Friday, February 28, 2014

Abraham Kuyper's Organicism

In october Tracy Kuperus wrote on Abraham Kuyper's inheritance: 'Some might argue that Kuyper's philosophical and theological contributions to our understanding of politics are esoteric or outdated. Some of them are questionable (for example, his borrowing liberally from organicist philosophy to undergird sphere sovereignty), but much of his work extends a Reformed understanding of politics that, to my mind, contributes positively to discussions about the role of politics in society'. Jeremy George Augustus Ive writes 'in working out what 'sphere sovereignty' actually means, Kuyper is still deeply influenced by 19th century currents of thought, namely historicism and organicism'.

I personally don't believe it to be possible to understand either Kuyper or Bavinck outside of this organicist context. In the introduction to the book Abraham Kuyper's Commentatio (1860): The Young Kuyper about Calvin, a Lasco, and the Church, Jasper Vree and Johan Zwaan write: 'The work also offers the initial impetus for the idea with which Kuyper would later exert great influence on Dutch nation and society: the Church as a free, democratic society of Christians, which manifests itself as a living organism in all spheres of life.' This quote indicates, unsurprisingly, a link between Kuyper's democratization project, the reformed understanding of the clarity of Scripture and his organic understanding of the Church.

In his 2012 dissertation Jeremy George Augustus Ive writes 'in the later 1920s and 1930s Dooyeweerd saw historicism, with its organic conception of society, leading to the rise of Fascisim and Nazism. The extreme emphasis on history as the self-attesting basis of norms and values, such as was held by the different forms of historicism, seems to have led Dooyeweerd in reaction to seek a non-historical, supra-temporal vantage point, free of the relativising tendencies of the historicistic approach.' To a superficial observer this might seem laudable.

The problem with Dooyeweerd's approch, among other things, is that the antirevolutionary party, Abraham Kuyper's strategy during ARP's social conflict, the struggle for a free university and the democratization project inside the church (doleantie) had succesfully challenged the extreme emphasis on history of conservatives in the church and in politics. Abraham Kuyper succeeded in moving the ARP away even from Groen's 'moderate' (debatable) organicism and historicism. Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck's approach worked and was actually an effective weapon against both the extreme and the milder forms of organicism and historicism. Unlike Dooyeweerd, Klaas Schilder grasped this.

Several elements necessarily shape(d) Kuyper and Bavinck's organicism: their link with Groen van Prinsterer's organicism and historicism, the antithesis (Kuyper's speech Maranatha), perspicuitas (see Bavinck's dogmatics) and the merger of doleantie and afscheiding.

James Eglinton writes in an article that one of four guiding principles within Bavinck's organic worldview is that 'the created order is marked by simultaneous unity and diversity. This is essential if God is triune. As the universe itself is a general revelation of God, it must reflect this identity as three-in-one.' This reminds of the people that look for traces of the trinity, 'vestigia trinitas', in creation. But maybe I'm not smart enought to grasp this unity-in-diversity concept and it's added value to reformed theology.

It seems to me, to understand the role organicism plays in Bavinck (& Kuyper's) theology, we should look at how Bavinck's (and Kuyper's) organicism relates to the clarity of scripture and presbyterian church governance (directly related). Both the emphasis on biblical theology at Princeton and the centrality of the clarity of Scripture in reformed theology in Kampen from Helenius de Cock in 1834 until Klaas Schilder's inauguration in 1934 are the framework within which Bavinck's organicism takes shape. Karl Barth's claim that the Apostle Paul:
'As an apostle- and only as an apostle - stands in no organic relationship with human society as it exists in history; seen from the point of view of human society, he can be regarded only as an exception, rather, as an impossibility.'
seems at odds with Bavinck's claim in this statement:
'In Christ, in the middle of history God has created an organic center; from there the circles are getting drawn ever wider, on which the light of revelation shines..While head and heart, the totality of man in his being and consciousness has to be renewed, the revelation in this dispensation continuous through Scripture and church together.
'Scripture is the light of the church, the church is the life of the Scripture. Outside of the church Scripture is a riddle, an annoyance'
'Therefore Scripture does not stand alone. She should not be considered Deistically. She is rooted in a history of ages and is the fruit of the revelation under Israel and in Christ....The H. Scripture is the always living, eternally youthful word, which God sends now in this day and always to his people.'
This is Bavinck and Kuyper's organicism which shapes Klaas Schilder's writings, also concerning the trinity. For now I conclude that the attempt to see the trinity reflected in the world around us isn't the real reason organicism plays such an important role in reformed theology.

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