Thursday, 27 April 2023
Review of J.H. Bavinck's Personality and Worldview
Personality & Worldview
J. H. Bavinck
Translated by James Eglinton
J.H. Bavinck (1895–1964) was the nephew of Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) and a professor of missiology at Kampen Theological School and the Free University of Amsterdam. He had also been a pastor and missionary in Indonesia, so, he was no armchair missiologist. In this book, a translation of Bavinck’s 1928 book Persoonlijkheid en wereldbeschouwing. This was originally a set of lectures for engineering students. The book is thus not overly technical, it is clear, accessible, and straightforward in its approach.
"Worldview" is a concept that is starting to go out of fashion. Keller, in his Foreword, notes some key reasons for this - particularly in North America; it is seen as being:
To this, we could add that it has recently lost favour due to concerns about its ambiguity, and connection to Western-centric and imperialist methods of analysing culture and society. Bavinck’s approach provides an important correction to these misconceptions regarding worldviews, not least because Bavinck was fully acquainted with East Asian culture as a pastor.
By "personality", Bavinck means “an organized soul that has come to consciousness of itself.”
One of Bavinck’s main theses is the intriguing distinction he makes between a worldview and a worldvision. He maintains that we all have a worldvision but only a few move to a worldview.
A person without a worldview is a person without a firm foundation, without a compass, without a vista. He may have a worldvision; he might live, for example, as though there are no norms. But such a worldvision proceeds from himself and is rooted in his nature. He cannot pull himself upward on it, and with it he always remains on the same plane. A person with a worldview, in all cases, has light, sees more widely, more broadly, more deeply. And however much deeper and more objective that worldview is, the more it gives him stability to leave this maze of subjective inclinations and climb up to the height of the life that is grounded in the truth.
Unfortunately, this insight is left largely undeveloped - it would be interesting to trace what mileage this distinction had in Bavinck’s further writings.
In exploring the relationship between personality and worldview, he notes two positions that must be guarded against: that they are one and that they are utterly different.
In chapter 3 especially, we can see in Bavinck two important neo-Calvinist themes: the distinction between creator and creation, and a disdain for dualism. He makes some important points regarding dualism: it disjoints personality, it means that salvation is only possible through world flight and that it leads to mysticism and asceticism.
Chapter 4 provides some fascinating insights into the distinction between Eastern and Westen thinking and an overview of the impact of the Renaissance on British empiricism particularly. Here he provides a devastating critique of the poverty of empiricism in that it devours itself.
Chapter 5 exposes the problems with rationalism, Descartes, and Spinoza. He makes the interesting point that pantheism is a presupposition of rationalism: “Pantheism is not the conclusion of rationalism, but it is its presupposition. Reason only has such power when it is itself god.”
Chapters 4 and 5 show that neither empiricism nor rationalism have explored the depths of personality.
Kant attempted to reconcile empiricism and rationalism, but as Chapter 6 shows, this project was unsuccessful.
Mysticism, a topic Bavinck studied for his doctorate and while he was in Java, comes under scrutiny in Chapter 7. As he observes, mysticism is difficult to define as it is not a single worldview. It is an emphasis on the being of God, and yet he is a formless and utterly other divinity. There is no comfort or salvation in such a god. It results in self-withdrawal from life and groping after eternity. He notes that Christian mysticism is differently focused and maintains the boundary between God and creation.
The final Chapter provides an overview of the main themes. Most people live as if there is no worldview, although it is there in seed form, worldview is the revelation of the personality, although there is often tension between the two. We all need a worldview, as it provides norms, direction, and unity in living. He contrasts two common Western worldviews, atheistic materialism and positive Christianity. Atheistic materialism is never accepted unreservedly, and Christianity, a relationship with the living God, depends not on us but on revelation.
This book is certainly well worth buying. The introduction by Eglington alone is worth the price of the book.
Foreword by Timothy Keller
Chapter 1: The Struggle for a Worldview
Chapter 2: The Essence of Personality
Chapter 3: The Problem of Unity
Chapter 4: Passive Knowing
Chapter 5: The Power of Reason
Chapter 6: The Reaction of the Conscience
Chapter 7: Mysticism and Revelation
Chapter 8: Personality and Worldview
Saturday, 18 February 2023
Abraham Kuyper and some of his critics
My paper looking at some of Kuyper's critics has now been published:
Wednesday, 1 February 2023
Findings 4 is out
Findings 4 has now been published - Theme issue on "Theology."
Available free (PDF) to download from https://www.thumbwidthpress.net/
Go to "Shop" to select items.
Kerry Hollingsworth: H Evan Runner – The heart of his vision
Chris Gousmett: What is theology?
Jim Skillen: What is public theology?
Raymundo Mendiola: Are we all theologians? Definition and contours of theology
D F M Strauss: How can we talk scientifically about God?
O. C. Broek Roelofs: Popma’s Philosophical Approach to Theology
Chris van Haeften: Divine reality
Alida Leni Sewell: Paul at Athens: An Examination of His Areopagus Address in the Light of its Historical and Philosophical Background
Thursday, 26 January 2023
A Kuyper Book Club - Reading through Pro Rege 3
KUYPER BOOK CLUB! Kuyper's Pro Rege Vol. 3
A group are going to read Kuyper's Pro Rege Vol. 3 over the next 6 months (starting Feb).
Jason of the Laymen's Lounge, has created a Facebook Group so we can throw up quotes, thoughts, questions, etc.
To join use this QR code
The provisional reading plan is:
Feb. 1-5: pp. 1-18
Feb. 6-12: pp. 19-43
Feb. 1319: pp. 44-68
Feb. 20-26: pp. 69-94
Feb. 27-Mar. 5: pp. 95-119
Mar. 6-12: pp. 120-143
Mar. 13-19: pp. 144-167
Mar. 20-26: pp. 168-186
Mar. 27-April 2: pp. 187-215
April 3-9: pp. 216-241
April 10-16: pp. 242-270
April 17-23: pp. 271-288
April 24-30: pp. 289-315
May 1-7: pp. 316-340
May 8-14: pp. 341-364
May 15-21: pp. 365-380
May 22-28: pp. 381-406
May 29-June 4: pp. 407-431
June 5-11: pp. 432-449
June 12-18: pp. 450-467
June 19-25: pp. 468-475
June 26-July 2: pp. 479-480
Thursday, 22 December 2022
Paul Tyson's A Christian Theology of Science
Friday, 18 November 2022
Justin Bailey’s Interpreting Your World - a review
Interpreting Your World
Five Lenses for Engaging Theology and Culture
Justin Ariel Bailey
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022
Justin Bailey is an assistant professor at Dordt College. This is a book about culture and theology, a lived-out everyday life. He wrote this book in part “in part because I am troubled by the dismissive tone with which many of my fellow Christians (and particularly my fellow Calvinists) approach culture”.
Karl Marx’s eleventh of his Theses on Feuerbach is: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Here Bailey writes on ways to interpret the world but as Marx observes interpretation must move on to engagement and where needed transformation. But then before transformation must come interpretation.
Culture is an elastic term. Bailey is rightly concerned that we do not adopt a thin view of culture or a reductive view of culture. To avoid that he discusses five lenses or “penta-focal lenses” through which culture can be observed and interpreted. He doesn’t define exactly what he means by culture – perhaps that is deliberate? One of the best definitions is that of Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd – who is surprisingly absent from Bailey’s writings. Dooyeweerd in his Roots of Western Culture describes culture as “… the term culture refers to whatever owes its existence to human formation in contrast to whatever develops in ‘nature’.
Bailey’s five lenses are:
1. The Meaning Dimension: Culture as Immune System
2. The Power Dimension: Culture as Power Play
3. The Ethical Dimension: Culture as Moral Boundary
4. The Religious Dimension: Culture as Sacred Experience
5. The Aesthetic Dimension: Culture as Poetic Project
For each of the dimensions, he identifies a practice. For the meaning dimension the practice is hosting; for the power dimension the practice is iconoclasm; for the ethical dimension the practice is servant hood; for the religious dimension the practice is discernment; and for the aesthetic dimension the practice is making. These provide constructive and interesting insights into how we respond to, approach, and shape culture.
He correctly realises that cultural participation must go beyond resistance and critique. It also needs to include the cultivation of beautiful things. And helpfully identifies some “characteristic flaws” in Christians’ approach to culture:
intellectualism (overreliance on analysis), triumphalism (overestimation of our ability to “transform the culture”), and parochialism (underappreciation of the gifts on the outside).
Sadly, these have often marred a distinctly Christian approach. Hopefully, Bailey’s book will go towards helping alleviate these unbiblical traits.
Bailey notes that
I was attracted to the Dutch “Reformational” tradition because of the way it trained me to recognize the multifaceted glory of creation and the beauty of ordinary life. This tradition has trained me to oppose reductionism at every turn.
And there are obvious echoes of this tradition in what Bailey writes, but, surprisingly, there is no interaction with Dooyeweerd – though Kuyper, Herman and J.H. Bavinck do get some mentions. Dooyeweerd identifies fifteen different modal aspects, and it would have been good to see all of these aspects explored concerning culture.
The book is well written and provides some excellent questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter. The appendix also has a set of thought-provoking questions. Even though this book doesn’t have all the answers to Christian cultural interaction it does pose important questions and offers some wisdom into how we approach culture.
My thanks to Baker Academic for supplying an ARC.
Tuesday, 27 September 2022
Christian Atheist: Belonging Without Believing
John Hunt Publishing, 2011
The term Christian Atheist is something of an oxymoron. It could be described as “Christianity - good, God - a bit iffy”. This book was written when Mountford - who by his own admission is a liberal Christian - a Vicar of the University Church, Oxford. It seeks to explore why there are atheists who attend church services and appreciate Christian aesthetics, liturgy, values, morals and so forth without any belief in God. This is an interesting phenomenon that Mountford explores through interviews. Unfortunately, the “research” method is flawed as it is based on opportunity sampling - he interviews those he knows. Nevertheless, he makes some interesting points based on the interviews he has conducted. All those interviewed are “Anglican” in disposition, so the book might better be titled Anglican Atheists. It would be interesting to do a much broader study of those in different denominations. Could there be Calvinist Atheists?