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 June 2014

Sandford: Blueprint for Theocracy: The Christian Right's Vision for America

Blueprint for Theocracy: The Christian Right's Vision for America
Examining a Radical "Worldview" and its Roots
James C. Sanford
Providence, Rhode Island: Metacomet Books
ISBN 978-0-9747042-0-3; 278 pp; hbk; £15.34

Sanford wrote this book originally out of curiosity, the book then evolved into a ‘history and role of Christian rightists ideology, or Christian Worldview.’ He looks at the origins of worldview, its development into an ideology by the Christian Right and finally, the agenda of the RR. It is a fascinating and well researched book. He looks at the term Christian Worldview as it has been used by the Religious Right (RR) in the States (the capital's are Sandford's).

The term Christian Worldview is obviously not the prerogative of the Christian right and is not univocal. Sadly Sandford - despite his protestations to the contrary - seems to treat it as if it were. How Abaraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd used the term worldview and how Francis Schaeffer and Charles Coulson and how the Christian Right use it are not the same. Sanford maintains that 'The Calvinist prototype developed by Kuyper was eventually to become the gold standard for today's Christian Worldview'.

Sandford sees the development something like this:

He  maintains that 'The historical record shows that Christian Worldview was formulated by doctrinaire theologians reacting with hostility to the rise of empirical science, secularism and popular democracy.' (The historical record - as David Naugle has shown - shows nothing of the sort.)

Sandford also writes:  'The concept [of worldview] was first developed by conservative theologians in Europe who wished to restore a more doctrinaire form of Christianity to a position of dominance'. That may be what it is used for now by the RR, but certainly was not the idea behind James Orr's (1844-1913) and Kuyper's development of it. Sanford rightly notes worldview is subject to 'different shades of meaning' but tends to treat it as if it weren’t.

He is right that 'Kuyper's ideas of antithesis and sphere sovereignty were critical in shaping his political views' but these views do not necessarily lead to a right wing manifesto. Reading Kuyper's own political programme, recently translated into English, soon lays that misconception to rest. Kuyper also had a strong view of the role of common grace that 'tempered' the antithesis.

Sandford recognises that he is not neutral and has a bias in favour of ‘pluralism, tolerance, and evidence-based thinking, and against the absolutist agendas in the political sphere.’ The irony is that it was pluralism and tolerance that was the outworking of Kuyper’s worldview and sphere sovereignty in his own political programme.The blame of the Christian Right in the sates can’t then be placed at Kuyper’s door.

The term worldview evolved over time from a pre-theoretical concept to an ideology. In a sense Francis Schaeffer popularised it and the Reconstructionists, such as Rushdoony,  politicised it. I would have liked to have seen more in the way the term worldview has morphed into an ideology.

In the book Sandford makes some interesting observations; for example, ‘it wasn't until communism was perceived as a threat to American society ... did evangelicals gradually begin to show a renewed interest in political.’  Political activity it seems was reactionary. Regarding VanTil he has this to say: 'When he published articles and books, he did so almost always in non-refereed publications, whose editors offered little critical challenge to his ideas', and 'Dooyeweerd invented his own unique vocabulary and was renowned for his lack of transparency'.

As this book shows the (mis)use of worldview has become an ideology in the hands of the Religious Right. What Sandford fails to see is how his own worldview is operating in his own writing. If there is a God who is concerned with redeeming all of life, who has laws and norms for every area of life then these will also apply to mathematics, science, architecture, art, sociology, business, … and even politics. When it comes to politics God is not silent.

Christians may well disagree with the way it has been outworked in the RR - I would share many of the concerns Sandford highlights - but it does not mean that we should, as Sandford seems to want, ignore those God-given laws and norms. The issue is whose laws and norms do we obey - humanity’s or God’s? Sandford it seems want Christianity to change minds but not institutions, to be private but not public. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Block's Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs to YHWH

The Kingship belongs to YHWH
(Hearing the Message of Scripture: A Commentary on the Old Testament)
Daniel I. Block
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014
ISBN 9780310942405

Obadiah at just under 300 words is the shortest book of the Bible. There are not many one volume commentaries devoted to it, so this book is a welcome addition.

There have been a proliferation of new commentary series recently - well at least two! This commentary on Obadiah is part of a new series from Zondervan. The emphasis in this series is the place given to understanding the role of the biblical authors as rhetoricians. Block examines not only the message of the author but also what strategies he used to get over his message. As the series editors put it:
The primary goal of this commentary series is to help serious students of Scripture, as well as those charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God, to hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard . While we recognize the timelessness of the biblical message, the validity of our interpretation and the authority with which we teach the Scriptures are related directly to the extent to which we have grasped the message intended by the author in the first place . Accordingly, when dealing with specific texts, the authors of the commentaries in this series are concerned with three principal questions: (1) What are the principal theological points the biblical writers are making? (2) How do biblical writers make those points? (3) What significance does the message of the present text have for understanding the message of the biblical book within which it is embedded and the message of the Scriptures as a whole . The achievement of these goals requires careful attention to the way ideas are expressed in the OT, including the selection and arrangement of materials and the syntactical shaping of the text.
And as the author has it:
With this volume we are launching a new commentary series, whose goal is to help readers of the Scriptures hear the messages that the human and divine authors in- tended to communicate. 
Each part of the commentary is split into five main sections: 
  1. The main idea 
  2. The literary context
  3. Translation and outline - here the author provides his own translation
  4. Structure and literary form 
  5. An explanation of the text.
This forms a helpful framework. 

The final chapter: ‘Canonical and practical significance’ is very useful and interesting. Here the exegetical detail is supplemented by a broad overview. As Block notes: ‘The brevity of the book masks its profundity.’ Block develops the idea of Edom as a representative of the nations and as a representative of humanity. He also highlights the key idea behind the book as ‘The dominion belongs to YHWH.’ Here he leaves us rightly with a Christological perspective: 
The dominion belongs to YHWH incarnate in Jesus Christ! To him be the glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen!

Block is no stranger to commentary writing he has produced major commentaries on Ezekiel, Judges and Deuteronomy, this book is a welcome addition to his corpus. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Interview with Harry Van Belle

Harry, thanks for taking the time for this interview. Could you start by telling us something about yourself?

I was born in The Netherlands and immigrated to Canada when I was 13 in 1951. I attended Calvin College in Michigan, USA from 1961-1965, where I earned a BA degree in philosophy and the classics. I married Jenny soon after graduating. In 1967 I enrolled at the Free University of Amsterdam in a Clinical Psychology program. I earned a doctorandus degree in 1971 and a PhD degree in 1980 in Clinical Psychology. Upon our return to Canada I worked as a psychologist at the Brockville Ontario Psychiatric Hospital. In 1977 we moved to British Columbia where I founded the Cascade Christian Counseling Centre in Surrey and served as its first psychotherapist for 5 years. From 1982 -1992 I taught psychology at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario and did the same at The Kings University College in Edmonton, Alberta from 1992- until my retirement in 2000. After my retirement I mainly kept busy writing, public speaking and continued to maintain a private therapy practice. I have been married to Jenny for nearly 50 years. We have 3 children and 4 grandchildren. You can access my website for more information via all of life redeemed

How did your interest in psychology start? 

While at Calvin I took an Introduction to Psychology course. I have been a Christian all my life, so I naturally asked the instructor about the relation between Christianity and psychology. He could not give me a satisfactory answer but promised to give me extra credit if I were to write a paper on it. After writing 4 or 5 successive drafts on the relation between religion and psychology in my spare time over a number of years I realised that this is an exceedingly difficult and complex question which would take a life time to answer. By then I had decided to make psychology my life work.

 Who are the major influences on you?

 Philosophically my main influence was through the Calvin prof. Dr. H. Evan Runner, who was the convenor of the Groen (Van Prinsterer) Club, in which students wrote and discussed papers on the relation between religion and life. He introduced me to the Christian- neo Calvinist philosophies of Vollenhoven, Dooyeweerd, Mekkes, Zuidema a.o. In clinical psychology it was my mentor and friend Prof. Dr. Henk Wijngaarden and through him Carl Rogers who had the most influence on me, not so much in what they taught, but more in who they were. It was Henk’s humanity that impressed me, and Rogers’ ability to really listen to his clients in therapy. Through them, I suppose, I was more generally influenced by phenomenological and existentialistic psychologists, for the most part because they took the subjective experience of clients in therapy seriously. Runner was also instrumental in my decision to study at the Free University of Amsterdam. The program at the Free was unique in that whenever a new psychological concept or therapeutic technique was introduced it always was presented with its historical origin in and the philosophical background that gave rise to the insight or the technique. It instilled in me a habit to do the same in my research and teaching.

 You have had your book recently published by Dordt Press, could you tell us a little about it? 

Yes, it is a book on the history of psychology. It is called, Explorations in the History of Psychology: Persisting Themata and Changing Paradigms. This book traces the history of psychology from its roots in Greek philosophy onward and includes a description of the later influence of the Hebraic-Christian mindset on that history. Subsequently, it follows the journey of philosophy/psychology through the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment of the sixteenth century. The book describes the latter historical-philosophical movement as the development of Scientific Rationalism, (British Empiricism, French Sensationalism, and Positivism) which forms the philosophical background for experimental psychology and the development of Metaphysical Rationalism, (Continental Rationalism, Idealism, and Romanticism) which forms the philosophical background for clinical psychology. Next, the book describes the birth and trajectory of psychology proper during the nineteenth century and closes with a description of a number of the more contemporary schools of psychological thought.

The underlying thesis of the text is that the history of psychology gives evidence of both continuity and discontinuity in interaction with one another. Thus, to do justice to the actual history of psychology one must take note of both persisting themata and changing paradigms The text is available from the following sources:

 Dordt College Press, Heart and Minds Bookstore, or from the author  ( at $17.00 US retail/ ISBN: 978-0-932914-99-6/ paperback.

This book is the product of many years of teaching the history of psychology to university students in North America and Africa. The book is unique in that it uses an adaptation of “the problem-historical approach” to historical research. This method was developed by D. H. Th. Vollenhoven (1892-1978) who was professor of philosophy at the Free University of Amsterdam from 1926-1963. Vollenhoven developed this method in his study of the history of philosophy to locate and catalogue the various philosophical conceptions found in the history of Western thought from Ancient Greece to the present Each chapter of the book ends with a series of issues, culled from the material of the chapter. These are designed as discussion topics for students taking a course. Their intent is to turn the course into a dialogue rather than a lecture-and-note taking exercise. This text can be assigned as the main source, or as added required reading for a course in the history of psychology. In view of the fact that a big portion of the text is devoted to the philosophical background to the history of psychology proper this text lends itself equally well as required reading for a course on the history of philosophy, and has already been used as such.

The emphasis in the book as the title suggests is on the history of psychology. Why is history so important in psychology? 

There are two courses taught in a psychology program that are essentially perspectival in nature. Those are Theories of Personality and The History of Psychology. They functions as ‘brown paper bags’, so to speak, that contain the facts of the discipline. Personality theories explore and expose the underlying views of human life usually hidden in psychological research. Histories of psychology lay bare the meaning of concepts psychologists use today in terms of their historical origin. The essential function of both is to elucidate the vocabulary of psychology.

Are there any particular psychology paradigms that comport better with a Christian worldview than others?

I suppose that phenomenological paradigms resonate more with a Christian worldview than cognitive or behavioural ones because they are less reductive in nature. However, because most theories in psychology are empirical in nature, they all contain at least some kernel of truth, or limited insight that can be mined as a valuable ingredient for a Christian view of psychology. The trick is to identify this insight without adopting the non-Christian ideological paradigm in which it is contained. So, how do faith and psychology relate? All psychological theories are faith based, if by “faith” we mean that which psychologists live out of and unto. We can learn from non-Christians theories something other than what a given theory may be trying to teach us. My first book, Basic Intent and Therapeutic Approach of Carl R. Rogers, a study of his view of man in relation to his view of therapy, personality and interpersonal relations (available from my website) illustrates my method of analyzing and interacting with the theories of therapy down to their religious depth, or basic intent. This requires a patient reading and re-reading of a theory over long periods of time until one knows in one’s bones so to speak what the author is up to with his/her theory. It is at that religious depth level that one can engage other theorists in a dialogue about differences in religious/idiological paradigm. This approach also allows one to distinguish the therapeutic insights from the (non-Christian) perspectives which contain such insights.

 What advice would you give to Christians who want get involved psychology?

Someone once gave me the greatest compliment of my career. She said:” You are not much of a psychologist, but you are a real human being.” My advice is, “ Psychology, is a great field to study because it deals with human beings and they are fascinating. But make sure you do not become a psychologist.”

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?

 Last year I published a small book entitled, Intergeneration Lost and Found, why suits
and skirts don’t talk with jeans, why they should and how they can. The thesis of the book is that because of globalisation and information technology there is a disconnect between younger people and older people today. They do not understand one another because they are not like one another. The book is my attempt to explain younger people to older people. I am currently working on another book, which attempts to explain older people to younger people. It is tentatively called, Everything you wanted to know about adult life, but have not bothered to ask, a book for people under thirty about life after thirty.

 What do you do for fun?

I love talking with young people in their teens and twenties because they are not like me. I also love traveling to strange places. This is because I love the otherness of others. Beyond that, I like to paint, to make and to drink (red) wine, to fish, to smoke and eat salmon, to hike and to bike (not so much), and to play with my grandchildren. Apart from the occasional aches and pains, life at 77 is good, kind of like being on vacation before I am allowed to go Home.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

British Calvinists: William Kiffin (1616-1701)

William Kiffin (1616-1701) was born in London. His parents both died in the Great Plague of 1625 when he was nine. In his early life he showed 'a small talent' for business and soon became wealthy. He was able then to devote himself to the pastoral ministry and help those less well off than himself.

In 1638 Kiffin joined an independent congregation and was unpersuaded by Laud's policies and thought them unbiblical. How he became a particular baptist is unclear. One view is that it was through contact with Henry Jessey's church. What is clear is that he adopted adult baptism for Christians and a closed (strict) view of communion. His debates with John Bunyan, who was an open Baptist, helped to shape the open and closed boundaries of the Baptists. He was married to his wife, Hannah, for 44 years.

He was the pastor of a church in Devonshire Square, London and remained there for the rest of his life. In 1644 he was one of the signatories of the 1644 First London Confession of Faith. As well as being a pastor Kiffin was also involved in politics and often used his influence to help fellow Baptists. He was MP for Middlesex in 1656, and a master of the Leathersellers' Company. He was appointed Alderman of the Ward of Cheap in the City of London in 1687. Wilson describes him as 'an active but reluctant, participant in the political affairs of the day' (p 70). 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

British Calvinists: Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was known as 'Scribbling Dick' because of his prodigious writings. He was born Rowton, Shropshire. When a teenager he was influenced by the works of William Perkins, Richard Sibbes and Edmund Bunny. 

In 1638 he became the master at the free gramme school in Dudley, here he was ordained by the bishop of Worcester, John Thornborough. The main part of his ministry took place in Kidderminster at St Mary and All Saint's Church. While at Kidderminster he wrote The Reformed Pastor. During the Civil War he left Kiddermister for Gloucester, but later returned to Kidderminster. While ill he wrote The Saint's Everlasting Rest (1650).

In 1662 he married and retired to Middlesex after being part of the Great Ejection bought about by the Act of Uniformity.

He was prolific writer and wrote over 140 books. He held to a view known as neo-nomianism, held in response to antinominaism.  

Many of his writings are available here:

Monday, 16 June 2014

British Calvinists: Thomas Adams (1612-1653)

Little is known about Thomas Adams (1612-1653) what we do can has to be gleaned form his won writings. He was a Calvinist who remained with in the Established Church. He was described by Robert Southey as 'the prose Shakespeare of Puritan theologians . . . scarcely inferior to Fuller in wit or to Taylor in fancy.' 

Adams was a minister at Willington, Wingrave, and London, and “observant chaplain” to Sir Henry Montague, the lord chief justice.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

British Calvinists: John Milton (1608-1674)

John Milton (1608-1674) was born in London. He is best known for his poems Paradise Lost (1667) and Paradise Regained (1671).  He graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge in 1629. He was increasingly uneasy about the high church influence of the Established Church and described himself as 'church-outed' by the bishops.

During a European tour he met Hugo Grotius and Galileo. In 1639 he returned to England and began to work on more poetry. He also took in private pupils, his Of Education (1644) reflected his experiences and his ideas.

He married Mary Powell in 1642 - they were separated for three years but reconciled in 1645 and had four children.

In 1649 he was appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State. His first wife died in 1652 and later married Katherine Woodcock in 1656. Katherine died in 1658 and he then married Elizabeth Minshull in 1663.

He died in London from heart failure.

Monday, 9 June 2014

British Calvinists: Thomas Brooks (1608-1680)

Little is known of the life of Thomas Brooks (1608-1680). He was a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He spent some time at sea, possibly as a chaplain.  He was a minister at Thomas Apostle's, London. 

He moved to St Margaret's Fish-street Hill, London and adopted a closed position on baptism and communion.

Many of his writings are available here:

Many of them are still in print today:

Thursday, 5 June 2014

British Calvinists: Samuel Bolton (1606-1654)

Samuel Bolton (1606-1654) was born in Lancashire and graduated from Christ's, Cambridge in 1629 with a BA and in 1632 with an MA. He was a curate in Harrow, Middlesex and then minister of St Martin Ludgate in London. He subsequently became a minister at St Saviour's, Southwark and a lecture at St Anne and St Agnes in Aldersgate.

He was one of the Westminster Assembly delegates. He became master of Christ's College and then Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1650-1652. 

One of his writings  is available here:

Monday, 2 June 2014

British Calvinists: Isaac Ambrose (1604-1662)

Isaac Ambrose (1604-1662) was the son of Richard Ambrose of Ormskirk, Lancashire. Isaac graduated from Brasenose in 1624 and became the minister of Castleton, Derbyshire. He then became one of the king's itinerant preachers and became a vicar in Preston. In 1654 he became minister at Garstang. In the 1662 Great Ejection he was ejected from Garstang. He died soon after in Preston.

Some of his writings are available here: