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, 28 October 2013

Pierre Marcel: The Christian Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd (edited by Colin Wright)

The Christian Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd
Pierre Marcel
edited and translated by Colin Wright


Until now available only in typewritten manuscript, Pierre Marcel's two-volume analysis of the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd has now been made available to the reading public in a magnificent English translation by Colin Wright.

The first volume provides a detailed analysis of Dooyeweerd’s critique of theoretical thought. Dooyeweerd analyzed the very basis of thought itself, its presuppositions; and then also the consequences of those presuppositions. The entire range of historical philosophy is taken into account, as are all the schools that manifested themselves up until the time of his writing.

The second volume provides an analysis of Dooyeweerd’s positive philosophy based on explicit presuppositions, those of Christianity. Dooyeweerd analyzes reality in the light of the framework of laws of thought embedded in the mind and in extant reality. The result is an audacious synthesis that provides a foundation for justified reason.

Marcel constructively criticizes both these areas of Dooyeweerd’s achievement in the two volumes now presented. They will occupy the top shelf of the works dedicated to the analysis and continuation of the great Dutchman’s philosophical magnum opus.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Woodbridge and James Church History Vol 2.

Church History: Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day
The rise and growth of the church in its cultural, intellectual, and political context 

John Woodbridge and Frank A. James III

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013
ISBN 9780310515142; 864pp; hbk; £
Publisher's website

This is a mammoth book: 2 authors, 22 Chapters covering 8 centuries, 16 pages of contents, 4 maps, 103 black and white illustrations in 843 pages. It covers the period from the “Babylonian Captivity of the Church" in 1309 to January 2012 when Boko Haram, a violent Islamic terrorist group, committed 54 murders.

The book has a number of goals: to provide an academically responsible engagement with the facts of history; to provide a global perspective; to be contemporary and relevant to the church today; not to avoid controversial issues, but not make final judgments; and to evaluate actions according to the cultural norms of the times but mindful that Christians affirm doctrinal and ethical standards that are culturally transcendent; and finally to be respectful of all Christian traditions.

Far too often history has been written by white men about other (usually dead) white men. How then does this book fare? It is written by two white men, but women do get a share - albeit a small one - of mentions. So, for example in the first chapter we have mentions of Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Sienna.The book aims to be global and it does avoid being too Euro and American-centric.

Inevitably, there is more focus on Protestantism than Roman Catholicism and on Europe and North America than Africa or Asia. But that is perhaps more a statement about the nature of history and the available documents rather than the book; until the nineteenth recently most Protestants lived in Europe, in 1900 81% of Christians were white - it is estimated that by 2015 this will be 30% - and in 1900 70% of all Christians lived in Europe and by 2025 this will be 20%. This global shift from Europe to North America and now to the Global South is certainly reflected in the later chapters of the book.

Why don’t Christians study more history? One problem has been a lack of good introductory resources. Woodbridge and James have addressed the that problem, they have produced a good overview of the story of history. However, as John Fea in his Why Study History? points out “Historians are not mere storytellers. Not only do they have the responsibility of making sure that they get the story right; they are also charged with the task of analyzing and interpreting the past.” Woodbridge and James are great story tellers, but at times I was wanting a little more analysis and interpretation.

Having said that though there is a brief helpful analysis of Calvin. The accusations that Calvin’s emphasis on predestination led to a lack of evangelism and missionary emphasis are examined and found wanting. They point out that “Contemporary scholars generally agree that predestination was not the wellspring of Calvin’s theology.” And they provide evidence of church growth that supports Phillip Hughes assertion that “Calvin’s Geneva was nothing less than “a school of missions … and a dynamic centre of missionary concern and activity.” (Churchman 78(4))

This is a great resource for those who want to know more about Church history. It provides enough detail in its overview to be also satisfying to undergraduates. At the end of each chapter is a “For further study” section which highlights several key books which will be helpful to those who want to take church history further.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Evangelical Theology by Michael F. Bird

Evangelical Theology
A Biblical and Systematic introduction
Michael F. Bird
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
ISBN: 9780310494416
Hbk, 912pp, £28.99

Gordon Spykman in his superb Reformational Theology describes the eclipse of creation in theology. He writes that much of evangelical theology:
gives the impression of bypassing creation in a hasty move to take a shortcut to the cross.
Michael Bird in his evangelical theology doesn’t do that. This is refreshing in an evangelical systematic theology.

What is the single most important thing in evangelicalism? Bird maintains it is the gospel - so he has written a systematic theology that reflects that emphasis. What is the goal of theology? That we would be gospelised! But this raises the question what is the gospel? Is it the redemption of creation, the escape of Christians to heaven, or what? How does Bird view the gospel? He cites with approval Al Wolters who demonstrates that “creation regained” is an underlying theme of the gospel:
The gospel envisages a comprehensive restoration of the created order so that the relational disruption between God and creation caused by the intrusion of evil can be finally resolved. … The gospel is umbilically connected to the wider concepts of covenant and creation.
Such an approach alone would justify the purchase of this book.

Comparison with Grudem’s Systematic Theology is perhaps inevitable. For me Bird's is by far the superior book.

For Grudem the focus is on what does the Bible say, for Bird it is also the engagement with contemporary theological ideas. Though this is a strength of Bird’s approach it may prove to be its weakness as it may well date it.

A look at the contents shows marked differences: Bird starts with God, Grudem with the Bible. Grudem emphasises doctrine, Bird the gospel. In comparison Grudem is lame and pedestrian. This may be in part its age. Bird is a most welcome replacement for Grudem.

I have attempted to summarise some of the differences between Grudem and Bird in the table below.

Other than Spykman’s sadly out of print Reformational Theology I can think of no better summary of theology.

No of pages


Intended aim/  purpose
 Written primarily it for students …  “but also for every Christian who  has a hunger to know the central  doctrines of the Bible in greater  depth.”

To produce a textbook for Christians that represents a biblically sound expression of the Christian faith from the vantage point of the evangelical tradition. 
Intended audience
Students and all those who want 
to know the Bible
To be accessible to laypeople, seminary students and leaders in the evangelical churches

Author’s stated theological position
Holds to a “conservative view of biblical inerrancy, very much in agreement with the “Chicago Statement” of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy … and a traditional Reformed position with regard to questions of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility …, the extent of the atonement …, and the question of predestination.

Ex-Baptist post-Presbyterian Anglican.
Reformed, evangelical and Calvinist
Overview of Contents
Part 1 Doctrine of the Word of God
Part 2 Doctrine of God
Part 3 Doctrine of Man
Part 4 Doctrine of Christ and the Holy Spirit
Part 5 Doctrine of the application of redemption
Part 6 Doctrine of the church
Part 6 Doctrine of the future
 Part 1 Prolegoma: Beginning to talk    about God
 Part 2 The God of the gospel: the triune  God in being and action
 Part 3 The gospel of the kingdom: the  now and the not yet
 Part 4 The gospel of God’s Son: The  Lord Jesus Christ
 Part 5 The Gospel of salvation
 Part 6 The promise and power of the  Gospel: The Holy Spirit
 Part 7: The Gospel and humanity
 Part 8: The community of the gospelized



Scripture and Apocrypha
Definition of (Systematic) Theology
Uses the following definition of 
John Frame: “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” about any given topic.

The study of the living God.
“It is the attempt to say something about God and God’s relationship to the world. It is thinking about faith from faith. In a sense, theology is very much akin to the study of philosophy, worldview, religion, ethics, or intellectual history; it is a descriptive survey of ideas and the impact of those ideas.”

Position on charismata
“all the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are still valid for today, but that “apostle” is an office, not a gift, 
and that office does not continue today.”

 not all of the gifts and offices have to  endure ... For instance, I think it likely  that the offices of prophet and apostle,  which were eschatological ministries to  provide the “foundation” for the church  (Eph 2:20), no longer persist because  the foundation has been laid, and the  apostolic office and prophetic voice is  largely subsumed into Christian    preaching, witness, and teaching.

Position on women
“neither traditional nor feminist, 
but ‘complementarian’— 
namely, that God created man and woman equal in value and personhood, 
and equal in bearing his image, 
but that both creation and redemption indicate some distinct roles for men and women in marriage .. and in the church.

  Not made explicit here. Elsewhere in     Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and         Bobby Haircuts he argues for almost an egalitarian position. 
Position on eschatology
Premillennial and post-tribulation.
“I would seriously like to be amillennial. It  is so much simpler. It recognizes the already’ and ‘not-yet’ of biblical eschatology and avoids the eccentricities of postmillennialism and dispensational premillennialism”… “I conclude that the  biblical eschatology is best described as historic premillennialism.”

Promise Unfulfilled

Promise Unfulfilled
The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism
Rolland McCune
Greenville, SC: Ambassador Intl., 2004

McCune, writing as a self-confessed fundamentalist, looks at the rise of new evangelicalism and the split between fundamentalists and evangelicals. It’s an oversimplification but we can illustrate his view of the increasing distancing between evangelicals and fundamentalists thus:

  Andy Naselli's review and rejoinder by McCune.

Andrew Basden on Dooyeweerd's aspects and ground motives

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Job by Daniel Estes - a boon to any hard-pressed pastor planning to preach through Job

Teach the Text Commentary Series

Daniel J. Estes
General Editors: Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton
Associate Editor: Rosalie de Rosset
Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013.
Hbk, £18.89, 288pp.
ISBN 978-0-8010-9206-0

The book of Job has provided much inspiration for art and literature. It hasn't, however, been well served by commentaries - one blogger couldn't find more than four to recommend (Clines, Hartley, Andersen and Smick). Two new commentaries may well change that: one in the NIV application series by Walton and this book from Daniel Estes, professor of Old Testament at Cedarville University. This one is part of a new commentary series: Teaching the Text.

As the series title suggests this is no "ordinary" commentary. It is aimed primarily at pastors and teachers.
This series is designed to provide a ready reference for teaching the biblical text, giving easy access to information that is needed to communicate a passage effectively.

Each chapter of Job has a section in the commentary and each chapter is divided in to sections:

1. The Big Idea - as a sub heading
2. Key themes - in a side box

And then the main three sections:

3. Understanding the text
4. Teaching the text
5. Illustrating the text.

The text is in two columns and is well illustrated with colour photographs and images.

In the "Understanding the text" section each chapter is placed in its context, there is usually an outline of the text, and brief discussion of the historical and cultural background and finally, the main focus, interpretative and theological insights.

The "Teaching the text" section offers helpful ideas on applying the passage. "Illustrating the text" offers appropriate suggestion from resources such as poetry, other scriptures, films, news stories, books and object lessons.

For example, for Chapter 6 (Job's frustration with his friends), three key points are identified (with the following illustrations): "God want us to be candid before him and to put words to what is in our hearts" (Jer 2 and 2 Cor); "We must correct any distortions in our view of God" (Moby Dick by Melville); and "We must depend on God when friends are disloyal or fail us" (Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas and the poem "Invictus" by Hemmingway).

Sometimes these seem a little stretched and moralistic but the time-pressed preacher may appreciate them.

Throughout the book Estes offers wise and insightful advice about preaching Job, for example:
It is helpful to begin a study of Job with an overview of the book as a whole. The prologue should be analyzed in detail to provide an interpretive lens through which to view the rest of the book. As the speeches unfold in the long dialogue section, they should be related back to the synthesis of the book. If this is not done, then the faulty statements and arguments by Job and the other speakers can be wrongly taken as truth, when in fact a careful consideration of what the entire book teaches unmasks them.
Estes draws upon his considerable experience in Old Testament to provide a useful resource particularly for preachers. This book will be a boon to any hard-pressed pastor planning to preach through Job. It is an accessible and helpful commentary, anyone who wants to get to grips with the book of Job would benefit by reading this book. One suggestion is that the publishers provide the images and text outlines online, thus saving even more time and energy for the preaching pastor.