Friday, September 27, 2013

Lessons From Rwanda 94 Genocide

In a blogpost on the recent elections in Rwanda, Kevin Lees writes:
'All too often, Western good-government types don’t understand how the liberalization of Rwanda’s political sphere and open radio airwaves accelerated the genocide.'
While it's correct that this played a role leading up to the genocide, we should not forget the context in which this liberization took place: The international community forced the Rwandan government to negotiate with an outside rebel force, the RPF.

At the same time pressure towards democratization helped this rebel group recruit in Eastern Congo.

What we can learn from it is that forcing a government to negotiate with a rebel group while pushing for democracy isn't a good idea.

The efforts to end the m23 rebellion in Congo indicate the international community has learned from it's previous adventure in Rwanda.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Herman Bavinck's Epistemology

'The logos in the creatures corresponds with the logos in man and makes science possible' (Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, Book 1, page 213)
Geerhardus Vos claimed, in his review of the original first volume of Bavinck's Dogmatiek, that Bavinck set forth in his prolegomena as Reformed epistemology "the same theory.. that has been set forth .. by the late Dr. Mc Cosh" (that is Scottish Common Sense Realism as K. Scott Oliphint correctly writes in his article Bavinck's Realism, the Logos Principle and Sola Scriptura).

This might seem surprising while It could easily suggest that Geerhardus Vos did not understand the objective Princeton set itself when creating the chair of biblical theology. This objective was summarized by Reverend Abraham Gosman at the inauguration of Geerhardus Vos as Professor of Biblical Theology:
´the student cannot take with any satisfaction or certainty the books of the Bible as trustworthy or authoritative without an investigation of his own´
Abraham Gosman refers here to the Perspicuitas of Scripture ('one of the firmest strongholds of the Reformation' writes Herman Bavinck in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, book 1 page 396). In a clear reference to both Hendrik de Cock and Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck adds on page 397 of the first book of his Reformed Dogmatics:
'the clarity of Scripture is origin and guarantee of religious and political freedoms'
Compare with this: On Perspicuity of the Scriptures: the right of Private Judgment, Charles Hodge. The clarity of Scripture explains how John Witherspoon used Francis Hutcheson and Thomas Reid's work. John Witherspoon did exactedly what Emperor Julianus was affraid of, as Bavinck relates on page 526 of book 1 of his Reformed Dogmatics: 
'Emperor Julianus knew what he was doing when he took the pagan science away from Christians, fearing to be defeated with his own weapons.'
Bavinck's discussion of the Principia in science from page 145 onward (chapter 7) treats rationalism, empirism:
'we should ask ourselves is there not a need to revise this whole of newer philosophy, both in it's Cartesian and in it's Baconian direction.' (157)
He goes on to discuss realism (157). And concludes 'The same Logos, which shines in the world, must let its light shine also in our consciousness...'. However, Bavinck's numerous uses of the word Logos should be placed in the context of his understanding of revelation as 'a historic and organic unity, a mighty world controlling and world renewing system of acts of God' (GD I page 268) and Abraham Kuyper's understanding of preaching (see Predik het Woord [Preach the Word] by C. Veenhof). Page 303 and 304 of book 1 of Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics beautifully summarizes the way the Logos functions in his dogmatics & how this links up both with the mentioned clarity of Scripture and the centrality of Preaching the Word in Kuyper's work:
In Christ, in the middle of history God has created an organic center; from there the circles are getting drawn ever wider, on which the light of revelation shines..

While head and heart, the totality of man in his being and consciousness has to be renewed, the revelation in this dispensation continuous through Scripture and church together.
'Scripture is the light of the church, the church is the life of the Scripture. Outside of the church Scripture is a riddle, an annoyance'
'Therefore Scripture does not stand alone. She should not be considered Deistically. She is rooted in a history of ages and is the fruit of the revelation under Israel and in Christ....The H. Scripture is the always living, eternally youthful word, which God sends now in this day and always to his people.'

On page 515 of his Reformed Dogmatics (book I) Bavinck's describes (and approves) the view of the Church fathers which describes the relationship between theology and philosophy as the relationship between the wise from the east that laid down their gifts before the Child Jesus. Schilder further develops this approach in a sermon on Matthew 2 'The Wise From The East And The Word Of God'. The outline of this sermon is: 
  • Lured by the Word of God in nature.
  • Guided by the Word of God in Scripture.
  • Kneeled before the Word of God in the flesh.
As I have said before, Schilder is a Bavinck interpreter, also concerning epistemology. On page 305 of the Reformed Dogmatics Bavinck summarizes how he sees the centrality of the Logos in his epistemology:
'By the Word God once created the world, through the Word he sustains it, through the Word He recreates her and also prepares her as His house. The theopneusty is therefore a permanent feature of the H. Scripture. She was not only theopneust at the moment that she was put to book: she is theopneust.'
When Bavinck says organic, he also means nature (GD I, page 275: De bijzondere openbaring kwam dus geheel op zich zelve te staan, zonder verband met natuur en geschiedenis.) The best way to understand the meaning of the word Logos in John 1 is to study the rest of the New Testament: John 4, Acts, Hebrews Revelations...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Klaarblijkelijkheid van de Schrift & Unalienable Rights

In deel 1 van zijn Gereformeerde Dogmatiek Schrijft Herman Bavinck op bladzijde 397:
'de duidelijkheid der Schrift is oorsprong en waarborg van de religieuse en ook van de politieke vrijheden'
Daarbij wordt verwezen naar Abraham Kuyper's lezing 'Calvinism oorsprong en waarborg van onze constitutionele vrijheden'. Jasper Vree schrijft in zijn boek over de achtergrond van deze lezing:
'Door deze lectuur ( Works of Burke, Collection des mémoires Guizot, works of de Tocqueville and Lamennais) rees bij hem de vraag of er vroeger niet zo iets als een specifiek gereformeerd staatsrecht kon zijn ontwikkeld, met doorwerkingen in later tijd, met name in Amerika. Zou de volkssoevereiniteit zoals die daar bestond niet heel goed antirevolutionair kunnen zijn? Op 23 November 1873 zou deze periode van studie en bezinning uitmonden in de lezing voor Utrechtse studenten.'

Deze klaarblijkelijkheid van de Schrift is het onderwerp van Klaas Schilder's inaugurele rede van 1934:
'In deze klaarblijkelijkheids-aanvaarding ligt de eenheid tussen 1834 en 1934, tussen Hendrik de Cock en ons.'
In de discussie over rechtsstaat en democratie wordt vaak verwezen naar unalienable rights (Francis Hutcheson). Bijvoorbeeld door A J Boekestijn hier:
'Democracy is 2 wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from inalienable rights which may not be taken by vote'
De klaarblijkelijkheid van de Schrift is de fundering van deze onvervreemdebare rechten:

'Hutcheson elaborated on this idea of unalienable rights in his A System of Moral Philosophy (1755), based on the Reformation principle of the liberty of conscience. One could not in fact give up the capacity for private judgment (e.g., about religious questions) regardless of any external contracts or oaths to religious or secular authorities so that right is "unalienable." Hutcheson wrote: "Thus no man can really change his sentiments, judgments, and inward affections, at the pleasure of another; nor can it tend to any good to make him profess what is contrary to his heart. The right of private judgment is therefore unalienable.'
Hoewel de link met de klaarblijkelijkheid van de Schrift in Hutcheson's moral philosophy latent aanwezig is, is het John Witherspoon (& Princeton) die hieruit de ultieme consequenties getrokken heeft. 

Abraham Kuyper gaf in 1867 zijn eerste kerkelijke brochure uit,
'Wat moeten wij doen, het stemrecht aan ons zelven behouden of den kerkeraad machtigen? Vraag bij de uitvoering van art. 23 toegelicht, waarin hij voor een democratische kerkregering koos, mits deze niet ontaardde in volkssoevereiniteit, die hij als geestverwant van Groen van Prinsterer afwees.'

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Discovering Seakle Greydanus

The theologian that likely best understood the strengths and weaknesses of both Presbyterian teachings in America and those of Reformed in the Netherlands is Seakle Greydanus.  In a previous post on this same topic I claimed:
'However, showing how the Biblical theology of William Henry Green and Geerhardus Vos is built on Thomas Reid's Common Sense Philosophy could be very helpful.'
I no longer think this is the correct way of looking at the link between Thomas Reid and Old Princeton. My new understanding is that Witherspoon used Hutcheson and Reid's work  and that biblical theology might be the glue that keeps together Edwards idealism and Witherspoon's realism. Biblical theology, as aimed for at Princeton, and redemptive-historical preaching, as aimed for by Dutch Reformed during the thirties, rejects antropocentrism but at the same time enforces the perspicuitas of Scripture.

Understanding how Seakle Greydanus integrated Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed theology helps us put Klaas Schilder and Herman Dooyeweerd's philosophy in perspective.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Edwards's Idealism & Witherspoon's Realism

'Plato's famous idealized Republic required a perfect Philosopher King to rule it, with wisdom and benevolence. He argued that because such a perfect human being could exist, therefore such a king would be possible to find.'
Princeton's thoughtleadership in the 18th century was based on it's approach to solving the tensions between 'moderates' and 'evangelicals', Old Lights and New Lights, fronteer Scots-Irish and New-England puritans, Scottish and non-Scottish segments of US Presbyterianism, as explained in a sermon (1761) by it's president Samuel Finley. So how did Princeton solve the tension between Edwards's idealism and Witherspoon's realism?

Jonathan Edwards's pursuit of happiness ('happiness' was his favorite word) reminds of Francis Hutcheson's moral philosophy. A Owen Aldrigde writes that Jonathan Edwards dissertation on Nature of True Virtue is literally a commentary on Hutcheson's work. This focus on the pursuit of happiness was an essential structuring element during the Scottish Enlightenment. We see Samuel Davies focus on happiness in his sermons. But just as the concept of 'common sense' ('Witherspoon's lectures do not contain the full-orbed common-sense epistemology' Mark A. Noll), the pursuit of happiness means different things to different people. John Witherspoon and Samuel Finley understood this and had no problem integrating the valuable aspects of Francis Hutcheson's and Thomas Reid's work in their educational endeavour.

The next question is offcourse how to reconcile the supposed idealism of Jonathan Edwards with the supposed realism of John Witherspoon. From his ecclesiastical characteristics we can deduct that Witherspoon rejected Edwards aesthetic approach. But at the same time, as Scott Oliphint points out:
'The more Edwards puzzled over these matters, the more he was able to express himself biblically so that his later, most mature expression of ontology grounds the notion of Being squarely in the character of God and not in an abstract principle.'
And:
'It was in this context (of the great awakening) that Edwards wrote what is considered by many to be his greatest work, A Treatise on the Religious Affections. In that work, Edwards had to show not only that such a scholastic psychology was unwarranted, but that his position of the organic unity of man was (1) biblical and (2) explanatory of the nature of revival'

Jonathan Edwards's sermons on redemptive history might hold the key to solving this riddle. An approach that reminds us of Origen , Geerhardus Vos, and Klaas Schilder. Rejecting antropocentrism, while at the same time doing justice to the perspuictas of Scripture, the redemptive historical approach eventually links Princeton's 'Plato and Aristotle' (Matthew J. Milliner). As Robert S. Null's writes in his dissertation:
 'The relationship of history to theology became foundational for Witherspoon not simply as an extension of late Protestant scholasticism, an expression of Christian piety, or an excessive reliance on, or aversion toward, a specific enlightenment philosophy. In his writings, theology itself was undergoing change, and specifically in Witherspoon's case, toward integrating an important awareness of history. This awareness demonstrates the importance of history very early in the rise of Princeton theology.'
Biblical theology and redemptive-historic preaching is the answer to these different questions, as illustrated by a quote from Jonathan Edwards sermon on Ruth's resolution: 
'But men can be happy in no other God, but the God of Israel. He is the only fountain of happiness.'
Once again, as C. Jan Swearingen has argued, we see here the central focus on preaching in Scottish philosophy. Let's hope the Edwards conference february 27/28 2014 in the United Kingdom will enlighten us more on how Jonathan Edwards contributed to Princeton's educational project.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Calvinism & Environmentalism

John Gatta writes:
'Edwards’s notion of “benevolence to Being in general,” as articulated in The Nature of True Virtue, is a theocentric ideal that resists the anthropocentric assumption that nature exists solely to fulfill human needs and desires'
 Belder C. Lane writes in a blogpost 'A Passionate Green Calvinist':
'We're familiar with Reformed theologians like Karl Barth who emphasized a God of majesty who is "wholly other." We don't normally associate Reformed Protestantism, therefore, with a spirituality of desire or an attentiveness to creation. A more careful consideration of the tradition requires our distinguishing two parallel strains of thought in Reformed Christianity. The one begins with a sense of awe at God's majesty, the other with a delight in God's beauty. Both, strangely enough, can be traced through Calvin, the Puritans and Edwards. The more passionate and earthy strain simply hasn't been recognized enough'
Both statements immediately remind of Klaas Schilder's dissertation begriffsgeschichte des Paradoxons and the first chapter of his commentary of the Heidelberg Catechism. The article Jonathan Edwards on Beauty, Desire, and the Sensory World by Belden C. Lane further explores the ecological implications of Jonathan Edwards's approach (by the way, Belden C. Lane is working on a new book, titled: Nature and Spirituality in the Reformed Tradition from John Calvin to Jonathan Edwards.) and quotes Joseph Sittler (some background here):
"environmental ethics should take its cue from the first question of the Westminster Catechism in the Calvinist tradition. What is the chief end of man and woman (and of all creation, for that matter)? The answer: To glorify God and to enjoy God forever."
Belder C. Lane's thesis is:
'For Jonathan Edwards, creation functions as a school of desire, training regenerate human beings in the intimate sensory apprehension of God.'
Avia Zakai is absolutely correct when he states in his article 'Jonathan Edwards and the Language of Nature: The Re-Enchantment of the World in the Age of scientific Reasoning':
'His force of mind is evident in his exposition of the poverty of mechanical philosophy, which radically transformed the traditional Christian dialectic of God's utter transcendence and divine immanence by gradually diminishing divine sovereignty with respect to creation, providence, and redemption, thus leading to the disenchantment of the world.'
Someone who has read Klaas Schilder's sermon will immediately see the resemblance.

Jonathan Edwards dissertation on Nature of True Virtue is literally a commentary on Hutcheson's work.

It's obvious reading both Francis Hutcheson and Jonathan Edwards is essential to understand 18th century Princeton (Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, John Witherspoon).

Marsden's quote illustrate why John Witherspoon's instrumentalisation of Hutcheson's moral philosophy is unique:
'The grand hope of the modern moral philosophers was that they could discover universally valid moral standards with which they could adjudicate competing absolute claims and in effect stand above them.'