Spring 2016‎ > ‎

1. Our Living Tradition

Lambert Zuidervaart’s latest book, Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy (currently featured on groundmotive.net), is a great gift to all people concerned to reflect and act on the need of our world for radical, comprehensive transformation. That this transformation can be both radical and comprehensive is due to Jesus’ sacrifice, by which all things everywhere and in all times are reconciled.

In a few months, we enter our Jubilee Year, culminating in October 2017 with the 50th anniversary of ICS’s official opening. We celebrate our Lord’s provision over these generations, in scholars and teachers like Lambert, a member of the “third generation”. He offers his scholarship in service to God and neighbour, for healing. In the true spirit of reformational philosophy, theorising is accountable to everyday people in their everyday lives, devoted to the flourishing of all God’s creatures and thus glorifying God. Nothing God has created exists in isolation; all things are inextricably interconnected.

Zuidervaart affirms that scholarship is traditioned, deeply connected across time. There are myriad living traditions, not a few birthed centuries or even millennia ago; ours is relatively young. “Reformational” connotes many things, one of which is ongoing reformation. Yes, we stand thankfully in the Reformed tradition, yet in a dynamic creation, where God and time never stand still. It is not surprising that now and then there are suggestions we leave our forefathers, Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven most significantly, behind. If we were to do so, there would be no fifth-generation Dooyeweerdians or Vollenhoveans – dare I say, ultimately no reformational scholarship. Some fear “scholasticism”, but this is unwarranted. The work of our forebears is a treasure of which we are custodians, albeit holding it in earthen vessels. ICS is one of relatively few institutions seeking to nurture this tradition. Lambert is committed to “critical retrieval”, engaging positively with mentors and many others, within and without the Christian fold. Ours is, as we say, “a tradition of inquiry, a spirit of engagement”. He does us great service in his Introduction by stating succinctly past differences and fundamental agreements in the wellspring of reformational philosophy.

Differing conceptions are intrinsic to philosophical dialogue, sharpening our tools. One such difference between Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd lay in the understanding of the Divine Command of Love, though they agreed on the “theory of modal aspects”. Dooyeweerd uses the image of light passing through a prism and emerging as the colours of the spectrum to illustrate how God’s Word of Love issues in various aspects, how transcendent, eternal love is experienced law-fully within our timed horizon: love differentiates in confessional, ethical, aesthetic, lingual, analytical, numerical and other modes. To dismiss modal theory as a once interesting but timeworn tool is to ignore the deep spiritual insight animating it. It is an incisive instrument that confronts and calls to account the pervasiveness of idolatry – of reductionism, both theoretical and practical.
Kuyper’s notion of “sphere sovereignty” is crucial to our understanding that church, state, family, business, artists’ workshops and so on have mutually limited authority, and none should ever (again) seize absolute power, for this belongs to God alone. Modal theory enables more precise analysis of societal and other structures, and indeed, all “things”. It is a reformational touchstone, rooted in the confession of the unlimited sovereignty of Jesus Christ and the biblical revelation that all that is comes from the breath of the Creator, a divinely upheld home in which freedom is enabled by the boundaries God let there be. In Christ, all things “hang together”. Being accountable to everyday experience means respecting what God called forth and continues to uphold by the power of his Word.

Oliver Sacks is most widely known because of the film, Awakenings (1990). A neurologist, he revived the practice of individual case studies, eschewing reliance on statistical generalisations dealing with people via abstract categories. When the latter are applied in the treatment of a particular patient, many of the complexities are ignored because the focus is on just one cause alone. When a doctor prescribes treatment for the liver, ignoring collateral damage to the kidney, there is what wise physicians call a “septic focus”. (Generals can similarly dismiss the deaths of non-combatants as “collateral”, an unintended consequence of the desire to “do good”.) If love is to prosper and lives flourish, all aspects of experience must be taken into account, not separately, but integrally.

For our tradition, a primary motivation is to combat the “sovereignty” of autonomous reasoning, so the vastly rich complexity of creation and the incredible diversity of God’s image-bearers may be fully realised. If we learn one thing from Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven and their successors, it is that religion (“spirituality”, Lambert would say) is the mainspring of life, and that our lives should be directed to love of God and neighbour – not to the idolatry of “Reason”.

In The Gravedigger File (IVP, 1983), Os Guinness challenges us to consider what kind of tools we are using: Freudian, neo-Marxist, deconstructionist, economic rationalist…? Tools are not neutral: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail.” It behoves us to keep the tools in our reformational toolbox sharp. This is the mission to which we have been called, the tradition with which we have been entrusted.

Doug Blomberg