I first got to know David Koyzis about ten years ago through an e-mail discussion group. That group was made up of many intellectual scholars with deep ties to the writings and thought of Herman Dooyeweerd. By being in the group for several years, I learned an incredible amount about the width and scope of Christian scholarship, philosophy, and discussion. Most of the time, I was simply sitting on the sidelines, often not even understanding the thread of the current discussions.
Prior to that experience, most Christians I knew were divided up into two camps: Calvinists and Arminians. That is an oversimplification; on the one hand, few Christians consciously describe themselves as Arminians; on the other hand, there is more to the Body of Christ than just those of us who side one way or the other on “The Five Points of Calvinism.”
The impact of the Reformation is enormous. But it was just one wave in a series of waves over the course of many centuries and continueing to this day. One of the most dynamic and powerful Reformation-induced waves relates to events that happened in the Netherlands in the 19th and 20th Centuries. It was there that a large number of Christian thinkers expanded and applied the Christian faith to all areas of life. I could write page upon page about these men and their times, and in fact, I have lectured and written on them on numerous occasions. To be brief, Abraham Kuyper came to the United States in 1898 and gave a series of lectures that were titled The Stone Lectures and were put in book form with the title Lectures on Calvinism.
The impact of those lectures and that book is enormous. Among others, it help shape the thinking of a brilliant law and philosophy scholar named Herman Dooyeweerd. Right up front, I will tell you that when I go to the Herman Dooyeweerd Olympic-size Swimming Pool, I can neither do laps in the pool nor even climb the ladder to the high diving boards. Instead, you will find me in the shallow end of the wading pool. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t admire and stand in awe of Dooyeweerd and those who have mastered his thought.
Among the many scholars and students that I got to know (via e-mails) David Koyzis was one of the most accessible, friendly, and encouraging of all. I, therefore, bought his book Political Visions and Illusions. Even though I pulled the book out on several occasions and dipped here and there into it, I did not read it. It was there with the hundreds of other books that I intend to read, but have not gotten to.
Then the second edition came out. I received a copy and became determined to read the book. And it does require determination to read.
One of the blessings of a democratic republic is the freedom of political expression. One of the curses of a democratic republic is the freedom of political expression. Since President Trump took office, political discourse has worsened, but don’t be fooled. Political talk was crazy in the days of Presidents Obama, both Bushes, Clinton, Reagan, and others. Political talk may actually be more civil than it was during the age of Andrew Jackson. But it is more pervasive and invasive today.
When I first got interested in politics (circa 1972), I had to catch the evening news from 5:30 to 6:00. The daily paper also had a few political articles. On occasion, I would come across a Time Magazine, U. S. News and World Report, or Newsweek. Now the news business is big business. At every moment of every day, there are dozens of radio talk show hosts talking politics, along with non-stop news channels. Add to that all the internet sources. If someone in Congress sneezes today, I can watch a hundred replays of that sneeze, but listen to hours of commentary on it.
All of this political bombardment can make us think that we are well informed on politics. The issues are pretty simple, right? It’s Trump versus the Democrats, or its Liberals versus Republicans, or its some other group of bad guys versus us good guys, right?
The subtitle to Koyzis’s book is A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies. He covers Lberalism, Conservatism, Nationalism, Democracy, and Socialism. These are in-depth looks at the root ideologies or worldviews connected to these ways of thinking politically. A prime ingredient in each survey is to see what good and truthful insights are there and to see what idols the ideology tends toward. Liberalism is not merely what many of us like me (a Reagan Republican) thinks of when we use the term or label a person or idea with it. In terms of a historic philosophy, Reagan, Obama, both Clintons, both Bushes, Trump, Nixon, Johnson, Eisenhower, Goldwater, and many others fit into the overall liberal perspective.
Nor is conservatism an easy label to fit on to most people or situations. As an example, were our Founding Fathers being liberals or conservatives when they sought to break away from Britain?
There is so much more that could be added to the discussion of this book. Hey, it even has discussion questions at the end of the book pertaining to each section. The last third of the book focuses on a Christian approach to the political sphere.
Obviously, those of us who teach government and history need to read and study this book, But I really think that pastors and elders need some serious study here as well. Again, this book is challenging. I don’t mean that it is too difficult to read, but it does require some time and attention. I finished it today, but I seriously need to read it again…and again.
Post Script: I counted over 60 books in the outstanding bibliography that I already own. There are at least that many more that I would like to have.