Archive for February 2007

Runner Reader

27 February, 2007

The new Reformational Publishing Project is planning a Runner reader.  Details are here

The Runner Reader Page represents the second significant focus of this site. Here we intend to make available all of the published and unpublished writings of H. Evan Runner, first in hard copy, and then through the standard digital media. All of Prof. Runner’s writings will be published through Paideia Press. Eventually we hope to make this web site the most complete repository of material relevant to the life and work of Prof. Runner. Those readers who have a long term association with the Reformational Movement will be familiar with the Runner–Paideia Press connection, perhaps most significantly through Dr. Runner’s translation of the great Reformed classic Promise and Deliverance (4 vols.).

Throughout his teaching career at Calvin College Runner was the preeminent North American representative of the work of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. Although Runner began his work at the Free University as a student of Vollenhoven, and in fact always taught a course on Classical Greek thought using Vollenhoven’s method, he had nevertheless familiarized himself with Dooyeweerd’s work through the encouragement of Prof Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Theological Seminary before he travelled to Amsterdam. That Runner possessed a significant grasp of Dooyeweerd’s fundamental ideas prior to his work at the VU is evident from his four page letter to Werner Jaeger in 1946 explaining why it was imperative for him to go to Amsterdam. While   Vollenhoven is described as the man he will work with specifically, it is Dooyeweerd’s position that takes center stage as it is this new Christian philosophy that has captured his attention and that is redirecting his whole way of thought. Indeed, it was Dooyeweerd’s transcendental critique that provided Runner with the sought for entrée into the nature of philosophical activity that had chronically occupied so much of his attention beginning with his early Wheaton days. From this foundation he was able to address himself to the whole range of the special sciences in his teaching, writing, and public lectures. By the mid to late fifties he both thought and acted in terms of Dooyeweerd’s transcendental critique.

As his teaching career developed, it was Dooyeweerd’s systematics that that took on greater and greater prominence not only in his teaching, but also in his writing. The astute observer of Runner’s public lectures, for example, will note that most of his illustrations of the particular theme at hand are in fact modal-analytical in nature, even when expressed in very plain language. Runner’s public lectures covered an inordinately broad range of topics from the nature of Men’s Societies, to Labor Union organizations, to pragmatic politics, the history of legal and political philosophy, the development of Christian political parties, the place of academic institutions in the life of the Christian community, as well as the complex problem of the practice of the Christian faith in the midst of an unbelieving world. It became quite clear to Runner very early on, that each of these latter questions are best served through a modal-analytical approach. Indeed Runner became so adept at expressing various forms of modal analysis in plain language that it is not typically understood that he was in fact employing Dooyeweerd’s systematics.

Similarly, those students who took the full complement of Runner’s courses will no doubt recall that almost all of his standard lectures on such topics as reductionism, scientism, immanentism, etc., etc., were all explained in a modal-analytical fashion. Sometimes, in the midst of explaining a difficult point in his Ancient Greek philosophy course where he would routinely employ Vollenhoven’s distinction between God and His creation, and the Law of God for creation, as a way of demonstrating how a given Greek thinker had confused numerous issues, he would actually unpack the substance of the confusion with modal-analytical examples. In his retirement years I pursued the question of the use of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd “as though they were basically on the same page.” He replied that, “Well, basically they are. But that is not to say that there aren’t considerable differences between them.” The differences, of course, while certainly very real and  important, were not the object of Runner’s attention in the classroom. He saw his central task as conveying the essence of the “new Christian philosophy” inaugurated on basis of the specific expression that the Reformed faith had taken from the Reformers through Groen Van Prinsterer, and Abraham Kuyper. A circuitous route to be sure, and one in which there were elements quite foreign to the results as exhibited in the works of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. Nevertheless, Runner had learnt from his revered teacher Vollenhoven, that when you are attempting to begin such a new endeavor as they had set for themselves, you do not make a point of one’s differences even when your brother-in-law may differ with you on what appears to be major systematic points, providing that you are both traveling in the same religious direction. Regardless of the differences between them, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd were personally convinced that at the religious root of their lives there was at least a unity of spirit, and an absolute commitment to the scriptures as their final authority. It was in this same spirit, then, that H Evan Runner conducted his classroom activities. As the complexity of the task before him grew, and as his own vision broadened, he was, in effect, forced to embrace Dooyeweerd’s systematics in order to account for the reality before him. Hence, while he taught “Vollenhoven’s method” in his classroom throughout his entire career, the really fundamental problems of the order of human experience in God’s world tended more and more to be articulated in modal-analytical terms. And while some of his students would later realize in graduate school that there was in fact a difference in systematic articulation, in his Calvin College classes, Runner remained true to to the paradigm that he had seen so elegantly demonstrated by his teachers.

Both the published and unpublished writings of Prof. Runner will be made available in two separate volumes. The first volume, Rudder Hard Over: The Collected Writing of H. Evan Runner, will be approximately 630 pages. The second volume will be approximately 350 pages. This latter volume will bring together in one place the various works that have already been published under separate imprints.

We would like to invite all those who would like to contribute articles, lectures, photos, tapes, reminiscences, or references of significance regarding H. Evan Runner, to post them on the Runner Reader page. As time and resources permit, PDFs, CDs, DVDs, and Streaming Data files will be made available in the standard digital formats.


Lecture 22

20 February, 2007

I want to repeat some of the criticisms of Aquinas from last time.Book recommended One hundred years of Thomism: Aeterni Patris and Afterwards edited by Victor Brezik

Thomas was enamoured of Aristotle. He wanted the wisdom the Greeks knew + revelation.

An aside: the doctrine of common grace, it all depends on what we mean by it. God has showered his gifts on men indiscriminately. For example, Marx’s economic critique stands up.

The question is, what has man made of God’s gifts? Do they accept God’s gifts as truth?

Common grace – everyone has truth every where, we shouldn’t be so isolated, we should be part of the world so we can share the truth – I reject that view completely!

What does the human heart do with the gifts God gives? The human heart is an active suppressor of the truth. Man is the one who suppresses; God showers gifts and makes himself known.

The ultimate nature of creational reality shines through distortions. What does it mean to say that Aristotle has the truth as far as he went? Is man a rational soul? Can we know truth trough rational analysis? Not if you understand the Scriptures!

Within 100 years of Calvin’s death the Reformed world was dominated by Nature/ Grace dualism. That’s how the notion of miracle is supernatural came about. The world is not split up into these two spheres; it is an integral creation. There is not some physical world by itself.

1968 Lecture ‘Christianity and Humanism’ [part of it is read out]

(There is no such thing a s ‘pure’ thought.)

God’s creation is integral. Man didn’t sink to a lower natural state when falling away form God as Aquinas maintained.

A loss of faith is not unbelief. Unbelief is not a loss of, or absence of, faith.

According to Aquinas, the fall meant men lost this higher knowledge, and went back to the ‘essential’ human nature. If that’s biblical I’ll eat my hat!

In the fall, man doesn’t sink to a lower natural state = nature + culture.
Where we don’t have belief in the word of God we have an incipient totalitarianism. Only the world of God provides limits to the State’s power.

In the scriptures unbelief is a form of faith, misdirected belief. The worship of Baal is structurally just as much belief as belief in God. Directionally it is belief that terminates upon something other than God.

Man is ineradicably a believer – even though he may believe a Lie.
A faith of some sort is always necessary. Creation order is the basis of reality – fall is a fall of the creation order, redemption is a redemption of the creation order. The believer can see something of creational order in these suppressions.

Aristotle: ‘man is a rational animal’ this is a lie!

Vollenhoven once remarked that it was strange that Christians spent so much time memorising scripture verses. Scripture is a light bulb, we don’t stare at the light bulb. If we do we won’t see anything at all. We need to discern by the light of the scripture what is going on in the world.

Faith of some sort is always necessary.

Isaac Asimov’s works are worshipped – they all worship the modern mind. Man has to find his own way using science and technology.
Why do many of the young people spend their lives asleep under the influence of drugs? They know there is no meaning – suicide or sleep it out. We lack commitment. We have to believe in something in order to analyse our own life.

Satan is no creator, he is a creature, whatever lie has to be derived from the word of God.

There was a holy Roman Empire from the crowing of Charlemaine until 1806.

The popes and Emperors were locked in battle because both thought they had ultimate authority. Roman Court and Canon law. There was no consensus as to had the ultimate authority.

Nature is not, in the scriptures, normal.
There are two meanings in the scriptures: the original creation and since the fall, creation in its apostate state – it requires redemption.

For Aquinas grace was added to it, it doesn’t need correcting. Grace is not supplemental – it turns the alienated creation around. It doesn’t accept it as normal.

Aquinas’s conception of nature is wrong, his conception of faith is wrong and his conception of grace is wrong.

His conception of body is also wrong.
Body in the Greek world is the organic functions, not the appreciation of beauty and so on. Compare Romans 12: 1 ff body is me, the whole me. It is not some part of me, it is the inner man.

The soul or heart is the whole man as God sees him. The religious concentration point – where the direction comes.
The body is the whole man, as you and I see each other in our acts. There are all sorts of acts: cultural, aesthetic, ethical, economic, technical acts and so on.

Paul talks of the inner and outer man; Greek philosophy speaks of the lower and higher parts of man. It is a distortion of the biblical insight of the unity of man.

Lecture 21

16 February, 2007

In 1879 a papal encyclical declaring that all RC seminaries and universities instruction is to be based on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas gives form to RC, he formed the Catholic mind. The Reformation didn’t affect all of Europe. RC is the largest percentage of western Christianity. It dominates in terms of numbers. It accommodates to the culture around them.

The recovery of Aristotelean writings affected Thomas. They were rediscovered while he was a young child.

There are two main writings in particular of Thomas that I shall draw upon in my account.

Suma Contra Gentiles (Summa = summary the height of learning)
Summa Theologia

Thomas lived in the times Europe is recovering Aristotle’s writings – all ancient wisdom is now available.

Little by little it is translated into Latin, learned circles are all agog, especially the Papal court to which Aquinas is closely linked.

Previosuly, writings had been influence by Plato and neoplatonism. Platonism has several stages: middle (meso) and new (neo).

Upto 13th century philosophical writings were oriented to platonic philosophy which is very different to Aristotle’s.

At the end of his life Aristotle became an empiricist and a hylomorphist. Hylomorphism = everything is made of stuff.
From Aquinas on – there was a big turnaround – oriented to Aristotle.

Can you use biblical material and orient it to Aristotle and it still have biblical material? We shall see.

Hylomorphism divides everything into matter an form. Matter is nature, form is culture. Form is what is given to nature that they are presented with. Hylomorphism was suggested to Aristotle as he walked among the artists in Athens.

Culture is rationality, rational soul, the realm of the State. Nature is bodies.
They didn’t distinguish between culture, forming and rationality. (We can’t so culture unless rational, but they are not the same.)

There are two things world (nature) and us men (culture). In man there is a body and a rational soul. But again, it doesn’t distinguish human society and State. Inclined to identify the role of government with the whole of human society. Common instruments must prevail – government.

Abraham Kuyper: the State does have a level of interest in say education, but the State must know its limitations or The State controls education.

In the US the State is beginning to say submit to the board of education – State and society are co-terminus. State is society, society is the State. Parents have no God-instituted rights, subordinated to the State.

Aquinas was a Christian – don’t forget that, he was a very serious and pious Christian. All he did was to honour Jesus – can still have that intention and make mistakes.

All ancient wisdom went to use to glorify Christ the King. Aquinas takes this wisdom over, but sees something is missing: faith.

Faith becomes the realm of the supernatural. In Aquinas there is a natural order of things, the law of the State is natural law.

The State belongs to the natural order. He took over the lower world, it lacks something. Faith is a gift added above and beyond nature.

Thomas begins from Aristotle (who is a pagan), says it lacks something – he adds faith to it.

When god created man – he created him a natural being. This is our essential nature. Our essential nature, is what we have to be man., a physical body and a rational soul.

Thomas was reading scripture in the light of Aristotle. He then added the gift of faith (it is a gift and so not an essential part of our nature).

Essential Nature + Faith

At the fall, faith was lost, no longer had faith relation with God.

The Holy Spirit then adds faith again. It always remains a gift.

Abraham Kuyper in the 19th century said this is not what the scriptures mean by faith. According to Aquinas unbelief is the lack of, or loss of, faith. But this is not the way the Bible talks of it. The Baal worshippers had a very real faith, though it was misdirected. It was directed towards a substitute. Faith is always in man’s life – the question is, where is it directed? We have to distinguish its structure and its direction.

Faith belongs to the essential structure of human life – there is no man who lives who doesn’t exercise faith.

There is no word in the OT like the Greek philosophical word nature. There are a number of expressions that refer to what God created. They refer to 9i) what God created (ii) what God created and is now fallen away.

In Aquinas ‘nature’ is perfectly normal as far as it goes. All that is needed is an addition of faith.

Natural man possesses truth up to a point, but lacks something – this attitude is common in nature/ grace thinking. It justifies logical thought itself.
Nature is scripture is abnormal, in Thomas it is normal

For Thomas Grace is the supplementation, an enrichment, like the icing on a cake.

Grace does not add to what is good in itself – takes what is dead and turns it to life. It turns the whole thing around – it is not some enrichment.

Thomas Aquinas’s concept of faith, nature, grace and supernatural is not biblical.

His concept of body and soul we will look at next time.

Lecture 20

9 February, 2007

What is being emphasised in the Patristic period is the difference in ultimate religious direction of the two worlds [pagan and Christian] and their respective minds and authorities, and while further differences are recognised, we must not think, for instance, that what we have in the thirteenth century a clear distinction between philosophy and theology is recognised at this time.

In the scholastic period we are going to talk about Thomas Aquinas.

Read a long section form Dooyeweerd’s In the Twilight of Western Thought – second of three chapters on ‘philosophy and theology’.

pp. 135 ff [Craig Press edn]

Dogmatic theology is a dangerous science ….

Read this reflectively – this is a basic matter, we need to see these thoughts spread. Read it over and over again.

We now come to a crucial moment: a transition from the Patristic period to the Scholastic period.

The Church Fathers East (Greek)   3rd -6th centuries
(West)    AD 200-500s
Scholasticiam AD                            1000 onwards; 13th century when at its highest.

We’re only taking certain episodes – this is not a history course.

We saw last time that the Church fathers didn’t reject philosophy.

What place does philosophy have and what is its task?

We have seen:
• Philosophy ahs taken the place of religion – it has become absolutised
• Colossioans 2:8
• Attitude of the Church Fathers – not exactly excluding philosophy, they were at a moment when the direction of life was a concern.

Augustine’s City of God was written because Rome had fallen already and people were charging Christians with the fall of Rome. When the old gods had been trusted, Rome stood – when Christian God worshipped, Rome fell. It was written to meet those charges.

When the Church Fathers talked about paul and the canonicals they don’t mean we don’t do philosophy. In scripture we have a different mind set – the doctrine of the antithesis.

(i) A canonical deposit
(ii) Church (instituted) in its confessions has stated as central truth
(iii) All theological, philosophical, scientific work that develops out of this mind set influence by (i) and perhaps (ii).

What we don’t find on the Church fathers, we do find in the scholastics. At the end of the 12th century there is a recovery of the writings of Aristotle.

In the Patristic period – most writers were oriented to Plato and neoplatonism, by the end of the 12th century there is a reorientation in the Christian group and thinking is oriented towards Aristotle.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) lived in the middle 50 years of the 13th century. When studying Thomas, studying the official teacher of the Catholic church. Since Vatican II his influence has diminished somewhat. By Papal encyclicals his is the philosophy taught in all RC seminaries and universities.

Empiricism – Locke and Catholic (Aquinas).

The writings of Aristotle disappeared within a generation of his death in 322BC. They emerged in the eastern empire.

In the 4th century the great Trinitarian controversies raged. A lot of Greek scholars from the East were kicked out of the East, they were regarded as heretics. At this time it was a Caesaro-papism, the Emperor was head of the church; the enemy of the church was regarded as an enemy of the state, so these scholars had to leave. They landed in Persia. The shah welcomed them and built them a city. Monks over the centuries went there.

The Greek writings of Aristotle were taken with them and they did a lot of work on him including writing commentaries. They also learnt the language of Persia and Syriac and translated Aristotle into these languages.

The Moslems came and conquered, so now the monks were under Moslem states. The Greek scholars with the newly recovered manuscripts now had to learn Arabic and they translated them into Arabic. With the movement of Arabs all over the world particularly North Africa and Southern Spain, where they conquered they bought the culture and works of scholars familiar with Aristotle.

In Europe it was the early Feudal period, the Iron Age – noting much was happening – little was left of Aristotle apart from his reputation. By the end of the 11th century scholars got wind of Aristotle’s works being available in southern Spain and so made the trip on donkey down to the Moslem occupied areas. Here they found Jews who were able to translate the writings from Arabic into Latin. This was all happening while Aquinas was growing up.

Aquinas was involved with the papal court. He took what he learned from Aristotle – they were overawed with Aristotle.
Aristotle divide everything into principle of matter and principle of form. It was known as hylomorphism. From the Greek morphe = form/ shape and hyle = material/ matter.

Hylomorphism is a theoretical exaggeration of what we do see within life things of material and form.

The artist has material, he does something to it and it has a form.
Aristotle said all things are made of matter and form – he didn’t restrict it to technical objects, he put it in nature, eg, trees have material and form.

Hyle originally meant wood (the material for technical production), then it meant tree, then woods. It came to mean material.

Matter doesn’t mean what modern physicists mean when they talk about matter. Matter is the wood, the glue, the cloth, the nails – the material used to make a ship, the form is the sailing thing.

General matter is in all physical things. Add form and we get water or sand.
This then forms the matter of plants to which is added the form of plants. This in turn becomes the matter of animals to which is added a form of animal. This is the matter of man plus the form of man (the rational soul) to become man.

Lecture 19

2 February, 2007

Is there a task for philosophy? Many Christians have argued that it ought not to have a place? We think they are wrong – I am going to try and show why they are.We should not overlook the historical conditions at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century AD.

The writings of the apostolic fathers, Polycarp, Clememt of Rome etc. right after the close of the canon of scripture are very interesting. Lightfoot has an excellent edition.

Strange position as we see clearly the influence of Greek philosophy in its Hellenistic phase in the positions these authors develop. They are using it even though they argue against it.

The philosophy they knew was Greek in its Hellenistic form, particularly Gnosticism. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis .

Gnosticism is among a list of dualistic movements. Characteristic of dualism is that there are two worlds, a higher and a lower world. These have been bought together in this present world.

In this world they are close but not fused. Dualism begins with two things which are utterly unlike, hence they can’t be fused or intermingled. They can only come close be juxtaposed, they don’t become a unity.

The higher world is the world of light/ good; the lower world is the world of dark/ evil.

The soul is good the body is evil; there can’t be a unity. There is no hope for man except in final separation. Death becomes a liberation.

Dualism is used in many senses – it is used here in the way Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven use it in its vertical sense and not in a horizontal sense. It shouldn’t really be used in the horizontal sense.

The eschatological hope is death. The Greeks speak of the immortal soul rather than the resurrection of the body.

By being surrounded by Gnostic philosophy, which they sensed as the enemy of the Christian faith – it was a very grave threat to the church. Hence they felt philosophy had no place.

Colossians 2:8
See that no one take you in carry you off as booty …

Paul is warning against a very particular philosophical movement. This will lead the leaders of Colossae astray, because it is a thought system ‘according to the traditions of men and elements of the world’ and not according to Christ.

Evidently, they had recommended certain ascetic practices, the reasons for which were explained in a theoretical view. That theoretical view was dualism; the practical measures were depriving self, disciplining self to get rid of sinful material elements, refraining from certain foods, refraining from sexual intercourse and so on.

According to dualism it was necessary to struggle free of the material world and of the spiritual powers which were in this world by means of recommended ascetic practices – to lighten the soul. It was out of a cosmology that these ascetic practices were derived.

These teachers wnet on to say, by following there procedures a depth of epignosis , a fullness of insight or knowledge would be promised to the believer, to raise them to a height that could not be obtained as a result of the work of Paul. They placed themselves over and against Paul; they tried to estrange Colossae from apostolic teaching.

Christianity is not dualism.

What does Paul do? Paul puts Christ in the centre – there is no fullness of insight or knowledge that we don’t possess in Him. At least latent, the potential.

Paul opposes this particular philosophical movement, because it does not proceed from a recognition of the central place and importance in our lives and world of Jesus Christ, the lord of creation and mediator of our redemption.

This does not mean we can know or say on the basis of this text alone that Paul assigns the pace of philosophy in the life of the Christian. We can’t use it to say Christians may not work at philosophy.

He is not talking about a structural problem here – ie about structural relations in the created order. This text – the only occurrence of philosophia in the NT – opposes a philosophy that is not according to Christ.

It is the religious direction of a certain philosophical movement that is being judged. Nothing is being said or implied here about – it is outside the universe of discourse – the legitimation of philosophy structurally within the lives of those for whom Christ is central.

The Church Fathers

The term ‘Church Fathers’ is a technical term meaning something definitively. The Church Fathers were during the 3-6 centuries (ie AD 200-500).

In the time of the Church Fathers we also encounter the view that it is the sacred writings (the prophets and the apostles) that we have a Christina philosophy. One of the prominent fathers, adopting a way of speaking that gies back to Justin Martyr (d AD 165), says it I this way the Greeks had their Heraclitus, their Parmenides, their Plato and Aristotle; but we have the writings of Paul: these are ‘nostra philosophia’ (our philosophy).

This was a common way of speaking. You might conceivably argue from this statement that here too Christians are taking the position, philosophy is not for them, the inscripturated word of God takes the place of philosophy.

This interpretation comes down to the position that philosophy is off limits. This I not what the Church Fathers meant. (Though there are differences from one church father to the next.) The view of most representative of the Patristics is that where mention is made of nostra philosophia , reference is to anything that gives expression to the Christian mind, whether that be (i) the canonical writings of prophets and apostles as (ii) the church’s creedal statements or (iii) philosophical and theological elaboration and exposition of and wrestling of these (i) and (ii).

Both Latin and Greek Church Fathers engaged in philosophising a great deal as well as theology.

They were living through a crucial turning point in the world – there were the awful persecution of Christians, then the sudden conversion of Constantine which saw changes in Roman law. Pagan cathedrals were now taxed and the Christian churches not. The Empire had become ‘Christianised’.

A novel ‘Julain the Apostate’ tells the story of a boy raised by bishops who talked tp the pagans and got into the emperor’s seat and tried to redirect the Empire against Christianity.

The Roman senate – the most conservative of bodies – retined belief in Roman gods and they struggled with what to do with the ‘Altar of Victory’.

It was not certain whether Christianity of ancient paganism would direct the life of the Roman Empire.