One of the truly providential experiences in my life was my discovery of the rich heritage of Dutch Calvinism, the world and life view which led to deep and rich Christian thinking in politics, art, music, journalism, economics, and education -- in fact, in all of cultural life. Names like Abraham Kuyper, Groen van Prinsterer, and Herman Dooyeweerd were introduced to me by first and second generation Dutch-Americans involved with a Christian political organization I served on the board of in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Association for Public Justice (now, the Center for Public Justice). The blessing of that experience was the development of a mindset that rejects a secular/sacred distinction in life and seeks a unitary vision for life, and a desire to live a principled life of faith in the world, not removed from it in a subculture of our own making. As I said, it was providential, and unexpected, as I grew up in a rather unreformed Presbyterian Church in the South, knew no Dutch Christians (or any Dutch for that matter), and was not a particularly good choice for a board member. God works in mysterious ways.
This all came to mind today as I read an article by Westminster Seminary Professor William Edgar in Books and Culture, entitled "'Why All This?': Rediscovering the Witness of Hans Rookmaaker." It's a remembrance of, in Edgar's words, the "idiosyncratic Dutch art historian," a friend of Francis Schaeffer, and one also involved in the ministry of L'Abri -- that Swiss alpine Christian shelter for wandering, spiritually seeking youth in the late Sixties and which lives on even today. I knew Rookmaaker through his 1970 book, Modern Art and the Death of Culture in which he examined the latent (and absurdist) spiritual roots of modern, mostly abstract art. From Rookmaaker I worked my way back to his mentors -- first Kuyper, then Dooyeweerd -- finally giving up, overwhelmed by the vocabulary. Too much for my less-rigorous mind!
But back to Rookmaaker. Edgar summarizes his focus like this:
Arguably, the central question which characterized all of Rookmaaker's investigations was the problem of meaning. There were meaning structures in the world, which he simply called "reality." He believed that history has been unfolding since the creation of humanity and its purpose in the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:26-31. When artists try to rebel against the laws of creation, they violate its inner structure, and therefore end up in absurdity.
But Rookmaaker had hope, noting that the "ultimate direction of history is positive," and while "forces of secularization have taken over. . . . nothing rules out further progress and a new Reformation."
He was no stuffy intellectual, but had a warmth and pastoral spirit like Francis Schaeffer. He could "navigate easily from the study to the living room, from the Bible to the art museum, from learned books to real people with spiritual gifts and needs." How I wish I had known Rookmaaker or Schaeffer!
But, actually, in a way I did. In their books they mentored me, in my Dutch Calvinist friends I knew them, and in the many books published by Intervarsity Press (many tied to Rookmaaker and Schaeffer and others of a Christian world and life view), I met them. And even now in pastors who have been deeply influenced by their ideas or those of their "followers." Yes, I know them, and I am thankful.
Asked why he loved jazz music, Rookmaaker once said "because it put iron in the blood!" It sustained him, gave him joy, and challenged him as well. I recommend him. He'll put iron in your blood too.