Biblicism

Linked Glossary of Terms
(references to De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, unless indicated. See concordance for correlation with pages in the New Critique. The concordance is in pdf format.)

Bible NC I, 106 fn
Biblical I, 29, 33, 65, 83
II, 424, 492-93NC I, v (basic Biblical conception), 55 (Biblical revelation; not in WdW), 174 (Biblical motive of creation expressed in Psalm 139).NC II, 11, 29, 143 [not in WdW]

NC III, 6

Twilight, 125

“Het Oecumenisch-Reformatorish Grondmotief van de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee en de grondslag der Vrije Universiteit, ”Philosophia Reformata 31 (1966) 3-15.

Biblicism
Proof text
Scripture I, vi, 30, 57, 64, 65, 80, 91
II, 307, 493

Scripture is the Word of God within the garment of language (II, 493). Scripture was given to us because of our apostasy from Word-revelation (II, 307).

In general, Dooyeweerd is opposed to the use of Biblical proof-texts. Too often they serve only as a decoration to what is in fact unbiblical immanence philosophy (I, 33).

Some of the exceptions to his avoidance of proof-texts are:

(1) Dooyeweerd refers to Ecclesiastes 3:11. “Eternity is set in the heart of man.” (WdW I, 30). [reference is to the Dutch translation of Ecclesiastes].

(2) He quotes the words of Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” (I, 30).

(3) Knowledge of our selves is dependent on our knowledge of God. This is shown in the Biblical Revelation of our creation concerning our creation in the image of God. Our self-knowledge is a central knowledge. It is rooted in the heart, the religious center of our existence (NC I, 55).

(4) All of creation was cursed in Adam. “To the Scriptures!” (I, 65)

(5) Kuyper was probably the first to regain for theology the scriptural insight that faith is a unique function of our inner life implanted in human nature at creation (I, 91)

(6) Jesus Christ has said that we shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Here the term ‘live’ is certainly not used metaphorically, but much rather in the religious fullness of its meaning. (Twilight of Western Thought, 94).

(7) Dooyeweerd says that Kuyper was the one who rediscovered the Biblical revelation of the heart as the religious center and root-unity of our entire existence.

(8) The Bible does not even ascribe to God any supratemporality in this Greek metaphysical sense (NC I, 106, ft. 1).

(9) In the Biblical attitude of naive experience the transcendent, religious dimension of its horizon is opened. The light of eternity radiates perspectively through all the temporal dimensions of this horizon and even illuminates seemingly trivial things and events in our sinful world. (NC II, 29).

(10) Biblical meaning of the word ‘soul’ (NC II, 111).

(11) As long as the human person in its central kernel is conceived as a “substance,” it is impossible to understand the profound Biblical meaning of the creation of man after the image of God (NC III, 6).

(12) The metaphysical conception of a natural reality in itself, independent of man, is un-biblical (NC II, 52).

(13) The Bible does not teach anywhere that man saves a divine part of his temporal existence. The soul or spirit is not an abstraction from temporal existence but the full, spiritual-religious root unity of man. (Vernieuwing en Bezinning, 35).

(14) The term ‘Calvinistic’ is not Biblical. (Verburg, 292, discussion of January 2, 1964).

(15) Dooyeweerd cites Psalm 139 with respect to the integral character of the Biblical motive of creation.

(16) Buber’s distinction between an impersonal I-it relation and an existential I-Thou relation is un-Biblical (NC II, 143).

(17) Power is of divine origin and finds its religious consummation in Christ Jesus (NC II, 248, citing Matt. 28:18 and John 3:35).

(18) God created man after His own Images as ruler and lord of the earthly world (NC II, 248, citing Gen. 1:26, 28).

That is quite an extensive list of Scripture references for one who is opposed to proof-texting! What are we to make of it? On the one hand, we could conclude that Dooyeweerd is merely inconsistent, choosing to proof-text when he wants to and criticizing those who use different proof-texts.

Or (and this is I believe the correct conclusion), we may find here a use of Scripture that depends on the assumption that the Word is more than just Scripture, and that Dooyeweerd is using Scripture that corresponds and accords with his wider experience of the Word. That is the mystical use of Scripture, such as is exemplified in the Quaker George Fox. Fox says that the scriptures, which were given forth by divine inspiration of God, are known again by a divine inspiration of God–through our own experience. We need familiarity with the content of the bible, but also our own experiential engagement. See Ronald D. Worden: “George Fox’s use of the Bible,” Quaker Religious Thought, (2001), Vol. 30, No. 3.

This second view is confirmed by what Dooyeweerd says in his article “Van Peursen’s Critische Vragen bij “A New Critique of Theoretical Thought,” Philosophia Reformata 25 (1960, 97-150, at 103. Van Peursen questioned why Dooyeweerd refers to the Bible’s reference to the ‘heart.’ Dooyeweerd’s response is that here it has meaning to refer to the Word-revelation, because this concerns true self-knowledge, in its dependence on true knowledge of God, which is obtained only by the central working of God’s Word and Spirit, connected to a believing listening to Scripture. It is opposed to autonomous reasoning that stays only within the temporal horizon. By the opening of our heart by God’s revelation, we discover ourselves to ourselves, and the true root-unity of our existence is revealed as the central seat of the image of God, which transcends the diversity of cosmic time. In fact, according to the creation order, all of the temporal is concentrated in this root-unity as the image of God:

Slechts in de ontsluiting van ons hart voor Gods Woordopenbaring worden wij aan ons zelf ontdekt en onthult zich de ware wortel-eenheid van onze existentie, die, als de centrale zetel van het beeld Gods, de tijd in zijn kosmische zin-verscheidenheid transcendeert, omdat, naar de scheppingsorde al het tijdelijke in haar op de eeuwigheid in haar bijbelse (niet-Griekse) zin diende te worden geconcentreerd. In de afvallige richting van het menselijk hart is dit beeld Gods geheel verduisterd, maar in Christus Jezus is het ons in zijn ware zin-volheid geopenbaard. En slechts in en uit Hem leren wij in de gemeenschap van de H. Geest verstaan, in welke zin wij in het centrum onzer existentie de tijd te boven gaan, ofschoon wij tegelijk binnen de tijd besloten zijn.

[Only in the opening of our heart before God’s Word revelation are we discovered to our selves, and the true root-unity of our existence is revealed, which, as the central seat of the image of God, transcends time in its cosmic diversity of meaning. This is because, according to the creation order, in this root-unity all of  temporal reality is meant to be concentrated in eternity in its biblical sense (not in the Greek sense). In the apostate direction of the human heart, this image of God is completely darkened, but in Jesus Christ it is revealed to us in its true fullness of meaning. And only in and from out of Him, and in the community of the Holy Spirit, do we learn to understand, in what sense we go above time in the center of our existence, although at the same time we are enclosed within time.]

At p. 104 of that article, Dooyeweerd says that we get involved in a vicious circle if we try to come to self-knowledge by means of a theological exegesis of certain Scriptural texts. For a theological exegesis of the Scriptural texts that have a bearing on the religious root of human existence can never disclose the central meaning of these texts as long as our heart has not been opened by the working of God’s Spirit. This “key of knowledge” is given only by the Holy Spirit:

Men beweegt zich in elk geval in een vicieuze cirkel, wanneer men meent langs de weg ener theologische exegese van bepaalde Schriftteksten tot waarachtige zelf-kennis in bijbelse zin te kunnen komen. Want de theologische exegese van die Schrifttekesten die op de religieuze wortel van de menselijke existentie betrekking hebben, kan ons nimmer de centrale werking dezer teksten ontsluiten, zolang ons hart niet door de werking van Gods Geest daarvoor is geopened. Zolang de theologische exegese door een dualistisch grondmotief wordt beheerst, zal zij de desbetreffende vragen niet in hun radicaal-bijbelse zinkunnen vatten. Want in de centrale vragen der zelfkennis en Godskennis is de “sleutel der kennis” in het geding, die God zij dank niet aan de theologie, noch aan de wijsbegeerte in handen is gegeven, maar die slechts door de H. Geest zelf wordt gehanteeerd. (p. 104).

[We become involved in a vicious circle whenever we imagine that we can, by means of a theological exegesis of certain texts of Scripture, come to true self-knowledge in the Biblical sense. For a theological exegesis of the Scriptural texts that relates to the religious root of human existence can never unlock the central operation of these texts as long as our heart has not been opened for this by the action of God’s Spirit. As long as theological exegesis is ruled by a dualistic ground-motive, it will not be able to understand the relevant questions in their radical Biblical sense. For the central questions of self-knowledge and knowledge of God concern the “key of knowledge,” and thank God, this is not given over to theology nor to philosophy, but is managed only by the Holy Ghost herself.]
[I have not translated a neuter ‘itself’ for the Holy Ghost].

Dooyeweerd criticizes Groen’s method of Scripture reading.

Dit is een wijze van schriftgebruik, die men nog steeds onder gelovige christenenen kan aantreffen,die Gods Woord als laatste richtsnoer ook voor het tijdelijk leven erkennen. Waar een schijnbaar ondubbelzinnige uitspraak in de Bijbel over bepaalde tijdelijke levensverhoudingen is aan te wijzen, buigt men zich onvoorwaardelijk voor de Goddelijke autoriteit en spreekt dan gaarne van een ‘eeuwig beginsel.’ (Vernieuwing en Bezinninng, 242).

[This is a manner of using Scripture that we still find used by believing Christians. They use God’s Word as a final guide for temporal life. Where an apparently unambiguous expression can be shown in the Bible about certain temporal relations in our life, man bows unconditionally before the Divine authority and speaks readily about an ‘eternal principle.’]

Dooyeweerd says that there is a similar problem with trying to obtain deduced [afgeleide] principles [beginselen] from what are perceived as expressly revealed principles. And if principles cannot be found, then we sometimes try to join with the historical thought process, under the slogan of “God’s leading in history.” The problem with this approach is that the central Ground Motive of the Word is not seen as the central driving force [drijfkracht], which must overturn our attitude of life and thought in its root [die onze levens en denkhouding in de wortel moet omzetten]. The letter kills, but the spirit makes alive. An unreformed vision of the world that seeks to fit itself to scriptural texts is not reformation, but accommodation.

He says that Scripture does not speak of the ground of modern business or society, or the ground of the state, except the authority of government.

In his 1964 lecture, Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a Changing World, Dooyeweerd reaffirms the importance of the idea of supratemporal heart as the center of man’s existence, and “out of which are the issues of life” [Prov. 4:23]. And he says that this idea is necessary in order to understand the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation, as well as of the working of the Word of God upon this supratemporal religious center of our existence. For there is a relation of center and periphery in Scripture as well:

When you see that, then it is no longer strange that Holy Scripture also has a center, a religious center and a periphery, which belong to each other in an unbreakable way. That center is the spiritual dunamis, the spiritual driving force that proceeds from God’s Word in this central, all-inclusive motive of creation, revelation of the fall into sin, redemption through Jesus Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And naturally, we can also speak about creation as an article of faith, a doctrine, and that is also clear. Naturally. And one can theologize about that. Of course that can occur. It is also necessary. But when it concerns true knowledge of God and true knowledge of self, then we must say, “There is no theology in the world and no philosophy in the world that can achieve that for man. It is the immediate fruit of the working, the central working of God’s Word itself in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, in the heart, the radix, the root unity of human existence. (1964 lecture, p. 14).

Dooyeweerd’s discussion with Van Til is particularly helpful for understanding Dooyeweerd’s view of Scripture. See Dooyeweerd’s article “Cornelius Van Til and the Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought,” in Jerusalem and Athens (Presybterian and Reformed, 1971). From this article, it is clear that Dooyeweerd does not accept a propositional view of Scripture. Van Til criticizes Dooyeweerd (the following words are Van Til’s, not Dooyeweerd’s):

Why not rather say that since a true knowledge of self and the world depends upon a true knowledge of God and since the knowledge of God about himself, about man, and about the world was mediated to man from the beginning through ordinary language, including conceptual terms, we now, as sinners saved by Christ, subordinate all our thinking to the truths of Scripture….Listening to Scripture, obeying the voice of God speaking through Christ in Scripture, means making every human thought subject to divine thought.
In Christ, says Dooyeweerd, our hearts are enlightened. But who then is Christ? He is what the Bible says he is in thoughts expressed in words, in concepts. Dooyeweerd speaks of the ‘central dunamis’ of the Divine ‘Word’ as taking hold of us in the depth of our being. If this idea of dunamis is not to lead us into a Kantian sort of noumenal, then it must be based upon the spoken Word, full of thought-content….Dooyeweerd’s discussion of the dunamis of the divine revelation as over against the simple thought-content of Scripture adds still further to the ambiguity contained in what he says about the transcendental method….Why did not Dooyeweerd tell van Peursen that his basic view of objectivity is the normativity of the Scriptural concepts of creation, of sin and of redemption?…It is concepts that need interpretation, yes, by human concepts based on revealed concepts. The whole attempt at reforming philosophical thought in terms of the modalities of thought as set forth by Dooyeweerd breaks down unless he reforms the concept of dunamis. (cited by Dooyeweerd at p. 83).

Dooyeweerd then immediately responds by pointing out the rationalist tendency in Van Til’s view:

I guess this ample quotation sheds a clear light on the rationalist tendency in your [Van Til’s] thought in consequence of which you are unable to escape dilemmas which the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea has unmasked as polarly opposite absolutization.

Dooyeweerd does NOT accept what Van Til says. He says that Van Til misunderstands what he says as a separation between supratemporal and temporal. And he specifically does not agree that Word-revelation is God’s thought. At p. 84, Dooyeweerd says,

In your [Van Til’s] train of thought the matter seems to be quite simple. The Word-revelation results from divine thought. It is mediated to man through ordinary language. Its content is thought-content expressed in words (wrongly identified with concepts).* Consequently, listening to Scripture, obeying the voice of God speaking through Christ in Scripture, means making every human thought subject to divine thought expressed in scriptural concepts, so that man has to “think God’s thoughts after him.” Is this really a biblical view? I am afraid not. Nowhere does the Bible speak of obeying the voice of God in terms of subjecting every human thought to divine thought.

Where I placed the asterisk in the text, Dooyeweerd inserts the footnote:

If this identification [words and concepts] were correct, an English translation of Dutch conceptual terms would be impossible, since there would be no identity of concepts for lack of identical words.

From this it is clear that Dooyeweerd is using ‘concept’ here in the sense of ‘proposition.’ He objects to a propositional view of Scripture. Then Dooyeweerd says that although Van Til speaks of the necessity of rebirth, Dooyeweerd’s view of the religious center of human existence does not fit in with his view of human nature. Dooyeweerd says:

That the Word-revelation was from the beginning mediated to man through human language is naturally unquestionable. But that verbal language would necessarily signify conceptual thought-contents is a rationalist prejudice that runs counter to the real states of affairs.

And on p. 85 Dooyeweerd says that true self-knowledge cannot be itself of a conceptual character. Dooyeweerd says that this does not mean the human self is placed in a vacuum over against all conceptual knowledge. It is not opposed to conceptual knowledge at all, but rather is the central reference point of conceptual knowledge. The reason it is not in a vacuum is not that it is related to conceptual knowledge, but because it has a relation [experience] to the world, to the I-thou relation to fellow-men and the I-Thou relation to God.

The Bible does not speak of this religious center in conceptual terms, no more than Jesus in his night conversation with Nicodemus gave a conceptual circumscription of rebirth as the necessary condition of seeing the kingdom of God. The same holds good with respect to the biblical revelation of creation, man’s fall into sin, and redemption through Jesus Christ. You often speak of the “scriptural concepts of creation of sin, and of redemption,” as revealed concepts, whose normativity ought to be our basic view of objectivity. But the Word-revelation does not reveal concepts of creation, sin and redemption.. You [Van Til] do not seem to have seen that words and concepts cannot be identical.

The Bible testifies to the heart. And our philosophy is in accordance with the bible. But it is not derived from the Bible.

What is said here about the dunamis of the Word-revelation and the central role of the heart in the understanding of its meaning is in complete accordance with the biblical testimony… (p. 86)

In his farewell lecture [afscheidscollege], given on Oct 16, 1965, Dooyeweerd says that Kuyper rediscovered the biblical revelation of the religious root of human existence, which is the key to true self-knowledge:

Dr. Abraham Kuyper heeft de bijbelse openbaring van de religieuze radix der menselijke existentie, die de sleutel is tot de ware zelfkennis, waartoe de wijsbegeerte vanaf Socrates tot het hedendaagse Humanistisch existentialisme tevergeefs langs de weg ener vermeend autoonome theoretische bezinning heeft zoeken te geraken, opnieuw ontdekt. Dit werd bij hem beslissend voor het poneren van zijn befaamde, en zoveel ergernis en misverstand verwekkende stelling dat de antithese tussen geloof en ongeloof noodzakelijk ook in de wetenschap doorwerkt en dat dus van een neutraliteit der wetenschap t.a.v. het christelijk geloof geen sprake kan zijn.(“Het Oecumenisch-Reformatorish Grondmotief van de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee en de grondslag der Vrije Universiteit,”Philosophia Reformata 31 (1966) 3-15 at 8-9).

[Dr. Abraham Kuyper rediscovered the biblical revelation of the religious root of human existence, which is the key to true self-knowledge. This is something that philosophy had sought for in vain, from Socrates to present day humanistic existentialism, for they looked for it along the path of a supposed autonomous theoretical attitude. This idea [of the religious root] was decisive for Kuyper in his positing of the famous proposition–a proposition that has caused so much annoyance and misunderstanding–that the antithesis between belief and unbelief necessarily also works itself out in science, and that therefore we cannot speak of a neutrality of science in relation to Christian faith].

But in the same farewell lecture, Dooyeweerd says (p. 5) that it is a misunderstanding to believe that for each area of science we must look for special principles that we can derive from the Holy Scriptures. For the Bible gives no answer to true theoretical and philosophical questions, but leaves that task to us:

Immers de Bijbel geeft op werkelijk wetenschappelijke vaktheoretische en wijsgerige vragen geen antwoord, omdat hij ons de taak, die ons in de wetenschap gesteld is, niet uit handen neemt.

[For the Bible gives no answer to true theoretical questions in the speical sciences or in philosophy, because it does not take out of our hands the task that is given to us in science.]

The Bible works an inner reformation upon us, and upon our theoretical attitude of thought and experience. This reformational working upon us can not be anything except a liberating working. We are liberated from unbliblical groundmotives, which are now unmasked.

In Vernieuwing en Bezinning, Dooyeweerd says (p. 57) that God’s Word is spirit and power that must work through our whole life and attitude of thought. It wants to wake new life in us, where now death and spiritual love of ease (‘gemakzucht’) now rule. He says,

You want God’s Word revelation to fall in your lap. But Christ Jesus says that you yourself must bear fruit, whenever the seed of Gods Word is fallen in good earth.

The Ten Commandments are not intended to show the ordinances of creation. Therefore the jurist Stahl, who emphasized the importance of the Ten Commandments for law, is on the wrong track.

In Vernieuwing en Bezinning (p. 90) Dooyeweerd also says that the interpretation of the Scriptures is not just a linguistic question, nor is it a pure theological matter. A Jewish Rabbi reads Isaiah 53 differently than does a Christian. And a modernistic theologian does not interpret the saving suffering and dying of the Mediator.

Dooyeweerd says that even the Bible must be read with the “key of knowledge.” This key is the Idea of the supratemporal heart as the religious root of temporal reality.

So long as this central meaning of the Word-revelation is at issue we are beyond the scientific problems of both of theology and philosophy. Its acceptance or rejection is a matter of life or death to us, and not a question of theoretical reflection. In this sense the central motive of the Holy Scripture is the common supra-scientific starting point of a really biblical theology and of a really Christian philosophy. It is the key of knowledge of which Jesus spoke in his discussion with the Scribes and lawyers. (Twilight of Western Thought, 125).

Read in this way, he believes that Calvin’s view of the self is the only Biblical one (II, 492).

Scripture does not speak to us in a theoretical way. The Scriptures statement of creation transcends all theoretical thought. And our philosophy is not to be derived from it. The Scriptures transcend all theoretical thought; they appeal to heart of man in the language of naive experience (NC II, 52).

Steen says:

For as Dooyeweerd himself stresses, Scripture comes to us in our temporal, integral, naïve experience and speaks to us in all our functions in the language of time, and according to Dooyeweerd, according to the order of time of faith (geloofs-tijdsorde) (Steen, 133).

Dooyeweerd’s idea of the Scriptures may be compared to Kuyper. Kuyper emphasizes the immediacy of the Scriptures.

For the Calvinist, therefore, the necessity of the Holy Scriptures does not rest in ratiocination, but on the immediate testimony of the Holy Spirit, on the testimonium Spiritus Sancti. Our theory of inspiration is the product of historical deduction, and so is also every canonical declaration of the Scriptures. But the magnetic power with which the Scripture influences the soul, and draws it to herself, just as the magnet draws the steel, is not derived, but immediate. All of this takes place in a manner which is not magical, nor unfathomably mystical, but clear, and easy to be understood. God regenerates us, that is to say, He rekindles in our heart the lamp sin had blown out. (Stone Lectures, “Calvinism and Religion,” 57)

In his last interview, published after his death [in Acht Civilisten in Burger], Dooyeweerd has some interesting things to say about Scripture and theology:

I do not enter into polemics with young theologians, who do not appear to have understood anything of the essential problematics of a contemporary reformational philosophy, for I have learned something from Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly [De lof der Zotheid]. Of course you know it too, it is a fantastic little book! It says that you should really not carry on any polemics with theologians, and for this he uses a very suggestive image. There was in Greek mythology a lake somewhere, which gave off a terrible smell when you began to stir around in it. Now, he refers to nothing other than the name of that lake, and he says, “It is not desirable to stir up this lake.”

I had someone who visited me from America who asserted that he had a mandate from an ecclesiastical classis. He was to request an interview with me in order to come to know what my views really were, and what the views were of the disciples who appealed to me–“probably in error,” he then said.

He asked me what I thought about the distinction between the Bible and the Word of God. Now, I speak freely, and I said, “That is just self-evident. You can’t really say that everything in the Bible is inspired. When the Apostle Paul writes to his assistant Timothy that he has forgotten his traveling cloak somewhere and asks whether he will bring it with him when he comes, are we to regard that text as ‘inspired’ just because it stands in the Bible? That would be foolish, wouldn’t it?” But my interrogator was of a completely different opinion. According to him the Bible was “inspired by God word for word” and he therefore found my distinction between the Bible and God’s Word to be an insult to God’s Word. With that of course there was no point in any further dialogue.

No, I have not reacted to this. There is a whole literature of opposition that has arisen, mostly by young theologians from out of the seminary in Philadelphia [Westminster], who accused me of one heresy after another. I have no interest in that. [Daar trek ik me niets van aan]. I didn’t even know what these heresies involved; I had to look them up in a Christian encyclopedia. What was that again…oh, yes. Sabellianism! That was the title of one article that was written against me: Sabellianism in the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea. And what was that? I have always said that we may not ascribe the modal aspects to God, in the sense that they define God’s essence [wezen]. But we can do so in the sense that their origin lies in God’s act of creation, but that is completely different than applying them to God. As an example, I then gave the numerical aspect, the aspect of quantity. When theologians discuss the three-in-one, they can then not say, “one plus one plus one equals three,” without adding to this, “equals one.” If they understand this as an additive sum in numerical language, they then are simply speaking nonsense–this can of course not be. It is also not a number in the original quantitative meaning, but it is a numerical analogy. It is an analogical moment in the structure of faith.

A young theologian from Philadelphia said that he always had difficulty with that proposition of mine. He could not see this as anything other than Sabellianism. And this Sabellius appears to have been a theologian who denied that there are three different persons in the Divine essence, and who wanted to speak of only three modalities in the self-revelation of God. Now, the Bible nowhere says that there are three persons; that is something that was made from it [erbij gemaakt]. We have difficulty in representing this differently; none of us know precisely what the tri-unity is. I am inclined not to let this weigh so terribly heavy, but for the scholastic theologians this was of course a great heresy!

Vollenhoven took a different view of Scripture: he believed it was one of the sources of our knowledge. On the basis of Bible texts, Vollenhoven thought he could philosophize about heaven and world of angels, because they belong to created world. “Problemen van de tijd in onze kring” March 29/68. Dooyeweerd thought that this was theology, not philosophy. (Verburg 90).

Revised June20/13; Feb15/15 (typos); Dec 23/16

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