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Archive for the ‘herman dooyeweerd’ Category

Van Til and the Limit of Reason

This is a book that has been recently published towards the end of 2013 by Chalcedon Foundation. This work is a compilation of writings by R.J. Rushdoony by his son Mark Rushdoony on the insight of the Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til. When I first heard about this work I wanted to get it because Rushdoony was one of Van Til’s early expositor, having written several works expounding his ideas and also applying his apologetics towards other areas as well. Rushdoony’s The One and the Many is one such example in which Van Til’s argument that the Trinity is the solution to the philosophical problem of the one and the many gets some more pages of application especially in the area of critiquing political philosophy. In Van Til and the Limit of Reasons, the first part of the book (chapters 1-3) was originally a booklet on Van Til that Rushdoony wrote for the Modern Thinkers Series in 1960. I have seen this booklet once at a used Christian bookstore years ago and haven’t been able to find it since, so I am happy to see it being republished as three chapters in this present work. I’m also happy that this will also reach a newer audience in our modern world of kindle and the internet. According to the beginning of the book, chapters four through seven are published for the first time. Chapter three is the longest chapter of the book and what seems to me the meat of the book. Rushdoony has a good and memorable analogy from the children story of the Emperor having no clothes to illustrate the task of Christian apologetics: we are exposing the uniblical worldview and philosophy around us as intellectually bankrupt and empty. In this chapter Rushdoony quotes heavily from Van Til’s syllabus Metaphysic of Apologetics and Van Til’s essay titled “Nature and Scripture” in a compilation work by Westminster Theological Seminary titled The Infallible Word. Van Til’s Metaphysic of Apologetics is better known by it’s later publication title A Survey of Christian Epistemology. On page 45 Rushdoony has an excellent discussion distinguishing the difference between ultimate and immediate starting point. This is helpful for readers who might be struggling with the objection that some people have that as human beings we practically begin our starting point with ourselves and what we experience. Van Til’s point was to distinguish between our immediate starting point and the foundation for those starting point, what he calls the ultimate starting point. One of the things I like about reading Rushdoony is following the trail of endnotes of the fascinating documentation of what people think and say. The first half of the book quotes work heavily from the first half of the twentieth century but the second half of the book even quote a work as recent as the 1990s (remember, Rushdoony died in 2001). For the end notes, there is a mistake in which chapter six is titled “Rationalism and Sentimentalism” and chapter seven is titled “The Irrationalism of Rationalism.” It should be the other way around. Examining the end notes and the date of the publication of the works cited made me realized at how old some of these chapters have been written—not necessarily a bad thing but it made me appreciate just how early Rushdoony came around to Van Til’s apologetics and further examine his heavy reading load in light of a Van Tillian framework. The fact that it was written very early also made it valuable to me in terms of historical insight; there are several instances I was surprised to see references to Herman Dooyeweerd. For instance chapter two suggests the optimism of Reformed philosophy during the early days of Dooyeweerd, Van Til and other translators of Dutch Reformed philosophy. I realized Rushdoony’s son in law later published The Twilight of Western Civilization and I can’t help but to imagine Rushdoony had something to do with it but in the end Van Til and Dooyeweerd ended up disagreeing.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as the first work for someone new to Presuppositional apologetics to read; it require some familiarity with Van Til’s theme and a knowledge of philosophers such as Kant, Hume, etc. But I would recommend this if you want to see how Van Til’s idea eventually shape Rushdoony, and in turn Rushdoony’s application of Van Til here and elsewhere.

Note: Available on Kindle.

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Many of Dooyeweerd’s work have not been translated into English and those who are familiar with Dooyeweerd’s philosophy are typically among Reformed Christians. Given how little of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy exists in English, this particular book is unique in that it goes beyond just an introduction to this Dutch Reformed philosopher but also constructive criticism from a capable theologically Reformed philosopher. The author Ronald Nash does a good job introducing the gist of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy and ends the book summarizing the positive contribution and negative criticism of “Amsterdam” philosophy. Some might have been aware of Nash’s critique at times has the flavor of Gordon Clark, with the criticism of definitions and possible equivocation. Nash does a fair job of giving Dooyeweerd the benefit of the doubt and the bulk of his criticism is quite legitimate. Most serious in my view is Dooyeweerd’s concept of religion as distinct from theology, and whether the aspects or modes relate to one another as the way Dooyeweerd always states it. Their is no doubt that Dooyeweerd’s general insight is valuable in Christian philosophy and apologetics such as the concept of the inter-relationship of spheres and distinct laws for different modes, or how the autonomous man’s idolatry tend to reduce one sphere as absolute and thereby result in irrationality. This book takes Dooyeweerd’s contribution seriously yet critically and no doubt a benefit to the reader.

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I wished I have earlier gotten around to reading some of the Christian philosophers from the Dutch Reformed tradition.  The name Herman Dooyeweerd is probably the better known name for those new to it such as myself.  In the introduction of the book that Presuppositionalist thinker R. J. Rushdoony wrote, he stated that the book “In the Twilight of Western Thought” was a good guide to Herman Dooyeweerd other larger work, A New Critique of Theorethical Thought.  The orientation which drives my review of this book is basically VanTillian.  I have found that the work was helpful in providing further food for thought when it comes to critiquing Secular thought.

The first two chapters was devoted to the pretended autonomy of Philosophical Thought.  Seeing how these two chapters unfolded his “Transcedental Method”, I wished he could have defined more clearly what he meant by autonomy as well.  His insight with the modes of experience is fascinating, and a useful way of thinking about aspects of theorethical thought (6-7).  It was wonderful to see Dooyeweerd stress the interdependency of these modes (spatial, movement, organic, energy, etc), which would be the key to why he sees autonomous reasoning apart from the Transcendent God of the Bible is logically futile to begin with: Whenever man idolize something else as absolute in place of GOD, idolators in essence make an aspect of reality (mode) absolute.  But each of these modes require the necessity blocks of the other modes and hence no mode can not be the final foundation which everything stems from.  It is idolatry of various modes (history, economic, biological etc)  in place of God that result in the various “isms” of philosophy (historicism, logical positivism, Darwinism, etc).  Whatever is the foundation of theorethical thought in its entirety, it must transcend the level of philosophy found in each modes.  Another wonderful insight was how he saw the history of Western Civilization as driven by four motives, which is at core “religious”.  Three of these are dialectical: 1.) The Greek’s “Form vs. Matter”; 2.) the Scholastic’s Nature vs. Grace, 3.) and Nature vs. Freedom.  Contrary to these pretended autonomous starting point is Scripture’s Creation, Fall, Redemption Motive.

There are however, somethings that brought some red flags with this book.  Dooyeweerd sees religion as the ultimate foundation of man, including theorethical thought.  This I agree with, but he makes a distinction between religion and theology, a distinction that is rather difficult for me to accept.  According to Dooyeweerd, religion as “the spiritual basic motive”, “is elevated above all theological controversies and is not in need of theological exegesis, since its radical meaning is exclusively explained by the Holy Spirit operating in our opened hearts, in the communion of this Spirit” (Pg. 146).  Yet, this ‘religion’ of the heart is to be distinguished from the content of theology or exegesis.  The Christian religion that he stated is  the Creation, Fall and Redemption motif, but there is more content that needs to believed than that to be a Christian: There is the doctrines of the Trinity, Jesus Incarnation, etc, all which human arrived at through exegesis.  Yet exegesis is in Dooyeweerd’s view, part of the theological mode which has nothing to do with religion.  His terms are not helpful here.

Dooyeweerd himself stated that “it might seem a dangerous enterprise for a nontheologian to speak concerning the relation between philosophy and theology” (Pg. 113).  Because of his concept of the faith mode, which is where theology belongs in Dooyeweerd’s perspective, he dismisses six day creationism since this is the result of faith mode interfereing improperly into other modes such as astronomy and astronomy (Pg. 149-150).  He even think that six day creationism is the result of “Greek philosophy” rather than an exegesis of Genesis One!  I believe in six day creationism on the basis of the grammatical rule concerning the use of numbers in the Hebrew language, and it strikes me that the autonomy apart from God which he has tried to argue for, is sneaked back in with the independence of certain spheres and modes from the rule of what God’s Word might have to say in those spheres.  It boils down to the question of whether Dooyeweerd would allow the Scripture to speak on other spheres.

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