Myodicy, Issue 24, September 2005

The Reformational Movement:
Does It Need a History?

by Theodore Plantinga

NOTE: This essay on the reformational movement in North America is the first in a series. Subsequent installments will appear in future issues of Myodicy. The series consists not just of narrative essays in which ideas, persons and institutions are discussed but also includes files in which documents of one sort or another that shed some light on the movement and its history are presented. In addition there is a web page devoted to the "cast of characters" and another that provides basic information about many of the institutions and organizations involved in the story. For an overview of the series and the web pages or files of which it is comprised, along with links to those files, click here.

Nietzsche's warning

The subtitle to this essay poses a question which I mean to take seriously. An obvious answer would be a simple no: the reformational movement has gotten along without a history up to now and can continue without one in the future. Of course there are some partial narratives focusing on institutions and figures within its ranks; yet the larger story remains largely untold. Could it not be argued that it is more important to outline the movement's ideas, while ignoring the question where they came from? Does history really matter?

For those who may be curious as to how I arrived at the decision to write such a history, which, I stress, is intended as an informal history, I want make it clear that no one asked me to do so. It has occasionally been suggested that in retirement I should write the history of Redeemer University College, since I have been involved in it for such a long time, especially in its very earliest stages. Such a history would form part of the story of the reformational movement -- or would contribute toward that larger story. And if such a project were well executed, it would clearly be of benefit to Redeemer. But it is not obvious at the outset that the reformational movement, which cannot be identified with any one institution, would benefit from having its history written.

My tentative claim that a written history might not prove beneficial is by no means a casual opinion. The thesis that history is something potentially deadly and inimical to the further development of a nation or a community must be taken seriously. It was given its classic articulation by Nietzsche (1844-1900), who addresses these matters especially in his stimulating essay The Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life. [NOTE nietzsche33]

Nietzsche's argument is quite familiar to those who are schooled in philosophy of history; I will outline it here only briefly. He warns us: "... there is a degree of insomnia, of rumination, of historical sense which injures every living thing and finally destroys it, be it a man, a people or a culture." It is not that Nietzsche is opposed to history in all forms. The problem is that one could get too much of history: "For with a certain excess of history life crumbles and degenerates ...." History, he points out, is a form of analysis and therefore exacts a painful price from the subjects it investigates. Of all that lives, claims Nietzsche, we can say that "... it ceases to live when it has been dissected completely and lives painfully and becomes sick when one begins to practice historical dissection on it." Casting doubt on the hope of attaining clarity through historical analysis, Nietzsche instead points to the need for a protective and enveloping veil of mist: "Every living thing needs to be surrounded by an atmosphere, a mysterious circle of mist ...."

What about it then? Do we need a history of the reformational movement? If Nietzsche were asked to advise the reformationals about this matter, he might well speak enigmatically of the value of "a protective and veiling cloud." [NOTE nietzsche41] Can the heroes of the reformational movement stand up to inspection in the clear light of day, without "cloud" and "mist" to surround them and hide their blemishes from view?

Nietzsche was writing in reaction to the excess of historical consciousness that had gradually accumulated in German culture, especially because of the impact made upon the German mind by the thoroughly historical philosophy of Hegel (1770-1831). He did not mean to say that history as such was always something bad and to be avoided, but he did sense keenly the dark side of the preoccupation with history and the past.

Nietzsche was by profession an expert in what we call classics; during his days as a university professor, he studied the ancient Greeks. Those early figures in Western civilization may be called "the ancients," but they were not old. Therefore they were not burdened with what Nietzsche calls an "excess of history"; one does not picture them with gray heads. [NOTE nietzsche49]

Dilthey's affirmation

The youthful vigor that Nietzsche claimed to spot among the early Greeks is reminiscent of the spirit of the reformational movement in its early days. But now we have come to a time when the students of Evan Runner (1916-2002) are nearing retirement age or have already retired. And most of them have considerable amount of gray in their hair. I am no exception.

Should we heed Nietzsche's warning, then, and try to shake off our history? My answer, obviously, is no. Why write such a history? Partly because the impulse to engage in historical narratizing is in principle and in general a good thing, as Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) has assured us:

To tell of the deeds of men and to hear them told is a peculiar need of the human spirit which can be satisfied neither by art nor by science, since neither one is content to present the facts simply, just as they happened. Art casts a veil over naked reality, which is to make it more beautiful and to transfigure it; science seeks an abiding law in the succession of appearances. [NOTE dilthey16]

Dilthey made this observation within the context of a classic discussion in philosophy of history, for he was addressing the question what role there is for history in relation to the arts (e.g. poetry) and the natural sciences. History, he believed, has a glory and task of its own, and therefore can make a unique contribution to human well-being. Since I side with Dilthey in affirming that this is indeed the case, I will proceed with my informal history. I also maintain that the warm appreciation for history that we associate with Dilthey is in line with reformational thinking, especially as represented by Runner. I make this claim even though, as I will demonstrate, reformationals are not all of one mind when it comes to the set of issues we place under the rubric of philosophy of history.

In a later essay or two in this series, I hope to shed some light on certain institutional matters. In other words, I hope to tell something of the expected tale of how the reformational movement eventually took concrete shape in certain schools of higher learning in which its ideas found a substantial measure of support. But the institutional dimension of reformational history will not be my main focus. Since my academic training is in philosophy (with a specialization in philosophy of history), my focus will be more on ideas than on institutions. I hope to clarify the ideas held by reformational people -- and not just the ideas of their intellectual leaders.

Did they get it from Dooyeweerd?

While many observers of the reformational movement may think there is no great mystery as to what its ideas were, I maintain that this matter is not altogether clear. It does not suffice to say simply that the reformationals believed whatever Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) believed and laid out in his writings. [NOTE syllabus22] There was more diversity and disagreement within their ranks than is generally realized, and so it is fair to inquire what it was that held them together as a group. I do not plan to offer an answer this question in my opening essay, but I believe the series as a whole will shed some light on it.

The point in the previous paragraph needs some emphasis at the outset: in the minds and hearts of the reformationals -- and here I am thinking especially of the students of Evan Runner -- there were some beliefs and attitudes that do not bear a great deal of relation to what one reads in Dooyeweerd. Just what they did and did not believe is not always easy to ascertain, for I am not interested only in those members of the movement who articulated beliefs in carefully composed writings. As I attempt to bring some clarity to this matter, I ask readers to bear in mind that the thinking of the reformationals is related to the social, political and economic circumstances of the times in which they flourished.

By way of example, I recall an era (late 1960s and early 1970s) in which many of the reformationals seemed quite taken with the radical critique of North American society that emanated from what we then called the New Left. [NOTE vankley39] However, some decades later, if we should happen to come upon reformational writings articulating radical sentiments reminiscent of the New Left, they seem quaint to many of us, and we are somewhat embarrassed as we recall how we had once been caught up in such talk. [NOTE zuidema33] And so the stream of reformational ideas does not stand apart from the larger current of history; rather, the movement is part of its historical era and cannot help but be influenced by what was in the cultural and political air. Therefore it does not suffice to say that to understand reformational ideas one should simply read the writings of Dooyeweerd himself, or perhaps Dooyeweerd as summarized in such an introductory book as the well-known Kalsbeek volume. [NOTE kalsbeek33]

Dooyeweerd's autobiographical reticence

If you have followed me to this point and are willing to concede that a history of the reformational movement (even an informal one) would be a thing of value, the question arises: who is to write it? Perhaps its central figures would be the best candidates. But they were not of a mind to do so.

The most important figure in the movement, Dooyeweerd himself, wrote nothing in the way of an autobiography or a set of memoirs. Is there a reason for his relative silence about his own life? I can only speculate, and I must admit that I never knew him, having encountered him in person on only one occasion. He was giving a public address in a church in Toronto, and I thought I would ask him about the relationship of his ideas to various schools and streams of continental European philosophy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His response to my question, partly prompted in its tone and spirit by someone else who was present, was markedly guarded and defensive. What it came down to was that his philosophy was inspired by Biblical sources and the Christian religion. My hope that Dooyeweerd would expatiate on the influences that had shaped his philosophical life and would give us an impromptu "how my mind has changed" narrative were not realized.

In cultural style, Dooyeweerd comes across as Germanic, and therefore somewhat impersonal and lacking in warmth. In the nineteenth century and also in much of the twentieth, figures who attained public prominence in Germany and the Netherlands, including professors who attracted attention outside the university, tended to be reticent about their private lives. Even their first names might well be concealed from sight, e.g. on the title page of a book. In the course of many years in which I have taken an interest in figures of this sort and have written about them and/or translated their writings, I have made a point of tracking down their first names, and in a few cases it has proven quite a challenge. If possible I like to include those first names (for example, I revealed in a note above that L. Kalsbeek is Leendert). I also provide dates of birth and death if I can get them. [NOTE diemer33]

It is hard to imagine Dooyeweerd agreeing to a television-style friendly interview of the sort that we take for granted today. [NOTE puchinger33] Yet there are exceptions, a few occasions on which Dooyeweerd did throw out morsels about his own life and give us some insight into the process by which he came to adopt the ideas that eventually were brought together as the philosophy of the law-idea. Most of this material is assembled and/or discussed in the one major publication that serves as something of a biography -- albeit an intellectual biography -- of Dooyeweerd. I am thinking of Marcel Verburg's book (originally a doctoral dissertation). [NOTE verburg33]

Indeed, Verburg's book deserves some of the credit for spurring me on to write this informal history of the reformational movement. Since I have long been convinced that the historical materials about this movement need to become more widely known, I made a commitment some time ago to translate this lengthy book (447 pages in Dutch) into English, which is a project on which I am still engaged. When the book appears, it will enable those who do not read Dutch to add substantially to their knowledge of the personal and historical origins of the body of ideas we associate with the term "reformational."

Paul Arthur Schilpp (1897-1993) is an American philosophy professor who has done the world a great service in developing and inaugurating what he called the "Library of the Living Philosophers," which includes lengthy volumes devoted to A.J. Ayer, C.D. Broad, Martin Buber, Rudolf Carnap, Ernst Cassirer, John Dewey, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Karl Jaspers, G.E. Moore, Karl Popper, Willard Van Orman Quine, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Paul Ricoeur, Bertrand Russell, George Santayana, Jean-Paul Sartre, P.F. Strawson, Alfred North Whitehead, and a number of other noted thinkers (but not the rather reticent Ludwig Wittgenstein). What I particularly appreciate about these volumes, each of which includes essays on various aspects of the thought of the philosopher being dealt with, are the intellectual autobiographies they contain. Of course it occurred to me years ago that Schilpp should produce such a volume on Dooyeweerd. I don't know whether such a thing was ever contemplated, but it could also have been done by someone other than Schilpp, using what he had produced as a model. And it would have forced Dooyeweerd to write an intellectual autobiography.

Runner's autobiographical reluctance

Now, when we turn to Evan Runner, it's a different story. Runner was more oriented toward the historical mode of presentation, especially in its personal or individual dimension, than Dooyeweerd was. Moreover, Runner excelled in the impromptu and spontaneous and unrehearsed, which meant that many of his most captivating observations about his own life and times came off the cuff. All former students of his who were close to him and interacted with him in social situations will remember such story-telling sessions. And so it was natural, back in those days, to hope and expect that Runner would write memoirs one day. But he never did.

The reason is not that it never occurred to him. In the early days of his retirement, when I used to visit him fairly often even though I did not live in Grand Rapids (my wife's parents lived in Runner's neighborhood), I proposed this very thing to him. More specifically, I recall saying to him that he was a figure in history, and that if he did not write about the events and controversies in which he had been involved and explain his role and intention in them, others would assign him his place in history. He seemed to understand perfectly well what point I was making. I promised to help him with any memoirs he might undertake to write. Since I had considerable editorial and publishing experience by that point in my life, my offer of help was not just a gesture of politeness. Runner never said to me that he had decided not to write memoirs, but neither did he ever indicate that he was at work on them.

Sometimes, when writing history, the challenge is not to explain what happened and why, but to explain why something that might have been expected to happen did not come about. Questions of this sort will also be addressed from time to time in this series. And so I am led to ask: if Runner did not write memoirs after being urged to do so, why not? This question can serve as a path into one of the major themes in this series as whole. The general question I am trying to answer is: whatever happened to the reformational movement? Did it succeed? Did its leaders think it had succeeded? Did it fail? Did its leaders think it had failed?

Here at the outset, I will mention two factors that have long been in my mind as shedding light on the question why Runner did not write memoirs. Please bear in mind that the two factors I will mention involve judgments or interpretations on my part: we are not talking in terms of simple facts.

The first factor is that he could not entirely make up his mind whether his movement -- I say "his" because he was clearly the dominant figure in the North American branch of the reformational movement -- had succeeded or failed. Of course a decision on this matter would have been central to any effort to thematize reformational history.

The second consideration or factor is that Runner had a perfectionist streak that was exacerbated by the high expectations placed upon him and by the excessive statements made about him. A reader might wonder why perfectionism would be an almost insuperable barrier to the writing of personal memoirs or other nonfiction materials. Herewith a small comparison to shed some light on the problem.

Some years ago a special guest lecturer came to Redeemer to speak to us in a number of sessions over the course of a couple of days. What I recall especially about this visit is that our speaker was unwittingly torpedoed by a well-meaning faculty colleague of mine who introduced him before the first lecture and chose to describe him as very humble. My ears perked up when I heard this, and I thought to myself: "Well now, isn't that interesting? Let's see how humble he is." I then proceeded to listen for evidence of exceptional humility in our guest lecturer. We heard fine lectures, but I could not help but feel disappointed on the humility front. As I analyze this little experience some years after it happened, I recognize that there was nothing wrong with the lecturer as such; the problem was simply that he had been put in a difficult position by what was said about him in the warm introduction.

And so it was with Runner. Those who followed him and adored him were sometimes so extravagant in their praise of him that they made it very difficult for him to produce something in writing that would live up to what people were looking for. This is the part of the reason why Runner shone more in spontaneous oral situations, such as the dynamic lectures in which he departed quite freely from his prepared text, than on occasions when he was asked to produce something on paper. He was an orator, but he was not the type of professor who would "read a paper" to a subdued audience.

Anyway, the scholarly monographs that he was rumored to be writing in retirement did not materialize, and neither did he take up my offer in relation to memoirs. But one worthwhile project that was brought to completion in his later years, after the Groen Club had been disbanded (although he was not yet retired at the time), was an interesting set of answers he provided to questions that were put to him by Harry Van Dyke and Al Wolters. Those answers were published in one of the two books of essays dedicated to him by way of a festschrift. [NOTE kraay33]

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) once observed: "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it." History has indeed been kind to him, in part because of the influence he managed to exert over the historical effort to understand the second world war. He did so especially through the magnificent set of books he produced detailing what he saw happening in the war and explaining his own role in giving shape to the war effort from the Allied side. [NOTE clinton33]

Churchill is thought by many people to be the great man of the twentieth century. Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) would surely approve of Churchill. Carlyle liked to think of history in terms of heroes or "Great Men," and he even dared to call for "hero-worship." He declared: "... Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the history of the Great Men who have worked here." [NOTE carlyle33]

In a philosophy of history course, one normally makes mention of Carlyle and then goes on to explain why many philosophers of history have found such an understanding of history inadequate. I suspect that Dooyeweerd would be among them, and that he would have some sympathy for Hegel's much more complex understanding of the role of the world-historical individual in relation to the larger purposes of the divine force that inspires the historical process and drives it forward. Dooyeweerd, having adopted the Teutonic style of philosophizing, would even have some admiration for the still more impersonal approach to the writing of history that is embodied in the Marxists. But where the Marxists have people being caught up in the grip of something as impersonal as a "class struggle" and embodying "class interests," Dooyeweerd would tend to think of them as in the grip of "ground-motives" which they understand only in part. And so it is no accident that Dooyeweerd was not inclined to give future historians a helping hand by writing an autobiography or even an intellectual memoir in which he laid out how he came to the set of ideas that we now associate with him. In his response to the question I once put to him, he was in effect telling me that he was in the grip of the Biblical ground-motive.

I believe that Dooyeweerd has done his own cause a disservice through his autobiographical reticence. In recent years, J. Glenn Friesen has been advancing the thesis that the major ideas of Dooyeweerd were inspired by a German thinker of the nineteenth century named Franz von Baader (1765-1841), who was not Reformed and stands in the mystical tradition. [NOTE friesen33] It is worth asking what difference it would make if the Friesen thesis were true, historically speaking. In other words, if it is indeed the case that Dooyeweerd drew heavily on a mystical tradition outside the Reformed stream but did not acknowledge his indebtedness to that tradition, do his ideas then have less value? Would various dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists feel obliged to take distance from him? As we ponder this question, we should remember that Dooyeweerd had deep misgivings in later years about characterizing his work as "Calvinistic philosophy." [NOTE dooyeweerd44]

And then there are lesser issues having to do with Dooyeweerd's originality in relation to D.H.T. Vollenhoven (1892-1978), who is generally heralded as his "fellow-laborer" in the vineyard of Christian philosophy. The issue of originality also extends to Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), whom Dooyeweerd often criticized. By contrast, he and Vollenhoven were relatively silent about their assessments of one another's work. (Bear in mind that Vollenhoven was married to Dooyeweerd's sister.) Since I am a great believer in Dilthey's affirmation of the value of history, I cannot help but conclude that subsequent generations would have been greatly helped in their assessment of Dooyeweerd's philosophy if they had gotten a narrative from his own pen that shed light on these sorts of issues.

We could even step back a generation or two and consider Kuyper in biographical terms. When we do so, we get a different story. There are more autobiographical givens in his case, and his life adds up to quite a dramatic story, a story that has often been told. Part of the reason for the difference, of course, is that Kuyper reveled in the limelight and was so successful in public life that he even served a term as prime minister of the Netherlands (1901-05). And so one could easily make of Kuyper a "Great Man" in the tradition of Carlyle. [NOTE kolfhaus33] There are a number of biographies of Kuyper in circulation, and certain of them are distinctly hagiographical in nature. [NOTE hagiography33] Presumably professors are in a different category than political leaders when it comes to publishing one's life story -- at least, that's how the Dutch and the Germans have long thought.

Both a participant and an observer

To avoid misunderstanding about how the issues I am raising might bear on my own life and my role in the reformational movement, I need to throw in a small disclaimer. As the series unfolds, I will, from time to time, draw on some episode or recollection from my life in order to make it clear what happened or to explain or shed light on a curious development. I am not thereby nominating myself as the privileged avenue for the exploration or elaboration of what happened in the reformational movement. My own assessment is that although I have been both a participant and an observer in the reformational movement since I was seventeen years old -- sometimes more the one, and at other times more the other -- my story is not a suitable framework for explaining what happened and what it was all about.

Even so, although I plan to exercise self-restraint in dipping into my own recollections, I must admit that an element of distortion will inevitably be introduced into the story by the fact that I am drawing freely upon my own recollections and experiences. For me this is a systematic issue in philosophy of history, an issue on which I have commented in my book How Memory Shapes Narratives. [NOTE memory33]

At this point it may be appropriate for me to lay out my credentials in terms of my worthiness and eligibility to tell such a tale. I came into the reformational movement by growing up within the spiritual confines of a Christian Reformed church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where my pastor during my high school years, Rev. John Hellinga, was an Evan Runner admirer. During my last year in high school, Runner made a lecture tour that included Winnipeg, in the course of which I was introduced to him by Rev. Hellinga. Runner gave me a copy of The Bible and the Life of the Christian, which is usually referred to as "the Groen Club syllabus." [NOTE syllabus33] The next year I enrolled at Calvin College and began my program of studies by signing up for his two-term introduction to philosophy course. I became a Groen Club member and also served on its "board." I wound up studying at the University of Toronto for a Ph.D. in philosophy (my graduate school days also included a year at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and a year at the University of Freiburg in Germany). During my Toronto days I enjoyed a good deal of interaction with the Institute for Christian Studies and its faculty members and was party to a great many interesting meetings and developments during the relatively early days of the reformational movement. Those were the 141 Lyndhurst Avenue years (Hendrik Hart lived upstairs, thereby contributing to the cozy atmosphere); the building on 229 College Street just across the street from the University of Toronto had not yet been purchased. And it was during my time in Toronto that the first graduate students enrolled full-time at ICS, including Harry Fernhout, who later became its president. I remember Bill Kieft as well, and two fellows from Dordt (Don Sinnema and Bernie Haverhals). A dominant figure among the students in those days was Robert Carvill (1943-1974), who died at a young age and was greatly missed for his energy, enthusiasm and leadership. Carvill edited Vanguard magazine, the journalistic voice of the reformational movement, for which I used to write as well. In addition, he played a central role in the establishment of Wedge Publishing Foundation, which produced a number of noteworthy reformational books in the 1970s. I was also involved in a number of Wedge projects over the years.

I emerged from college and graduate school as a moderate in the reformational movement, and eventually I became a member of the board of directors of the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS). During the 1970s, in my capacity as a moderate reformational, I became the first employee of what is today Redeemer University College: I was originally appointed as Director of College Development. After some time my role and responsibilities were summed up in the title of Executive Director of the organization that gave birth to Redeemer. That organization was officially called the Ontario Christian College Association. The kind of thinking I represented and on which the new college was founded is summed up in my book Rationale for a Christian College, [NOTE rationale33] which I wrote in my Executive Director role as part of the effort to get such a college off the ground and give it a theological and philosophical identity that would place it somewhere between the AACS/ICS tradition and the climate of thought at Calvin College, which some of us considered too lax when it came to promoting Christian distinctiveness in the various subject-matters taught in a Christian college.

While all of this was going on, there were some reformationals who thought that the new college movement was not close enough to the ICS tradition, with its roots in Kuyper and Dooyeweerd. Those who are inclined to draw such a conclusion even today should bear in mind that the 1970s was the era of the "young turks" at ICS, who seemed to be spoiling for a fight and had even managed to give the Christian Reformed denomination a bleeding nose by publishing that provocative book Out of Concern for the Church. [NOTE outofconcern33] The "young turks," to their credit, did us the favor of staying out of our neighborhood, so to speak. To involve them in a prominent way in our fledgling movement would have been the kiss of death. Eventually I proposed a newer ICS faculty member as a recruit for our board -- Al Wolters, who was also becoming known as a moderate. Wolters agreed to join us (I remember making the telephone call myself). He served on the board for a few years and joined the faculty in 1984.

I think I can say that I walked a diplomatic tightrope back in the 1970s as I tried to build support for the new college that was to be, while at the same time trying to minimize opposition to the idea. Those who studied philosophy under me in subsequent decades might find such conduct on my part odd, since I am known to say in class that one must distinguish between philosophy and diplomacy, and also that a real philosopher does not make it his goal to sing in every choir.

In saying that I was both a participant in the reformational movement and an observer of it, I am admitting that at various times in my life I was reasonably close to what one might call the inner circles, whereas at other times I was a perceived as critical of the movement, and sometimes even as hostile toward it and therefore not to be trusted. Since the story I wish to tell is not really my own story, except incidentally, I am recording these things simply as an indication of what people have said and thought in relation to me and -- by implication -- in relation to others who were like me in their attitudes and thinking.

What is the opposite of a moderate? Perhaps the term "fanatic" will do. Some years ago I happened upon a man who was a leader in the Reformed community of southern Ontario, and we got to talking about our respective undergraduate experiences. He had attended a secular university close to home. I asked him why. He told me that he had heard that there was only one good professor at Calvin College (Runner) and so it wasn't worthwhile enrolling there. I told him that I had heard the same thing out in Manitoba, and so I went to Calvin to sit at the feet of that one worthwhile professor. The truth of the matter, however, is that when I got to Grand Rapids, I found that there were quite a number of worthwhile professors at Calvin -- men and women who were genuinely committed to Christian scholarship and had a lot to teach me. A fanatic in the reformational movement would never say such a thing: only Runner was worth listening to in the early days (before Uko Zylstra and some others were appointed). That "broad-mindedness" on my part made me a moderate and rendered me suspect in the eyes of some.

What was not always properly understood by people who wondered where I stood was that I found the ideas of the reformational movement interesting and worthy of scholarly exploration, even though I did not accept all of them. I should add that I am one of the younger members of the immigrant generation that came to Canada in the 1940s and 1950s with the Reformed faith and a bunch of Kuyperian ideas in their suitcases. Because I was born in the Netherlands and spent my first four years there, I had the good fortune to bring with me to Canada some working knowledge of Dutch life and culture. Although I am by birth a Frisian and spoke only Frisian until I came to Canada, I managed to become relatively proficient in Dutch as well and have even put my knowledge of Dutch to good use: I have translated over thirty books from Dutch into English, and more are on the way.

Especially in my younger years, I took the time to read the Dutch reformational thinkers and their revered predecessors in the original language. More specifically, I have read -- I mean this literally -- thousands of pages of Kuyper and Bavinck in Dutch, and I have also done a fair amount of reading -- in Dutch as well as English -- in writings by Dooyeweerd and some of the lesser reformational thinkers in the Netherlands. But I must admit that in the case of Dooyeweerd and company, my reading was not as systematic and disciplined as in the case of Kuyper and Bavinck.

In these respects, then, I believe I am in a good position -- which is not to say an ideal position -- to write about the history of the reformational movement. Of course it goes without saying that after I decided to start work on this project, I returned to various sources -- both Dutch and English -- to renew my acquaintance and refresh my recollection on this or that point.

Some critics of mine might fear that the term "observer" of the reformational movement is too mild. A couple of years ago, Justin Cooper, who is the president of Redeemer and an old friend of mine, found himself at a public occasion where he needed to say some nice things about me and my role at Redeemer. Together with a number of other Redeemer employees, I was being honored for many years of service. Part of what Cooper said was that on the local scene, I was the gadfly of the reformational movement. I was touched by the comparison to Socrates, who announced to the Athenians that he was a gadfly when they put him on trial for corrupting the young and generally disturbing the peace. [NOTE socrates33] Indeed, I felt complimented. The implication, of course, is that this series could also be placed under the "gadfly" heading, since it will include some of my criticisms of the reformational movement.

Now, I want it to be understood that I am not drawing on my own recollections alone; I have also been talking with others who are in a position to remember the events and ideas on which I have chosen to focus. Since various people are aware that I am at work on this project, some have volunteered information and perspectives, whereas others were sought out by me to be formally interviewed. Of course I have drawn substantially and centrally on those to whom I have ready access, that is to say, people in my own vicinity. It is my hope that in writing this series and posting it on the internet, I will stimulate others who are farther away to contact me and begin to share their impressions and recollections as well. [NOTE wolters33] I do not intend this series to be dominated by my own recollections and point of view. Neither do I wish to be perceived as the Leonard Zelig of the reformational movement. [NOTE zelig33] On the other hand, it will not be possible to avoid creating the impression that I am my own favorite informant.

A mere reification?

Before proceeding any farther with this history, however informal in its design, I need to deal with a methodological issue which, if not properly resolved, could render the entire enterprise dubious. More specifically, I need to face the question of the identity of the alleged movement whose history I am discussing. Is it possible that there really is no such thing as the reformational movement? Or could it be that this movement is so ill-defined, so fluid in membership and structure, that it is well-nigh impossible for anyone to pin it down and speak about it in a coherent way?

In the days of early enthusiasm, members of the reformational movement would probably have told you that although they lived and worked and worshipped in solidarity with many fellow Christians who had no idea who Dooyeweerd was or what "sphere sovereignty" meant, they nevertheless represented a distinct brand of Christianity in which Protestantism and the Reformation of the sixteenth century came to its fullest fruition. In this regard, they were like the denominational chauvinists of my youth (I was one of them in those days). Such chauvinists were able to explain to all and sundry why their particular denomination is the fullest and purest representation and continuation of the essence and heart of the rediscovery of the gospel that took place during the Reformation era. Such an exposition would normally begin by explaining what was wrong with Lutheranism. This was indeed a sensible place to start in view of the fact that Martin Luther, whom we dutifully celebrate and praise each Reformation Day (October 31), enjoyed temporal priority in the Reformation era. It is significant that John Calvin and the Calvinistic churches did not simply join with the Lutherans but departed from them in terms of creeds and worship practices and organizational structure.

In explaining and defending one's denominational chauvinism, then, one begins by affirming Calvinism. But it quickly becomes necessary to distantiate oneself from those Calvinists who have gotten bogged down in some form of what we loved to call "scholasticism." The introduction of this weighty charge would eventually make it possible to zero in on the purest form of reformational life and practice, which was of course the church to which we were committed -- the Christian Reformed denomination, As for the smaller, ostensibly more conservative denominations, they were bogged down in "scholasticism," whether they would admit it or not. And so, in my own mind, there is no question that the movement whose history I am undertaking to annotate had bestowed an identity upon itself in a self-conscious manner, just as my denomination had done. The reformational movement was more than just a thought-construct or a reification.

Nowadays we are much more modest when it comes to singing the praises of our own church or denomination or movement: we seem to find good points everywhere. The attitudes that used to animate us but now embarrass many of us were inspired in part by Abraham Kuyper, to whom we might well appeal for support when we are defending the thesis that there is a distinct "thing" called the reformational movement.

Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism, which are also known as the "Stone Lectures," have a brash, nineteenth-century tone at many points. It is clear that Kuyper was not a twentieth-century relativist or postmodernist, apologizing constantly for anything coming from his mouth that might sound like a firm assertion. Just listen to what he had to say about Lutheranism as contrasted with Calvinism:

Luther never worked out his fundamental thought. ... Only of Calvinism can it be said that it has consistently and logically followed out the lines of the Reformation, has established not only Churches but also States, has set its stamp upon social and public life, and has thus, in the full sense of the word, created for the whole life of man a world of thought entirely its own. [NOTE kuyper33]

"Us" vs. "them"

As further evidence of the self-consciousness which the reformational movement possessed regarding its identity, I would point to what we might call its purist streak. Who are the movement's members? Anyone who felt some vague sympathy for its ideals or demonstrated some elementary understanding of its complicated doctrines? That was certainly not how we thought in the early days of the movement. We drew quite a clear line between "us" and "them." And by "them," we did not mean Satan's minions or the war-horses of the Humanists; we meant fellow believers, perhaps even the people who sat in our pew in church on Sunday, people who just didn't get it, people who had not the slightest glimmering of what it was going to take to bring about an integral reformation of our culture. Such fellow Christians were simply not members of our movement, however much we might cherish them as brothers and sisters in the Lord. In this respect, the movement was carefully circumscribed. You were either in or out. Joshua had the right idea when he said to the people "Choose ye this day ..." (see Joshua 24).

Today these sentiments may be hard for us to imagine or recall clearly. Younger readers of this essay, in particular, may be inclined to shake their heads in disbelief. It now appears that the reformational movement is positively eager to bestow the title of "neo-Calvinist" on all sorts of figures who show some sympathy for reformational ideals and goals. But it was not always so.

One solid piece of evidence for how we used to think is a decision made by the most important reformational organization of them all regarding membership. To explain it, I must permit myself a small terminological digression. The organization I am referring to is today called the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS). I believe this name is a bit misleading and limited, for it seems to suggest that the institutional embodiment of the reformational movement is nothing more than a scholarly organization which, as it happens, is now empowered to grant graduate degrees. But the fact of the matter is that in 1983 the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) became the legal successor to another organization that was called the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship (AACS). It was the latter organization that founded and owned the graduate school we call the ICS. But there is yet another name change to be reported, for in still earlier years the AACS became the legal successor in terms of name of the movement and organization called the Association for Reformed Scientific Studies (ARSS). This change came about in 1967, which is when the ICS officially opened its doors. Now, this collection of initials (ARSS) was probably an unfortunate choice and led many a wag to suggest that the organization and its leaders, including Evan Runner, were proving to be a royal pain in the you-know-where.

End of digression. Back in the days when the ARSS, the original, simon-pure organization, was founded, the criteria for membership were shockingly strict. It did not suffice to agree with the short creedal document: one needed sponsorship. More specifically, three members of the organization had to agree that you were of the right mind, and therefore worthy of membership. You could not vouch for yourself. In the constitution of those days (my copy bears no date), we read that any application for membership

... shall be endorsed by no less than three members of the Association and shall be filed with the Secretary. The Secretary shall present such applications to the Board of Trustees which, if satisfied that the applicant meets the Qualifications for membership, shall present the same to the next annual meeting of members for approval. The applicant shall become a member upon approval of two thirds of the members voting.
Even then you were not out of the woods, for the very next article in the constitution stipulates that if you as a member should subsequently develop disagreements with the principles on which the ARSS was based, you were obliged to inform the Secretary of the Board in writing so that the members could in turn be informed. The article after that provides for the possibility of your removal by a two thirds vote.

In assessing these rules and the climate of suspicion that seems to underlie them, it helps to bear in mind that the ARSS had more than its share of critics in those days, to say nothing of having to endure the taunts of scoffers. The defensive attitude behind the strict membership rules, which also crept into the Groen Club at times, led some opponents of the reformational movement to jeer that it looked a lot like a communist organization!

In later years this "exclusivism" on the part of the ARSS was derided even by the reformationals themselves. And after some years it was dropped. It testified, I think, to a tendency toward paranoia on the part of certain of the reformationals, who feared that their goals and ambitions could all too easily be subverted by people who are not really "with us." And this again goes to show that there was quite a distinct sense of "us" and "them" in the early days of the reformational movement.

Additional evidence of the self-conscious identity enjoyed by the reformational movement was Evan Runner's suspicion of Calvin College colleagues who showed some sympathy for his adherence to Kuyperian thought and what we used to call the Amsterdam philosophy (both Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven were professors at the Free University of Amsterdam). Of course there were not a whole lot of them, as I recall. It was Runner's strong tendency to exclude such figures from the warm sunshine of his approval and not to let them into the movement, so to speak. In time, Gordon Spykman (1926-93) broke through, and eventually some of Runner's own students (former Groen Clubbers) began to be appointed to the Calvin faculty. Runner then eased up on this attitude.

In the early days of the movement, the "us vs. them" mentality was a clear indication that the movement was quite distinct. Being reformational was not simply a matter of being classified as such by someone in the know; it did not mean that certain people thought you were of such-and-such a mind. You were either in or out. In the Netherlands it was easier to be accepted as a member of the movement on your own say-so.

Runner's exclusionary attitude resulted in many of the Calvin College intellectuals and professors ignoring him and his movement, especially during the earlier years. For example, when John J. Timmerman (1908-2004), a beloved English professor at Calvin (not to be confused with his son John, who is also an English professor), wrote a "centennial history" of Calvin College, he made only one passing reference to Runner. [NOTE timmerman33] Henry Stob (1908-96) was Runner's colleague in the philosophy department before he moved on to the seminary to teach ethics and philosophy-related subjects. In his memoirs covering his years in the college, he tells the story of how Runner came to be appointed to teach at Calvin, but his assessment of Runner as a colleague and philosopher is very brief. [NOTE stob33]

There were some on the faculty who were intrigued by the Runner phenomenon; they saw considerable good in what he was doing and in the enthusiasm of his young followers. I recall that during the 1970s, Nicholas Wolterstorff represented a something of a challenge and a problem for the movement. Because he began to make overtures toward the AACS and to speak and write favorably about its impact on the Reformed community, [NOTE wolterstorff22] the question arose whether this philosopher, who was a man of great scholarly attainment, could be considered reformational. Would he be eligible to serve on a governing body of the ICS? Could he teach courses there? In other words, was he in or out? Wolterstorff was an interesting test case because he was comfortable being a Kuyperian but did not consider himself a Dooyeweerdian. [NOTE wolterstorff25] Did his attitude toward Dooyeweerd mean that he had nothing to contribute to the movement? It is interesting that the Free University of Amsterdam eventually persuaded him to serve as a sort of a adjunct professor on a continuing basis.

During the 1980s, one could still see the occasional list of "accredited" reformational scholars. The existence of such lists helped to make it clear who was in and who was out. Sometimes those lists took the form of reformational bibliographies. If you simply looked at the names of the people who had written the articles and books that were included in the bibliographies, you would have a rough idea who the recognized reformational scholars were. Sometimes it was simpler still.

I can clearly recall, to my chagrin, an academic meeting that took place at Redeemer in the course of which a reformational colleague of mine, who shall remain unnamed, produced a classic reformational list of the reformational scholars in all kinds of disciplines and subject-matters. The idea was that Redeemer as a whole should become more reformational and should gear itself more to following the writings and influence of the approved figures on the list. My name did not appear under the philosophy heading, nor was I recognized in any way under the history column as one who might have contributed toward a Christian understanding of the "foundations" of historical study. (Bear in mind that I specialized in philosophy of history when I was in graduate school.) In view of the fact that I was a participant in the meeting and a prominent member of the Redeemer community, the omission of my name was both obvious and embarrassing. But my colleague was quietly making his point. You can't put every Tom, Dick and Harry on such a list -- otherwise you will water down the meaning of the term "reformational" beyond anything that is useful.

While that episode was painful, it was not surprising. Back in those days, people of his mind thought that there were various younger professors around (I am referring to those who had been undergraduates during the 1960s, rather than the 1950s, when the first wave of Runner students left college and headed off for graduate school) who had failed to attend the Free University for their graduate education and were, for various reasons, suspect. Despite the interest in Kuyper and Dooyeweerd shown by those members of the younger set, they were not really members of the reformational movement.

I was prominent among them. John Bolt, who served as a theology professor in Redeemer's original faculty, was another member of this fraternity. [NOTE bolt33] Also worthy of mention in this regard is John Cooper (brother of Justin Cooper), who taught for some years in the Calvin College philosophy department and later moved on to Calvin Seminary, where he proceeded to teach the subjects that had once belonged to Henry Stob.

In later years, a somewhat broader attitude came into favor at Redeemer (and probably at other institutions as well). One reason for the broader attitude was the prominence that had been achieved by Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga in the philosophical world in general, along with the realization that these two philosophical leaders, in their own unique ways, had made a substantial contribution to advancing some of the emphases and perspectives that had been very dear to the heart of Evan Runner. While Alvin Plantinga has not involved himself personally with the affairs of the ICS to the extent that his close friend Wolterstorff has done, he has shown more appreciation for reformational ideas in recent decades than he did in the earliest stages of his teaching career, when he was more inclined to think of Dooyeweerd and those who followed him as essentially muddled thinkers, however worthy their intentions may have been. My relationship to Alvin Plantinga (he is my third cousin, and was one of my teachers when I was an undergraduate philosophy major at Calvin College, and was also my colleague when he and I both taught in the Calvin philosophy department) has also been a factor in terms of how people in the reformational movement have viewed me. [NOTE alvin33]

The tendency of the early reformationals, then, was to denigrate the potential contribution of men like Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga to Christian philosophy and Christian thought in general. Now, both of them are on friendly terms with Richard Mouw, who also used to teach in the Calvin College philosophy department; later he went on to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he eventually became the president. And Mouw, over the years, became more and more sympathetic toward, and accepted by, members of the reformational movement, in both North America and the Netherlands. One reason for Mouw's growing sympathy for this movement was his interest in social and political philosophy, where the thought of Dooyeweerd, in particular, is at its strongest. I believe that the impact of Mouw's work has also had the effect of bridging the perceived gulf between Wolterstorff and Plantinga, on the one hand and Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven and Runner, on the other.

In Redeemer's more recent history, Craig Bartholomew has made a significant contribution to the broadening of attitudes within reformational circles. When Bartholomew gave an inaugural address whereby he officially accepted his role as the Evan Runner Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer (October 1, 2004), he spoke in his subtitle of "The Relevance of the Neo-Calvinist Tradition for Today." Of course, in such a lecture one would pay homage to the significant figures in the movement. To the surprise of some, Bartholomew not only spoke warmly of the work of Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga but even proceeded to project their pictures on an accompanying screen, alongside such worthies as Groen van Prinsterer, Dooyeweerd, Kuyper, and Runner. It is also noteworthy that for Bartholomew and some others, the term "neo-Calvinism" has largely crowded out the notion of that there is a reformational movement that includes some Reformed academics and excludes many others. In other words, some of the early exclusivism has faded away. [NOTE bartholomew33]

Bartholomew's broad understanding of "neo-Calvinism" sits well with Redeemer's leadership: both Justin Cooper (the current president) and Jacob Ellens (the vice president in charge of academic affairs) are uneasy about the use of the term "reformational" and the exclusion it implies. [NOTE ellens33] Cooper prefers to speak of Redeemer as a "Kuyperian neighborhood." Henry De Bolster, Cooper's predecessor as president, also avoids the term "reformational." But it should be remembered that the term enjoys the distinguished endorsement of no less an authority than Dooyeweerd himself. Early in his career Dooyeweerd used to characterize his philosophy as "Calvinistic." Some years later he concluded that this label was too confining: he wanted something more ecumenical and instead began to call his philosophy "Christian." But in an interview of 1965 he declared that he was in favor of taking "Calvinistic" out of the name of the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy and replacing it with "Reformational." He advocated the same change for the special chairs in Calvinistic philosophy that had been established at various of the Dutch universities at the instigation of the reformational movement in the Netherlands. [NOTE dooyeweerd33]

Emphasis on the antithesis

Another dimension of the case for regarding the reformational movement as enjoying a self-conscious identity is its use of the term and notion "antithesis." In Calvinistic thinking, the ultimate antithesis is between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, [NOTE genesis33], that is to say, between Christ and Satan. The term is used in a somewhat relativized sense to point to the opposition that is inevitable between genuinely Christian thinking and thinking that is inspired by the spirit of Humanism. When it comes to Humanism and its perceived influence, reformational thinkers are expected to be quite firmly antithetical. But in practice the antithetical attitude and spirit has also manifested itself in the form of opposition between genuinely reformational thinkers and those who have fallen prey to one of the "ground-motives" that Dooyeweerd roundly criticized. I am thinking especially of the nature/grace ground-motive, which is defined as involving a compromise or synthesis between Christian and non-Christian thought. And so the reformational line used to be that one needed to express strong opposition to those Christians in academic life -- and they could include Protestants as well as Roman Catholics -- who were in the grip of the dreaded and reviled nature/grace ground-motive. Here we had another example of "us vs. them" thinking.

It should be noted that there has been some revision on this score of late. Quite a number of years ago, Arvin Vos of the University of Western Kentucky, who attended Calvin as an undergraduate but was never a Runner man, already argued that the kind of criticism of the tradition of Thomas Aquinas and nature/grace thinking that one commonly finds in Calvinistic and reformational circles is unfair to Aquinas. In effect it attributes to Aquinas certain objectionable views that were held by self-styled followers of his some centuries later. [NOTE vos33] Versions of the Arvin Vos criticism have been uttered more recently by Edward Echeverria as well, and their validity is being acknowledged more and more openly in reformational circles. In addition, many reformational thinkers are now following in the footsteps of Abraham Kuyper in terms of being willing to ally themselves with Roman Catholic intellectuals and philosophers. (Kuyper's alliance with the Roman Catholics had to do especially with political and governmental objectives.) It is being recognized that in the climate of relativism and postmodernism in which we now live, there is a place for common cause not just in politics but also in academic life.

The reformational movement of the 1930s

Now, even if all the evidence I have presented above concerning the self-conscious identity of the reformational movement is accepted at face value, one could still conceivably argue that the notion of the reformational movement is an example of a reification and therefore must be treated as something dubious and questionable. Perhaps it could be argued that it's a bit like the case of "the Renaissance." Was there really a point in time when folks in Europe realized that "the Renaissance" had just dawned or begun or broken out? Did the people whom we now identify as Renaissance figures have any awareness that they were part of such a movement or era?

Likewise, scholars like to make fine points about such a movement in poetry and literature and art as "romanticism." Did Wordsworth and Coleridge and Byron and Shelley and realize that they were "romantic poets"? Some scholars maintain that the term only began to be used in later eras and was projected back onto these poets. [NOTE romanticism33] If so, it may be that terms like "Renaissance "and "romantic" and "reformational movement" are best regarded as retrospective fabrications, in which case we ought to view them with suspicion.

One of the sources I consulted as I prepared to write this series was Jelle Faber (1924-2004), who for many years taught systematic theology at the seminary of the Canadian Reformed Churches in Hamilton, Ontario, and enjoys the distinction of having been present at Evan Runner's dissertation defense. I asked Faber whether there was such a thing as a reformational movement in the Netherlands in the 1930s. His nuanced answer was that there was indeed such a thing, but that at the time it was not known by such a name.

During the 1930s, Faber was a student in the academic Reformed high school in Amsterdam (called in Dutch parlance a "gymnasium") and was a friend of the children of both Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. Hence he was sometimes a visitor in their homes. Later he studied at Kampen, where he encountered Klaas Schilder (1890-1952).

The main question I wanted to put to him was whether there is an intrinsic connection between the Christian philosophy associated with Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven, on the one hand, and the redemptive-historical approach to preaching and reading the Bible that is associated especially with the churches that in Canada are known as Canadian Reformed, the churches that have been so deeply influenced by Schilder. Faber's answer was a straightforward yes: it was his judgment that in essence there is a spiritual core of commonness between these two developments in the broader world of philosophy and theology. That commonness or area of overlap is what he identified as the reformational movement, even though he acknowledged that the term was not yet applied to it.

There are probably some thinkers who would question the connection made by Faber between these two intellectual developments. In other words, some might suppose that it is possible to be reformational in the sense of admiring the philosophy of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven without being wedded to the redemptive-historical reading of the Bible. And then there are some who would have it just the other way around: one could be a great lover of S.G. De Graaf and his approach to what he called "verbondsgeschiedenis" (covenant history, which is the word he used as the title of his most significant work), without having any interest in the philosophy of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

It is clear that in the case of Evan Runner, these two strands were intertwined. [NOTE runner22] And while Runner did not find time, in retirement, to write those scholarly monographs we eagerly awaited from him, he did find time in the later years of his teaching career to translate De Graaf's magnum opus into English, under the title Promise and Deliverance. [NOTE degraaf33] Calvin Seerveld likewise salutes the leaders in the redemptive-historical tradition: "... the least we could do is begin to work prominently, concertedly, incisively, out of and beyond the tradition of S.G. de Graaf, Holwerda, Janse, J.C. Sikkel, van 't Veer, C. Veenhof, Schilder, van Gelderen -- what seminarian can be worth his reformed salt in the pulpit who has not worked through the writings of these men!" [NOTE seerveld33] Seerveld further echoes the redemptive-historical writers when he makes a plea for renewed and sustained attention to the Old Testament in the preaching in our churches. [NOTE seerveld44] And when Cornelis Veenhof (1902-83) gives us an off-the-cuff list of the reformationals, he again orients himself to the redemptive-historical tradition. His list is: Anko Scholtens, [NOTE scholtens33] Douwe van Dijk, Antheunis Janse, S.G. De Graaf, Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven, and Schilder. [NOTE veenhof44]

Hepp's attack

As further evidence for Faber's thesis, I would point to the Valentijn Hepp (1879-1950) controversy that took place in the 1930s. Hepp was a professor of systematic theology at the Free University, and he took a very dim view of the "new ideas" of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven and some others whom he regarded as young turks and upstarts. He felt the alarm needed to be raised in the churches, and so he published a series of four brochures entitled together "Dreigende Deformatie," which we might translate as "Threatening Deformation" or perhaps "Deformation on the Horizon." In these curious brochures he did not name the thinkers he was criticizing, but it is clear from his quotations that he had Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven in mind. Another of his targets was Klaas Schilder, who was then a professor of systematic theology at the seminary of the Reformed Churches in Kampen, even though his Ph.D. was in philosophy. [NOTE schilder22] These three young turks, along with some lesser lights, were disturbing the peace of the Reformed churches and needed to be put in their place! [NOTE schilder33]

I make a point of mentioning Hepp's attack because it is further evidence for Faber's conclusion that the renewal movement associated with De Graaf and Schilder and others, which flowed largely into the churches that came to be called "liberated" and in Canada are officially known as Canadian Reformed, originally had a close connection with the reformation of philosophical thought undertaken by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. [NOTE spykman33] Because of the regrettable split in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands that took place in the 1940s, Schilder eventually found himself in a different church communion than Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. (I will have more to say about this matter later in the series.) Over the course of time, the impression began to form that Dooyeweerd and Schilder represented essentially separate streams in the Reformed world. Dooyeweerd himself knew this was not the case. Cornelis Veenhof writes that Dooyeweerd himself told Veenhof and his friends (who were students at the time) that Schilder was reformational: "We believed Dooyeweerd when he assured us time and again that Schilder's work was thoroughly reformational." [NOTE veenhof55] Hence it should not surprise us that in the early days of the reformational movement in Canada (then embodied in the organization known as the ARSS), there was a considerable degree of sympathy in Canadian Reformed circles for what the ARSS aimed to accomplish. Rev François Kouwenhoven (1916-69) and Rev. Jules T. Van Popta (1916-68), who had studied under Vollenhoven at the Free University in the 1930s, come to mind as lending their support in the early days. [NOTE kouwenhoven33] Of course Hepp had believed he was being loyal to Kuyper and Bavinck, whose legacy had been cast aside by the young turks, including Dooyeweerd and Schilder.

Another personal note is in order here: by romance and marriage, I formed a connection to the Hepp tradition. During my first year of undergraduate studies, I fell in love with Mary Masselink, whom I married during my final year as an undergraduate. She was the daughter of Edward Masselink (1902-1999), a well-known Christian Reformed minister, who was in turn the brother of William Masselink (1897-1973), who served for a number of years as a professor at the Reformed Bible Institute, located in Grand Rapids (which later became the Reformed Bible College and was renamed again in 2006 as Kuyper College). The latter Masselink, who is known to posterity especially as a foe of Cornelius Van Til (whom he debated publicly on the common grace issue at Calvin Seminary in 1952) was a student of Hepp, having earned a doctorate under his tutelage at the Free University. From Hepp he learned a certain critique of Dooyeweerdian philosophy, which he regarded as a dangerous business. He persuaded his brother Edward of the validity of the critique, which had to do mainly with the general testimony of the Holy Spirit. [NOTE hepp33] From the two brothers the critique came down to Mary and me as a point of discussion in the Masselink home (Mary was also one of Evan Runner's philosophy students, although her major field of study was history). Runner was quite aware of my association with the Masselinks and the Hepp tradition. It is possible that this personal connection with a sworn enemy of Dooyeweerd was a factor in signaling to various folks that I was not a man to be trusted, not someone whose heart was firmly rooted within the reformational camp. [NOTE masselink44]

Runner's intellectual forebears

Although I have traced the roots of the reformational movement to developments in the 1930s in the Netherlands, I do not mean to write specifically about the Netherlands. Instead, my focus is on the reformational movement as I have known it in North America. And the central figure in that movement is Evan Runner himself.

Looming in the background of Runner's thought are two important Dutch figures who have already been mentioned, namely, Dooyeweerd and Abraham Kuyper. What is not so widely known is that Runner was himself a student -- in the direct and strong sense -- of Vollenhoven rather than of Dooyeweerd. Vollenhoven taught philosophy at the Free University, coming eventually to specialize in the history of philosophy. It was the latter subject that Runner chose as his area of specialization when he finished his distinguished graduate career with a doctorate at the Free University, eventually producing a dissertation on Aristotle. [NOTE runner33] This project stamped him as Vollenhoven's student in a very deep sense. In Dutch terms, Vollenhoven served as his "promotor," which is to say that he supervised Runner in the writing of his dissertation.

Meanwhile, Dooyeweerd was actually a professor of law and taught in the juridical faculty. And while his lectures included a good deal of philosophy, as we see from the content of the student notes which served as his "Encyclopedia of the science of law" (this work is in the process of being translated and published by the Dooyeweerd Center at Redeemer), he did not actually teach philosophy courses. And so it can be said that Runner was Dooyeweerd's student in a secondary sense.

Also important as forming the background to Runner's thought was Groen van Prinsterer (1801-76). It is significant that the student club which Runner sponsored at Calvin College for many years was named after this nineteenth-century figure, who is known especially for his stern critique of the ideals embodied in the French revolution. In addition, Schilder is worthy of mention here. Just before the second world war, Runner went over to the Netherlands to study under Schilder and other worthies at the seminary of the Reformed Churches in Kampen. His program of studies there was cut short by the war. A final figure of influence who merits mention here is Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), under whom Runner studied at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) in the 1930s. The antithetical side of Runner's own thinking and of the reformational movement in general got part of its impetus, I am convinced, from Van Til's influence, for his presuppositional approach to apologetics was strong on antithetical themes.

From Kuyper to Dooyeweerd

In this discussion of the reformational movement, I mean to define the movement in a comparatively narrow sense. One of the points at issue between the movement as such and various intellectuals at Calvin College who do not regard themselves as part of it is just where Abraham Kuyper should be placed. Within the reformational movement, Dooyeweerd is generally regarded as the natural continuation of all the best impulses in the philosophy and theology of Kuyper: on this point, see especially what Cornelis Veenhof wrote under the title In Kuyper's lijn (In Kuyper's Line):

Without having developed a philosophical system of his own, Dr. A. Kuyper still brought together an overwhelming quantity of material and clarified it, material that awaited application in philosophical study. The Calvinistic philosophy which has recently begun to be taught at the Free University by Profs. Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven has made grateful use of this rich body of material in building up the "philosophy of the law-idea."
Veenhof did not forget to award some credit to the inspiration of John Calvin, but he maintained that Calvin, taken by himself, did not provide enough of a foundation for the philosophy of the law-idea:
If it is permitted to speak of a Calvinistic philosophy, it would be possible to characterize the philosophy of the law-idea even more distinctly from a historical point of view. For there was one figure with which it has particularly closely associated itself, a figure whose influence has been deeper than that of any other. That figure is Dr. Abraham Kuyper. Without him, a philosophy of the law-idea would not have arisen. It is from him that this philosophy receives its most characteristic traits. Any unprejudiced observer would have to recognize this immediately.
And if we had to choose between Calvin and Kuyper as the theological father of the new reformational philosophy, Veenhof would award the honor to Kuyper:
Therefore it is completely responsible to characterize the philosophy of the law-idea as "Kuyperian philosophy." This characterization is even to be preferred above the term "Calvinistic philosophy." Bear in mind that everything Calvin has given us in the way of insights and directions and fundamental ideas is taken up in this characterization as "Kuyperian." But then, in addition there come into our field of vision certain characteristics which are specifically of Kuyperian origin. [NOTE veenhof33]

Not everyone agrees. At Calvin College there lives a somewhat different understanding of what it means to be Kuyperian, according to which one could be a follower of Kuyper without the same time being a follower of Dooyeweerd. After all, Kuyper died in 1920, before Dooyeweerd began to develop his original ideas.

In roping Kuyper into the reformational movement in this essay, I do not intend any disrespect toward Calvin College intellectuals who wish to make such a distinction. I grant that there are elements in Kuyper to which they might appeal in their desire to interpret him along non-Dooyeweerdian lines. Kuyper was, after all, very much a man of common grace and wrote three lengthy volumes on the subject. In reformational circles, on the other hand, this notion is somewhat suspect: see especially what Schilder had to say on the subject, [NOTE schilder44] and also Jochem Douma's book on common grace. [NOTE douma33] Moreover, we should not overlook those elements in Kuyper which Dooyeweerd, in particular, insisted on labeling as speculative and scholastic. Generally speaking, the reformationals consider Kuyper's theology as suspect, but they give him credit for having good instincts and insights when it came to philosophical questions. Runner says of him:

Where he is dealing strictly with questions that arise in the theological tradition Kuyper is not always at his best; the traditional theological motive of the natural and supra-natural, a dualistic motive that cannot be harmonized with the scriptural revelation of the integral religious unity of man and the world, seems often to have been too powerful even for him. But in his discussion of matters that have to do with life and society in their concrete wholeness, matters which the theologians in their abstract study had left untouched, Kuyper is freed from the hold of traditional motives. Here he is close to the Scriptures .... [NOTE runner66]

When we consider differences between Dooyeweerd and Kuyper, one that comes readily to mind is the question whether the reformational camp should identify itself heavily, or perhaps only loosely, or perhaps not at all, with the Calvinistic tradition. Kuyper can be labeled something of a chauvinist when it comes to Calvinism and its glories; Dooyeweerd was not, as we will see later in the series. The question whether it is possible to be reformational without being Calvinistic in one's theological thinking and one's church life needs to be considered at some point.

The danger of historicism

After this digression on the subject whether the term "reformational" stands for anything identifiably separate from the mainstream developments in the world of Dutch Reformed churches and educational institutions, I return to the initial question, which was whether the reformational movement needs -- or, for that matter, wants -- a history. People without much acquaintance with philosophy of history might be inclined to think that any movement or organization would welcome a history, just as, in principle, one welcomes publicity. (Remember the adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity: attention as such is all-important.) Yet written history has long been recognized as having a corrosive tendency. Could it be that history dissolves everything that it touches? Could historical treatment be the kiss of death? Could it be that when something is put under the historical spotlight, it is rendered quaint and obsolete? Some would argue that when one is in the prime of life, there is no time for autobiography or memoirs or ruminating about the past -- instead, one conducts oneself like Nietzsche's ever-youthful Greeks. And so, some would fear that if the reformational movement should get caught up in the historical mood and mentality, it would be inviting trouble, and perhaps even sounding its own death knell.

These are not concerns that can easily be swept aside. Anyone who has studied the movement known as historicism will sense that historical study as such (which, presumably, is not a bad thing) has a tendency to shade imperceptibly into historicism understood as a species of relativism. Many religious movements and traditions eventually get around to an intensive study of their own origins (thereby casting aside Nietzsche's advice to retain a veil and some mist). Often the result is that they eat away -- perhaps imperceptibly at first -- at the foundation on which they are built. Think of the Mormons in this regard. Postmodernism has also contributed to our tendency to be cynical and suspicious about historical discourse and has left us with the impression that all narratives are self-serving: we are assured that the prospect of a genuinely informative and balanced and objective narrative is a vain illusion. And so one falls back on old adages about history being a bad joke we play on the dead.

Is there any way around these difficulties? I have undertaken this series in the conviction that if the reformational movement ignores its own history and tries to present itself as nothing more than a body of inspiring ideas, it will not make a lasting impression on the Christian community. I am mindful of what Friedrich Meinecke (1862-1954) said about historicism: it must itself heal the wounds it has caused. [NOTE meinecke33]

In short, written history is always dangerous, but there is no way for us to live without it. Hence the existential rationale of such a series as this might be formulated as follows: It makes sense to participate in your own historicizing. In other words, my advice to Runner that he should write his own history and memoirs applies on a group level as well. Just as it is very difficult to remain standing in the very same spot for any period of time on an ocean beach where currents and waves are constantly coming and going, so it is very difficult to maintain one's spiritual and intellectual identity without engaging in historical reflection and even historicizing, thereby lowering some anchors, as it were. And so, to let down those badly needed anchors, it will be necessary to engage in another digression: I need to ask what the reformational approach to historical consciousness and the writing of history might be.

A paradox?

How would one go about it -- this business of implementing a reformational approach to history? It would be easy to conclude that if the object of one's study is the reformational movement itself, the results of the study will necessarily be reformational in a significant sense. But this would be too convenient a solution. The obvious question to ask is whether there is a reformational method or approach to the study of history, which would then have to be applied whether one were studying the reformational movement itself or some utterly secular phenomenon. And the answer one would expect is yes. Radical reformation was always the demand in every discipline and field. Why would history be any different? Aren't there some positivist historians waiting to be slain? Isn't Mr. Thomas Gradgrind still in business? [NOTE dickens33]

As I face this question, I am conscious of what looks like a paradox. Yet the paradox I have in mind is one that is not often pointed out. On the one hand, members of the reformational movement have a well-deserved reputation for being historically minded. When they function as teachers in secondary and tertiary institutions, they generally get good marks for how they integrate the historical dimension of things into their subject matter, whether it be history or some other field that invites integration with historical issues. On the other hand, Dooyeweerd is known to have a puzzling -- if not to say obscure, and perhaps even useless -- approach to how history should be written. How can this be? Wasn't Dooyeweerd reformational?

The trouble seems to begin with Dooyeweerd's commitment to the doctrine of "the historical" as one of the modal law-spheres. The way this matter is usually presented suggests that in this area, too, the reformational movement is intent on bringing about radical changes in the way things are done. Unless you have the doctrine of "the historical" as a modal law-sphere under your belt, you will never amount to anything as a historian or a teacher of history. And so the secret to studying and understanding history, it would seem, is to understand what Dooyeweerd meant by "the historical" as a modal aspect.

Now, the most commonly used introductory work for guiding a newcomer through the details and difficulties of Dooyeweerd's systematic philosophy is Leendert Kalsbeek's book Contours of a Christian Philosophy. But when one consults this book and studies the scant two pages that are devoted to this issue, it is hard to avoid getting confused. [NOTE kalsbeek33] One could easily form the impression that answers to a number of different kinds of questions and issues are here being proposed in rapid succession. In exasperation, one might ask: Why not take the time to explain this matter properly if it's so important? I suppose there are a great many things to cover in a book as comprehensive as Kalsbeek's, and so, within the scope some 300 pages are so, a writer would have to limit himself with regard to any given topic.

The thing to do, presumably, would be to find out what Dooyeweerd had written himself in his magnum opus, of which the Kalsbeek book is an substantial measure a summary. But when one turns to the second volume of Dooyeweerd's New Critique of Theoretical Thought, where these matters get discussed, something of the same impression lingers. C.T. McIntire observes that the elements that make up Dooyeweerd's philosophy of history are "scattered." [NOTE mcintire66] Dooyeweerd does not make it easy on those who try to summarize his ideas!

The battle of Waterloo is his example of a genuinely historical event, and he repeats this example when he covers the same topic in a later book entitled In the Twilight of Western Thought. Moreover, he tells us that animals can neither think nor act historically. He leaves us supposing that the "little guy," who will not long be remembered after his death, does not make history, but he does not quite get around to saying so. Instead he seems concerned to articulate what looks like a theory about "cultural formation," a theory that might well find its proper home within the social sciences, or perhaps the philosophy of the social sciences. The reader might wonder how all of this fits together and what guidelines for the study and writing of history could be derived from this complex discussion, but the guidelines are not forthcoming. Before long Dooyeweerd is on to something else. [NOTE newcritique33]

Van Kley and McIntire

Perhaps it would take the services of a professional historian to sort it out for us and figure out what guidelines for historical study can be gleaned from Dooyeweerd's understanding of the science of history. [NOTE scienceofhistory33] Well, such a thing has been done -- or at least attempted. One such historian was Dale Van Kley, who taught for many years at Calvin College and is known especially for his work on the French revolution. In a lengthy essay entitled "Dooyeweerd as Historian," Van Kley concluded that Dooyeweerd's theory simply is not helpful for the historian trying to reconstruct segments of the past on the basis of "the critical and exhaustive examination of manuscripts or other kinds of evidence." Van Kley complained: "To follow Dooyeweerd too slavishly on the cultural role of his `religious basic motives' would be to straightjacket the historian into an apriorism of the crudest sort ...." Van Kley made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with what he called "the Germanization of the vocabulary of historical literature." [NOTE vankley78]

It happens that there is a professional historian who is more sympathetic to Dooyeweerd than Van Kley ever was who has also tackled this assignment, namely, C.T. McIntire. He offers us a helpful characterization of the approach to the writing of history that Dooyeweerd seemed to be recommending:

He included only humans within the scope of the historical and excluded the history of rocks, plants, and animals, except as they are involved with humans. Within human situations, he almost invariably cited examples of an individual or small groups in simplified relationships -- thinkers, politicians, church leaders, military generals, inventors, and the like, whom he called "the molders [formers] of history." Such cases reinforce the observation that, with respect to historical causation and in spite of his own explicit intentions, Dooyeweerd might be classed as an idealist and individualist -- ideas and individuals are the chief factors in history.
In the end, McIntire does not find Dooyeweerd's approach workable. He writes:
His conception gives historians little to go on in analyzing a vast complexity of factors in situations we face most of the time. ... What Dooyeweerd selected as his nuclear moment for the historical aspect does not fit historical study very well.
The remedy, according to McIntire, is to drop Dooyeweerd's insistence that historical science or scholarship must be modally delimited:
The gist of my discussion of Dooyeweerd's historical aspect points away from a modal treatment of history toward a transmodal one. His designation of the nuclear moment of the historical aspect appears to be inadequate as a way of identifying the historical character of reality. [note mcintire33]

Van Kley took a look at Dooyeweerd and concluded that he offers nothing with which the historian can work profitably. McIntire, however, is more hopeful. He tells us:

Looking back over all that we have covered in this essay, we conclude that his theory of cosmic time, his theory of development, and his interpretation of history appear to have such major shortcomings as to make them difficult to pursue as they stand. Nonetheless, they contain certain particular features of undoubted value that may be incorporated in future reflections. It would be well simply to abandon the theory of the historical modal aspect. [NOTE mcintire44]

It is worth noting that the project of figuring out Dooyeweerd's "theory of history" was in effect an item on the agenda for McIntire when he began teaching at the Institute for Christian Studies in 1973. Eleven years later he left that position for a teaching post at the University of Toronto (while continuing to serve the needs of the ICS on a part-time, adjunct basis, which is why he was not replaced). But before he left, he in effect followed his own advice in terms of trying to devise a "theory of history" in a generally Dooyeweerdian style and spirit, as an alternative to what Dooyeweerd himself had written. He presented his results in the form of an essay entitled "Historical Study and the Historical Dimension of our World." [NOTE mcintire55] This essay is certainly Dooyeweerdian in style: it is somewhat difficult and obscure, even though it makes no mention of Dooyeweerd by name. Instead McIntire employs what one might call parallel categories.

Van Kley would probably not be enamored of this essay and would complain of "the Germanization of the vocabulary of historical literature." Many historians are convinced that if written history is to retain its grasp on the general public and avoid being relegated to the social sciences, which are known to be laden with cumbersome jargon, it must stick to the vocabulary that is understood by the average educated person of our time; that is to say, it must avoid the kinds of disputed concepts and categories for describing human and social behavior that are used so freely in social-scientific literature. The debate over "psychohistory," which is inspired by the thinking of Freud and the psychoanalysts, comes to mind here. [NOTE gay33] McIntire, it appears, is willing to run the risk that is usually associated with abandoning the common-sense vocabulary.

Shared strengths

I will now return to the paradox I mentioned earlier. If Dooyeweerd is indeed so obscure on the topic of history, how can it be that there are such fine reformational teachers of history around? And for the record, Evan Runner, while formally a philosophy professor, was one of them. The answer to this question lies in recognizing that their strengths are not unique to the reformational community but are broadly shared among scholars of a generally idealistic and holistic bent, scholars who have a keen appreciation of the importance of religious and ethical impulses in human behavior, both individual and collective, scholars who therefore stay away from crude forms of materialistic reductionism in history -- in other words, those who would follow neither Henry Thomas Buckle (1822-63) nor Karl Marx (1818-1883). What I and many others appreciate in the reformational approach to history, broadly understood, is not entirely unique to that tradition; rather, it draws a certain amount of historiographical inspiration from non-reformationals who were also keenly aware of the pitfalls of atomistic thinking. Among those sources would be Wilhelm Dilthey, in whom Runner had a keen interest. [NOTE runner55]

Because many reformationals grew up, academically speaking, thinking of themselves and their own scholarly community in exclusivistic terms, this thesis may not be so easy to swallow. And so the question might well be asked: what does such a broad-minded approach to history (remember that reductionism is always, by definition, narrow-minded) have to do with Dooyeweerd specifically?

If one examines only Dooyeweerd's doctrine of the historical modality, one might be inclined to answer: not much. But those who are broadly familiar with Dooyeweerd's writings -- here I think especially of the work known in English as Roots of Western Culture [NOTE roots33] -- will realize that Dooyeweerd is himself one of those holistic and idealistic historians who demonstrate a keen eye for moral and spiritual impulses and the role they play in the whole of our lives. In other words, what Evan Runner practiced so magnificently in his lectures was akin to Dooyeweerd's own practice in some of his writings. Hence I would suggest that Dooyeweerd, more by his example than by his theorizing, led the reformational movement in a healthy direction when it came to how we should approach the study and writing of history.

Progressive and reactionary

It helps to remember that Dooyeweerd was himself a professor of law and that his theories are generally thought to have had their most successful application within the domain of what people nowadays call the social sciences. Therefore, in his observations about history, he developed various theories about a differentiation or splitting-up process that needs to take place as human society moves from age to age, without which there can be no genuine progress. There is also a process of integration to be traced in history. Dooyeweerd was even so bold as to suggest that one could use such terms as "progressive" and "reactionary" in one's assessment of what has gone on in the historical process. [NOTE progressive33] After all, no one ever said that Dooyeweerd was a relativist in his assessment of history!

In other words, by his practice Dooyeweerd was encouraging reformational teachers of history to apply normative insights of the sort that one might associate with the social sciences to what they were studying and explaining when they were engaged in what common sense would call "the teaching of history." The willingness to engage in such frankly evaluative work is part of what gives the reformational movement its reputation for substance and content. For example, I am convinced that this movement has a great deal to say to the current George Bush administration in Washington as it struggles to change circumstances in the Middle East. [NOTE skillen33]

Vollenhoven's method

But all of this reflection on the merits of how history is understood and taught among the reformationals does not yet give me any specific guidelines or help in terms of how I am to write my informal history of the reformational movement in a genuinely reformational manner. Am I to fly by the seat of my pants?

By this point it will have occurred to many readers that there is another resource in the reformational storehouse that I could conceivably draw on. Wasn't Vollenhoven also a gifted historian in his own way? Didn't he also developed a unique approach to the writing of history -- or more specifically, to the kind of history he was charged to study, namely, the history of philosophy? Didn't Vollenhoven work out the details of the Dooyeweerdian approach to the study of the history of philosophy? This is clearly the impression that was created in the mind of Dale Van Kley. [NOTE vankley50] But this claim is mistaken: Vollenhoven's approach was his own, and Dooyeweerd didn't even agree with it -- or he couldn't agree with it, according to Jacob Klapwijk, who explains:

... [Vollenhoven's] analytical system that is to some extent imposed upon the history of philosophy can hardly be squared with the dialectical way of thinking which Dooyeweerd used as he dug into the religious ground-motives of the history of Western thought. In these respects, too, their visions were miles apart. [NOTE klapwijk33]

The fact that Dooyeweerd did not agree with Vollenhoven's approach entails that we cannot simply hail it as "the reformational approach to history." Of course it is worth noting that Runner, as a Vollenhoven student, did endorse it and made it the backbone of the course on the history of ancient philosophy which he taught for many years at Calvin College.

The Vollenhoven method is unusual, but it did not come entirely out of the blue, so to speak. It does have roots in the work of a couple of German philosophers. Vollenhoven himself acknowledged a debt to Richard Hönigswald (1875-1947), [NOTE hoenigswald33] and I'm convinced that Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950) must also be given some credit. [NOTE hartmann33]

But whether this method is ultimately deemed very original or only slightly original, it represents what Van Kley would probably call more "Germanization" of historical writing, for Vollenhoven brings categories and terms of his own into the process of writing the history of philosophy and winds up characterizing the great thinkers through the use of labels that they themselves might not recognize or accept as applicable to their work. For example, Anaxagoras, one of the Greek philosophers before Plato, is characterized by Vollenhoven as a non-mythologizing, cosmogono-cosmological, monistic, semi-contradictory, instrumentalistic (with impulse-theory) partial universalistic objectivist, with the theme of macro- and microcosm.

Could Vollenhoven's method be carried over to other fields of study? Would it be applicable, perhaps, in such a field as the history of art? And could we use the notion of "worldview" as a link in this regard? This seems to me to be a question worth exploring, a question that Calvin Seerveld has worked on. [NOTE vanderwalt33] But I do not see how something akin to Vollenhoven's method can become the methodological key for the study of history on a more general level, e.g. the history of Canada.

There is also the difficulty that Vollenhoven is a somewhat forbidding and obscure writer. Kornelis Bril observes: "Many of Vollenhoven's writings are difficult if not incomprehensible." [NOTE bril33] John Kok of Dordt College is trying to remedy the situation by making Vollenhoven better known to the North American reading public. He is doing so in part by bringing out a Vollenhoven reader. [NOTE kok33]

Reformationals and continentals

Although I am a philosopher of history by specialization, I do not claim to have devised or developed "the Christian approach to the study of history." In my own teaching and writing, I have largely stuck with what I learned from Evan Runner at Calvin College. I recall that one of his favorite books was William Barrett's Irrational Man, which he used as required reading in his introduction to philosophy course. Barrett, he pointed out, " ... says that existentialism `seeks to bring the whole man -- the concrete individual in the whole context of his everyday life, and in his total mystery and questionableness -- into philosophy.'" [NOTE barrett33] The Barrett book made a deep impression on me when I was a first-year philosophy student, and I also used it for many years in my own introduction to philosophy course. When I teach the history of modern philosophy, I have the students read Albert William Levi's fine book Philosophy as Social Expression, [NOTE levi33] which is written in a way that Runner would appreciate and understand.

Back in the days when I was preparing for graduate school, I had my heart set on going to Columbia University in New York City; Alvin Plantinga, who was my faculty advisor at that point, tried to talk me out of it and urged the University of Michigan upon me. [NOTE plantinga44] What appealed to me about Columbia was working in the tradition of John Herman Randall, Jr. (1899-1980), whose Career of Philosophy was much admired by Runner himself and represents a fine example of a holistic and broadly idealistic approach to the study of the history of philosophy. [NOTE randall33] As it happens, I wound up instead at the Johns Hopkins University, where the historiographical tradition of Arthur Lovejoy (1873-1962) and George Boas (1891-1980) had long set the tone when it came to the study of the history of philosophy and the history of ideas in general. Lovejoy and Boas were more analytical in their approach to these matters than Randall was, although they are not numbered among the so-called "analytic philosophers." [NOTE lovejoy33] Runner was also conversant with the work of Lovejoy and Boas and could understand what had drawn me to them and to Johns Hopkins: indeed, I visited him for his "blessing" the evening before my wife and I pulled out of Grand Rapids for Baltimore, dragging our possessions and books behind us in a U-Haul trailer. In some respects, the analytic side of the Lovejoy tradition is more akin to Vollenhoven than the way Randall approaches the history of philosophy.

I mentioned above that in the early stages of my career, when I was just out of graduate school, I was regarded as a moderate reformational. Within the context of my own discipline, being a moderate reformational meant that one sided with "continental" philosophy in opposition to analytic or linguistic-analysis philosophy, which we associated especially with Britain and sometimes characterized as "Anglo-American." For those who thought in terms of such an overview of the philosophical scene, it was simply understood that Dooyeweerd was one of the continental philosophers. Indeed, during my graduate school days and early teaching career (especially at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec), I did make connections between the Amsterdam philosophy and the broader continental tradition by introducing the Amsterdam philosophy to people who were conversant with continental philosophy but had never heard of Dooyeweerd, to say nothing of Vollenhoven or Runner. I also required some of my students to read Dooyeweerd.

In those early days, I could not avoid the conclusion that certain of the claims and theses of the reformational philosophers had gained a degree of currency in the broader university world. Of course this was a development to be applauded, but it also meant that some of the wind had been taken out of our sails. My friend and former classmate John Cooper had a similar experience when he studied at the University of Toronto. Cooper had thoroughly learned the lesson that theoretical thought is not autonomous or neutral, and he was eager to impart this insight to others. He writes:

... the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition ... does not attempt rational demonstration of the faith but instead challenges the alleged autonomy, neutrality, and self-sufficiency of human reason. This approach has demonstrated that scientific modernism is not self-justifying and that it therefore has its own presuppositions and prejudices that are ultimately religious in character.
These were some themes that had been drilled into Cooper as a Calvin undergraduate, for he had been exposed to quite a parade of heady ideas as articulated
... in Abraham Kuyper's discernment of the antithesis in science, in Herman Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique of theoretical thought, in Cornelius Van Til's presuppositionalism, with different accents in the teaching of Henry Stob and Evan Runner, and more recently in the Reformed epistemology of Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff. It is what I learned as a philosophy major at Calvin College during the 1960s.
As a Christian graduate student he set out to impart these stirring insights to others. But he discovered that
... times are changing. I learned this the hard way. It was at the beginning of my Ph.D. work at the University of Toronto in a seminar on hermeneutics led by Paul Ricoeur. Gathering courage, I trotted out my best Reformed arguments that reason and knowledge are not neutral but dependent upon basic commitments, presuppositions, and perspectives. I was ready for a fight, but everyone just stared at me as though I had announced that the Pope is Catholic. "Yes, yes ... go on," Ricoeur encouraged, interested in the validation of presuppositions. But I had nothing left except a personal testimony about my religious beliefs. My best Reformed philosophical arguments were mere truisms to these people. I'll never forget the consternation I felt. [NOTE cooper33]

And so, to be reformational in those days meant not only opposing positivism but, more specifically, opposing the inclination of the analytic philosophers (I now know that there are some exceptions, such as Quine) to cut down philosophical problems to the tiniest dimensions and address them one by one, thereby ignoring the role of history in coming to a proper understanding of those problems. All Runner students will recall fondly that he was constantly "going back to the Greeks"; indeed, this impulse on his part became something of a joke among us. But there was a valid point behind it. All human thought -- philosophy is no exception -- is constrained by presuppositions, only some of which are known to the person who holds them. If this is true, it makes sense, when studying any problem or philosophical text, to look for those presuppositions. Where are they to be found? How did they get set in the first place? Where did they come from? Part of the answer is that they stem from the past. And so one is constantly driven back to earlier sources and thinkers -- back to the Greeks!

It seemed to us that the analytic philosophers ignored such factors altogether. By and large, they had little interest in history, or in philosophical figures in the past. And when they did trouble themselves to investigate what some past thinker might have said on this or that topic, they treated him as a contemporary, thereby ignoring the historical context of his work and his philosophical antecedents. Bryan Magee makes a similar complaint about the analytic philosophers, whom he identifies with the Oxford tradition: "When they wrote about dead philosophers of whom they approved it was to recast them in a contemporary mold, translating both their problems and their solutions into the linguistic mode, revealing them to their great credit to have been Oxford philosophers before their time." [NOTE magee33]

The tendency to arrange all philosophers into two categories (continental, who were the good guys, and analytic, who were automatically disapproved of) was not helpful in the long run. In time, more and more philosophers began to take steps to bridge the gulf: Nicholas Wolterstorff was among them. It can be said in general that the changes of recent decades, including the rise of what is now called "Reformed epistemology" (associated especially with Alvin Plantinga), have muddied the waters to a degree, in the sense of making it a more complicated business to be a reformational philosopher (and one of the good guys) than it used to be. And the new developments also forced many of us to confront issues that had not been high on our philosophical agenda before.

In addition, the many changes in the intellectual world since the heyday of Runner and the Groen Club have prodded us to revise what might be regarded as an historical catechism. I recall clearly from my Groen Club days that we enjoyed reducing the standard Dooyeweerdian analysis of what had happened in Western culture and the history of Western philosophy to a series of pairs of terms: form/matter, nature/grace, nature/freedom, law/gospel. Some of us even put these terms into what sounded like a chant of the sort that one might use in church. I suppose we were partly mocking ourselves for being dogmatic and complacent in thinking that we had adequately understood the Western tradition and where it had gone wrong.

The Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97) interpretation of the Renaissance is a case in point. [NOTE burckhardt33] The issue here has been brought to our attention in recent years by historians, such as James R. Payton, Jr. of Redeemer and Nicholas Terpstra of the University of Toronto. Some reformationals had fallen in love with the Burckhardt thesis regarding the Renaissance, which nicely fit in with the overall reformational take on what had happened culturally and spiritually in Western history. [NOTE hazard33] But the Burckhardt thesis, we're told, has been widely discredited. It seems that the Renaissance was not quite so barren and anti-Christian and bereft of healthy spirituality as it had long been convenient for us to believe. And so reformationals are now being prodded to open up their understanding of what happened during this era, just as they have been challenged regarding their understanding of Thomas Aquinas and his position on the relationship between nature and grace.

When these changes take place and we as professors feel pressure to revise our beloved lectures, we must realize that progress in scholarship does not always mean that the world of secular scholarship has slowly come around to our point of view. Nevertheless, it does sometimes look as though we got there first: take the example of Thomas Kuhn (1922-96), who proved to be remarkably helpful to reformationals in their attack on positivism. Some may applaud him while muttering under their breath that Dooyeweerd got there first. But we need to be willing to admit that in some cases we are bring up the rear, so to speak. In other words, we sometimes we need to set our pet theories and interpretations behind as we revisit earlier conclusions in the light of the latest historical scholarship, without fearing that we are being done in by "higher criticism."

Paideia Press

I am not yet ready to give up in my quest for a reformational approach to understanding and writing history. Earlier we saw that the movement in the Netherlands in the 1930s that promoted the redemptive-historical understanding of the Scriptures and advocated its use in preaching was one of the streams flowing into what I have been calling the reformational movement. Could it be that such a way of thinking about history as recorded in the Bible has implications for historical scholarship in general? Or must we always -- risking dualism -- draw a line between sacred history (in which God is active) and profane history (which seems to chug along on its own)?

Earlier I noted that Runner was considerably taken with the notion of redemptive history or covenant history, and that he undertook to translate S.G. De Graaf's Verbondsgeschiedenis into English (in partnership with his wife, Elisabeth Wichers Runner). This translation, published as Promise and Deliverance, was the flagship project of a new publishing endeavor that emerged from reformational circles in the 1970s. Heading this endeavor was John Hultink, who was a philosophy major under Runner at Calvin College at the very same time that I was (1964-68). After finishing his Calvin studies Hultink had spent a few years working in development for the AACS (as it was known in those days). He then went into business in St. Catharines, Ontario, and managed to amass enough capital to contemplate branching out into publishing. He recruited me to work with him as managing editor of his new firm, which was called Paideia Press. My duties involved both editorial and translation work. We brought out ten paperback volumes by Cornelis van der Waal (1919-80) under the theme and title Search the Scriptures, [NOTE vanderwaal33] as well as some other titles in the redemptive-historical vein. During the 1970s I also wrote a short book entitled Reading the Bible As History, which was intended as a refresher in some fundamentals of the redemptive-historical way of thinking and a reminder of its broader application to historical thought. [NOTE reading33] My later book How Memory Shapes Narratives tries to show how redemptive-historical patterns in the Biblical narratives (including anachronism) can be taken up into the way we think about the historical and narrative dimensions of our everyday lives. In this regard, I believe it is a genuinely reformational book. Yet it makes no mention of the "historical modality."

Hultink and I were both Christian Reformed, but we were aware that there would be enthusiasm for our venture especially in Canadian Reformed circles, and so we had a fair amount of contact with the people and leaders in those churches, who indeed appreciated our project. But we were disappointed to learn that quite a few members of the reformational movement, including students of Runner, were lukewarm, if not actually cool, toward our publication program. Bernard Zylstra (1934-86) and Calvin Seerveld were supportive and appreciative, but there were others who seemed to regard our emphasis on redemptive history as antiquated. They thought there were better uses for the money that Hultink was pouring into publishing. That cool reception was for me an early indication of disunity within the reformational camp. Back then it was a cloud on the horizon, but we might well have taken it as a sure sign of bad weather to come.

Schilder and Popma

The redemptive-historical side of the reformational movement was clearly linked to Klaas Schilder, who is the most prominent of the ministers and theologians to advocate such an emphasis as important for renewing the Reformed understanding of things. And Schilder, as someone trained in philosophy, did not limit his attention to strictly theological topics: his published writings demonstrate a wide range of interests and extensive reading outside the usual theological canon. Therefore he was also something of a philosopher of history. In a discussion of the final book of the Bible, something of his vision for philosophy of history shows through, for he writes:

That the book of God's counsels is taken in hand by Christ and that the seven seals are broken by Him (Rev. 5:1-8) requires us to regard everything written in that book as having the character and significance of Christian history. This is not to say that it is the history of Christian people or that it is a history that unfolds in accordance with Christian insights. Rather, it is a history that is Christo-logically determined in every respect and is only comprehensible as such. There is no separation between a "general" and a "special" history, or between a "profane" and a "sacred" history .... Social struggles are therefore bits of church history, for the latter is human history. And church history is not the history of church people; it is the history of God's church-gathering. And that church-gathering cannot be separated from church-scattering .... [NOTE schilder55]

For Schilder, then, there is no room for a dualism according to which church history is a separate stream within the larger historical process, something to be studied in a different way than the history of humankind in general. Schilder thought in grandiose terms; in this regard he exemplified the spirit of the reformational movement at its best. But this dimension of Schilder's thought is not widely understood, mainly because North American reformationals have not taken the trouble to study Schilder. Richard Mouw therefore observes: "Schilder needs an American `translator-interpreter' -- someone capable of the difficult task of recontextualizing his thought for a new situation." Mouw does not volunteer for the role himself, but he does seek to clarify Schilder's position in relation and comparison to Kuyper's when it comes to "common grace" (a disputed term in Reformed circles) and our cultural task. He even seems to take away from Kuyper in order to give to Schilder: "... one of the ironies of this situation is that some of the specific formulations that American Christians associate with Kuyper's influence may actually be closer to Schilder's thought than to Kuyper's." [NOTE mouw33] Mouw makes these observations in an essay devoted to Schilder's book Christ and Culture, which deserves much more study than it has gotten in North American circles. Those who have been told that Schilder was interested only in the church and had forgotten about the cultural mandate would be well advised to read this book. [NOTE christandculture33]

Another reformational figure who connected redemptive history with broader issues in philosophy of history was Klaas Jan Popma (1903-86). He dealt with these matters in a book devoted to the theme of "gospel and history." We read:

If we are serious about the idea that Christ is the meaning and spiritual midpoint of history, then it follows that his Church, as the center of redemptive history, may also be called the midpoint of human history. This is a simple and completely Biblical idea, and it has nothing to do with the suggestion that is sometimes made that Christians over-estimate their own importance. [NOTE popma33]

Schilder and company are sometimes accused of ecclesiasticism or "churchism" ("kerkisme" in Dutch). And since most of the followers of Schilder wound up in the churches we call "liberated" ("Canadian Reformed" in our country), it is easy to regard them as a group that has gone its own way and is now bent on self-justification. Moreover, many reformationals of more recent times are inclined to dismiss the Canadian Reformed as a bunch of arch-conservatives who are caught up in various dualisms and have no idea what it means to be reformational. There may be some justice to their suspicions, but it was not always so. In the earlier days of the reformational movement, Schilder and many of the people who followed him were animated by a comprehensive understanding of human history and of the role of God's covenant people within that history. The trivialization of the church that is due especially to Anglo-American individualism as presupposed in North American evangelicalism had not yet done its mischievous work in their midst.

It happens that Popma was among the Reformed leaders in the Netherlands who looked on in dismay as Schilder and company were dealt with in such rough and unfair fashion by the Synod of 1944 but nevertheless stayed put. Like Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven, he did not go to Schilder's side, ecclesiastically speaking. But after the passage of some years, Popma changed his mind and decided to throw in his lot with the "liberated" churches after all. He explained his stance and the decision he had reached after some years of reflection in a brochure published in 1957. [NOTE popma44]

For Popma, redemptive history, which he defines as a history of healing and restoration, began after the fall into sin. But it was not the beginning of history as such. On his understanding of redemptive history, angels and demons are part of the process, and so he postulates a series of events as having taken place before the creation of our first parents. He characterizes this pre-Adamic period as "prehistory." On his conception of things, time and history continue into the life beyond this life.

Some reformationals will find these to be curious conclusions, since they have learned from Dooyeweerd that we cannot philosophize or theorize about angels and evil spirits and so forth. Peter Steen (1935-84) explains:

... Dooyeweerd differs markedly with Popma and Vollenhoven in respect to his view of heaven. It is my contention, in agreement with Vollenhoven and Popma, that there is nothing created that is beyond the limits of cosmic time. The created heaven, including the world of the angels, the departed saints, and Christ in his glorified human nature, is subject to the same cosmic time, is involved in the same cosmic becoming process, and partakes in one history, the history of heaven and earth. [NOTE steen33]

Dooyeweerd's position on these matters may be one reason why certain of the reformationals have comparatively little appreciation for redemptive history and do not appeal to it as a way to help shape their overall philosophy of history. They seem comfortable with the view that Steen regards as dualistic, the view that separates a transcendent domain where God and angels dwell (along with those who have departed this life before us) from the profane world in which the historical struggle is currently being played out.

Liberation and redemptive history

Now, if we were to follow Schilder and Popma and make the notion of redemptive history central to our reformational approach to understanding and writing history, we would still be in need of some sort of overarching theme beyond what Popma calls "healing." In other words, we would need to be a bit more specific about what is entailed in "healing." The concept of liberation comes to mind as a candidate, and so I submit that it is no accident that certain of the reformationals, along with thinkers in some other Christian camps and traditions, have been attracted by the notion of liberation theology as developed originally in circles far from the Netherlands. Indeed, one could conceivably cast Abraham Kuyper as an early forerunner of the liberation emphasis. Did he not bring about the liberation of what reformationals with a smattering of Dutch like to call the "kleine luyden" (little people)? After all, Kuyper did not just aim his message at professors! Could we not go further and inject a bit of Marxism into our portrait of Kuyper? Might reformationals living and working in Third-World settings, where economic oppression seems to be holding people back, be tempted to think about history along such lines? Might they wind up mixing the class struggle with themes from the Old Testament?

One reason why I take these possibilities seriously is that I can remember an exciting time when the movement that started as the ARSS and is now the ICS (where you can even get a Ph.D.!) once took square aim at the ordinary people who sit in church each Sunday. Indeed, I vividly recall the heady era here in Canada when academics and other leaders within the movement (including John Olthuis, a lawyer) could command large crowds in Christian Reformed churches on weekday evenings. The people came out to listen to lectures on all sorts of topics and frequently heard calls to action as well. The orations to which they were subjected in those days were by no means strictly academic lectures: they were aimed at social change. All of this happened during the time of the New Left, a time when change was in the air. If God could use King Cyrus and even hail him as his "anointed" (see Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1), could he not also work through the New Left?

Today I am enough of a mossback to recognize that when we make much of redemptive history as we struggle to understand the history of our own time, we are starting down a potentially dangerous path, a path that opens up mischievous readings of the Old Testament. Some of the reformationals who wondered in what sense the Lord might be behind the New Left were also very interested in the developments in South Africa, where they had many collaborators and academic contacts, especially at the Christian university that used to be called Potchefstroom. As those reformationals followed the South African developments and read some of the literature justifying apartheid (which included rhetoric that sounded suspiciously like Kuyper), [NOTE wolterstorff33] they came to see how easily Biblical themes can be distorted and wrongly applied in such situations. Nonetheless, such talk as emanated from South Africa could not help but appeal to a strain of romanticism that runs through the reformational movement.

If those who lean to the right were able to use Biblical themes of a redemptive-historical nature in such a manner, it stands to reason that those members of the reformational movement who consider themselves progressive might be tempted to adopt ways of thinking and speaking that echo Hegel's optimistic doctrine of progress. In other words, they could begin to align themselves with the forces of light (or healing, or redemption, if you will) as they seek to bring about changes in all sorts of areas, including, perhaps, the "liberation" of women and homosexuals.

I am not summing up a stretch of history here; instead I am speculating about the logic that may have operated in the minds of some of the reformationals as they appropriated redemptive-historical language in defense of their impulse to get involved in such an issue as the "liberation" of women. Here I am running ahead of the story I mean to tell in this series, but it is worth noting in passing that such a development did take place in church life, and that it did involve some of the reformationals, to the consternation of some other reformationals. Such efforts to be on the side of God (or the World-Spirit, using Hegel's terminology) have undeniably contributed toward disunity among the sons and daughters of Runner here in North America. What these considerations demonstrate is that injecting redemptive-history talk into debates about social and political changes in our society can be dangerous. Yet I am not saying that any effort to theologize or philosophize in such a manner is illegitimate.

Anabaptists and cargo prophets

In the early days of the reformational movement, when all of its members seemed to belong to some sort of Reformed church, "Anabaptist" was a dirty word. I used to get called an Anabaptist on occasion -- only partly in jest. Whatever merits the reformationals might have found in the Anabaptists, they were most reluctant to give them credit for getting the big picture.

The narrow-mindedness of the Anabaptists came through in their understanding of history. To them, a Christian approach to history was not much more than a matter of being cognizant of how God's people have suffered and been persecuted for their adherence to Christ. The famous book Martyrs Mirror testified powerfully to the Anabaptist sense of solidarity with those who have suffered for Christ in the distant past. [NOTE martyrs33] But the stirring stories contained in this book were hardly the sort of fare on which reformationals could dine, for the latter were determined to avoid the "Elijah complex" (see I Kings 19). They knew they were not supposed to hang their heads and whine about being the only ones left who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Instead, the notion of God's kingdom as all-embracing was supposed to set the tone. People who stayed on the sidelines were, in effect, Anabaptists, but we had no intention of withdrawing, for the earth is the Lord's -- all of it.

Moreover, reformationals could tell you that Anabaptists did not have an adequate understanding of the cultural mandate (see Genesis 3:15). They thought it sufficed to stay out of trouble. They did not understand that Christians are not just permitted but are positively enjoined to form what we used to call "power organizations." [NOTE vandezande33] The idea that Christians were supposed to be a bunch of abstainers and pacifists did not fit the reformational mentality at all. But times have changed: nowadays one even finds vegetarians among the reformationals!

After a while various elements within the reformational world found themselves being pulled in contrary directions when it came to social, political and economic matters. Some began to move in the direction of what is sometimes called dominion theology or theonomy or reconstructionism. The influence of Cornelius Van Til played a role here, although Van Til himself, as far as I can tell, was quite restrained in these matters. Also in the picture was R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001), who is a cousin -- or perhaps I should say a second cousin -- of the reformationals. It is noteworthy that when Dooyeweerd's book In the Twilight of Western Thought appeared in 1960, It was Rushdoony who contributed a ten-page introduction to it.

Some who were tempted to move in the direction of neo-conservative politics recognized that they could hardly be considered part of the reformational movement anymore. Certain of them became supporters of George Bush the Second and his heavy-handed approach to reforming the Middle East and bringing it into line with Western interests. It might even be said of some that they have embraced what a critic could call a gospel of prosperity. I recall the days when John Bolt still taught theology at Redeemer and I used to joke that he was a "cargo prophet." [NOTE cargo33] And the sentiments defended by Harry Antonides in the pages of Christian Courier during the presidency of the younger Bush have also led various of the reformationals to wonder what has gotten into their former comrade-in-arms.

When we take distance from the Anabaptists and move in such a direction, embracing what looks like progress, our understanding of history takes on something of a Hegelian flavor. To some it will then appear that we are marching to the World-Spirit's drumbeat. If, after we have enlisted under this banner, it occurs to us to write history, it will surely not be the history of just us. Historical consciousness then tends to fade, and we begin to think that perhaps Francis Fukuyama was right after all when he suggested that the "end of history" was upon us. [NOTE fukuyama33]

Smit and Cullmann

In the light of all these developments, it has become a bit of a riddle in the minds of many people just what view or theory of history should be held by reformationals -- or, to speak in still broader terms, by neo-Calvinists. Just recently two students of mine, David Beldman and Shawn Sandink, were assigned (in a class not taught by me) to figure out that very thing. They came to me for help, but apparently I did not put them on the right track. They eventually wound up in email contact with a professor in the Netherlands, who presupposed that the neo-Calvinist approach to history was essentially a matter of writing the history of the neo-Calvinists. And just who were those people whom he called neo-Calvinists? Presumably the ecclesiastical followers of Abraham Kuyper, who are to be distinguished from the people in what we used to call the "Hervormd" Church. [NOTE hervormd33] Or one got the impression that whoever taught history in institutions that are supported and loved by the ecclesiastical neo-Calvinists was therefore a neo-Calvinist historian. Of course it might be added that if a teacher of history was worth his salt, he should be able to give an interpretation of certain pivotal events like the French Revolution that would remind people of how Groen van Prinsterer used to talk.

Now, students Beldman and Sandink had taken my philosophy of history class and had heard my speculations about how redemptive history might be a fruitful concept to explore within the context of a Christian philosophy of history. But in that same class, as well as in another class they would have taken at Redeemer, they also heard a note of caution sounded. My colleague in history, Harry Van Dyke, is known to put forward the ideas of M.C. Smit (1911-81), who taught philosophy of history for many years at the Free University. In Smit's inaugural lecture entitled "The Divine Mystery in History," we find the following sober words of caution:

... the believing historian continues to acknowledge with all his heart that God's guidance is determinative for the whole of history, that world history has its origin and end in Him and its meaning-endowing center in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, in his investigation of concrete historical facts and patterns, the believing historian derives little practical benefit from his confession of faith.

Reformationals are known for opposing dualisms of every sort, but as we read further in Smit's lecture, we seem to come upon one:

On the judgment of faith, God guides all things and, although transcendent, is intimately present in all things and events; on the judgment of historical science, God is there all right, having propelled history on its way and ever guiding it, but to the human understanding He Himself is very remote. Concretely the historian cannot do a thing with God. The great danger is that God ends up hovering high above our heads as history goes its own way according to its own laws and self-perception. For it must be recognized that if God is no longer regarded as concretely knowable in His acts, He recedes from our field of vision to the periphery of our existence, in spite of our general confession of His guidance. What we are left with is the historical order, its laws and events, and its human agents -- indeed, it is from the latter that guidance now comes, to judge from our historical experience. God, however, has become a peripheral figure, as unsearchable and past finding out as ever, imponderable by historical science even as a mere factor. [NOTE smit33]

A similar note of caution is sounded by Oscar Cullmann (1902-99), a noted New Testament theologian who, it must be admitted, is not ranked among the reformationals. But Cullmann does have a keen interest in the notion of redemptive history, which he calls salvation history. He raises the question whether salvation history continues into our time, long after the era of the apostles. For those who find the notion of redemptive history potentially disturbing for their historiographical work, it might have been convenient to say that salvation history was all wrapped up and that the final chapter is described for us in the Book of Acts. But this is not what Cullmann believes:

Salvation history itself continues, but only as the unfolding of the Christ event. However, the revelation of the divine plan presented through event and interpretation, according to which salvation history has developed and will continue to develop up to the end, is concluded.

It turns out, however, that we are not in a position to describe that hidden history of God's dealings with his world and his people. Cullmann cautions us: "... we must make a clear separation between the continuation of salvation history as such and our knowledge about it. ... [We] can speak only of a hidden continuation of salvation history."

Cullmann chooses to lean heavily on divine revelation when it comes to interpreting events as fitting into salvation history. Therefore he suggests:

Whereas we know precisely the past events and their prophetic interpretations resting on revelation, we can never say with certainty, so far as our present is concerned, where God is now extending his salvation history in its unfolding and interpretation. ... [We] do not presume to ascribe either the authority of revelation possessed by the biblical events to events in our time or to contemporary interpretations of Christian truth. We must leave questions such as whether this or that event of our time is a sign of the end, or whether in this or that post-biblical preacher of the gospel we see a prophet speaking, or whether in this event or in this man God is actually unfolding his salvation history in a special way, to God alone.

But then Cullmann seems to relent and allow the "preacher" greater latitude than the professional historian when it comes to speculating about what the events of our own time might mean in relation to divine purposes:

We pay heed both to the positive saving work and the demonic counter-attacks when we judge current events from the special vantage point of salvation history. As members of the Church we must put the newspaper beside the Bible and, more particularly, the Bible beside the newspaper. ... [A] salvation-historical judgment on the events of our time is part of preaching, of the witnessing in which the meaning and task of our time consists. [NOTE cullman33]

In my philosophy of history class, I use Cullmann's remarks as a way to open up some discussion of what Christian journalism might be. The notion of a Christian newspaper or weekly newsmagazine appeals to reformationals: it just sounds like something we should be doing. Yet nothing much seems to come of it. Why not? The distinction I made in Reading the Bible as History between the Bible's recording certain events and in a few cases also giving us a divine interpretation or commentary on those events is applicable here. [NOTE reading44] And when one considers that journalism is done on the fly, it becomes obvious that it does not afford much opportunity for sober reflection of the sort which the historian regards as essential. And so, with warnings by Smit and Cullmann in the background, it should become clear that explaining today's headlines from a divine perspective cannot be our journalistic goal.

Perhaps we are setting our preachers up for failure when we encourage them, following Cullmann's prompting, to engage in speculation by taking the Bible and the newspaper with them into the pulpit. Nowadays they seem to hold both in hand during their prayers as much as when they are preaching. K.J. Popma would probably approve. Since he was so bold as to involve even angels and fallen spirits in redemptive history, he would presumably expect that when we go about our work as professional Christian historians, we would take angelic and demonic factors into account.

In this regard, he might feel more comfortable among some contemporary charismatic Christians who love reading novels about demonic powers than among those Reformed Christians who apparently believe that it is orthodox to accept the reality of demonic powers but also seem to think that they can safely ignore them in practice since they fall outside the horizon of the experience we have from day to day. Anyway, the Christian journalism that I do wind up urging upon students turns out to be heavy on editorializing and moralizing; of course it also includes a determination to select from the great stream of events that take place in the world those items that will be of special interest to Christians, items which are very often ignored by the secular media. The death of a pope and the election of a new one would be a prominent exception: even the secular media paid attention.

Purists and perfectionists

There is an "end of history" issue in the reticence felt by me and many others when it comes to Christian journalism. When I think these matters over, I am reminded of what Dilthey once said: "One would first have to await the end of history in order to possess all the material necessary to determine its meaning." [NOTE dilthey33] And the tendency to wait until the end does not apply only to history as a whole: it can also be seen in an individual's life, and even in individual episodes within one's life. At what point has an incident or episode been resolved sufficiently to be ready to be narrated to others? [NOTE memory55]

The notion that a story is not yet ready to be told can all too easily become a long-term excuse for silence and for the kind of historical and autobiographical reticence that I spoke of earlier in this essay. Such a mentality is reflected in the purist and perfectionist streak that runs through the reformational movement. Many of us recall the painful days when certain reformational leaders would insist that what were officially called Christian schools within the Reformed camp were not really Christian schools at all. Their reason for making such a claim was that certain "radical" changes were needed before one was entitled to call the education offered in such an institution "integrally" Christian. Many people, especially teachers, were deeply hurt by such comments and thinking. In those days I also regarded such talk as ill-advised, but I understood something of the logic behind it and had some sympathy for it.

This same kind of purism and perfectionism probably hampered Evan Runner when, in his early retirement years, he knew that many eyes were upon him, so to speak, now that the time had come to write an introductory book in philosophy and also to tackle those scholarly monographs which his earlier full-time teaching schedule had kept him from writing. [NOTE runner44] There is no question in my mind that he could have produced a good deal of worthy scholarly material. During the years I was in graduate school I would see him from time to time and was often surprised by how much he knew about the matters in which I was specializing, especially German philosophy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Bear in mind that in his own graduate school days he had specialized in ancient Greek philosophy! Indeed, it was Runner -- rather than one of my University of Toronto professors -- who suggested to me the topic on which I settled for my dissertation on German philosophy. [NOTE dilthey44] But the expectations were so high that on some level Runner drew the conclusion -- perhaps even unconsciously -- that it is better to put nothing forth than to offer something that might seem to certain people substandard.

In my judgment, the tendency toward purism and perfectionism has also hampered the work of the Dooyeweerd Centre at Redeemer. I have been involved with this organization from the beginning, sometimes in a steering committee capacity, sometimes on the editorial committee, sometimes as an unofficial confidant and discussion partner for its successive directors (especially Danie Strauss and Elaine Botha), and, of late, even in a staff capacity, which involves meeting with the Governing Council and participating in policy decisions about editorial matters. And so I have often spoken my mind about what the Dooyeweerd Centre is doing. Very often my advice was listened to politely but not followed. In general my criticism has been that the program undertaken by the Center is too grandiose. Everything written by Dooyeweerd must be published in handsome (and, alas, expensive) hardcover volumes. Everything must be "done right." There seems to be little room for abridgments or shorter, more accessible works that might whet the appetite for the reading of Dooyeweerd's writings. All that is undertaken must be carried through in optimal fashion -- otherwise it's not worth doing at all. My own conviction is that such an insistence on perfection -- or something close to it -- may contribute slightly to Dooyeweerd's reputation as a gifted scholar and a man who knew many languages, but it will not contribute substantially to his accessibility to Christian academics working in a North American context.

In general, such purist and perfectionist tendencies have set the reformational movement up for what it does not want, namely, to be ignored or disregarded. It is as though we are determined either to achieve an ultimate victory or to accept failure. Instead, with William James, I would plead for meliorism [NOTE meliorism33] and for more realistic goals. And we also need to be more positive in terms of accepting what previous decades have done in terms of publishing reformational works.

Writing and rewriting history

As I come to the end of this essay, readers may suspect that my plea for meliorism is in effect a roundabout defense for the shortcomings of the essay I am here offering to an internet reading public. Those who agree that the reformational movement could indeed benefit from a history and an assessment of what it has accomplished thus far might feel that it would be better if I had held my material back and composed all that I mean to write and then polished it and polished it some more before offering it to a reading public.

Of course I have my reasons for what I am doing. One of them is that I am animated by the conviction that history is not so much written as rewritten. [NOTE mink33] And since the history of the reformational movement is so neglected, even though I have been urging various people in recent years to do something about this lack and to write what they can, it seemed to me that someone, somehow, needed to make a start. And so I have done so. My hope is that those who read these words and find fault with them in this or that factual respect or conclude that my account is one-sided or that it reflects the limits of my own understanding of these matters will be motivated to set the record straight by writing something themselves and publishing it in some form. I also hope that in due course a more comprehensive, objective and balanced history of the reformational movement will be written to eclipse the kind of history that I find myself able to write at this stage in my life.

One of the points I make in my philosophy of history class is that a historical account does not simply detail what happened in a certain period or within a certain institutional framework but also comments on things that might have been expected to happen but did not and tries to shed light on why they did not come about. This will also be my aim in this series. Therefore, as the series continues, you must not expect a record of institutional successes or some kind of log of events and meetings and publications. I'm not saying there is no place for such things, but they are probably best pursued separately within histories of the various institutions that have participated in the reformational movement. I hope that one day Redeemer University College will get around to commissioning such a history, and I would happily cooperate in its composition, just as I cooperated eagerly when Rev. Henry De Bolster, our first president, decided to write some institutional memoirs. [NOTE debolster33]

In the meantime, I intend to turn my attention to other facets of the reformational vision and program of work. In the next installment I will deal with the theme of church and worship. TO BE CONTINUED .....

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