Some of the critics of 2k have created the impression that it is a radical or non-mainstream position in the history of Reformed teaching. David VanDrunenâ€™s recent publications suggest otherwise. Sometimes it seems that the debates are merely conflicting interpretations of history, with theology and exegesis, not to mention the churchâ€™s confession, waiting on the sidelines for their turn to enter the match.
Often lost in the discussions is the point that the neo-Calvinist understanding of Christ and culture is confused and confusing. Kuyperianism is long on inspiration but it fails on a number of fronts â€“ what is a Christian view of the election of 1828? or what is the Christian interpretation of As You Like It? or what is the Reformed position on national health care? The lack of obvious or even complex answers to these questions does not stop, however, lots of evangelicals and New School Presbyterians from appealing to the PRIME MINISTER!!!! of the Dutch Republic for justification to go out and vote, raise heart rates, conduct experiments, lobby Senators, and fix toilets.
The difficulties of neo-Calvinism have not been lost on other Calvinists. I do not presume to know where Geoff Thomas, a pastor in Wales and regular contributor to Banner of Truth, stands on 2k. I still recall and have a very kind letter he wrote to me upon the publication of my book on J. Gresham Machen. But since I only believed in the spirituality of the church then, and had not blossomed into a full-blown 2k proponent, perhaps Geoff did not notice 2k implications of my biography and so wrote a gracious note.
No matter his assessment of 2k, he did write a series of articles for Banner of Truth on Klaas Schilder, the hero of Dr. Kloosterman and often the standard by which 2k is brought up short for not having a Reformed world-and-life-view. What is interesting to see in this four-part series is that Thomas not only offers some pointed reservations about Schilder, but he sees similar defects in Kuyper. For instance, here is Thomasâ€™ take on the debate between Kuyper and Schilder over common grace:
Schilder opposed the concept of common grace. After man falls into sin life in a fallen world goes on and there is music, poetry and various skills mentioned in the line of Cain. Kuyper says that that is due to Godâ€™s goodness to all mankind, and is not that, we ask, Godâ€™s common grace? Is the phrase that inaccurate or offensive? Schilder does not accept the phrase but simply accepts that some men in the Cainite civilisation, as Godâ€™s servants, used their time wisely and others did not. Dr Jan Douma gently differs from Schilder in places, and, though he does not support Kuyper, he commends going back to John Calvin and his view of common grace. But the actual difference between Schilder and Kuyper in their attitude to the achievements of the non-Christian is confusing. According to Kuyper there cannot and should not be a Christian culture. Christ adds his particular grace to the culture of Greece or Rome as a result of common grace. Therefore Christians should not try to make a specific Christian culture. They should further â€˜Christianiseâ€™ Western culture. Schilder says that there should be Christian culture, for Christ regenerates people to renewed obedience to the original mandate and this results in a Christian culture. But what of all the work in which we are involved with people who are not Christians? Schilder states that we are building different pyramids, but are we not often co-operating with unbelievers in building the same pyramid, but from different convictions? Think of a non-Christian and a Christian scientist who co-operate together in a research programme and the publication of a joint-paper. It frequently happens. What of the two women in Matthew 24:41:- “Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left”? Are they not co-operating in the same cultural work even though one believes while the other does not?
Then Thomas follows with a comment on the small difference between Kuyper and Schilder, with speculation on the Dutchness of the entire matter:
Our concern with Schilder is that he did not go far enough from Kuyperâ€™s views. In practical terms there was scarcely a membrane between those leaders. The views of both men tended to externalise the doctrines of grace, especially justification and regeneration. Schilder shared in the judgment of Kuyper that the pietists had a too rigid view of the Christianâ€™s separation from the world. The Reformed faith as a result of theie convictions became more hollowed out. They did not give enough attention to the needs of the individual heart and soul. This lob-sided emphasis on culture was encouraging a Christianity that was speculative and abstract, rather than one that focused upon the sovereign, spiritual, inward working of the Word. Almost a hundred years ago Herman Bavinck wrote an introduction to a Dutch translation of sermons by the Erskine brothers of Scotland, and he said, “Here we have an important element which is largely lacking among us. We miss this spiritual soul-knowledge. It seems we no longer know what sin and grace, guilt and forgiveness, regeneration and conversion are. We know these things in theory, but we no longer know them in the awful reality of life” (quoted by Cornelis Pronk in “Neo-Calvinism”, Reformed Theological Journal, November 1995, pp.42-56). Those sermons are still revered in Holland today. Whether it was in the name of â€˜common graceâ€™, or â€˜Christ and cultureâ€™ the â€˜Christianisingâ€™ of the cosmos became the deeply optimistic enterprise on which both men and their followers set out. There is a triumphalistic note in Kuyperâ€™s Stone Lectures at Princeton on â€˜Calvinism.â€™ It seemed to be saying, “look what weâ€™ve done in Holland. Next … the world!” That is a fantasy. Twenty years later began the first of two world wars which came in quick succession, and the rise of Marxism and humanism which was to devastate Europe and make the Netherlands known as much for being the home of moral anarchy as it is for the European centre of the doctrines of grace. The drug culture of Amsterdam would have been something which Kuyper could never have envisaged. Yet his doctrine of the dreadful wickedness of the heart of man, the hostility of the world to Christ and his church, and the activity of the powers of darkness should have made him alert to the bleakness of the future.
I hope that by mentioning this fine series Dr. K. will not take it upon himself to open up a thirteen-part series on Christ and culture in Great Britain through the lens of the Banner of Truth. But if he does, he may also wake up to the possibility that it is more than a few kooks in the OPC or at a certain California institution of higher learning that have reservations about neo-Calvinism.