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.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Saving Planet Earth by Colin Russell - a review

Saving Planet Earth: A Christian Response
Colin A. Russell
Authentic Media
x + 133pp, £8.99, pbk
ISBN 9781850787716

Colin Russell has produced an interesting and accessible book on a Christian response to the environmental crisis. The great strength of the book is that it places the present environmental crisis within a historical context. Pollution is not a new problem. One problem with books that deal with environmental problems is that they can date very quickly. Science changes, populations increase and decrease (occasionally) and the data can become dated. Russell in looking at historical contexts has managed to get round this problem, history rarely gets out of date!

In nine short chapters he provides an overview of the problems and some of the possible responses we can make as Christians. He starts with looking at our stumbling blocks to Christian involvement; these are: the subject is depressing, difficult, demeaning and even dangerous. By dangerous he means that some maintain that it's a dangerous distraction, though Russell maintains that it might not be the heart of the gospel though it is part of the gospel.

He then looks at how special a place the earth is, a place designed for human life and yet a place spoiled by sin. The polluted planet is examined in more detail in the next chapter. Modern concern goes back to the 1960s, but Russell places this all in historical perspective looking at land, water and air pollution. from biblical times onward. 'A ravaged planet' is the topic of chapter 4. Waste, destruction of habitats and hence species, deforestation and overpopulation are all briefly dealt with. 'The big one', climate change, gets a chapter to itself. It is interesting to see how this topic has come to the fore in recent Christian discussions on the environment.

From chapter 6 onwards we are offered some hope. It is God's earth and he cares for it, he sustains the whole of creation. In chapter 7 our role as stewards is examined. This has been called the 'default position' for Christians, I would have liked to have seen some discussion on the weaknesses of this position. If we are stewards what then? How does stewardship prescribe how we might respond? What does it mean, for example, for population control?

The earth belonging to God and we being its stewards are two good reasons for Christians to care for the planet, but Russell adds a third. And one that is often neglected in other similar discussions: the call to mission. This missional aspect is seen in care for the poor. The needs of the poor can be helped by environmental care. Christian mission without environmental care is inadequate.

Overall this is an excellent introductory primer. A great book for those beginning to get interested in a more greener Christianity.

Book wesbite

Other reviews:
David Thistlewaite

Available in the UK from
wesley owen
eden books

Monday, 29 June 2009

Environmental Stewardship - a review

Environmental Stewardship
Critical Perspectives - Past and Present

edited by R. J. Berry
T&TClark International
ISBN 9780567030184

Over two hundred years ago a British clergyman published a book that has had unprecedented effects. Its effect on Charles Darwin was so profound that it provided the seed thoughts for his theory of natural selection. It was perhaps the first doomsday-scenario environmental book to be written. It was Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population (1798). Malthus (1766-1834) was the first to spell out the apparently inevitable consequence of a geometric growth in population and an arithmetic growth in food supply. Survival meant a reduction in population growth. The same idea as taken up in the 1970s by the think tank the Club of Rome in their book The Limits to Growth. The book was based on computer models; their conclusions were similar to Malthus's: a limit to the population growth is required or we are on an apocalyptic collision course.

Less than a decade previously in 1962, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published. the book brought attention the problems of pesticides such as DDT in the food chain. This marked the beginning in the rise of an environmental awareness or consciousness. In the nineties there were signs that such environmental enthusiasm was beginning to wane - at least if membership numbers of environmental pressure groups were any indication. Now with climate change a major issue it seems we are all greens.

Christians cannot be culture transformers and shapers if they follow such cultural ebbs and flows. We have a responsibility to God's good creation irrespective if it fashionable to be green or not. Unfortunately, the shadow of Lynn White's seminal paper 'The historical roots of our ecologic crisis' Science 155 (10 March 1967) has loomed large over Christian discussion of the environment. Until recently most Christian writing has been to defend Christianity against the accusation of Lyn White that Christianity with its emphasis on dominion has been to blame for the environmental crisis. The debate, however, must move on. And that is exactly what these essays do. Christianity is not merely environmentally benign but it has something vital to contribute to a robust theocentric environmental ethic. An ethic that avoids the excesses of anthropic approaches and the sloppy mysticism of biocentric approaches.

The role of humans as stewards is a crucial issue and it is this that volume, Environmental Stewardship, seeks to address. Stewardship has been the 'default position' for most Christians. However, not many stop to consider it and examine its implications. What does it mean to be a steward? As Gandalf once said we are all stewards now. But is stewardship dominion and technological imperialism by another name?

This book was conceived at the 2000 consultation on 'environmental stewardship' organised by the John Ray Institute at St George's House, Windsor Castle. Four of the papers delivered there are included here - but this is far more than the proceedings of a conference. The list of authors is truly impressive - though there are some notable omissions Steven Bouma-Prediger, Celia Deane Drummond, Loren Wilkinson, Lukas Vischer, Tim Cooper are the ones that immediately spring to mind. Most of the papers were written specifically for this volume, some are (revised) reprints from elsewhere.

The book is split into six parts with an introduction by Sam Berry. Berry's introduction is clear, precise and provides an excellent overview. Part I looks at the history of the idea with two excellent essays by Peter Harrison and Richard Bauckham - both for me were the highlights of the book.

Part II looked at some criticisms and expositions of stewardship. Despite being the default position for many stewardship hasn't escaped criticism. Critics include Clare Palmer (ch 5). Her objections include:

  • There is no 'biblical concept of stewardship of nature' (p 65) - 'even if there were, it would only represent one view of many displayed in biblical writing' (p 65)
  • It has the problem of accommodating God's action or presence in the world. God becomes an absentee landlord (this is also an accusation made by Matthew Fox) (p. 68)
  • It originates in a society based on slavery, a represents an autocratic form of government. It is thus unsuitable for modern society (p. 70)
  • It assumes that humanity is separated from the rest of creation. (p 70)
  • It may lead to the assumption that the natural world is a resource that humans are in control of. (p 70) (p 72) This attitude is in a feudal perception of stewardship (p 72)
  • In the light of evolution this metaphysical set apartness is impossible to justify (p 71) [Might not the same also be said on being the image bearers of God?]
  • It is influenced by the idea that the eath needs to be managed because it is fallen and imperfect (p 71). The earth existed for millions of years without humans.
  • Stewardship is an anthropocentric ethic, which considers it to be best for humans and the natural world to be it to be managed by humans. (p 73)
  • Is non-theistic stewardship exercised on behalf of the planet? (p 74)
  • It is un-ecological (p 75)
Many of these concerns are directly addressed by Attfield in the next essay. The agnostic James Lovelock (ch 9) also dislikes the stewardship model, he senses that it is ‘an imperial concept that assumes an automatic superiority invested in those in charge’ (p 108), he prefers a partnership model - a partnership with the Earth/ Gaia. Ruth Page also proposes a similar model, but from a theistic perspective, preferring to call it ‘fellowship with creation’ (ch 8). The advantage of such approach is that it avoids the anthropocentrism that can accompany stewardship but the danger is that it can slip into pan(en)theism.

In Part III, Consolidation, Douglas Hall makes an excellent point, which does much to alleviate many concerns of stewardship - he writes: ‘The steward is different [from the rest of creation], but the steward is also the same. Like all the others, the steward is recipient of that which can never be his or hers to own’ (p. 143). Cal de Witt contends, rightly, that stewardship must be ‘highly interactive and dynamic’ (p150). He sees it involving an engagement with science, ethics and praxis. This raises the question why not also with religion, history, law and so on? He then advocates a two-books approach. I have reservations about such a framework/metaphor - why, for example, only two books? Other essays in this section look at stewardship in the context of evolutionary theory. Christopher Southgate sees stewardship - in a limited way - as a part of a matrix of our relationship with the rest of creation. Larry Rasmussen sees it as one symbol among others including dominion, partner and priest

In Part IV, Applications, Susan Power Bratton examines the implications of stewardship for marine systems by extending the sabbath and jubilee principles to include them. Michael Northcott applies it to the soil and agriculture. Crispin Ticknell opens his essay with a great statement: ‘Environment is the stuff of religion, and religion is the stuff of the environment’ (p 220). He goes on to clarify what he means but it seems his view of religion is more mystical than a robust earthy Christianity. Derek Osborn makes a valid plea to slay the four giants of unsustainability: the ideas that growth, efficiency, money and the present all come first.

Part V, Relevance/ Ways forward, may have been mis-titled as I saw little to take the discussion forward in these articles. There is little attention paid to how a stewardship model might help say climate change or deforestation or further avenues for philosophical or even theological exploration. Zizioulas advocates seeing humans as priests of creation but there is no discussion as to what this model could add to a stewardship view, or even if it is compatible with it. The highlight in this section for me is Murray Rae’s paper originally presented at the St George’s House consultation. Rae covers much ground including examining other models that have been proposed. It provides a good summary of the many approaches mentioned elsewhere in this volume.

Part VI - by far the shortest has a three-page conclusion by John Houghton. The book concludes with a 21-page bibliography and a 10-page index.

This is an excellent compilation of some of the best material available on stewardship. Berry has a done a great service in pulling together these articles. Taking stewardship as the default position is now no longer an option - here are the resources to examine closely the issue. It seems to be that the malleable concept of stewardship has taken a bit of battering in recent decades but it has come out in better shape and though it can no longer be seen as the panacea for a Christian approach to the environment it certainly seem to be the best model or metaphor to work from.

Publisher's website

Available in the UK from:
book depository

Friday, 26 June 2009

New on all of life redeemed

Several new papers have been added:

Jaap Klapwijk 'Commemoration: On the First and Second History in, Philosophia Reformata 73 (2009)

Andrew Basden 'A Different Way of Approaching Data Models and KR [knowledge representation] Ontologies'

Bruce Wearne Philosophy as Dependable Analysis: Roy Clouser's Contribution to Christian Scholarship

Bernard Zylstra : 'The Society of the Future'. Presented at the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association.

Roy Clouser 'Can we know God is real?'

Albert Weideman 'Constitutive and regulative conditions for the assessment of academic literacy'. Forthcoming in SALALS 27(3).

Albert Weideman 'Uncharted territory: an emerging paradigm and the foundations of applied linguistics'. Forthcoming in Per linguam.

Volumes 1-3 of the Reformational journal/newsletter Anakainosis.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The God debate - Terry Eagleton

Terry Eagleton is interviewed on (at the bottom of the page)

The best-seller list has not been kind to God lately. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins took aim at the big guy in The God Delusion. Then the well known writer Christopher Hitchens - never one to shy away from a fight - followed up with God is Not Great.

And after carefully considering the mounting number of arguments for atheism, Terry Eagleton decided that a rebuttal was in order. He's one of Britain's leading literary critics and theorists. His new book is Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, takes on the two leading atheists whom Eagleton refers to, simply as, Ditchens. He was in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The 12 stages of social media

The twelve stages of social media:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Interest
  3. Novelty
  4. Excitement
  5. Inviting Everyone You Know
  6. Optional: Inviting the Wrong Person (skip to 9)
  7. Massive Use / Addiction
  8. Slight Abuse / Accidental Use
  9. Annoyance / Frustration
  10. Cutting Way Back
  11. “Going Dark” / “Taking a Break” / “Going Private”
  12. Acceptance / Renewed Curiosity

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Keith Sewell @ Bristol

The audio for Keith Sewell's excellent talk at St Mike's, Stoke Gifford, Bristol is available here to listen to for a short time.

It can be downloaded from here.

Keith took a very broad brush view of church history and placed evangelical Christianity within a wider context. He emphasised the importance of history - it shapes and moulds us whether we realise it or not - it is better to be historically wise than ignorant!

There is a very large gap between where we are now and the first Christians. He then looked at some of the reasons for that. We have undergone three big shifts: Hellenistic infiltration into the early church; the Christianisation of the Roman Empire; and the collapse of the Roman Empire.

He posed a fascinating question: how has Islam shaped medieval-Christian culture?

The Reformation went a long way to bring Christianity in line with the scriptures, but it didn't go far enough.
Evangelicalism started with Count von Zinzendorf. 'The Count' was so opposed to arid intellectualism that he said, forget the head, go for the heart. Christianity is a religion of the heart but its never anti-head. The Count has given us a legacy of the heart - but under emphasised clear Christian thinking about everything- law, politics, the state, learning, science , medicine, art ...

Jesus never says follow me in private but the public is irrelevant, follow me in the emotional but not intellectual. it is not right to abridge or limit the claims to discipleship.

Privileging the heart over the head has underestimated the religious importance of human culture, art, literature, the way we dress, style, how we relate.

We have inherited a Bible-believing Christianity that does not read the Bible.

Christianity has become too much churchianity. No one can see what obedient participation in culture is about. What about a Christian Voters Association? How do we pursue justice? It is important to seek justice for those that are different to us. This is not deserting evangelism - it is evangelism; it is communicating the evangel.

We have a choice: a Christianity that is shaped by the world or a Christianity that is world shaping.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Lennox and Dawkins debate audio

The audio of Richard Dawkins' third encounter with John Lennox can be downloaded here.
It took place on 21st October 2008 at Oxford university Museum.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Odds and sods

William Dembski's new book The End of Christianity has been announced - it is his response to Ditchens et al.
An interesting chart on Galatians [HT Scot McKnight]
John Walton's new book: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate - should promote much debate.
John Frame has some useful questions to ask when watching a film [HT Between two worlds]

Monday, 1 June 2009

Calvinist farming by Sietze Buning

'Calvinist Farming' in Purpaleanie and other Permutations, Sietze Buning (Stanley Wiersma), (Middleburg Press, 1978) ISBN: 0-931940-00-1

Calvinist Farming

Our Calvinist fathers wore neckties with their bib-overalls
and straw hats, a touch of glory with their humility. They rode
their horse-drawn corn planters like chariots, planting the corn
in straight rows, each hill of three stalks three feet from each hill
around it, up and over the rises. A field-length wire with a metal knot
every three feet ran through the planter and clicked off three kernels
at each knot. Planted in rows east-west, the rows also ran north-
south for cross-cultivating. Each field was a checkerboard even
to the diagonals. No Calvinist followed the land's contours.

Contour farmers in surrounding counties
improvised their rows against the slope
of the land. There was no right way.
Before our fathers planted a field,
they knew where each hill of corn
would be. Be ye perfect, God said,
and the trouble with contour farmers
was that, no matter how hard they worked
at getting a perfect contour, they could
never know for sure it was perfect -- and
the didn't even care. At best they
were Arminian, or Lutheran, or Catholic,
or at worst secular. Though they wore bib-
overalls, they wore no neckties, humility
without glory.
Contour field resulted
from free will, nary a conrnstalk pre-
determined. The God contour farmers
trusted, if any, was as capricious
as their cornfields. Calvinists knew
the distance between God and people was
even greater than the distance between people
and corn kernels. If we were corn kernels in God's
corn planter, would we want him to plant us at random?
Contour farmers were frivolous about the doctrine of election
simply by being contour farmers.
Contour farmers didn't control
weeds because the couldn't cross-cultivate. Weed control was laid
on farmers by God's curse. Contour farmers tried to escape God's curse.
Sooner or later you could tell it on their children: condoning weeds
they condoned movies and square-skipping. And they wasted land,
for planting around the rises, they left more place between
the rows than if they'd checked it. It was all indecent.

We could drive a horse cultivator -- it was harder
with a tractor cultivator -- through our checked rows
without uprooting any corn at all, but contour farmers
could never quite recapture the arbitrary angle, cultivating,
that they used, planting. They uprooted corn and killed it. All
of it was indecent and untidy.
We youngsters pointed out that the tops
of our rises were turning clay-brown, that bushels of black dirt
washed into creeks and ditches every time it rained, and that
in the non-Calvinist counties the tops of the rises were
black. We were told we were arguing by results, not
by principles. Why, God could replenish the black
dirt overnight. The tops of the rises were God's
Our business was to farm on Biblical principles.
Like, Let everything be done decently and in good order; that is
keep weeds down, plant every square inch, do not waste crops, and be tidy.
Contour farmers were unkingly because they were untidy. They could not be
prophetic, could not explain from the Bible how to farm. Being neither kings
nor prophets, they could not be proper priests; their humilty lacked defi-
nition. They prayed for crops privately. Our whole county prayed
for crops the second Wednesday of every March.
God's cosmic planter
has planted thirty year's worth of people since then,
all checked and on the diagonal if we could see
as God sees. All third-generation Calvinists
now plant corn on the contour. They have the word
from the State College of Agriculture. And so the clay-
brown has stopped spreading farther down the rises
and life has not turned secular, but broken.
God still plants people on the predetermined check
even though Calvinists plant corn on the contour. God's
check doesn't mean a kernel in the Calvinist's cornfield.
There's no easy way to tell the difference between Calvinists
and non-Calvinists: now all plant on the contour; all tolerate
weeds; between rows, all waste space; all uproot corn, cultivating;
all consider erosion their own business, not God's; all wear
overalls without ties; all their children go to the same
movies and dances; the county's prayer meetings
in March are badly attended; and I am improvising
this poem on the contour, no checking it in rhyme.

Glad for the new freedom, I miss the old freedom of choice
between Calvinist and non-Calvinist farming. Only in religion
are Calvinist and non-Calvinist distinguishable now. When different
ideas of God produced different methods of farming, God mattered more.
Was the old freedom worth giving up for the new? Did stopping the old
erosion of earth start a new erosion of the spirit? Was stopping old
eroision worth the pain of the new brokenness? The old Calvinists
insisted that the only hope for unbrokenness between the ways
of God and the ways of farmers is God.
A priest, God wears
infinite humility; a king, he wears infinite glory. He is even
less influenced by his upward-mobile children's notions of what not
to wear with what than our Calvinist fathers were in neckties with bib-
overalls. Moreover, a prophet, he wears the infinite truth our Calvinist
fathers hankered after to vindicate themselves, not only their farming.
Just wait, some dark night God will ride over the rises on his chariot-
corn planter. It will be too dark to tell his crown from a straw hat,
to dark to tell his apocalyptic horses from our buckskin horses or
from unicorns. No matter, just so the wheels of that chariot-corn
planter, dropping fatness, churn up all those clay-brown rises
and turn them all black, just as the old Calvinists predicted.

Lord Jesus, come quickly.

From here transcribed by Loren Harsma