Review: Vanderwaal, Job-Song of Songs

I’m normally skeptical of Bible surveys and introductions. You can find the book online. They usually never get beyond surface level and are written with the grace of a dictionary. Fortunately, Cornelis Vanderwaal’s material isn’t that. He gets to the point but he also gives you depth. And he brings the covenant to the front. For him covenant is real. It isn’t just a heuristic device.

Job

There is the standard fare here, which I won’t go into detail. He does note that Job contrasts with Babylonian wisdom. For Job wisdom begins with the fear of God.

Psalms

Vanderwaal highlights the covenantal langauage in the Psalms. A covenantal interpretation is not a “spiritual” (read: Platonic) one (Vanderwaal 47). Psalm 10, for example, doesn’t focus on man in general, but on the covenant servant David.

Imprecatory psalms are those of covenant judgment. God is the Lord of the Covenant who judges in covenant judgment. Take the word “arise” in the Psalms. It is tabernacle language, but it is also the language of God’s covenant. When God “arises” he Judges.

The cursing language is drawn from the Covenant. Even the Christ joins in the cursing (Ps. 69). Peter applies verse 25 to Judas in Acts 1.20. Paul applies verses 23-24 to the Jews (Rom. 11.9-10). Thesis: Yahweh avenges his servants because of the statute of the Covenant.

Even nature itself bears witness to the Covenant. In Psalm 19 the creation witnesses to the covenant, sun and moon.

Song of Songs
fountain
A beautiful section on married sexuality. No Greek or Gnostic darkness here. He does point out (but not develop) Garden-City motifs pointing to the New Jerusalem.

Grace restores nature.  This is the problem with the current fascination with Reformed Thomism.  Thomas knew exactly what he was doing when he downplayed married sexuality.  It wasn’t a medieval hiccup.  For him, grace perfects nature.  For us, it restores. I know that the Calvinist International guys like Bavinck.  I just think it is pouring new wine into old wineskins.

Also, see here and here.

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Review: Bavinck, Essays on Society and Religion

It pains me to rate this only three stars, given Bavinck’s towering reputation. But alas, it must be so. Remember the parts of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics where he did historical surveys on dead 19th century Germans? Those were also the only parts of RD that you didn’t enjoy. This book is those parts, or like unto it.

The essays at the end of the book were pretty good, as he dealt with faculty psychology and classical education. The sections at the front on philosophy of religion are weak, but that is the nature of the case. In reading this one also gets a feel for world culture at the time, especially as Europe was hurtling towards the inferno of World War I and the Russian Revolution, when Satan would be unleashed upon the world. Bavinck is seen fighting a heroic rear-guard action. But in reading these essays one gets the impression that Bavinck is often outgunned and out manned.

Further, with a few exceptions, if you were an unbeliever in 19th century Europe, your work is outdated garbage, even by today’s unbelieving standards. I’m not sure exactly what Bavinck’s critiques add to this body of knowledge. Skip this and read his Philosophy of Revelation instead.

Review: Berkouwer’s Half Century Theology

This is partly GC Berkouwer’s theological autobiography.  Rather than giving an analytical review, I’ll post my observations:

  1. The book is heavily influenced by Bavinck.  This is significant.  Bavinck’s stature had a kind of stabilizing influence among those otherwise influenced by Barth.
  2. The second chapter apologetics has some helpful reflections on Dooyeweerd.
  3. Harnack was irritated with Barth that he read guys like Cocceius.
  4. The best chapter was on election (Heart of the Church).  Here we seen Berkouwer moving away from traditional Reformed thought. He wanted to avoid positing any kind of “behind the back” of God. God’s actions are not in a dark hinterland, but are revealed in Christ.
  5. Vollenhoven rejected an impersonal human nature (anhypostasia).  An impersonal human nature is not a complete human nature.  Otherwise, it is an instrument of the Logos.

This really isn’t an inspiring read.  20th century theology, especially in its critical manifestations, is one colossal failure of nerve.  The only bright spots–in this volume anyway–are the Dutch Neo-Calvinists.  And Oscar Cullmann.

Common Grace and the Gospel (review)

The Christian Philosophy of History

Metaphysically, we have all things in common with the unregenerate.  Epistemologically, we do not.

Universals of non-Christian thought are ultimately non-personalist.

For the Reformed Christian God’s counsel is the principle of individuation.

Paradox

God’s being and his self-consciousness are co-terminous (9).

Abraham Kuyper’s Doctrine of Common Grace

distinction between constant and progressive aspects of common grace.  

COMMON GRACE IN DEBATE

Recent Developments

Schilder on the importance of thinking concretely.  Common grace shows us the importance of seeing historical development and progression (31).

Danger of Abstract Thinking

Kuyper:  all creation-ordinances are subject to the will of God (35).    Kuyper was unclear on the relation between universal/particular.

  • universals themselves exist as a system.  They are organically related to one another.  But how can they be related to one another and still remain universals?  Whenever universals “overlap,” they begin to admit of “change,” which seems to deny what a universal is.  This was Plato’s problem.
  • Plato ascribes the transition between universals as “chance.”
  • The Christian can begin to allow for transitions between universals because the universals are ascribed to the counsel of God.  No abstract staticism and no abstract change.
  • Therefore, the Christian reasons analogically with respect to these relations between facts.  Facts never exist as facts;  they always exist as facts-in-relation (and this is where Hegel did have correct insight).    Reasoning analogically, if the being and self-consciousness of the ontological Trinity are coterminous, may we not also say that facts and universals are corelative in the counsel of God (40).  

Bavinck:  there is one principle in theology.

  • What is the Christian notion of mystery?  For the Greeks “god” is abstracted to the point of an empty concept (moving up on the chain of being).  
  • Bavinck does not fully break with this concept of mystery.  

Hepp: sought to build a general testimony of the Spirit

  • Difference between psychological and epistemological.
  • If we take the original human nature and the sinful human nature and realize that everywhere both are active, we are done with the natural theology of Rome.

Positive Line of Concrete Thinking

  • Even prelapsarian man was confronted with positive revelation.  God walked and talked with him.
  • Natural revelation is a limiting concept.  It has never existed by itself as far as man is concerned.
  • To insist that man’s relation with God is covenantal is to say that man deals with the personal God everywhere.
  • After the common comes the conditional; history is the process of differentiation.  It is a common-ness for the time being (74).  
    • The offer comes generally so that history may have differentiation.
    • Per Platonism, the conditional can have no real meaning.

PARTICULARISM AND COMMON GRACE

Socrates was correct: men and gods agree as long as we talk about general principles.

  • Pace Aquinas, to sing the praise of being in general is to sing the praise of man as well as God.
  • On the neo-Orthodox analogy of faith scheme, God and man are correlative.  

Interestingly, Van TIl says he does not reject Old Princeton’s epistemology; simply it’s apologetics (155).

SUmmary of Van Til’s Position contra critics (158-159):

  • all facts in the unvierse are exhaustively revelational of God.
    • This is true of the environment, nature, and history.
    • This is true of man’s constitution (perhaps there is a correlation with Reid’s belief-creating mechanism).
  • All men unavoidably know God.
    • natural knowledge and sense of morality are not common grace.  They are the presuppositionof Common grace
    • The “starting point” is not the absolute ethical antithesis, but rather the imago dei.
      • This image contains actual knowledge-content.
      • Protestantism is a matter of restoring man to his true ethical relation.
      • The immediate testimony of the spirit has to terminate on man.  It has to be mediated to man through man’s own consciousness (178).  
      • The Antithesis is ethical, not metaphysical.  
        • The Romanist (and others) cannot really grasp this point because on the chain of being there are only gradations, not separations.
  • The Image of God in Man
    • Kuyper:  image in wider sense is the essence of man, which remains unfallen.  The image in the narrower sense consists of true righteousness, knowledge, and holiness.  It can be lost/marred/defaced.
      • Does this distinction really work?  Is the “narrower” sense so loosely/accidentally related to man that it can be lost without effecting that image at all?  This looks a lot like donum superadditum.
      • This is what happens when we use concepts like “essence” and “Nature” loosely.
      • The image must be used in an analogical sense (205).  
        • each concept must be subject to the whole of the revelation of God.

Notes on Berkouwer’s anthropology

From his Man: The Image of God

On the broader/narrower distinction: man, despite his fall, was not beastialized (38).  By narrower man lost his communion with God.

  • the broader sense reminds us of what was not lost in the fall.
  • Perhaps better to speak of a duality between Old and New.

Should image of God be read as “active” (conformitas) or ontic (essence)?

Berkouwer on Eastern Orthodoxy

  • He doesn’t give the best discussion of EO, either in what they believe or in how to critique it.  Though he does hint that EO thinkers aren’t always able to clearly state the connection between inheriting Adam’s curse of death and why we always do sinful things, but yet refusing to call it Original Sin.

Klaas Schilder

Schilder sees man’s creation as the pre-condition for the image, but not the image itself (Berkouwer 54).  The actual image lies in the officium created man receives (I don’t think this is the full picture, but there is some truth to this, especially if we connect the imago dei with man’s dominion, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism hints at).

  • Thus, the image is dynamic and is rooted in the Covenantal God’s Relation with man.
  • the word “image” implies “making visible.”
  • Schilder resists any abstracting the image.
  • The glory of the image shines forth in service to God (56).

The danger with Schilder’s approach is that it makes the image too “dynamic” with an emphasis on conformitas.

What is the relationship between man’s humanness and God’s Image?  Berkouwer wants to deny that fallen man images God (57).  He says he can do this without rejecting what it means for man to be man.

  • Passages like Genesis 9:6 are not proof-texts for some abstract view of the image analogia entis.  They deal with a humanness in the context of God’s plan of salvation.
  • The truth of the matter is Scripture doesn’t focus that much on the distinction between wider and narrow, important though it is.
    • traditional discussions have always focused on image as defined by person, will, reason, and freedom.  Scripture, on the other hand, is concerned with man-in-relation-to-God.
  • A synthesis between the ontic and active aspects of the image is impossible when using concepts like “nature” and “essence” (61).

Analogia Fides

  • The danger in abstracting the imago dei is that the body is usually not included in what it means to be God’s image.  This means that only part of man is creted in the image of God.
  • Such discussions lose focus of the humanness of man.  They forget that man is man-in-his-apostasy.

The Meaning of the Image

Origen expounded the view that man was created in God’s image but grows into God’s likeness (De Principiis, 3.4.1; Bavinck calls this the naturalistic view).

Calvin, on the other hand, sees the two terms as an example of Hebrew parallelism.  Berkouwer gives the best critique:  “And if God’s plan for man (that man should have both image and likeness) was only partially realized by man’s creation in his Image (As Origen and others claimed), then it is difficult to explain Genesis 5, which speaks of man’s creation in God’s likeness (demuth) and after his image, tselem (Berkouwer, 69).

The image-concept and the Second Commandment

2Comm. deals with a prohibition against arbitrariness which man tries to have God at his beck and call (79).  The 2C is not primarily trying to protect the “spirituality” of God but to show that God is not at man’s beck and call (though, of course, God is spiritual).

The creation of man is directly related to the prohibition of images:  “For in worshiping images, man completely misunderstands God’s intentions and no longer realizes the meaning of his humanity (84).

Biblical usage:  The NT speaks of humanity as whether it is the “New man in Christ” or not.  To the degree it speaks of conformitas, it speaks of the new conformitas in Christ.

While the analogia entis is certainly wrong, we need to be careful of speaking of an analogia relationis, pace Barth and Dooyeweerd.   Berkouwer wisely notes that Scripture doesn’t speak of a “relation” in the abstract, but of a “relation as it becomes visible in the salvation of Christ” (101).

Even if one were to speak of an analogia entis, the biblical presentation of “being like God” has nothing to do with the natural state of affairs but rather shows forth the wonder of the new birth (1 John 3:9).  The “imitation of God” forms the pendant of our witness to the world, in which word and deed are joined in an unbreakable unity (102).

The Corruption of the Image

How do we reconcile language of corruption with hints of “remnants?”  There is a difficulty in saying that sin is “accidental” to man.  It cannot mean that sin is merely peripheral to man’s existence.  Rather, it affects all that he does.  The Formula of Concord says that sin is an accident, but one that produces man’s spiritual death (133).  When Flacius Illyrius saw the term “accident,” he interpreted it as meaning that sin is relative and external.

The problem is that substance/accidents language cannot do justice to the NT reality of sin. Berkouwer suggests we can rise above the dilemma “only when we see man’s nature, his being man, in his inescapable relation to God” (135).

We also need to be aware of positing “any remnant in man which can escape divine indictment” (135).  Whatever else we may think of substance/accidents, “Scripture constantly makes it clear that sin is not something which corrupts relatively or partially, but a corruption which full affects the radix, the root, of man’s existence, and therefore man himself” (104-141).

  • Gen. 6:11-12; the sin is referred to as “great.”
  • Gen. 6:5; man’s heart is evil
  • Gen. 8.21 (man’s imagination is evil from his youth)
  • Life outside of Christ is pictured as “under God’s wrath” (

“The power of sin since the fall is like an avalanche, and it results in the intervening judgment of God” (141).  The Old testament gives us a picture of total corruption but a limited curse (God doesn’t wipe us out completely).

“The jubilation of salvation corresponds to the real condition of lostness” (144).

Humanness and Corruption

Discussion about common grace.  When Calvin says man has “no worth” he means no merit before God’s judgment.

The Whole Man

Scripture doesn’t talk about man in the abstract, but man in his relation to God (195).

Biblical use of the word “soul.”

Sometimes it is “nefesh,” meaning life and can refer to man himself.  Berkouwer rejects that “soul” is a “localized religious part of man” (201).  The Bible’s interchangeable usage between soul and life should draw attention to the fact that the “heart” is of primary importance:  “The heart shows forth the deeper aspect of the whole humanness of man, not some functional localization in a part of man which would be the most important part” (202-203).

Concerning anthropological dualisms

Such a view sees the soul as the “higher” part, closer to God.  Leads to ascetism.  However, evil in the bible is never localized in a part of man.

Bavinck attacks trichotomy because Scripture knows of no original dualism between spirit and matter (209).    The trichotomist sees the soul as mediating between body and spirit (find Damascene’s comment that the soul is higher point, cf Bruce McCormack, Engaging the Doctrine of God).

Dualism and duality are not identical (211).  We can speak of a duality in God’s creation man and woman, without positing an ontological dualism between them (this is where Maximus and Jakob Boehme err).  “Duality within created reality does not exclude harmony and unity, but is exactly oriented towards it” (211).

Does soul and body involve a tension, and if so that would make it a dualism?  If it does involve a tension, we must reject not only trichotomy, but dichotomy.

Per the confessions and creeds, “there is a great difference between non-scientific references to a dual aspect of human nature and a thesis that man is composed of two substances, body and soul” (213-214).

The Dooyeweerdians

It opposes the idea that all the rich variation of humanness can be forced into two substantial categories.

Stoker defines substance as the “systatic core of man, that which functions in all spheres” (H.G. Stoker, Die nuwere Wijsbegeerte aan die Vrije Universiteit, 1933, 40ff.).

For the Dooyeweerdian critique, matter can never be an independent counter-pole to form.

Immortality of the Soul

Genuine and real life in Scripture is life in communion with God.  The philosophical notion of “immortality of the soul” calls death a lie and misunderstands the judgment of God (250).

The main contention of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd whether there was a natural immortality based on an essence abstracted from its relation to God, from which we can draw further conclusions, such as the soul’s “indestructibility” (249).

Per Van der Leuw, there is no continued existence of the soul as such after death, “but a continuation of the contact point by God even though death” (Onsterfelijkheid of Opstanding, 25 quoted in Berkouwer 252).

  • The problem of what happens when we die does not involve a purely spiritual salvation but can only be answered in the context of death and the Day of Judgment (Althaus).

Is immortality of the soul correlative with the substantial dualism of mind-body?  This dichotomy raises substantial (pun?) problems and questions (255):

  • When the “soul” is separated from the body, what activities is it still able to carry out?
  • If the body is the organ of the soul (as in Aquinas), and the soul needs the body to carry out its functions, how can the soul know or do anything after death?
    • Dooyeweerd notes that the psychic functions are indissolubly connected with the total temporal-cosmic relationship of all modal functions and cannot be abstracted from this relationship.
    • Thus, we have a “living soul” which does not live.
    • Rather, with Dooyeweerd we should speak of a duality which is supra-temporal in the religious center of man (heart) and the whole temporal-functional complex.
    • Dooyeweerd does say that the soul continues as a form of existence with an individuality structure (Berkouwer 257n. 33).

Does Dooyeweerd’s school give us a “psychology without a soul?”

  • No, for Dooyeweerd says we cannot view man’s essence “in itself” and then tack it onto a relation with God.

The Reformed confessions’ use of soul and body is not to give a systematic anthropology but to show that expectation of salvation surpasses death (271).

Creationism and Traducianism

Berkouwer sees the problems with Creationism:

  • it finds the soul’s origin in another dimension than the “other” part of man, which finds its origin…from its parents (294).

Human Freedom

Freedom in the New Testament is not a “possibility,” but an actuality, the actuality of being free (Gal. 3:13, 4:4). Defining freedom as “double possibility,” as freedom of choice, arises from an abstract and irreligious and neutral anthropological analysis of human freedom (334).

irony and tension: if freedom is defined as choice, then we see that the choice for sin becomes a manifestation of human freedom–though we (and the Bible!) then go on to speak of sin as actually being slavery (335)!

Choosing Ba’al is not an ontological freedom of the will, but an endangering of freedom and the acceptance of an enslaved will (Deut. 30:18). How can we speak of a neutral and autonomous freedom of will when Jesus commands us to accept his yoke and his burden? (348)

Man of God

In the Old Testament it refers to a relationship with God (349).  Such a term can never be one of an abstract and neutral man.  It is man drawn out of darkness and into light.

“The magnalia Dei does not exclude true greatness, but calls it forth” (352).  [Think Stonewall Jackson]

 

 

Bavinck: Philosophy of Revelation

Bavinck argues that a monistic account of the world cannot ground unity or diversity. By contrast, the Christian revelation can account for a unity and a diversity that is not located within the phenomenal realm. Bavinck traces the idea of revelation in its form and content and how it correlates with the rest of life (Bavinck 18). Accordingly, and perhaps truistically, philosophy of revelation takes its starting point from its object: revelation.

Bavinck then gives a tour-de-force of modern philosophy. While he firmly rejects these philosophies, he doesn’t give hysterical reductions of everything to Pantheism, Hegelianism, Darwinism, Insert-Bad-Guy-ism. He sees clear advances they make against other secular alternatives.

idealism: correct in that reality is mediated by consciousness. False when it infers from that the object of perception is within the mind itself (36). Idealism confounds act with content.

self-consciousness: the unity of real and ideal being. We know it immediately. Here Bavinck anticipates later Reformed Epistemology: self-consciousness is a properly basic belief. We do not know it by reasoning from prior beliefs.

Christian revelation imparts a new kind of certainty (40). This certainty is a confidence in God’s promises.

Augustine’s claim on knowing God and the self:
a. Augustine descended beyond thought alone: life precedes thought; faith, knowledge
b. the essence of the soul is not simply thought alone. He found ideas, norms, laws of certainty, truth.
c. Memoria, intellectus, voluntas.

Echoing later neo-Calvinist themes, Bavinck sees that each branch of knowledge (science, theology) has a barrier around it, not a boundary. Each branch must respect its own object of knowledge and character. Kant unwittingly showed that when science tries to peer into the “essence” of things, it creates antinomies (57).

The only way unity can preserve true differentiation is when it includes and enfolds the entire world seen as the product of divine wisdom (57-58).

Evaluation:

Bavinck, like Van Til after him, was incapable of giving a precision strike against a target. Sometimes the chapters seemed to go on and on. On the other hand, Bavinck, like Van Til, was able to carpet bomb and thoroughly cover an entire area.

Some pages were simply beautiful. Bavinck has a magnificently stirring section contrasting the Bible with Babylonian magick (112ff). He writes, “The Bible did not come from Babylon, but in its fundamental thought is in diametrical opposition to Babylon, and made an end to Babylon’s spiritual dominion over the peoples.” That last clause is crucial: Babylon was never merely a political oppressor, but brought to bear her demonic, albeit immaterial personalities to its politics.

While brief, this book is not particularly easy reading. Bavinck assumes that you are relatively familiar with continental philosophy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Further, most of his footnotes are in German, Dutch, or Latin. Finally, my edition (AlevBooks) has larger pages and more words on a page than you would normally expect.

When Matter Becomes Form

This is a review of Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation vol. 4.

And so ends the greatest theologian of all time. The following are highlights around the central theme of grace restoring nature. Indeed, with Bavinck we see the rejection of dualisms: “The dualisms between the internal and the external, the spiritual and the material, eternity and time, essence and form…are products of a false philosophy and contrary to Scripture” (458).

*The Church*

In his discussion of the church Bavinck always comes back to the truth that it is in the Reformed churches that preaching is exalted. Bavinck makes an important distinction that Lutherans see the Spirit working per verbum, while Reformed see him working cum verbum.

*Ethics*

Ethics

While Bavinck appreciated a Christianized society, he didn’t think all sins (e.g., fornication, drunkeness) should be punished by the State (437).

Bavinck’s discussions on the sacraments are par for the course with most Reformed dogmatics, so no need to explicate them here. He takes Calvin’s view as a middle path between Roman realism and Anabaptist gnosticism. He believes the Supper should be monthly.

*New Creation*

This is the most important section. When you want good eschatology, always go to the Neo-Calvinists, never American neo-Puritans. Recreation

“The resurrection is the principle of the renewal of all things” (428).

Judgment

Bavinck ably rebuts the hippy, humanitarian idea that hell is too mean for God, especially when evaluated on human sentiment. “For when the interest of society becomes the deciding factor, not only is every boundary between good and evil wiped out, but also justice runs the danger of being sacrificed to power…Human feeling is no foundation for anything important, therefore, and neither may nor can it be decisive in the determination of law and justice. All appearances notwithstanding, it is infinitely better to fall into the hands of the Lord than into human hands. The same applies with respect to eternal punishment in hell (708).

The New Earth

“The state of glory will be no mere restoration of the state of nature, but a re-formation that, thanks to the power of Christ, transforms all matter into form, all potency into actuality, and presents the entire creation before the face of God, brilliant in unfading splendor and blossoming into a springtime of eternal youth (720).

“The difference between day and night, between the Sabbath and the workdays, has been suspended. Time is charged with eternity of God. Space is full of his presence. Eternal becoming is wedded to immutable being. Even the contrast between heaven and earth is gone (730).

Conclusion:

Perhaps, as others have noted, this book isn’t as good as volumes 1-2. But it’s still the best thing on the market regarding this locus of systematic theology.