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.)
NC II, 562
Dooyeweerd says that our knowledge of God is not primarily gained in a theological way. (II, 495). Theology is theoretical knowledge. True knowledge of God and of ourselves is concerned with the horizon of human experience. It has a religious enstatic character (and is therefore not theoretical in even a theological sense):
It means a turning of the personality, a giving of life in the full sense of the word, a restoring of the subjective perspective of our experience, enabling us to grasp reality again perspectivally in the light of Truth. This does not mean a kind of mystical supernatural cognitive function, but it refers to the horizon that God made for human experience in the cosmic horizon that God made for human experience in the cosmic order created by Him. (NC II, 562, 563).
Dooyeweerd confirms this in his article “Van Peursen’s Critische Vragen bij “A New Critique of Theoretical Thought,” Philosophia Reformata 25 (1960, 97-150, at 100-101. 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 exegeiss 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 reliigieuze 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, maaar die slechts door de H. Geest zelf wordt gehanteeerd. (p. 104).
In the same article, he says at 114-115:
Dat hier geen “scheiding tussen wereld en God” gemeend kan zijn in de zin, waaarin Van Peursen dit blijkbaar verstaat, waar hij daartegenover in de wet eerder de “presentie” or “immanentie” Gods wil zien, zal toch wel geen nader betoog behoeven. Hoe zou zulk een deïstische wetsconceptie immers te rijmen zijn met het door de W.d.W. wanuit het bijbels scheppingsmotief zo scherp benadrukte zin-karakter van het geschapene naar wets- en subjectszijde? Hoe zou zij te rijmen zijn met de zelfopenbaring Gods in zijn schepping en met de incarnatie van het Goddelijk Woord in Christus Jezus? […]
Maar van een scheiding wordt hier in ‘t geheel niet gespoken, en kan hier ook niet zijn gesproken, daar immers uitgegaan werd van het grote mysterie der God-menselijke eenwording, dat ik niet in theoretische, maar in zijn centraal religieuze zin benaderde, nl. als centrale bijbelse drijfkracht van mijn denken. Deze eenwording zou echter juist haar bijbelse zin verliezen als daarbij de wezensgrens tussen God en schepsel zou worden miskend. En deze wezensgrens wordt weer aangegeven door het onder de wet gesteld zijn van Jezus Christus naar zijn menselijkheid. Ik had daarbij niet, zoals Van Peursen blijkbaar meent, op het oog de Joodse wet, maar de wet in haar kosmisch-religieuze zin, d.w.z. in haar tijdelijke zin-verscheidenhied en in haar religieuze wortel-eenheid.Alleen Christus kon zeze wet in haar volle zin-ontslotenheid vervullen, maar alleen, omdat Hij zich aan haar, als aan de wil des Vaders, met zijn ganse hart onderwierp en in blijvende gemeenschap met de Vader was, zowel naar zijn Godheid als naar zijn menselijkheid.
Wanneer men theologisch over het bijbels leerstuk der incarnatie gaat nadenken, dan worden wij voor theoretische problemen gesteld, die toch geen adaequate theoretische oplossing kunnen vinden, omdat het om grens-problemen gaat, die onmiddelilijk tot antinomieën voeren, zodra het theoretisch denken beproeft zijn grenzen in metafysische speculatie te overschrijden. Het ingaan op deze theologische problematiek naar haar dogmatische zijde ligt niet op de weg van de W.d.W. Maar wel heeft deze laatste de kritische taak te waarschuwen tegen iedere theoretsiche verzwakking van het onderscheid tussen wet en subject en tussen God en schepsel in de onderstelling dat men op deze wijze meer theologisch licht zou krijgen in de bedoelde problematiek.
[No further argument is needed to show that I cannot intend any “separation between world and God” in the sense that Van Peursen apparently understands it, and to which he opposes the idea of the “presence” or “immanence” of God in the law. How could such a deistic conception of the law ever fit with the sharp emphasis in the Philosophy of the Law-Idea, from out of the biblical motive of creation, of the meaning-character of what has been created both as to its law-side and its subject-side? How could it fit with God’s self-revelation in his creation, and with the incarnation of the Divine Word in Christ Jesus? […]
But there is nothing that is said [in the Philosophy of the Law-Idea] about a separation. And nothing can be said about such any separation, for this philosophy always proceeds from the great mystery of the becoming one of the Divine and the human. I do not approach this idea in a theoretical way, but in its central religious meaning—i.e. as the central biblical motive force of my thought. This becoming one would really lose precisely its biblical sense if thereby the essential boundary between God and creation is misunderstood. And this essential boundary is again set out by the way that Jesus Christ was set under the law according to his humanity. By that I did not intend, as Van Peursen apparently supposes, the Jewish law, but the law in its cosmic-religious sense—that is to say, in its temporal meaning-diversity and in its religious root-unity. Only Christ can fulfill this law in its full unfolded meaning, and only because He subjected Himself to the law, as to the will of the Father, with His whole heart, and because he was in continuing fellowship with the Father, both according to His divinity as well as according to His humanity.
Whenever we reflect theologically on the biblical doctrine of the incarnation, then we are presented with theoretical problems that have no theoretical solution, because they concern boundary problems, which lead immediately to antinomies as soon as theoretical thought tries to overstep its bounds in metaphysical speculation. It is not the path of the Philosophy of the Law-Idea to enter into this theological problematic according to its dogmatic side. But the Philosophy of the Law-Idea does have the critical task to warn against every theoretical weakening of the distinction between law and subject, and between God and creation, which people make in the hope that they can in this way obtain more theological enlightenment into the [theological] problematic that I have referred to.]
Dooyeweerd also says that philosophy is not to be directed by theology. Philosophy is not the servant of theology. (I, 57). He criticizes the view that philosophy is the servant of Christian theology, as being based on the influence of Greek theoria (Transcendental Problems of Philosophic Thought, Eerdmans, 1948,p. 69).
He says that theology is “a theoretical knowledge obtained in a synthesis of the logical function of thought and the temporal function of faith.” (NC II, 562). Dooyeweerd’s emphasis on theology as theory has been expanded upon by writers like James Olthuis. As Olthuis says, Dooyeweerd sees faith as only one of many ways of being religious (“Dooyeweerd on Religion and Faith,” The Legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd, 30). For Dooyeweerd, faith is one aspect of our lives. The aspect of faith is not to be identified with our religious center (NC I, 58 ft. 1). Dooyeweerd’s view should be contrasted with Kuyper’s view that faith is theological, and that theology governs the other sciences.
“En het zijn juist deze vooronderstellingen, die de theologie op een onbijbels spoor brengen, wanneer ze op oncritische wijze ontleend blijken te zijn aan wijsgerige totaal visies op de mens en zijn wereld, die door een onbijbels grondmotief beheerst worden.” (“Na vijf en dertig jaren,” Philosophia Reformata 36 (1971), p. 1-10), p. 10, cited by Verburg 396).
[And it is just these presuppositions that bring theology onto an unbiblical track, whenever it has borrowed in an uncritical manner the total views of man and world that are ruled by an unbiblical Ground-Motive].
Like any theoretical science, theology depends on our non-theoretical knowledge:
“Self-knowledge in the last analysis appears to be dependent upon knowledge of God, which, however, is quite different from a theoretical theology.” (NC I, 55).
In reference to Marlet’s view, Dooyeweerd says that differences in philosophy cannot be reduced to differences in theology (NC III, 73).
In his The Last Interview of Herman Dooyeweerd, 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!
If anything, Dooyeweerd views philosophy as more comprehensive than theology, since philosophy seeks a view of totality. Philosophy gives the theoretical fundamentals for all special sciences (“Kuyper’s Wetenschapsleer” Philosophia Reformata, 1939 193-232).
Even the interpretation of Scripture is not just a linguistic question, nor is it a pure theological matter. There is a confusion of church dogma [geloofsstuk] from theological dogmatics (scientific theory about dogma) (Vernieuwing en Bezinning, 90, 92). The Biblical attitude is not theology (NC III, 30).
In his article “What is Man?” International Reformed Bulletin 3 (1960), 4-16, Dooyeweerd says,
For, as a dogmatic science of the articles of the Christian faith, theology is no more able to lead us to real knowledge of ourselves and of God than philosophy and the special sciences which are concerned with the study of man. This central knowledge can only be the result of the Word-revelation of God operating in the heart, in the religious centre of our existence, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dooyeweerd says that the Christian Ground-Motive of creation, fall and redemption is not based on theological knowledge or even on theoretical exegesis of the Bible.Nor can ideas of sin, rebirth and the incarnation be made into questions of exegesis. In his Responses to the Curators, Dooyeweerd says
For as a Christian I cannot and may not accept that he would make such a central point, one that concerns the whole view of fall into sin and redemption, into a question of theoretical exegesis about which one might therefore have differences of opinion! (Second Response to Curators, 27).
But there should be no difference of opinion among us that overall, where Scripture refers to the ‘heart’ (or the soul) of man in connection with sin or redemption, and in general in connection with the fundamental religious attitude toward God, only the religious centre of life, the root of man’s whole existence is in issue. That may above all not be made into a free, academic question of “exegesis,” no more than the question of what the Scriptures mean by sin, rebirth, incarnation of the Word, etc. (Second Response to Curators, 31)
Just as little may the question of what the Scriptures mean by ‘heart’ in the religious fullness of meaning be denatured into a question of mere exegesis of words. If my highly esteemed colleague continues to deny this irrefutable truth–something I certainly do not assume–then indeed any further possibility of fruitful exchange of thoughts would come to an end. (Second Response to Curators 2, 32)
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 says that what gives life is the Christian Ground Motive in our hearts–the Motive of creation, fall and redemption. But he emphasizes that this is not theological knowledge. The true meaning is given by the “key of knowledge.” Whoever thinks that we begin with theological knowledge is on the wrong track. “If our salvation be dependent on theological dogmatics and exegesis, we are lost.” (Twilight of Western Thought, 135). In fact, the divine revelation of creation, fall and redemption is withdrawn from the scientific field of research in dogmatic theology (Twilight, 134). The revelation becomes an object of theological thought only within the temporal diversity of experiential aspects (Twilight, 136). Theology does not concern “the central basic motive of the Holy Scriptures as it is operative in the religious center of our consciousness and existence.” (Twilight, 146). We ought not to confuse theoretical Christian theology with the true knowledge of God and true self-knowledge, which surpasses all theoretical knowledge. (Twilight, 115, 120). Many Christians have only a theological knowledge of creation, fall and redemption, and this central theme of Word-Revelation has not yet become the central motive-power of their lives. (Twilight, 188).
In my article “Imagination, Image of God and Wisdom of God: Theosophical Themes in Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy,” (2006), I discuss how theology has sometimes got in the way of intepreting what Dooyeweerd’s philosophy really means. In Appendix A to that article, I discuss to what extent his philosophy is really Calvinistic.
Baader also places theology under the higher category of philosophy (Werke 5, 224, cited by Sauer, 13 ft. 4). Baader says that theology is one of the branches of knowledge, and it cannot claim completeness.
Von den drei Hauptzweigen unseres Wissens (der Theologie oder Gotteslehre, der Anthropologie oder Menschenlehre und der Physiologie oder Naturlehre) kann keiner zur Vollständigkeit gelangen (Werke 5,254; Sauer 128)
[Of the three principal branches of our knowledge (theology or teaching about God, anthropology or teaching about humans, and physiology or teaching about nature), none can claim completeness.]
Revised Jan 29/08; Dec 24/16