strauss is to be the new President for the Center for Public Justice, succeeding Jim Skillen. Gideon writes:

I am grateful that I will not be doing this work on my own, or out of nothing! CPJ is built on rock, and has a rich legacy, a reliable constituency of partners and supporters, and a fabulous board (my best interview experience ever — and I have had some really great interview experiences!). In addition, Jim and Doreen Skillen are not abandoning ship but are instead remaining on board for the foreseeable future, to my great relief and delight. And in the deepest sense, none of us at the Center are doing this work of equiping citizens, developing leaders, and shaping policy on our own, because we know that we are not our own, but belong to our faithful saviour, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Seerveld on worldview

A Christian world-and-life vision like a biblical way of life, does not just drop out of heaven ready-made (p. 67).

[A] Christian world-and-life vision is a thetical orientation and not a judgmental condemnation, a program for doing good for the commonweal and not a plan of attack on enemies (p. 71).

Calvin Seerveld in After Worldview (Dordt College Press, 2009)

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Ray Pennings on neo-calvinism and neo-puritanism

Ray Pennings is interviewed by David Murray on neo-calvinism and neo-puritanism.

Neo-Calvinism and Neo-Puritanism from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.

Odds and sods

Scott McKnight starts to look at Wright and Piper's takes on the New perspective

Monegism has a list of complementarian resources - and the provocative statement that
The denial of complementarianism undermines the church's practical embrace of the authority of Scripture (thus eventually and inevitably harming the church's witness to the Gospel)
Peter Enns has a review of Paul Seely's book Inerrant Wisdom. I don't know the book but I have a lot of time for Seely's development of Calvin's accommodationaist approach to Genesis.

Mike Wittmer on Luther and swine flu

Al Wolters on allofliferedeemed

I've recently added to the Al Wolters pages at allofliferedeemed the following papers:

1989. “On the Idea of Worldview and Its Relation to Philosophy,” in Paul A. Marshall, et al., eds., Stained Glass: Worldview and Social Science (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1989), 14-25

1987. “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987) 405-413.

1985. “The Intellectual Milieu of Herman Dooyeweerd,” in C.T. McIntire, ed., The Legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd (New York: University Press of America, 1985) 1-19

1983. “Dutch Neo-Calvinism: Worldview, Philosophy and Rationality,” in H. Hart et al., eds., Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1983) 113-131

1978/ 1999 “The Foundational Command: ‘Subdue the Earth!’” in Year of Jubilee, Cultural Mandate, Worldview (Study Pamphlet No. 382; ed. B. van der Walt; Potchefstroom: Institute for Reformational Studies, 1999) 27-34. [Previously available as ICS Academic Paper, 1978.]

1975/ 1987. "Ideas have legs" The Guide July. Also in A Christian Union in Labour's Wasteland, edited by Edward Vanderkloet
(Wedge Publishing, 1978). Republished by Institute for Christian Studies, 1987

Vanguard articles:

1979. Breaking out of the evangelical world-view: a review of John Stott's latest work'

'Hallowed be thy creation'

1980. 'The centre and the circumference'

Anakainosis articles:

1978. In memoriam: Vollenhoven

1979. Vollenhoven on the 'word of God'

1983. 'Ground motives'

Monday 4 May 2009

Keith Sewell in Leeds and Bristol

June 09 will see Keith Sewell in the UK. Keith is professor of History at Dordt College, Iowa. On the 5th and 6th June he will give the WYSOCS Summer lectures :

What are the shapers in the history of the church that produced what it is today?
And what shapes of today will gain a hearing tomorrow for the Gospel of the Kingdom of God?

Lecture One Friday 5th June at 8 pm.
The Idea of a Christian Society - from the Reformation to the present time.

Lecture Two Saturday 6th June at 10 am.
The Church of Today - the journey it took to arrive where we are.

Lecture Three Saturday 6th June at 12 noon.
The Church of Tomorrow - new possibilities for bringers of transformation.
He will also be in Bristol at St Michael's Church, Stoke Gifford (near Parkway Station) on Sunday evening 7th June at 6.30 pm.

After Worldview part II

Part II: Concern and critiques, comprises essays by George N. Pierson, Aron Reppman, and Calvin Seerveld.

Pierson in a particularly insightful piece examines the worldview confusion among evangelicals. He argues, convincingly, that many evangelical scholars 'have misunderstood and, therefore, misuse the concept of worldview' (p. 29).

He sees four problem areas:
1. The failure to distinguish between theoretical and pre-theoretical thought
2. the failure to recognise the distinction between structure and direction
3. the failure to recognise the religious nature of all of life; and
4. the failure to distinguish between normativity and morality.

This diagnosis is spot on. It remains to be seen how evangelicals respond to this.

Aron Repman addresses the question: 'Does promoting a Christian worldview fulfill the mandate of Christian education?' His answers is yes and no! Yes in that some aspects have been remarkably fruitful and no in that aspects of worldview have not (yet) been fully recognised and developed. Again he comes back to the misunderstanding of the pre-theoretical. Worldview is a way of framing the question rather than a recipie for finding pre-packaged answers - 'a place to stand ... rather than a 'rocking-chair on which to sit' (p.51).

Seerveld looks at 'the damages of a Christian worldview'. He provides a timely reminder that a Christian world-and-life vision can become idolised and a shibboleth to determine who's in and who's out. He stresses that a Christian world-and-life view is not a 'cut and dried paradigm you can be cocksure about - one size fits all feet; it is also not just a tentative guess about what you should be duly hesitant' (p. 71).

Music for a Bank Holiday Monday

Friday 1 May 2009

Odds and sods

Philosophy to the max: Andrew Basden's new extreme philosophy website
Robert Minto has an interesting discussion of Bavinck's and Vollenhoven's view of faith.
Here's some more resources on Herman Bavinck
A new editionof Themelios is now on-line
Stanley Jaki physicist and theologian has died
Calvin's commentaries available for download for the e-sword