Adam and Eve, Bowling Leagues, and a Case for Institutions

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I had an argument about heaven. My friend cannot claim to know much about heaven and to a certain extent I agree with him, but I had to do that thing philosophers do and file his argument in a corner of my head to return to later.

Our department deals with these contingent questions and rumor has it that two professors got into a fight more detailed than ours, one called and continues to call the other a relativist. Our conversation was similar: my friend does not like Herman Dooyeweerd, he finds him boxy, while I am moved to push aside the familiar to study with professors who follow his thought.  Dooyeweerd was a Dutch lawyer and philosopher famous for developing a Calvinistic theory of state and civil society when hiding from the Nazis during the Second World War. Active in Abraham Kuyper’s Anti-Revolutionary Party, and aware of the trend towards secularized humanism in Western Europe, Dooyeweerd saw the need for an updated, all of life Christianity that could combat the individualism present in possessive liberalism.  Most people in America do not know who Dooyeweerd is and that is tragic but understandable.  He is complicated and inaccessible but I think he is right.

My friend quotes Saint Augustine and Saint Anselm from time to time.  Anselm believes that friendship is the only relationship that will exist in heaven. I thought this incorrect.  If friendship is the only relationship that will exist in heaven, what is the point?  Are we not promised that God will do justice; that He will make right all that has been wronged?

In the beginning God created man and woman in the Garden of Eden and said that the two together, man and wife were the Image of God and He knew or chose them to cultivate and create, to fill the earth and multiply, to protect, care, and pursue the goodness he bestowed upon it. This creative, cultural mandate was given before Eve reached for the apple and sin came into the world.  Dooyeweerd held a supralapsarian view, which is a fancy way of saying that because the cultural mandate was given before the Fall, government and institutions are part of the Imago Dei; their historical unfolding was predestined and stamped as a good part of creation, not unlike the birds of the air and the rocks and trees.

Adam could walk over to a tree, break off a branch and start moving leaves into a pile. He could call the branch a rake.  He would know Eve and as time went on there were many children and a surplus of farms.  Some had land for fruit and others had land for raising cattle and the population was large enough that a family could send Johnny to set up shop where the Smith family could sell their beef and Sally could set up a vegetable stand next-door where the Jones family could sell their carrots. Business was doing well and Johnny and Sally’s children didn’t need to work on the farm and a group came together and put up a school because education was needed, and so on and so forth until the small group of farmers made a network and a city developed.

The Bible began in a garden and ended in a city—our institutions matter. Schools, businesses, bowling leagues, arts clubs, governments; each reflect the glory and character of God because they reflect the flourishing of mankind.  Institutions have a purpose, a structure or blueprint for functioning, whether it be the school which arose historically for the purpose of educating students or the business which arose historically for the purpose of economic transactions, or the family that has a biotic founding function for the purpose of love or care and raising children. 

These structures do not function to their full potential because sin is in the world. Business executives steal from their companies, families abandon their children, pastors have affairs, and government initiatives preference the wealthy on the backs of the poor; but we are promised that at the second coming of Christ the direction of our hearts and thus the direction of our institutions will move completely and totally for the glory of God. There will be full human flourishing and all that was wrong will be justified, made right, and then swept away.

We long for The Kingdom to come. Do we not pray in the Lord's Prayer, “on Earth as it is in heaven?” Can you imagine the day when God’s presence will be upon us; we will not need churches or the inspired word of God because we are His church.  Heaven and Earth will collide and all will shout with praise, it will radiate from faces, with colors and sounds, our institutions will be perfected; we the church will be in right relationship with God!  The curse will be lifted and the glory too deep to be fathomed. 

Augustine and Anselm spent more time in the Trinity and on ontological arguments for the existence of God than in the Dutch parliament and on the origin of institutions.  I agree with my friend that there is much that should be left to mystery. Dooyeweerd could be wrong.  It is not clear to me how his theory applies to the Third World other than that corruption from the First has plagued development of the Third, and prominent philosophers like Nicholas Wolterstorff are annoyed at the Dooyeweerdian social ontology, believing that it builds a humankind for the sake of structures and not structures for the sake of human kind approach.  But for me, Dooyeweerd goes beyond arguments of heaven and can speak to a lonely, post-Toqueville America. My friend and I can agree to disagree; he likes epistemology while I am interested in politics, so maybe like our professors I will call him a relativist. I think he can handle it.

-Courtney Kane is participating in the Master of Philosophy (Christian Studies) at the Free University of Amsterdam, working towards a PhD. She is pursuing a kind of 'compassionate liberalism' that can speak to the class divide in the United States and United Kingdom.  She writes for the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D.C. and graduated from Gordon College with a degree in Political Science.