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Colin Duriez - F. Schaeffer and H. Rookmaaker

Francis Schaeffer and Hans Rookmaaker

by Colin Duriez
 
Published in Colin Duriez: Francis Schaeffer. An Authentic Life, Crossway Books – Wheaton Ill, 2008.
 
1. The first meeting between Francis Schaeffer and Hans Rookmaaker:
 
The meeting place for the Amsterdam conference of the International Council of Christian Churches in 1948 was heavy with symbolism. It was the Kloosterkerk, the church favored by the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers as a place of worship before they set out for the New World. (…) The ancient building (it was built in 1400) was also the setting for one of the most remarkable encounters in Fran's life. Edith remembered the moment vividly.
 
Leaning against this historic wall, a young art critic for two Dutch newspapers, who was still taking his studies for his doctorate, chewed on his pipe and thoughtfully began to talk to Fran about art. They talked about art and history, art and philosophy, art and art, and the time went by and the recording secretary was missing from his meet­ing ... a small blaze had started as two minds set each other on fire! It was Hans Rookmaaker's and Francis Schaeffer's first conversation, and Hans in student brashness had remarked, "These people in here," pointing with his pipe, "don't understand anything. But you and I, we can talk and understand each other."1
 
Rookmaaker, ten years Fran's junior and still an undergraduate, was not an official delegate, though it is likely that later he attended some sessions. He had dropped in on his fiancée to escort her home, a young Dutch woman named Anky Huitker. She was one of several people who had been recruited to work temporarily for the international conference. The event was a turning point for her, too, as she also got to know and become friends with the Schaeffers. Looking back, near the end of her life, she remembered:
 
I was helping in the office, and one night [Hans] came to the office to pick me up, and he saw there an American. Hans was very fond of negro music. So he said to me, "I go to that man" -that was Schaeffer- "and ask him about jazz music." Then they started to talk, and they left without me. They walked the whole time through Amsterdam, and they came home at 4 o'c1ock [A.M.], I think. They never talked about American jazz music, but they had all other kind of things to talk about, mostly about religion, and art, of course. I think it started the interest of Dr. Schaeffer in art .... Mrs. Schaeffer was there [at the conference] also, and she talked to me about the work with children, Children for Christ, and she got me enthusiastic for it, because I had for years a group of children coming to my house hearing about the Bible.2
 
As Fran and Hans Rookmaaker paced the empty night streets, crossing the frequent canal bridges and eventually going to Hans's student lodging to continue their discussion, they found a meeting of minds, though much about them was different. The range and depths of Hans Rookmaaker's brilliance can only now be gauged, with the publication of the six extensive volumes of his Complete Works, rang­ing from art criticism and theory, to learned philosophical aesthetics, to Bible study, to popular music and jazz. A deep friendship was forged that, not surprisingly, began with a conversation, like so much in Francis Schaeffer's life. The two men were shaped and enriched by each other's ideas and biblical understanding. Both had been converted in isolation largely by reading through the Bible with philosophical questions in mind. Rookmaaker's questions had been sharpened by his agony over the fate of Jewish people, including his close friend. At the time of the meeting with Schaeffer, Hans and Anky did not know of Riki Spetter's fate. They waited years before getting engaged in the hope that she would return. Later he and his wife Anky were to become members of L' Abri Fellowship, leading its distinctive and influential work in the Netherlands.
L'Abri was not even a dream in 1948, but the spiritual unity between the two men was real, potent with the future. Many years later, in his inaugural lecture for the Chair of Art History at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1968, Rookmaaker paid public tribute to his friend:
 
It seems to me a token, not only of our friendship but also of our spiritual unity, that you have come from Switzerland for this occa­sion. Since the first time we met, in 1948, we have had many long talks about faith, philosophy, reality, art, the modern world and their mutual relations. I owe very much to these discussions, which have helped to shape my thoughts on these subjects. I want to express my deep gratitude, and consider it a great honour and joy to be a member of L'Abri Fellowship.3
 
In a subsequent interview Rookmaaker told me of the tangible unity that bore so much fruit:
 
It was in 1948 that I met Schaeffer .... I was a bit dissatisfied with Dutch Christianity, which I felt was in some cases below what it should be, particularly on the level of personal faith and way of walking with the Lord. On the other hand, I feel that Anglo-Saxon Christianity really lacks the intellectual insight we have developed in Holland. In a way, what Dr. Schaeffer and I have tried to do is to fuse the two things, to make them into something new.4
 
He revealed more about that first meeting in a lecture he gave many years later while doing one of his regular summer stints tutoring and lecturing at L'Abri in Switzerland:
 
I came out of the prisoner-of-war camp as a Christian and with quite a bit of training in philosophy. After the war I started my studies in art history and began to wrestle with the problems of modern art which I traced back to the existentialist outlook on life that lies behind modern art. In 1948, as a young student, I happened to meet Dr Schaeffer. Humanly speaking we met by chance. At an interna­tional conference in Amsterdam I was looking for an American who could answer same of my questions about Negro spirituals, so I was looking for an intelligent-looking American, and I came across Dr Schaeffer and said, "May I speak to you?" He said, "Yes, I have half an hour before we start again at 7 p.m." So we went out of the building and he left my room the next morning at 4 a.m.! We just talked on and on. We discussed modern art and that brought us together. 5
 
It was not as if either the older or the younger man dominated the conversation. Fran had already looked c1osely at art and paintings hanging in galleries in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and more recently all across Europe. He was already convinced that somehow understanding art was an important key to understanding a society. Hans, in his turn, had developed a philosophical understanding of biblical faith. Whereas Fran was steeped in Van Til, Hans was so knowledgeable of Groen Van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd that he could discuss them with friends who were philosophers. Hans also at heart was a historian, who saw contemporary events as a direct consequence of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.
Francis Schaeffer had spent three months travelling across Europe the previous year, trying to assess the situation faced by its churches at a time of unparalleled change. Now he was back again and would soon make his base in Switzerland. He had learned a lot from his survey of Europe. He could give illustrated talks about it. Getting to know Hans Rookmaaker, however, introduced him to the soul of Europe.
 
1. Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry, 285. Edith's memory is mistaken here-at this time Hans was an under­graduate at the University of Amsterdam and had not yet started reviewing for Trouw. He was much older than the normal undergraduate and mature even beyond his actual years, having passed through the fire and waters of wartime, imprisonment, and grievous personal loss of a loved one.
2. Interview with Anky Rookmaaker.
3. Hans R. Rookmaaker, Art and the Publie Today, second edition (Huémoz-sur-Ollon, Switzerland: L’Abri Fellowship, 1969).
4. Colin Duriez, "Interview with H. R. Rookmaaker," Crusade, April 1972. A fuller version is published in "Interviews", in Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, editor, Our Calling and God's Hand in History: The Complete Works of Hans Rookmaaker, Vol. 6, 150-153.
5. "A Dutch Christian's View of Philosophy," in Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker; editor; The Complete Works of Hans R. Rookmaaker, Vol. 6 (Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2003), 178.
 
 
2. Francis Schaeffer, Herman Dooyeweerd and Hans Rookmaaker:
 
Because of striking similarities between Schaeffer's structural patterns of change in the development of Western thought and Dooyeweerd's, Schaeffer has been charged with employing Dooyeweerd's analysis without acknowledgment. However, Schaeffer considered that he owed no debt to Dooyeweerd, an outstanding twentieth-century philosopher, except for a single unnamed article on nature and grace. I was in the habit of sending him pieces I had written, on which he would comment. After sending him an article on Dooyeweerd's thought, tentatively sug­gesting affinities with Schaeffer's, he responded:
 
I am really not sure that I have much relationship to Dooyeweerd. Most of my thought was developed prior to my detailed contacts with Hans Rookmaaker and in our detailed contacts I do not think that what we exchanged had so much to do with Dooyeweerd at all, but simply our own thoughts which undoubtedly we have shared backwards and forwards to our mutual advantage for the 20 years. As for Van Til, I do not think he would appreciate being linked with Dooyeweerd at all. Van Til was helpful to me simply with his emphasis on presuppositions as such rather than anything detailed from his work. I think this is clear because he really does not seem to agree with the thrust of my apologetic work, although I know he is thank­ful for L’Abri and its work among the young people of our generation. Dooyeweerd did write one thing which was helpful to me. It was a very short article with a very clear exposition of nature and grace. When I read this it was helpful as I was already working in these areas in my own thinking .... Let me quickly say that I am not minimizing his work, or even saying that I do or do not agree with it (that would be another matter to write about), but rather that his work and mine really have very little contact.
I increasingly realize that really I have very little interest in theo­retical apologetics at all. Recently someone wrote a rather lengthy and involved study of my books and asked me to comment on it and I could only write back and say that really I had no interest in doing so because to me apologetics only had value in so far as it was related to evangelism. Of course I was thinking of evangelism in the wide sense here and not in a narrow one. In this same direction I have no interest ever in writing another book on philosophy after He Is There and He Is Not Silent. I might write short things, but the reason I do not expect to write another book after the trilogy of The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason and He Is There and He Is Not Silent is because from this point on it would become a more abstract apologetic and abstract philosophy and while I believe others may be called to this I am quite sure it is not my calling from the Lord.1
 
In the letter Schaeffer's reference to Rookmaaker is significant, as the latter believed that there were affinities between his friend's thinking and that of Dooyeweerd's. In a L'Abri lecture, published after his death, Rookmaaker says:
 
Dooyeweerd himself wrote a good and short introduction to his work called [In] The Twilight of Western Thought. In the first part of that book he asks the question how Western thought is to be approached. Is it really Christian and if not, what is it? Escape from Reason is Schaeffer's version of what Dooyeweerd develops in those chapters. They both talk for instance about nature and grace and about the influence of Greek concepts. Dooyeweerd tries to trace the various ways of thinking in Western history to their starting points. A start­ing point can be defined as the basic answers that are given to basic questions like: What is the world? Who is God? or What is the source of this world? The answers given to those questions color the answers that are given to all other questions. The second part of Dooyeweerd's book deals with a truly Christian approach to reality. Firstly it is basic to such an approach that we begin with a world that is created. Secondly we hold that this world is fallen, it is not perfect. But thirdly we say that this is not the end, there is redemption as Christ came to redeem this world. On the basis of these truths we can try to grasp reality and analyze how this world is made. Dooyeweerd then proceeds to give such an analysis.2
 
This apparent contradiction between the views of Schaeffer and Rookmaaker on the influence of Dooyeweerd is fascinating, and this book is not the place to discuss it, but only to point it out as part of the complex origins of Schaeffer's thinking. It is certainly true that Schaeffer's work does not resemble at all the usual writings of those who follow Dooyeweerd. While Rookmaaker was a self-confessed pupil of Dooyeweerd's, he developed his ideas selectively and in his own way (for example, in his emphasis upon meaning). He also drew on other Dutch scholars, such as Groen Van Prinsterer, J. P. A. Mekkes, and Abraham Kuyper. These represent a family of thinkers. For those within the fam­ily, the differences look great, while for those outside the similarities seem obvious. In my view Schaeffer was influenced by this family of thinkers, for example, through Van Til and Rookmaaker, rather than by Dooyeweerd's epic system of thought. In Schaeffer, for instance, there is no discussion of ordinary, pre-theoretical knowledge, so pivotal to Dooyeweerd's thought.
 
1. Francis A. Schaeffer, unpublished letter to Colin Duriez, June 16, 1972.
2. Hans Rookmaaker, "A Dutch Christian View of Philosophy," in Our Calling and God's Hand in History: The Complete Works of Hans Rookmaaker, Vol. 6 (Carlisle: Piquant, 2003), 179.