I approach Herman Dooyeweerd in the way that I do a grand piano. I cannot play a piano, but I can recognize its worth. I am not a Dooyeweerdian or the son of a Dooyeweerdian. I point to Dooyeweerd a lot however. I recognize him as a gift of God to the Kingdom of God. Dooyeweerd was a philosopher, thinker, and professor who lived in the Netherlands from 1894 to 1977. He was a Christian who delved deeply into the stream of Western culture and thought and thought through an entire and expansive philosophy informed by Christianity.
Many of the English language accounts of his life focus upon his extensive writings and lectures. Like his contemporary Corrie Ten Boom, he had his cat-and-mouse struggles during World War II evading the Nazis. The Nazis were philosophically astute enough to recognize that the teachings of Dooyeweerd and the heritage of Kuyper was undermining to the Thousand Year Reich. Like his friend Klaas Schilder, he was involved in the cultural and theological battles of his day. It has often been speculated whether either Dooyeweerd or C. S. Lewis knew of the existence of each other.
Mainly, Dooyeweerd thought, lectured, and wrote. His primary work in English is titled A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Many Christian intellectuals were strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd’s writings in Dutch and the English translations. While Hans Rookmaaker was in a prisoner of war camp during World War II, a fellow prison gave him the first volume of Dooyeweerd’s New Critique. It was eye-opening for Rookmaaker who devoted the rest of his life to thinking Christianly about the arts.
A fellow Dutchman in America, Cornelius Van Til, read Dooyeweerd and heavily annotated the margins. For a time, Van Til was the primary proponent of Dooyeweerd’s thought in America. In time, other Christian scholars read either Dooyeweerd or books growing out of his ideas. Not every reader embraced the whole of Dooyeweerdian thought, often called the Cosmonomic Philosophy, but many were influenced by it. Along with Van Til, such Christian scholars and writers as R. J. Rushdoony, E. L. Hebden-Taylor, Gregg Singer, Calvin Seerveld, Evan Runner, Francis Nigel Lee, and others read, quoted, and drew insights from Dooyeweerd.
There are today, scholars, philosophers, theologians, and thinkers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, South Africa, and various other points around the globe who have drawn heavily from Dooyeweerd’s thinking. Books and journal article continue to appear that are based on his works.
Here is a portion of my older blog where I ranked The Roots of Western Culture as the best book I read in 2007. It was back those days when I was blessed with the opportunity of giving lectures in Virginia and Alaska highlighting Dooyeweerd’s work.
#1 Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options by Herman Dooyeweerd
As stated above, Dooyeweerd is hard to read. This book is the best way to begin the ascent up the high peaks of Dooyeweerdian thought. Dooyeweerd is usually categorized as being a philosopher, but he was also a historian. This book is a broad cultural analysis of history as a whole. I have described this book as a high octane version of Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? Dooyeweerd wrote this originally as a series of newspaper articles in the wake of a culture war erupting in the Netherlands after World War II. After the Netherlands suffered from Nazi occupation and the evils of that regime, many Dutch Christians left the country. The battles between secularists and Christians for the heart of the country were quite severe. As a Christian way of thinking about history and culture, this is a worthwhile study.
Here are some worthy quotes from Roots:
“[T]he excessive expansion of power within a given cultural sphere always occurs under the guidance of an apostate faith….” Page 106
“Sparks of the original glory of God’s creation still shine in every phase of culture, to a greater or lesser degree, even if its development has occurred under the guidance of apostate spiritual powers.” Pages 38-39
“Religion is not determined by national culture, but vice versa; it is religion that brings its formative power to bear on national culture.” Page 84
I discussed Dooyeweerd’s writings in more detail some time back: Click here!
I will mention in passing, that two of the defining Dooyeweerd studies are Roy Clouser (The Myth of Religious Neutrality) and L. Kalsbeek (Contours of a Christian Philosophy). Both books by themselves are great studies, but they are also helpful in grasping Dooyeweerd’s thinking. I personally found Cornelius Van Til’s Defense of the Faith helpful, although he is not explicitely dealing with Dooyeweerd, and I thought R. J. Rushdoony’s opening chapters of The One and the Many to be a very useful explication of Dooyeweerd’s approach to history and philosophy.
I want to mention three recent books that will be helpful to students of Dooyeweerd and philosophy.
First, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, published by Baker Academic. This book is the third in a series of introductory level books on Christian life and thought. This book is centered around a series of letters written by a young couple. One, the boy, attends a secular university where he is given an unbelieving and often unsettling approach to philosophy. His girlfriend, however, is taking philosophy at a Christian college where Biblical presuppositions govern the content. The content of the book is relaying what the girl is learning in her classes. This is a great survey, a worthy Philosophy 101 text, and a useful and brief introduction to the key names, concepts, and concerns. (For high school students, one would be better served by using R. C. Sproul’s The Consequences of Ideas.)
For purposes of this blog, I will emphasize that this introduction to philosphy gives lengthy and repeated references, quotes, and applications of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy.
Wordbridge Publishing is producing an interesting array of studies for Christians. These include classic novels, studies on economic and political history, challenging works by G.W. F. Hegel, and now this series on Herman Dooyeweerd. Pierre Marcel was a Reformed theologian and scholar. Some may know him for his book on baptism, which I read some years ago with much profit. During his time, a mentor and colleague introduced Marcel to the work of Dooyeweerd and urged Marcel to take up the study.
Marcel studied Dooyeweerd’s works, both the man and the message. He typed out a long series of observations and commentary on Dooyeweerd’s work. Like the Samizdat literature in the former Soviet Union, these notes were reproduced by increasingly poor Zerox copies that were in Marcel’s native French. Then, along came Colin Wright, who translated and edited these Dooyeweerd studies. And, along came Ruben Alvarado and Wordbridge who published these studies. I like the uncompromising title of these two works: The Christian Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd. Volume 1 is The Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought, which echoes the English translation of Dooyeweerd’s primary work De Wijsbegeerte Der Wetsidee, which we English-only folk know as The New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Volume 2 of Marcel’s study is titled The General Theory of the Law-Spheres.
As I said in the beginning, Dooyeweerd to me is a like a grand piano. These books on Dooyeweerd and Christian are themselves daunting. I am, by trade a teacher of American history and literature, so in-depth philosophical studies leave me winded in a hurry. Still, there is the place for the novice, the amateur, and the appreciative onlooker. I know that the challenges to Christian thought are many. The books I teach might or might not satisfy the student who is advanced beyond high school. I can live on the plains, to change from my piano analogy, point to the high mountains and say, “Go scale Mount Dooyeweerd.”