Month: November 2007

Christian Theology as Cultural Engagment

Reflecting on the emergence of Christian theology in the Early Church and its interaction with the Mediterranean world of ideas, Andrew Walls writes:

Not only were new social situations constantly arising; an intellectual environment that combined the influences of Greek philosophy, Roman law, Eastern mysticism and spirituality, and astral science [sound familiar?] was giving rise to questions that no believers had found it necessary to ask before. That intellectual environment was the highway to a great outworking of creative theological activity, but it must have often seemed to old-style Jewish believers to be dangerous a, unchartered territory. Had the Jesus community retained the proselyte model, Christians would almost inevitably have been taken out of the intellectual mainstream and shut up to their own sacred books.

All too often Christians do their theology on islands, intellectually marooned from the rest of society and culture. Many academics build ivory towers on these islands, distancing themselves from the world beyond the waters even further. Meanwhile, the common Christians uncritically participate in the marketplace of the city–culturally, fiscally, philosophically—becoming indistinguishable from the rest of society.

The model of the early Christians calls the academic out of his tower and into the boat, to traverse the waters to the city, where theology can live. These early disciples of Jesus also call common Christians out of syncretistic, thoughtless participation in Babylon to fruitfully engage their intellectual environment, producing new cultural forms and combating old ones, renewing the city spiritually and socially with a living faith and active theology.

Academic or Journalistic Blogging?

Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum disagrees with Tyler Cowen’s plea for “intellectual anthropology.”

Actually, this kind of amateur anthropology goes on all the time, and it obviously has its uses. But it also has its drawbacks: the conventions of social interaction allow people to obfuscate, prevaricate, evade, and just generally lay on the charm in ways that frequently blur distinctions instead of sharpening them. And human beings being the social primates that we are, we often give views that we hear in person more weight than they deserve simply because we heard them in person.

So I disagree: When it comes to important issues of public policy this kind of personal interaction should be secondary. For the most part, we shouldn’t judge people by what they say in private or how they act around their kids. We shouldn’t judge presidential candidates by how sociable they are on the press plane or whether they’d make a good drinking buddy. That’s how we ended up with George Bush. We should judge them mostly by their public record: their speeches, their actions, their roll call votes, and their funding priorities. Anthropological research, aka hanging out and having a few beers, is fun and interesting, but it’s not necessarily a superior guide to what someone really thinks or what they’ll really do when the crunch comes.

After reading this, I immediately asked myself: Is this the difference between academic and journalistic styles and norms? In my experience, academics are much tougher critics of ideas than journalists, but they tend to be more civil. That is, they want to take down an idea, not a person. So, they tend to restrict their criticisms to the realm of ideas and don’t get into personal motivations and attacks. They are colleagues with many of the people they debate. Journalists are less concerned with ideas and principles. Their focus is on personal motivations. They see themselves as a check on the system and don’t give a hoot if they hurt someone’s feelings. It’s just part of their job. For some, the goal is a personal take down; and in this day and age, that can get pretty nasty. (HT: Florida)

I take this as a personal challenge—to be academically rigourous and anthropologically sensitive. Perhaps i should blog less and research more. Though blogging is admittedly an informal journalistic type of medium, it can be much more. This has got me thinking…what about you?

Band of Bloggers

For those interested, the Band of Bloggers associated with the Gospel Together conference will convene a meeting in the new year, in advance of the conference:

2008 Band of Bloggers
“The Gospel Trust”
Tuesday, April 15, 2008 :: (11:30 – 1:30)
The Galt House (Louisville, KY)
Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Mark Lauterbach

Contemporary Value of Calvinism (according to Kuyper)

This is the final reflection in my series of posts on Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.

Considering the contemporary value of Calvinism, it is interesting to note that when confronted with the claims of modernism (Scopes Trials etc.), Kuyper asserted that Christians failed to offer a substantial and coherent answer due to absence of a “unity of life system”. This unity of life system is indeed crucial if we are to thoughtfully and seriously engage the multifarious ideologies propagated by the thousands of cultures present in the global village.


The phrase, unity of life system, expands our understanding of Weltschauung, encompassing its inherently integrative ability. Kuyper points out three main conditions necessary for a complete life-system: 1) our relation to God 2) our relation to man 3) our relation to the world. Beginning with our relation to God, Kuyper reasons that we must start our thinking where the consciousness of all life has its unity- theologically in God and existentially in drawing near unto God.

Calvinism and Man, God, and the World
Concerning these three conditions, Kuyper states: Relation to man – Calvinism views man both positively and negatively. The glory of man is that he has been made in the image of God, yet the image has been disfigured through the fall. According to Calvinism these two things are held in common by all men. Relation to the World – Paganism places too high a value on the world and Romism, especially in Monasticism, places too low a value on creation. Contrary to Romism, Calvinism does not argue that the church is to rule over all other areas of life, the sciences, education, etc. Instead of the particular grace associated with salvation, it is God’s common grace that reaches the world over, through which he “relaxes the curse.”

Calvinism vs. Modernism & Postmodernism

It could be argued that Modernism (or Post-modernism) has provided the necessary worldview to deal with cultural, social, and political issues, therefore rendering the Calvinistic one unnecessary. However, as Kuyper lucidly points out, Modernism develops its worldview in reaction to God. Its entire system, although pragmatically driven by the Scientific Method, is philosophically errant, producing an aberrant of view of God. This is reflected in Modernism’s claim that God is: 1) somehow removed and disinterested from the inner workings of the world he created (Deism) 2) handicapped in his ability to infallibly communicate with his creation (Liberalism), or even worse, 3) the rejection of God as our ultimate reference point in substitution for the sole substance of reason (Descartes).

Whatever the philosophical origins of the Enlightenment, it is clear that at the philosophical level there was an attempt to repudiate the God of the Bible with rationale of man. Modernism asserts a negation of God, Calvinism assumes the existence of God and finds our dependence upon Him.

Postmodernism, on the other had, relatives God. Driven by the hermeneutic of suspicion, PM renders all notions of God as unreliable, as relative and therefore empties them of power and meaning. We are all telling different stories about God that, though the contradict one another, can possess meaning for their respective cultures. The problem with this worldview is, of course, its instability.

Calvinism Responsible for Human Flourishing?

After asserting the three conditions necessary for a coherent Weltschauung, Kuyper argues for the positive contributions of Calvinism to mankind in general, pointing out that it is through Calvinism and the spread of Christianity that peoples of the earth intermingled and shared culture and ideas, advancing human flourishing. From Judaism to present day Calvinism (New World, Africa, etc.) he argues that it was the tenants of this brand of the reformed faith that led to the political and social advance of human rights and scientific discovery. It is interesting to note that Christian Historian Kenneth Latourette makes a similar observation in his chapter on “The Expanding Effect of Christianity.” However Latourette does not limit these sources of these contributions to Calvinism, but perceives various Protestant groups to be instrumental in accomplishing global reform. In short, Kuyper’s contributions to the source of integration and a coherent Weltschauung are massive. Although we have been limited in our exploration, hopefully, this final post has provided enough insight to whet the appetite for more of Kuyper.

[1] Kuyper reflects his deep understanding of the necessity of drawing near unto God in his devotional, Near Unto God. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997).

[2] Ibid., 30

[3] Ibid. 24

[4] Kenneth Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol. II (Peabody: Prince Press, 2003), 967.