Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Introducing "Reformed Academic"

This blog is, in the first instance, for post-secondary students and other academics within the federation of Canadian Reformed churches. We also, however, invite the participation of our non-academic church members who are interested in discussing academic issues on the basis of Scripture and the Reformed confessions. We of course realize that there other Reformed churches, and we welcome participation by their members, but many of the topics we intend to address in this forum arise out of particularities of our Canadian Reformed historical-cultural context.

Of those seeking post-secondary education in our circles, few attend Christian institutions of higher learning. As a result they only rarely encounter the concept of worldview, despite the fact that across North America the teaching of worldview (and therefore also of the way the Reformed tradition has engaged various kinds of scholarship) is gaining ground in many Christian colleges. Originating with Calvin and Luther, the tradition has been advanced in the Netherlands by men like Kuyper, Bavinck, Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven, Schilder, and their successors. The importance of worldview in theories of knowledge and scientific paradigms is evident, and our students should know about its role. Worldview analysis, and the relationship between worldview and academic theories, will therefore have our attention.

It is well-known that students attending post-secondary education, including those at Christian universities, routinely experience varying degrees of conflict between faith and academics. One could argue that such conflict is indispensable to academic and personal maturation. Nevertheless, it can cause serious difficulties. In attempting to resolve such conflicts, our students often look to the most educated in their church circles for advice and resources and also turn to specifically Canadian Reformed publications. However, these publications, Clarion and Reformed Perspective (neither of which is an official church magazine), address themselves to the general church member. They rarely reserve space for significant scholarly debate. Moreover, like anyone else, ministers cannot be expected to be informed about all issues related to faith and culture and help the students in their flock deal with specific faith-related academic questions. Thus many of our students feel isolated in their struggles and have difficulty feeling at home both in their academic and their ecclesiastical world.

Our blog intends to address these difficulties. It is our hope that it will allow our academically-inclined church members find valuable discussion partners within the Reformed tradition. We propose to tackle technical issues in any academic discipline and aim to do so in a nuanced way, drawing on Scripture and confessions, and on various Reformed and other Christian resources. If this matches your quest, we invite you to join us in this journey!


ddj said...

Looks like a great venture!

Dave deJong

Anonymous said...

I think this blog has a great potential to help students. However, this can only be done if, as contributors, we stand on the firm foundation of scripture alone, as confessed in the Reformed Confessions. Otherwise we may end up confusing rather than helping our audience. My question is: which confessions will be considered "reformed"? I assume it includes the Belgic Confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt. How about the Westminster Confession and Catechisms? Herman van Barneveld

Arnold Sikkema said...

We do certainly intend to be Scriptural and faithful to the Reformed confessions. Since this is, in the first instance, a Canadian Reformed network, we mean by this the continental Reformed confessions (the three you mention); however, if applicable, we will certainly also refer to other Reformed confessions such as the Westminster standards as well as to the work of other Reformed scholars. In particular, we will take seriously the claim of B.C. Art. 2, that God reveals Himself to us "First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe." And with respect to Scripture, we must be careful in our hermeneutics to not simply allow what we have always thought, or what our culture --- most notably in our modernist and enlightenment tendencies --- leads us to assume, to be considered canonical. And furthermore, our aim is not only to help students, but anyone academically inclined, including teachers, scholars, ministers, professors, and ultimately the body of Christ as a whole.

carla said...

I applaud the the purpose/vision of this blog! Long overdue but better late than never. Hopefully it will assist students fill the void many now experience and non-students with fresh insight into these relevant topics. tom and carla zietsma

Calvin Wieske said...

I also applaud the purpose and vision of this blog as a forum for the debate and study of both "...the relationship between worldview and academic theories" and the "...varying degrees of conflict between faith and academics" as mentioned in your introductory post. Having read through a number of articles and collected papers on this blog, along with the personal profiles of the contributors/editors, however, it appears that the four managing blog editors confess to be old-age creationists. Is this true? And if so, would you consider this blog to be an open discussion on the conflict between christianity and science? Or could it be perceived to be a somewhat biased forum for old-earth creation apologetics? In no way do I wish to imply that the intent is to be biased, I am simply wondering if we could avoid the possibility of such bias by perhaps enlisting one or two young-earth creationist contributors/editors to ensure fair treatment of both sides and ensure balanced discussion. This could also discourage viewers from wrongfully assuming that most (if not all) 'academics' hold to an old-earth creation theology. Is there merit to my comments or am I coming across as judgemental? I look forward to your response.

Calvin Wieske Ancaster, Ontario

Reformed Academic said...

We appreciate your letter, Calvin, both for its pleasant tone and because it allows us to explain once more the approach we have been following on this blog. You are right in stating that we are focusing on old-earth creationism. We are doing so, however, not because we oppose or fear an “open and balanced discussion on the conflict between Christianity and science,” but in order to encourage and promote such a discussion. As you have undoubtedly noticed, the old-earth approach appears to be no longer acceptable in the Canadian Reformed Churches. Instead, young-earth creationism is widely promoted as the only possible and acceptable biblical view, such in blatant opposition to a well-documented Reformed tradition, which allowed the discussion of various other theories. (On this Reformed tradition see our blog post “Young-Earth Creationism: A History”; an essay, incidentally, that was also submitted to Clarion but was rejected as unsuitable.)

The immediate reason for establishing the blog was, in fact, the sudden decision of Clarion to censor material written from an old-earth-creationist point of view. This happened about four years ago. Since then, Clarion has steadfastly supported young-earth creationism, denounced old-earth creationism, and continued to close its pages to articles attempting to explain the latter view. In short, young-earth creationism gets all the attention in our printed media it could possibly desire; it is also taught in our schools and occasionally even proclaimed from our pulpits. You will understand that we therefore see no need to invite young-earth-creationist contributors/editors to join our ranks. We do, however, accept and publish comments by people who disagree with us, including young-earth creationists. Indeed, we welcome such comments and the discussions to which they give rise.

We realize that many of our church members approve of the current CanRef attitude because they believe that any deviation from a literalist explanation of Genesis 1 is dangerous, even heretical, and must therefore be forbidden. We understand that position, but, although some of us have held it in the past, we no longer subscribe to it. We have given the reasons in several of our blog postings. One argument, as noted above, is that it is against the tradition of our churches, and indeed of the Christian Church as such. Different viewpoints on apparent conflicts between Scripture and science have traditionally been allowed, already in the early church. In addition to the essay mentioned in paragraph 1 of this response, we refer you to the work of Dr. Peter J. Wallace, particularly to his essay “The Doctrine of Creation in the History of the Church,” which you can also find on this blog under “Collected Papers.” Another reason is that declaring a young-earth interpretation of Genesis 1 to be the only acceptable biblical approach creates unnecessary and dangerous stumbling blocks both to fellow-believers (not least to our students and academics) and to “seekers.” Aware of the advances in medicine, technology, and so on, which were achieved, in God’s providence, by modern science, many find it difficult, indeed impossible, to agree to the demand that, in order to be a Christian, they must denounce well-established and fruitful scientific theories as deceptive. We ask for a free and open discussion of the issues at stake first of all to help these people. We do it also, however, for the sake of our churches as such, which we fear are succumbing to a type of “fundamentalism” that is foreign to their tradition.

Reformed Academic said...

See this post for a continuation of Calvin Wieske's conversation with us.