Review of Hearing and Doing

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society  23 (3) 1980: 279-81
Hearing and Doing. Edited by John Kraay and Anthony Tol. Toronto: Wedge, 1979, 370 pp., n.p.

Hearing and Doing is a Festschrift of 16 philosophical essays written in honor of H. Evan Runner, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, by his former students. The editors indicate that Runner impressed his students with the view that life is religion, that life “derives its meaning from the creational situation of God speaking and man responding (p. x). Given this perspective on life, religion must have implications for all areas of life. This line of reasoning provides the rationale for the book’s title and content. The essays are on widely divergent philosophical topics, intending to show the importance of hearing and doing for all areas of life. Runner introduced his students to the Calvinistic philosophy of the Netherlands as expounded in the works of such thinkers as Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd, and the articles in this volume reflect that philosophy. For someone versed in that school of philosophy this volume will prove to be of special interest.

The essays are divided into five categories. First there are those dealing with current political and social approaches to problems (Hart, Zylstra, Langerak). A second group is concerned with matters directly pertaining to Scripture (Olthuis, Cook, De Graaff). The third and fourth groups are historically oriented, focusing respectively on medieval scholasticism (Helleman, Steen, Van Dyk, Vander Stelt) and on post-Kantian and post-Hegelian German philosophical thought (Vander Goot, Plantinga, Kraay). A final section focuses on topics of scientific foundational import (Wolters, Seerveld, Tol). The volume also includes an interview with Runner.

While I enjoyed all the essays, I found those on post-Kantian and post-Hegelian German thought to be the most helpful. In particular, Vander Goot has given a very thorough and clear exposition of the relation of religion and culture in the early thought of Schleier-macher. Some of the articles will probably prove to be unobjectionable to most, but they also seem to be of little philosophical value and relevance. Articles that fall into this category are Cook’s work on “Thoreau and the King James Bible” and Helleman’s “Augustine’s Early Writings on a Liberal Arts Education.” There are, on the other hand, several articles that will prove to be of philosophical interest and to serve as a basis for debate. I should like to comment on a few of them.

Hart (“Struggle for a New Direction”) discusses the relation of positivism to the political order. Some have argued that positivism and totalitarianism fit hand in glove. Hart agrees and argues further that the North American commitment to democracy tends toward totalitarianism itself, for it excludes plurality of political convictions. Hart suggests that the answer is to maintain a critical mind toward existing political orders in light of the message of the gospel and the truth of the coming kingdom of God. In relation to Hart’s treatment I find several difficulties. First, Hart presents much theory about the relation of positivism and totalitarianism, but not much evidence is offered to support the theory. Second, throughout the article the impression is given that any form of order (democracy or whatever) leads to totalitarianism and that only self-criticism of one’s institutions to the point of overturning such institutions avoids totalitarianism. One has to ask, however, whether such an approach is not itself totalitarian since it suggests that one’s relation to political order should always be of the sort described. Third, after much discussion on the need for pluralism to avoid totalitarianism Hart introduces Christianity and the kingdom of God as the answer. But is this not a totalitarian answer itself?. Moreover, are we to take a posture of criticism toward this totalitarian answer? It seems that Hart needs to think out more carefully the implications of what he is suggesting. Finally, throughout the article there is an underlying assumption that totalitarian situations are always undesirable. But is it true that all such situations are negative? I would argue that it is false in view of the coming kingdom of God. When Hart opts for the Christian answer, a totalitarian answer, he seems to contradict the basic thrust of his article. Certainly it would help to have some of these issues clarified.

Langerak (“Freedom: Idea and Ideal”) suggests that it is hard to define “freedom.” Moreover, he distinguishes between the idea or meaning of freedom and the most ideal form of freedom. He argues that the idea of freedom is so broad that the really interesting issue is the matter of which freedoms are ideal. In all of this, the fundamental problem seems to be that Langerak suggests and evaluates various ideas of freedom but never actually states which definition(s) he holds. From this problem stems the other main difficulty—that is, we are told that the ideal of freedom is the key issue, but in trying to determine which is ideal he has to incorporate some idea of what freedom is. Since he does not tell us exactly what it is, however, it is hard to judge whether his evaluation of which freedom is ideal is accurate.

Olthuis (“Towards a Certitudinal Hermeneutic”) claims in relation to the Bible that “the overriding, pre-eminent concern of this type of literature is the terminal matter of certainty” (p. 71). The result is that “since neither the political, economic, psychic, or lingual are independent themes in Scripture, they can only rightly be treated when their certitudi-nal coloring is acknowledged” (pp. 71-72). Any reading of Scripture that ignores the certitu-dinal focus of the Bible is illegitimate (p. 72). I think that OIthuis’ discussion, while generally helpful, has some serious difficulties. First, Olthuis nowhere proves that the Bible’s focus is certitudinal. He merely assumes and asserts it. In fact, he does not even offer a hermeneutic for proving that Scripture’s focus is certitudinal. Second, when one reflects on Olthuis’ certitudinal focus he recognizes that this is a tool to tell us the use of Biblical statements, whatever they mean, but it does not help us know what they mean. If Olthuis is right about certitude he has helped us greatly in the overall task of understanding the purpose of Scripture, but I do not see that what he is claiming turns out to be the kind of key that he suggests to unlocking the meaning of any given passage of Scripture. Put differently, his emphasis may be helpful in understanding the illocutionary force of Scripture’s statements but not their locutionary force.

De Graaff (“Towards a New Anthropological Model”) proposes a model for man that views man in functional terms. De Graaff expresses displeasure with various forms of dualism and monism and then suggests that Scripture always pictures man’s functioning in the world as a result of his relatedness to God. He writes: “We need to learn to trace more fully the functional expression of man’s religious nature—his unity, his centeredness, his religious motivation, and his knowing and doing as religious service unto God or a pseudo-god” (p. 108). Even man’s bodily functioning is said to be expressive of man’s spirituality or God-relatedness. Though I appreciate De Graaff’s emphases I find his analysis to be too reductive. This theory is problematic in that it does not properly distinguish between function and ontology. Man indeed functions as a whole person, but there is much that needs to be said about man. The functional views cannot be an answer to the ontological question of what man is. Moreover, while I would agree that the purpose of Biblical writers is not primarily to set forth an ontology of man, Scriptural statements nonetheless do have ontological import and implications. For example, it would be hard to deny the ontological implications of such statements as the Lord’s in Luke 24:39. Furthermore, even if one looks at man totally from a functional perspective, De Graaff’s suggestion that man’s God-relatedness is what constitutes his functionality (even bodily functioning) will be hard to accept for some. For example, I find it difficult to understand how the body’s functioning in digesting food is expressive of man’s spirituality.

Finally, Seerveld has written on aesthetics (“Modal Aesthetics: Preliminary Questions with an Opening Hypothesis”). His purpose is to specify what constitutes an artistic work as art. As his analysis indicates, this is not an easy question to answer. According to Seerveld, what differentiates the ordinary from the artistic is the quality of allusiveness. Initially the suggestion is attractive, especially after reading Seerveld’s rejection of other candidates. Upon further reflection, however, one realizes that the implications of this suggestion would make everything art. What is there that does not in some way or other allude to something else? Seerveld may indeed be on the right track, but I think his theory needs some modification to avoid the problem mentioned.

All in all, Hearing and Doing contains some helpful articles and many thought-provoking ones. I would certainly not make it a priority item for my reading in philosophy, but it should not be ignored.

John S. Feinberg

Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR

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