(Editor’s Note: This article was submitted for possible placement in the Standard Bearer by Mr. Bernie Postma, member of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa. Because of the importance of the subject of the Dooyeweerdian Philosophy and the related AACS, or “Toronto,” Movement, we are placing it in two installments. As is always the case, placement does not imply endorsement by the Standard Bearer or its editor.)
The Banner of April 22, 1977 carried a rather long article written by Dr. H. Evan Runner, of Calvin College, entitled, “Dooyeweerd’s Passing—An Appreciation.”
Although I am not a professional philosopher, I shall nevertheless attempt to set forth clearly my reactions to some of his statements, along with reiterating what I have always believed to be the Reformed position over against the Dooyeweerdian view of the Scriptures.
In the light of the Bible, God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, which all mean exactly the same, I intend to present my reactions in the following order with respect to:
II.Dooyeweerd’s view of the Bible;
III.How the Bible is viewed by some of Dooyeweerd’s pupils.
I. Runner’s article
The more I reread his article the more I cannot escape the basic concept Runner seems to convey, namely, that fundamental to the deep underlying problems related to the various sciences are other problems of a deep philosophical nature. For, talking about a rabid proliferation of the special sciences in the nineteenth century, he writes: “At first the view had prevailed (positivism) that the special sciences were self-sufficient, that is, that they could make it on their own, were structurally unrelated to philosophy” (italics added). And further: “But it gradually became clear to a great many investigators that every special science was running up against foundational problems of aphilosophic sort” (italics added). And, finally, in the same context he writes: “By the end of the first World War what philosophy itself needed, if it was to develop soundly in this new situation was men whose general philosophical abilities were related to an informed awareness of these philosophical questions that lie at the foundation of each of the special sciences” (italics added).
A little later, in a different context, referring to the historical background of Dooyeweerd’s rise and his emerging Christian perspective, Runner says: “Thus, Dooyeweerd came to general philosophical questions by way of a study of the philosophical questions that lie at the foundation of the law sciences.”
Now, really, with all due respect for the person of Dr. Runner, does not all of this sound very much like going around in circles? We know, do we not, that by going around in circles we never get to the point, always ending up where we started from. We may take several people with us, walking or even running as fast in a circle as we like; but we are not getting anywhere, although we “Christians” might think or feel that as a “community” we are really “on the way,” according to Runner. However, it should be rather obvious that all this “running around” is nothing but self-deception. For, it is simply not true that the “deep problems” which lie at the bottom of the special sciences would be of a philosophical nature, including even the science of philosophy. If this were true, this would elevate philosophy to a level above all other sciences, including theology; and it would mean that all problems would be solved as soon as we have found the philosophic answers. Then, philosophically speaking, we might conclude, for instance, that at the bottom of the philosophic problems of the science of philosophy lie problems of a deep philosophical nature which can or must be solved in the philosophical way, including those philosophical problems which lie at the bottom of theology. Well, if this is not going around and around on the philosophical merry-go-round, I don’t know what else this is. Is it any wonder that a well-known minister in the Christian Reformed Church made the remark, “The study of philosophy is a waste of time; I’d rather study the Bible”?
Fact is, that basic to the deep problems many “investigators” of the many special sciences run up against is a spiritual problem, relating to the true knowledge and childlike fear of Jehovah, and to the everyday worship of Him in spirit and in truth according to God’s Word, the Bible. This is what the Bible clearly teaches us in Colossians 1:16,17: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” “Whom we preach,” so the holy apostle Paul continues in vs. 28, “warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” And now, spiritually speaking—we are talking about “deep problems,” are we not?—what has the unbelieving investigator-philosopher in common with Christ Jesus? Nothing at all! No wonder he has problems! What has the unbelieving theologian in common with Christ Jesus? Nothing at all! And, consequently, he does encounter foundational problems, too! The general church world, even the churches which are called or call themselves Reformed, are pregnant with theological nonsense, because the pure wisdom of God in Christ. Jesus has been replaced on many pulpits with philosophical hullabaloo!
And so we could continue. Every unbeliever pursuing any kind of science—he might even have acquired one or more doctor’s titles!—apart from true faith in God, that is, apart from a heartfelt reliance upon and a sincere and humble subjection to the Bible, indeed runs up against all sorts of insurmountable problems, because he fails to see the unity of all the sciences, special or non-special, in Christ Jesus. Consequently, these problems are of a deep spiritual nature, and are not of a philosophic sort, as Runner wants us to believe.
Two prominent Reformed men, the late Dr.. Abraham Kuyper and the late Dr. Klaas Schilder, of the Netherlands—to mention only two of several—had the courage of their heartfelt conviction by the grace of God to state emphatically that all true science, that is, the true study of the various sciences in accordance with and in humble subjection to the Bible will invariably lead to God, our Creator, of Whom, through Whom, and unto Whom are all things.
There is no conflict between the true study of any science, which obviously can only be performed by, the true child of God, and the Word of God, the Bible. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in Whom all things consist, and Who upholds all things by the power of His might—He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the Supreme Wisdom, also when it pertains to the study of any science, special or non-special.
But, so the reader might ask, what is the argument? Did not both men, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd, want to establish a Christian philosophy distinct from all the secular philosophies so prevalent in an unbelieving world? And, therefore, this philosophy is based upon the Bible, is it not? And so, again, what is the argument?
In spite of a sincere desire on the part of both Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd to establish a Christian philosophy (I have no reason to doubttheir integrity and sincerity), it is my heartfelt belief and conviction that their starting point was wrong. Runner himself indicates this when he says, “Thus they (Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd, B.P.) came to see the urgent need for a general Christian philosophical theory.” A few remarks about this statement should suffice. The words general and Christian are mutually exclusive. The word Christian implies separation, antithesis, unique, very special, all referring to God’s sovereign grace in the Lord Jesus Christ whereby He elects some to eternal bliss and reprobates others to eternal damnation in hell. What is so general about being Christian? The Bible and our Reformed Confessions are unmistakably clear when it comes to these matters pertaining to election and reprobation. The expression “general Christian” is therefore a contradiction in terms.
From the very start, though perhaps not in so pronounced a form as came to manifestation later on, this philosophy was fundamentally an effort to unite all Christians of all kinds of “colors” from all denominations under one roof. This is an unbiblical “ecumenical” spirit so prevalent in our age, a strife for unity at the expense of the truth of the Bible. And it simply won’t work. Think, for instance, of “Key 73,” which was at best a religionistic flop.
Wanting to deny the existence of such an “ecumenical”‘ spirit in the Dooyeweerdian philosophy would mean to assume a position contrary to plain fact, but above all contrary to Scripture and Confession, which we might illustrate with the following historical example.
When the late Dr. Dooyeweerd came to Canada in October, 1961 to meet with the board of the A.R.S.S., the Association for Reformed Scientific Studies, headquartered in Toronto, and the forerunner of the present day A.A.C.S., he urged the Board as follows:“to seek for a basis for the Association which would not bind him to the creeds of the Church, but would set forth clearly the Scriptural demands for a reformation of theoretical thought.”
The adoption by the Board of the A.R.S.S. of this ill-conceived suggestion caused an ever increasing polarization and confusion within the Reformed Churches. And, by the way, in 1967 the name of the Association was changed to A.A.C.S., the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship—whatever is meant by the word “Christian”—right after the Institute for Christian Studies (I.C.S.) was established in Toronto.
What Dooyeweerd suggested, based upon and in harmony with his personal philosophically oriented thought patterns, is a contradiction in terms, and a very serious one indeed. We must well remember that what God has joined together throughout the history of His church no man can or has a right to put asunder without provoking His righteous wrath. If the creeds of the church are considered not good enough, not broad enough, inferior, or even if they are considered an obstacle in the way for true church unity, it follows irrevocably that the Bible is also under attack. The creeds, sealed with the blood of the martyrs—being the seed of the church!—are the expression of an heartfelt conviction of the church of God with respect to the eternal truths of the Word of God, the Bible, and the God of that Bible. To try to separate the two, Scripture and Confession, either in practice or theory, does not only lead to absurdities, but is downright wicked. Such separation results in a situation wherein ultimately we have nothing left, neither Scripture nor Confession: for God Himself, bestowing His sovereign grace in the history of His church, joined those two together! Do we not see all around us an ever increasing ignorance, coupled with an ever growing indifference and disdain for the creeds of the church? And must not the same conclusion be drawn with respect to the Bible, God’s Holy Word?
A second remark concerns the reality of sin. It is my conviction that this philosophy, known as De Wyssbegeerte der Wets-idee, which means “The Philosophy of the Law Idea,” does not take into account sufficiently the tremendous and horrible reality of sin and the salvation from sin through the unimaginable sufferings and agonies of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is why we must be careful with human theories, regardless of how Christian-like they might sound. Every theory originates in the thoughts of man. God tells us through His prophet Jeremiah 17:9, that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Furthermore, we read inGenesis 6:5: “. . . every imagination of the thoughts’ of his heart was only evil continually.” These words and many more passages from Holy Writ which deal with the corruptness of man in all his thoughts, words, and deeds, should warn us to be constantly on our guard for any man-made theory. No wonder that God instructs us to test the spirits whether they are of God! This implies (and the practice of our daily lives demonstrates this very clearly) that instead of establishing a Christian philosophical theory, the outcome of such an endeavor, in spite of serious intentions, is a philosophically oriented or dominated man-made theory covered with a layer of “Christian” veneer. To contradict this would not only mean a headlong rushing up against the plain facts of life, but would also mean taking a position contrary to the clear teachings of the Bible. God says to His apostle Paul inColossians 2:8: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of man, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
Fundamentally speaking, this “Philosophy of the Law-Idea” wants to be synthetical, rather than Biblically antithetical. Let us well remember that it is God Himself Who established the antithesis! Let me quote in this regard another one of Runner’s statements: “During these years (up to World War II, B.P.) in tense discussions began with Roman Catholic philosophers and theologians, which have profoundly effected Roman Catholic thought in the Netherlands.. In other words, what the Holy Spirit apparently was not able, or rather, not willing to do, namely, to bring about a unity between Roman Catholics and the posterity of the Reformation, the “Christian” philosophy was considered able to accomplish? I am sure that Prof. Runner does not mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit; but such a statement is not only contrary to plain facts as God made them to happen in and through His church, but also contrary to God’s Word. Fundamentally, Roman Catholicism has not changed; with its Mary cult and other blasphemous anti-Biblical dogmas it has grown worse over the years and it does not apologize for what it stood for in the past and what it stands for today. But the fact is that the children of the Reformation have changed drastically. Of course, the principles of the sixteenth century Reformation, whereby God in His infinite mercy by His sovereign grace delivered His church from the horrible grip of the spiritual darkness of the Middle Ages, are still the same. These principles will not change, but will forever remain the same: for they are in full agreement with, are solidly founded upon, and are established in heart-felt subjection to the eternal Word of God, the Bible. Consequently, between the system of Roman Catholicism and the principles of the Reformation stood the Bible, and still today stands the Bible. To make philosophy, even Christian philosophy, the binding force of all religions is an effort not worthy of Biblical consideration.