Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Politics and Prose

Byron Borger


By Byron Borger

July 21, 2014

Cultural Education and History Writing Calvin G. Seerveld (Dordt College Press; 2014) $23.00

Cultural Problems in Western Society Calvin G. Seerveld (Dordt College Press; 2014) $17.00

Those familiar with the history of the Center for Public Justice will remember that a sister organization with a similar name was also started in Canada in the 1970s. One of the legendary Ontario leaders, Gerald Vandezande, was closely connected to the scholar and teacher, Dr. Calvin Seerveld. Seerveld was born in the United States and although he moved to Toronto to teach at the Institute for Christian Studies, he remained an inspiring and encouraging voice for CPJ here.

Seerveld is a renowned multilingual Christian scholar, with degrees in theology and philosophy, and one of the world’s leading experts on Dutch philosophers Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven. His specialty discipline is aesthetics, and he is widely known for his rigorous work in aesthetic theory and art history as well as more popular-level books of notable genius (such as Rainbows for the Fallen World.) Seerveld has long been an advocate of distinctively Christian political organizations, and he has the heart of a man shaped by the God of the Bible, caring deeply about justice, about the plight of the oppressed, about the common good, and longing for a world in which war victims and refugees taste of the Bible’s promise of shalom.

Dordt College Press is to be applauded for the audacious project of releasing six volumes of papers, lectures, articles, sermons, and talks given by Seerveld, some quite old, and many developed since his formal retirement. These volumes are thematic; three are on the arts, art history, and aesthetics, and one collects together articles and sermons about Biblical studies, another huge area of expertise for Seerveld.

Although all of the books in this six-volume series are impressively broad and full of many remarkable contributions, two are of particular interest to the exploration of politics and citizenship.

Cultural Education and History Writing includes talks, papers, and journal articles about the deeper philosophical foundations of many of our most burning social and political issues and the call to be reformingly busy in God's world. The first part includes several pieces about what is meant by “worldview” and how the “all of life redeemed” vision and energy of modern-day Kuyperians can be unleashed for cultural blessing. Many of these first pieces are most directly about education (including some about the nature of higher education, and one about teaching foreign languages.) The second part explores small corners of this or that philosopher, allowing the Dooyeweerdian framework to guide Seerveld’s colorful, but careful, exegesis of various scholars. His intense insistence on a robust historiography -- a philosophy of history – is crucial even for those of us engaged in day-to-day citizenship work. 

Seerveld’s famous scholarly piece “Footprints in the Snow” is about how best to understand (or misunderstand) tradition. CPJ Senior Fellow Gideon Strauss, who wrote one of the two introductions to this volume, notes that this journal article helped him navigate his own faith and political views as he worked in late apartheid-era South Africa. Strauss’s introduction is one of the most inspiring tributes to Seerveld I have ever read; coupled with Doug Blomberg’s very fine introduction, they make this book a useful guide to Seerveld’s deep, wise thought.

Cultural Problems in Western Society also has a connection to CPJ with an introduction written by former CPJ Board member Barbara Carvill, a renowned Biblical scholar and philosopher with a strong following among politicos. This volume is a collection of eight papers delivered in Holland at a congress of trade unionists, government workers, and artists, supported officially by the European Commission. Carvill tells us that “the idea for such annual conferences originated in 1992 with the Treaty of Maastricht” – this was a few years before the establishment of the Eurozone – “in which it was first mandated that the arts and culture should play a fundamental role in the process of European integration and in the promotion of European citizenship.”  She continues,

What Seerveld presented over thirteen years in these eight papers remains pertinent for the second decade of the 21st century. Europe’s thorny problems, such as the treatment and place of minorities, the problematic practice of Enlightenment tolerance, or the question of Europe’s cultural identity are no less significant now than they were at the time that Seerveld raised them…

And this is equally pertinent to us as global citizens who care about the cultural flourishing of our neighbors, and who see important connections between policies elsewhere and our own contested politics in the United States. Seerveld explores matters of xenophilia and “human multiculturality” and has a remarkable piece on the history of “asymmetrical gender mutuality.” These developed papers contain a lot of history, delivered with Seerveld’s delightful gift for coining apt phrases, and they are full of fascinating insights, significant scholarship, and stunning footnotes, drawing artists into the conversation about good citizenship and the public good. 

I will soon review all six of these extraordinary volumes at our Hearts & Minds website. For now, CPJ supporters can celebrate these two books by Calvin Seerveld, a long-standing friend, artist, preacher, philosopher, insightful cultural critic and saintly provocateur, and a man of public justice.

-  Byron Borger runs Hearts & Minds Books. Capital Commentary readers can get a 20% discount on books listed here by ordering through Hearts & Minds.

“To respond to the author of this Commentary please email:
Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”