King's Evangelical Divinity School

1 June 2016

Short Review of Mike Vlach's "Philosophy 101"

Philosophy 101: The "Big Idea" for the 101 Most Important People and Concepts in Philosophy
by Michael J. Vlach (Silverton, OR: Lampion Press, 2016).

With this book Michael Vlach (Professor of Theology at The Master's Seminary, California) offers an excellent introductory text to philosophy. Clearly drawing on his past as a community college professor of humanities and teacher of philosophy, Philosophy 101 (as its name indicates) provides the complete beginner in philosophy with a valuable introductory survey of a subject often perceived by many as esoteric and inaccessible, drawing upon an approach and style which is uncomplicated, easy to read and yet detailed in scope. 

Consisting of 101 entries covering key thinkers, movements and concepts, Vlach's book covers philosophy from the earliest Greek thinkers through to the present's focus on pluralism and postmodernism. He manages to pack a great deal of material into a book which is fairly short and easy to read,  providing simple explanations and a "nutshell" summary at the beginning of each entry. Some might argue that the book is somewhat reductionist or simplistic, given just a couple or so pages are devoted to each entry. Yet in fact this is what makes the book so strong. It is, after all, an introduction to the topic, and it satisfies this task well by providing readers with a basic, solid framework to philosophy, allowing them to move on to deeper reading later. Meanwhile, its easy-reading style keeps the reader on board, unlike many other introductory works which become too mystical within a view short pages. Thus, it is ideal for anyone who has sought to study philosophy but has struggled with previous attempts, as well as anyone approaching the topic for the very first time. Aside from this clear, simple style, Vlach - an Evangelical Christian  - writes objectively and avoids polemics, making it a useful tool for Christians and non-Christians alike.

It has been stated that philosophy is the "handmaiden of theology", and certainly throughout church history key Christian thinkers have drawn heavily upon it, to the extent that it has often shaped much of Christian thought. Thus, the extent to which some systematic theologies have drawn upon philosophy has caused some Evangelicals to become wary of  the influence of philosophy. I would tend to agree, believing systematic theology should be firmly underpinned by biblical theology. Yet knowledge of philosophy, its key thinkers and movements throughout history is invaluable for Christians today engaging with society. Human history is one long attempt to understand our world and ourselves, to create order and understanding, so that the social and political movements and worldviews we witness emanate from philosophical reasoning. Today, perhaps more than ever, human ideas and thought are shaping society's worldview and values, which are in turn are ushering in new laws, expected modes of behaviour and expanding the coercive power of the state, which are all affecting Christians more and more in their everyday lives. Thus, understanding how concepts such as, for example, today's pluralism and postmodernism, how they were driven and evolved, as well as where they and other movements may lead, all come from engaging with philosophy. This makes the study of philosophy all the more important an endeavour for Christians to engage in.  Vlach's book offers an important first step in that education.

Incidentally, Mike Vlach (a colleague on the editorial committee of the Evangelical Review of Theology and Politics) has written an invaluable book exploring supersessionism.

24 May 2016

Diversity's Inexorable Journey Toward Homogeneity

Currently in Italy with the missus (Pisa to be precise, Lucca tomorrow). Lovely place, great ice cream, lots of tourists, and street vendors selling the same things they sell as in Rome, London, New York, indeed any major tourist area. And hot dogs, hamburgers and Coke pretty much everywhere.

Relaxing in our room tonight, perusing hundreds of Italian TV channels, I stumbled upon the Italian version of MTV. I was struck by how similar the acts were to those on other versions of the channel. Indeed, mute the sound and watching it, it could easily be the UK or US version: same dances, gangster hand gestures, caps worn at jaunty angles, chunky gold earrings worn by burly blokes, the inevitable crotch-grabbing, etc etc. All in all, the world is shrinking, local popular cultures are gradually but inexorably being replaced by a global and homogenous popular culture, and many aspects of popular culture today all look pretty much the same. I remember in the 1970s how travelling from country to country, even within Europe alone, yielded considerable diversity from country to country. Much, much less of that now.

Naturally, new tools like the Internet have shrunk the world. But arguably it goes further than that. Western  liberalism has, in the past two or three decades, become obsessed with the cult of diversity, while popular culture icons have emulated this value to the extent that, ironically, diversity is increasingly leading to a global homogenous popular culture where everyone seeks to act the same in the name of coolness. Thus it seems if you emphasise differences enough, everyone jumps on the bandwagon so that end result is most of us act the same. 

What has this to do with Christians? Well, consider, for example, worship. In the name of diversity traditional worship styles have been challenged and replaced by soft rock version. Now, I'm not saying anything against this rather archaic (from a popular culture perspective) form of worship (OK, maybe I am being a tiny bit critical). The problem is, when everyone does it the end result is not only that local expressions of worship are no different from elsewhere, but indeed that the "new way of doing things" becomes the norm.

The liberal West's cult of diversity is, ironically, watering down diversity and inexorably leading to a global heterogeneity. For its part, the Church too often emulates the world in a bid to remain culturally relevant. Unfortunately, local and distinct expressions of Christianity are subsequently being swallowed up by an increasingly homogenously global expression of Christian  faith, so that when I recently visited a Latin American church it was like being in Australia. And we are all the poorer for it.

14 September 2015

More on That Korean Churches Conference on Israel

On 22 August I posted a Korean translation of the paper I delivered at a conference organised by Korean churches in London exploring the issue of the Church and Israel. More details here.

The conference organisers have since produced a booklet with all the papers available (in Korean). They have kindly given me permission to include a download link to the full booklet for readers to access all the papers.

2 September 2015

10th International LCJE Conference Statement

From 16-21 August 2015 more than 200 participants from six continents met in Jerusalem – the city from where the gospel went forth into all nations – for the tenth International Conference of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE). At the end of the conference the delegates issues a joint statement. Here is some of that statement:
We, the participants at the 10th International Conference of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, as Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus, rejoice that in every generation there have been Jewish people who embrace Jesus as Messiah and continue to identify as Jews.
We thank God for the increasing number of such Jewish people worldwide, especially in the land where Messiah lived, died for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. 
We rejoice in the impact of a new generation of Jewish followers of Jesus on Israeli society through their bold witness and contribution to the country in education, the arts, health care, the military and start-up companies, and by providing help to the marginalised within society. 
We rejoice also that God is working among Arab believers in the land and pray for their effectiveness in proclaiming Jesus in these troubled times. 
With the wider Lausanne Movement we affirm that Jesus, through his saving work, has ‘broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility’ and we applaud those Messianic Jews and Arab Christians who live out this reality. We also affirm: 
• The Jewishness of Jesus who, as Israel’s Messiah, is the Saviour of the world.
• The Jewishness of the Christian faith.
• The irrevocable character of God’s gifts and calling in relation to Israel.
• The special importance of taking the gospel to the Jewish people as an ever-present obligation on the Church, in accordance with Romans 1:16.
Visit the LCJE website for the rest of the statement and more details of the conference.

22 August 2015

Israel and the Church: The Past (in Korean)

I gave a talk at a conference held by Korean churches in London (July 2015) to explore the issue of the relationship between the Church and Israel. The following paper was the basis of my talk and has been kindly translated into Korean by Kyuwon Park, one of the conference organisers. (Scroll down for footnotes).

이스라엘과 교회 (과거)
-      대체 신학에 관해 -
캘빈 스미쓰[1]

하나님이여 침묵치 마소서
하나님이여 잠잠치 말고 고요치 마소서
대저 주의 원수가 훤화하며
주를 한하는 자가 머리를 들었나이다
저희가 주의 백성을 치려하여 간계를 꾀하며
주의 숨긴 자를 치려고 서로 의논하여
말하기를 가서 저희를 끊어 다시 나라가 되지 못하게 하여
이스라엘의 이름으로 다시는 기억되지 못하게 하자 하나이다
(시편 83: 1-4)

21 October 2014

Asia Bibi and Just Another Petition. But What If…?

This  week  saw an  update on the plight of  Pakistani Christian mom of five Asia Bibi,  sentenced to hang for blasphemy against Islam. Her original sentence was upheld at appeal and her case has run its course.  There appear to be no further judicial avenues to pursue and  she remains in prison,  awaiting execution. This situation has dragged on for four years. 

When I visited No 10's e-petition site yesterday I was surprised to find none on behalf of Asia Bibi, so I posted one. I was duly informed it would take up to a week for approval (which was discouraging) but by late afternoon I received  an email to say it had been published.  Since then I've been writing to friends and colleagues asking them to sign and share.

It's a slow, slow business. The petition has been up 24 hours and has nearly 300 signatures at the time of writing. At one level it's great to see so many people take the time in the middle of a busy day or week to sign yet another petition. But at another level it seems a tiny drop in the ocean. Indeed, this afternoon a social media contact pointed out to me other petitions (which I didn't know about) on behalf of Asia Bibi, with many more signatures, that nonetheless so far appear to have achieved little. I must admit to having felt somewhat deflated.

Yet this petition is a little different. Rather than a general call for Asia Bibi's release, it seeks to put pressure on the UK government and British politicians to intervene, in turn putting pressure on the government of Pakistan to act. Seeking the release of someone residing outside the jurisdiction of your  local politician is one thing. But petitioning for your government and politicians to intervene and make a difference, so that they are in no doubt this is absolutely a major issue for many British voters, is quite another. Especially when a general election is looming… and one that looks like being the closest in years. Make no mistake, every British politicians is acutely aware how every vote counts in 2015.

I do not suggest for one moment  that politicians are solely motivated by votes (!). But with so many causes vying for our politicians' attention, logically it's the most popular that attract political support. Britain has long and considerable historical, political and economic relations with Pakistan, and thus british politicians could make a real difference.