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.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Kuyper's On the Church - a review

On the Church
Collected Works in Public Theology
Abraham Kuyper
Edited by John Halsey Wood Jr. and Andrew M. McGinnis
General Editors Jordan J. Ballor and Melvin Flikkema
Translators Harry Van Dyke, Nelson D. Kloosterman, Todd M. Rester, Arjen Vreugdenhil
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016
Hbk; xxxix+ 495pp; £40
ISBN 978-1577996750

This volume, published by the Abraham Kuyper Translation Project, is a fresh translation into English of seven of Kuyper’s essays on the nature of the Church:

Commentatio (1860)
Rooted and Grounded (1870.25)
A Tract on the Reformation of the Churches (1883.06)
Twofold Fatherland(1887.23)
Lord’s Day 21 (1905.17)
State and Church (1916.06)
Address on Missions (1890.05)

As John Halsey Wood Jr. notes in his introduction, Kuyper’s ‘concern for the church predated and permeated all … other concerns’. Kuyper was a church historian and a church pastor - among other roles and callings - and this is evidenced by the first of the essays translated in this volume. Commentatio is Kuyper’s prize-winning essay, that formed his doctoral thesis, comparing John a Lasco’s and Calvin’s conception of the church. The sections reprinted here are mainly from the third section. In it, in seed thought, are much of Kuyper’s ideas on the nature of the church. It is clear that Kuyper preferred a Lasco’s view over Calvin’s, chiefly because the former’s view was closer to the Dutch spirit. This, of course, was before his conversion to Calvinism. 
Kuyper’s later major contribution to ecclesiology was the distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism. For Kuyper, the church has to do not only with Sunday services or missions but the reforming of all facets of life and culture. Kuyper uses several metaphors to illustrate the church as organism—institute distinction. In essence, the institution is the church organisation, its sacraments, its ministers; the organism is the church in the world, Christians at work in society, the body of Christ, strengthened and served by the church as institute. The church as institute does not run schools, universities, or trade unions; that is the role of the church as organism.
This distinction is to the fore in the second selection in this volume. Rooted and Grounded has previously been published in 2013 in booklet form - see the review in Bishop (2014). In this sermon, Kuyper places an emphasis on the priesthood of all believers. For the church to be truly an institution and organic the role of the institutional leaders is to equip the church as organism to be able to do the works of service in the market square, in the classroom, in the business place, in the political area, in the laboratory and so forth. 
The church as institution is the main focus of the next piece, A Tract on the Reformation of the Churches. This was written three years before the Doleantie secession from the Dutch Reformed Church led by Kuyper. It has been previously translated by Herman Hanko and serialised in The Standard Bearer (1977-1986)Kuyper writes here as a church pastor with a heart for the right functioning of the church. His concern is for a pure church. Kuyper argues for a severing of the church and the State. This text is a basis for a manual for Reformed church government. 
In Twofold Fatherland, an address delivered at the seventh annual meeting of the Free University, Amsterdam just after the Doleantie secession, we have Kuyper as an almost Lutheran:

‘we have a twofold fatherland and live as a twofold people under a twofold King’ (226) 

A cursory read of this piece seems to suggest that Kuyper is promoting a two-realm approach. But digging deeper this is far from the truth. He does suggest that there is a fatherland above and below, but both are given by God’s grace - one by common grace, the other particular grace. Both are to give God the glory. The tension of hyper-spirituality (287), suggests Kuyper, is to devalue the earthly fatherland. He also posits that the earthly fatherland has been disrupted by sin and that there is a distinction between the (sinful) world and the earthly field of common grace. 
The Lord’s Day  21 is taken from Kuyper’s E Voto Dordraceno - his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. This selection looks at three questions from the Catechism:

Question 54: What do you believe concerning the ‘Holy Catholic Church’? 
Question 55: What do you understand by the ‘communion of saints’? 
Question 56: What do you believe concerning the ‘forgiveness of sins’? 

The essay State and Church is extracted from a two-volume work written for members of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in 1916, was written by Kuyper for party leaders who had had no formal academic training and was designed to provide clarification to Ons Program.
The final selection, the address on missions, provides a fascinating insight into Kuyper’s attitude to mission. These are verbatim notes taken from an address by Kuyper to a missions conference in January 1890. What we have here are Kuyper’s main theses and then a verbatim report. What is particularly interesting here is Kuyper’s stress that missions should be the work of the church and not of voluntary organisations as was primarily the case at the time.

The book closes with a detailed table of contents a brief section of biographical details on Kuyper and the contributors but not of the translators. There is also an extensive subject/ author index and a scripture index. The essays by Wood and de Bruijne serve as excellent introductions to the context and to the relevance of Kuyper’s essays.

Within these pages, we can see the distinctiveness of Kuyper’s ecclesiology, although not always fully spelled out. Here we can see the distinction between organism and institution, the key role of common grace, sphere sovereignty especially in that the church should be free from state involvement and the state free from church meddling, and the key roles of the church in looking beyond itself in mission, evangelism and philanthropy.

This book is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding publications of the Abraham Kuyper Translation Project. It deserves to be read widely as Kuyper’s conception of the church is not merely of historical interest only; his distinction between organism and institute provides an excellent framework for ecclesiology today.

Bishop, S., 2014, ‘Kuyperania in recent years’, Koers – Bulletin for Chritian Scholarship 79(1), Art. #2138, 6 pages. 
http:// v79i1.2138

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Book of the year for 2017

This will undoubtedly be in my book of the year list for next year:

Coming soon:
 Mark Roques James Bond and Rat Worship: Creative Ways of Sharing the Christian Faith. Leeds: Thinking Faith Network.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Books of the year 2016

Books of the year 2016 - the long-awaited list (don't accept any other alternatives):

Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo
B&H Publishing

Jordan J. Ballor and Robert Joustra (eds)
Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press.

Craig G. Bartholomew
Grand Rapids: Baker Books

Abraham Kuyper 
General editors Jordan J. Ballor and Melvin Flikkema
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press

Abraham Kuyper
On the Church
General editors Jordan J. Ballor and Melvin Flikkema
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press

Keith Sewell 
The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity
Wipf and Stock

James K.A. Smith
Grand Rapids: Brazos Press

Mike Wagenam
Together for the World: The Book of Acts. 
Lexham Press.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Saving Calvinism by Oliver Crisp

Saving Calvinism
Expanding the Reformed Tradition
Oliver D. Crisp
Downers Grove: IVP Academic
167pp; pbk; £14:39
ISBN: 978-0830851751

The title begs the question - does Calvinism need saving? And if so from who or what? This book is in some ways both a sequel and an introduction to Crisp’s other books Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Fortress, 2014), Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology (IVP Academic, 2011), and Revisioning Christology: Theology in the Reformed Tradition (Ashgate, 2011) - although this one is much shorter and more accessible than its precursors. 

The aim is clearly stated:

‘It is an attempt to provide a Reformed perspective concerning human salvation that seeks to broaden what is thought of as “Calvinistic” when it comes to such matters—not so much by presenting a revision of Calvinism but by attempting to remind modern Calvinists of the breadth of resources at their disposal’ (9)

He uses the analogy of a house - much of modern Calvinism, often depicted as New Calvinism, only uses two rooms downstairs. Crisp’s goal is to open up the house. For Crisp Calvinism is broader than the TULIP five points. Although, he does look at each one of the five points
Calvinism is not the monolith most people assume it is - Crisp shows the diversity of Calvinism. Whether all Calvinists would agree is another issue! It is highly doubtful, for example, that this book would have been published by the Banner of Truth! 
Crisp takes a fresh look at variants of Calvinistic theology. In chapters 2 and 3 he takes a look at election and freewill. Here he considers infra- and supralapsarianism and then draws upon Jonathan Edwards and John Giradeau. Girdeau opposed Edwards’ view of free will. (Crisp has dealt with Girardeau elsewhere (Crisp, 2014).) Crisp comments:

‘Even if Girardeau’s position is in some respects incomplete or underdeveloped, it does show that not all Reformed thinkers have been of one mind on the matter of theological determinism’

Crisp’s  discussion on God permitting evil is particularly stimulating - here he introduces the notion of skeptical theism, by which ‘we don’t know why God permits evil, but we can trust that there is some good reason for doing so’. 
Crisp maintains that it is possible to be a universalist and a Calvinist: 

‘it seems to me that one can be a Calvinist and a universalist. However, even if Scripture does not support universalism, it is still possible to think that the purposes of God in salvation are much more expansive than is sometimes reported’.

Not all Calvinists endorse penal substitution - again Crisp shows penal substitution is the favoured view of most Calvinists not all have adopted this perspective. He examines several other ways of understanding the atonement these include: satisfaction, as developed by Anselm of Canterbury; vicarious penitence; and penal non-substitution. Crisp sensibly advocates not one model but kaleidoscopic meta-model approach. 
He then goes on to look at hypothetical universalism as supported by John Davenant and John Preston. Although Crisp doesn’t endorse it he makes an excellent case for it being consistent with Calvinism. 
The book is eminently readable and deserves a wide readership. Crisp has certainly shown that Calvinism has a wide theological range and is wider than the traditional five points seems to suggest - even though the five points provide a good summary they are not a theological straitjacket. Crisp even suggests that: ‘Holding to all of the five points is not, in fact, a necessary condition for being a Calvinist’. Although I don’t agree with all the points Crisp makes, the book does make for a stimulating and thought-provoking read.

Crisp, Oliver D 2014. John Girardeau: Libertarian Calvinist? Journal of Reformed Theology 8(3): 284-300. 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Kuyperania in 2015 Koers 81(3)

My review of several works by, on and about Kuyper are now published in Koers:

Bishop, S., 2016. "Kuyperania in 2015". KOERS — Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, 81(3). Available at:

Monday, 12 December 2016

2017 Kuyper Conference “Neo-Calvinism and the Church” Princeton Seminary, 7-8 April 2017

 'Neo-Calvinism and the Church' is the theme of the 2017 Kuyper Conference
Rev. Dr. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, will receive the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Public Theology. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony in Miller Chapel on the seminary campus on Thursday evening April 6, 2017, at which Tim Keller will give a public lecture. 
The annual Kuyper conference will address Keller’s theme and will take place from April 7 to 8. The conference will include plenary presentations by Daniel BourdannéRuth Padilla DeBorst, Stefan Paas and John Halsey Wood, as well as concurrent sessions with juried papers on the conference theme.
The conference organisers invite papers on topics related to Neo-Calvinism and the church, to be presented in concurrent sessions. While we welcome proposals about the contributions of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and other Neo-Calvinists, proposals relating to the mission of the church today might range more widely.  
Possible themes could include the distinction between church as institute and organism, the role of democracy in the church, the possibilities and problems of state and established churches, and the pluriformity of the church, as well as how the difference between particular and common grace shapes the church’s role in society. Financial support is available for graduate students through submission to the CFP.
To apply, please email a proposal of 250 words or less by December 31, 2016 to Please include your name and institutional affiliation in your email, but not on your proposal itself. Proposals will be double-blind peer-reviewed. Notifications of accepted papers will be sent by January 18, 2017. Please contact for additional information.
Darrell L. Guder
Interim Director, Abraham Kuyper Conference
Emeritus Professor, Missional and Ecumenical Theology
Princeton Theological Seminary 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Review of Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy

Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy 
(Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
Graham Oppy, K. Scott Oliphint, Timothy McGrew, Paul K. Moser
Paul M. Gould and Richard Brian Davis, general editors 
Stanley N. Gundry, series editor. 
Grand Rapids: Zondervan
ISBN 9780310521143

I love the X views series (where X is three, four or five) - they provide an excellent introduction to the conflicts and disputed views of key topics. This one is no exception. It provides a good overview of four different approaches to Christianity and philosophy. This book follows the same excellent format as the other views series — four philosopher state their case then each of the others provide a critique and finally the original author responds.

The authors here are the agnostic Graham Oppy, the presuppositionalist Scott Oliphint, the neoclassical foundationalist Timothy McGrew and Paul Moser. They all agree on a number of points but crucially they disagree on a number of others; not least the nature of philosophy, the form of or existence of a Christian philosophy and the role of natural theology.

For Oppy
One of the most important tasks for philosophy is comparison and adjudication of worldviews (24).
Graham Oppy, is perhaps the lion in the Daniel’s den, the other three are all Christians, Oppy is an agnostic. Oppy shows a good understanding of key Christian doctrines - but seems to view Christianity as naturalism plus some add-ons. He sees philosophy’s role as an evaluator of worldviews. It has the role of an umpire, so rather than seeing Christianity and philosophy in conflict the position he was supposedly advocating he sees the role of philosophy in adjudicating between worldviews and here shows how he sees it functioning in evaluating naturalism and Christianity. For him philosophy is a neutral tool - he declares himself to be a ‘philosophical neutralist’ (21). He concludes his chapter with a telling remark:
There is a central component of the philosophical endeavour that requires the setting aside of all disputed presuppositions (47).
But, presumably, that for Oppy doesn’t include setting aside the disputed presupposition that we have to set aside presuppositions! 

McGrew in his response to Oppy makes an excellent point:
Oppy complains that we have no textual evidence from nonChristian sources substantiating the resurrection (36). But what is he looking for? People who were persuaded of the resurrection of Jesus became Christians. From whom else should we expect such testimony?(58)
Oliphint provides an overview of what he describes as the ‘Covenant model’: a Christianity trumps philosophy perspective. He sees philosophy as ‘the discipline that takes as its subject matter the nature of reality .., the nature of knowledge …, and the nature of right and wrong’ (71). To examine the relationship between philosophy and Christianity he evokes the idea of principia. Each discipline has its own principia. He maintains that theology – by which he means Reformed theology – provides the foundation for philosophy. This is because:
the principia of theology come—as it were—from the outside, in. They come from a transcendent source and are not generated within the discipline itself. (74-75).
He sees reason being a servant and not a master to theology and philosophy. My concern with Oliphint’s position is that he elevates the role of theology:
Thus, it is theology that sets the boundaries and the parameters, the rules and the laws, for all other disciplines. (88)
Philosophy is then a handmaid to theology it ‘can help theology in its ability to distinguish and to clarify the truth as it is found in Scripture as well as in God’s revelation generally’. (93)

McGrew espouses a convergence model whereby philosophy confirms Christianity and Christianity completes philosophy.
Philosophy, rightly and thoughtfully pursued, offers us multiple clues that point to the existence of a deity. (150)
McGew, therefore, accepts and endorses a natural theology and defends it here. Though he is aware of its limitations: 
Natural theology may suggest that there is a deity, but it cannot tell me whether there is redemption for sin … (141-142)
Moser in his rebuttal makes an excellent point:
The New Testament writers could have used arguments of natural theology, but they chose not to do so. This is significant, and it raises the question of why they avoided such arguments. (167)
Moser obviously is obviously dubious of natural theology – rightly so, in my opinion. He espouses a convergence model:
My approach to Christian philosophy offers philosophy under, or conformed to, God in Christ, which involves a distinctive kind of wisdom, namely, God’s wisdom in Christ. If philosophy is the love and pursuit of wisdom, Christian philosophy is the love and pursuit of God’s wisdom under divine authority in Christ, which calls for an ongoing volitional union with Christ, including one’s belonging to God in Christ. (175)
He sets this against what he describes as speculative philosophy
Speculative philosophy goes awry in not giving a primary and irreplaceable role to God’s self-manifestation of his character—his righteous love—in the message of Christ crucified. This message enables God’s presence and character to be confirmed and witnessed to by God’s unique Spirit, with no need of speculative argument. (197)
Speculative philosophy assumes that, at least for some people, God’s self-manifestation in the message of the cross does not adequately witness to God’s presence and reality. (198)
The focus then for Moser is wisdom and for ‘kingdom-enhancement’ philosophy. Though I’m not quite sure what he means by that. If all truth is God’s truth, then couldn’t all aspects of philosophy be kingdom enhancing?

The book concludes with a piece by the editors Gould and Davis. Here they note that it is clear that the mind matters and that ideas matter. Amen to that.

This book is a welcome contribution to the series – sadly there was no contribution from a Reformational philosopher such as Roy Clouser, Danie Strauss or Renato Coletto, a contribution from any of these would have been an excellent addition. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

New and recent books from Reformational scholars

There are a number of excellent books that have recently been published or are about to be published by Reformational scholars. These include:

Lambert Zuidervaart 2016. Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. McGill-Queen's University Press.

Craig Bartholomew 2017. Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction. IVP Academic

Robert Sweetman 2016. Tracing the Lines: Spiritual Exercise and the Gesture of Christian Scholarship (Currents in Reformational Thought). Wipf and Stock

Mike Wagenam 2016. Together for the World: The Book of Acts. Lexham Press.

Craig Bartholomew 2016. Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture. Baker Academic.

Craig Bartholomew 2016. Revealing the Heart of Prayer: The Gospel of Luke. Lexhmam Press.

Maarten J Verkerk, Jan Hoogland, Jan van der Stoep, Marc J. de Vries 2016. Philosophy of Technology: An Introduction for Technology and Business Students. Routledge.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The history of the Reformational movement in the UK - part II

The second part of my paper on the history of the Reformational movement in the UK has now been published in the journal Koers.

Bishop, S., 2016. "A History of the Reformational Movement in Britain. II: The Post-World-War II Years to the end of the Twentieth Century". KOERS — Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, 81(1). Available at: http:// KOERS.81.1.2251

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Copan's Little Book for New Philosophers

A Little Book for New Philosophers
Why and How to Study Philosophy
Paul Copan
Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2016
128 pp; pbk; £6.99
ISBN: 9780830851478
Publisher’s website here

This may be a little book but it tackles a large task: examining how and why Christians should study philosophy. Philosophy has been more than a little denigrated in the church, it has become a byword for worldly thinking or at best a tool for theology. So Copan’s task is an important one. 

Copan’s aim is ‘that this small book will offer new material for some, reminders for others and, hopefully, reinforcement for all to look afresh at the implications of doing philosophy under the lordship of Christ’ (9). The need to do philosophy under the lordship of Christ is crucial. For those beginning to study philosophy will find this book a helpful guide.

Copan sees a number of important roles for philosophy. These include sharpening our minds, helping us see that ideas have consequences, to isolate and deal with sloppy thinking. These are all crucial roles and not just for Christians. In addition he for Christians he sees philosophy as being able to strengthen theology. Though we need to be careful to see philosophy as the handmaiden of theology. Philosophy should not be a naturalistic tool, as Copan puts it: ‘If God is the originator of the universe, why can’t he also be at work within it? Why must the Christian bow to naturalistic demands and assumptions?’ (90).

What is perhaps most surprising is that one of the foremost Christian philosophers, one who has done much to establish Christian philosophy, Herman Dooyeweerd is not mentioned in this book. Nevertheless, this book will help philosophy students see that philosophy can be a much a Christian calling as doing theology, and as such it is a welcome addition to this new series of ‘Little Books’. As Copan has it:
‘Ultimately, our philosophizing—as with our eating, drinking or whatever we do—should be done to the glory of God. Undertaking the study of philosophy should be an act of worship, and thus we devote our mental exertions, our research and our reading to God. Our philosophy should be undertaken in a spirit of prayer and dependence on God for understanding, insight and wisdom about what projects to undertake’ (119-120) 

Amen to that!


Why Study Philosophy?
1. Philosophy and Baking Bread 
2. Philosophy as Loving Wisdom 
3. Faith, Philosophy and Scripture 
4. Thinking About God

How To Study Philosophy
5. Virtuous Philosophy
6. Philosophy and Community 
7. Doubting Wisely
8. Considering Philosophy

Name and Subject Index 
Scripture Index

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Philosophy of Technology by Maarten J Verkerk, Jan Hoogland, Jan van der Stoep, Marc J. de Vries

Philosophy of Technology
An Introduction for Technology and Business Students
By Maarten J Verkerk, Jan Hoogland, Jan van der Stoep, Marc J. de Vries

A new book has been published by Routledge.

'Philosophy of Technology: An introduction for technology and business students is an accessible guide to technology’s changes , their ubiquitousness, and the many questions these raise. Designed for those with no philosophical background in mind, it is ideal for technology and engineering students or specialists who want to learn to think critically about how their work influences society and our daily lives.'

Part I: Thinking & Making
1. Thinking & Technology: Between analysis & criticism Portrait Carl Mitcham
2. Speaking in a Two-Sided Way: The meaning of disclosure & the disclosure of meaning Portrait Martin Heidegger

Part II: Making & Designing
3. The World of Technology: Three kinds of complexity Portrait Lewis Mumford
4. The Artefact [I]: Diversity & coherence
Portrait Alasdair MacIntyre
5. The Artefact [II]: Identity, function & structure
Portrait Gilbert Simondon
Case Study I: Nanotechnology
6. Knowledge of Designing: The role of the engineer
Portrait Herbert Simon
7. Design & Reality: Methodological obstinacy Portrait Bruno Latour
8. Technology & Production: From dehumanisation to the human measure
Portrait Larry Hickman
Case Study II: The New Factory

Part III: Designing & Thinking
9. The Rules of the Game: Technology as a social practice Portrait Langdon Winner
10. Symmetries: Between pessimists & optimists Portrait Jacques Ellul
11. Clashing Worlds: Globalisation & cultural diversity
Portrait Albert Borgmann
Case Study III: Network Enabled Military Operations
12. The Homo Technicus: From device to cyborg Portrait Don Ihde
13. ‘Good’ Technology?: Normative artefacts & the web of responsibilities Portrait Egbert Schuurman Case Study
IV: Innovation in Health Care
14. Expectations for the Future: The secular sacred and the limits of technology
Portrait Andrew Feenberg

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

George Harinck and Kuyper's Varia Americana

On 27 August 1898 Abraham Kuyper arrived by steamship in New York. The main purpose of his visit was to deliver the Stone Lectures  at Princeton. Kuyper documented his journey and impression of North America in his Varia Americana (available here).

In 2016, George Harinck followed in his footsteps. This is documented in a series of videos:

Episode 1: Freedom of Speech 
Episode 2: Freedom of Fear 
Episode 3: Freedom of Religion 
Episode 4: Freedom from Want

They are in Dutch. Hopefully, an English subtitles version will be produced soon. 
The Dutch DVDs can be purchased here

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Talking Jesus

In March 2015 Barna started a survey on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance, The CoE and Hope. They surveyed around 3000 people to find out how people perceived Christianity and Jesus.
The researchers designed an online survey to administer among a carefully screened sample of 2,545 English adults ages 18 and older who are nationally representative by age, gender, region and socioeconomic grade. The sample error on this survey is plus or minus 1.9% points at the 95% confidence level. Additional data were collected through an online survey among an oversample of 1,592 English practising Christians. The sample error on the oversample data is plus or minus 2.5% points at the 95% confidence level.
The results of their research can be found here.

The table below show the responses for the question: 'When you consider the factors that positively influenced you to become a Christian, which two or three of the following, if any, had the most impact?'

Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Little Book for Scientists by Reeves and Donaldson - a review

A Little Book for Scientists
Why and How to Study Science
Josh A. Reeves and Steve Donaldson
Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2016
144 pp; pbk; £9.07
ISBN: 978-0-8308-5144-7
Publisher’s website here

There is much I liked in this book - however, for me, this was marred by the adoption of a two books approach.*

The authors are both based at the Stamford University Centre for Science and Religion, so are well placed to write this introductory book. The main aim of the book is ‘help Christians studying and practicing in the sciences to connect their vocation with their Christian faith’ (13). 

The first part of the book looks at why we should study science. The answer is not only has it improved our lives, but also, from a Christian perspective, they see it as being rooted in the metaphor of God’s two books (22) (i.e. Scripture and nature). Science helps us to understand one of these two books, hence, the Christian motivation for doing science.

My concern with the two books metaphor is that it can promote the notion that science is neutral as regards faith.  It can lead to science been seen as an autonomous activity and not one done under the lordship of Christ.

They then turn to the history of science and clearly show how Christianity has been closely related, that is until the end of the nineteenth century. At this stage science became professionalised rather than the domain of the amateur. Also, methodological naturalism became the dominant paradigm of scientists. Methodological naturalism then became full blown scientific naturalism, which meant that God was excluded.

The third chapter looks at ethics - they write: ‘Modern science is too big and powerful—both in terms of the resources it requires and the outputs it produces—for Christians to leave scientific research to others’ (43). Here they show that the fact/value distinction as leading to a misleading view of the scientific enterprise. This is an important point and I felt it needed to be developed further. (See Reeves paper on this here.)

Part Two looks at the characteristics of faithful scientists. Here they offer good sound advice on how to work under difficult situations, how to work with other scientists and the need for intellectual integrity.

In Part Three they examine Science and the Christian Faith. They cover important topics such as the approach to scripture, they offer some principles:
1. Having the Holy Spirit as out Teacher does not make us infallible
2. We must read the Bible in community
3. Not just a literal interpretation
4. To know what the Bible means for us today, we should first understand what the Bible meant to its general audience
In Chapter 8 they pose the question: ‘Are scientists mostly atheists?’ They maintain that atheists have three problems: the first too large a view of science, the second too tired a view of religion and third too lofty a view of humans. They illustrate these very well in their excellent critique of J.B.S. Haldane assertion that ‘My practice as a scientist is Atheistic’. 

The final chapter looks at what scientists can do for the church. This is particularly pertinent as the Science and congregations project is aiming to do just that.

There area name and subject indexes and a two pages of further reading - I was surprised at the inclusion of Owen Barfield and the omission of the excellent Science & Grace by Tim Morris and Donald Petcher. 

The book has much to commend it. It is full of practical insight and wisdom, however its use is impaired by the adoption of a two books metaphor and its implicit adoption of a complementary view of science and religion.

* See the comments for a clarification by one of the authors.

There is an interview with the authors here

Part I: Why Study Science?
 1. God and the Book of Nature
 2. Christianity and the History of Science
 3. Science and Ethics
Part II: The Characteristics of Faithful Science and Scientists
 4. Hope in the Face of Adversity
 5. Life Together: Working with Others in a Scientific Community
 6. The Known Unknowns: Science and Intellectual Humility
Part III: Science and Christian Faith
 7. Science and Scripture
 8. Are Scientists Mostly Atheists?
 9. Science for the Good of the Church
For Further Reading
Name and Subject Index
Scripture Index

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Interview with Timothy Sherratt author of Power Made Perfect?

Sherratt_Tim_2007_2016_06_03_03_38_52Timothy Sherratt, a long-time contributor to the Center for Public Justice, has recently published a book dealing with a Christian approach to politics: Power Made Perfect? (Wipf and Stock, 2016). He kindly agreed to be interviewed. 

Thanks for agreeing to this interview Tim, could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in North Devon the younger son of parents who were teachers. I made a faith commitment as an undergraduate at Oxford in 1973, and came to graduate school in the U.S. a few years later, completing a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Kentucky. After sojourns in Arizona and New York, I accepted a position teaching American politics and constitutional law at Gordon College in Massachusetts in 1989 and have remained there to the present. Gordon is a Christian college in the evangelical tradition. My wife and I have four children and three grandchildren.

Who (or what) are the major influences on you?
I think you may mean major influences on my life, rather than on the book, so let me split the difference and try to give you a sampling of both.
  • In my family, Christian morality was taken for granted as simply part of reality but Christian theology was not very prominent—and somehow that combination gave me the space to take God for granted, too, without getting bogged down in doctrinal disputes or to fake a relationship with God out of a desire to please. One way or another, I’ve always been grateful for both what was emphasized and what wasn’t. Add to this combination, rural North Devon in the 50s/60s, kind and indulgent neighbors on the farms surrounding us who let me wander around wherever I wanted to, and never complained when I got under their feet—blessings, pure and simple.
  • The Book of Common Prayer. Surely, the Church of England’s gift to the world. Its influence settled into my life through my good memory that has since boarding school years allowed words and phrases to become part of my mental and religious furniture, to equip and to encourage. When I came to faith, I was probably something of an Anglican Evangelical. Over time, noun and adjective may have reversed themselves! I owe a huge debt to evangelicalism for bringing the Faith to life and to the Book of Common Prayer for helping me try to live out the Faith as a member of the Body of Christ.
  • The Center for Public Justice, a Christian think-tank in Washington, under its founding president, Jim Skillen, was formative as I was trying to make sense of Christian faith in relation to politics. I have written for the Center since 2003 and that exercise helped prepare the ground for Power Made Perfect?
  • I’ve already made reference to the early (but appreciated) deficit in Christian theology, but I like to read good theology, clearly articulated and well written. N.T. Wright has been a major influence in that regard that I’m happy to acknowledge. (But how does he manage to write so many books?!)
  • My wife and my children are influences on a non-computable scale, I suspect!

How did your interest in politics start?
I can’t remember not being interested. My family listened to regular BBC news bulletins so the national and international political scene made its way into my consciousness early on—but with very little understanding on my part, I’m sure. My father professed an enthusiasm for the Liberals at one point—Jeremy Thorpe was MP for North Devon in the 1960s and I recall the yellow jacket of Jo Grimond’s The Liberal Challenge on the bookshelf. (But I don’t remember reading it myself!) By my teens, American history and politics held a stronger fascination. A few years later, Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign coincided with my coming to faith so I was intrigued by the question of what difference it made that Carter professed his faith so openly—was there a “Christian politics?” A year or so into his presidency, I wrote an article about him and sent it to the Church Times, which, to my great surprise, published it. By this time, I was beginning to pursue the possibility of coming to the U.S. to go to graduate school, which I did in 1978. That’s only an outline but those were important influences.

Your recent book Power Made Perfect? has been recently published, could you tell us a little about it?CASCADE_Template
I wrote the book with two readerships in mind: the Christian students I teach and have taught for many years, and that (hopefully not imaginary) “intelligent lay Christian” readership that worships, works, serves and, though often frustrated by politics, is still prepared to ask good questions.
What I try to do in the book is to consider how Christians have “done” politics and to acknowledge major traditions of Christian reflection on politics. Before theory, so to speak, I wanted look at practice. So the first two chapters examine the Religious Right in the United States and the Christian Democratic Union in Germany—not because these are paragons but because they’re seasoned examples of has occurred, for better or worse, and we can lean much from both. It helps that the two took different paths to political engagement, that the one reflects evangelical protestant influence and the other largely Roman Catholic influence, and so on.
From there I introduce the major conviction that prompted me to write: Christian political thinking needs to pay more attention to a central biblical paradox, namely that in surrendering to the Roman authorities who then executed him, Jesus was in fact exercising true power, what I, following St. Paul, call the “power made perfect” (in weakness). A host of questions follow this: what are the implications of trying to orient Christians’ and by extension everyone’s political engagement to true power? What can this look like? Does it simply place politics under judgment or are there ways to put it into practice? How should we conduct ourselves from the perspective of Christ, the risen King?
These questions take me to traditions of Christian thought that help us do so: the Catholic and neo-Calvinist traditions that urge us to derive normative principles from the moral law that accompanies the physical creation; the tradition of Christian piety (often rendered as an apolitical tradition) that calls us to please God, to cooperate with Him; and the prudential tradition with its origins in the Lutheran reformation that explores the balancing act of living by biblical principles in a fallen world. I take these traditions as providing a kind of composite response to the question of how to conduct responsible Christian political engagement.
I then turn to several sets of political issues especially significant in American politics—education and immigration policy, abortion and same-sex marriage, and last, foreign policy under globalization, and the prospects for reform of the electoral system.
The final chapter complements the chapter that introduces the “power made perfect” theme, urging readers to “Be the Church!” Here my concerns are with declining church attendance and also with the vital role of the church in helping believers remain focused on the good news that Jesus Christ is risen, so that they may take this hope into all walks of life, including political engagement. Only the churches, I contend, can properly articulate the problem of evil, set aside grandiose, idolatrous hopes for political action, learn an appropriate humility grounded in Christian Hope, and persist in obedient service even when confronted by daunting social or political issues.
And I close by arguing that a Christian politics for this century will “depend more on the cultivation of the faith and rather less on the forms that political expression takes” (p.123). So another way to sum up is to say that Christian political engagement should take its bearings from the Hope of the resurrection of Jesus. This may not making deciding what to do easy, but it is the place to start from.

What was the highlight in writing the book?
I think it was seeing it start to come together, and the accompanying certainty that it was going to see the light of day. I really did have that from quite early on. Now some wonderful things happened, too, including some excellent copy-editing help, and meeting John Topliff at my daughter’s wedding of all places. John’s a book agent and he found me my publisher. I’m very grateful to everyone who helped me.

It's not the first book on a Christian approach to politics you have published. In what ways have your thoughts developed since the publication of Saints as Citizens?
I have a real fondness for short articles, in the 600-800 word range, and much of my work from about 2003 to 2013 was writing those for the Center for Public Justice, a Christian think-tank in Washington ( They force you to be clear and not to waste words. But I had felt that it was time to try to write a second (mature?) version of Saints as Citizens. I actually started out by re-reading it and attempting a revision, but soon set it aside so that I could organize Power Made Perfect? in the way I’ve described to you. The way my thinking has developed could best be described by saying it’s tried to take more into account than the first book did. When we wrote Saints as Citizens I was especially impressed by the possibilities of the neo-Calvinist political perspective in the work of Abraham Kuyper, and his contribution to what would become the (mainly European) tradition of Christian Democracy. That’s the direction that book tried to lead its readers.
Power Made Perfect? is much more conscious of Roman Catholic social teaching, in effect, the senior partner of Christian Democracy’s development, and I’m no less impressed by the potential in Christian Democracy than I was back then. But it’s also less about presenting Christian Democracy as the “best” approach and tries to hold all the traditions of Christian political reflection, Christian pluralist, pietistic, prudential, to the “power made perfect” standard, and the good news it embodies. N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and How God Became King played a valuable role in crystallizing my thoughts—though I do wish Wright had written a further chapter in the latter working out more of the implications! His political leaders tend to collapse into an authoritarian Caesar, I think, but the power made perfect has just as profound implications for democrats as dictators. But those books helped me a lot, no question.

In the book you make mention of Abraham Kuyper, what do you see as the important lessons for today from Kuyper's approach? 
I was introduced to the Kuyper tradition around the time I began teaching at Gordon College. Let me just mention two lessons: in terms of Christian thinking about politics and government, Kuyper is perhaps best known for the concept of “sphere sovereignty,” which among other things is a way of placing government within the wider context of society. In doing we can distinguish the tasks that fall to government from those that are the responsibility of other social bodies, from families to commercial enterprises and more. In fact, a major role of government is to try to create conditions under which those other bodies are able to do what they are fitted for. Elusive as it can be to put this into practice, here is a comprehensive vision of justice “under God,” as it were, one that acknowledges the sovereign Creator’s care for every area of life.
The political tradition in the United States is especially concerned with the reach of government—Americans value individual liberty and self-government —but sphere sovereignty insists that government has clear God-given responsibilities to pursue justice. There are limits to limited government! Kuyper’s approach is practical, biblical, and most useful for thinking well about the scope and limits of government in society.

Many, particularly in the UK, are suspicious of a Christian political party. Do you think a Christian political party is a viable option? 
There’s nothing wrong with a Christian political party, but neither the ways Christianity expresses itself in the UK nor the electoral system seem likely to encourage the formation of such a party.
Britain’s mix of parties has come about for reasons of regional politics—one thinks of Welsh and Scottish nationalism, the distinct politics of Northern Ireland, etc.—but the electoral system of single-seat constituencies is much friendlier to a two-party system. So ideologically grounded or religiously grounded parties have not taken off.
The successful Christian parties have understood that their purpose is to govern (rather than to evangelize) and that government is a this-worldly activity that should be guided as much as possible by a biblical view of human beings, their needs and their destiny. Government is service. Government is stewardship. Government is responsible for national defense and criminal justice.
 Some Christian traditions are better situated to embrace these responsibilities than are others. The Roman Catholic social and political teachings are a good example of an engaged, theologically developed tradition—in many respects quite like the Kuyper tradition—and it’s no surprise that both have underwritten effective political organization and engagement.
So, with those traditions relatively weaker in Britain than in continental Europe, and with the complicating factor of the Established Church, Christian political engagement has been similarly complicated. So rather than a straight answer, I hope I’ve at least offered a context for trying to reach one!

What role - if any - do you see the local church having in politics? 
In the book, my hope for the churches is that they can nurture Christian understanding of the proper ends of politics. With reference to the unhelpful rhetoric of American party politics in recent years—even before the emergence of Donald Trump—I stress how important it is that government in a fallen world is not about ultimate matters, ultimate solutions, but about trying to approach public justice.
Of course, members of churches should debate these things, not merely accept some official view. Above all, they should make the case to one another that there is a place for political engagement and no good case for simply avoiding all mention of politics—perhaps more of an American than a British failing? After all, Christians are equipped in a unique way: we hold by faith the hope of eternal life, of society made new, relationships healed and restored and Christ fully acknowledged as King. From the perspective of that hope the mundane tasks of governing and the privileges of democracy are set in context and lent their importance, for we are God’s stewards of creation, made in His image.
If we rehearse this good news in our churches through, preaching, teaching, fellowship, and service, then our churches will be doing their work well, equipping us for the tasks God calls us to do in whatever professional, familial, charitable fields we work in—including seeking and holding political office. None of this work can ever be simply “secular” to believers if the local church is doing what it should, again, politics and government included.

What advice would you have for Christian who wants to get involved in politics?
I see some of the students I teach getting involved most fruitfully when they volunteer in election campaigns. Those are fast-moving classrooms where the volunteer can get a lot of experience in a short space of time and see this aspect of politics up close—sometimes a more sobering experience than they expect.
As a British citizen, I’ve always been envious of the openness of American society and the hospitality American organizations from private businesses to government offices, non-profits, interest groups and political campaigns extend to interns. Of course, in the university context, the intern comes back, takes a course, and writes papers integrating experience from the internship with insights from political science. Not everyone can put things together in such an organized fashion, let alone in a context explicitly committed to asking questions about the implications for Christian perspective, etc. But approximating that approach is the best way for the student to test the waters of a political interest.

What books have you recently being reading?
Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry, my favorite American writer, perhaps. He’s one of those writers who, though his characters don’t stray far from their rural Kentucky community, manage to illuminate everything that matters.
Pope Francis, by Paul Vallely, whom I met earlier this year (Vallely, that is)—I found this to be a quite extraordinary work, so comprehensively researched to reveal Francis in three dimensions. A real page-turner.
Second Royal Gloucestershire Hussars: Libya-Egypt 1941-42, by Stuart Pitman. My late father began his teaching career in Gloucestershire in the late 1930s, joined up, and fought in this campaign.
The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson. I purchased it at Heathrow to read in the plane on a trip home from the UK. Inimitable Bryson, with that mix of the insightful and the irreverent that is his version of loving the place—and, I would assert, you could find Brexit between the lines of this book (or at least rendered perfectly understandable)!

And finally, in true desert-Island-discs style: If you were on a desert island what two luxuries would you take with you?
If I may assume that the Bible and Shakespeare are in place, I’d like to make my desert island sufficiently fertile with enough rainfall to make gardening worthwhile: then seeds and garden tools would be luxury enough as one of the above.
The other? High-quality binoculars for birding. (I’m far from expert in the “twitching” department, but it’s been a source of joy for many years.)

Monday, 8 August 2016

Pro Rege by Abraham Kuyper

Pro Rege
Living Under Christ the King: Volume 1
Abraham Kuyper
Translated by Albert J. Gootjes
Edited by John Kok and Nelson D. Koosterman
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press/ Acton Institute, 2016.
ISBN 978-1577996545
xxxi+ 507pp; hbk

As with the majority of Kuyper’s works, this book began life as series of newspaper articles. The articles that make up this volume began in January 1907. They were then published as Pro Rege of het Koningschap van Christus in 1911. This English translation, the first of three volumes, is split into three parts of increasing size. The first ‘The darkening of Christ’s kingship’ (§§I.1-11), the second the ‘undermining of Christ’s Kingship’ §§II.1-16) and the third ‘the Kingship of Christ according to scripture (§§III.1-28). In it Kuyper covers some major topics; these include secularisation, the nature of miracles and the role of angels and demons.

As the introduction states: 'Judging Kuyper’s views on class, gender, and race requires a decent understanding of his historical world. Kuyper holds views that we find completely unacceptable today’. Aspects of this book (and Kuyper himself) were products of the Victorian age - yet other aspects transcend that age.

Kuyper begins by relating his experiences he alos recounted in Om de oude wereldzee (Around the Old World Sea) regarding Islam. He has a high regard for their energy zeal, which he notes would put Christians to shame.
'The indifference toward Jesus encountered in Christian countries, or cowardly silence when the Divine Founder of our religion is defamed, is virtually unheard of in Islamic nations when it comes to Muhammad' (7). 
He notes that:
The kingship of Jesus comes to you with a demand. It demands faithfulness, allegiance, and submission. It demands of you—especially in this Christian nation—that you confess him, that you stand up for him, and that you plead for the honor of his Name (10)
But Kuyper laments: ‘in public life there is no regard whatsoever for Jesus’ kingship’ (18). He then traces some the reasons why this is the case. Here Kuyper is exploring the reasons for secularisation - and this was before it became a popular area of research. Some of these reasons he identifies are: the rise of science; the pressures of work and life; shifting patterns of living and lifestyles; changing patterns of work; busyness; and religion seen as outmoded:
‘Religion is an extinguished phenomenon, a remnant of the past to which modern man looks back with a melancholic curiosity’ (54).
The result is ‘Religion no longer occupies the place it used to in social and public life’ (55).

As Kuyper points out: we need a king. If we deny Jesus’ kingship then humanity itself seeks to be king. Even with secularisation there is still search for transcendence - that is looked for in among other things art:
‘This is why art arose from the spheres of religion and first entered the world from that sacred sphere. First came temples, then monuments and palaces. First came psalms and hymns, then national anthems and epics. It is for that reason not strange, but entirely natural and necessary, that where society leaves and abandons religion, art comes to take its place’ (94).
Kuyper then develops his view of miracles. He links miracles to the dominion over nature, this dominion is over all the earth is part of being the image of God. We can only understand the significance of miracles by looking back to God’s ordinance to humanity to subdue the earth. It is in the miraculous that humanity’s kingship over the earth is restored. Unlike some Reformed theologians Kuyper maintained that miracles still happen today.

Another area of extended discussion in this volume is angels and demons. He sees this as an important area as: ‘Nothing has done more damage to the church’s confession of Jesus’ kingship than the marked increase in the indifference toward the spirit world, whether toward angels or of demons’ (423). As C.S. Lewis noted several decades later in his The Screwtape Letters (1941) there are two errors regarding demons - disbelieve in them or have ‘an excessive and unhealthy interest in them’. Kuyper avoids both extremes. He stays close to Scripture:
‘In Scripture, Satan and his henchmen are perpetually seen as beings created by God himself, who exist through [God’s] power alone and will in the end be subjected to his power once more. Nevertheless, it remains within the essence of the spirit’s nature to exercise power and influence also over visible things, on visible nature, on what lies before one’s eyes’ (428).
There are a number of things that Kuyper writes that might raise a few eyebrows. These are not only his stereotyping of races and cultures but also his seeming acceptance of clairvoyance and hypnosis. For example: ‘Only in clairvoyance, and recently also with x-rays, do we have the ability to look through walls and from afar’.

This first volume is a very welcome addition to the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology and I look forward to the remaining volumes to be published.

God in Public - a brief review

God in Public
How the Bible speaks truth to power today
Tom Wright
London: SPCK, 2016
ISBN 978-0281074235
Pbk, 208pp; £12.99

Tom Wright is an extremely prolific writer - he has produced over seventy books.  This is the latest, but it seems to have had little attention so far, which is a shame as the theme is very important.
The book is a collection of lectures Wright has delivered from 1999 to 2015, so there is nothing new here, although the lectures have been updated for publication. Each deal in different ways with faith and public life - or as the title of the book has it: God in Public.

One key theme comes through several times: there is a stand-off between fundamentalism and secularism in the public arena. This clash is shot through with three elements: postmodernity, Gnosticism and empire. These themes are echoed again and again throughout the lectures. Particularly in the first three chapters - which for me were the stand out chapters.

Wright is strong on critique of the (failed) Enlightenment project and the analysis of worldview. He is weaker on the practical aspects. He gives some example of doing God in public; these include, Desmond Tutu, Cicely Saunders, Wilberforce, the street pastors and the salvation Army. But what is lacking is the emphasis on Christians organising for political action - there is no mention, for example on the possibility of a Christian political party or trades union. Nevertheless, Wright does show that doing God in public is a necessary and that religion and politics do mix.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper by Sophie Bishop 

#Kuyperania July 2016

James Bradford Pate has a review of Kuyper's Our Program.
He concludes:
Those looking for a thoughtful and edifying discussion of political philosophy from a Christian perspective will find that in the book.  But the book is not entirely that, for there are huge parts of it that are technical discussions about the issues of the day, such as public hygiene.  The technical parts of the book may be interesting to historians or people with a historical interest, from an antiquarian perspective.  Many readers’ eyes may glaze over those parts, though.  There were parts of the book that were rather elliptical: one would have to know the historical background to understand what Kuyper was saying.  In many cases, the footnotes were helpful.  In some cases, there were not footnotes, or the footnotes talked more about names, dates, and events, which did not shed much light on Kuyper’s discussion.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Chemistry by Daniel R. Zuidema - a brief review

Faithful Learning Series
Daniel R. Zuidema
P&R Publishing, 2016, 56 pp
ISBN 9781596389205
Publisher's website here.

Chemistry has often been the cinderella of the natural sciences when it comes to Christian writings. Physics and biology generate more controversy with the Big Bang and evolution to name but two issues and so much more has been written on them. All this underlies the fact that much Christian writing on the science is of an apologetic nature. Chemistry it seems generates much less controversy and thus has attracted less attention. So, this booklet is a welcome addition. 

Zuidema utilises the creation, fall and redemption framework and the idea of common grace to develop a ‘biblical Christ-centered approach’ to chemistry. This is a helpful introduction to a Christian approach to science - although it didn’t really focus closely on chemistry. Much of what was said could equally be applied to any of the natural sciences. In the book he illustrates clearly that chemistry is just as much a Christian calling as a doctor or pastor. As Zuidema puts it : ‘The researcher who spends her days devising new ways to reduce ketones can glorify God in her work every bit as much as the missionary doctor does.’ And ’’When a Christian does chemistry, he or she is doing “kingdom work.”’ These are important points which deserve reiterating.

The booklet is part of the Faithful Living series from P&R - most it seems are written, as this one, by professors at Covenant College. It is a useful series and provides a good brief and introductory starting point for thinking about academic subjects from a Christian perspective.