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.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Adverts and idols

Adverts convey a message: 'buy me!' They also provide us with a message about society. Adverts shape and are shaped by our culture and society. If you want to know what a society idolises watch their adverts.

Advertising works - billions are spent on it every year.

The first advert shown on British television was this one in 1955 for Gibbs SR toothpaste.

At the time most people didn't brush their teeth. Now we seem to be obsessed with toothbrushes and toothpaste. Toothpaste has also undergone a transformation- stripes, whitening, different kinds of dispensers, etc. Brushes have undergone many changes: kinks in them, different coloured bristles, see this Mitchell and Web skit.

Look at this advert - what's the message it conveys about society?

Apart from the fact that you have to be crazy to buy this type of phone.

Christian values are undermined: impatience rather than patience is conveyed as a virtue. Faster is better, progress is good.Technology is good. Do what feels good. Forget about the consequences - it's the iGeneration, or the generation me. This advert highlights the story upon which Western culture and civilisation rests is that of progress. We are continually evolving, progressing, into something better.

However, progress is something of a double-edged sword. As Terry Pratchett's Granny Weatherwax says: 'Don't you talk to me about progress. Progress means bad things happen faster'.

Adverts convey implicit images about the society, they can reveal what society idolises. This advert absolutises progress and technology.

Idolatory is not an old problem. It is not a byproduct of a primitive worldview.
Idolatory is very subtle: it creeps up on us without us noticing. We become idolators by a process of osmosis. Idols are not things we put on the mantelpiece, contemporary idolatries tend to be ideas or concepts rather than objects. It might be economic growth (at all costs); the idea that economics is the key; material success; exam success; family; the nation; the idea that science and technology will solve all our problems; the list is almost endless.

1. Idolatry is a consequence of being a worshipper: we all have to worship something.
We are all created with a need to worship; whether it be Christian, Buddhist, spiritist, new ager, modernist, postmodernist, agnostic or atheist. We can’t escape it; it’s the way God made us. There may not always be public or ceremonial aspect to our worship, but it is worship nonetheless.

2. Idolatry is misplaced commitment
It is putting our trust in something other than the Lord.

3. Idolatry is worship of the created rather than the creator
It is elevating something in creation – no matter how good it may be - to a place it was not meant to have. Treating the good as god. A partial truth becomes the whole truth. Anything can become an idol.
4. Idolatry dehumanises Ps 115: 6,7; Ps 135:

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them!

5. We image what we worship
Such is the nature of idolatry that it distorts us and shapes us into their image. As this headline from the Daily Mirror shows:

6. We need to recognise that we all indulge in idolatry to some extent
Worshipping God does not mean that we do not worship idols. Christians can still be emeshed by idolatry. The problem is one of syncretism (cf 2Kings 17:41: Even while they were worshipping the Lord, they were serving idols.)

It is important to identify where idolatry creeps in. How can we do it?

1. Ask God

2. Ask others - exposing idols is a communal activity: we are blinded by our own idolatry. Easier to see the splinter in another's eye than the plank in our own!

3. Read critiques of society, particularly from those from those who hold to another worldview.

4. Watch out if an area of life tries to take over others.

5. Go to other cultures and return

6. Watch adverts critically

7. Say YES to the Jealous God who demands full allegiance.

Did you know?

There are a number of clips like this showing the effects of social media. This one is worth watching to the end.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Odds and sods

Alister McGrath's 2009 Gifford Lectures, 'A fine-tuned universe', are available here
Better gmail reader gets a great new minimal skin: helvetireader
Brian Walsh's targum on Romans 1:16-32 - provocative and thought-provoking as ever
5 sites with free lectures on a wide range of subjects
A farmer's search for a theology of land
How does your work shape your view of human nature?
Interesting facts about the Internet and social web - a fascinating read with lots of images.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Monday, 14 September 2009

Reformational politics: a bibliography

It's often said that religion and politics don't mix. It's also said that politics and religion should be avoided in polite conversation. In an interview for Vanity Fair magazine Tony Blair was asked about his Christian faith, Alistair Campbell, Blair's former communications Chief (aka spin doctor), immediately interupted and said "I'm sorry, we don't do God".

Contrast this with a scene in the film Amazing Grace. William Wilberforce when considering giving up his political career for one in religion was visited by members of the Clapham Sect and Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson says to Wilberforce ‘We understand you are wondering whether to pursue politics or religion’. Hannah More responds: ‘We humbly suggest you can do both’.

That is the reformational response. We can serve God and do politics – in fact we can serve God in doing politics. Religion and politics do mix!

As Jim Skillen has written:

Proper Christian faith concerns all of life. It has no limited meaning that can be isolated from the political, agricultural, economic, and artistic lives of Christians and non-Christians. Likewise, politics is never purely secular from a biblical point of view. Nothing in this creation (in this world or this age) has a life and meaning of its own, independent of the Creator’s will and purpose. Biblical revelation and political life, Christian faith and human government are intimately connected from the start in God’s single creation. It is a mistake to think that we should be trying to connect two experiences which have never been disconnected.

James W. Skillen in Christians Organizing or Political Action APJ, 1980

However, the idea that Christianity and politics shouldn't mix has, some claim, a biblical basis:

Mark 12

13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him.

Many see this as arguing for a spearation of politics and religion. “Give to worldly authorities the things that belong to them, and to God what belongs to God.” Or as Gary Wills has argued in a New York Times article:

THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

Gary Wills ‘Christ among the partisans’ 9 April 2006 New York Times

The major problem with this sort of exegesis is that it is an individualistic and anachronistic reading of the passage. Most contemporary scholars reject outright such naive interpretation. Politics and religion were very mixed in first-century Palestine. It is however, a powerful and persistent myth, believed by many Christians.

Consider for a moment 'What belongs to God?' All things! He is sovereign over all and that includes the State, government and politics and everything that Caesar lay claims to. The State is a servant of God. Jesus is not thinking of two realms! There is one realm: God's; and everything else is subsumed under that. Humans bear the likeness and the image of God - we must give all of ourselves to God. There is not one area of life that should not be under the rule and reign of God .... and that includes politics.

The following bibliography provides a list of resoources for a reformational approach to politics, and approach that sees politics as part of the cultural mandate to cultivate and develop creation.

Reformational Politics: A Bibliography
Craig Bartholomew, Jonathan Chaplin, and Al Wolters, eds., A Royal Priesthood: The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

 Jonathan Chaplin
1992. Politics and the Parties: When Christians Disagree. Leicester: IVP, 1992
1995. ‘Dooyeweerd's Notion of Societal Structural Principles’. Philosophia Reformata 60 : 16-36.
1997. 'Catholic Political Thought: What Can Evangelicals Learn' Transformation 14 (3:10.
1998. “Christian Theories of Democracy.” In Contemporary Political Studies, 1998, Volume II, edited by Andrew Dobson and Jeffrey Stanyer. UK: Political Studies Association of the UK, 1998.
2000. “Beyond Liberal Restraint: Defending Religiously Based Arguments in Law and Public Policy.” University of British Columbia Law Review 33/3 (2000): 617-646.
2000. ‘Silencing the Silencers: Reclaiming a Christian Voice in Political Debate’. Pro Rege 29 (1).
2003. ‘On Globalization: An Exercise in Public Theology’. Comment (Spring).
2006. ‘Rejecting Neutrality, Respecting Diversity: From ‘Liberal Pluralism’ to ‘Christian Pluralism’'. Christian Scholar's Review.
2008. Talking God: The Legitimacy of Religious Public Reasoning Theos
Jon Chaplin and Paul Marshall (ed.) 1994. Political Theory and Christian Vision: Essays in Memory of Bernard Zylstra. Lanham MD: University Press of America.

Roy Clouser 1999 'A non-reductionist theory of the State' The Myth of Religious Neutrality Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press ch 13.

Jan Dengerink 'The idea of justice' Westminster Theological Journal, XXXIX (Fall): 1–59.
Jan Dengerink 1978. The Idea of Justice in Christian Perspective. Toronto: Wedge.

Herman Dooyeweerd
1975. Christian Idea of the State. Craig Press.
1997. Essays in Legal, Social, and Political Philosophy. Alan M. Cameron et al (ed.). The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd, Series B, Volume 2, pp. 121–55.

2004. Political Philosophy. Daniël Strauss (ed.). The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd, Series D, Volume 1 (2004), pp. 17–47.

Stuart Fowler The State in the light of the Scriptures. Potchefstroom:IRS, 1988 F2 No.46
Albert Gedraitis 1972. Worship and Politics. Toronto: Wedge.
Chris Gousmett 1999. Christianity and politics: a reformational perspective. Wetenskaplike bydraes van die PU vir CHO. Reeks F1 No 384.
Bob Goudzwaard 1984 Idols of our Time. Downers Grove: IVP
Sander Griffioen 1981 Facing the New Corporatism Toronto: CLAC
William A. Harper and Theodore R. Malloch 1981. Where are we now? The State of Christian Political Reflection UPA.
E L Hebden Taylor1969. The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics, and the State (Craig Press)

David Koyzis
1997. ‘Canadian Election Accentuates Divisions Once Again,’ Public Justice Report (July-August).
1997. ‘A Call to Reform the Canadian Electoral System,’ Public Justice Report (July-August).
2001. Symposium: The Future of Federalism,’ Comment (July-August): 14-15.
2000. ‘Voter turnout and competitive politics,’ Public Justice Report 23 (3).
2002. ‘Differentiated Responsibility and the Challenge of Religious Diversity,’ Journal of Markets & Morality 5 (1) (spring 2002): 199-207.
2003. Political Visions and Illusions (Downers Grove: IVP).
2004. ‘Christianity and Liberalism: Two Alternative Religious Approaches,’ the New Pantagruel: Hymns in the Whorehouse, (Summer) 1 (3).
2004. ‘Making a Good Constitution Better: A Response to Janet Ajzenstat,’ Comment (Work Research Foundation) (Winter): 15-21.

Abraham Kuyper1991. Problem of Poverty ed Jim Skillen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans
Abraham Kuyper 1931 Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans)

Paul Marshall.
1986. Thine is the Kingdom (Basingstoke: Marshalls)
1991. A Calvinist Political Theory Potchefstroom: IRS, F1 no 283, 1991.
2002. God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics (Rowman & Littlefield).

Rockne McCarthy et al.1981. Society, State, School: A Case for Structural and Confessional Pluralism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Henry Meeter 1990 (6th edn)The Basic ideas of Calvinism: The Theological and Political Ideas (revised by Paul Marshall) Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.
Richard Mouw 1983. Politics and the Biblical Drama Grand Rapids: Baker Book House
Monsma, Stephen V. 1994. Pursuing Justice in a Sinful World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1984.
H E Runner 1962. Scriptural Religion and Political Task Guardian Pub Co.
Gary Scott Smith 1989. God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government P&R Publishing
Corwin Schmidt 2007. 'Principled pluralist perspective' in Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views ed. P. C. Kemeny. IVP Academic, Downers Grove. 
Timothy R. Sherratt and Ronald P. Manhurin 1995. Saints as Citizens: A Guide to Public Responsibilities for Christians. Baker Books and The Center for Public Justice.

Jim Skillen see the full bibliography here and Wearne (2008)
James Skillen and Rockne M. McCarthy (ed) 1991. Political Order and the Plural Structure of Society. Emory University, Scholars Press, 1991.

Spykman, Gordon, et al. 1988. Let My People Live: Faith and Struggle in Central America. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Alan Storkey 1979. A Christian Social Perspective Leicester: IVP.
Alan Storkey 2005. Jesus and Politics Grand Rapids: Baker.

B J van der Walt
1981. No.18 Why the State? Bible Study on Romans 13 and Revelation 13 F2 No 18.
1999. No 50 Religion and Society: Christian involvement in the public square (86 pages) F3 No 50.
B J van der Walt and Rita Swanepoel (ed) 1995. Confessing Christ in Doing Politics Orientation Jan-Dec (75-78)

Bruce Wearne 2008 Public Justice for All: An Annotated Bibliography of the Works of James W. Skillen, 1967-2008 Bristol: allofliferedeemed
John Witte Jr 1993. Christian Democracy in Global Context Oxford: Westview.
Bernard Zylstra - see bibliography here.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sphere sovereignty

What roles does the State have in raising children? Should the State mandate if a baby should be fed on demand or every few hours? Should the State interfere with the running of household finances? Then what about education? Or business? Or the church?

Statism maintains that the State makes laws and regulations and is in control of, or sovereign over, many other areas of life:

On the other hand sphere sovereignty, a concept largely developed by Abraham Kuyper, starts from the sovereignty of God rather than the State or any other created thing. In his 1880 inaugural address to the VU he outlined his idea of sphere sovereignty (Bratt, 1998)

An illustration may help:

Sphere sovereignty maintains that the only sovereign is God. He has established laws or norms for other areas of society such as the family, the church and so on. Within their own sphere these areas are thus sovereign under God laws and norms for that aspect of life. No one institution should dominate or dictate to another, there is no hierarchy of institutions.


Gregory Baus. 2006. Dooyeweerd's societal sphere sovereignty: a theory of differentiated responsibility. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit te Amsterdam Griffin's view 7 (2): 209-217

Gregory Baus 2008. Dooyeweerd's conception of societal sphere sovereignty Paper delivered at Civil Society and Sphere Sovereignty Conference, Princeton, NJ.

Jonathan Chaplin 1993. “Subsidiarity and Sphere Sovereignty: Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Role of the State.” In Things Old and New: Catholic Social Teaching Revisited, edited by McHugh, Natale, Rothschild, and Schachlinger. University Press of America, 1993.

Michael J. DeMoor 2008. 'Kuyper, Sphere Sovereignty and the Possibility of Political Friendship' Paper delivered at Civil Society and Sphere Sovereignty Conference, Princeton, NJ.

George Harink A Historian's Comment on the Use of Abraham Kuyper's Idea of Sphere Sovereignty Journal of Markets and Morality

Abraham Kuyper 1998. 'Sphere Sovereignty' In Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Timothy McConnel 2002. Common grace or the antithesis?: Toward a consistent understanding of Kuyper's "sphere sovereignty" Pro Rege

David H. McIlroy 2003.  Subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty: Christian reflections on the size, shape and scope of government. Journal of Church and State

Richard J. Mouw 2000. 'Some reflections on sphere sovereignty'. In Luis E. Lugo (ed) Religion, pluralism, and public life: Abraham Kuyper's Legacy for the Twenty-first Century Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Ray Pennings 2005. Sphere sovereignty 101

Bong Ho Son. 1999. Relevance of sphere sovereignty to Korean society. In Kuyper Reconsidered: aspects of his life and work Amsterdam: VU.

Corwin Schmidt 2007. 'Principled pluralist perspective'. In Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views ed. P. C. Kemeny. Downers Grove: VP Academic

Elaine Storkey 2000. 'Sphere sovereignty and the Anglo-American tradition'. In Luis E. Lugo (ed) Religion, pluralism, and public life: Abraham Kuyper's Legacy for the Twenty-first Century Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Gordon Spykman 1976. 'Sphere-sovereignity in Calvin and the Calvinist tradition' in D E Holwerda (ed) Exploring the Heritage of John Calvin Grand Rapids: Baker, 163-208, 1976.

D. H. Th. Vollenhoven 'Sphere sovereignty for Kuyper and for us'. Forthcoming in Vollenhoven Reader ed John Kok

Friday, 11 September 2009

Seerveld on the artist

Art is one way for men and women to respond to the Lord's command to cultivate the earth, to praise his Name. Art is neither more nor less than that.

Art, christianly conceived, is not something esoteric. Art is no more special (nor less special) than marriage and prayer and fresh strawberries out of season. Like acrobatics and careful thought and running a business well, artistry takes training. It is more difficult than falling off a log. To sing with modulated tones, controlled breathing, and fine phrasing, or to take shopworm words and cast them into the necklace of a sonnet form and make them fresh again, or to walk across a stage and slump on the ground in such a way that every eye is struck by the despair cursing the person: all that takes special gifts and knowledge of execution. But art is not, therefore, suddenly mysterious or supernatural.

When Shakespeare lumps lunatic, lover and poet into the same hopper, he has a long tradition behind him.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, V, i)
This poetic definition of poetry and poetic "genius" is justly famous, but in christian fact it misses the mark. Poets are not sorcerers; musicians are not progeny of the legendary Orpheus and his "divine" song. Artistic composition and performance is simply and thoroughly human, no matter how unusual it may seem to the workaday beholder.

There are no biblical grounds either for the usual talk about artistic "creation." Comparisons between God as capital A Creator Artist and man as small, image-of-God creator artist are only speculative and misleading. To turn analysis of "what now is human artistic activity?" into a theological discussion on the unique "creativity" of God is no help at all in determining the nature and place of art on the earth.

Such a would-be christian approach is often caught in the age-old trap of analogia entis. Once you work in that problematics you have to be a scholastic casuist to escape the heresy of mysticism, deism or a covert blasphemy. Man is not God's image, a finite parallel to an infinite Perfection. Only Christ is a spitting image of God. The fact that man is made in the image of God means that men and women carry inescapably around with them a restless sense of allegiance to- And this structural, worshipping restlessness remains to plague man until he finally, as Augustine puts it, is rested with commitment in the true Creator. But imago Dei and "creation" obfuscate understanding art because it looks too hard, and overlooks the limited, serviceable, craftsmanship character of artistic activity.

And it does not help to personalize the misconception as we are apt to do. If we think artists by profession are "creators," while mothers just have babies, we may be caught, unwittingly, in simply adapting, lightly christianized, the old nineteenth century idolatry of the artistic person as autonomous genius. The conception of artist as "creator," something like a superstar next to ordinary mortals, will not be free from the evil Romanticism that tends to elevate a given artist out of the bonds of community. And truly God-praising artistry can flourish only when the artist is deeply embedded both in an artistic community and in the wider, societal communion of sinning saints.

It is not wise to perpetuate the myth of artist as "creator," for it puts an unlawful burden on the back of any serious, young Christian who wants to be an artist. The "creator" analogy also is bound to make dubious (rightly so!) the many people of God who are faithful servants and stewards at work culturally, but don't make it to the first-class "creator" status.

Calvin Seerveld Rainbows for the Fallen World (Stride: Exeter, 1980, 1988)

Saturday, 5 September 2009

An atheist's creed by P Z Meyers

An atheist's creed

I believe in time,
matter, and energy,
which make up the whole of the world.

I believe in reason, evidence and the human mind,
the only tools we have;
they are the product of natural forces
in a majestic but impersonal universe,
grander and richer than we can imagine,
a source of endless opportunities for discovery.

I believe in the power of doubt;
I do not seek out reassurances,
but embrace the question,
and strive to challenge my own beliefs.

I accept human mortality.

We have but one life,
brief and full of struggle,
leavened with love and community,
learning and exploration,
beauty and the creation of
new life, new art, and new ideas.

I rejoice in this life that I have,
and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
and an earth that will abide without me.

Modern creeds

Paul posted a modern creed here. Here's another by poet Steve Turner:

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before during
and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy's OK
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything's getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated.
You can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there's something in horoscopes,
UFO's and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha
Mohammed and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think
his good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same,
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.

We believe that after death comes The Nothing
because when you ask the dead what happens
they say Nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it's compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between
warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behaviour that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth
that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds.

Marriage - creation, fall and redemption

  • Marriage is instituted by God at creation.
  • Marriage is leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh
  • Marriage is for sex
  • Marriage is a permanent life-long bond.
  • Marriage is heterosexual
  • Marriage is monogamous
  • Marriage is not compulsory
  • Marriage is regarded as a covenant Proverbs 2:17 Malachi 2:14
  • Marriage is a personal union
  • Marriage is not the central meaning of life.
  • Marriage is a pledge of troth
  • Marriage is ethically, not legally, qualified – its purpose is love
  • Marriage is based on fidelity
  • Marriage is an essential structure for the family
  • Marriage is a vocation: a gift and a calling
  • Marriage is a community – it is not hierarchical, there is mutual submission between husband and wife (Eph 5:21)
  • Marriage is an image of the relationship of God with his church

Is marriage culturally bound?
What is the relationship to marriage of a wedding? Do weddings make a marriage?
Does becoming one flesh constitute marriage? If so, then should only virgins be married in church? – as to marry any other would be to condone adultery. If we allow non-virgins to marry in church why the problem remarrying divorcees?

What about rape? Does that constitute becoming one flesh?

What about cohabitation? It involves a leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh. Is that marriage?

  • Marriage, for some, becomes absolutised.
  • Marriage is under threat
  • Marriage is a struggle
  • Marriage has become based on passion and not love
  • Marriage has become a contract that can become broken at a whim
  • Marriage can easily be broken: divorce can even be done by text message

Easy divorce may increase the number of foolish marriages.
Divorce carries many consequences – particularly for any children involved.

“Just as the concentration camp has marked the breakdown of the rule of law in the life of the state, so the divorce court marks the breakdown of the rule of fidelity in private life. More than all else, divorce is the logical and inevitable outcome of unbelief and of a society which has turned its back on the moral and religious values it once held sacred.” Hebden Taylor 1970, p. 31.

Christian marriages should be a picture and preview of the coming kingdom.
Forgiveness a key characteristic

It may require a campaign for more stringent divorce laws.
Marriage counselling and marriage enrichment programmes are important.

Divorce is permitted within certain circumstances to alleviate the effects of a fallen world, because of the hardness of hearts.
Divorce is never considered an unforgivable sin.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Structure and direction

The term 'structure and direction' has been coined to describe an important reformational concept. Vollenhoven used the term and it was popularised by H Evan Runner. This section from Brian J Walsh and J Richard Middleton. The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview. IVP, 1984, pp. 88-90. describes the concepts well, the image of a wire was 'borrowed' from Al Wolters.

Imagine dozens of entwined electrical wires, encased together in a cord. These wires are like the many aspects of life we experience. Together they constitute one whole structure. And that structure was ordained by God in creation. He structured by his word not just atoms and trees and galaxies, but societal and cultural life. All creation, existing as a response to God's laws, expresses his creation order.

Thus the various strands of our lives function alongside each other within the structure God has ordered. And they are many: physical, emotional, biological, intellectual, political, aesthetic, economic, ethical and devotional. Now these aspects by no means exhaust all that contributes to the structure of life—God's creation is too complex for that—but life seems to involve at least these dimensions.

Unlike the wires within a cord, however, the strands of life are not discrete parts. We can't separate them one from another; we cannot make an economic choice, for example, without reference to ethics, politics or intellect. We live them all together.

As wires do not exist for their own sakes, so the elements of life exist for a purpose. They are fields of activity. Electricity runs through the wires. God didn't create the world to be neutral, like a still-life picture.

In the beginning the current ran through his structure in perfect response to his creational covenant. Life moved according to the will of God—and it was good, says Genesis. Mankind (and all creation) served God in loving obedience.

Then sin came. It was a current running in the opposite direction. Sin didn't change the structure of life in the world; God's original creation continues to stand as he upholds it. What changed was the direction of the current.

God's work in salvation is to redirect the current of our lives. Redemption is the restoration of our obedience to the will of God, essentially our re-creation; the current runs in the original direction again so that we can be what we were meant to be.

Although obedience and disobedience may be compared to currents running in opposite directions, the comparison goes only so far. For life is complex. Good and evil are both present in God's creation. And the two kingdoms, or currents, are at war.

But notice that sin is not intrinsic to creation. It is never a strand of life in itself. The current of power does not flow one way in some aspects of life and the opposite in others, for good and evil are not structural parts of creation. God created all things good. Evil is the kink in every wire, in every aspect of life; it is the direction of current away from God into disobedience.

To think of some parts of life as good, as innately Godward in direction, and to consider others as by nature inferior, is to divide the structure of life into impossible categories. Such thinking is the basis of a sacred/secular dualism which reads good and evil into separate aspects of God's creation. Isolating some of the strands, it elevates them to a place of privilege—while depreciating others.

This is not the biblical view. Scripture suggests rather a certain "democracy" about the wires. Whatever sacred/secular or holy/common distinction may have been in force under the old covenant (with its special priesthood, Temple and sacrifices), all has been changed with the coming of Christ's kingdom. We need to heed Zechariah's prophecy of the Messianic age:

On that day "HOLY TO [YAHWEH]" will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in [Yahweh's] house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to [Yahweh] Almighty. (Zech 14:zo-21)

All aspects of God's world are created good, but all aspects are also fallen. In Christ all may be redeemed.

What does this mean for our practical, day-by-day living? It means that we as Christians must seek to understand cultural phenomena and to bring them under the lordship of Christ. Of each part of life we must ask two questions. First, what in it is creationally good? Second, what in it is not good? In what ways has it been misdirected?

These questions apply to every area of human culture. We may not simply write off an aspect of human culture as if it were beyond redemption, nor may we accept it uncritically at face value. Instead we need to struggle discerningly with our brothers and sisters in Christ (as well as with unbelievers who are sensitive to creational norms). We need to listen to God's Spirit as he points us back to the guidance of his word for all areas of our life.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Philosophia Reformata is now online

Philosophia Reformata, the journal of the Association of Reformational Philosophy, founded in 1935 by Dooyeweerd et al. is now in 2009 online. It's early days yet but it promises to have many articles from 1955 online.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

True or false: Galileo

How well do you know your Galileo? Look at the statements below and decide whether they are true or false. Highlight the text below the statement to reveal the answer.

Those reading in a RSS reader might wnat to switch to the blog post to avoid seeing it all at once.

1. Galileo invented the telescope
False: It was invented in Holland. Galileo did improve it though.

2. Galileo dropped light and heavy objects form the Tower of Pisa
False: his student did.

3. Galileo was the first to claim that the earth goes round the sun
False Copernicus was the first to provide evidence for it. His ideas were elaborated by Kepler. The Ancient Greek philosopher Ptolomy also held to heliocentrism.

4. Galileo was martyred for his science
False: martyrs die Galileo wasn’t put to death.

5. Galileo was tortured for his science
False: He was never tortured, though he was questioned in the presence of torture instruments – common practice at the time. He was eventually put under house arrest and did his best work there he was free to go and visit his daughter.

6. The church leaders at the time refused to look through is telescope for fear it was bewitched
False: the two who did were scholastic natural philosophers Cesare Cremonini and Guilio Libri. At least two priest did Clavius and Grienberger, and they became convinced of Galileo’s position.

7. The church at the time opposed science
False: the Catholic Church was one of the chief sponsors of science. Most of the leading astronomers were Jesuits.

8. Galileo was an atheist
False: he remained a convinced Catholic and regularly attended mass, he was carried to church when he was too feeble to walk.

9. The Galileo vs the Catholic church shows that science and religion are in conflict
False: the issue wasn’t science against religion, it was a philosophical debate – the old 'sanctified' science against the newer science. The new science challenged the dominant scholastic Aristotelian worldview, this is primarily what the 'conflict' was about.

11. Galileo recanted and uttered under his breath ‘Nevertheless it does move’.
False - there is no evidence that he did.

12. Galileo had proved that the earth goes round the sun
False: he had shown that a stationary earth was wrong, but not that Copernicus was correct. Tycho Brahe could explain the data but keep the earth at the centre. It was not until stellar parallax was detected 250 years later that there was convincing proof. Some of Galileo’s proofs were wrong!

John Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor (1998) Reconstructing Nature T&T Clark, Edinburgh
John Brooke (1990) ‘The Galileo affair: teaching AT17’ Physics education 25 (4): 197-201
Phil Dowe (2005) Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking Eerdmans, Grand Rapids
Stillman Drake (1957) Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo Doubleday, New York
Paul Feyerabend (1988 orig 1975) Against Method Verso, London
Arthur Koestler (1959) The Sleepwalkers Penguin, Harmondsworth
Nancy R Pearcey and Charles B Thaxton (1994) The Soul of science Crossway Books, Wheaton
Mike Poole (1995) Beliefs and Values in Science Education Open University, Milton Keynes
Mike Poole (1990) ‘The Galileo affair’ School Science Review 72 (258): 39-48
Colin Russell (1985) Cross-currents IVP, Leicester
Giorgio de Santillana (1955) The Crime of Galileo University of Chicago, Chicago
Marinus Dirk Stafleu (1987) Theories at Work University Press of America, Lanham MD