Gordon J. Spykman on Liberalism and Fundamentalism

In an effort to better understand the relationship between the two strands of Reformed thought expressed in the Transformationalist and Two-Kingdoms Paradigms, I’ve been wanting to spend some time reading some Neo-Calvinistic writings.   Remembering that Nevada recommended Spykman’s Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics as a good example of dogmatics in the Neo-Calvinist tradition, I nabbed a copy for quite cheap on Amazon.  Spykman is very interested in doing away with the dualisms he perceives in Medeival and Scholastic theology, dualisms he believes are avoided with Reformational theology in the Kuyperian tradition (Bavinck, VanTil, etc.).

He does note that not every duality should be avoided, citing the Creator/Creature Distinction and the Antithesis.  These particular dualities, or theological distinctions, are indeed fundamental to Reformed theology.  I have a feeling that Spykman may go on to call some of what I call “couplets” or “dualities,” actual dualism (e.g., Law/Gospel, COW/COG, Christ’s rule over both the Spiritual and Civil Kingdoms), but he does make some good points in what I’ve read so far.

Here is a nice quote on the shared heritage and assumptions of liberalism and fundamentalism, something I’ve found to be very ironic over the past few years:

The sworn enemy of liberalism was fundamentalism.  Structurally, however, it [fundamentalism], too, shared the prevailing commitment of modernity to dualist thought patterns.  Only it struck out in a very different direction.  It could not repudiate completely the secular, the needs of the body, and some involvement in the life of the world.  But it viewed such entanglements as necessary evils, concessions made with a guilty conscience.  For at heart it was otherworldly.  It concentrated on sacred things, spiritual retreats, and mountaintop experiences.

Whatever their differences, and however furious the raging controversy between them, both liberalist and fundamentalist theologies were developed from within the jointly accepted framework of a sacred/secular dichotomy.  With this common starting point, they then moved out in opposite directions.  They are, nevertheless, but variations on the same dualist tune.  Very strange bedfellows indeed, but bedfellows nonetheless.

Reformational Theology, pg. 28.

It is always fun to note the similarities between liberalism and fundamentalism (what I think could be better labeled as liberal-fundamentalism and conservative-fundamentalism).  I do wonder if the key similarities between the two camps is more due to shared conceptions of “certainty” and “referentiality”, than about a shared commitment to the sacred/secular distinction.  (I.e., is it the right set of epistemological differences that Spykman is using to differentiate the two and/or is he focusing on more of an ontological category in noting their shared sacred/secular distinction.)

Nevertheless, so far this is an interesting read.  More blurbs to come as I get further along!


2 thoughts on “Gordon J. Spykman on Liberalism and Fundamentalism”

  1. Excellent… [said with a Mr. Burns voice] My powers are growing! [Grin]

    Seriously, I will be curious to hear your thoughts on Spykman. He is always interesting and provocative (definitely NOT boring!). It has been a while since I last perused his book (I don’t think I ever got through the last 200 pages). But having read Horton’s first 3 volumes in his Covenant series, I think there is a fair degree of overlap between the two (though, of course, Horton draws more on speech-act theory and the Reformed Scholastics).

    Indeed, my heart was strangely warmed reading of Horton’s dislike of dualisms :)

    At some point, I would like to get some of my neo-Calvinist scholar friends to read Horton and see what they think. I know that James K.A. Smith (a post-modern/neo-Calvinist philosopher at Calvin College) has spoken favorably of Horton’s project, and I would like to see some dialogue between the two positions.

    Anyway, enjoy!


    1. Will do! (Enjoy, that is!) So far I find him very interesting. I’m not used to massaging some of the categories in the way GS often does, so reading him takes some getting used to for me. There are times he’ll make some comment and I’ll have to remind myself that he’s probably not fudging on a point, rather he’s articulating it differently than a 2K approach would. It makes for a very enlightening read though!

      I tend not to be as critical of the Protestant Scholastics as is he, but then again, I find myself really attracted to Richard Muller’s and David Steinmetz’s approaches. Also, when I’ve read people like Turretin or Wollebius, I don’t find the bad guys that many do (not just GS, but also people like Jack Rogers and Don McKim).

      All in all, it’s very fun to be reading this. I’m glad you mentioned it it on that other post a while back. I’m also just glad to be reading a work by a Neo-Calvinist that is not about the debate between Neo-Calvinism and 2K thought; It’s really great to see how the approach is being worked out in the discipline of dogmatics.


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