Neo-Calvinism and Christian Theosophy
Franz Baader, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd
J. Glenn Friesen
Calgary: Aevum Books, 2015
Pbk, 586pp, £13.95.
Dooyeweerd always maintained that his philosophy was not ‘a closed system’ and that ‘It does not claim to have a monopoly on truth in the sphere of philosophical reflection, nor that the provisional conclusions of its inquiries have been made sacrosanct because of the central biblical motive which motivates and controls it. As a philosophy it does not in any way demand a privileged position for itself; on the contrary, it seeks to create a real basis for philosophical dialogue among the different movements - movements which often isolate themselves and which can only lead to stagnation and overestimation of one’s own ideas’ (Christian Philosophy and the Meaning of History, Ser B, Vol. 13: 4). He was open to it being modified, debated and developed. Elsewhere he stated that
‘It has been said so many times that repeating it almost becomes boring: The Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea does not pretend infallibility either in respect of its positive philosophical conceptions or with regard to its critique on traditional philosophy’ (Dooyeweerd 2013 in On Kuyper:154).
This has certainly been evidenced in discussions regarding the supra-temporality of the heart, which has promoted much discussion. Even among Dooyeweerdians this idea does not have wide support. Pete Steen described it as a’difficult problem’; he highlighted and documented some problems and issues with this idea in his The Structure and Nature of Dooyeweerd’s Thought (Toronto: Wedge, 1983). Others that took issue with Dooyeweerd over it were D.H.Th. Vollenhoven, Hendrik Van Riessen, S.U. Zuidema, K.J. Popma, Henk Geertsma and James Olthuis. These reject it on the premise that it is either anthropocentric and/or dualistic.
Now J. Glenn Friesen, a lawyer with a PhD in religious studies, claims that the idea of a supra-temporal heart, among other ideas of Dooyeweerd, originates not in Kuyper, van Prinsterer or even in Calvin but in the work and writings of the Christian theosophist Franz Baader. Rather than dismissing the supra-temporal heart as an aberration in Dooyeweerd’s thinking, Friesen maintains that it is a key component of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. He maintains that to reject it is to abandon the basis of his Christian philosophy. Friesen has written on this before - and not without controversy. A series of papers in Philosophia Reformata and a conference at Redeemer University College in 2006 were in part a response to Friesen’s position. (Links to some of the papers can be accessed here.)
This book is the development of these papers and of much more research. It is in three parts. The first looks at the reception of Christian theosophy in neo-Calvinism. It should be mentioned that the theosophy of Baader is far removed from the theosophy of Madame Blavatsky. Baader was a Catholic and presents very much a Christian theosophy. In this section Friesen prevents a helpful overview of the theology and philosophy of Baader, Daniel Chantepie de la Saussaye (1818-1874), J.H. Gunning Jr. (1829-1905), Kuyper, Fredrick van Eeden (1860-1932) and Jan Woltjer (1848-1917).
The second part looks at the development of reformational philosophy in Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. In many ways, Friesen’s approach is complementary, though at times contradictory, to Anthony Tol’s in his Philosophy in the Making. Most interesting - and perhaps most controversial - is the nature of the ‘find’ in 1922. This Friesen maintains is Okke Norel’s article. Unfortunately, Norel’s article hasn’t (yet) been translated into English.
Part 3, which accounts for well over one-half of the book, is a massive expansion of Friesen’s paper from Philosophia Reformata ’95 theses on Herman Dooyeweerd’. Here the theses have been expanded to incorporate copious references and showing the parallels to Van Baader’s thought.
Friesen goes against the trend of attempting to harmonise Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd and points out the divergence of their views. A difference which seems to be over the nature of the supra-temporal heart.
There are a number of possible responses to Friesen’s thesis among them:
(1) He is completely wrong. However, it is difficult to see how someone who has read this book could maintain that position. There are many similarities between Baader and Dooyeweerd that Friesen has highlighted, even if Dooyeweerd doesn’t directly quote Baader. It could, of course be argued, that the similarities are because both are Christians and both are dealing with the same data within reality, rather than any direct influence.
(2) He is largely wrong — this has largely been the response of Strauss, in response Friesen has provided more evidence to support his thesis, and so the onus is on those who would reject his position to respond.
(3) He is largely right — we then embrace his position and perhaps then we should speak of being neo-Baaderists rather than neo-Calvinists and recognise that in agreeing with Dooyeweerd we should reject Calvinism, or we could — as many have done — reject Dooyeweerd’s notion of supra-temporality.
(4) Or we could accommodate his view as one among many interpretations of Dooyeweerd, and accept that there is truth in his thesis but that it doesn’t change the usefulness, effectiveness, comprehensiveness, coherence or truth of Dooyeweerd’s approach. We should take care not to commit the genetic fallacy and throw the dooyeweerdian baby out with the Baaderian water.
This book will promote controversy - that’s not such a bad thing. It is well-researched treatise and a surprisingly a good read. I look forward to the seeing the discussions it provokes and I hope that in doing so more light than heat will be generated.
Update: Glenn's article recently published in Philosophia Reformata “Dooyeweerd’s Ida of Modalities: The Pivotal 1922 Article” is online here.