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, 30 April 2012

Jamie Smith on "The fall of interpretation'

Exploring the World of Mathematics by John Hudson Tiner

Exploring the World of Mathematics
From Ancient Record keeping to the Latest Advances in Computing

John Hudson Tiner
Master Books, 2004 (third printing 2008)
ISBN 978-0-89051-412-2
157pp, pbk

This book is part of a series by Tiner "Exploring the world of ..."; others are on Medicine, Planet Earth, Chemistry, Physics and The World Around You. The book is obviously written for the Christian market and the American market.

In a sense this book aims to do too much. It covers a wide historical period and a wide range of mathematical concepts for 'students of several different ages and skill levels'.

Tiner starts off by looking at measuring the years and then the hours. Measurement is dependent upon number, so I would have thought a better first place to start would be the numerical aspect but that isn't dealt with until chapter 7.

There are one or two math errors: eg 'Every time a number is multiplied by 1,000, three zeros are added, and a new name is given'. Not if the number is 1.3! Such an approach destroys place value concepts - not a great idea in an introductory maths book!

Bible verses are interspersed - sometimes without apparent reason. This approach tends to view Christianity as an icing on the mathematics cake. There are side boxes on topics such as Hebrew and Jewish Calandar of the Old Testament and Cubit in the Bible. Peter's catch of 153 fish (Jn 21:11) is examined - 153 = 1^3 + 5^3 + 3^3. However, little attempt is made to fully integrate Christianity and mathematics.

There are a number of missed opportunities. For example, on the decimal system, Tiner applauds the United States for being the first country to adopt a decimal money system and showed its advantages and yet they haven't embraced full metrification - it would have been interesting to have explored why not. And in the context of decimals how are we, in light of a Christian worldview, to  interpret Tobias Dantzig's assertion in Number The Language of Science (1930):
... man counts by tens, his ten fingers will remind him of the human origin of this most important phase of his mental life. So may the decimal system stand as a living monument to the proposition: Man is the measure of all things."

There is a helpful discussion on the Golden ratio - Tiner noted that the dimensions of Noah's Ark in (Gn 6:15) and the Ark of the Covenant are close to the Golden ratio; but why is 1.618 so prevalent in creation?

Pythagras' absolutisation of number and the Greek rationalisation of proof are not really explored - this would have been a good opportunity to show how worldviews shape mathematics.

The Christian faith of mathematicians is also largely absent. Some mathematicians who are Christians are mentioned, but little is made of their faith and in the portrayal of Newton one could be forgiven for thinking that Newton was an orthodox evangelical rather than a unitarian.

I have perhaps been a little over critical; and it is undoubtably much better than the Christian maths book I haven't written!! There is much of use in this book and it may provide the Christian teacher with some useful ideas. It is well laid out and illustrated with line drawings and photographs. It would make for a good resource for the school library or Christian teacher.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

With by Skye Jethani

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God
Skye Jethani
Thomas Nelson, 2011
ISBN 978-1595553799

The Barna group recently did an extensive survey and found that the youth are leaving the church. What has previously happened is that they then come back when they get married and have children, however, that trend doesn’t seem to be happening. Nothing we didn’t previously know! But they identified several reasons why. One of which is that their experience of Christianity is shallow and another is that the churches seem overprotective.

This book may well present something of a solution for these issues.

Skye Jethani, editor of Leadership Journal, in this book makes an interesting observation: he sees all religions are based on the idea that the world is a dangerous place. Because it is a dangerous place, this leads to fear. We want to protect ourselves, so this means some sort of control. However, control leads to conflict and so more danger. This may explain why churches want to protect. All religion, Jethani claims is some sort of control based on fear.

In different ways we try and control God. This leads to four postures. In the first half of the book Jethani explains these four postures. Each of the postures contain an element of truth but are parasitic on the truth of the Gospel. But many are passing them off as gospel, which may be why the experience of Christianity for many is shallow.

The first posture is life under God. The best way to maintain control is to try and control the God who created the world. This posture looks to rituals and morality to do that. If we do the right things then God will cooperate. If we obey, God will bless.
It’s the drop the virgin in the volcano approach to religion. We adhere to the rules and rituals, but God won’t cooperate. Christianity then doesn’t seem to work.

The second posture is life over God. In this posture we don’t need to follow divine commands, rituals or morality, we don’t even need God we can get control through science, through laws and principles. The more extreme version of this posture is atheism – we can take God out of the picture. A god-version is deism, god is a clockmaker – he’s set the world up so now it runs according to laws.

For Christians who adopt this posture the principles in the Bible, rather than science, can give us control and help us find success. What happens is that we then have a relationship not with the God of the Bible but with the Bible as god.

Life from God is the third posture. This is perhaps the most popular today, it sees the issue as unmet desires and pleasures. It’s a consumerist gospel, a gospel that’s all about me. God is there to give us our needs and desires, to give us what we want.

We’ve made God into a divine butler or a divine cosmic therapist.

What happens to Christians who adopt this posture when God doesn’t meet our desires? They walk away form the shallow alternative to the gospel, mistakenly thinking that they have tried the real thing.

The fourth posture reverses this approach – rather than life from God it’s life for God. It puts mission or transformation at the centre. God doesn’t exist for us; we exist to serve God. We need to figure out what God’s purpose is for us and do more for God. The more we do for God the better we feel about ourselves.

Jethani points out have produced an activist generation – we want to end world poverty, we want to reach the lost, we want to go out on the streets to heal, we want to see people saved, we want to see culture transformed. But why are we doing it? We are driven not out of compassion but out of a search for significance.

This is a brilliant analysis of false gospels often promulgated as the Gospel. It is no longer people’s experience of Christianity is so shallow – they have been inoculated against the truth.

The second part of the book looks at the posture of the Gospel: life with God.
In all the other postures we use God to achieve some end: it may be success, wealth or it may be significance. But once we get a revelation of who Jesus is – we no longer want to use God. He isn’t the means to an end – he is the end, He’s the beginning and the end, the all and in all.

I found the first half of the book fascinating and insightful – the second less so, it’s hard to write about how we can get a revelation of God, it’s something that’s ‘caught rather than taught’. This is an important book. It may well change your view of God and the Gospel.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

George Washington Carver by John Perry

George Washington Carver
Christian Encounters Series
John Perry
Thomas Nelson, 2011
vii + 161 pp
ISBN 978-1-59555-026-2

This book is one in a series of short biographies in the Christian Encounter series published by Thomas Nelson. Others include familiar subjects such as Tolkein, Bach, D L Moody, Jane Austen and Galileo; others more unfamiliar such as William F. Buckley, Anne Bradstreet and George Washington Carver.

The two previous volumes I've reviewed were ebooks, this was a hard copy. I was pleased to see the small format and the well-designed book covers, including flaps.

Perry is well placed to write this short, accessible biography as he has previously written Unshakable Faith (Multnomah Books, 1999) - a 400 page biography of Carver and his Booker T. Washington. He has also written biographies of General Lee, Mrs Robert E. Lee, Sargent York, Charles Colson and for this Christian Encounter series Sargent York and Winston Churchill.

Carver is best known as the 'peanut man'. (He discovered over 265 uses for peanuts.) But as this biography shows he was so much more. Franklin D Roosevelt described him as “One of world’s most significant scientists”.

Carver was born into slavery as the son of a slave woman, but after his mother was kidnapped was bought up by his owner Moses Carver. Brought up in a Christian environment he soon found faith and often taught Bible at the Sunday school. He also showed great aptitude for geology and botany. Through much hardship and subsistence living he manage to work his way through school - but because of his exceptional ability soon out grew his teachers.

He found a post at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, where he met Booker T. Washington. Washington encouraged Carver, but there was often friction and tension, despite the great mutual respect, between the two. Despite many threats to resign Carver remained at Tuskegee all his teaching years.

Carver excelled at teaching and research but administration was his shortfall. Perry presents us with Carver wart and all.

What shines through in this biography is Carter's love for and dependence upon his Lord. He credited all his 'admirable characteristics accomplishments to God' (p. 116). He believed that his scientific discoveries 'were a product of divine revelation' (p. 105). He wrote: "I didn't make these discoveries, God worked through me to reveal to his children some of his wonderful providence". Carter never let his colour hold him back - despite living in a place where segregation was legalised. Carver had the ear of government and the president, but was unable to dine in the same room as whites. He dealt with such injustices with kindness, patience and humility. He let his work speak for itself and demonstrated he was 'the white man's equal' (p. 104).

This is an excellent and highly readable introduction to the life and times of Carver. Perry ably places Carver in his cultural context and shows how Carver's faith helped him through and shaped his science: 

Binding all the threads of his life into one cord was carver's overarching belief in a Creator who has made everything he studied so intently, and gave him and his students the insights to understand and appreciate them". (p. 75)

It is an inspiring and inspirational story well told by Perry.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Friday, 13 April 2012

Kuyper in America: "This is where I was meant to be"

Kuyper in America: "This is where I was meant to be" is a new book from Dordt College Press. Edited by George Harinck.

ISBN: 978-0932914934
100 pages.
Details are here.

In 1898, Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) travelled from the Netherlands to the United States to deliver the Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was gone for more than four months; during which time he wrote twenty-two letters to his wife Jo (and seven children) back home. These sometimes hastily penned personal letters allowed his wife and children to share his adventures, and also his thoughts and feelings while traveling. These are typical travel letters. For Kuyper scholars and students of American history and culture these letters contain fascinating details, and for the lover of the epistolary genre and the petit histoire this publication offers the opportunity to get close to the enigmatic figure of Abraham Kuyper.