Stumbling Through the Book Stacks, Part 1

The problem with mixing one’s vocation with his advocation is that you never know when you are working and when you are relaxing.  Sometimes, it is a healthy ploy to avoid other work.  “I have work to do,” I say, as I head off with a book, leaving innumerable household chores to my faithful family.  Robert Frost pondered this issue with wit and whimsy in his poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time.”  The matter goes beyond poetry and may be indicative of a mental disorder.

At any rate, I have certain books that I read because they relate to and inform what I am teaching in school.  I have other books that I read for other reasons.  Those reasons include spiritual growth, broadening of horizons, and diversions from the necessities of life. I will comment on a few on-going reading ventures.

On Politics

I regularly check the Internet sources, particularly realclearpolitics.com, for on-going political news.  As both a government teacher and citizen, I need to be more informed on current political happenings.  Right now, I am intensely interested in Senate races and am cheering Congressman Tom Cotton in his race for the U. S. Senate here in Arkansas.  But political thought involves having each foot planted in different realms.  One foot needs to be right in the middle of whatever is the currentl political storm.  There is certainly no lack of political powder to create lots of artillery fire in our time.  Political news and views feeds the political junkee in me, but then again, I am a government teacher.

The other foot of the political reader needs to be far from the current hustles and hassles.  It needs to be burrowing deeply in the roots and foundations, the philosophy, of political thought.  For that reason, Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Machievelli’s Prince, The Federalist Papers, and the speeches of Ronald Reagan all must be pored over like they were the daily news.  Of course, there are many more books besides those.

For the Christian, especially one devoted to Christian worldview thinking, political philosophy must not merely cross paths on occasion with Biblical thought, but must be rooted in it.  This goal, by the way, is a large part of the agenda of the Center for Cultural Leadership and particularly the work of P. Andrew Sandlin and Brian Mattson.

A great, but sad to say too little noticed, resource for Christian political thought is found in the work of the intellectual leadership of an amazing trio of Dutchmen.  I have praised, although not highly enough, the work of Dutch Christians in previous posts.  I have also given talks about the Dutch thinkers in such varied locations as Virginia, Alaska, south Texas, and Lewisville, Arkansas.

Guillame Groen van Prinsterer, Dutch historian and political thinker. He was every bit as aristocratic as this picture looks, but he had a love for the common man, or as the Dutch called it, the kleine luyden.

Abraham Kuyper (left), Herman Dooyeweerd (center), and a third Dutchman, D. H. Th. Vollenhoven, Dooyweerd’s brother-in-law and yet another pivotal Dutch thinker.

 

I am still learning from and gleaning insights from Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd.

Here are some of my on-going readings:

Even I might concede that the title of this book, Lectures on Calvinism, is unfortunate.  It gives the impression that the book is on the soteriological 5 Points of Calvinism or some aspects of either Calvin’s Institutes or of the varied ways that Calvin’s disciples have thought through and applied his thinking.  I don’t object to those things, but this book is actually about having a Christian worldview.  The lectures were given in 1898 at Princeton Seminary by Kuyper who was both a leading theologian and a leading political leader.  For that reason, he had meetings with two of the most important men in America at that time.  He met with his friend and fellow theologian Benjamin B. Warfield, who was president of Princeton Seminary, and with President William McKinley, who was, incidentally, a Christian of Methodist persuasion.

My government class is reading the chapter on Politics from this book.  Kuyper also deals with art, science, and other areas of life.  For developing a political philosophy, the chapter on Politics is vital reading.  Kuyper will continually make reference to the three most important revolutions (changes in history) that were Christian based.  Those were the Glorious Revolution in England (1688), the American War for Independence, and the long war that the Netherlands waged against Spain during the 1500s-1600s (an 80 year battle for freedom).  In contrast to those faith and law based revots against tyranny, Kuyper shows how the French Revolution ushered in a totally different worldview.

One of the great blessings of our time is the increasing number of works by Abraham Kuyper that are being translated into English.  Currently, the Christian’s Library Press is putting out a number of Kuyper volumes with more to come.  For our purposes, I will mention the recently published Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government by Kuyper.

This book involves a bit of informed negotiating.  It consists of articles Kuyper wrote in the midst of the political battles he was waging.  It is not a how to book for moderns to find specifics in.  Rather, it is a historical primary source showing how a Christian thought through, communicated, and led other Christians in political action.  Along with Groen van Prinsterer and others, Kuyper was involved in the creation of a political party known as the Anti-Revolutionary Party.  This political party delved into the roots of the political issues of their time and built upon Reformational thinking in opposition to the non-Christian aspects of Enlightenment thought.

The most important thinker who built upon the foundations of Kuyper was Herman Dooyeweerd.  Dooyeweerd was a philosopher whose labors resulted in a massive construct of Christian philosophical thought.  His impact was felt in the Netherlands, but also far beyond the dykes and dunes of that country.  In the United States, Canada, Britain, South Africa, Australia, and many other lands, there have been serious and key Christian thinkers who have mined the vast quarries of Dooyeweerdian thought.  Just recently, the popular British theologian N. T. Wright commented on Dooyeweerd’s influence.

Dooyeweerd wrote and lectured quite a bit on political issues.  That fact is even more significant considering that for a part of his life, the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany.  His life and story parallels that better known story told by Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place.  Political discussion was not a free, safe, or easy topic, and Dooyeweerd had to go underground for a time to avoid arrest.  (George Grant has a fascinating lecture where he says, based on a work done by a Dutchman, that Hitler feared Abraham Kuyper even though Kuyper was long dead by the time Hitler occupied the Netherlands.)

More and more of Dooyeweerd’s vast writings are being translated and appearing in print in affordable editions.  The book called The Struggle for a Christian Politics is volume 17 of Series B of the Collected Works of Dooyeweerd.  (May my children and children’s children own the whole set.) I have only just begun reading from this book, but see already that it is a must have and must read for Christians seriously interested in political thinking and in developing a Christian worldview.

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2 thoughts on “Stumbling Through the Book Stacks, Part 1

  1. Excellent article. I so enjoyed it, especially as it brought me to a reacquaintance with Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” which I know, due to it’s familiarness, I must have read somewhere in my distant past. How much more I appreciate it at this hour of life.

    I must say I fight the sin of envy of your “vocation/advocation” problem. May God forgive me! 🙂

  2. Thank you for your reading lists. This Neo-Calvinist one is of particular significance to me. I was introduced to Kuyper’s ideas about 15 years ago but have only recently been able to read more of his works translated into English. As a professor of Rhetoric at a state university I am very interested in what Kuyper wrote about Education and Christian political involvement. Bavinck’s recently translated Reformed Dogmatics has been a wonderful read–I am significantly impressed with his writings. Bookmaker opens wondrous doors of art and art criticism–and offers great hope for a clear understanding of Christian vocation and redemptive engagement.

    Dooyeweerd still takes me down trails that sometimes lose me but I find significant wonder and overt connection to what I teach and research in his writings. These four–I yet need to read the others you mentioned–are helping to revamp my understanding of the Greek and Roman philosophers/rhetoricians whom I teach and give me wonderful ways to explain and integrate the the Christian ground-motive and sphere sovereignty into what I teach and research. Thank you for taking the time to post this blog about books. I helps me to add to the lists of reading I yet need to do and the books I need to pass along to my children and grandchildren.

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