An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Searching the Soul by Willem J. Ouweneel - a review

Searching the Soul
An Introduction to Christian Psychology
Academic Introductions for Beginners IV
Willem J. Ouweneel.
Jordan Station, ON: Paideia Press
ISBN 978-0-88815-225-1
Pbk, xiii + 231 pp, £8.00

What is Christian psychology? Willem Ouweneel answers this question, in the fourth volume of his Academic Introductions Series, by first looking at what it’s not. It’s not a neutral science and it’s not a biblical psychology. In respect to the latter he reminds us that the Bible is true, but not all truth is in the Bible. Christian psychology is based on a Christian worldview which is ‘rooted in the Bible’ (p10). He is scathing about attempts to integrate psychology and theology; all to often the integrationists, like biblicists, understand by ‘psychology’ the current secular psychological views (p 12); they often also confuse theology with the Bible. Theology is unable to provide a Christian worldview as a basis for psychology - the limited role of theology is dealt with further in his What Then Is Theology? 

The book is an expansion of his earlier Heart and Soul (2009), which in turn was a translation of his Dutch work Hart en Ziel (1984).

His working definition is ‘psychology deals with what goes on inside a person as well as with his outward behaviour’. (p3) He develops the formula B = f(R,P,S) to show that behaviours cannot be reduced to one element or another but are a function of religious (R), personal (P) and situational factors (S).

The strength of the book is that it develops a Christian view of psychology within a Christian anthropology. So erroneous dualistic and tricotomistic (body/ soul/ spirit) views of humanity are rejected. (Unfortunately, he keeps using exclusive language.) His approach does not set Christian psychology against secular psychology, he discerns what is good in the former and seeks to transform it. He can do this as he is working from a Christian philosophical view of reality based largely on Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven’s works. 

Particularly interesting for me was the chapter on the development of psychology from its nineteenth century origins through structuralism, functionalism, depth psychology, reflexology, behaviourism, humanistic psychology, cognitive, Gestaltand existentialist psychologies. 

It is in the context of psychology that Ouweneels’s splitting of Dooyeweerd’s psychical modal aspect into two: the perceptive and the sensitive that makes practical sense. He also makes good use of Vollenhoven’s distinction between structure and direction to critique the different psychological approaches on offer.

This books would be an excellent resource for those studying psychology at school or as undergraduates, but any Christian would find something of value in it, particularly if they are involved in any form of pastoral ministry. It is replete with good sound Christian wisdom.

  1. Psychology and Christianity
  2. Starting points for a christian psychology
  3. The unity of man
  4. Psychological knowledge
  5. The development of psychology
  6. The lower mental idionomies
  7. The spiritive idionomy
  8. The normal personality
  9. The human heart
10. The abnormal personality
11. Causes of mental disorders
12. The Christian and psychotherapy.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Computer Science by Jonathan R. Stoddard

Com­puter Sci­ence: Dis­cov­er­ing God’s Glory in Ones and Zeros
Jonathan R. Stoddard 
Presbyterian and Reformed
ISBN: 9781596389908

In this 24-page booklet Jonathan Stoddard, an associate pastor with computer science degree, attempts to understand how God is the Lord over computer science. He takes a Van Tilian approach: 

‘First, God is the foundation for computer science. Second, there is an analogical relationship between God and computer science.’

He views computing as being possible because of God: God created the foundations for computing. It is not the accident of evolution but a reflection of ‘the God who has spoken in our world’ and he has ‘established the laws needed to make computer science possible’.

Stoddard explores several analogical relationships. The way a computer scientists writes his code and the computer executes that code is analogical to the way God creates by his word: ‘there is a relation between the act of God’s creative speech and the creative speech of the programmer’. 

His approach, like Van Til’s (and Poythress, who wrote the preface), gets rather close at times to a Christian theo-ontological view, where the attributes of God provide the basis for the sciences. This perhaps comes to the fore when he writes ‘When we program computers, we are still thinking God’s thoughts after him’. 

This booklet, then is something of a curate’s egg. It is great to see a work - albeit brief - exploring what the lordship of Christ over computing might look like, but is marred by his reliance on Van Til’s analogical thinking. There is no discussion of how worldviews impact on computing or on how computer science can be viewed through the  Christian approach of creation, fall and redemption. But then a booklet of more than 24 pages would be required to do justice to that. Stoddard is right that God is the foundation for computer science, but I would disagree that that foundation is to be found in an analogical relationship.


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Mark Roques on Parables, Paris and Posing Probing Questions

Mark Roques in his own inimitable, iconoclastic style does his stuff on parables and communicating the gospel at Leeds City Church:


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Power in Service by Willem Ouweneel - a review

Power in Service
An Introduction to Christian Political Thought
Willem J. Ouweneel
Jordan Station, ON: Paideia Press, 2014
Pbk, 146pp, £5.75

What is the Kingdom of God? This question opens the book by Ouweneel, the second volume in the Academic Introductions for Beginners series. This is an apposite question. Ouweneel develops the idea that politics cannot be separated from the kingdom of God. Likewise politics is also rooted in creation and grounded in creational ordinances - despite what Augustine thinks.

Drawing on a reformational approach Ouweneel ably shows, in this brief but brilliant book, that politics is an important area for Christian involvement. Humans are political agents, but since the fall all of life has been tainted with sin and that includes politics. But we can look forward to a fully redeemed politics when Christ returns.

Ouweneel utilises the kuyperian concept of sphere sovereignty to examine the relationship between the church and the state. Employing Dooyewerd’s analysis of institutions he sees the State as a juridicial institution that maintains public legal order. He stresses the importance of the separation of church and state but rightly affirms that this does not mean a separation between religion and society, as all of life is religious - all the way down. The role of the state is limited, it cannot play the role of a moralist but neither is it neutral.
He makes excellent use of the Vollenhoven's distinction between structure and direction to show how the fall has changed the direction but not the structure of the human heart. Ouweneel sees structure and direction as two polarities, as horizontal and vertical. 

He makes a very good point in noting that Christians often make the mistake of identifying the ‘world’ with ‘society’. Many Christians then avoid society thinking that in doing so they are avoiding the evil world. Hence, an avoidance of politics. Understanding the world as direction, and society as structure helps avoid such a non-biblical pietistic approach to society. Avoiding society taken to an extreme would be to withdraw into a monastery; but then that too is a society!

Also helpful is his discussion on being strangers and pilgrims. As he points out we cannot escape society and social institutions; no societal relationship is of itself evil, biblically there is no distinction between sacred and profane. 

Several of the key themes are then covered in a case study in the final chapter on Christian schools and religious and moral education imposed by the state.

Recent year have seen a significant number of helpful book on a Christian approach to politics - in particular David Koyzis’  Political Visions and illusions and James Skillen’s The Good of Politics. (See my list of resources for a Christian approach to politics.) This book is a helpful addition to those. It outlines clearly and accessibly what a reformational approach to politics looks like.

1. What is the kingdom of God?
2. Church and state apart
3. Offices and responsibilities
4. Theocracy
5. Strangers and pilgrims
6. The two kingdoms
7. Creation and re-creation
8. En route to the kingdom
9. The Christian school under attack

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Glossary of terms used in reformational philosophy in Wisdom for Thinkers by Willem J. Ouweneel

Numbers in parentheses show where the concept is defined or discussed in Ouweneel’s Wisdom for Thinkers. Where possible the phrasing is Ouweneel’s. The numbers in parentheses indicate where the term is discussed.

Absolutising - making an aspect of reality absolute, making it the one and only thing to which all other things can be reduced. (47)

Abstraction - there are (at least) three kinds of abstraction:
Abstraction of the universal - the unique character of a phenomenon is disregarded in the search for what phenomena have in common so that general principles are formulated.
Abstraction of the objective - personal feelings and prejudices are disregarded so that another investigator would in the same circumstances obtain the same results.
Modal abstraction - every science has its own modal viewpoint from which it studies cosmic reality. (126) 

Anastatic - see Religious ground-motive

Analogies play an important role in the theory of modal aspects. All modal aspects are intertwined, because within each aspect we find analogies with all other aspects; e.g. strong feelings is an energetic analogy within the sensitive aspect. (73)

Apostatic - see Religious ground-motive

Boundary this is not to be taken in the spatial sense - the law is a boundary between God and the cosmos. The boundary also connects - the law could be called the connection point between God and cosmos. (74-75) Law as boundary emphasises the uncreated aspect of the law; it is God’s own Word for creation - it is spoken not created. However, the law-side emphasises the created aspect of the law. 

Culture - human action through which the potentialities of creation are unfolded (78). Culture is manipulated (handled, shaped) nature; it is nature as worked or processed by humanity. (84) It is the specific way in which the object-function of non-human entities have been opened up by humanity. (85)

Direction - see Structure

Destination function - this indicates an entities destination or purpose of an entity within human life. (87)

Encapisis - certain matter may be encapsulated within some other matter. There are several different forms of encapsis:
symbiotic encapsis eg the yucca plant and the yucca moth
correlative encapsis eg a living being and its habitat or between church and state
subject-object encapsis eg a snail and its shell, or the spider and its web.

Entity - something that 'is', something that exists within our empirical reality.  There is a distinction between entities and the properties of entities. A genuine entity functions in all 16 aspects of cosmic reality, whereas the properties of entities do not. (82)
There are different kinds of entities: inanimate things, plants, lower animals, higher animals and humans.

Epistemology The philosophy of knowledge: the part of philosophy that tries to answer questions like: What is knowledge? How can we know that we know something? (5)

Faith underlies beliefs it is supra-rational (8); it is not non-rational, or even irrational; faith is not necessarily against reason, but faith is above reason (9). It always possesses a religious nature p 10. Faith is transcendent, it surpasses everything that belongs to or empirical world (reason and feelings are immanent). It can be expressed in beliefs and emotions but transcends our beliefs and emotions. (30)

Foundational function - in tangible things this is usually the spatial function. (87)

Functionalism - the absolutisation of certain immanent functions. (107)

Heart – this is a metaphor for our innermost being, our ego, our personality centre. (30) 

Idionomy - this term (first suggested by P. Verburg) is used for Dooyeweerd's ‘individuality structure’. The idionomy is a kind of law that makes e.g. all horses, not just your horse, to be horses. The idionomy of a certain entity is characterised by a certain specific modal aspect. Each will have a foundational function and a destination function. (87)

Kernel is the essence of a modal aspect. A kernel is not ‘thing-like’ (71). The kernel of the arithmetical aspect is number; of the spatial is extended form; of the kinematic is motion … 

Law - see Boundary

Law-side - see Ordered world

Law-spheres all things within cosmic reality are subject to the laws that the Creator has instituted for them. (59) 

Modal aspects or modalities of reality. There are sixteen of them: arithmetical, spatial, kinematic, energetic, biotic, perceptive, sensitive, logical, formative, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, juridicial, ethical and pistic. Modal aspects are not phenomena but always only aspects of phenomena; they are not concrete things or states. (51) Each modal aspect has a kernel. Sometimes described as law spheres. 

Nature - the parts of cosmic reality that are unspoiled and pristine, i.e. unaffected by humanity (84).

Natural laws (and norms) natural laws tell us what is, norms tell us what ought to be. (61) Laws cannot be disobeyed whereas norms can be disobeyed.

Norms see Natural laws

Objects see Subjects

Ordered world and World order. The ordered world is made up of facts and is on the factual side or subject-side;  the world order is made up of laws and is on the law-side of reality. (60) 

Ontology - the philosophy of all things that are, or simply, of all things that exist, the philosophy of the whole of cosmic reality. (5)

Qualifying function - this indicates the 'quality', it is the highest subject-function of the entity. (87)

Philosophy  - the foundational science - ‘the science of sciences’. (6)

Reason – this is never autonomous as it is directed by the heart. (31).

Religion - the confidence humans have in Someone or something as a kind of Ultimate Ground. This Someone or something functions as a kind of general, foundational principle from which the whole of reality can be explained. (11)

Religious ground-motives the deepest motives that drive our hearts, and are therefore of a religious nature. They can be of two sorts: anastatic (from the redeemed heart) and apostatic (from the sinful, unregenerate heart; of which there are three types: matter-form; nature-grace; and nature-freedom). (35)

Science - theoretical knowledge. (17)

Special sciences are scientific disciplines (e.g. geometry) interested in the whole of reality but only from a certain aspect or angle (e.g. the spatial). (45)

Spiritive  (a term coined by Ouweneel) for the analytical, historical, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, mural, ethical and pistic modal aspects. (41)

Structure and Direction - Structure deals with the creational structures and the laws God has instituted for the various creatures and cosmic modalities. Direction is a dimension that is, so to speak, perpendicular to that of structure; it involves the directness of any entity, event or state of affairs. There are only two directions: either towards the Creator or an apostate one away from the Creator. (76-77)

Subject and object - these tell us about the ways things function within reality p. 65. Plants are subject to all the  modal laws in the biotic  and lower. They are objects in all the modal aspects above the biotic. Humans are subject to all modal laws, they function as subjects, or have subject functions in all modal aspects. P. 66. Plants function as objects in the modal aspects higher than the biotic. (67). 
All things function in all modal aspects either with subject-functions or object-functions (68). Object functions are not always activated. 

Subject-side (or factual side)- see Ordered world

Supra-rational transcends, rises above the rational. (8) It is distinct from the rational and the irrational.

Time is created, time and the created cosmos belong together, and the modal aspects are aspects of the temporal cosmos. (54).

Typical-function - this is associated with natural things when they are culturally manipulated. In cultural entities this will always be the formative function (88)

World order - see Ordered world

Worldview a (frequently un-articulated) set of ideas and principles concerning the world in which we live, the nature, the origin, the purpose (or lack of purpose) of this world. (7) 

Wisdom for Thinkers by Willem J. Ouweneel: a review

Wisdom for Thinkers
An Introduction to Christian Philosophy
Willem J. Ouweneel
Jordan Station, ON: Paideia Press
ISBN 978-0-88815-226-8
Pbk, 208pp, £7.50

This is the first part of a proposed series entitled ‘Academic Introductions for Beginners’. So far there are four volumes published:

Wisdom for Thinkers
Power in Service
What then is Theology?
Searching the Soul

And two more are proposed on biology and history.

Ouweneel is a prolific author - he has published 165 works - primarily in Dutch and has three earned doctorates in genetics (University of Utrecht, 1970), philosophy (VU, Amsterdam 1986 - one of his supervisors was Andree Troost) and theology (University of the Orange Free State, SA, 1993).  He is thus adequately equipped to deal with these subjects. He has worked as a school teacher, as a scientific officer, laboratory researcher, as a part-time pastor, and as professor of theology, philosophy of science, ethics, psychology in several universities and as a French and German teacher. This wide academic and work background makes Ouweneel an ideal person to write such a broad series.

All the books in the series are written from a Dooyeweerdian reformational perspective.
Wisdom for Thinkers  lays the foundation for the series. It provides us with an excellent and largely accessible introduction to reformational philosophy. In it he covers a wide range of topics including the nature of philosophy and worldviews, a Christian view of cosmic reality, a Christian view of entities, anthropology, the philosophy of science, and the relationship between philosophy and theology. Several of the chapters are then developed in the subsequent books. For example, there is much overlap between the chapter here on philosophy and theology and his What Then Is Theology? And in the latter he keeps referring back to this book. Those unfamiliar with Christian philosophy would do well to read this introductory book before diving into those later in the series.
Reformational philosophy is not known for its accessibility and there are a large number of new terms that have been coined by adherents of this approach - primarily because old terms don’t adequately express the intricacies of God’s creation. Ouweneel has done much to remedy this as this book is accessible, most of the technical terms are clearly defined, but the subtle nuances and technicalities contained in the terms may well overwhelm someone who has not come across this Christian philosophy before. A glossary would have helped solve some of these problems. (I have been working on one see here.)

Ouweneel presents clearly the Dooyeweerdian perspective and is not afraid to develop and adapt the approach, but where he differs from Dooyeweerd he does often make it clear that he does. For example Dooyeweerd sees fifteen modal aspects, Ouweneel sixteen. He splits the psychic aspect into perceptive and sensitive modes and he has coined the term ‘spirtive’ to describe the modal aspects from the analytical to the pistic.

There are a small number of frustrations I found with the book. These include the lack of a glossary, the use of exclusive language,* the lack of references (but perhaps this is deliberate to make the book more accessible) and the surprisingly short bibliography (2.5 pages). These shortcomings are however more than compensated for by the excellent indexes (8 pages of subject index and 3 pages of scripture index), the price of the book, and the making of a Dooyeweerdian approach (almost) accessible.

This book is a great beginning for what promises to be an excellent series.

Kuyperania February 2015

David Koyzis has the second part of his piece looking at Kuyper's ideas and applying them to evangelism and pluralism: 'When we turn inwards' First Things 

Jordan Ballor offers some thoughts on Koyzis's piece at Calvinist International 

The Kuyper Center Review  vol 5 includes:

Michael Bräutigam 'A queen without a throne? Harnack, Schlatter, and Kuyper on theology in the university'
Gijsbert van den Brink 'Evolution as a bone of contention between church and academy'
Ad de Bruijne 'Not without the church as institute'
Dylan Pahman F.W.J. Schelling: a philosophical influence on Kuyper's thought'
Harry Van Dyke 'Kuyper on the teaching of history'
Gordon Graham 'Abraham Kuyper and the idea of a Christian scholar'
Ernst Conradie 2014. Views on worldviews : an overview of the use of the term, worldview, in selected theological discourses. Scriptura 113: 1-12
Looks at the use of the  term worldview in five texts including Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism.
Abstract. This article explores the ways in which the term 'worldview' is used in five distinct contexts that shape the study of religion and also of Christian theology, namely neo-Calvinism, the sociology of knowledge, discourse on religion and ecology, discourse on science and theology and African Traditional Religion. One text by one author is selected in each case to describe the distinct ways in which the term is used. This description suggests that the term is used in theological debates with very different connotations and also with very little cross-referencing - this can only cause confusion. On this basis a modest proposal is made as to what the notion of a worldview could entail, at least in the context of theological discourse

Jeffrey Skaff 2015. Common Grace and the Ends of Creation in Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. Journal of Reformed Theology 9(1): 3 – 18.
Abstract. Despite its marginal place in contemporary dogmatics, the doctrine of common grace potentially has much to offer to a theological account of the created order. Describing its relationship to special grace, however, to salvation, is no easy task. This article finds that Abraham Kuyper—the most prominent supporter of the doctrine—attempts to describe this relationship in two ultimately irreconcilable ways. In addition, it argues that only one of these ways—one in which common grace is always ordered to special grace—is acceptable. Such an account, which is defended by Kuyper’s contemporary Herman Bavinck, provides the basis for an understanding of the created order that should resonate with Christian theologians both inside and outside the Neo-Calvinist tradition, including those who have been influenced by Karl Barth.