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Archive for December 22nd, 2016

Either/Or….Two 19th Century Christian theologians, one or the other of whom dominates the thought of all modern religionists

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 22, 2016

Hegel or Darby

To be sure, there are some thinkers who have tried to avoid all entaglement with the outbreak of 19th century thought systems.  Whether these have been successful in evading modernity, let alone post-modernity, can be left as a moot question.  Various strains of neo-Thomism, neo-Calvinism, and neo-Traditionalism might fit the bill.  We are not trying to be exhaustive here.  But whereas they sung in that great 19th century satire Iolanthe “Everyone is a bit Platonic or Aristotelian”…the salient thought of Christian intellectuals and those whom they have influenced pretty comes down to these two Titans and the giants that sprang from their loins.

In the case of Hegel the giants are well known, since the descendants of Hegel captured the academy, the state, and the media in that order.  It has been said that the battle of Stalingrad was a fight between right-wing and left-wing Hegelians.   The left won, which is why modernity was ostensibly dominated by atheistic Sartre and theistic Kirkegaard (the controlled Hegelian opposition) rather than the ponderous Heidegger.  Likewise, as the left has consolidated its power over Western civilization, it is Gramchi and the Frankfort school who have come to dominate post-modernism.

Darby’s followers on the other hand have been confined to the evangelical and fundamentalist ghettos of post-Christendom, principally within the Anglosphere.   However Darby’s thought has long since broken free of the ecclesial cocoon  where it was first nurtured, and has become a grab-bag of inspiration for all who seek a more literal yet spiritual Protestantism, a project which has broad, albeit unorganized and unrecognized appeal.   It is precisely this contrast between the heirs of Hegel and those of Darby which makes them so interesting to compare.  Hegel got the intellectuals, while Darby (Franz Fanon notwithstanding!) got the wretched of the Earth.  Which of them, if either, is the true gospel, is yet a different question altogether.

The Great Divide

For Hegel, all human history is the outworking of revelation.  For Darby revelation and history are two different things, and the latter is understood through the former, not vice versa.

For Hegel, the “heroic” is a type and informs anthropology at periodic stages of history.  For Darby there are no heroes, although there were “men of renown” who cooperated with God prior to Christ, not with much success, and of course the God-Man himself, who was singularly successful.

For Hegel, the “end of history” is a point in the future where the possibilities of the dialectic will exhaust itself.  For Darby, the “end of history” can be located around 30AD when Christ uttered the phrase, “It is finished” on the cross.

For Hegel, God is more or less identical to the spacio-temporal manifestation of Being, with the conscious, or intellectual aspect of Being (a.k.a. human history), taking center stage.  For Darby, the entire spacio-temporal manifold is a creature of God, which the God-Man can penetrate into, as from a higher dimension or dimensions.

There are many more points of contrast, but that should suffice.


Odd though it might seem, Hegel and his heirs have promoted a very cozy, almost simplistic, mode of thought, which intellectuals are quick to recognize as well within their comfort zone.  Behind all the jargon it is basically “human beings talking about human beings” which has the seeming advantage of evading Divine judgement.  None the less, human beings left to their own judgement of themselves prove, apart from grace, to be the least merciful of creatures.

In contrast, for all the numinous terror of Darby’s eschatology, there is at least an antidote, which is the blood of Christ.  For while with men there is no forgiveness, there is always forgiveness from God.  But with Hegel the whole issue of condemnation and forgiveness fades into a haze, since individuals lose themselves in the abstract forces of history.  The post-Hegelian individual would seem to enter into a sort of Limbo, which probably seems like a very safe and warm place to the children of post-modernity.

Yet are the children of post-modernism really safe among the Hegel-spawned gods of our age?  The Marxists, the Feminists, the epigons of the Frankfurt school and of the French critical schools?  Or are these academic gods suppressing the truth about certain matters vital to the well being of their wards?  One of the most important facts which they have suppressed is their own lineage as Christian theologians, albeit heretical ones.  Their project, long forgotten, was to abolish orthodoxy in favor of a New Christianity, and now that they have been so fabulously successful, they have tried to stuff the very name of God down the memory hole.  They are doomed to eventual frustration, since the surge of Time can never wear down the Rock of Eternity.

Certainly Darby had many failings, both as a man and as a theologian.  Yet he is an important witness against modernity, even if he espoused a kind of hyper-modernity.  Hegel saw Napoleon passing by and thought he saw Christ walking upon the Earth, while Darby, half a generation later, meditated on the same emperor and could only see a harbinger of the Anti-Christ.  C.H. Spurgeon might tease Darby and his movement by paraphrasing the book of Acts, “Men of Plymoth, why stand you there gazing up to Heaven?”  To be sure many a fundamental Christian has been encouraged to withdraw from the fight “contra mundo” through the pietistic, if not outright quietist, strain in Darby’s system.  None the less, it would be hard for anyone to claim that Darby’s system was anything other than a system of fervent belief.

In brief, while Hegel was an advocate for Being and Time, Darby was an advocate for Eternity, albeit an Eternity to which the temporal world was related through a system of dispensations.  Thus while Hegel may or may  not have been an “anti-Christ” in the generic sense of the term, we are on solid grounds if we dub Rev. Darby (over Kirkegaard and all other contenders) the true “Anti-Hegel.”



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