What could Karl Marx have to do with reformed thought? That is what William D. Dennison addresses in his contribution to P & R Publishing’s Great Thinkers series. Adding to the existing volumes on Aquinas and Derrida, Dennison’s study of Marx examines the issue of history.
In constructing his version of history, Marx regarded the events recorded in the Bible as religious “superstition.” But for the Christian, the historical factuality of God’s activity as recorded in biblical revelation is fundamental. Often missed is the fact that Cornelius Van Til, in developing his views of epistemology, metaphysics, ontology, and ethics, strongly emphasized the self-attesting Christ of Scripture who is revealed on every page and in every recorded event. A Reformed engagement of, and challenge to, Marx’s historiography should focus on exactly this point: is biblical religion superstition or the supernatural lifeblood of human history? This question will orient much of our transcendental analysis of Marx’s position. Karl Marx, xvi
Dennison assesses Marx’s belief in the economic structure of society. In this structure, “production, distribution, exchange, and consumption” form the components of human relationship. It is through history that we can understand the interconnected and interdependent dynamics of these concepts.
History allows us to examine the productive forces such as labor that come in conflict with the current relations of production, which produces new modes of production. For Marx, this materialistic reading of history gives insight into humanity, society, state, and law in a continual process of development.
It is history, and not religion, that is the revealer of truth. As the opium of the people, religion can only obscure truth. How this history is interpreted is through Marx’s understanding of communism. Dennison writes,
The riddle of history is solved only through a fully developed naturalism and humanism coming to life in the material activity of history. Marx calls this “communism.” In this eschatological realm of material activity, private property will be abolished, labor in town and country will no longer be isolated and divided, and, thus, the separation between mental and material activity will cease. The communist revolution of material life, or the revolution of the working class (proletariat), will seize the means of production in order to change the mode of production. The mode of production will become the common, natural activity of universal humanity. Finally, humanity will be free. Karl Marx, 74
Dennison’s work discusses Marx’s interpretation of the fall, history, and eschatology while juxtaposing them to the reformed understanding of scripture as a historical text of divine revelation and providence. The work challenges the reader to grapple important Marxist themes, which continue to be worked out in our modern society.