By Doug Blomberg
This post is part of an ongoing symposium interacting with Lambert Zuidervaart's book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. For more responses to the book, see our table of contents.
I hesitate to write the response I have been invited to give to the Introduction to Lambert Zuidervaart's new book, given the time frame available and the fact that I am currently a long way from home, hunkered down in a basement apartment in Washington on what has been a weekend of historic snowfalls, without access to books, articles and other sources. However, I do not feel I should resile from this opportunity to mark and hopefully honour what my longtime friend and colleague has offered to us, so I am determined to bite the bullet. For this collection of essays, volume one of two to be published, is a great gift to the Reformational community, to Christian scholars and others generally, and to all those who are concerned to reflect and act on the need of our world for radical and comprehensive social transformation – both radical and comprehensive because it is rooted in the sacrifice of Jesus by which all things everywhere, and in all times, will be reconciled.
Zuidervaart is a scholar – I was tempted to say, through and through, but he is of course much more than this. His vocation, in the narrow but commonly understood sense, is scholarship, including of course, teaching. He is an intensely-focused, dedicated and consummate practitioner of his craft. Like all of those who take a stand within the Reformational tradition (and many more besides, of course), he offers his scholarship in service to God and neighbour. It is scholarship devoted to glorifying his Lord and bringing flourishing life to all God's creatures, human and otherwise, and these not as individual beings in isolation from one another, but as standing in inextricable interconnectedness. Thus, his scholarship incarnates the genius of Reformational philosophy, that scholarly investigation is always accountable to everyday people in their everyday lives.
Thus, [Zuidervaart's] scholarship incarnates the genius of Reformational philosophy, that scholarly investigation is always accountable to everyday people in their everyday lives.
Zuidervaart affirms that scholarship is a traditioned undertaking; he is, like me, part of the “third generation” – my co-respondent this week, Neal DeRoo, is a member of the fourth. When one reflects that Thomism, for example, continues to be a living tradition (even when “neo” – we, after all, are “neo-Calvinists”) though several centuries have passed, we understand how short a time since this tradition was birthed, though its philosophical ancestry traces all the way back to Augustine, and further. This theme in the Introduction certainly struck me, as I have been wondering how much we continue to keep this tradition alive. “Reformational” connotes many things, of course, one of which is ongoing reformation – semper reformanda. There are now and then suggestions that it is time for us to leave Doooyeweerd and Vollenhoven behind, in which case there will be no fifth-generation Dooyeweerdians or Vollenhoveans (as the latter tend to be called, the elision being felt more felicitous). There is a fear of scholasticism, in the pejorative sense. I believe disparagement and nigh dismissal would be a gross mistake, for the work of these men and their colleagues, in the first and subsequent generations, is a treasure of which we are custodians, though we hold it in earthen vessels. The Institute for Christian Studies is one of but a few institutions founded to safeguard and further this tradition, and not all these or the individuals they comprise agree on how it is to be interpreted and nurtured. On the other side, so to speak, a colleague at the 2011 Association for Reformational Philosophy Conference questioned why Zuidervaart (a keynote speaker) seemed so intent on reinventing the wheel, when the existing concepts and frameworks were more than adequate. I empathised with his fear of dismissal and denigration, but I trust the Introduction and the chapters constituting the book will help to disabuse him of this attitude.
There will be many interlocutors in this dialogue, which will span three months. It will be a symposium with characters of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, but like its namesake, I guess it will be fundamentally about love. At least, I think this is what Lambert will hope, given at least the themes of his opening chapter. He is committed to “critical retrieval”, in which project he engages extensively in a positively critical manner with his mentors, as well as with many others.
When I spent two semesters at ICS in 1975-76, I was surprised how little Dooyeweerd figured in classes and conversations (though I was not a participant in the Philosophical Foundations seminar, as I was there primarily as a research rather than coursework student). In the Philosophical Anthropology seminar, I heard many criticisms of Dooyeweerd as a “monarchian”, a term which I did in time learn to understand. In that context, it derived from Vollenhoven, and I came to learn that many of the Senior Members had been his proteges, Bernie Zylstra alone having been mentored by Dooyeweerd. I was perforce a Dooyeweerdian, because I was restricted to English translations and reading his work pretty much on my lonesome in Australia (though later in Toronto I did translate some of Vollenhoven's Introduction to Philosophy, which Lambert cites). Lambert has done a great service in so succinctly stating not only their differences – the fissures into which he is able deftly to insert his scalpel, so as to dig deeper and open up questions deserving of deeper investigation – but also their fundamental agreements, which remain the wellspring of Reformational philosophy and themselves draw deeply on the inheritance from Kuyper. But I wonder how significantly Dooyeweerd has been interpreted at ICS the past nigh on fifty years through Vollenhovean spectacles. (The relation between “heart” and “faith” in Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven's conceptions is certainly worth exploring, though I will say I have no truck with the former's notion of the heart's “supratemporality”.)
But I wonder how significantly Dooyeweerd has been interpreted at ICS the past nigh on fifty years through Vollenhovean spectacles.
One matter on which Vollenhoven differed from Dooyeweerd, according to Zuidervaart, has to do with the “Divine Command of Love”. Now, I am not writing an introduction to the Introduction, but a response, so I will not rehearse what he has to say. (Besides, I am facing an ever more imminent deadline, which might indeed sharpen one's mind, though is just as likely to evoke anxiety.) Those of a certain generation – and I dare say, their successors, given the recent revelation that sales of past “albums” are now surpassing those of current releases for the first time – will know Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And if not the album itself (though there are students still singing “We don't need no education” in classrooms, as one or two of mine did), then its cover. This depicts light passing through a prism, and emerging the other side as a dispersed (diffused, diffracted – I have never quite found the right term) spectrum (with indigo missing). My recollection (as I said at the outset, I am presently distant from the sources I could consult to check this) is that Dooyeweerd, in The Christian Idea of the State, uses the analogy of light through a prism to illustrate how the Divine Command of Love issues in creation in modal aspects, how (modus quo) love is experienced within our timed, thus differentiated, horizon. Love is thus indeed (to be) expressed through what Dooyeweerd calls the determinative (pre-logical) dimensions of experience, not only the normative aspects.
This in turn speaks to apparent differences between the place of God's law in “the scheme of things”. I have long since been taught (after coming under Reformational tutelage forty plus years ago) and early accepted that Scripture is not a collection of propositions, the principles constituting the core of revelation that need to be separated from the narrative dross by systematic theologians. Scripture is not a theoretical tome in mufti, and neither is the Word of God spoken to us also in Christ and creation (in the comprehensive sense Zuidervaart describes). Now there is every chance I have misread Dooyeweerd, but what I have understood is that there is no access to eternal Ideas or Forms outside the realm of concrete events, i.e, history, in which the incarnation of Christ is pivotal. Normative formulations and actions are ever a result of struggle between good and evil, between grace and sin. They are accessible and only gained through historical struggle – the indispensability of human positivisation cannot be denied, nor the direction it should take toward love be gainsaid. It may well be the case that Dooyeweerd knew this in his heart but could not articulate it clearly in his philosophising; but I would not take this for granted.
Normative formulations and actions are ever a result of struggle between good and evil, between grace and sin.
My doctoral research was inspired by Dooyeweerd. When I commenced this project, I was not at all sure where this inspiration would lead; I just knew that there was something quite significant in this way of honouring the fundamental role of religion/spirituality in scholarship, as in all of life (something quite missing from my experience as an evangelical undergraduate on a secular campus). It led me to what I termed “the ways of knowing thesis”, which was not, as many have assumed, the recognition of diversity on the “objective” but on the “subjective” side (avowedly in the context of an integral subject-object relation, in which ontology does encompass epistemology). That is to say, it has to do with how the knowing subject orients toward entities, rather than just the multi-dimensional ways in which entities reveal/present themselves to us. Though Lambert's exploration of different modes of truth is far more sophisticated than mine, it nonetheless has, I believe, the same roots. I will not elaborate, but I am struck by the resonance between Lambert's engagement with the practice of art (and not only aesthetics) and mine with the practice of education, both being stimuli respectively to adjust our theoretical frameworks so they are accountable to everyday experience – again, the “genius” of Reformational philosophy. I dare to suggest that, for both of us in our own fields, a primary motivation was to combat the hegemony of “logic”, “Reason” or “technical rationality” so that the vastly rich complexity of this creation which God placed in our care and the incredible diversity of God's image-bearers could be fully realised. If we both learnt one thing from both Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven and their successors, it is that religion (spirituality) is the mainspring of life, and that in this our lives should be directed in all things to love of God and neighbour.
Oh, after “finishing” this, one more thing came to mind, one difference between Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven Lambert did not mention that I think is important: the latter's insistence on a “Scriptural philosophy”. This is definitely worthy of further exploration, though Seerveld and Hart, among others, have practised this in ways worthy of emulation.
Doug Blomberg was drawn to ICS by the pull of a Reformational vision of life, one of cosmic redemption. His dissertation was entitled "The Development of Curriculum with Relation to the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea", a deliberately vague description as he really did not know where it would take him. As it turned out, his career as a teacher, teacher educator and administrator, first of all in Australia, and for the past thirteen years in Canada, has been deeply informed and continually enriched by this tradition. He currently serves as President of ICS and Senior Member in Philosophy of Education.
Image used under Creative Commons, from Wikipedia.
Image used under Creative Commons, from Wikipedia.