Thursday, August 22, 2013

Spykman on Dualism

Gordon J. Spykman

Front Cover of Reformational Theology (1992)

1. The main ploy for "Chapter 2: Prolegomena" of Gordon J. Spykman's Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (1992) is dualism.

(Part 1: Foundations, Chapter 2: Prolegomena - An History Survey: Philosophy and Theology as Partners?; 13-39)

I find the analysis on dualism in this chapter very unsatisfying and like to explain why.

2. As with Spykman's Reformational Theology (1992), I enjoy the way some Dutch theologians organize their theologies around the creation-fall-redemption-glorification motif.

The motif is historical and provides an alternative to the traditional way of organizing the Biblical materials of systematic theologies around topics or loci.

In this Chapter 2, Gordon J. Spykman was out to oppose dualism and dualistic thought of various kinds.

I find his analysis very unsatisfying because in this chapter, Spykman ignored the foundational nature of Adam's fall and its consequences on reality.

I dare say that the vast majority of the "dualisms" Spykman enumerated in this chapter are consequences of the historic space-time fall of Adam's.

These dichotomies, antitheses, antinomies, dualities and dualisms are not illusions but are out there in the real world and are the results of the historic space-time fall.

The Fall has ontological consequences - God cursed women's childbearing with pain and the ground with thorns and thistles.

(Genesis 3:16-19 ESV):

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

3. Some definitions from Merriam-Webster:

Dichotomy -- a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities; also : the process or practice of making such a division.

Antithesis -- opposition, contrast.

Antinomy -- a contradiction between two apparently equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles.

Duality -- dualism; also : dichotomy.

Dualism -- a theory that considers reality to consist of two irreducible elements or modes.

4. Some dichotomies, antitheses, antinomies, dualities and dualisms enumerated by Spykman:

Faith and reason;

General revelation and special revelation;

Common grace and special grace;

Body and soul;

Nature and grace;

Christ and culture;

Divine and worldly;

Holy and profane;

Sacred and profane;

Sacred and secular;

Supernatural and natural;

Christian and secular;

Spiritual and secular;

City of God and City of the World;

Kingdom of God and Kingdom of the World;

Law and Gospel;

Inner and outer covenant;

Theocentric and anthropocentric thinking;

Facts and faith;

Dualism and monism;

Science and morality;

Fact and value;

Nature and freedom;

Reason and feeling;

Immanent and transcendent;

God and man;

Rational and experiential.

5. Reformed Christians in the Augustinian-Calvinian tradition believe in the sovereignty of God.

God is sovereign even over sin and evil.

God ordained and permitted the human race to fall into sin and thus humanity is divided into two classes: those that are in rebellion against God and those that are not.

Skypman considered Augustine's concept of City of God and City of the World to be dualistic.

I find Spykman totally unconvincing in attributing Augustine's City of God and City of the World to the influence of Greek thought (Spykman 1992, 19).

Augustine's division is grounded in the Bible -- the Fall of the human race and the redemption by Christ.

And in consequences of the Fall lies the origin of the vast majority of the dualistic tensions Spykman tries to overcome.

There is a descriptive as well as a normative aspect to these dualities - they are real but they are not normal.

These dualities are not "false" dualities in that are real and actual.

But these dualities are "false" in the sense that they are not normal; they are consequences of sin.

6. Take for example Spykman's criticism of Thomas Aquinas regarding the nature/grace dichotomy.

Spykman's criticism of Aquinas, following Francis Schaeffer, is basically right.
(See quotation of page 20 below.)

But Schaeffer shows more insight and puts the point better than Spykman.

(Schaeffer 1968, 11): "In Aquinas's view the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not. From this incomplete view of the biblical Fall flowed all the subsequent difficulties. Man's intellect became autonomous. In one realm man was now independent, autonomous."

(By the way, in his Bibliography Spykman listed only one work of Francis Schaeffer: Death in the City (1969). But with his heavy dependence on Schaeffer's Escape from Reason (1968) in this chapter, Spykman should have listed that book too.)

Spykman thinks that "[t]hus the directional antithesis between judgment and redemption as taught in Scripture was turned once again into a structural antinomy between rival sectors of reality held together in bipolar tension" (Spykman 1992, 20).

But judgment and redemption presuppose sin and sin does divides reality into rival sectors -- Augustine's City of God and City of the World.

7. Gordon J. Spykman has more to say on dualism in later chapters of his Reformational Theology (1992).

But I find his analysis of dualism in Chapter 2 very unsatisfying.

Rather than blaming Greek thoughts and Roman Catholic Scholasticism, Spykman should begin his analysis of dualism with creation and the Fall of Adam.

The realities of many dualities or dualisms that Spykman enumerated are consequences of the historic space-time fall of Adam.

Sin divides created reality in various ways.

Many of the dichotomies, antitheses, antinomies, dualities and dualisms are but the symptoms and consequences of sin.

Man's problem has always been sin or the rebellion against God.

Any Biblical analysis of dualism or dualistic thoughts should recognize the foundational nature of sin and its consequences.

8. Appendix: Some quotations from Reformational Theology (1992)

(Spykman 1992, 15): "As I look back now, I see clearly that such dualist outlooks involve serious departures from the holistic worldview and life-vision which is given with creation and illumined by biblical revelation. Such dichotomies (meaning literally 'to cut in two') create false dilemmas for Christian scholarship. They betray a misconception of the nature of the antithesis - a confusing mixture of the structures of reality with the conflicting spiritual directions present in the world. They therefore trouble us needlessly with false antinomies so that, looking out on the world as it were with bifocal glasses, we always see things in bipolar tension (body and soul, realm of nature and realm of grace, daily bread and spiritual bread). We are in fact led to think that this is the way things really are. We then fail to realize that such bifocal glasses cause us to read into reality dualisms which actually are not there at all. Such misconceptions of the relationship between theology and philosophy are anchored in underlying dualist misconceptions of created reality itself. They result inevitably in the loss of biblical single-mindedness in Christian scholarship. For such dichotomies violate the integral unity which is woven into the rich variegated fabric of the creation order as well as the religiously whole sense of what being human means for our life in God's world."

(Spykman 1992, 16): "Critical reflection on our Christian past forces on us, almost incontrovertibly, the conclusion that nearly all our basic problems stem from false dilemmas occasioned by a wholly dubious "Christ/culture" (H. Richard Niebuhr) way of addressing the fundamental issues of a Christian worldview. Thus we get locked into the enduring problem of a dual normativity"

(Spykman 1992, 17): "To help keep our intent and purpose clearly in mind, here are the issues of primary concern: a) as already indicated, the relationship between philosophy and theology; b) paralleling that, the relationship of prolegomena to the rest of dogmatics; c) the recurring problem of casting these issues into the form of a nature/grace dualism; d) consequently, the dialectical tension which arises from such a dual (complementary and/or competing) normativity; and e) the effect of these patterns of thoughts on life in the Christian community."

(Spykman 1992, 19): "Increasingly, however, the victor became the victim. The philosopher-servant became the master architect who reconstructed the house of Christian theology. Major Christian thinkers freely adopted Greek forms of thought to shape the content of Christian faith. The dualist worldview so typical of Hellenist thought was embraced as the basic frame of reference for delineating the contours of Christian theology (note, for example, the antinomy in Augustine between the 'City of God' and the 'City of the World'). Such dualist-synthesis approaches reflect quite generally the theological models which emerged from the early era of Western Christianity. ..."

(Spykman 1992, 20): "Earlier Christian thinkers had relied most heavily on the 'vertical,' hierarchical structures of Platonic thought. But now, drawing on the more 'horizontal,' cause-and-effect categories of Aristotelian thought, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) bequeathed to Western Christianity a masterful synthesis. While updating the ancient problematic, he at the same time projected his restatement of it down through the medieval, Reformation, and modern eras, and on into our times. Instead of the biblical teaching that grace renews and restores nature, Thomas, in continuity with many mainline early church fathers, held that grace complements and elevates nature. Thus the directional antithesis between judgment and redemption as taught in Scripture was turned once again into a structural antinomy between rival sectors of reality held together in bipolar tension. The end product was a split-level of reality, with nature as a lower and grace as a higher order. Nature, despite sin, was viewed as still basically good; but grace was far better. Philosophy, accordingly, was viewed as belonging to the natural realm of reason, and theology as the supernatural realm of faith."


Schaeffer, Francis A. 1968. Escape from Reason: A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Spykman, Gordon J. 1992. Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.