Sunday, November 18, 2012

I've Moved!

You can now found the Reformational Blogger, with current and archived posts from this site, at

At WordPress I've been able to add some content that I didn't have here and I may enlarge that in time.

Please join me there and subscribe to the RSS feed for my intermittent posts . . .

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Modern-Day Gnosticism

I feel like I posted this already, but I can't find it and it comes to mind again, so here goes.  This comes from a review by John Seel at Cardus:

What is Gnosticism for the layperson? It's a way of thinking that presents an alternative vision of the human problem and its solution. Creation and fall, according to the Gnostics, were the same event, which is a way of saying that our true state of grace was a kind of spiritual preexistence. Created reality is bad, part of the problem. We are condemned to spend our exile in creation—physicality is a tomb. Liberation is achieved by acquiring esoteric or secret knowledge, otherwise longing for a world of pure mind and pure spirit. As in the thought of Plato and Descartes, the nonphysical self, whether the spiritual self or the thinking self, is the most real. It denies the embodied self, the good creation, the Incarnation, and the bodily resurrection in favour of a disembodied spirituality, connecting my divine spark with the cosmic spirit. Yet, as C.S. Lewis concludes, "God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it."

Gnosticism is more common than many people think (Seel's point) and I hear it when I hear ministers say things like "God cares about the world but what he really wants to do is change people's hearts" or "the Bible teaches that both heaven and earth will be found in the post-return-of-Christ future, so we should be concerned with Christ now and can enjoy earth after his return."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reforming society

In honor of Reformation Day (Oct 31) and latter-day Reformer Abraham Kuyper's 175th birthday, I bring you a summary of Reformed (actually Reformational thinking) on business in particular, but society in general.  The few readers (am I overstating that?) of my blog don't need to be reminded of this, but some of my friends don't understand what I mean when I say that our faith should make a fundamental difference in how we think and do our work.  I think that's my fault for not explaining it very well, but Ray Pennings and James Brink make the argument and demonstrate how far better than I can here.

Their work is part of Cardus, formerly Work Research Foundation, which offers one of the best expressions of modern-day reformation and a manifestation of basic Reformed (i.e. Biblical) principles such as the priesthood of all believers and the sovereignty of God over all things.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Doing what we're supposed to do . . .

A friend recently asked me how I function as an academic in a world in which most of the centers of power seemed to controlled by non-believers or are ideologically antithetical to Christian faith, a la James Davison Hunter, To Change the World.  Now I haven't read Hunter (although I began it), so I can't directly comment on his assessment of the situation in the West, his view of how Christians have traditionally engaged culture, or his remedy, so my comments shouldn't be seen as having intimate knowledge of or made as a response to To Change the World.

My friend's question also reminded me of other discussions I've had with Christians over the years, both inside university settings and outside.  These questions are sometimes framed in terms of "how can we [Christisn] get American culture back?"  Or sometimes they are more analytical questions that revolve around H. Richard Niebuhr's various categories in Christ and Culture.

What I'm struck by in many of those conversations is the way "culture" seems to be a thing that's separate from individuals and groups.  And the way Christians seem to bear some responsibility in relationship to that external culture (flee from it, co-opt it, ignore it, transform it, and so forth).  In many case there seems to be a presumption of opposition to some degree or another and this sense of opposition seems rooted in a kind of isolation that Christians seem to hold to. 

By isolation, I mean a sense that there is something big, and dangerous, and menacing, or uncontrollable about culture and that requires Christians be on the defensive or offensive, or they have to engage in insurgency tactics, or they have to find ways to accomodate, assimilate, resonate, or something else.

What seems missing to me is a recognition of God's sovereignty and a focus on our being called into being as God's image bearers.  The Niebuhrian Christ as Transformer of Culture comes closest to capturing this focus, but, as many critics of the approach have pointed out, this approach sometimes manifests itself by Christians taking the offensive against culture.

As I understand the implications of

God's sovereignty

Common Grace

long-term and major results are not the object to keep in mind; instead, we need to ask our we are to faithful and obedient in our daily lives.  But as we ask this, we need to keep in mind the larger view of what it means to be created in the image of God--brought into being to create, to develop the world around us, to flourish, to live and work for shalom.  Will such a strategy transform culture?  No doubt, at least in small, local ways it will, but for most of us we shouldn't see our task as some how in opposition to culture, we should see that culture is the God-ordained product of human activity.  We are not outside, next to, or above culture.  We are in it, we are shaped by it, but we also shape it.  It's in God's hands how the history of humankind ultimately unfolds, but it's in our hands how we act each day as God's culture-forming image bearers.

May the work of our hands--all of it, in every detail--reflect God's glory through our obedience and faithfulness to his Word.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What's our mission? Or, How does Christianity relate to our careers?

In Comment Magazine, Cory Willson reviews two books on vocation and mission and offers a distinctly Biblical understanding of what human beings are called to be and do.

The following quotatation gets at the heart of his critique:
Christians in diverse professions need more than a moral theology that begins and ends with personal piety, models of servant leadership, and calls to love their neighbour.
What is that theology?
To be effective, a theology of vocation must be grounded in a biblical vision of the person as God's image-bearer, which necessarily involves culture-making. On its own, a focus on love and redemption lacks the theological weight to ground vocation in creation and God's plans for humans in the world.
To equip academics and others at developing such a theology and applying it to their disciplines and professions, I recommend the bibliography available at the Faith and Learning Network.

Of course Comment Magazine and its mother institution, Cardus, are leaders in equipping Christians to understand and live out their calling as God's image bearers in their professions.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What does it mean to lead a life of repentance?

In On Being Human, Calvin Seerveld invites Christians to sanctification and to see sanctification so broadly as to reach deep into the nature and manifestation of our occupations, in his case, philosophizing:
That means that those of us who are philosophers need to foster and build a philosophical anthropology that heals fractured theories of humanity and gives a younger generation of scholars not just a head full of split-hair concepts but horizons within which to think integratively.  We are faithful to God's Word in our philosophizing not merely when our analysis is logically correct and paired with right living but when our thinking is truly thanking, when our theory sparkles with life-giving wisdom (29-30).
For me, doing history as a Christian means not just getting the facts straight (doing my job well) and loving my neighbors in the past as well as my neighbors in the classroom and in my readership ("right living" as Seerveld calls it), but trying to think deeply and Biblically about my approach to historical study and in particular to questions of the nature of humankind, of what activity of humankind is significantly worthy of historical study, of what stories should I tell of the past, why I should tell them, and how.

And I pray that, in doing so, my theories will "sparkle with life-giving wisdom" (but that's a tall order!).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Islam in the West

I'm currently director of GFU's Liberal Arts and Critical Issues, our senior-level, general education capstone course. This semester's topic is Islam and the West and I was recently reflecting on the differences in western nation's treatments of Muslims.