Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Children of God: The Imago Dei in John Calvin and His Context – A Review

Human beings, we read in Genesis 1, are created in God’s image and likeness. Throughout the centuries theologians have struggled with these terms, trying to ascertain their precise meaning. Some have concluded that they refer to the fact that humans, unlike other creatures, have the ability to reason and so to communicate with God. Others believe that they point to the human ability to establish relationships, and still others that they must be interpreted in a functional sense, referring to the fact that human beings were appointed as God’s vice-regents with the specific task of ruling the rest of creation.

Prominent among Reformed contributors to the discussion is the sixteenth-century reformer John Calvin, and it is his views that form the topic of the book now under discussion. The author, Dr. Jason Van Vliet, originally wrote it as a doctoral dissertation for the Theological University at Apeldoorn, The Netherlands (2009). A graduate of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, ON (1996), he now serves at that seminary in the department of dogmatology. Van Vliet shows that Calvin dealt with the question of the divine image throughout his professional life and that his views developed over time. Calvin’s most important contribution, Van Vliet concludes, lay in his description of the image as referring to the relationship between a Father and his children (as also reflected in the title).

Books by theologians are usually reviewed by theologians. Since Van Vliet’s topic falls within the category of historical theology, however, it was also possible to assign the work of reviewing it to a historian. That is what we did when we asked Richard Oosterhoff to take up the challenge. As the review shows, we made the proper choice. Not only historians, but also theologians (as well as the interested lay person) will appreciate both the contextual framework our reviewer has provided and his informative, extensive, and balanced description and analysis of Van Vliet’s book.

Richard Oosterhoff is a native of southern Ontario and received his B.Sc., with double majors in Biology and Religion and Theology, from Redeemer University College (2005). Now a Ph.D. candidate in the Program in History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, he is writing a dissertation on how a group of Renaissance professors at the University of Paris, some of whom became French reformers, joined their passion for Christ and their piety with deep love of the liberal arts, especially the mathematical arts of the quadrivium. (If you wonder what the quadrivium is, just ask him – but be prepared to endure enthusiasm!) Richard was pleased to spend much of this winter researching in rare book libraries in Paris and southern California, but now that spring has brought daffodils to the Midwest he is very happy to be back in South Bend, Indiana, where he can again enjoy the warm fellowship of Michiana Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA), which he, his wife Elora, and their two little girls had greatly missed during their travels.

The review is found in our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Passionate Intellect – A Book Review

In The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind, Alister McGrath positions the themes of religion and science as fields that should be integral, not separate. He believes that personal faith adds greatly to the conversations within and among vocations. In this collection of essays, flowing from his past teaching and presentations, McGrath seeks to inform the reader that faith is both a source of life and a matter of intellectual rigour, while at the same time he positions arguments around the new atheism, its agenda, and the opportunity it possibly provides for serious academic debate.

The reviewer of this book is Christina Belcher, Associate Professor of Education at Redeemer University College, who together with her husband Paul attends Stone Ridge Bible Chapel in Hamilton, ON. Former work in faculties of education at Trinity Western University, BC and in Australia and New Zealand, informs her writing and practice. With publications in the area of children’s literature, worldview, and higher education, she seeks in her work to unify a past, present and future view of historical reference prior to proposing hope and reconciliation in matters of an educational nature. As a co-author, she believes that interdisciplinary peer collaboration is helpful in any field in that it prevents what she refers to as a tunnel vision leading to hardening of the categories in our attempts to see worldview perspectives as significant to all of life. She therefore has written articles with peers from other disciplines, and considers learning to be one of the highlights of life.

In the present review, then, McGrath’s book is seen through the lens of an educational practitioner who desires to stimulate greater conversation both within specific disciplines and among different disciplines. We thank Prof. Belcher for her review, posted in our “Collected Papers” (direct link here), and welcome your engagement.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Character Education: Theory and Practice

As stated in my review of N.T. Wright’s book on character education which was posted on this blog on 29 November 2010, that same topic was also dealt with at last year’s International Conference for Reformed Education, held in Lunteren, the Netherlands. The subject was introduced by Dr. Pieter Vos, who chairs the lectorate Moral Education at the Reformed University of Applied Sciences (the Gereformeerde Hogeschool) in Zwolle and is also a lecturer in Ethics at the Protestant Theological University in Kampen.

Dr. Vos has kindly allowed us to post a slightly adapted version of his lecture, which gives information on the theory and history of character education. For those who are interested also in the practical application of virtue education and in its methodology: Last year two books were published in the Netherlands dealing with these aspects. For details see the conclusion of Dr. Vos’s lecture under our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.