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"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Friesen's Neo-Calvinism and Christian Theosophy - a review

Neo-Calvinism and Christian Theosophy
Franz Baader, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd
J. Glenn Friesen

Calgary: Aevum Books, 2015
ISBN 9780994775108
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 Reformata95 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.

Glenn Friesen talks about his book in a two-part interview here  and here

Update: Glenn's article recently published in Philosophia Reformata “Dooyeweerd’s Ida of Modalities: The Pivotal 1922 Article” is online here.


Steve Bishop said...

My thanks to Rudi, Bruce, Chris and Romel at for their comments on an earlier draft.

Rudi said...

Hi Steve, I have three questions about Friesen's book that I would be interested in knowing the answer to.
1) Has Frissen uncovered any direct reference to Baarder in Dooyeweerd's writings? If so how extensive and how significant are these references?
2) In his comparison of Dooyeweerd with Baarder does he show where they differ, or is the focus always on their, alleged, similarities?
3) Has Friesen amended any of his 95 theses in response to the criticism of Geertsema and Glas?

J. Glenn Friesen said...

Thank you, Steve, for your review of my book. I'm glad you found it “a surprisingly good read.” My goals were that the book be readable, affordable, and of course accurate.

I also appreciate the view that the onus of proof is now on those who deny Franz von Baader’s influence on Kuyper and Dooyeweerd. In my view, there is overwhelming evidence that there was such an influence. To recognize this is of great help in understanding the meaning of the ideas of neo-Calvinism and of Dooyeweerd's philosophy in particular.

Your review displays some anxiety about what this means for the self-identity of reformationals. Should they even call themselves ‘neo-Calvinists’?

One response would be to muddle along in the status quo reformational approach, taking bits and pieces of Dooyeweerd (and thereby understanding him out of context), ignoring the historical sources of these ideas, and trying to assimilate these ideas to Vollenhoven’s very different philosophy. This was basically the approach taken at the conference at Redeemer College, to which you have referred. I responded to D.F.M. Strauss’s presentation, showing that he had completely misconstrued the document that he relied upon. See “Why did Dooyeweerd want to tear out his hair?”
My book further clarifies the issues that are involved. Dooyeweerd believed that there is a double incarnation of Christ, both in the supratemporal and the temporal. Both are required if Christ was to be truly human. But the supratemporal is not to be regarded as the eternal. Nor is the supratemporal/temporal distinction to be regarded in terms of the two natures of Christ. That was Dooyeweerd’s objection to Pete Steen’s question. But Dooyeweerd certainly maintained the idea of supratemporality. His philosophy cannot be understood without it.

The Redeemer Conference was organized by Theo Plantinga. I had many conversations and email discussions with Theo, and he gradually came to appreciate the importance of my research. I was very moved by Theo’s last article (completed only weeks before his death, when he knew he was dying). He supported my research, and criticized previous careless research that regarded Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd as saying the same thing. See “Understanding Dooyeweerd better than he understood himself.”

Since that time, there is a considerable amount of new research, which I have included in my book. I understand that there will be strong emotional responses to my book, since it challenges many deeply held assumptions. There are different religious Ground-Motives at work, even within reformational philosophy! But I hope that you agree that the status quo is not a sufficient response to this historical research and comparative analysis.

Thanks again.

J. Glenn Friesen said...

Rudi, thank you for your questions. In my book, I give reasons why Dooyeweerd did not directly refer to Baader. Baader was not the only author he treated this way. There are other authors whom Dooyeweerd did not acknowledge, like Max Wundt and Max Scheler, although he clearly appropriated their ideas. And at least some of these ideas in turn go back to Baader.

Dooyeweerd’s library contained a volume where he cross-referenced Baader, so we know that he was interested. Kuyper specifically mentions Baader several times, and very favourably. We know that he read Baader’s Die Weltalter, and recommended that others read Baader. Dooyeweerd followed that side of Kuyper that used Baader’s ideas, including Baader’s rejection of the autonomy of thought and other key ideas later used in neo-Calvinism. Vollenhoven mentions Baader in his Philosophische Kaarten, and his student Taljaard mentions Baader in his dissertation on Franz Brentano (Baader converted Brentano to theism). So Baader is not some philosopher unknown to Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. The similarities between Baader, Kuyper and Dooyeweerd are too numerous and too close in their inter-connected meaning to be coincidental.

Does Dooyeweerd differ from Baader? Dooyeweerd obtained Calvinistic ideas on law from Schneckenburger (although he did not seem to realize that Schneckenburger was not endorsing Calvin!). But Dooyeweerd’s law-Idea is really based on Baader’s: our being placed or gesetzt in the temporal cosmos by the law (Gesetz). In general, Dooyeweerd transmits Baader’s ideas very faithfully, particularly in the areas I have outlined in my book. In some ways, Dooyeweerd is less orthodox than Baader. Baader is much more specific on Christ’s blood atonement. And Baader is also much clearer about the implications of the doctrine of the Trinity. Dooyeweerd adds to Baader’s ideas, like the ideas of individuality structures and enkapsis. But as I have shown, those ideas came from mystical and not from Calvinistic sources.

Did I change my “95 Theses” in response to criticism? No. I respond in my book to the criticism of Geertsema and Glas. They have both expressed interest, and I look forward to their further comments.


J. Glenn Friesen said...

A further reply to Rudi Hayward. There are some ideas in Baader that Dooyeweerd does not emphasize, or which he does not mention, but that are not inconsistent with Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. For example, Dooyeweerd states that the imago Dei is only revealed in its true sense in Jesus Christ (NC III, 69). But unlike Baader and Ch. de la Saussaye, he does not explore in detail what it means that Christ is the model human. And unlike Gunning, he does not specifically adopt Baader’s idea that Jesus was androgynous, in order to fulfill the original image of God, which was created as both male and female. And Dooyeweerd does not refer to Kuyper’s view that the miracles of Christ were not meant to prove his divinity, but rather to show what humans could accomplish. So Dooyeweerd does not emphasize Baader’s explanation of prophetic visions of the future. But neither does Dooyeweerd dispute these ideas. His idea of anticipation does involve intuiting the future potential unfolding of temporal reality.

In my earlier comment, I pointed out how Dooyeweerd emphasizes that Christ’s human nature was both supratemporal and temporal. He says that the human nature of Jesus was under the law (NC I, 99 fn1). But Dooyeweerd does not say very much about the temporal, historical Jesus. He refers to love as the basis for social convention and ethics, as in Jesus’s response to Mary’s anointing him with perfume (NC II, 152), and to the importance of root community in the parable of the Good Samaritan (NC III, 583). But Dooyeweerd’s emphasis is not on the historical Jesus, but on redemption by Christ as the new supratemporal root. Christ as the New Root is an idea taken from Baader, but Baader also explores the temporal expression of this in the life of Jesus.

Please do not understand this comment as separating Christ from Jesus. My intent is to point out Dooyeweerd’s minimal discussion of the historical, temporal side of Christ’s humanity. This has always surprised me. Dooyeweerd said that theology was based on philosophy, and he was very critical of much current theology. Now that we have seen how his philosophy is rooted in Baader, we can be helped in reforming our theology by looking at looking at Baader and his interpreters, the ethical theologians. In this regard, I would note that Gunning’s works are presently being republished in the Netherlands, edited by Leo Mietus.
And as I said in the interview, I believe that any revision of theology should also take into account recent research by Christian and Jewish scholars such as Margaret Barker, Alan Segal and Daniel Boyarin on changing ideas of the afterlife, studies related temple worship and the supratemporal, and to Jewish merkabah mysticism in Paul.


Rudi said...

Thank you for your detailed responses to my questions. I will need to consider them in more detail. However as a quick response I must say that it came as quite a surprise to me that Dooyeweerd nowhere referred to the well known neo-kantian philosopher Max Scheler who supervised H.G Stoker's dissertation. Yet a quick look at NC vol.4 gives a whole page of references to him, also a Wundt is briefly mentioned in Vol. II p.244. So could you be clear, is there no reference to Baader in any of Dooyeweerd's writings published or otherwise (i.e. in private letters)?


Rudi said...

You wrote that: "Dooyeweerd’s library contained a volume where he cross-referenced Baader". Is this a book by Baader, or one which contained an essay by Baader, or did it make references to Baader's ideas? What is meant by "he cross-referenced Baader"? Does it mean he commented directed on Baader's ideas, or that he indicated where else in that book, or other books, Baader's ideas were discussed?

Again, thanks for your consideration of my questions.

J. Glenn Friesen said...

Thanks, Rudi. I did not mean to say that Dooyeweerd never referenced Max Scheler, although I can see how my comment could have been interpreted that way. Yes, he references Scheler for some ideas. But I provide details in my book of ideas obtained from Scheler that were not acknowledged in the NC. They were acknowledged late in Dooyeweerd’s life. And Scheler in turn obtained those ideas form Baader. I appreciate your interest, but I cannot give detailed replies without re-stating what I say in my book.

J. Glenn Friesen said...

Dooyeweerd does not acknowledge Baader’s influence, although it is now obvious that there was such influence for most of his key ideas. Dooyeweerd also does not acknowledge Max Wundt (for the important additional ideas of individuality structures, opposition to the idea of substance, and enkapsis). And until late in life, he does not acknowledge his use of Max Scheler in differentiating animals from humans.

Is Dooyeweerd’s use of these unacknowledged sources just blatant plagiarism? Or can we give a more sympathetic explanation? Given the controlling theological views at the Free University at the time, could he have disclosed his sources and still retained his teaching position? He certainly did not disclose his sources when specifically asked by V. Hepp in the lengthy investigation by the Curators of the Free University. Does that mean that he deceived these more traditional Calvinists? Can we see value in Dooyeweerd’s attempt to reform Calvinism using these outside sources? Or should we now just reject his philosophy? What does it mean for neo-Calvinism that its key ideas do not come from Calvin?

I am very grateful to Steve Bishop for his interview, for his review of my book, and for the space he has devoted to it on this blog. But this is not the place to re-state the extensive historical information and comparative analysis in my book. Nor is it fair to try to argue these issues without first reading the book. Rudi, if you still have questions after reading, please contact me. You have my email address. For others who have questions, my email is