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.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Kuyper's academic genealogy

Theology tree is a fascinating website that shows The Academic Genealogy of theologians and Biblical scholars. It is a free, volunteer-run website. Above is Kuyper's academic genealogy.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Review of You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith

You Are What You Love
The Spiritual Power of Habit
James K.A. Smith
Grand Rapids: Brazos Press
Hbk; 224pp; £12.99.
ISBN 9781587433801
Publisher’s web page here 

The nature of idolatry is that we are shaped into the idol’s image: we become like what we worship (Ps 115:8).  A graphic illustration of this is provided by the Daily Mirror headline some years ago regarding a young computer hacker:


Those who make idols will be like them. We image what we worship. This theme is taken up in Smith’s latest book.The book serves as a summary to two of his previous cultural liturgies books: Desiring the Kingdom (Baker Academic, 2009) and Imagining the Kingdom (Baker Academic, 2013). 

According to Smith ‘This book articulates a spirituality for culture-makers, showing (I hope) why discipleship needs to be centered in and fueled by our immersion in the body of Christ. Worship is the “imagination station” that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom’ (loc 70-72) Smith argues for the need for a change in our discipleship model, a shift in praxis from a Descartian ‘brain-on-a-stick’ model to a view where discipleship is more than information transfer. 

He rightly notes that all models presuppose a view of what it means to be human; how we answer that questions shapes our praxis. The ‘I am what I think’ banking model is flawed. Of course, this is not to be seen as a rejection of thinking, Smith is, after all, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College. Neither is he setting up a head/ heart dualism. He advocates an ‘I love therefore I am’ model. We are what we desire and so we are defined not by knowledge but by what we desire. And this is where worship fits in. As Smith puts it: ‘To be human is to be a liturgical animal, a creature whose loves are shaped by our worship.’ We are what we love and discipleship needs to be seen as a rehabituation of our loves rather than the acquisition of knowledge, this can come through worship. However, the worship needs to embrace liturgies:
‘Christian worship, we should recognize, is essentially a counterformation to those rival liturgies we are often immersed in, cultural practices that covertly capture our loves and longings, miscalibrating them, orienting us to rival versions of the good life. This is why worship is the heart of discipleship’ (Loc 438-441).

What Smith is calling for is not a return to traditional worship and a turning away from contemporary Christian worship - he wants so much more than that. Liturgy is needed to re-orientate our hearts:
‘Our hearts, we’ve said, are like existential compasses and embodied homing beacons: our loves are pulled magnetically to some north toward which our hearts have been calibrated. Our action and behavior—indeed, a whole way of life—are pulled out of us by this attraction to some vision of the good life. Liturgies, then, are calibration technologies. They train our loves by aiming them toward a certain telos’ (889-892)
And importantly:
‘Recognizing worship as the heart of discipleship doesn’t mean sequestering discipleship to Sunday; it means expanding worship to become a way of life.’

The book is iconoclastic - exposing the idols that often lie behind the seeker-sensitive movement,  the youth ministry movement and even marriage and the family.  Smith makes an excellent case for keeping the youth in with the rest of the congregation and not keeping them apart. He cogently argues that we have ‘created youth ministry that confuses extroversion with faithfulness’. 
'And the sad fact is that our youth ministries have treated them as thinking things that need to be entertained when, in fact, what they really crave is not liberation from ritual but rather liberating rituals.'
This is an important book - not only does it makes accessible his cultural liturgies books but provides a framework for rethinking discipleship.

1. You Are What You Love: To Worship Is Human
2. You Might Not Love What You Think: Learning to Read "Secular" Liturgies
3. The Spirit Meets You Where You Are: Historic Worship for a Postmodern Age
4. What Story Are You In? The Narrative Arc of Formative Christian Worship
5. Guard Your Heart: The Liturgies of Home
6. Teach Your Children Well: Learning by Heart
7. You Make What You Want: Vocational Liturgies
For Further Reading

Saturday, 26 March 2016

A History of the Reformational Movement in Britain: The Pre-World War II Years in Koers 80(4)

My paper on the history of the Reformational movement in Britain beofre WWII has now been published in Koers.
It is available here.

Bishop, S., 2015. "A History of the Reformational Movement in : The Pre- World War II Years".
KOERS — Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, 80(4).
Available at: http:// koers.80.4.2216

Friday, 18 March 2016

Review of Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics by Craig Bartholomew

Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics
A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture

Craig G. Bartholomew
Grand Rapids: Baker Books
ISBN 978-0-8010-3977-5
640pp; Hbk; £21.75.
Publisher's website here. 

This is perhaps the best book on hermeneutics yet written! In the first chapter Bartholomew sets out his main thesis – he wants to develop a Trinitarian hermeneutic. A Trinitarian hermeneutic, according to Bartholomew, is one which:

1. Approaches the Bible as authoritative Scripture
2. Approaches the Bible as a whole
3. Views ecclesial receptions of Scripture as primary
4. Exists and humbles academic interpretation
5. Will attend to the discrete witness of the Testaments
6. Rightly discerns the goal of reading the Bible
7. Does not close down but opens up interpretation of the Bible
8. Takes up God’s address for all of life seriously

It is perhaps point 8 that mark this introduction out as being different. Bartholomew writes out of a Kuyperian tradition and this permeates all of his approach. This is particularly seen in the inclusion of two chapters - not usually seen in a hermeneutics book - one on the Bible and scholarship and the other on preaching. But also in two key themes that reoccur the role of philosophy and the emphasis on the goodness of creation. As regards the latter point he rightly points out that:
‘Methods are never philosophically and theologically neutral, and we should avoid uncritically importing methods of interpretation that at root are in epistemological conflict with the epistemic primacy of the Trinity.’
'A distinctive of this volume is its insistence that theology and philosophy cannot be bracketed out of biblical interpretation.'
Though, this does not mean that all biblical scholars have to have philosophy degrees! (Though one might help!)

Sadly, it has become common over the past 150 years for Christian scholars to inhabit two unrelated worlds: the world of the church, and the world of their study and lecture room. In the one, Christ is acknowledged; but in the other, Christ is unwelcome, since in the latter domain so-called reason and neutrality reign.

This sort of approach has led to dualism and a privatisation of faith. 

The book is divided into 5 parts: Approaching Biblical Interpretation, Biblical interpretation and biblical theology, the story of biblical interpretation, Biblical interpretation and the academic disciplines, the Goal of biblical interpretation. 

What is refreshing about this book is that it takes seriously the need to listen as well as analyse and interpret. The emphasis is on listening to God; he proposes Mary, Martha’s sister as the patron saint for biblical interpretation –she quietly and attentively listened to Jesus. Listening is part of us ‘being creaturely’. Listening provides an antidote the Enlightenment legacy of the emphasis on rational analysis. He notes that: ‘prior to analysis comes listening’.

Bartholomew draws on a wide range of sources in one chapter we have a range of quotes from as diverse authors as John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Karl Barth, George Steiner, Herman Bavinck, Lesslie Newbigin, Tocqueville, Mariano Magrassi and Jean Leclercq. This does not mean that Bartholomew takes a pick and mix approach – he is not ashamed to draw upon resources from other traditions and there is richness in such diversity. 
He identifies that one issue has been that academic scholars compartmentalise – so that in the church the lordship of Christ is acknowledged, but in academic study he is not, as reason and neutrality reign. This dichotomy, Bartholomew is right, is unsustainable. What is needed and is a full integration of the ecclesiastical and academic interpretation. This can only come from seeing the Scripture as God’s Word.

The book has a plethora of references over 2300 and a massive bibliography - about 40% of the book is taken up with references and bibliography. That shows the scope of Bartholomew’s research. It also serves to show that this is no mere introduction but is comprehensive.

This book shows that hermeneutics does not need to be a dry and dusty subject - Bartholomew shows that it can be helpful and engaging. The penultimate chapter is particularly inspiring as here Bartholomew plus together most of the threads and shows how in they can be applied to the book of Hebrews in an inspiring and insightful way. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book - and to reiterate my first sentence: this is probably the best book on hermeneutics yet written.


Part 1: Approaching Biblical Interpretation
1. Biblical Interpretation Coram Deo
2. Listening and Biblical Interpretation
Part 2: Biblical Interpretation and Biblical Theology
3. The Story of Our World
4. The Development of Biblical Theology
Part 3: The Story of Biblical Interpretation
5. The Traditions within Which We Read
6. Early and Medieval Jewish Biblical Interpretation
7. Renaissance, Reformation, and Modernity
8. Canon
Part 4: Biblical Interpretation and the Academic Disciplines
9. Philosophy and Hermeneutics
10. History
11. Literature
12. Theology
13. Scripture and the University: The Ecology of Christian Scholarship
Part 5: The Goal of Biblical Interpretation
14. The "Epistle" to the Hebrews: But We Do See Jesus
15. Preaching the Bible for All It's Worth: The Resurrection of the Sermon and the Incarnation of the Christ


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Review of Church's Social Responsibility ed. by Ballor and Joustra

The Church’s Social Responsibility
Reflections on Evangelism and Social Justice
Edited by Jordan J. Ballor and Robert Joustra
Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press, 2015.
ISBN 978-1-942503-26-2
pbk; 119pp; £9.87.
Publisher's website here.

The church matters. Neo-Calvinists are often accused of not taking the church seriously. But now many are waking up to the notion that church as an institution is important. The great Dutch statesman, newspaper publisher, prime minister and theologian, introduced an important distinction between church as an institute and being organic.

Kuyper uses many metaphors to illustrate this distinction, particularly in his recently translated Rooted and Grounded. The church as an organism is a body and it grows, as an institute, it is a house that is built. It is from the organism of church that the institution is born. The institution is the church organisation, its sacraments, its priests; the organism is the church in the world, Christians at work in society, the body of Christ. The organism is strengthened and served by the church as institute. The church as institute does not run schools, universities, coffee shops or trade union; that is the role of the church as organism. This, in essence, is the theme developed in this great little book. 
Most of the essays here take up Kuyper’s useful distinction. There has been a tendency in the past to play down the institution side of church. This is partly as a reaction against ecclesiasticisation of Christianity — an approach often manifested in the idea that full-time Christian ministry is church work. Now we are beginning to realise that ministry is more than church work.  It is more than what the ‘laity’ do on Sundays: there are no part-time Christians!

The book begins with three essays setting the scene. Carl Henry’s essay is  from his important and ground-breaking book of the time.  written during the rise of neo-evangelicalism. As Ockenga, one of the father’s of neo-fundamentalism, wrote in 1956:  
Nevertheless—unlike fundamentalism—evangelicalism realizes the church has a prophetic mission to society…. We must…make evangelicalism more relevant to the political and sociological realities of our time…unless conservative Christian theologians take more time to point out the relevance of Christ and the Bible to important (social) issues conservatism will be neglected by the rising generation.
“Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Christian Life, March, 1956, p. 4.

It was this call for relevancy that was taken up by Carl Henry. There was an increasing realisation that the church had a social responsibility. For Henry, the church’s role was to say No to moral and political issues, such as  abortion, slavery, apartheid, rather than to say yes to party-political approaches or actions. This approach is endorsed by Richard Mouw, who tells the story of his wrangling over a few phrases of an essay he submitted to Christianity Today when Henry was the editor. Mouw wanted to advocate that the church should say a ‘bold yes to specific policy-like solutions’; Henry wanted him to change the sentence. Mouw now sees he was wrong and Henry’s no-saying approach as being correct. Although Mouw has slight misgivings of the way Henry presented his case, to remedy this Mouw draws on Kuyper’s church as institute and as organism. Kuyper would agree with Henry that the church (as institute) is limited in what it can say about issues in public life, however, the church (as organism) as the body of Christ has a responsibility to go out and form organisations to engage in areas of cultural involvement and policy formation.

Kuyper’s theme is also taken up in Part 2, Principles of responsibility, with essays from Driessenga, Koyzis and Wagenman. All three endorse Kuyper's institute and organism approach. Driessenga also uses the metaphors of pearl and leaven taken from Kuyper’s contemporary Herman Bavinck. Koyzis introduces an important point from one of Kuyper’s successors, Herman Dooyeweerd. Dooyeweerd makes a distinction between institutional communities and voluntary associations. The church is the former and not the latter. This has implications for the way we see the church as institution; church is not ‘a mere association of converted individuals’ (50). Church is called into being by a divine covenant, not by common interests, being member son the church is not like joining a club for its own ends. Koyzis ends his chapter with an important point: ‘We dare not neglect the institutional church and the meaning of grace which offer such nourishment’ (53).

Wagemann also develops Kuyper’s distinction. He also warns against asserting that the institutional church has no relationship to social issues - as the church is to proclaim the gospel. As Wagenman wisely puts it:
‘… Kuyper taught that the unique calling of the institutional church was the contextualised and comprehensive proclamation of the gospel. The gospel doesn’t dictate a particular government policy but the gospel has some applicability  to every issue of human life’ (57)
If the church fails to do this than it is only preaching part of the gospel and thus failing in its institutional role. It is important to realise that church as institution/ organism doesn’t set up a new form of dualism.

Part 3, Practices of Responsibility, looks at the church’s role in social justice. Van Reken maintains that ‘The primary work of the institutional church is not to promote social justice, it is to warn people of divine justice’ (67). He also follows Henry’s approach: 
‘My view is that the institutional church should speak out against preventable poverty, but in most cases, must not recommend exactly which social justice will best reduce poverty’ (68).  
Vander Meulen’s thesis is that: ‘the institutional church needs to vigorously encourage — at personal and corporate levels…—faithfulness in doing justice’ (72). Hogenterp acknowledges that silence over issues can be ambiguous.

The Church and Society, part 4, contains essays by Den Dulk, Summer and Bacote. Den Dulk returns to the important theme of social justice and argues that the church ought to pursue its claims, but their role is limited - but it is within these limitations that ‘the churches will find their strongest voice’ (93). The issue of what is and what isn’t a Christian think tank is the subject of Summers, the CEO of the Centre for Public Justice a prominent Christian think tank. She sees them playing an important role. She identifies three wrong answers to the question why do we need distinctively Christian think tanks and then three right responses. She makes an important point:
‘The wrong answer — that there is no need for distinctively Christian think tanks if the church just does its job — is wrong because it conflates the task of the church as institute and the church as organism’ (97).
Bacote looks at social justice and Christian obedience. He examines some present and future challenges; these are: marriage; religious liberty; race; gender; abortion; and environmental concerns; economic life and poverty. He ends by noting that talk alone will not suffice; it’s time for action. 

In closing, in the historical afterword, Kevin Flatt examines some important lessons from the United Church of Canada.

This book contains a diverse range of short articles - it can be read in under two hours and yet it is packed with insight and wisdom. What is perhaps most remarkable is the agreement of most of the authors of the importance of the distinction between the church as organism and the church as institute. It was a distinction that Kuyper made first in his ‘Rooted and grounded’ sermon in 1870, yet as can be seen from these essays it is still relevant; and indeed more than relevant it can help to frame the role of the church in the public square today. This book is an important contribution to the debate regarding the role of the church in society.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The hermeneutics and exegesis of a stop sign

Suppose you're travelling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

A postmodernist deconstructs the sign with his bumper, ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.

A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn't take it too seriously, he doesn't feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

An average Catholic doesn't bother to read the sign, but he'll stop if the car in front of him does.

A fundamentalist, allowing the text to interpret itself, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

A suburban preacher looks up “STOP” in his lexicons of English and discovers that it can mean: 
1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing;
2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. 
The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

An orthodox Jew does one of two things:
Take another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law.
Stop at the stop sign, say “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop,” wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed. 
Incidentally, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: R[abbi] Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. R. ben Isaac says: Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says: “Be still, and know that I am God.” R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: “Stop, father!” In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written: “Out of the mouth of babes.” R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: “Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.” R. ben Nathan says: When were stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: “let them serve as signs.” R. Yeshuah says: ... [continues for three more pages]
A Karaite does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.

A Unitarian concludes that the passage “STOP” undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

A divinity professor notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke sstreets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called “Q”. There is an excellent 300-page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar's commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunate omission in the commentary, however; the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.

A tenured divinity professor points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage “STOP”. For example, “ST” contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas “OP” contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the “O” and the “P”.

A rival scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglects to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there.

Because of the difficulties in interpretation, a later scholar emends the text, changing “T” to “H”. “SHOP” is much easier to understand in context than “STOP” because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because “SHOP” is so similar to “STOP” on the sign several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.

Author unknown. [HT Luke Plant]

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Bratt and Mouw discuss Kuyper

James Bratt and Richard Mouw, two people who have helped promote Kuyper's work and helped with the recent resurgence of kuyperaina, discuss Kuyper's legacy in an interview over at the logos talk blog.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Kuyperania February 2016

Scott Pryor has an insightful review of Mark J. Larson's "Abraham Kuyper, Conservatism, and Church and State" (Wipf& Stock 2015) here.