Archive for March 2007

Lecture 26

25 March, 2007

Geerhardus Vos – the relation of the Father and the Son carried a unique cognition. Mt 11:27 the knowledge the Father and the Son have exclusively a knowledge which men cannot share; it characterises an intra divine relationship.

Man can know God, but not by sharing this unique knowledge. We have it revealed. A human knowledge of the Father comes through revelation.

The meaning of revelation
What is revelation?
At Harvard I took a seminar by the nephew of William James – there were 13 of us on Tuesday evenings 7-10 pm. We were going around the room answering his question; ‘Tell me what revelation means?’. I was bought up in a fundamentalist church – I couldn’t answer, I was then determined to find out.

Very few stop to think about it. To reveal = to bring down to the creaturely level of existence, to unveil, in the sense of from God to man, in term’s of man’s experience. It is a bringing into the creation, what is not of the creation so we can understand it.

Revelation is at the heart of Christian religion – one of our top priorities is to understand it.

Knowledge of God that God himself has is intra divine knowledge. Messiahship must be revealed to humans. Messiahship is Jesus’ reception of the commission to reveal. The messiah is revealer, because he is God become man. The incarnation is revelation par excellence.

All revelation concentrates itself in the phrase God became flesh. (Jn 1:18) God was with man – in a form like unto man. God with us Emmanuel.

The God who can be humanly known because he lived as a human. This is the stupendous significance of the incarnation. It is revelation – God come down to us, to make God known.

Revelation is bound up in creation.

Monistic or dualistic. Monism, eg, Schelling and Hegel. Sixth century BC monism – some single point of origin which converged into an higher and lower world. Monism always divides into two.

Dualism, in the beginning there was two things, the two are elevated to be origin. Twoness as origin of everything. A transcendent world and a non-transcendent world – the two are in close juxtaposition with one another, eg soul and body. A living alongside of two things that have nothing in common.

In monism there is one arche out of it comes a higher aidos and a lower aidos, a bifurcation. There are sub-divisions a secondary and a tertiary genus.

At the time of World War II Europe wasn’t believing anything. It was Karl Barth that bought Europe back to the Bible. The neo-orthodoxy of Brath followed in this respect the nineteenth century danish philosopher Søren Kirkegaard (1813-1855).

Kirkegaard was the author of a number of books: Fear and Trembling, Concept of dread, Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

One of the mst important ideas was the infinite qualitative difference between God and man. Barth’s 1921 Epistle to the Romans was a shocker. Barth frequetly cited Eclesiates 5:2. God is in heaven and thou on earth and he emphasised God’s transcendence, his wholly-otherness.

Jean Calvin was different even though he too emphasied the transcendence, the sovereignty, the wholly-otherness of God. In Calvin other factors are operative as well when it concerns the relationship between the God the revealer and man the hearer. And it is a mistake to determine the realtion between the speaking God and the hearing man, only by an appeal to this ‘infinite qualitative difference’ between God and man as if there everything were said.

Calvin had undergone the impact of Rom 10:6-8 and Deut 30:11-15. “The word is near you” Romans quotes Deut 30. Deuteronomy is a summary of the Torah.

(Gerhard Vos on Mt 11) Our lord has freely spoken in a way that accords with his own nature (who then of immortal creatures would hear?).

God has lisped to us to indicate the nature of the word-revelation he uses figure of a nurse and little child. Calvin sermon CLX on Deut 28. (Best edition Baum, Goodrich, Royce vol. 28 p. 441)

We cannot understand not at all his majesty seeing that he is. It is necessary that he lowers himself and that he uses ways of speaking.

In 1935 I studied theology with Klaas Schilder (1934 dissertation on dialectical theology and Calvin).

Speaking of God which directly to his being structure is determined out of his autonomy is only a talking within the trinity. A talking therefore never heard by man. A mutual calling to each one of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, an imminent activity within the trinity. This talking of God – never heard by man – has nothing to do with revelation. God’s revelation speech belongs to the activities of God that go out to creation. While in dialectical theology determines the speaking of God process of revelation out of this immanent Calvin does so out of God’s activity to go outside the trinity to his creation.

Dialectical theology is constantly emphasising God’s sovereignty; God can never be separated from his essential being so that God can never be anything but wholly God in his talking. Calvin however, although he agrees with that adds that God can create a tie to himself and his creation. He can adapt himself to men also in his talk. Calvin puts over and against this placing in the foreground concepts of distance in relation the talking God to hearing man the doctrine of accommodation of God in his revelation. The idea of a God who lets himself down to our infirmities is very much apart of Calvin’s doctrine of revelation and has significant influence for us.


Lecture 25

18 March, 2007

The story about Pythagoras and Lessing [from previous lecture]– both seek after but never possess it. There are seeds of historicism here.

The story is to introduce the question– is it possible for a Christian to follow Pythagoras? Can we be faithful to scripture and follow Pythagoras?

There is an underlying assumption, latent, unexpressed, that there is but one wisdom or truth somewhere in this universe – a knowledge of which God possesses but which to man can only everlastingly strive.

We ought not to be so impressed being possessors of something – but in both cases wisdom and truth, man has in bits and pieces, partially, is the truth God possesses – taken to be identical.

That’s the assumption.
Is there any view in scripture for such a one-dimensional view of wisdom or truth?

Drawing upon everyday experience of the world – the ‘knowledge’ different creatures make use of, is to be understood in terms of functional structure of the creature involved.

[Aside In the social sciences functional and structure are two things that are mutually exclusive. There is a structure, a creation order, of functionality, whereas in the social sciences there are functionalist and there are structuralists.]

A dog ‘knows’ an amazing lot and yet we are aware that the ‘knowledge’ is of a very different sort to our own. It doesn’t mean the same as my father ‘knows’. There is a qualitative difference in kind.

Chimps and dolphins are said to be two intelligent creatures, yet the ‘knowledge’ they apparently have and their means of ‘communication by means of speech’ has to do with animal ‘language’ – it is of an entirely different kind than ours.

In the case of plants there is phototropism (a Greek word); plants move towards the light. The plant ‘knows’ where the light is coming from. Similarly some plants ‘know’ when an insect is close by, something they don’t do when no insect is around.

It would be unprofitable to group these various ‘knowledges’ together and to try to find a common element of ‘knowledge’ in them all.

‘Knowledge’ is the activity of a certain kind of being, plant, animal, human and the nature of the resultant ‘knowledge’ always depends on the internal functional structure of the being engaged in the knowing.

Might it not be the same when we consider human ‘knowledge’ in relation to the divine being and divine ‘knowledge’? And that God’s ‘knowing’ would be related to the being of the creator while man’s ‘knowing’ might be expressive of his creaturely form of existence? If so, then we can no longer think in the Pythagorean way.

(For Pythagoras there is one knowledge. Men and gods come from a common parent – they had different views of gods – “from our mother we draw our breath” (Pindar). Christians have adopted the same idea. If we notice that every kind of creature has ‘knowledge’ that depends on internal functional structure then the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man might be quite different.)

To establish this position look at Mt 11: 25-27 (cf || Lk10:21). No one knows the father except the son – he is saying this to the people of the Torah! That is blasphemy. (What about his disciples?) The context is the return o fthe seventy.

Geerhardus Vos, born in the Netherlands, his family emigrated to the USA. He went back to study in the Netherlands and Germany, then began to teach in the US. He was a supralapsarian when others around him were lapsarian. There was a rift between him and others lecturers – he was given a 25 hour teaching load. He ‘ran’ to Princeton to save his life! He became known as one of the great Reformed dogmatic theologians. His Pauline Eschatology was amillenial.

Have to read his Self-disclosure of Jesus (ch 10 pp 142-160 ± 5) (the pagination is different in different versions)

[A large section is read out]

verse 27 of Mt 11 it makes clear that messiahship is a prerequisite for a wholyy unique relationship to God. Intimacy. A unique mutual recognition – an exclusive knoweldge of Jesus in virtue of being the father. A knowledge of that is intra divine relationship.

What does it mean to reveal? To bring down to the level of human experience – the human level. It is not sharing divine knowledge. We see it emminently in the incarnation: God had to become one of us.

Lecture 24

6 March, 2007

There are two kinds of natural theology. Natural theology done in the light of God’s worr, formulation about God’s creation in light of scripture. Natural theology done by rational processes we can acquire a knowledge that there is a God, a soul, a future life is simply out! There is no place in Reformed thought.

Metaphysics tried to ask these questions by rational analysis of the data of the sensible life. There must be revelation of God! Never be concerned to build on that there is an idea of a supreme god. We start from God who has made himself known, not a god. – it is the God of revelation, Elohim God.

What is the place and task of philosophy? Place and task go together. What place decides the task.

What place can it assume, what is its proper task?

We have looked at Col 2:8 and the church fathers. Philosophy and theology not sharply distinguished. (There are two sense of theology: being true to scripture and living scripturally directed and the specific kind of science.)

Aquinas in the thirteenth century grasped at the cultural phenomenon of Aristotle. He thought God’s spirit was at work in this wisdom and that it could be taken over. Aquinas realised that not all of Aristotle was biblical, eg his view of the immortality of the soul and the eternity of matter, so he lopped them of. He had it as the foundation to which grace and faith could be added. Philosophy was part of the natural life. The body/ soul arrangement Aquinas took over as ‘essential man’. Rational activity exists on its own, it functions autonomously – it was natural, neutral and normal.

Nature isn’t normal, in scripture grace is not a donum superadditum .

Read: Al Wolters’ translation of Veenhof on ‘Nature and grace in Bavinck’.

Grace doesn’t lift up, add to, nature. Grace redeems nature.

In the thirteenth century we see the rise of scientific thinking. In the Greek world there was a practical emphasis.

The Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth and sixth centuries. They said Barbarians to guard their borders. Germanic tribes came. Monasticism arose.

The Germanic tribes’ leaders put their children into the monastic schools. They wanted them to have a good education from what remained of Roman civilisation.

Before this the Christians were living in the empire – they were faced with the question how do we live? This is what faced several centuries of thinkers, eg Augustine and Tertullian.

Students at the monastic schools could read in Latin Augustine’s writings. They used them to learn first Latin, then history, then thinking and then higher thinking.

German children were learning in front of Roman Christian monks in schools, scholia (this is where the word scholasticism comes from). They were going through the pages of the church fathers. A synthesis had already been made. It was made on a life decision: Augustine travelled through the Roman Empire and was proud of it. He became a Christian in his mature years. Accommodation was an immediate life adjustment.

In the sixth century the schools were thinking about it – developing a more scientific attitude. Plato was concerned about the governing of State – the nature of government. The Germanic was more logical. By the thirteenth century philosophy and theology were distinct scientific enterprises – with different fields of investigation. Philosophy was natural, theology supernatural. Philosophy, as a matter of principle, had been withdrawn from the directing influence, the guiding, of the word of God.

Thomists today reject the idea of a Christian philosophy – they agree with the humanists that philosophy is a natural activity.

We can’t accept that philosophy belongs to the natural realm.

In grace/ nature where is the heart? Where is the church, the body of Christ?

Grace/ nature prevents you ever arriving at the integrity of creation order reflecting God’s integrity – and man himself at the heart of this integral creation reflecting his own being reflecting the unity of God, the image of God.

Where is the church (in the NT sense)? In the book of Acts we see a development in ‘church’ – first as people meeting together to share meals and lives, then meeting for worship.

There is no place for the heart or for the body of Christ. They only know of the institutional church. The principle of subsidiarity – the family is a part of the State; local groups are a subset of the life of the State. In the natural life the State is supreme. There are two authorities: Emperor and pope.

We must understand the scripture for our time. Not read back our times into the scriptures.

There is a difference between gift and office. Paul is so clear. Adam was created first – he is the official representative – there is an order in creation. Redemption doesn’t change the order. Woman is to be a helpmeet.

We have to come back to our question – what is the place and task of philosophy?

A story

The later Greek world told a story of an earlier Greek, Pythagoras, which connects his name to the introduction of the words philosophos and philosophia. According to this ancient report Pythagoras refused to speak of himself in the way as was current in the Greek world as sophos.

He was a very wise man and the Greeks called them sophos – he refused why? He said only god is sophos. The implication being that while the gods possess knowledge it is the task of man to seek after, to pursue it, to love it, never to possess it. To be wise means to possess wisdom – men only struggle to find it.

There are dangers in reading later historical incidents into earlier ones – but one can’t help recall stories. It reminds us of an episode in modern times of Lessing (an eighteenth century German) that we hear about in the writings of Sǿren Kirkegaard. In one of his main works Concluding Scientific Postscript Bk 2 Ch 2 § 4. Lessings word are quoted as follows:

If God held all truth enclosed in his right hand, and in his left hand the one and only ever-striving drive for truth, even with the corollary of erring forever and ever, and if he were to say to me: Choose!—I would humbly fall down to him at his left hand and say: Father, give! Pure truth is indeed only for you alone!

Lecture 23

1 March, 2007

Session 23

First two chapters of Dooyeweerd’s In The Twilight of Western Thought assigned to read. Then read Roots of Western culture Introduction and chapter 1.

Start where we left off with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1275)

A new scheme arose in the thirteenth century with the recovery of Aristotle’s writings. They had been translated from Greek into Syriac and then into Arabic and now into Latin. All had heard that Aristotle was the last of the great Greek philosophers and his writings summed up all of intellectual wisdom. They wanted to know what it was. They crossed the Pyrenees on donkeys and got the Jews to translate it into Latin.
Thomas was a pious fellow for all his life. He gave his life to the service of God as a monk. He took over Aristotle’s philosophy.

There was a trend (c. 200 AD) to make Christianity as reasonable as possible to those Greeks trained in philosophy. In the nineteenth century there began to be a renewed intent/ investigation in biblical studies in Old and New Testaments. It became evident that the structure of thought (paradigm) of the OT and NT was so different from Greek – there is no compatibility. It raised a problem for twentieth century the whole Christian church had made it a point to make message ‘reasonable’ to those trained in Greek thought patterns. The gospel was accommodated to Greek philosophy – the gospel walked out and Greek philosophy took over.

Philosophy deals with the total structure of thought.

Plato held that everything in this world is changing, but he felt the need for changeless forms. A world behind the world, a world of pure ideas – purely intelligible and not subject to change. The question was how do we know? So scepticism arose.

The fifth academy, the leader said Plato was wrong in asserting a background world – but what Plato was driving at those entities/ ideas don’t exist there – but exist a priori – natural law.
Book by former student called Law and Revolution he maintained that since 1900 legal instruction abandoned natural law and substituted utilitarianism and pragmatism. So there is no ground for assuming, no fundamental principles

Right up to World War I natural law was an a priori. We gave up the idea of soul, of absolute knowledge. Many Christians think that we need to get back to natural law. But natural law is a christianised paganism! We have got to see the foundations, not to see the crisis in 1900, so we have to get back to before 1900.

When we talk about sphere sovereignty, organic functioning never changes into physical. There is a lot of change – but no change across boundary. History is the study of cultural formation.
Change is everywhere – but change within limits. The pagan mind changes everything. Man has no order, except what man changes. Man refashions, he can do what he pleases.
The change man can make is within fixed ordinances – there are sets limits and bounds.
For Aquinas there was the realm of nature and supra-nature (grace). Grace was added on – a donum supra additum.
In the Twilight of Western Thought p.45 describes this Thomism as: ‘Gratia naturum non tollit, sed perficit’, ‘Grace does not cancel nature, but perfects it.
That’s the idea of grace as an addition, added above to what is nature.

Nature = natural + cultural

For Aquinas this is what Aristotle knew, what we know by reason.
How do we know things? For the Greeks we open our eyes, we observe things and out mind organises it.

For the Greeks we all belong to one community of mind – headed by the State. During the time of the Roman Empire, the State was headed by the Emperor. The State is the supreme organisation of natural life.

The church was seen only in an institutional sense – it was not subordinated to the State
Renaissance threatened the role of the church. The Reformation stemmed the Renaissance for a while, but it failed das it became accommodated.

In the eighteenth century Enlightenment the Renaissance broke out with greater strength. Science and technology began to rule. Man creates utopia for himself. Man is autonomous, does it by methods of science and by technology extends interest over nature.

Faith for Aquinas becomes a gift. (Yet faith is part of human nature – it is unavoidable that we believe something – be it the scientific method or democratic voting. ) It is not true to say it is a gift.

For Aquinas or essential nature is bodily functions plus reason. At creation we have a gift of faith in addition. At the fall faith was lost the gift was removed.

This meant that for the first time in history all life has been withdrawn from the guiding light of the word of God!

Philosophy is done with the rational mind – ‘natural’ science, a matter of reason and not faith.
Theology comes from faith, it is supernatural. A different kind of science.
In the thirteenth century philosophy was withdrawn from the governing influence of the word of God – an important moment in the history of philosophising.

It meant, at best, only an external harmonising. Of course, our minds are God’s creation, so we must be harmonised.

It didn’t deal with the effects of sin in our thinking. We can’t assume that the mind exhibits creational normality, but that’s what Aquinas does. Philosophy now arises out of rational thinking and not the word of God.

If we don’t know God and yet we were made to rely upon him – we are dependent creatures – we have to find some satisfaction, something to rely upon, somewhere else, ie within this world. This is what Dooyeweerd calls immanentism.

Calvin – even the best of Greek philosophers lost himself in his own globe. This is what we mean by man is essentially a religious being.

There is no place for philosophy as an expression of that integral life man knows before the face of God in terms of his covenant.

Back to our question: is there a place for philosophy in the lives of Christians? It depends on what we mean by philosophy. What place does it have in life? It can’t be what it can be for unbelievers, it takes the place of religion, it can be a special science.