J. Glenn Friesen M.A. LL.B, DLitt et Phil has published a new book looking at the roots of reformational philosophy. He has a website Christian non-dualism. This is the first part of the interview. Details of his book and a view of some of the contents can be found on Amazon's website.
I have spent a large part of my life studying Dooyeweerd, and I have published many articles about his philosophy. I thought it would be helpful to summarize this research in one book. But once I started the book, the project became much larger. It eventually included a lot of new research.
Why should we read your book?
If you are at all interested in the ideas of neo-Calvinism, in the idea of a Christian worldview, in Abraham Kuyper, or in the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, or in the very different philosophy of Dirk Vollenhoven, then I think you will also be interested my book. I explore the development of these ideas and challenge many commonly held views of what they mean. The historical facts that I discuss will need to be taken into account in any future discussion of Neo-Calvinism or Dooyeweerd.
Even if you think you are familiar with Dooyeweerd, there are many ideas in my book that will surprise you. Check out the dynamic diagram of the modes of consciousness on page 313. The diagram is by Janet Danielson. See how Dooyeweerd’s idea of retrocipations and anticipations differs from what he has been assumed to say. Take a look at the explanation of ‘enstasis,’ ‘systasis,’ ‘dis-stasis’ and ‘ana-stasis.’ Look at the history of the idea of individuality structures and enkapsis. No one has examined Dooyeweerd’s philosophy in this kind of detail before.
After reading my book, some readers will reject neo-Calvinism and Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. Others will embrace my findings as a way of understanding Dooyeweerd’s philosophy as a coherent whole. And they will see the possibility that this provides for ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.
What is neo-Calvinism and what is Christian theosophy?
Neo-Calvinism is usually linked to Kuyper’s idea that every part of our life (every square inch of our existence) is to be governed by our Christian worldview. As I discuss in my book, a worldview is not a theoretical set of concepts. It is not a theology or even a philosophy. It is a way of looking at the world, of seeing differently. A Christian philosophy is a theoretical account of that non-theoretical worldview.
And what is Christian theosophy?
‘Theosophy’ means “the Wisdom of God.” Christian theosophy looks for the revelation of God’s Wisdom within his creation. To use Boehme’s phrase, it is looking for “the signature of God” within creation. Christian theosophy then seeks to use that Wisdom of God in order to help creation be what it ought to be. At present, there are only “anticipations” of such future fulfillment, but the Christian theosophist seeks out those anticipations and helps to realize them.
What first alerted you to the similarities between Baader and Kuyper and Dooyeweerd?
It was a book by Mike Sandbothe, entitled The Temporalization of Time. Sandbothe reviewed several theories of time, including Franz von Baader’s. I was surprised by the similarity to Dooyeweerd’s theory of time, so I started reading Baader. I was astonished by the similarities for his entire philosophy, too numerous to be coincidental. The connection to Baader also made sense of many previously obscure ideas in Dooyeweerd. After writing my first article, I then discovered that Kuyper had read Baader, and that he praised Baader’s ideas—particularly Baader’s rejection of the autonomy of thought. There is no doubt that Kuyper was influenced by Baader in this and other ideas, including the idea of sphere sovereignty, the idea of a created heaven, the idea of our central selfhood, and even the idea of a Free University.
How did you get introduced to Dooyeweerd's philosophy?
I first heard about Dooyeweerd when I spent two months at Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri Fellowship (Switzerland) in 1970. I was interested in the idea of a Christian philosophy. The staff at l’Abri were aware of Dooyeweerd’s work, but also suspicious of him for reasons they could not explain. As you know, Schaeffer was much more strongly influenced by Cornelius Van Til than by Dooyeweerd. As I discuss in my book, Dooyeweerd did not share Van Til’s ideas, and regarded his view of Scripture as rationalistic.
After L’Abri, how did you pursue studies of Dooyeweerd?
I found a copy of his New Critique of Theoretical Thought in the Lutheran Seminary library at the University of Saskatchewan. The set had been donated by William Hordern, a Lutheran scholar of Paul Tillich. I understand that Tillich expressed interested in Dooyeweerd. That is not surprising in view of Tillich’s interest in Jacob Boehme, who is so prominent in the tradition of Christian theosophy. Tracing the similarities would make a good doctoral thesis.
And did you study Dooyeweerd’s philosophy at any educational institutions?
Well, I briefly attended the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. I realized I needed to get closer to the source, and so I learned Dutch, and received a Netherlands Government Scholarship to study at the Free University of Amsterdam.
How did that go?
I was incredibly disappointed by my studies at the Free University. I left after completing a preliminary degree. Dooyeweerd had retired, and systematic philosophy was being taught by Hendrik van Riessen. I was fortunate to meet with Dooyeweerd at his home, and Dooyeweerd told me that he did not agree with the way that his philosophy had been changed by Van Riessen and his student D.F.M. Strauss. Dooyeweerd later wrote an article confirming his disagreement and outlining some of his differences in detail.
Van Riessen was a most opinionated man who expressed great annoyance at my questions. Once during a discussion in class, he walked out and slammed the door of the classroom. He was not used to a student challenging his ideas. There was no way that I wanted to work with him for my doctorate. And I did not see anything specifically Christian in the functionalistic philosophy that he taught.
But you did pursue graduate studies elsewhere?
Yes, I obtained an M.A. in philosophy from Western Ontario, a degree in law from McGill, and a doctorate in religious studies from the University of South Africa.
As a lawyer, did you find that Dooyeweerd helped you in the practice of law?
Not really, although I would like to look at this again sometime in view of my recent research. Dooyeweerd was a professor of jurisprudence, and his doctoral thesis had to do with the role of the Dutch cabinet. Now the common law system in North America and England is very different from the Dutch legal system, and so many of his specific ideas are hard to carry over into our system. In any case, I don’t think that Dooyeweerd’s philosophy can be applied in a mechanical way, even to law. It is a vision of how we are to do our theoretical work. I am, however, very intrigued by Bohatec’s suggestion that positive law is the synthesis of the essential and the peripheral, of equity and the constitutive. This seems to relate to Dooyeweerd’s (and Baader’s) distinction of the center and the periphery, of Idea and concept. Can this be applied to the difference between law and equity? In our common law legal system, equity was developed by the Court of Chancery to mitigate the harshness of the law by applying certain equitable maxims–for example, that someone may not seek certain kinds of relief if he or she does not have “clean hands.” Those seeking equity must do equity. Ideas of trust and fiduciary duties also come from equity. In my book, I discuss Dooyeweerd’s view of anticipations as finding the ‘figure’ within temporal reality. Finding the ‘figure’ in things is the opening process. He specifically discusses some of these ‘figures’ when law is opened up by anticipations, such as the legal idea of “good faith.”
What about the view that our law is based on the Bible?
No. Dooyeweerd specifically disagrees with that viewpoint. He criticizes Friedrich Julius Stahl for the view that our law is based on the Ten Commandments. He did not believe that Scripture should be used that way. He also disagreed with Groen van Prinsterer’s way of reading Scripture.
What do you see as the key differences between Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven?
Dooyeweerd followed the ideas of Christian theosophy. Vollenhoven did not. Instead, Vollenhoven followed the ideas of his mentor Jan Woltjer, although he did not give adequate credit to Woltjer. Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven disagreed with respect to almost every issue, whether in theology, ontology, or epistemology. They disagreed as to our human nature and of our selfhood, of the relation of time to eternity, of the nature of theory, of how we are to read the Scriptures. What is confusing is that they used similarl terminology, like ‘modality.’ But they used these terms in totally different ways.
But surely Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd agreed on the Christian ground-motive of creation, fall and redemption?
No. They both used those terms. But they did not agree as to their meaning. For Dooyeweerd, creation, fall and redemption all occur in the supratemporal root. Vollenhoven does not share the idea of a supratemporal root, or even of the supratemporal. Vollenhoven’s philosophy is what Dooyeweerd calls ‘immanence philosophy.’ It is philosophy restricted to what is immanent to (within) time. For Dooyeweerd, it is of crucial importance that we transcend time in our selfhood. And that idea is also essential to understanding creation, fall, redemption, the working of the Word of God, and even the incarnation of Christ.
(To be continued)