Thursday, January 30, 2014

US Foreign Policy Objectives in Africa & Europe

A few days ago US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in an interview 'our engagement with every country in Africa is very complex'. Yesterday we learned that the African Union's Peace and Security Council supports sending a UN force to Central Africa. At the same time Mark Leon Goldberg argued that the US likely won't support such a mission because of budget concerns.

Having followed the dynamics at play leading to the approved EU mission in the Central African Republic, I suggest an alternative reading of why the US would not want a UN mission. The US, as Obama explained in his visit to South Africa a couple of months ago, wants both European and African states to play a larger role in providing security. The meeting between Zuma and Holland in october signaled an important new chapter in US relations with both Africa and Europe. It was a European and an African president taking the lead in stabilizing Central Africa.

It's this longterm objective of having African and European states take responsibility, as Obama clearly explained in the pressconference with Zuma during his visit to South Africa, that should guide us to a better understanding of US foreign policy.

Longterm US foreign policy is aiming for less intervention by the US and more responsibility by it's friends in Europe and Africa. Put it in another way, a strong national defense does not necessarily mean more US intervention, it should actually mean less. Being tough while undermining this longterm strategy leads nowhere.

It illustrates why both Republicans that want more 'toughness' and Democrats that want humanitarian interventions can be both wrong at the same time. A longterm strategy that transcends populist narratives of people like Marvin Olasky who see Africa as a battlefield between Christianity and Islam.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Herman Bavinck's Large Shadow

Recent translation of Bavinck's Gereformeerde Dogmatiek made it possible to trace and evaluate the influence of Bavinck in Cornelius van Til's thinking. Sofar this influence has largely been seen as positive. In this blogpost I would like to point to an alternative reading and propose that Cornelius van Til took his admiration for Bavinck's dogmatics a bridge too far.

Last week's discussion of the correspondence between J. Oliver Buswell and Cornelius van Til on the Reformedforum podcast by David Owen Filson, Jeff Waddington and Camden Bucey had me (once again) look into how Cornelius van Til's views relate to those held by Klaas Schilder. I found that Klaas Schilder, in his lectures (1946-1947 and 1947-1948), did not take position against Clark in the Clark/van Til controversy. Quite to the contrary.

In his second inaugural adress, at the Free University, Herman Bavinck changed his position on the object of Theology to the arche-ectype scheme of Abraham Kuyper. Precisely this arche-ectype scheme, promoted by both Bavinck and Kuyper, is the target of Klaas Schilder's criticism in the lecture which mentions the Clark/ van Til controversy. And precisely Bavinck's arche-ectype scheme is the target of criticism by reverend Visee (moderator of the 1952 reformed(liberated) synode) in his book 'educated in the kingdom of God'. Reverend Visee quotes Bavinck who said "if God speaks to us in a divine manner, no creature would understand him." but adds (Amelink):
 'As if God could speak any other way than the divine way And lies not our salvation precisely therein that God is God and still speaks to us.'
Schilder argues that Bavinck(following Abraham Kuyper) deviates from the position held by Helenius de Cock . Both Schilder and Visee's opposition to Bavinck, in this matter, brings them closer to Buswell and Clark and clearly in opposition to Cornelius van Til while, as Laurence R. O’Donnell III writes:
 'Van Til's repeated insistence that humans can only know God analogically is likely a recapitulation of Bavinck's formulations regarding analogical knowledge of God'. 

Cornelius van Til's esteem for Bavinck's Gereformeerde Dogmatiek as 'the greatest and most comprehensive statement of Reformed systematic theology in modern times' seems to have blinded him to this fundamental debate raging in the Dutch church during the thirties which eventually led to the split in 1944.

Was it Cornelius van Til's admiration for Bavinck (apparently at the expense of Charles Hodge, see reformed forum on Buswell-van Til correspondence) that made him ignore Schilder's fundamental criticism of central elements of both Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck's work?  This suspicion is reinforced by the fact that his teacher, Louis Berkhof, 'appropriated Bavinck's theology even more pervasively'Laurence R. O’Donnell III adds ominously: 'Furthermore, Bavinck’s neo-Calvinist theology casts a large shadow over Reformed theology on both sides of the Atlantic...Several recent studies investigate Bavinck's influence upon Karl Barth,Geerhardus Vos...'. Andrew Esqueda blogged on this influence on Barth as well.

Van Til's admiration for Bavinck could well be an illustration of what Klaas Schilder, who had once studied the dogmatics of both Hodge & Bavinck under (Alexander Comrie expert) A. G. Honig, went up against in the Netherlands when he criticized important aspects of Kuyper's (& Bavinck's) work.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Where Do The Two Lines Intersect: Edwards & Witherspoon

The quantity of resources and books dedicated to the study of Jonathan Edwards are enormous and in stark contrast to the number of books that treat John Witherspoon's work. When was the last conference dedicated to the theology of John Witherspoon? In stark contrast you will find Jonathan Edwards conferences in England (february 27 2014), in Germany  , etc. John Piper's focus might have something to do with it. And when John Witherspoon's name falls, it's mostly in connection with politics. Why?

To equate theology during the Great Awakening to Johnathan Edwards would be misleading. I expect a comparison of Edwards with Witherspoon would lead to a better understanding of what they share and what should therefore be considered central to theology at Princeton.

Avihu Zakai has written a book on the philosophy of history of Johnathan Edwards in which he quotes Moltmann (teacher to Miroslav Volf) :
'Conversion as the private, spiritual experience of saving grace signifies God's indwelling in time'
A quote that helps understand the importance of Jonathan Edwards in this book:

"Edwards held that the principal source governing the historical process is God's redemptive plan, the pouring out of the Spirit of God, as made evident in revival and awakening - that is, a spiritual experience of saving grace and its embodiment in decisive historical moments in the history of the Christian churchc rather than external historical transformations. On the other hand, in contrast to New England Puritan historians who construed the Puritan migration to America during the seventeenth century as a great eshatological and apocalyptic event, establishing an essential gulf between the Old and New Worlds, Edwards abandoned the vision of the glorious New World in providential history. The redemptive process concerned all Protestants, regardless of their location."
David C. Brand writes about John Witherspoon
'"While serving as a pastor in Scotland, Witherspoon had opposed the Scottish realism, or common sense philosophy expressed in Thomas Reid's Inquiry into the Mind on the Principles of Common Sense. He had championed the evangelical cause over against the Moderate intellectuals who followed the teachings of such men as Leibnitz and Lord Shaftsbury. Immediately upon his arrival at Princeton, however, Witherspoon began publically to oppose the idealistic philosophy of George Berkeley which had tainted the Edwardsean school, treated the New Divinity theologians (including Jonathan Edwards, Jr.) with coolness, and within a year had systematically purged the college of the New England theologians."
It seems to me the best way to understand both is to compare them and see where the lines cross. John Witherspoon and Jonathan Edwards are two sides of the same Princetonian coin. Ignoring one half gives us a distorted picture.

I also expect studying John Witherspoon and John Edwards together would give us answers in the controversy surrounding Princeton's Apologetics. It could help sharpen the path Princeton saw between the Chill and Charibdis of both Idealism and Realism. It would also greatly help to put in context the sharp debate between J. Oliver Buswell and Cornelis van Til concerning apologetics. I still believe Bill Dennison's short piece on the redemptive-historical hermeneutic and preaching points to the Princetonian interesection of thought that could reconcile those attracted to the position of either Buswell or van Til. His review of David VanDrunen's Natural Law and Two Kingdoms, criticized by D. G. Hart, points in this same direction. Misrepresenting John Witherspoon's views, as does David vanDrunen here, doesn't help solve the puzzle.

A related discussion by Kloosterman can be found here.

The epistemology of Princeton has often been put in opposition to the epistemology of Kuyper and Bavinck. However, the more I read about the distinction, the more I get the impression this is completely offbase.

To understand Kuyper and Bavinck we should look at the struggle that led to the doleantie.This struggle has strong similarites to the struggle of John Witherspoon inside the Scottish church. This is reflected in Herman Bavinck's dogmatics when he talks about the clarity of scripture. He says 'the clarity of Scripture is origin and guarantee of religious and political freedoms'. This is a direct reference to one of the most important speeches by Abraham Kuyper concerning his political strategy: 'Calvinism, origin & guaranty of our constitutional freedoms'.

We should take into account the fact that the clarity of Scripture was central also in Helenius de Cock and Klaas Schilder's writings. Klaas Schilder writes in 1934: 'in the acceptance of the clarity of Scripture lies the unity between 1834 & 1934, between Hendrik de Cock and us.

It's impossible to understand the politics and theology of either Kuyper, Bavinck or Schilder while ignoring this central fact.

It's my contention that it was this doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture that made the Antirevolutionary party such a strong political force in Dutch politics.

Now, once we have established these basics concerning Dutch reformed theology and antirevolutionary politics, we should be able to evaluate the similarites and differences between Princeton (Warfield and Hodge) on the one hand, and the Dutch reformed on the other hand.

It's precisely this doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture that permeats Presbyterian church governance and it's teachings. Samuel Davies, for example, was the first pastor who taught slaves to read the bible. The effort to teach eloquence at Princeton obviously aimed to give students the ability to participate in the reading and explanation of the bible. Reverend Abraham Gosman said in his introduction to Geerhardus Voses Inaugural address:
´the student cannot take with any satisfaction or certainty
the books of the Bible as trustworthy or authoritative without an investigation of his own´
 Examples are endless that illustrate the centrality of this doctrine in Presbyterian theology. The word 'Presbyterian' actually points to the centrality of the clarity of Scripture. The higher level of education in Scotland in the 17th century, due to the reforms by John Knox, point to this doctrine. 

Why is it that today when people think of Calvinism, that the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture is hardly ever mentioned? It reminds of the words of the apostle in the letter to the galatians:
 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?