"Dogmatic theology is a very dangerous science"
by Herman Dooyeweerd
Dr J. Glenn Friesen's
_______________________Excerpts from: 'In the Twilight of Western Thought':
What is the proper scientific viewpoint of dogmatic theology? [...] To find a satisfactory answer to the question at issue, we should consider that, as a science, dogmatic theology is bound to the theoretical attitude of thought. [...] Now it has become apparent that theology cannot give us a philosophical total view of the mutual relation and coherence between the different aspects of our experience within the temporal order. Consequently, it must be a special science. [...] This modal experiential aspect which delimits the specific theological point of view can be no other than the aspect of faith. (pp 91,92)
I am well aware that this thesis may raise a complex of misunderstandings. Those who hold to the traditional way of confusing the central principle of theological knowledge with the scientific object of dogmatic theological thought will doubtless make the following objections: [...] "We do not understand your distinction between the central basic motive of the Holy Scripture which would be of a supra-theological character, and the theoretical object of dogmatic theology as a science, which would be delimited by the faith-aspect of our temporal horizon of experience. How can you say that the divine revelation of creation, fall into sin, and redemption by Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit is withdrawn from the scientific field of research in dogmatic theology? These subjects have always been the very basic materials of any theological dogmatics. Withdrawing them from the latter would amount to a complete destruction of theology." (p 92)
What shall be our answer to these serious objections: I am sorry if my explanation concerning the scientific field of research of dogmatic theology seems not clear at first sight. The difficulties and questions to which it gives rise do not concern the divine Word-revelation, but exclusively the scientific character and bounds of a theological dogmatics and exegesis. And it is necessary ad humanam salutem to go into these difficulties in a serious way. For dogmatic theology is a very dangerous science. Its elevation to a necessary mediator between God's Word and the believer amounts to idolatry and testifies to a fundamental misconception concerning its real character and position. If our salvation be dependent on theological dogmatics and exegesis, we are lost. For both of them are a human work, liable to all kinds of error, disagreement in opinion, and heresy. We can even say that all heresies are of a theological origin. Therefore, the traditional confusion between God's Word as the central principle of knowledge and the scientific object of theological dogmatics and exegesis must be wrong in its fundamentals. For it is this very confusion which has given rise to falsely equating dogmatic theology with the doctrine of Holy Scripture, and to the false conception of theology as the necessary mediator between God's Word and the believers. (p 93)
[...] By ascribing to the so-called natural reason an autonomy over against faith and divine revelation, traditional scholastic theology merely gave expression to the false Greek view of reason as the center of human nature. Within the framework of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastic doctrine this caused no inner difficulties, since this doctrine did not accept the radical character of the fall into sin. In Reformed theology, on the other hand, this unbiblical view of human nature could not fail to cause an inner contradiction with the biblical doctrine of sin and redemption. For, if human nature does not have a religious center or radix, how can the fall be of a radical character, ie, touch the root of our nature? (p 97)
[...] It is certainly not the biblical basic motive in its radical and integral sense which led many theologians to the conclusion that philosophy has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. It is only the non-biblical dualistic motive of nature and grace that led them astray and that inspired Barth's view that man may expect that, at least in general, God has bound the operation of his Word to a "theological space" in which the Bible, ecclesiastical preaching, and theology, as to their instrumental function, are placed on the same level. It is this scholastic basic motive which has also impeded the necessary transcendental critique of theological thought, both as to its scientific object and as to its starting point. (p 98)
[...] Let us first consider how the Word of God presents itself to us in its full and actual reality. The divine Word-revelation has entered our temporal horizon. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. This was the skandalon which was equally raised by the incarnation of the Word-revelation in the Holy Scriptures, a collection of books written by different men in the course of ages, be it through divine inspiration, yet related to all the modal aspects of our temporal horizon of experience. It is, however, only under the modal aspect of faith that we can experience that this Word-revelation in the Scriptures has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. And the actual belief through which we know with an ultimate certainty that it is so, cannot be realized in the heart, that religious center of our consciousness, except by the operation of the Word itself, as a spiritual power. What makes the diversity of books of the Old and New Testament into a radical spiritual unity? Their principle of unity can only be the central theme of creation, fall into sin, and redemption by Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit, since it is the key to true knowledge of God and self-knowledge. We have established that, in its central spiritual sense, as divine motive power addressing itself to our heart, this theme cannot become the theoretical object of theological thought, since it is the very starting point of the latter, insofar as theology is really biblical. (pp 99,100)
[...] From the foregoing it may appear that there must be a difference in principle between creation, fall and redemption in their central sense [ie in their "full and actual reality" as universally under-girding, all-pervading, all-encompassing, "concrete", structurally-determinative, dynamic, "living", cosmic events (FMF)] as the key to knowledge, and in their sense as articles of faith, which may be made into the object of theological thought [ie as abstract, theoretical, "subjective", "in-the head", personal or consensual opinion and conviction (FMF)]. Insofar as Reformed theology, too, was influenced by the scholastic basic motive of nature and grace, it also developed dogmatic views which must be considered unbiblical. The Jewish scribes and lawyers had a perfect theological knowledge of the books of the Old Testament. They wished, doubtless, to hold to the creation, the fall and the promise of the coming Messiah as articles of the orthodox Jewish faith which are also articles of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, Jesus said to them: "'Woe unto you, for ye have taken away the key of knowledge! (Luke 11:52). This key of knowledge in its radical and integral sense cannot be made into a theological problem. The theologian can only direct his theological thought to it with respect to its necessary supra-theoretical presupposition, if he is really in the grip of it, and can bear witness to its radical meaning which transcends all theological concepts. But when he does so, he is not in any different position than the Christian philosopher who accounts for his biblical starting-point, or the ordinary believer who testifies to the radical sense of God's Word as the central motive power of his life in Jesus Christ. In other words, the true knowledge of God in Jesus Christ and true self-knowledge are neither of a dogmatic-theological, nor of a philosophical nature, but have an absolutely central religious significance. This knowledge is a question of spiritual life or death. Even orthodox theological dogmatics, however splendidly elaborated, cannot guarantee this central spiritual knowledge. (p 100)
'In the Twilight of Western Thought: Studies in the Pretended Autonomy of Philosophical Thought', The Collected works of Herman Dooyeweerd, Series B, Volume 16, Paideia Press, 2012)
--------Excerpts from: 'Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til'
Dooyeweerd writes (to Cornelius Van Til):
[...] Asking myself what may have induced you to ascribe to the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea such a dialectical dualism, I find myself confronted with, what I fear to be, a typical rationalistic scholastic tendency in your theological thought. This tendency reveals itself first in your objections against my distinction between theoretical conceptual knowledge, and the central religious self-knowledge and knowledge of God. On this point you appear to agree with the neo-scholastic thinkers, Robbers and Mrs. Conradie, and in some degree also with van Peursen. I fear your rationalism may go even further than that of the neo-scholastic thinkers mentioned, for the latter have never claimed that philosophical ideas are to be derived from the supra-natural truths of divine revelation, and that is exactly what you seem to defend. (p 81)
[...] In my various explanations of the transcendental critique both within and outside my work, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, I have always emphasized its biblical starting-point. What, then, so I ask myself again, may have made you think that this critique would be not "directly" dependent upon the transcendent "biblical truths"? It seems to me that it is again a certain rationalistic view of the divine Word-revelation that hinders you from seeing the fundamental difference and the true relation between the central religious and the theoretical-conceptual sphere of knowledge. The difference you apparently deny, and this is why the question concerning their true relation does in fact not come up for discussion in your train of thought. [NOTE 9. In Defense of the Faith, 1st ed., p.235, you speak of the "theory of reality" which the Bible contains, and of the definite philosophy of history involved in the biblical conception of eternity]. (p 82)
[...] Rationalism as absolutization of conceptual thought evokes necessarily irrationalism as its alternative. [NOTE 12. In DF, 1st ed., p. 58, you emphatically accept this alternative. Christianity is opposed here to "absolute irrationalism" as an "absolute rationalism". The only restriction is that our knowledge of God and the universe is "not comprehensive", such as God's self-knowledge and knowledge of the universe. I do not overlook that by "absolute rationalism" you understand the view that every fact has been pre-determined and pre-interpreted by God according to his rational providential plan, so that no single fact comes about by chance. Nor do I overlook that in another context you seek the origin of both rationalism and irrationalism, viewed in their historical forms, in the apostate belief in the autonomy of man over against God. But why do you speak then of the biblical Christian view as an absolute rationalism? Because you identify God's providential plan with absolute rationality. But "absolute rationality" is an obvious metaphysical absolutization, just like Occam's potentia Dei absoluta [God's absolute power]. I shall return to this point in the text.]
The objectivism implied in traditional scholastic rationalism evokes as its alternative subjectivism, etc. It is consequently quite understandable that from your standpoint you consider my distinction between conceptual knowledge and central religious knowledge a result of an irrationalist mystical view of the latter [- Emphasis added to this key sentence by FMF]. In line with Robbers and van Peursen you interpret this distinction as a separation, so that the central supra-conceptual sphere and the conceptual sphere of knowledge are conceived of as opposite to, and independent of, each other. In this way the distinction is naturally transformed into a dialectical tension, testifying to a dualistic trend in my thought. In my discussion with van Peursen I have dwelled at length on this radical misrepresentation of my view and I have given an ample rectification. You do not go into this rectification, and I fear that so long as you stick to this rationalist standpoint you will not be able to understand what I have written in this context.
In your train of thought the matter seems to be quite simple. The Word-revelation results from divine thought. It is mediated to man through ordinary language. Its content is thought-content expressed in words (wrongly identified with concepts). [NOTE 13. If this identification were correct, an English translation of Dutch conceptual terms would be impossible, since there would be no identity of concepts for lack of identical words]. Consequently, listening to Scripture, obeying the voice of God speaking through Christ in Scripture, means making every human thought subject to divine thought expressed in scriptural concepts, so that man has to "think God's thoughts after him."
Is this really a biblical view? I am afraid not. Nowhere does the Bible speak of obeying the voice of God in terms of subjecting every human thought to divine thought. The New Testament understanding of obedience is doing the Father's will revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, by believing with all our heart that we belong to him. There is no real obedience to the will of God that does not result from the heart, in the pregnant biblical sense, as the religious center of our existence, which must be regenerated and opened up by the divine moving power of the Holy Ghost. It is exactly this central biblical condition that is lacking in your circumscription of obedience. You do not, of course, at all deny the necessity of rebirth. But I fear that the biblical conception of the religious center of human existence does not fit in with your view of the human nature. [NOTE 14. In your DF, 1st ed., p.93, you seem to join in with Hodge, who identifies the heart in its pregnant biblical sense with "that which thinks, feels, wills and acts," i.e., with "the soul, the self." The soul is apparently conceived here in the traditional metaphysical sense as an immaterial substance embracing the feelings, the intellect, and the will. But this traditional view of the human soul is quite different from the radical biblical revelation of the human "heart" as the religious center of the integral whole of man's existence.]
That the Word-revelation was from the beginning mediated to man through human language is naturally unquestionable. But that verbal language would necessarily signify conceptual thought-contents is a rationalist prejudice that runs counter to the real states of affairs. By means of language we can signify symbolically not only conceptual thought contents, but all sorts of contents of our consciousness, such as subjective moods and emotional feelings, volitional decisions in a concrete situation, our faith in Jesus Christ, pre-theoretical aesthetical and moral experiences, often expressed in short exclamations such as "How wonderful!" or "Shame on you!" etc., which certainly do not give expression to conceptual knowledge of the experiential modes concerned.
The transcendental critique of theoretical thought has shown why true self-knowledge in its biblical sense, i.e., in its dependence upon true knowledge of God, cannot be itself of a conceptual character. The reason is that all conceptual knowledge in its analytical and inter-modal synthetical character presupposes the human ego as its central reference-point, which consequently must be of a supra-modal nature and is not capable of [being subjected to] logical analysis. This does not mean, as you suppose, that the human self is placed in a vacuum over against all the conceptual knowledge that we have of everything. The human ego cannot be theoretically opposed to conceptual knowledge since, as the central reference-point of the latter, it transcends every theoretical antithesis. (pp 83 -85)
Read more here:
('Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til', Edited by E.R. Geehan, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1971)