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RESPONSE TO HENK JOCHEMSEN AND

JOHAN HEGEMAN

SERGIO SAAVEDRA BELMONTE

(TRANSLATED BY ALICIA HINES, DORDT


COLLEGE STUDENT (USA))
Introduction
I am honored by the invitation to comment on Dr. Henk Jochemsen’s
essay. This is the first time that I have participated in an event like this
and as the date drew near, with Jochemsen’s work in my hands, I had a
growing fear that this might be the last time.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that, as a teacher, I feel


academically limited for the task that has been entrusted to me.
Jochemsen’s work has been developed in a field that is not my specialty,
the normative ethic, and little has been circulated in my language on the
topic of the philosophical perspectives of the scholars Hermann
Dooyeweerd and Alisdair MacIntyre.

I ask you to keep this in mind if you feel my comments are like the
clumsiness of a bull in a china shop. I say this because, as a good
Latino, I’m worried that the commentary that I am going to make,
which is more critical than evaluative, might ruin Jochemsen’s
friendship even before I meet him.

Work evaluation
The work is divided into three bodies of argumentation: a) the
presentation of a theoretical (and abstract) model of practice, based on
the field of normative ethics, and influenced by MacIntyre’s neo-
Aristotelians ideas, b) arguments on the moral formation of the
students, according to van Ek, and c) a didactic methodological
application of the proposal, something that Jochemsen calls “profound
reflection as central activity” in the classroom. I see positive and
questionable aspects of Jochemsen’s arguments.

The positive aspects: the construction of a “practice architecture”


or “social practices model” based on what he designates “a normative
analysis of professional practices” from a philosophical Dooyeweerdian
focus and the ethic of MacIntyre’s virtue.

The questionable aspects: From my point of view, he does not


really answer the principal question that motivates the essay. It seems to
me that he makes a large ethical and metaphysical detour, one which
takes us to a conceptual edifice—somewhat sophisticated—about the
professional practice, but which distances us from the path that would
make us confront the critical problems that face our societies along with
our students.

Foundation for my evaluative judgment


The question that this essay attempts to answer is: How can Christian
education help students to want and to be able to get involved—as
Christians—in issues that face our societies? The author points out that
in order to answer this question, one has to answer two other questions
first; in my opinion this is where he begins to detour from the central
idea.

The first question: to understand the practices


The first of Jochemsen’s two questions is: How can we help students
understand the issues properly from a Christian perspective? He is right
when he says that students “must get properly involved, on the basis of
a sensible analysis and understanding of the situation.”

But the instrument of analysis that he uses does not seem entirely
Christian to me. When he starts his analysis of the “critical issues” in
our societies, they are reduced to the neutral concept of “social
practices” understood on the basis of MacIntyre’s normative ethic. This
first reduction presents the problem of ignoring the profound evil and
sinfulness that is offensive to God who created said issues or social
problems. This author is practically unaware of this.

Although MacIntyre has contributed an academic base to the


Christian ethical perspective, by reinstating the centrality of the telos or
intrinsic finality of the practices, he remains quiet on the basic problem
of sin; but without considering sin we can hardly sustain a distinctly
Christian ethical argument. The Bible practically begins talking not of
the appearance of the evil in human beings—which includes Satan and
his lies—and with all this, the moral bankruptcy in that which is and
will be hopelessly ruined: his animosity against God.

From Jochemsen’s analytical perspective, the absence would


violate the underlying rules of the mentioned practices, resulting in an
incorrect understanding of the presumably “good” intrinsic end that
these practices would have.

As he points out: “The social structures reflect the orderliness created by


God. If this orderliness is violated, there are frustrations and problems”
(paraphrase). Therefore the proposed solution is that each person
should recognize the normative structure of the practice, both regarding
its constitution (the structure of the practice) and its regulation (the
direction of the practice).
But the apostle Paul warns that the problem of sin lies precisely in
knowing how to do the good, but not being able to do it. (paraphrased synthesis
of Romans 7:7-25) An interior force of rebellion, beyond reason and
will, drives a person, like a prisoner violating every kind of orderliness.

On the other hand, the “Christian perspective” from which the


issues need to be understood is actually the Dooyeweerdian
philosophical concept of reality.

Jochemsen is very clear when he explains his understanding of


reality. “The reality is structured normatively and social entities have a
telos, a built-in purpose, because they rest in God’s creative and
redemptive purpose and providence.” I don’t agree that this concept is
necessarily biblical, but rather exclusively philosophical-Christian. I
would like this concept of reality—to which the students would also
have to convert—to help me comprehend a social entity as old as the
military. Was it a human creation or God’s creation? Would the
American military or the Iraqi military have behaved more according to
the telos of God? How do we analyze, from this perspective, what
happened in the Vietnam War, in which the American military was
defeated by an unconventional military with tactics of war very different
from those of the West?

I am not trying to minimize the importance of Dooyeweerd’s


thoughts, but simply to point out that he takes us on a philosophical
detour which draws us away from the central problem that we now
have. Dooyeweerd’s Cosmonomic Philosophy is a closed system that
redefines the concepts and gives them new meanings that can only be
understood if one agrees with the premises of this thinker. In fact, this
approach does more than help students; it seems like it would make the
understanding of the issues that the students must face more
complicated instead of helping them. It demands that they make a
double conversion: to Christ in the first place, and to the mentioned
thinkers in the second place.

The second question: moral formation


The second question in which Jochemsen strays from the central
question is: “How can we equip them so that they can get involved as
Christian professionals in a faithful way?” At the same time, in the
second half of his essay, he reformulates this second question to sound
like this: “How do we understand moral formation?”

The answer will demand, according to Jochemsen, the


achievement on the part of university students of three educational
competences:
a) To comprehend the intrinsic normativeness of social practices;
b) To know how to relate personal faith to make it fruitful for
competent professional practice;
c) To know how to develop the virtues required for competent
performance of professional practice that express kingdom
citizenship.

As I said before, this continued reinterpretation of the original


question has kept us from a direct, biblical, Christ-centered orientation
for finding the answer. In the end, we are on philosophical ground with
indirect answers that may appeal too much to reason as a guide and
solution.

In reference to the first of these required “educational


competences,” according to Jochemsen, to accomplish an adequate
moral formation, I have shown superficially that the attempt to
understand the intrinsic orderliness of the social practices may be
accessible for someone who can master Dooyeweerd’s and MacIntyre’s
theoretical framework, but not for a common 18-20 year old student,
whose commitment to Christ does not necessarily bring him to
understand reality like these philosophers.

But, even if we were among intellectuals who were familiar with


these theoretical perspectives, I have the impression that we would
debate a great deal before reaching an agreement about the concrete
definition of the telos or the intrinsic normativeness of a single social
practice.

Jochemsen is correct about the second necessary educational


competence for moral formation. He comments:

We must recognize that in our own practice of moral formation,


and our use of traditions and our own experience are insufficient
without revelation. [Then:] …our being “in Christ” must influence
our assessment of ourselves … set free from unholy struggles for
power and status or a sublimation of our own fears… then, our
professional techniques may be exorcized of possibly false
pretences of “salvation” and become serviceable for care that
focuses on the advancement of the “good life,” as far as that is
possible in this broken and vastly derailed world.

Truthfully, our Christian universities must make an effort to


provide a professional “identity” based on the fundamental identity of
being a “child” of God. In Luke 2:41-52 we see how this identity, when
it’s well established, carries the child to confront the established
erroneous practices. In this concrete example, it was Joseph’s
responsibility to present Jesus, who was 12 years old, before the
religious authorities to be legally accepted in the Jewish community.
According to the Bible story, this does not seem to be Jesus’ parents’
intention in this particular trip to Jerusalem. Therefore, it seems Jesus
was challenging the authority of his human parents; in reality he was
correcting the practice that they did not carry out. This correction of his
parents’ practice evidently seems motivated by the unquestionable
conscience that Jesus had as God’s Son.

The third required competence, according to Jochemsen, is to


consolidate a moral formation which leads us to ask: “What are the
necessary virtues of the citizen of the Kingdom?” Since the first lines of
the essay, since the initial question, this is the theme that should have
received primary consideration, but up to now we see that Jochemsen is
not going to say much about this. Like they tastelessly say, “we’ll stick
with the headlines,” since there is no mention about concrete virtues
that allow a professional to face the problems with which we struggle,
except for some reference to the ones that are known traditionally as
liberal virtues: honesty, responsibility, etc.

For example, would Jochemsen include among these so-called


virtues the ability to lead non-conformist social movements? Would it
be considered a virtuous action for a kingdom citizen to provoke and
confront an illegally established authority?

I would have liked Jochemsen’s paper to go farther, to touch the


sore spot a little more. I must confess that my style is different from the
author’s and maybe that is why I ended up with unsatisfied expectations
after analyzing his answer to the initial question.

I do not want to minimize the value of Dr. Jochemsen’s work. I


am sure that inside the Dooyeweerdian community this essay would
have provoked a much richer and more detailed analysis of the thesis
that he proposes. Unfortunately, as I said before, I do not belong to this
tradition and all I have is second-hand knowledge of this philosopher.
This limitation of my own formation has made me ask the obvious: Is
the question answered?

Attempt to contribute to the answer


It would be irresponsible on my part if I did not offer my own
perspective on the question after critiquing the document. Personally I
prefer to seek direct answers from the Bible that I can then clarify with
scholars’ contributions (Christian or not). In this way I would like us to
consider some orientations that are given to us in Luke 3:1-20. The
question that we are trying to answer is: “How can Christian education
help students to want to and to be able to get involved, as Christians, in
the issues that our societies face?” In direct reference to the question,
this passage shows us the cases of two different types of professions
whose current practices were seriously in question under the Jewish
community’s ethic of the time: tax collectors and soldiers, probably
Herodians.

Let us imagine for a moment that the tax collectors in the story
were not full-fledged professionals but rather students learning that
profession. Imagine that in the middle of their career, they have a
vocational crisis because of having heard the controversial John the
Baptist, who was famous for confronting current hot topics, touching
the “sore spot” from his public platform near the Jordan River.

These students studying “tax collecting” probably chose this


profession because of its hefty salary. They chose it even though it
would practically turn them into traitors of their country since they
would be working for the Romans or for King Herod and would
economically exploit an already poor and oppressed nation. The
ethically controversial situation could be defined in this way: Is it fair to
collect taxes from a poor people to enlarge the glory of a pagan and
idolatrous empire?

These students, unlike their classmates, did not ask the


uncomfortable ethical questions and they were disturbed by John the
Baptist’s exhortations about leaving their unfruitful religiosity and living
according to the justice of the kingdom of God. What should they do?
How do they face this political-economical injustice from this
profession as citizens of kingdom of God?

This seems to me to be the main concern of our theme. We can find


some keys to the answer in this same book:

a) It is evident, like the case of the tax collectors, that professional


practices are the result of specific historical, cultural and socio-
political circumstances–there is no universally-valid
professional practice.
b) It is evident that the normativeness of these practices, and with
them, their purpose (telos), is defined by the people who have
political and economic power. In our example, the Romans
demanded that they collect a certain amount, but they looked
the other way and militarily protected all the abuses that the tax
collectors committed to benefit themselves. It results in a very
forced proposition that the transcendent normativeness of this
professional practice had been designed and proposed by God.
c) Regarding the system for collecting taxes for the benefit of the
kings, an extremely old custom, it is evident that God had
explicitly warned his people that it was a burden they could
have avoided if they had been faithful to him. (1 Samuel 8:14-
18) At least, one cannot argue, with a biblical basis, that it has
been a professional practice normed by the Word of God.
d) God, knowing that this is a heavy burden, continues to
provoke the popular uprising and in this way keeps his promise
of justice against King Rehoboam. (1 Kings 12:1-24) Therefore,
one cannot say that God is breaking his established
normativeness. There is simply no such thing. The human
being defines the technical and deontological methods of a
professional practice and God respects them (and uses them).
e) Nevertheless, turning back to Luke, God’s advice through the
mouth of the prophet is not that this person should abandon
tax collecting because it is inherently bad. Nor does it seek an
understanding of its internal normativeness or of its
deontology. As can be seen in many places in the biblical story,
God contextualizes himself, he descends to the exact place
where human sin has fallen, and he redeems it. In this case, he
re-sends the students to keep studying tax collecting and to
transform the professional practice in the process.
f) Of what does the transformation consist? Doing it in a way
that reflects that their conversion from the cult of Mammon to
the living, sustaining God.
g) So, to synthesize the answer to our question, it seems like the
best way to prepare our academic institutions’ students for
confronting and getting involved in the most critical issues that
afflict our societies, in their chosen professions, is to urge them
to switch from worshipping Mammon to worshipping the
almighty God. We must not forget that the love of money is
the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)
h) This answer has profound implications for the content of our
academic studies and the orientation of our universities’
research and expansion functions. “John the Baptist’s Desert
University” will create professionals prepared to face and
denounce the unjust and structurally-globalized mechanisms of
wealth accumulation and a generation of poverty, along with all
the evil that this creates. They will also learn how to create
production chains and alternative subsistence that favors those
who are traditionally excluded from the benefits of the great
academic and scientific explosion of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Conclusion
In summary, my argument is that Jochemsen does not respond fully to
the question and what he offers us as an answer is a theoretic
construction, interesting to a certain intellectual community, but
sophisticated and impracticable for the typical student.

We might get closer to the answer if we directly indicate the


“origin of all evil” and target the sore spot head on: the conversion of
our students and scholars, along with our curriculum, research and
extension projects, from Mammon to the living, all-sufficient God.

Dr. Jochemsen does not ignore this conversion. At one point he


says: “Personally I think that the predominance of the economic
perspective and of competition, in other words, the idolatry to
Mammon, is one of the principal issues that underlie a great number of
problems.” But it seems that he does not articulate this conviction
consistently in his work and he replaces it with a theoretical approach
that weakens the impact of his proposal.

Our institutions’ conversion from Mammon to God is not only


given a place in the ethical level. The conversion would carry heavy
socioeconomic, political and cultural consequences, freeing the
tremendous power of knowledge that is concentrated in Christian
academic institutions to “make the blind see,” i.e., to seek to serve those
that are traditionally unwelcome. (John 9:39)

But the assignment that comes from this conversion does not end
there. It also implies “to make those that see blind,” i.e. to seek to make
the human and spiritual mechanisms of evil and injustice evident. (John
9:39) This, without a doubt, will involve carrying a cross since it
presumes to confront the established powers, human and spiritual, that
define professional practice in terms convenient to their own interests
and who would not be willing to contract any of our graduates that had
this transforming seed as part of their professional identity.

However, in the light of the project of God’s kingdom and justice


of which we are part, do we have another choice?

Bibliography
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Internet Sources
On Dooyeweerd
http://www.freewebs.com/reformational/dooyeweerd.htm (All of life
redeemed)
http://www.arsdisputandi.org/index.html
http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000088/index.html
(Mystic Dooyeweerd)
http://www.members.shaw.ca/hermandooyeweerd/enkapsis.html
(Individuation and Enkapsis)
http://www.members.shaw.ca/hermandooyeweerd/Totality/html
(philosophy of the totality)
http://www.alwaysreformed.com/publicdocs/studies_in_theology/pri
nciples_of_apologetics_paper.html
(naive and theological thoughts)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/ (sites on Dooyeweerd)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/2sides.html (the both sides)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/law.html (the law)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/subject.object.html (subject object)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/aspects.html (Modal aspects)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/entities.html (entity theory)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/existence.html#entity-centred
(existence focused in entity)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/gm.html#mfgm
(four primary motives)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/bibliography.html#roots
(bibliography)
http://www.members.shaw.ca/jgfriesen/Mainheadings/Kentheoretisch
e.html (last dooyeweerd’s article)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/ax.html#DdR
(proposal of new aspects)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/formative.html (formative aspect)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/knowing.html (aspect knowledge)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/maf.html
(multi-aspectual function of the life)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/omgia/jt (lingual aspect)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/spatial.html (spatial aspect)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/economic.html (economic aspect)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/sensitive.html (sensitive aspect)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/juridical.html (juridical aspect)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/pistic.html (pistic aspect)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/ground.motives.html#rold
(proposed religious)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/sicence.html
(the scientific perspective of Dywd)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/thinking.html
(three types of thinking)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/functioning.html (funcioning)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/summary.html#subj.obj
(cosmonautical summary)
http://www.isi.salford.ac.uk/dooy/d4p.html
(Dooyeweerd in four paragraphs)