Jerusalem and Athens Revisited -- By: Scott Oliphint

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 49:1 (Spring 1987)
Article: Jerusalem and Athens Revisited
Author: Scott Oliphint


Jerusalem and Athens Revisited

Scott Oliphint

The dialogue between Dooyeweerd and Van Til (it seems) began and ended with Van Til’s Festschrift, Jerusalem and Athens. There were, however, relevant articles previous and subsequent to the printing of the Festschrift. In order properly to compare and evaluate these two great Reformed thinkers, it will be helpful to look at the relevant article that formed the basis for Dooyeweerd’s critique of Van Til in Jerusalem and Athens.

As far as I can tell, the first criticism of Dooyeweerd by Van Til appeared in Van Til’s article, “Bavinck the Theologian.”1 Though it would be helpful to look at that article, it is only minimally significant for our purposes. The primary thought in Van Til’s criticism of Dooyeweerd is that the latter has yet to escape “scholastic tendencies” in his thought. In the interest of economy, however, we must move on to a more relevant critique.

I. Christianity in Conflict

It was Van Til’s syllabus, “Christianity in Conflict,” to which Dooyeweerd responded in Jerusalem and Athens. Contained in this syllabus is the subsection “Biblical Dimensionalism.” This subsection is written primarily as a critique of Dooyeweerd’s cosmonomic philosophy. Van Til concentrates on two aspects of Dooyeweerd’s dimensionalism: “The Antithesis,” and “Communication.”

Though the section dealing with the antithesis is not too helpful for our purposes, it is important to notice that Van Til wants to reject a hard-and-fast distinction between naive experience and theoretical thought. Such a distinction is nec-

essary to Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. Apart from such a distinction, the “first question” in Dooyeweerd’s transcendental critique, i.e., “From what has abstraction been made?” cannot be answered. Apart from the naive/theoretical distinction Dooyeweerd’s definition of the transcendental method is destroyed. It is no small matter, therefore, that Van Til denies the distinction as formulated For example, in this section Van Til writes about the “simple believer.” The simple believer (one suspects Van Til means the “naive” believer) knows about common grace. He knows that the unbeliever suppresses the truth of God.2 Yet as the simple (naive) believer is confronted with antitheistic interpretations of life, he becomes more fully aware of the strongholds and speculations of the enemies of Christ. He begins to articulate in a more technical (theoretical) manner what he has said all along. Says Van Til: “It is all a matter ...

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