Workshop 5B politics

Tinus van der Walt – Being Salt of the Earth: A Lesson Learned from Stoker’s Approach to Christian Philosophy

As Christians, called to be the salt of the earth, we have an obligation to make a unique contribution in attempts at addressing the complex challenges our societies are faced with. But how shall we go about in making a uniquely Christian-difference? What shall our approach be in developing a “Christian mind”? Without some deeper reflection, the knee-jerk reaction might be an approach that is not optimal, or that may even prove to lay hindrances before our feet.
From a reformational perspective, the first step is to acknowledge Christ’s lordship over the whole of life and the whole of creation. As in Kuyper’s well-known dictum: “every square inch”. In this regard, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd understood very well that there is a salient pattern of thought in Christendom that stand in the way.It is this pattern that lies behind the knee-jerk approach I want to discourage; the one that manifests itself when the adjectives “Christian” and “theological” subtly becomes equivalent.

H.G. Stoker (1899-1993), the South African philosopher who was sympathetic to the reformational programme of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven, equally rejected the neutrality dogma. No sphere, not even philosophy, can be neutral with respect to God. At the same time Stoker held fast to some of the scholastic notions of his predecessors in the reformed theological tradition. This included a dual study field for theology, viz. God and cosmos, the cosmos for philosophy and the idea of differing (perspectival) directions as an attempt to solve the obvious overlap between theology and philosophy.

Being well-aware that his Dutch counterparts were highly critical of the nature and grace ground motive and its influence on reformed theology, Stoker always denied that any of the said criticisms apply to him as well. But the signs were there. As a result, a cloud of perplexity enveloped his philosophy. Nevertheless, a proper survey of his work and a careful analysis of the way in which he answered his critics can demonstrate that the nature and grace pattern of thought had a directive influence on his philosophy. It can also be shown, contrary to his own claim, that he did in fact follow a theology-based approach. In this approach, non-theological activities can only be Christian in character if it is linked to, based on or placed within a theological framework. The theology-based approach is a corrective manoeuvre aimed at undoing the implications of an un-biblical point of departure.

There is a lesson to be learned from Stoker, especially in an era in which the goal of inclusivity is often seen as the determining standard. Maintaining an uneasy balance between reformational philosophy and reformed scholasticism requires compromise. As one or two examples can illustrate, it is sometimes exactly the contribution of a uniquely Christian perspective that needs to be sacrificed. In order to realise the significance of this point, one only need to wonder about the difference Stoker could have made in South Africa if he had a more anti-synthetical attitude towards Afrikaner nationalism and the ideology of apartheid.

Key bibliographical resources

Coletto, R., 2009a, ‘Strategies towards a reformation of the theology-based approach to Christian scholarship’, In die Skriflig, 43(2), 291–313.

Dooyeweerd, H., 1958, ‘De verhouding tussen wijsbegeerte en theologie en de strijd der faculteiten, I’, Philosophia Reformata, 23(1–2), 1–21.

Stoker, H.G., 1957, ‘The case for apartheid’, Bulletin of the committee on science and freedom, no. 9 & 10.

Stoker, H.G., 1970, Oorsprong en rigting, band 2, Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town.

Strauss, D.F.M., 2015, ‘Dooyeweerd’s philosophy entails no support for Apartheid whatsoever’, Journal for Christian Scholarship, 51(1):117–154.

Dr. Monica Bouman – Responsibility and Wisdom in International Relations / Dag Hammarskjöld’s Quest for Maturity

This article explores the personal belief and virtue ethics of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld through a textual analysis of a series of haiku’s, written by him.  The haiku’s are part of his spiritual diary, which was posthumously published under the title “Markings.” In the summer of 1959 UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld was in his home country Sweden, where he wrote a series of haiku’s, which describe his life history and the years of his youth in Uppsala. As expression of his inner journey, a quest for maturity, the haiku’s reveal the inner identity of a world leader in the context of world history.  For the interpretation of the haiku’s reference is made to the socio-emotional development theory of psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, to concepts of the life of dialogue by philosopher Martin Buber, and to the virtue ethics by Church Father and philosopher St. Augustine and in his footsteps by political philosopher Hannah Arendt.

In our time there is an urgent need for ethical leadership and virtue ethics in international relations in order to solve international conflicts by means of negotiation, mediation and dialogue  (soft powers) instead of resorting only  to power politics. Dag Hammarskjöld was a man in a position of world leadership, who, inspired by his personal – Christian – belief, articulated and embodied this approach as the political role of the United Nations Secretariat. Because of his creative and authentic leadership as UN Secretary-General he became a role model not only to his successors, but also to many other leaders and teachers.


John Sianghio – The Sword as a Plowshare: Martin Luther’s Political Thought and the Role of Secular Authority in the Cultivation of Faith

For Martin Luther, secular authority is divinely ordained for the preservation of order. Thus obedience, support, and submission to secular authority are mandatory. This is the case even when secular authorities command killing, robbery, pillage, and even slaughter because this may be ordained by God as punishment for the wicked (SA, 398-399). Luther does grant that one is excused from submission to secular authority if one’s prince is clearly in the wrong. However he grants temporal authorities the benefit of the doubt when a command is dubious and still opposes rebellion even in such cases. He argues instead that such injustice committed by princes, or “outrage” as he terms it, must simply be borne without external resistance, though without any internal sanction (SA, 388). I argue, however, that the wide latitude that Luther grants to secular authority to govern issues of state and the obedience that he demands is unwarranted given his own emphasis on the development and protection of inner faith. The inner and outer lives of human beings are not as compartmentalized as Luther seems to portray them in his political writings. Rather, both “ordinary/daily experience (FC, 63; SA, 382)” and the Christian scripture to which Luther appeals to as authoritative show that temporal concerns certainly have an effect on the development of faith.

Luther’s account of faith and politics provides a naïve and reductionist account of how submission to temporal commands may affect the development of an individual’s faith. The scriptural discussion of faith taking root and developing in the parable of the sower, far from portraying a faith insulated from temporal concerns, demonstrates that faith may be profoundly affected by these concerns. Moreover, the experience of soldiers in warfare show that submission, even to just commands, may have an effect on the inner life that is far from positive. I proceed then to explore this connection through the lens of the soldier’s experience of moral injury as discussed by Nancy Sherman. Though the concept of Moral Injury was unavailable to Luther having been only recently developed, soldiering is an example that Luther himself deals with as one of the most relevant instances of necessary obedience to political authority.

Both the experience of the Soldier and the exegesis of the Scriptures demonstrate a deeper connection between the inner and outer concerns of the human being than Luther admits. In turn, this deeper connection seems to place additional responsibilities and restraints on secular authority than Luther wishes to acknowledge. Reading Luther under these terms implies that his political theology must be modified. If Luther’s experiential and scriptural commitments are to be maintained, it would seem that secular authority has not only the negative function of punishment of the wicked and protection of the innocent, but rather also has profound effects on the inner life of human beings and therefore bears responsibilities concerning the cultivation of fertile external conditions conducive to the development and strengthening of faith.

Bibliographic Information:

Augustine. “Letter 138: To Marcellinus.” Letters: Volume III (131-164). Translated by Sis. Wilfrid Parsons, S.N.D. Washington DC: Catholic University Press, 1953.

Martin Luther. “The Freedom of a Christian.” Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings,  Edited by John Dillenberger (New York: Anchor, 1962), 42-85.

Martin Luther. “Secular Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed.” Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings,  Edited by John Dillenberger (New York: Anchor, 1962), 363-402.

Nancy Sherman. The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of our Soldiers, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010).