Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven, and the Possibility of Interaction Between Reformational Philosophy and Theology II

In the first post in this series I focused on the differences between Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven’s philosophies in terms of pedagogy. In this post I’m going to fulfill the promise of the series title and discuss what I see as the proper relationship between (Christian) philosophy and theology.


Following Vollenhoven’s statement on the fourth page of his Isagoge Philosophiae, we argue that philosophy is both deed and result. Wisdom is something which must be striven after and knowledge/understanding is the end result of that striving. Inasmuch as philosophy is, at bottom, a striving after wisdom, and, inasmuch as Jesus is God’s Wisdom (c.f. Colossians 2:3 – one might say that the fullness of God’s wisdom dwelt within Him, and thus now dwells in us) striving after wisdom is striving after God, desiring to conform ourselves to Christ’s likeness. Thus, as a Christian philosopher, I am constantly striving for wisdom which is not primarily existential or ideal – it does not come from experience necessarily nor is it a product of logic – wisdom is found outside of myself.

Non-Christian philosophy also often strives for wisdom outside of the self, however, the ground-motive or ontological engine (I will discuss this in a future blog post) of their philosophy is not the revelation of God in Christ. Therefore the wisdom they seek is not God’s wisdom. Any philosophy which does not take the revelation of God in the incarnate Christ as its arche and animating principle cannot count as Christian philosophy.

Ontology is paramount to the philosophical enterprise. That is why it is so vital that philosophers get their ontology clear in their hearts and minds. Whether one’s philosophy is Christian or not, if it be solely an internal intellectual enterprise, it is doomed from the outset, for philosophy properly so-called must strive towards wisdom which is not something intrinsic to the philosopher herself. This means that the grounding for one’s philosophy must come from somewhere outside of the self.

Now I’m going to make a statement that most Dooyeweerdian philosophers may cringe at. Ground-Motives point outwards. Dooyeweerd argued that ground-motive is an apt description of the animating impetus of one’s philosophy and this is true. However, if one is able to do an immanent critique of a philosopher’s thought and discern their ground-motive, then it seems plausible that from this one should be able to discern the direction toward which one’s philosophy points. If this is the case, then the central principle of one’s philosophy determines all avenues that philosophy may take.

Relation Between Philosophy and Theology

Study of and meditation on the Biblical witness is the primary way that the revelation of the God of Christianity comes, although information regarding God’s plan may come through prayer and extra-Biblical sources, if what is revealed lines up with Scripture (based on one’s hermeneutic) and is counted as such by the community of believers.

Theology strictly defined means “words about God.” Thus, it is speech/thought related to God. This could mean that philosophy as a discipline is always caught up in theology, inasmuch as it counts God as part of its ontology. However, theology as as discipline is distinct from philosophy more generally because philosophy is not necessarily aimed at God directly. Yet, as I argued above, striving after wisdom is always already striving after Christ so that philosophy is always aimed towards God obliquely.

Thus, I argue that worries about strict divisions between the disciplines of theology and philosophy are frivolous and a waste of time. What matters most is that Christian theologians and philosophers work together – the disciplines ought to be informing each other and, as they inform each other, they ought to be in(en)forming and impacting the larger world. If it is true that the ground-motive of Christian philosophy (and theology) ought to be the revelation of God in Christ, then both disciplines are always already proclamation!!

If this is taken seriously, then the ultimate task of Christian philosophy and theology within their spheres is to do and proclaim the Gospel, to set captives free, and to break the yoke of bondage in which all of Creation is entwined.





Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven, and the Possibility of Interaction Between Reformational Philosophy and Theology

In his contribution to the book An Ethos of Compassion and the Integrity of Creation entitled “Creation Order and Transcendental Philosophy”, Sander Griffoen outlines the similarities and differences between Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven regarding both Law and Creation Order. Griffoen argues that,

“Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, for all the grandness of its scope, nevertheless runs the risk of losing contact with the concrete faith community within which it came to development. Vollenhoven’s philosophy, on the other hand, although less outgoing and even isolationistic vis-a-vis the broader philosophical world, yet remains open towards non-philosophers who have their roots in the same worldview.” (52)

The primary issue here is that Dooyeweerd’s philosophy places a high importance on law-order as having transcendental significance. Law-order does, in fact, structure all of created existence and their intelligibility to humans. Vollenhoven on the other hand emphasized law as solely a boundary between God and creatures. In fact, for Vollenhoven, law (as covenant) is more or less a description of the relationship between God and creatures, and particularly humans.

Dooyeweerd’s need for a transcendental philosophy took him away from the concrete faith-statements of the Dutch Reformed Christian community out of which Reformational Philosophy emerged. The way in which he grounded his version of Reformational Philosophy thus became opaque to many ordinary lay people, Pastors, and theologians who might have otherwise been amenable to this philosophical outworking of their faith.

Vollenhoven’s philosophy, on the other hand, is far closer to an outworking of biblical language, and in this lies the interesting point Griffoen brings out. It is in the particularism of Vollenhoven, in his emphasis on using Scripture to act as foundational impetus for his philosophy rather than the faith-statements of a particular Christian denomination (although of course these would have coloured his biblical hermeneutic), that makes him so interesting to those who would not usually read or study philosophy.

Perhaps this is because of Vollenhoven’s Pastoral training. In his Isagoge Philosophiae one sees hints, not of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy but of those catechetical workbooks for the home which would have been part and parcel of his Dutch Pietist upbringing. The Isagoge could be taught alongside of Scripture as a Bible/worldview study (something I am planning on doing in a future course) and its emphasis on opening up instead of answering philosophical questions serves to spark one’s curiosity. I myself have seen people who are utterly uninterested in the more abstract questions of philosophy come alive when they see how Vollenhoven uses the Isagoge  as an invitation to “think oneself into” questions that confront them in their everyday life. In my experience and use of the text, it continually appears to me to be a pedagogical masterstroke, even if it is short on overall conclusions (it is a set of lecture notes, after all.)

Furthermore, Vollenhoven’s “isolationism” is precisely what makes him so attractive to Christians who are unsure about whether philosophy as an enterprise can be one which is legitimately Christian. Through Vollenhoven many (myself included) who have struggled with the possibility of philosophy as a truly Christian enterprise have found a way back into the discipline.

Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is a deep system with many moving parts that requires a significant amount of patient study in order to understand and utilize. In many ways it stands alongside Vollenhoven’s work as a brother – the differences between the two do not preclude each other but rather invite one into deeper thought. However, I believe that the eventual disjunct between Dooyeweerd’s philosophy and contemporary theological thought that has developed is not due to anything inherent within either Dooyeweerd’s philosophy or within the discipline of theology themselves – it has to do with the fact that in order to utilize Dooyeweerd’s insights, one needs to develop a command of his complex ontology (which, despite some arguments to the contrary, further presupposes a background in philosophy.) With Vollenhoven, one simply requires the ability to read and time to ponder.



A Theological D/i(n)version

Back in December I wrote a post about Dooyeweerd’s use of Augustine in his description of human existential restlessness. Reformational thought in general is deeply indebted to Augustinian thinking, following from the Dutch Calvinist form of Christianity in which Reformational thought took root and bloomed. I’ve discussed this in greater detail before in terms of the emergence theory of Jacob Klapwijk.

One of the important features of the thought of Augustine which continues to echo through Reformational philosophy is the concept of the rationes seminales or in Greek, logos spermatikos – the creative word/law which gives birth to the diversity we find in the universe today. For Reformational thinkers such as Dooyeweerd, Klapwijk, Olthuis, and Hart, it is important that the diversity we find in Creation is rooted in the concept of word/law, as God is properly understood to be a primordial unity – to be One.

Colin Gunton, in his book The Triune Creator, argues that Ireneaus of Lyons, the great second-century Christian theologian and philosopher, is the first systematically think through what it would mean for a God who can properly be thought of as One (in-Three!) to create a universe which is so profoundly diverse. Irenaeus’ conception of Creation is necessarily Trinitarian – the diverse Creation is borne out of the mutual love which exists between the Three Persons of the Trinity, not out of the united will of the Trinity made manifest through the Creative word/law. Gunton argues that it is Origen (and later, Augustine) who, in order to theoretically preserve God’s One-ness, move the origination of Creational diversity outside of the Godhead and into the Triune will, thus putting a greater emphasis on God’s power over-against God’s creative Love, thus creating a power vs. love dynamic which continues to haunt Christian thought up to the present day.

However, Irenaeus was not alone in recognizing the importance of seeing diversity as being part of the Godhead itself. My colleague at the Institute for Christian Studies, Joshua Harris, has recovered the little-discussed concept of multitudo in the thought of Thomas Aquinas. Harris has identified no less than 4 places in Thomas’ corpus in which he discusses this concept. The two which I am most familiar with is in Article 4 of Question 30 in the Prima Pars of Thomas’ Summa and Article 1 of Question 47, also in the Prima Pars. Article 4 of Question 30 discusses the importance of viewing the Trinity as a divine community of real Persons, and Article 1 of Question 47 discusses precisely the question I am wrestling with here, namely how multitude and distinction could arise through a God who is properly understood as a united One.

In brief, in Article 1 of Question 47, Thomas argues that to Create in the fullest sense is properly ascribed only to God alone. Therefore, we ought not to ascribe any creative potentiality to a creature of God such as a created ontological law. God may very well create through such an ontological law, but the law itself creates nothing. While Thomas emphasizes that the diversity of Creation is “made distinct” through the Word of God, he states that, “The divine wisdom is the cause of the distinction of things.”

While this statement merely hints at the possibility of thinking distinctness in the Godhead, Article 4 of Question 30 brings out the fact that that the Trinity is a real community. He writes, “that the term “some man” signifies the nature, or the individual on the part of its nature, with the mode of existence of singular things; while this name “person” is not given to signify the individual on the part of the nature, but the subsistent reality in that nature. Now this is common in idea to the divine persons, that each of them subsists distinctly from the others in the divine nature. Thus this name “person” is common in idea to the three divine persons.”

Thus, for Thomas, difference, real difference resides originally in the Godhead itself. While Thomas emphasizes in Question 30 that the Creation must be diverse, because Created diversity is the only way the fullness of the Divine simplicity could be reflected (think of a kaleidoscope), it is clear that Thomas holds the trinitarian nature of God to be also fully correct. By emphasizing that it is divine wisdom (which for Thomas is deeply intertwined with divine Love) that is the root of Creational diversity, we see that, in Thomas, an Irenaen theology of Creation is held together with an Augustinian Creation theology.

I believe that it is important to reclaim Irenaeus’ theological understanding of Creation for a Klapwijkian theory of emergence to become fully enfleshed. If we can find the root of Creational diversity within the Godhead itself rather than solely in the ontological structuring laws of Creation, we may be able to dispense with a two-level ontology of law and recognize God as intimately involved with the unfolding evolution of Creation rather than as a Creator one-step removed from His world.

Anthony Tol on Vollenhoven’s Love-Command: A Further Investigation into Ontological Law

Tony Tol, in his essay “Vollenhoven on Philosophy, Worldview, and Religion” describes how, for Dirk Vollenhoven, the concept of religion is absolutely foundational for philosophical thought because religion, “concerns the most concrete features of life, and in that capacity it touches the heart of life in being concerned with the meaning of our finite existence.” Religious language is the language of meaning; the language through which we ask our most basic (meta-philosophical) questions about the meaning of our lives and the life of the world around us.

Tol argues that we should follow Vollenhoven in conceiving of a dualism between God and World as two correlates which are irreducible. However, simply because they are irreducible correlates this does not mean that one should conceive of their relationship as a dialectic in the way that some LIberation Theologians such as Leonardo Boff or Biblical Theologians such as Walter Brueggemann in his book The Land have done. For Vollenhoven, the difference (what an apophatic theologian like St. John of the Cross might call the “gulf”) between God and the World is bridged through the Law, which comes from God. This is the Law of the “Love-command.” We must not understand the Law of the Love-Command to be the direct interaction of God’s will with the World; we must understand that the Law itself is a creature of God and thus exists in correlation with the world. This Love-Command is mediated through Scripture; Christian Scripture in particular.

But what is the Love-Command? The Love-Command is, in essence, an invitation to a properly-correlated orientation towards God on the part of the creature. This Law is grounded in the direction of one’s love (or lack of love) for God and thus has fundamental ramifications for all the modal aspects of life. In fact, one’s fundamental orientation towards good or evil is derived from one’s response to this law.

The individual aspects themselves are governed by “ordinances” or modal laws which take effect sui generis. These modal laws are grounded in what Vollenhoven calls the divine “will of decision” – in the order for life that God developed so that the members of the created universe can properly flourish. Thus, in order to properly flourish one must already act in accordance with the Love-Command so that one develops the proper orientation to discern what is the proper created order for life.

One might rightly ask what the foregoing discussion has to do with the overall aim of this blog. It is primarily this – in distinguishing between the Love-Command (the Law of Love) and Modal Law, Vollenhoven developed a bi-level ontology of law which prefigures the ontology developed by Jim Olthuis and Hendrik Hart which we have discussed in previous posts. However, a vital difference between the Law of Love as opposed to the Structures – For of Olthuis or the Conditions-1 of Hart is that a human being must choose to participate in the Law of Love or not and this choice has serious ramifications for one’s morality – The Law of Love can either become a firm foundation upon which to build a flourishing life or sinking sand into which one sinks as into a quagmire. It is not some static structuring Law which requires an advanced level of abstraction from life as it is lived; it it is a vital force in human existence which demands a response.

Leaving questions of how the Love-Command functions in one’s moral life (I refer the reader to the discussion of this throughout Tol’s brilliant essay) I want to point out the radicality of Vollenhoven’s three-fold correlate between God, Love-Command, and World. If God’s interaction with the world is primarily mediated through the Love-Command, this puts a high value on the human response (response-ability!) to the Love-Command. If the enactment of human responsibility in orientation towards this law is necessary for flourishing, one wonders if human responsibility towards modal laws is necessary for the full flourishing of the universe as well. For the Orthodox theologian Gregory of Nazianzus, it is just this responsibility which elevates the universe from its broken disjunctive existence to true cosmos; a well-ordered and properly-functioning Creation.

In order to think through this properly, a great deal of theological work must be done in addition to the work in philosophy of science and ontology which I have already explored. Stay tuned and, as always, I welcome any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Law and Lawfulness III: Law and Emergent Evolution

Jacob Klapwijk in his book Purpose in the Living World? Creation and Emergent Evolution writes that ontological laws should be understood as “‘germinative principles’ or laws with differentiated applications, suited to a concrete situation.” Klapwijk suggests that, rather than look for the “stamp” of what he calls an “extraterrestrial author” when pursuing empirical science, one would do better to look for the “stamp” of the laws which structure the universe. Klapwijk thus believes that we have direct access to the laws which structure the universe vis-a-vis empirical science. From my understanding of Klapwijk, one cannot make the assertion that these laws as “germinative principles” can be understood to directly refer to the logos spermatikos/rationes seminales of Augustine, at least not in the sense that they may be identified with the spoken Creative Word of God.

To put his view into the context of our discussion so far – Klapwijk’s deeply Augustinian (via Dooyeweerd) view of Law is restricted to the consideration of what Hendrik Hart would call “Conditions-2” or what James Olthuis would call “Structures-for.” Our access to these laws comes by studying the “concrete situations” of life. Thus, we might say that to some extent these laws are dynamic and so embedded in the concrete situations of reality that one cannot gain access to them through intuition but only in and through empirical study.

If I am right, this is an interesting philosophical position. To begin with, such a position may suggest that phenomenology (and perhaps ethics?) precede ontology. Philosophy as a way of life precedes philosophy as an analytic discipline (there are shades of Vollenhoven’s Isagoge Philosophiae and Dooyeweerd’s New Critique of Theoretical Thought here.) Secondly, such a view seems to entail that one need not look any further than the concrete situations of lived experience for the laws which govern reality – we need not appeal to Hart’s Conditions-1 or Olthuis’ Structures-Of to gain further insight into the lawful interrelations of the members of the universe.

However, I must trouble the waters here a little bit. If one ascribes to Klapwijk’s view, one has to make a further choice – Do laws have creative agency or impetus of their own, or is the impetus to evolve/create embedded in the universe itself apart from law? While Klapwijk defines ontological law as “germinative principles” he gives no clear explanation of whether he believes laws themselves to have creative potential or if the members of the universe governed by these laws are the ones with the creative potential to introduce real novelty into the universe.

This is, I think, a legitimate question, as strikes at the heart of the free-will/determinism debate. If we situate the locus of creative potentiality in the universe within law, then it seems that one must embrace a determinist (mechanist?) view of the universe. If one situates creative potentiality within the members of the universe themselves, it becomes easier to embrace a robust view of free-will. However, both of these views are fraught with problems (can a bacillus will? What is the intentionality of a rock?) and will require further examination in a future post. I leave you with a thought from Samuel Alexander, one of the progenitors of Emergence Theory, “to be real is to have causal powers.” Meditate upon this until next time; I know I will.

Law and Lawfulness II: The Search for Structure

Over the last several posts I’ve wrestled with theories about ontological laws that may structure the universe – particularly those theories developed by Jim Olthuis, and Henk Hart To my mind the fundamental question we must ask ourselves when thinking about these structuring laws is, “Are those laws which we are able to discern via scientific/philosophical inquiry (what Olthuis calls structures-of and what Hart calls Conditions-2) built upon any prior law or set of laws – are they instantiations of a primordial structure which itself determines the shape of discernible structuring laws?”

Olthuis and Hart have both argued that the laws governing the relationships which exist in the universe rest upon another primordial law(s) (structures-for/conditions-1) which serves as a superstructure of the cosmos. Olthuis especially is emphatic that this superstructure may be identified with the Creative Word God spoke at the commencement of creation. Both argue that we only have access to these primordial laws via our study of the laws instantiated in events which govern the interaction between the members of the cosmos (structures-of/conditions-2.)

If we follow Jacob Klapwijk in the Augustinian move of linking the primordial Creative Word with the broadcasting of rationes seminales (seed-words or seed-ideas) we can easily see how a two-level notion of law can be developed. One could argue that the “broadcasting” Word/Law (structures-for/conditions-1) which serves as an ontological stratum upon which the rationes seminales may take root and develop. Such a view seems to assume that there is a primordial duality to reality – not in the sense of a dichotomy but in the sense of a “two-ness.” God may be one (well…three-in-one) but His fecund Creative Word is necessarily diverse.

But what if such a view actually assumes a primordial one-ness? If it is really the case that, as Olthuis and Hart assert, humans can only grasp structures-for/conditions-1 via structures-of/conditions-2 then it seems possible to argue that structures-for/conditions-1 are nonexistent, even if one would choose to not make such a move. At the moment I see two ways to argue for such a position.

I. C-1/SF actually give rise to C-2/SO – they are in some way agents of causality themselves. This is not to say that they have a will or could be considered to be moral agents, but that they operate on a structuring/conditioning impulse that causes them to continually give rise to C-2/SO. One might say that, on this view, C-1/SF are continually self-instantiating. On such a view the distinction between C-1 and C-2 would break down. One could argue that, inasmuch as we can be sure that C-1/SF give rise to C-2/SO we have direct access to C-1/SF so that C-2/SO serve more as clear windows into C-1/SF rather than having a mediating function.

II. There are no C-1/SO – The universe with its multiplicity members constantly interact in ways which become defined and regulated as these relationships emerge in time. When new interactions between members occur, new laws regulating these interactions spontaneously occur in real time as the interaction unfolds. These C-2/SO do not point backwards to any primordial structuring law(s). There is no cosmic superstructure outside of these regulatory laws which unfold in the universe. This view does not preclude the understanding of ontological laws as rationes seminales; it simply breaks down the distinction between the primordial Creative Word and the unfolding of the history of the universe in time.

Either one of these views could be used to argue for an ontological theory of emergence a la Jacob Klapwijk. However, I am not yet ready to pronounce judgment upon these theories or to choose between them. Stay tuned – we have much to consider further. I welcome any comments, criticisms, or ideas.

Law and Lawfulness I.2: Henk Hart, Conditionality, and Olthuisian Structures

In my previous post I discussed Jim Olthuis’ conception of cosmic God-spoken law as “structures-for” and “structures-of,” focusing primarily on the notion of “structures-for.” About a decade after Olthuis’ essay The Word of God and Science was published, his colleague at the Toronto-based Institute for Christian Studies, Henk Hart, published a book-length work on ontology, entitled Understanding Our World. In the second chapter of the book, Hart discusses his understanding of law, which he labels as “conditions.” Conditions are rules which may be actualized in events, however not all conditions are necessarily actualized. In his view, there are two types of conditions, which loosely map onto Olthuis’ “structures-for” and “structures-of.”

Conditions-1 – Conditions as rules that are not events; nomic conditions. Hart gives an example: “We never eat dinner til all the members of the family are home.”

Conditions-2 – Conditions as rules actualized in events. Example: “We are all home, so we can eat dinner.” Any Event which is characterized as a Condition-2 scenario is the actualization of a Condition-1 in time.

For Hart, we can never really get at C-1 without C-2. He states that C-2s are “the contingent circumstances in which conditions-1 have been realized.” This is extremely close to Olthuis’ argument that one can only get at “structures-for” through studying “structures-of” which are the laws governing relations between various members of the universe. Thus, we can see that Hart’s notion of laws as conditions map on to Olthuis’ notion of laws as structures quite nicely, at least in theory.

Yet, if C-2s as events realize C-1s, are we justified in understanding events as distinct from conditions? Are we justified in conceiving of abstract laws at all, or can all lawfulness be reduced to lived experience? These are the questions which Hart sees as being central to the debate surrounding the notion of universals and he has an answer which I am going to quote in full:

“Events, being subject to conditions, do not function as rules, whereas conditions as rules (as conditions-1) do not actually occur. Events do not obtain, rules do not occur. Conditions are always universal, whereas events are always concretely determined. Conditions determine, whereas events are determined.”

He goes on to argue that the reality of nomic conditions have consequences, but they are not empirical as such. Again we see how close Hart is to Olthuis in these matters, for Olthuis holds that structures-for at least are not empirical; they cannot be treated as “facts.” However, if we are able to get some kind of handle on Conditions-1 (or structures-for) via Conditions-2 (or structures-of), then is it really true that we cannot grasp Conditions-1 (structures-for) empirically? If we cannot, then are we being asked to take the existence of Conditions-1 on faith? The ways in which Olthuis and Hart have framed Law and Lawfulness in the universe are certainly suggestive, but I am unwilling at this point to go all the way with them. Why should I believe that conditions are always universal, if they consistently appear to me in and through concretely determined events? I recognize that one could abstractly theorize the existence of a Condition-1 from a Condition-2, but I am still not convinced that one should.