Updated – Law, Politics and the State

Excerpts from the Introduction and Chapter I of E. L. Hebden Taylor’s The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics and the State: A Study of the Political and Legal Thought of Herman Dooyeweerd of the Free University of Amsterdam, Holland as the Basis for Christian Action in the English-Speaking World (The Craig Press, 1966) [Originally posted 12/5/12]:

One of the great tragedies of the Protestant Reformation was the failure of the great Reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther to develop a doctrine of law, politics and the state upon truly reformed and biblical lines (1).

Lacking a carefully worked-out Reformed doctrine of law, politics and the state, it is hardly surprising that Protestant Christians have been powerless to meet the needs and challenges of modern society and to provide it with Christian answers to all its pressing problems (5).

Real religion pervades the whole of life: our social, political and industrial and educational no less than our personal and private lives. In fact, it is precisely in his political and business life that a true Christian will seek with God’s help and guidance to live up to his Christian convictions, for it is precisely in political and business life today that the power of Satan, sin and selfishness is so great (17).

What then does the Calvinist mean by his faith in the ordinances of God? Every aspect of life, Kuyper answers, has a law for its existence, instituted by God himself. These laws or ordinances we may call laws of nature, provided that by this term we mean, not laws originating within nature, but laws imposed upon nature. From this doctrine of God’s sovereignty over all aspects of creation, Kuyper developed his conception of sovereignty in each orbit, applying it especially in his political and social philosophy. Ultimate sovereignty belongs to God, while derivative sovereignties belong to the various spheres of human society, so that these spheres are coordinately, rather than subordinately, related (50).

 By means of his doctrine of sphere sovereignty [sphere sovereignty maintains that Jesus Christ is the covenant head of creation, and possesses absolute power and authority, however, he delegates “partial sovereignties to men” in the family, church and state]  Abraham Kuyper has provided Christians with a weapon against both the rugged, selfish individualism of the nineteenth-century laissez-faire variety and the suffocating collectivism of the totalitarian Communists variety (55-56).

According to Kuyper it is God’s common grace which makes human culture possible. Human society would have been utterly destroyed if the common grace of God had not intervened. As such, common grace is the foundation of cultures, since God’s great plan for creation is achieved through common grace. it is not spiritual and regenerative but temporal and material. It is based upon and flows forth from the confession of the absolute sovereignty of God, for, says Kuyper, not only the church but the whole world must give God the honor due to him; hence the world received common grace in order to honor him through it. Thus Kuyper upholds the catholic claims of Christianity and urges its validity for all men (60-61).

Additional excerpts from Chapter II [Added on 12/16/12]:

For Dooyeweerd all philosophic and theoretical or scientific thought proceeds from presuppositions of a religious nature. The starting pint, not only of all practical but also of all theoretical activity, proceeds from man’s religious depths. Such a starting point can be found only in man’s heart or transcendental self. All the issues of life arise out of the human heart which is the concentration point of our entire human existence. Out of it arise all our deeds, thoughts, feelings, and desires. In our hearts we give answer to the most profound and ultimate questions of life, and in our hearts our relationship to God is determined. The heart or transcendental self of man may never be identified with any of our vital functions such as feeling or even faith. it is deeper than any vital function and it transcends the temporal world altogether. It is as far from the body as it is from the mind. The heart is the point where man decides his relationship with Almighty God. It can never be neutral. It loves God or it is hostile to him. It is being renewed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit, or it still lives in apostasy. As a consequence, theoretical and scientific thought can never be a neutral and autonomous activity (66).

Dooyeweerd maintains that only the Word of God can provide us with a true point of departure and thus enable us to “see” the facts studied in the various sciences in their proper order and relationships. The facts do not “speak” to us unless we see them in their order. If the scientist or philosopher refuses to be taught by the Word of God what this order of the creation is, then he will be forced to substitute some principle of total structuration of his own devising. Such an apostate thinker will then be forced to seek his ultimate principles of explanation and point of departure in one aspect of the created universe rather than in the Creator of the Universe. For this reason Dooyeweerd speaks of all non-Christian systems of thought as being immanentistic  in character, because they refuse to recognize the ultimate dependence of human thought and science upon God’s revelation (72).

The self or heart of man exists in three fundamental relations: in relation to cosmic time, in relation to other selves, and in relation to God. apart from these relations, the selfhood is an empty abstraction which dissolves itself into nothingness. But as we have already seen, the selfhood cannot receive its positive content form its relation to cosmic time alone, because in its radical unity it transcends time. The temporal order of becoming with its diversity of aspects, can only turn away our view form the real center of human existence, so long as we seek to know ourselves from it. Neither can the selfhood receives its positive content from other selves, because when viewed in themselves alone, all selves are equally without content. They all refer beyond themselves for their fulfillment. As Dooyeweerd points out, ‘The ego of our fellow-man confronts us with the same riddle as our own selfhood does.” For Dooyeweerd, as for Calvin, the self’s relation towards God is the determining one. . . . Self-knowledge is thus in the last analysis dependent on our knowledge of God (75-76).