The Lens of Scripture

I continue to be befuddled by the neo-Calvinist claim that Scripture speaks to all of life (of course, in general terms, never in specifics). A discussion has ensued over at Matt Tuininga’s blog that is better than a previous one at Dr. K’s shop. Still, in both cases, some claim that it is natural and ordinary for Calvinists to claim that we view all of life and everything in the world through the lens of Scripture.

So to test this I turned to the Kuyper Reader that James Bratt edited around the time of the centennial celebration of the Stone Lectures. In an essay against uniformity (political, cultural, and religious), which I like very much and that resonates with a localist strain of American conservatism, Kuyper writes this:

. . . do I need to argue the point that all such striving for a false uniformity, the leveling principle of modern life, the demand for one people and one language, run counter to the ordinances of God? You well know the divine word, full of holy energy, that Scripture opposes to that striving: “Else nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” [Gen. 11:6b]. That all life should multiply “after its kind,” after its own, unique, given character is the royal law of creation which applies to more than seed-bearing herbs. That everyone who has been born from above will someday receive from the Lord a white tablet on which will be written a new name that no one knows except the one who receive it [Rev. 2:17]: what else is this but a most forceful protest against all the conformity into which the world tends to pressure us? (“Uniformity: The Curse of Modern Life,” 34)

So there we have the Bible as the lens through which Kuyper regards the problem of cultural uniformity. Though it needs to be said that Kuyper’s writing is not rife with biblical citations, nor are his invocations of Scripture, like this one, the most compelling exegetically. So I am not sure that Kuyper exemplifies what Kuyperians claim — that Christians need to look at the world through the lens of Scripture. Self-consciousness, epistemologicial or psychological, might call for a Christian to be careful about attributing his opinions to the revealed words of God.

But then Kuyper goes on in a different part of this essay/speech to state some notions that surely most modern day neo-Calvinists (especially those without Dutch surnames) living in North American would not support (even though I again laud Kuyper’s Dutch chauvinism as a way of resisting globalism and universalism):

Hold the Dutch national character in honor. Drive out our national sins but still love our national ways. Be true to your nature as Hollanders, ladies and gentlemen! Remove from your midst the spineless tendency to bestow extravagant accolades on everything that comes from abroad, and in your appraisals give preference to the things that are made at home. Uphold Holland’s fame in learning foreign languages but let there be no language you would rather speak, and especially write, than that splendid, rich mother tongue in which alone Dutch people can express what a Dutch heart feels. Do no just feed your mind with what has been thought and sung abroad but drink of the vital stream of Holland’s life also from your own poets. Daughters of the Netherlands, do not make yourselves ridiculous by being old-fashioned but also have the good taste and modesty never to present yourselves in a foreign outfit conceived in the capital of France by Dutchmen who no longer understand the honor and dignity of being a Dutchman . . . .

May the illustrious history of your ancestors be more to you than a monument to the past; let it be for you the current of national life that you feel pulsating in your own veins. Yes, just let us be who we are: Hollanders! — in every circle and sector of life. Though our flag no longer dominates the seven seas, still we shall regain the rightful influence by which the legacy entrusted to our people may be made a blessing for all humanity. Let the Dutch people, standing on the blood-soaked soil of our fathers, rise again from its grave. . . .

Would that God gave us such a national will — but then a will anchored in his will. While every nation is subject to the deep truth that it strikes itself from the roster of nations by devaluing its piety, this applies all the more to the national existence of the Netherlands which owes its origin to a religious movement. . . . Without religion there can be no patriotism; where religion is most intense, there the love of country and people is most robust: so history teaches us on every page. (42-43)

Kuyper’s appeal to Dutch hearts, Dutch minds, and even Dutch fashions seems curious from a fellow known for putting the anti in antithesis. If Hollanders have a Dutch heart or mind simply by virtue of growing up on the “blood-soaked soil” of the Netherlands (sorry Dutch-North Americans of the 1.5 generation and beyond), then what happens to the idea that Christian Hollanders by virtue of regeneration share more in common with Protestant Canadians who hail from France? Where are Brazilian Calvinists supposed to go for dress fashions?

But aside from this hiccup in Kuyper’s mental digestion, where exactly is the method of viewing the world through the lens of Scripture? Sure, Kuyper was fallible and made mistakes (as we all do). But would not a biblical perspective on patriotism call for important qualifications to such nationalism? To be clear, what is wrong with this excerpt in (all about me) my estimate is not Kuyper’s reveling in Dutch culture and history — even exceptionalism. A person’s attachment to his people, country, and land is basic to being human — that is, part of the created order. It is not essential, however, to being redeemed. What is wrong, then, is thinking that such an argument is the product of a Christian w-w, in other words, the result of some form of epistemological self-consciousness. I could imagine any number of Dutch patriots, not members of a Reformed church, seconding Kuyper’s call for loyalty to Dutch traditions. I cannot imagine that Kuyper’s logic would appeal to someone who regarded the speaker not as a fellow-Dutchman but as a fellow believer.

This entry was posted in Adventures in Church History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.