Book Review: The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Nash)

Nash, Ronald.  The Word of God and the Mind of Man. Zondervan: 1982. Reprint by Presbyterian and Reformed.RonNash

The possibility of our having cognitive knowledge about God was denied on three grounds:  God is too transcendent; 2) human knowledge is de jure problematic; 3) human language was de jure problematic.

Question of the book: Can the human logos know the Logos of God (Nash 14)?

Hume’s Gap: our pivotal beliefs must rest on something besides knowledge.

Kant’s wall: there is a wall between the world as it is and the sense world.

For the Neo-Orthodox, revelation is always an event.  It is never cognitive knowledge about God.

Defense of Propositional Revelation

(A)  All S is P                                             (E) No  S is P

(I)  Some S is P                                         (O) Some S is not P.

(A) All revelation is propositional       (E) No revelation is propositional

(I) Some revelation is propositional    (O) Some rev. Is not propositional

We can rule out O as irrelevant to the discussion.  The Neo-Orthodox thinks that all evangelicals hold to A, but that’s false.  We hold to I.  Further, holding to I doesn’t entail the claim that all revelation is propositional.

In short God reveals knowledge to his creation and some of this knowledge about himself is contained in the form of propositions (45). And even if one wants to claim that revelation is personal, saving faith still presupposes saving faith about something.

The Christian Logos

This is the heart of Nash’s project. Key idea: “Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos of god, mediates all divine revelation and grounds the correspondence between the divine and human minds” (59).

The Christian Rationalism of St Augustine

Augustine has some sort of interplay between the uncreated Light of God and the mutable light of the human mind (81). How can the human mind understand the eternal Forms within God’s mind?  Nash suggests three ways:

(1) The human intellect is both passive and active with respect to the forms (85). It is passive, pace Kant, in that it doesn’t create the conditions for knowledge. It is active in the sense that it judges and receives.

(2) The forms are and are not separate from the divine mind.

(3) The human mind is and is not a light that makes knowledge possible.

While Nash had a fine discussion on how Augustine modified Plato’s essentialism, and I don’t necessarily disagree, the chapter just feels “short.” I know he wrote a book on the topic and it is worth pursuing there.

In Defense of Logic

When Nash wrote this book, the Dooyeweerdian school in Toronto was a force to be reckoned with (one sees something similar in John Frame’s works).  Nash gives a fine rebuttal to the Dooyeweerdians: if human reason is valid only one one side of the cosmonomic boundary, “then any inference that God is transcendent must be an illegitimate application of human reason” (99). In other words, if God is transcendent, you are in error for saying he is transcendent!


The Logos of God has created the logos of the human mind in such a way that that it can receive cognitive, propositional knowledge about a transcendent God.



The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship

by George Marsden.  Oxford University Press.

Instead of “Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship,” we can name it the “Unstable idea of a halfway-covenant going by the name of Christian scholarship.”

A key argument:  Here is the problem.  Secularists object to Christians in the academy because the latter claim access to knowledge (special revelation) that others do not have, so they can’t do real science.  Marsden counters that Christian beliefs function as “background beliefs.” They are not used as evidence for one’s views.  Christians would look to other beliefs “that we share with persons from differing ideological camps so that we could agree on common grounds” (50). So what is the point of even having religious beliefs in the academy?  They function as “control beliefs” (ala Wolterstorff) which filter which beliefs we are allowed to entertain.

Marsden then borrows an idea from Newman, which was later echoed by Dooyeweerd:  the tendency in the modern academy is for each discipline to absolutize its own claims at the expense of each other. What the disciplines used to do to Christianity they now do to each other.  The solution is to see the disciplines as integrally connected.  This, of course, is a specifically theological claim.

A Concluding Analysis

The book is refreshing and in many ways nostalgic for me as a reader.  I cut my teeth on Marsden when I was in college, especially as I dealt with the pressure from covenant-breakers (at an ostensibly Christian college, no less).  There are a few fine chapters and an interesting appendix.  Still, I think Marsden either doesn’t see (or more likely couldn’t imagine, as this book was written decades ago) the true nature of the Left towards Christians in the public sphere.  

One good Christian argument for Christians in the Academy is that Christians can account for the unity and stability of the “self.” Postmodernism has denied the reality of the unified self.  This allows Facebook (and the state of California) to believe in 58 genders.  Strangely enough, it is these people who accuse Christians of rejecting science!

I return to my opening sentence: the book is a halfway covenant with the secular academy.  It wants a place at the table.  I’m not sure why he thinks secularists will play along.  Which is why I think the whole idea is unstable.  Mind you, I believe Christians should be in the academy.  But we are living in what Van Til called the “later time of common grace.”  The lines are getting sharper and the corners more hard-edged (to quote CS Lewis). Neither side is going to rest content with compromise.


Dooyeweerd on Aristotle

This is from the first 28 pages of New Critique of Theoretical Thought vol 3. I never finished the book because he spent the latter part of it talking about the law-structures of different plants.  I couldn’t see how this was meaningful.

Critique of Thomist metaphysics

Substance: possessing a permanence unaffected by change (Dooyeweerd 4).

  • Our experience of the identity of a thing is always temporal.

Dooyeweerd claims that the traditional view of a thing standing behind a thing contradicts the Christian conception “of human selfhood as a spiritual center,” whose nature is a self-surrender to God (6).

Traditional views of substance see it as a “kernel” under the accidents

To what, primary substance?  It cannot be a pre-theoretically conceived thing, for that is always bound “to the subject object relation” (10).

So what is ousia? Dooyeweerd: “It cannot be a mere relation between form and matter since in Aristotelian metaphysics and logic the concept of substance functions as the independent point of reference” (11).  The category of relation is thinner and accidental.

Nor can it be composite or synthetic, since there must be a unity prior to this.

The Greeks could never latch onto the Creational idea of substance as a structure of individuality (16). [JBA–what is an individuality structure and how is that different from a substance?]

If matter is the principium individuationis, then there can’t be a real idea “of the structure of individuality” (17; since this idea isn’t encased in matter).

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]



Dooyeweerd and Thomism, some notes

This is from the first 28 pages of New Critique of Theoretical Thought vol 3.

Critique of Thomist metaphysics

Substance: possessing a permanence unaffected by change (Dooyeweerd 4).

  • Our experience of the identity of a thing is always temporal.

Dooyeweerd claims that the traditional view of a thing standing behind a thing contradicts the Christian conception “of human selfhood as a spiritual center,” whose nature is a self-surrender to God (6).

Traditional views of substance see it as a “kernel” under the accidents

To what, primary substance?  It cannot be a pre-theoretically conceived thing, for that is always bound “to the subject object relation” (10).

So what is ousia? Dooyeweerd: “It cannot be a mere relation between form and matter since in Aristotelian metaphysics and logic the concept of substance functions as the independent point of reference” (11).  The category of relation is thinner and accidental.

Nor can it be composite or synthetic, since there must be a unity prior to this.

The Greeks could never latch onto the Creational idea of substance as a structure of individuality (16). [JBA–what is an individuality structure and how is that different from a substance?]

If matter is the principium individuationis, then there can’t be a real idea “of the structure of individuality” (17; since this idea isn’t encased in matter).

Review of Reformation Scholasticism (Dooyeweerd)

Identifying this book is tricky.  I am reviewing Herman Dooyeweerd’s Reformation and Scholasticism volume 1.   Paideia Press, an otherwise outstanding publisher, has released what appears to be several volumes under similar titles.  This volume only covers up to Aristotle (but not Aristotle).  It is Works Series 5/1.

Herman Dooyeweerd identifies four religious ground-motives in Western thought. These aren’t just “worldviews.” They go much deeper than that and control the thought-formations in a pre-conscious way.

1. Form-Matter of Greeks
2. Creation-Fall-Recreation of Scripture
3. Nature-Grace of Western Medievalism
4. Nature-Freedom of Modernity

1, 3, and 4 are dialectical and are torn by an inner dualism (Dooyeweerd 3).

Greek Form-Matter

This ground-motive is torn between earlier nature-religions (pre-Homer) which posited a divine, eternally-flowing stream of life (5-6). It is a psychic fluid which technically isn’t material, yet it is bound to material life and is conceived materially.

The best way to review this book is to highlight a number of “pressure points” within the Greek ground-motive.

Pressure Point #1: What is the soul made of?

The Socratic “Idea” is the life-giving principle, so it is necessarily related to the sensible cosmos; yet it is exalted above the matter principle of flux (137). For Plato Like must be known by Like–so the thinking soul must share in the immobility of the eide, and even to the eidos of “life in itself.” Why is this a problem? This would make the soul the world of ideas.

But if the soul is furthered pursued on these lines, then it is “deprived of the anima rationalis of all vitality, rendering it completely inert” (154). But if the soul contains the principle of motion, is this not a move backwards towards the Elatic school and its ever-flowing physis?

The nous is only the origin of the pure form, not of the chaotic elements in matter, or the chaotic motions. Thus, if the soul is the source of all motion in the cosmos (or in the microcosmos), then its simplicity is under tension.

Plato alleviates this problem with a tripartite division of the soul.

Pressure Point #2: Forever Apart?

Dooyeweerd notes that the ontic realm of the Forms “can never be joined logically to matter…an eidos of hule is inherently contradictory” (192). He points out that if motion and rest can both be applied to Being, then there is nothing to distinguish it from temporal reality. We aren’t quite at Plato’s chorismos (sharp division) between the eternal and sensible worlds, but we are getting there.

Pressure Point #3: Is Weakness Evil?

In the Timeaus Plato notes that faulty conditions of the body give rise to bad decisions (Tim. 86D). In Christian terms, you sin because you are finite and created. Something just seems wrong about this. Given a Platonic anthropology, the rational part of the Soul is good but the rest of the body is subject to Ananke. Thus, man is both rational and irrational (Dooyeweerd 310).


There is no denying the book’s value in its giving a minute and precise analysis of pre-Aristotelian philosophy, yet that might also be its problem. Dooyeweerd’s “Ground-Motive” schema is accurate and with it we agree 100%. And I think Dooyeweerd is successful in identifying the problems in pre-Aristotelian philosophy. Nonetheless, one often loses the forest for the trees. It is easy to get lost in the analysis and it isn’t always clear when Dooyeweerd is bringing you back to the larger picture. Yet, this book is certainly valuable for its deconstruction of Greek thought and its indirect establishing the ground for the Creation-Fall-Redemption Ground motive.

Frame: Kant

Most important chapter in the book.  I will have to break this into several posts.

Noumena and Phenomena

“our most basic knowledge comes…by the mind’s impressing it on the world” (Frame 256). The mind structures the concepts of experience.

Kant’s Assembly Line

The assembly line is the mind.  It receives the raw stuff/noumenal.  The transcendental aesthetic adds the ingredients that make it suitable for sense perception.

The transcendental analytic allows us to understand.  Similar to Aristotle’s categories.

These categories  are like the divider in an ice cube tray.

The transcendental unity of apperception says all of the above is meaningless unless held together by a unified experience.  This is a presupposition of experience, not an item of it.

The transcendental dialectic

God is a regulative concept, not a constitutive one.  He is necessary for morality but not for belief.

Frame argument: liberal theology often moves more conservative in language but not content (264).

Problems with Kant (p. 266ff)

  1. To live “as if” God exists is incoherent.  Part of the “acting as if” includes belief, going to church, worship, etc, the very things Kant doesn’t include.  Epistemology is a part of ethics
  2. The human mind replaces Plato’s Forms.
  3. “Kant seeks to interpret an unknowable, unstructured world (the noumena) by applying a knowable structure of categories supplied by autonomous reason (phenomena)(p. 268).
  4. Kant’s knowledge isn’t even a knowledge of the real world.  It is a knowledge of its own structure, “a knowledge the categories imposes on the real world.”
  5. The medieval nature-grace becomes nature-freedom (Dooyeweerd).