Thursday, March 22, 2012

Herman Dooyeweerd Traps Calvinist Lightning Bugs

Dooyeweerd reminds me of catching lightning bugs when visiting family in the US. Once you catch the lightning bug you put it in your jar, but not long and the light goes out. In similar fashion Dooyeweerd gives the impression that he thinks he can catch faith in his "ground motive jar" and that's the end of it. It looses strength and slowly dies like a trapped lightning bug.
Dooyeweerd's philosophy is built on his personal summary of Christian faith, which he called ground motive:
  •  Creation
  •  Fall
  •  Redemption
On a sidenote,  as we can read in the linked to passage he has no problem using "common grace" as part of the justification for his theories:
'The fall redirected the human heart, it did not change the creation ordinances, for God preserves these ordinances through common grace."
He claims in that same quote:
"Thus the Christian ground motive is a leaven that ought to permeate all things, radically changing a person's view of the state and societal spheres as it comes to acknowledge their true principles."
Herman Dooyeweerd's Ground Motive is what links him to Francis Schaeffer and Cornelis van Til. As William Edgar wrote in 2005:
 "Schaeffer's first book, Escape from Reason, shows a decided influence from Herman Dooyeweerd. A Dutch friend, professor of History of Art at the Free University, wrote extensively to Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Seminary, urging him to give his former student a fair hearing"
Roel Kuiper, another Dooyeweerd disciple, says in his article "State As Unifier":
"Dooyeweerd's starting point was the nature and functions of the state, taking it to exist in fact for public justice"
A typical example of the Dooyeweerdian circular logic. Why would we take Dooyeweerd's ground motive or his description of the functions of the state as starting point? It sounds completely arbitrary to me. Based on this kind of flimpsy logic I imagine someone can claim to be of the school of Cornelis van Til, Francis Schaeffer and/or Herman Dooyeweerd and attack Karl Barth, socialism or the opening of swimming pools on sunday.

This whole "ground motive" or presupposition school, in essence is the same thing if you ask me. It might give you a little respectability and win you some friends at some University here and there. But in the end it's trapping calvinism like a lightning bug in a glas jar.

After reading J. Oliver Buswell's letter exchange 1937 and critique of Cornelis van Til's "presuppositionalism" 1948, I was curious if J. Oliver Buswell had also written on Dooyeweerd's "Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee". And indeed, he has!! in april 1949. My intuition tells me this is a straight continuation of his exchange with Cornelis van Til.

In that same year Buswell wrote an article "Karl Barth's Theology" and later, in 1950, met Karl Barth together wtih Francis Schaeffer.
Buswell asked Karl Barth two questions in that brief encounter:

“In a brief conversation with Karl Barth in Switzerland in August 1950. I referred to his Dogmatics in Outline and asked if his view of the Persons of the Trinity, as there expressed, was not Sabellianism. ‘Well, you could call it Sabellianism,’ he frankly replied. Barth sometimes denies that he is a ‘modalist.’ But my esteemed colleague, Dr. Alan Killen, who is a specialist and critic in the field of the Barthian type of theology, tells me that a careful analysis of Barth’s views shows that he really is a modalist, or Sabellian.”
“In the conversation above referred to, I asked Professor Barth how he explained the prayers of Jesus and His sayings in which He spoke objectively of the Father and of the Spirit. His reply was to the effect that in speaking of the Deity the difference between subject and object completely disappears. I said, ‘Is that not then mysticism?’ to which he replied, ‘Well, you could call it mysticism.’” (A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, pp. 123-24) "

As found by Louis McBride in Buswell's Systematic Theology of The Christian Religion, which is probably a very valuable book to read.
Francis Schaeffer on why Faith and Westminster split (in 1937):
"The Reformed emphasis was very much beyond what I was sure the Bible taught and in fact what Calvin taught" He told a prospective student that the Westminster professors "have so stressed the sovereignty of Go that they have reduced man's free agency to mere responsibility,"
A quote that says a lot.

Another investigative post on Francis Schaeffer's relation to Buswell and van Til.

 Ricardo Quadros Gouvea, who has studied in Westminster, claims van Til is inferior to Dooyeweerd because van Til was part of the fundamentalist Presbyterian movement.  He calls van Til sectarian and fideistic. Interesting how van Til is attacked by a Dooyeweerd supporter and by the Scottisch realist old Princetonian Buswell. Sounds to me van Til must have felt pretty lonely at times.


Dr Ian Ridgway said...

You speak about Creation-Fall-Redemption (CFR) being Dooyeweerd's personal summary of the Christian faith. No one who has read anything of D would understand CFR in this way. Dooyeweerd was trying to give expression to the power of the Holy Spirit that drives the hearts of Christians as they pursue their callings before God's face. His philosophy which was always provisional for him--only the Word of God was reliable and trustworthy--with his decided criticism being directed towards his own work. He urged others to be critical of their own work, not just the work of others.
You talk about 'starting points' but when one does advanced academic study one is sitting under a teacher and soaking up his/her knowledge until one day one can either build on that foundation or reject it and formulate one's own ideas.
I'm sure I would have to read more of why you seem so opposed to Dooyeweerd but more in agreement with van Til. Dooyeweerd's great strength is that his philosophical starting point was 'naive' experience. I don't know any other philosophy who took 'naive' experience as a given in the way that Dooy did.
It's important to read his 'In the Twilight of Western Thought' because these are lectures he gave in the US and are repetitive because of that fact. But being so they allow us to see the things that Dooy was centrally concerned about as a philosopher.

Vincent Harris said...

I'm still searching for a convincing argument that demonstrates the added value of this (supposedly) Christian philosophy.

To start with the basics, one misunderstanding that I would like to address, I don't agree more with van Til.

I am actually in agreement with J. Oliver Buswell who essentially sees Cornelis van Til's as a branch of the Dooyeweerdian tree.

J. Oliver Buswell read "Transcendental Problems of Philosophic Thought : An Inquiry into the Transcendental Conditions of Philosophy", and wrote:

"The notion that human reason is not autonomous, in the sense that God has created it so, is, in this little book from Amsterdam, quite suggestive of a basically pantheistic attitude."

In examining van Til's book "Common Grace" J. Oliver Buswell goes on to explain how this affects van Til's understanding of fall and redemption.

Thanks for your comment, often hard to distinguish between strategic or calculated agreement with Dooyeweerd (in Klaas Schilder) and genuince appreciation. In my assessment it's a mix of both and it also depends on the context.

Dr Ian Ridgway said...

Is Buswell a philosopher though? The point is that scientific theology requires a philosophy as Dooyeweerd ably demonstrates in In the Twilight of Western Thought.
The reason for that is because both are dependent on theoretical thought or propose theories and hypotheses.
But, philosophy has an overall, general mandate over reality (but only as a science) whereas theology, Christian theology, focuses specifically on Christian faith expressed in a community saved by the gospel of redemption. (You can of course know little or barely no theology and still be saved; the same is the case for philosophy. No one is saved by having the right philosophy or theology but by looking to the right Saviour which is Jesus our Lord.)
However, if folk want to work in the scientific disciplines (say, psychology) it is delusional to think that getting your theology right will help you to get your psychology right. To come to understand what psychology ought to study is to have recourse to philosophy of some sort and that is where Dooyeweerd's work is of importance.
I don't understand the objection to common grace that you speak about. If we look at Proverbs we find so much proverbial wisdom there that can be found by anyone living in this world that God has made. From where did these pagans get that knowledge?
I would say from common grace, the grace we experience everyday where God sends sun and rain on the just and the unjust. How would you describe all these common experiences of divine gifting but grace?

Vincent Harris said...

J. Oliver Buswell, in the article that I quote, does not claim that scientific theology does not require philosophy, on the contrary. Buswell disagrees with essential parts of Dooyeweerd's philosophy.

I like Bavinck's introduction to his dogmatics when he writes:

"Not just the believer, but also the dogmatician has to confess the communion of Saints. Only with all the saints can he understand, what the width and length and depth and height is and confess the love of Christ, that surpasses all knowledge. First in and by their communion does he understand the dogma, in which Christian faith expresses itself."

I pointed in a sidenote to Dooyeweerd's use of "common grace" without discussing it further. It's noteworthy to me while the term played a role in the debate of Klaas Schilder's work during the thirties and fourties. I might investigate it at some point.

The Free University needed a philosophy, I understand your point, but instead of searching to connect with scottish realism at Old Princeton, Dooyeweerd built on the work of Franz Baader It's an interesting choice that created tensions among Calvinists everywhere.

Chris Gousmett said...

Vincent, you cite Buswell's critical comments on Dooyeweerd but these critical comments are themselves open to criticism. Buswell

does not seem to understand Dooyeweerd's basic points.
Firstly, he is rather dismissive of what Dooyeweerd calls the "idea of law." Dooyeweerd's point is that every philosophy

has its own "idea of law" which covers mutual relations, unity, and origin. But giving an account of what a philosophy says on

these subjects, you have discovered its "idea of law." That is, the basic conceptions which underly the philosophy. This is an

essential task for philosophers in order to understand opposing philosophies.
Secondly, Buswell dismisses Dooyeweerd's opposition to the "autonomy of human reason." This does not mean that human reason is an

emanation from God in a pantheistic sense. It means simply in Calvinistic terms, that human "reasoning" (Dooyeweerd does not

accept the existence of "reason" as a faculty but only a function or activity of "reasoning" which humans can undertake) must be

in submission to the Word of God. Kant on the other hand considered that human reason can function "autonomously" that is,

generating its own laws, and leading to the revolutionary slogan of 1789, "accept no law except that which we choose to submit

ourselves to." Calvinism (as represented by Dooyeweerd) claims that we must submit to the Law of God whether we will or no, and

any claim to be able to make our own laws is delusion.
Dooyeweerd does not deny that God created human beings in his image. He does deny that this created status made us creatures who

can stand independent of God and able to reason on the basis of only those rules which reason can accept. When compared with the

Calvinist tradition, it is Dooyeweerd who proves true to this and Buswell who departs from it.

Chris Gousmett said...

Vincent, a further comment:

Buswell criticises Dooyeweerd's views of modal aspects of reality. Buswell takes this to mean that reality as such does not exist

and that creation is therefore a myth. Dooyeweerd is rejecting the idea of substance which is given form, with substance able to

exist as such apart from being formed. Rather, Dooyeweerd rejects this pagan Greek notion and advocates a Biblical view of the

created nature of every thing that exists, which exists not as substance with form, but as actual things which display a diversity

of modes of functioning. Dooyeweerd is not saying that there is no reality but that there is no "juridical" reality,

"economic" reality, "biotical" reality and so on, as if these were things that exist in and of themselves as separate entities.

Instead, every thing displays in various ways these diverse modes of functioning and this demonstrates their submission to the way

God created reality and which can be discerned and interpreted by human beings in these terms.
Dooyeweerd does not say what Buswell assumes about the poles of "nature" and "freedom" (now the preferred term rather than

"liberty"). but Dooyeweerd argues that humanism has an inherent bipolar dialectic in that it can support either "nature" or it can

support "freedom" but it cannot support both. Dooyeweerd is not saying that the nature of reality is incompatible with freedom. He

is saying that on the religious basis of humanism nature and freedom are irreconcilable. Christians do not absolutise one

or the other and thus can see how both the created character of things operate in genuine freedom, which can be achieved to its

full only in Christ who alone makes us free.
Dooyeweerd accepts that God is separate from all that is created (indeed his philosophy is incomprehensible without this basic

distinction) but he denies the autonomous character of human beings as advocated by Buswell. Instead he says that human beings are

dependent on God for everything including their reasoning.
Dooyeweerd (and others in this school of thought) have indeed built upon the foundations of Kuyper and Bavinck. But it was not

done uncritically, and through deeper acquaintance of their thought than Buswell seems to show, has exposed the scholastic

rationalist components of their thought, and enabled a develpment of philosophy beyond what Kuyper and Bavinck managed to achieve.
A deeper acquaintance with genuine analysis of Dooyeweerd's though shows Buswell's comments to be superficial and glib, and unable

to discern how Dooyeweerd had exposed the tensions and contradictions in his thought.

Bruce C Wearne said...


Thankyou for drawing attention to Buswell's critique even though I am in strong agreement with both of your antipodean interlocators. You are now surrounded by three from the South West Pacific region!

The Dooyeweerd I have known from reading him for over 40 years is not really present in Buswell's critical review, although had I been made aware of it earlier it might have helped me to understand the provenance of some incessant theologistic chatter over the years about Dooyeweerd's alleged gnostic tendencies. The assertion that Dooyeweerd built his philosophy on that of Franz Baader, either consciously or sub/un- consciously is simply baseless speculation.

BRUCE WEARNE Point Lonsdale, Australia

Vincent Harris said...

Chris, to understand the heart of Buswell's approach it's instructive to read his review of van Til's book "common grace" in wich Buswell's main concern comes to light in the sentence: "Federal theology, or covenant theology, is based upon the representative principle which is logically ruled out when Platonic realism is applied to original sin,— ruled out when distinct individual created identity and a measure of genuine created autonomy is denied to individual men."

To explain Dooyeweerd's opposition to autonomy of human reason you put forward two of Dooyeweerd's arguments:

1)Dooyeweerd’s opposition to the autonomy of human reason means that human reasoning must be in submission to the Word of God.
2)Calvinism (and Dooyeweerd) claims that we must submit to the Law of God wether we will or no And any claim to be able to make our own laws is delusion

In my understanding these two are very different arguments.

The first reminds me of 2 Corinthians 10:5 "we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ"

The second reminds me of Kuyper's stone lectures: "the sovereignty of the biblical God over all aspects of reality, life, thought, and culture"

Those two arguments aren't sufficient to exclude the autonomy of reason as understood by Buswell "to mean simply that God has created human reason with real but limited powers, just as He has given dogs and cats the power to walk alone."

Chris Gousmett said...

Vincent, that explains where you are coming from but it needs to be examined a little more fully. Buswell says that covenantal theology cannot be sustained if "genuine created autonomy is denied to individual men." Dooyeweerd would say that the claim to autonomy ("pretended" autonomy in his terms) constitutes the nature of sin, namely that we see ourselves as lawgivers rather than God. Dooyeweerd says that the refusal of human reason(ing) to submit to God is the essence of autonomy. He does not deny that humans can reason (verb) in ways ascribed by God and limited by His laws. Refusal to be constrained by those laws (e.g. in speculation about God and in defining for ourselves what constitutes the laws of the creation in a way which denies their origin from the Creator) is thus autonomy - being self-lawed. Where does Buswell object to this and if so why?

Bruce C Wearne said...

Yes I think I've come across this use of "autonomy" at work in American sociology - what I would call a distinctively "American" (pragmatist-operationalist) view of "autonomy" which tries to merge it with the idea of independent integrity - i.e. something having its own characteristics which then emerges in time to guarantee its own distinctiveness (sounds something like the (ideology of the) American Declaration of Independence wouldn't you say?) - with the resultant notion of a freedom that arises from the assertion of (or ownership of) a self-sufficient reality.

In that sense what you say of Buswell's view Vincent sounds like an assertion based upon a idealist-realist synthesis. I think that this is, in fact, not so much a method of argument but an orientation to reality that is very close to what van Til puts forward in his final chapter in the Defense of the Faith in which Amsterdam and Old Princeton are analyzed theologically to "converge" on the same doctrinal paradigm that had come into vogue with the establishment of WTS (i.e over against "New" i.e. liberal Princeton). This is very interesting to me because it parallels very much the methodology that was used in American sociology to assert the historical synthesis between German neo-Kantian idealism and French post-positivist realism which had come to vogue in the development of a distinctively American contribution to sociology. Interesting how the nationalist theme is also very clearly discerned in Buswell's article. Interesting how the American civil-religious notion of exceptionalism is never far from the American sociological paradigm.

Vincent Harris said...

Sin in my understanding means hating God and our neighbour as the Heidelberger Catechism teaches in Sunday 2,3 and 4. Since the fall we are inclined to hate God and our neighbour. Buswell thinks a measure of genuine (not pretended) created autonomy is ascribed to man in the Scriptures. According to Buswell this is part of being human and not sin. This insistence and emphasis on the correct place of man is the signature of covenant theology and sounds similar to what Dutch theologian Klaas Schilder writes in the second book of his commentary on the Heidelberger Catechism on the importance of Jesus human nature : 'No Mediator, unless really human: homoi-ousios'(page 112). Schilder writes on page 3 of the first book of that commentary:
"Rejecting 'reason' or 'feeling' as idols is good. And he who denies the mind the sovereign right to speak does well, but he who denies the mind the right to testify (mee-spreken), does wrong.'

Chris Gousmett said...

Vincent, I can accept that sin means hating God and neighbour. "Pretended" autonomy (i.e. an autonomy which is not real) means claiming that God has no right to impose laws on us, nor do our neighbours. We are then "a law unto ourselves" and the consequence is nothing but evil.
You say that Buswell sees man as having a measure of genuine autonomy ascribed in the scriptures. Can you give more details, and explain why Buswell would disagree with Dooyeweerd's view? Surely that is merely a statement of the nature of sin: rebellion against God and refusal to accept His laws, and instead making up our own.
Can you explain how you see this being at odds with covenantal theology? It seems entirely consistent with that to me.
And I'm not sure what relevance the quote from Schilder has as it seems to support what I am saying. I also reject reason and feeling as idols, and deny the mind the sovereign right to speak, and instead want to see confession of God's sovereignty over our mind (and feeling).

Vincent Harris said...


van Til the "idealist" versus Buswell the "realist" is an easy way to frame this debate, that's true. I haven't read Defense of the Faith so I can't confirm your theory. Van Til might have done what you think he has by creating a synthesis. Very interesting indeed.

Do you also see "idealism" in Buswell's approach? If so, enlighten me. I don't see it yet.

Concerning the nationalist-theme I know it played a role in the discussion van Til- Buswell, but I'm not sure how. I can imagine Dutch calvinists to have been pretty arrogant in the first half of the twentieth century.

It seems to me the determining factors in this discussion and the split between westminster and faith, which provided the context, are theological.

Vincent Harris said...


Schilder, in the quote, also writes "but he who denies the mind the right to testify (mee-spreken), does wrong.'" Off course this is just one quote, but it's illustrative of Schilder's approach. In his dissertation 'Zum Begriffsgeschichte des paradoxons' Schilder argues that the difference between the theology of Karl Barth and Calvin is resumed in Barth's ignoring of the article of the 'accomodatio Dei'. Therefore I ask the question: can there be accomodation without "a measure of genuine created autonomy"?

Chris Gousmett said...

Vincent, to answer your question, yes, there can be an accommodation of God to us in Christ without requiring humans to have "a measure of genuine created autonomy". You haven't yet said what this autonomy actually is and what it means and how and why Buswell supports this from Scripture. I hold with Dooyeweerd that humans are not autonomous in any sense you seem to insist on, but we are in fact heteronomous - another has given us the laws and they have not originated in ourselves. You need to show that Buswell is not sub-Christian in his thought let alone his language.

Bruce C Wearne said...

Vincent you continue to use the word "autonomy" in a sense that implies a "measure of genuine created uncreatedness."

Vincent Harris said...

Chris, one quick reaction

when you say "yes, there can be an accommodation of God to us in Christ without requiring humans to have "a measure of genuine created autonomy" this creates a confusion while Calvin's understanding of the accomodation of God is twofold: On the one hand the essential part which are the qualitive and residential difference Creator/ Creature and on the other hand an accidental part which was added after the fall as French pastor Vincent BRU shows in his excellent study of this topic .

In my understanding this is directly related to our discussion on what autonomy means while when Dooyeweerd states "human reasoning must be in submission to the Word of God." this doesn't touch first half of Calvin's accomodation teaching.

Chris Gousmett said...

Vincent, from what I can find out about Buswell from the internet it seems that Buswell's apologetic approach needs to have some kind of autonomy, so that people can use inductive method starting with an objective mind considering empirical evidence and deciding from that what the truth may be. This would then be in conflict with Dooyeweerd's view that we do not have any autonomy from which we can objectively consider empirical evidence and thus for Buswell we could not reach the truth.
Dooyeweerd argues that the human heart is oriented religiously to either the true or a pretended origin of all things (God or an idolatrous substitute) and that such idolatrous substitutes thus mislead us and result in misunderstanding what we encounter in reality (which is created by God in its entirety). Autonomy is the claim that humans can arrive at the truth unaided or determine for themselves what the truth may be.
The question then would be whether Buswell's apologetic method can survive if autonomy is abandoned as Dooyeweerd says it must.
What do you think? Is this on the right track? You will know more about Buswell's views that I do.

Chris Gousmett said...

Vincent, a quick scan of that article seems to indicate dependence on a scholastic distinction between substance and accidence, which is not an approach I accept. I do not believe we can discuss God in those terms, and it is pure speculation to do so. Secondly, I do not use the concept of substance as this is a concept of pagan origin incompatible with the Biblical teaching about creation.

I see accommodation of God to mean that he communicates with us in ways which are conceivable by us (assuming the mind is renewed in Christ - the unrenewed mind cannot receive God's revelation). The supreme accommodation was his incarnation in Christ. This does not violate the distinction between God and creation, while the doctrine of substance does as there must be a way of associating both divine substance and creational substance together (otherwise they cannot both be "substance" even if we say one is divine and the other is not). Calvin may have unfortunately retained scholastic frames of thought in this regard.

Vincent Harris said...


I won’t pretend I am the expert on Buswell’s apologetics, which I am certainly not, I do however think his article on the origin and nature of sin might shed light on the heart of his apologetical method and at the same time answer the questions you raise when you ask: "what this autonomy actually is and what it means and how and why Buswell supports this from Scripture". Buswell’s apologetics and his argument from Scripture is beautifully summarized in the phrase(from that article): "In terms of Joseph's words to his brethren, we may say to every sinner in cosmic history, "As for you, ye thought evil... but God meant it [that is, permitted it] for good."

Chris Gousmett said...

Vincent, I had already read that article and it doesn't answer the question about autonomy, unless Buswell means by autonomy that human beings have "free will." Buswell said:

According to the Bible, then, sin originated in an act of free will in which the creature
deliberately, responsibly, and with adequate understanding of the issues chose to corrupt the holy
character of godliness with which God had endowed his creation.


As for this writer's opinion, the denial of free will seems to be purely arbitrary philosophical
dogmatism, contrary to the biblical view. If God is rightly angry with sin, then it follows that the sinner is blameworthy cosmically, ultimately, absolutely.

The defence of free will seems to be what Buswell means when he insists on "autonomy" but that is not certain. Do you know of any places where Buswell says what he means by autonomy? He asserts is, as in the passages you quote, but so far we are lacking in a definition of autonomy from Buswell.

Vincent Harris said...

Once I will find the exact answer to your question I will post it!

Thanks for insisting, it makes me see things I didn't notice yet. Like for example how Francis Schaeffer wrestles with this exact question in his book 'Escape From Reason'(very interesting to reread Schaeffer with the Buswell-van Til-Dooyeweerd discussion in mind). and made me reread Klaas Schilder's sermon "Het gezag, dat God onder de mensen stelt". The discussion circles around Immanuel Kant's concept of autonomy and Dooyeweerd's alternative. It also made me aware of Klaas Schilder's teaching of Philosophy and a course on Immanuel Kant (Too bad it's not available online).

Vincent Harris said...

a good article by W. Tullian Tchividjian on John Edwards view of free will REFLECTIONS ON JONATHAN EDWARDS