It is fitting, given that the previous lecture dealt with the problems in anthropology that arise from theology accommodating to non-Christian philosophy, that Dooyeweerd’s final lecture should deal with the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ or as Dooyeweerd puts it: ‘What is man?’
The question ‘What is man?’ is central in European thinking – from Plato onwards. In the late fifties it was not merely a theological question – it was a cry of distress. Technological advances have reduced humanity to a depersonalised ‘mass-man’; there was a rise of spiritual nihilism – a loss of faith: God is dead. Humanity is lost in a world of meaninglessness.
A belief in absolute truth has been eroded and this has left no room for a strong faith. It has been replaced by technical methods and organization, but these cannot save western civilization. The technical development of the West will destroy civilization unless a way is found to restore human personality.
existentialist response 176-8
The cry ‘What is man?’ has become more than a theoretical question, it is a question of ‘to be or not to be’. This is one reason why the personalistic and existentialistic trends are so popular at the time Dooyeweerd was writing.
The intellect is no longer the centre of human nature. The struggle for existence characterizes humanity’s life. The human ego is free but is confronted with the fear of death, a dark nothingness. It is a pessimistic view of humanity.
Other existential thinkers looked to Martin Buber and the communal relations in life. We can only know ourselves in relation to each other, by meeting in live.
a critique of the responses 178-180
The problem with these responses is that they do not get to the root of the problem. The symptoms cannot be explained by external causes. They are the result of a religious process of apostasy. This started with a belief in the self-sufficiency of the rational human personality.
The question ‘What is man?’ cannot be explained by man himself.
The special sciences that study humanity only consider humanity from a particular viewpoint. They cannot answer the question ‘What is man himself, in the central unity of his existence, in his selfhood?’ This is because they are bound to the temporal order of our existence.
the material constellation of the human body, and the electromagnetic forces operating in it
the functions of organic life
insight into the emotional life of feeling and will
informs us about the development of human culture
the human faculty of expressing thoughts and feelings by means of words and symbolical signs
the study of the economic aspects of life
the juridicial aspects of human life
All these aspects are related to the central unity of our consciousness, our ego, our I. The I surpasses this diversity of aspects.
Existentialism was right in that self-knowledge cannot come by means of scientific research; however, it pretended its own approach did lead to self-knowledge.
Dooyeweerd’s conception of the I 181-185
Philosophical thought is bound to the temporal order of human experience. Its central I, however, goes beyond this temporal order. The human I is something of a mystery. It is nothing in itself but needs to be conceived as part of three central relations.
1. It is related to the whole of temporal existence as it our central reference point of our experience of the temporal world.
2. It is in an essential communal relation to the egos of others.
3. It points beyond itself to the divine Origin.
We cannot identify our ego with any of the aspects of our temporal existence.
We are communal creatures – but we cannot understand the I or the relation between the I and others merely from the temporal order. The inter-personal relation cannot lead to real self-knowledge, it must point beyond itself to the ultimate relations gip between the human I and God. Thus Calvin: ‘The true knowledge of ourselves is dependent on true knowledge of God’. This does not mean, however, that theology can lead us to a true knowledge of ourselves and more than philosophy or any other special science can. This knowledge can only come from the Word revelation operating in the heart of man.
Body and soul 185-
The traditional scholastic theological view that man is composed of an immortal, rational soul and a mortal, material soul was an accommodation to Greek philosophy, which viewed reason as the centre of human existence. in this image of man there is no room for the heart as the spiritual root of all temporal manifestations of human life. It is not the result of a creation, fall and redemption perspective.
The word-revelation is not dependent on fallible theological interpretations. It can only be explained by the Holy Spirit who opens and addresses our hearts. creation, fall and redemption is the starting point of all theological and philosophical thought.
divine Word revelation: creation, fall and redemption 187-
For many Christians the central theme of divine Word revelation, ie creation, fall and redemption is only a theological knowledge and it has not become the central motive power.
God as creator is the absolute origin of everything. God reveals himself to man. Man is the image of God. In the heart of man is the entire diversity of aspects and faculties of the temporal world concentrated.
We have an innate religious impulse to serve the living God. Love for God also implies that we serve each other. There is no neutral sphere in life.
The fall into sin affects the heart – there is an illusion that we can be like God. The fall has not destroyed the innate religious impulse to seek God, it has, however, led it in an apostate direction.
We fall into idolatry by seeking God and self in the world and by elevating one of the aspects of the temporal world.
Only Jesus Christ can restore the religious centre of human nature. Redemption means the rebirth of the heart. There can be no self-knowledge apart from Jesus. Our worldview must be reformed in a Christocentric sense.
It is possible to give an orthodox and theoretical explanation of faith and yet not find oneself in the grip of the Word of God; creation, fall and redemption has not become a central basic motive.
An example of this is the view of man as having two spheres: natural and supra-natural. This is the result of a nature and grace groundmotive.
This view is found in the Roman catholic church and despite the reformation is also found in scholastic Lutheran and Reformed theology. This is because the scholastic basic motive of nature and grace continued to influence theologians and this has resulted in a dualism into the entire view of man.
The question: ‘What is man?’ cannot be answered by man, but has been answered by God’s Word revelation.
1. What does Dooyeweerd mean by a ‘mass-man’?
2. Why does theological opinion testify to a lack of self-knowledge?
3. Why is Dooyeweerd persuaded that existentialism cannot ‘penetrate to the real center and root of our existence’?
4. What are three central relations that give the human I meaning?
5. Why cannot inter-personal relationships lead to a real self-knowledge?
6. How does Dooyeweerd describe the heart?
7. What does it mean to be the image of God?
1. What are the reasons for the secularization of humanity?
2. How can the church avoid the depersonalization of congregational life?
3. How has postmodernism affected the view of what it means to be human?
4. What does Dooyeweerd mean by the ‘heart’?
5. What does Dooyeweerd mean by ‘Word-revelation’?
Taking it further
Herman Dooyeweerd ‘The theory of man in the philosophy of thelLaw idea: 32 propositions on anthropology’ (mimeo) (no date)
Philosophia Reformata 1993 contains several articles dealing with Dooyeweerd’s view of humanity.
Harry Fernhout ‘Man, faith and religion in Kuyper, Bavinck and Dooyeweerd’ M. Phil ICS, Toronto