Kuyperians and Theonomists, Say "Hello" to the Old School Presbyterians

I continue to be amazed by the decibels of hostility and venom heaped upon 2k. From bloggers like Nelson Kloosterman, James K. A. Smith, David Koyzis, Doug Wilson, Steven Wedgeworth, Rabbi Bret and the Bayly Bros., to your average and pseudonymous commenters at various Reformed blogs, many Reformed Protestants and evangelicals believe that 2k theology is either foreign because it is Lutheran or unbiblical because it exempts God’s law from part of life and nurtures dualism.

But for anyone who has spent time with Old School Presbyterians and Old Princeton Seminary, 2k feels comfortable like an old shoe, and that’s because one of the Old School’s hallmark doctrines, the spirituality of the church, is basically the Presbyterian version of 2k.

David Coffin, pastor of New Hope Church (PCA) in Fairfax, Virginia, recently preached on the doctrine of the spirituality of the church. A link to the first sermon is here. It is well worth hearing and filled with numerous quotations that neo-Calvinists and their theological cousins, theonomists, Federal Visionaries, and Erastians, have yet to fit into their schemes of denying dualism and making Christ Lord of every square inch, like the following from Calvin, who is commenting on Christ’s response to a request to settle a property dispute between two brothers (Luke 12:13):

Our Lord, when requested to undertake the office of dividing an inheritance, refuses to do so. Now as this tended to promote brotherly harmony, and as Christ’s office was, not only to reconcile men to God, but to bring them into a state of agreement with one another, what hindered him from settling the dispute between the two brothers? There appear to have been chiefly two reasons why he declined the office of a judge. First, as the Jews imagined that the Messiah would have an earthly kingdom, he wished to guard against doing any thing that might countenance this error. If they had seen him divide inheritances, the report of that proceeding would immediately have been circulated. Many would have been led to expect a carnal redemption, which they too ardently desired; and wicked men would have loudly declared, that he was effecting a revolution in the state, and overturning the Roman Empire. Nothing could be more appropriate, therefore, than this reply, by which all would be informed, that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual. . . .

Secondly, our Lord intended to draw a distinction between the political kingdoms of this world and the government of his Church; for he had been appointed by the Father to be a Teacher, who should “divide asunder, by the sword of the word, the thoughts and feelings, and penetrate into the souls of men, (Hebrews 4:12,)” but was not a magistrate to divide inheritances. This condemns the robbery of the Pope and his clergy, who, while they give themselves out to be pastors of the Church, have dared to usurp an earthly and secular jurisdiction, which is inconsistent with their office; for what is in itself lawful may be improper in certain persons. . . .

P.S. If Dutch-American Calvinists want to write off nineteenth-century American Presbyterians, fine. But don’t be surprised if those Presbyterians descendants remind you that it was the Presbyterians at Princeton that domesticated Kuyper and Vos for American Protestants. Without Benjamin Warfield, Abraham Kuyper and Geerhardus Vos would still be available only in Dutch.


55 thoughts on “Kuyperians and Theonomists, Say "Hello" to the Old School Presbyterians

  1. Calvin points to Luke 12:13 in his commentary on John 8 (in which he defends the DP for Adultery and other crimes) back to this in defense of why Jesus did not allow the men to stone the woman caught in adultery.


    1) Calvin recognizes properly Christ’s purpose in His coming in the flesh. He releases the woman, not because she is innocent, but because He does not have the authority to punish her because He is not the civil magistrate and has not come, this time, for purposes of temporal judgment.

    2) Calvin recognizes that this authority rightly rests upon the civil magistrate, which Jesus Himself has authorized for this purpose.

    3) Calvin recognizes that adultery is a crime that the civil magistrate should punish with the death penalty. This should be pretty shocking and hard to grasp for most “Calvinists”. Notice what Calvin says will transpire when this no longer is enforced. Makes one think does it not.

    4) Calvin recognizes the continuing validity of OT Law as normal for the use of the civil magistrate. A bit controversial in our day, but not something Calvin would have really thought much about in his day.


  2. Ben, Calvin upholds the law and thinks that the death penalty is a fitting punishment for adultery. But in his commentary on John he does not uphold the application of the OT law (after all, Hammurabi also sought the execution of adulterers). It would be odd for you to use this passage as upholding theonomy since Calvin elsewhere explicitly says that Moses’ political and legal arrangements were specific to Israel and that laws for other nations should come from the light of nature (they didn’t have Scripture) and human prudence. So the easy solution for you is to admit, as Calvin did, that God’s law can come from places other than Scripture.


  3. I’d just like to register an objection to the “decibels of hostility and venom” hook at the beginning – an unscientific survey of the first two links I clicked, James K. A. Smith and Doug Wilson, brought me to commentaries that registered qualified agreement with Two Kingdoms perspectives or language. And no vituperous vitriol. If Hart has reason to be “amazed” at simple academic and theological disagreement, then I’d have to say he stumbled upon this fact of life rather late.


  4. Ken and Andrew, say what you will about the decibel level, a constant theme in the opposition to 2k is Dutch Calvinist (specifically Kuyperian) in origin. And that hostility stems from the amazement that neo-Calvinists have to distinctions between Christ’s rule as creator vs. his rule as mediator, or between special revelation and general revelation. The notion of making Christ Lord of everything finds Old School Presbyterian distinctions between church and kingdom, or between spiritual and temporal affairs, to be downright hostile to Reformed Protestantism and inconvenient for changing/redeeming the world.


  5. Ken, now seriously, where have I ever written anything approaching the venom or hostility of your friends, the Baylys? I get is. You don’t like what I argue. So I am full of hostility and venom? Some logic.


  6. Or doing so without violating WCF 23.3. I mean, how could one subscribe a revision that deleted the previous language’s call to suppress heresy and blasphemy (i.e. “It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever”) and then turn around and suppress it, or suffer a person upon the pretense of religion an indignity, violence, abuse or injury?


  7. Zrim, so a Presbyterian congressman does not have the (Christian) liberty to propose a Constitutional amendment that prohibits blasphemy? You’d bind his conscience on this?


  8. Joel, that’s putting a fine point on it. All I’m suggesting at the moment is how one could subscribe WCF 23.3 on the one hand and propose something seemingly at odds with it on the other.

    But maybe on the other hand the two-level notion of membership–the one in American Presbyterian churches since the 19th century that it is not necessary for lay members to affirm the confessional standards as a condition of membership–could be a loophole, assuming our man isn’t an officer but an ordinary member. But on yet a fourth hand, I’m sympathetic to older British Presbyterian approaches to lay membership which was no different than that of the Reformed churches on the continent, which made no distinction between those who confess the Reformed faith and those who do not.


  9. Dr. Coffin spoke recently on the Spirituality of the Church at the Rocky Mountain Presbytery this past January. He spoke very highly of Westminster West and of Dr. Hart, Van Drunen and one other gentleman whose name escapes me at the moment. I was surprised not only to hear my favorite seminary mentioned in a positive light, but also of the resounding applause Dr. Coffin received when finished.


  10. Here’s an example of your niceness, Dr. Hart. They could be multiplied…

    “To say that the Bayly brothers have a one track mind would be to traffic in innuendo. I do not know them well enough to speculate on their sexual desires. I presume that as ministers of the gospel and as husbands their sexual passions are properly regulated.”


  11. Ken, how exactly is this unkind. On the surface, this statement affirms something positive, something that the Baylys have been loathe to do about proponents of 2k.

    Meanwhile, do you remember this expression of Have-a-nice-dayness?

    “On another note, see D. G. Hart’s recent argument that, in certain circumstances, a Christian could be for the legalization of homosexual marriage. Or Misty Irons’s similar argument of several years ago. There is a strain of 2K thought (and I am not saying all 2k-ers are there any more than I would hope a decent 2k-er would call all Kuyperians theonomists) that wants a purely secular state. In fact, Hart wrote a (poor) book in just that vein.” Ken Pierce, Warfield list


  12. What’s wrong with that statement? I have said over and over again how excellent your Machen work is. I do not think the same about A Secular Faith. Sorry if that hurts your feelings. And, in point of fact, you had made just the argument I mentioned –I only wish I had the link now.

    I really do wish you would return to your “first love” of historical biography. It is such a service to the church.


  13. Ken, have you ever considered that I learned about 2k from Machen, hence the dedication of A Secular Faith to his memory? A man who defended the rights of Roman Catholics and Communists is not exactly the sort of Reformed hero you have in mind.

    As far as your allegation about my views of homosexual marriage, surely you know that this topic was and still is a lightning rod in conservative Presbyterian circles. In which case, an allegation based on no evidence does not exactly accord with the ninth commandment’s notions about protecting the good name of our neighbors.


  14. I’ll happily retract that statement because I don’t have ready access to your writing I referenced over @ Warfield. You and the Lord know whether or not the statement was true. I’ll declare you not guilty in my court, while I hasten to add that a declaration of non-guilt and a declaration of innocence are two different things.

    If you are willing to declare here and now that you believe the legalization of homosexual marriage is wrong, then I will certainly go on Warfield, remove said post, and issue a retraction.

    I know you attributed A Secular Faith to Machen. Quite frankly, I think that the book fails on historiographical grounds. It appeared to me simply to be an effort to put all transformational thought in one camp by highlighting egregious abuses of the position. IN short, it read more like propaganda than history, unlike your work on Machen or your work on Nevin (even though our opinions on Nevin certainly diverge).

    Yet, you perpetually persist in mislabeling my views. I’m just a vanilla Kuyperian –and you surely recall that Kuyper and the Catholics coexisted relatively happily, indeed it was a coalition of the Anti-Revolutionary Party and the Catholic political party that brought the good Dr. to the premiership. Kuyper hardly sought to drive Catholics out of Holland. He did, however, work towards a Christian friendly body politic. That his experiment ultimately failed is no negative judgment on his efforts or motives.

    All the heat aside, Dr. Hart, more light would come forth if you would simply distinguish your opponents. Kuyperians are not all Dooyeweerdian, they are certainly not all theonomic. They do, however, see that the state answers to God, and to the claims of the moral law.

    I have no problem with yourself or others advocating for a 2K view. I do not think the way it is done is always helpful. I think that 2Kers make the same error as Federal Visionists do when they attempt to read their views back into history, and find them in Calvin, Turretin and others. Machen is a different case. I admire few men more than I admire him. I even agree with his libertarianism, for the most part. Yet, I see Machen speaking out on social ills —opposing efforts to outlaw private education in MI and OR and other places, opposing prohibition, etc. It is hard for me to distinguish those convictions from his theological positions. I would argue that, even if he were to protest, that those things cannot be separated.


  15. Ken, why would you assert what my view is if you don’t know it? Why would I not be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Is it because it agitates more people to oppose 2k if you can inflame the people in the pews with scary rumors?


  16. Not at all. I wrote that, I distinctly remember, after you had written something. I wasn’t surmising that it must be your view. I simply do not have at hand what you wrote that provoked that response.

    In other words, I would never assume you were in favor of gay marriage because you were 2K.

    I have attempted to ratchet the heat down and address the issue, so why do you insist on saying that I can agitate more people against 2K by claiming 2kers are in favor of gay marriage.

    So, why not make this easy, and simply say that you are opposed to homosexual marriage on Biblical grounds?


  17. Ken, do you have to tell me that you are opposed to blasphemy and idolatry (even though Mormon and Roman Catholic churches are present in your community)? Why cannot my standing as an officer in the OPC and someone who subscribes the Westminster Standards be sufficient to indicate my view? If I have stated something that calls my subscription into question, that’s one thing. But again, you’re not supplying any evidence to the contrary. So you are going against both civil norms of legal judgment and ecclesiastical standards of fellowship.


  18. Sigh. Again, I did not base my argument on an assumption about your views, but on something you expressed. Yes, it is quite possible that I misunderstood you. I am willing freely to grant it. But, please do not persist in stating something that is not true –namely, that I simply assumed you must be pro-gay marriage because you had not stated to the contrary.

    Reading through your rather obfuscating lines, I take it you are affirming that you are opposed to homosexual marriage in the culture, and I am glad that you have made that affirmation public.

    If my understanding related above is correct, If you would kindly give me the message # from Warfield, I will go and remove that post, and issue a retraction.


  19. Ken, it appears to be 33917. But are you serious about what you assume about 2k? Your comments at Bayly Bros. have not exactly been characterized by restraint in judging the soundness of 2k. Since you think my book was “wrong,” does that mean that you favor the integration of church and state? Or if you favor the separation of church and state, then what was wrong with A Secular Faith?


  20. Yes, alas, the internet is forever and I have said snarky things and sinful things –I’ll freely confess that.

    My thought on 2K is this –just like “transformationalism,” it is not all of one piece. There are degrees of nuance in between. I recently spoke at a conference with one of my best friends in ministry. He is a 2K guy, but I would locate him more towards the middle of the spectrum. I think that I would be more towards the middle of the spectrum than certainly a Doug Wilson or a Joe Morecraft. I am on a different plane altogether than the “Christ of Culture” sorts of transformationalism among the urban hipster PCA world.

    That said, I guess I see a lot of good in Kuyper, and in the fruit of Kuyperianism. There a separation of spheres in Kuyper, but each sphere is accountable to God to do what it is supposed to do. I think some 2Kers would readily affirm that. Some would stake their claim solely on natural revelation, and I think that is a mistake. I think some transformationalists err when they assume the state can legislate matters of heart religion.

    Most Reformed thinkers I read, from some of the English Reformation martyrs through the present, want the affairs of church and state separate. That, however, is altogether a different thing from insisting that the state is a God-free zone.

    I am glad we both seem to be able to ratchet down the rhetoric and converse more civilly, and I ask your forgiveness for when I have not done that.


  21. Actually, in 33901, I stated (shortly after the initial post) that I did not have the evidence to make that claim. So, I already retracted it. I will delete the initial post, but it still will appear on the “reply” postings, alas.


  22. Ken, Thanks. I don’t know of any 2ker who asserts a God-free zone. I do know that lots of people identify their own predilections about morality as the God-filled zone, so that if someone disagrees, they must favor liberation from God. I’d think you’d be aware of the problem given your respect for Machen. He was, after all, accused of favoring a God-free society because he did not support Prohibition.


  23. From the American revised Confession of Faith (copied and pasted from the OPC’s website):

    “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers.” (23.1)


    1. Who has ordained civil magistrates?
    2. Under whom are civil magistrates?
    3. What are the ends of magistracy? (Hint: there’s two of them.)
    4. What are the means to these ends, to effect which magistrates are “armed with the power of the sword”? (Hint: two of them, again.)
    5. How are “good” and “evil” to be defined without recourse to the special revelation (rather than merely general revelation) of Holy Scripture, if such has been afforded to said magistrates?


  24. Ken,

    I’m not sure that I understand your references to same-sex marriage. You seem to suggest that if one supports extending the legal benefits of civil marriage to same-sex couples, then that same person must also be saying that sodomy is not a sin. I think that your logic fails on that point. After all, I firmly believe that gluttony is a sin. Moreover, it is well established that when two gluttons marry, their gluttony is unlikely to subside (and will often even get worse). But because gluttony is not a criminal act (even though it is a sinful act), I do not believe that the state has any legitimate interest in denying the benefits of civil marriage to two gluttons. The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that its criminal laws are not violated; it has no legitimate interest in ensuring that we all grow up to be more virtuous people in the eyes of the Lord.

    In my view, same-sex marriage is analogous. There’s nothing criminal about sodomy; it’s just a sin, as is gluttony. So, I don’t see that the state has any legitimate interest in denying the rights of civil marriage to a couple based merely upon moral disapproval of the relationship unless the state can show that such a denial furthers its ability to enforce its criminal statutes.

    Which leaves me wondering why you and your buds, the Baylys, persist in condemning Christians who have no objection to civil same-sex marriage. Do you really believe that the state should be handing out marriage licenses based on an assessment by a state bureaucrat that the particular relationship is morally appropriate? Or is your opposition to civil same-sex marriage just a back-handed way of trying to recover some of the accoutrements of the antisodomy laws of old (which have been repealed in all 50 states)?


  25. Bob,

    So, assuming the state did not have a law prohibiting brother and sister to marry, you would be fine with the state sanctioning such unions (since, in this case, there would be no criminal statute on point)?


  26. Yes, Bob, I think that marriage is a common grace ordinance, given to all people, not just Christians, and a fundamental building block of society therefore. If it is not protected by the state, it crumbles. We could argue chicken and egg here, but it seems to me that part and parcel to the crumbling of marriage in the west, things like liberal divorce laws are at least partly to blame.

    It is amazing to me how some Christians can say things are both right and wrong –like homosexual marriage.

    Thanks, too, for the little guilt by association dig. How is it relevant whether or not I am friends with the Bayly boys?


  27. Kane,

    All 50 states do have criminal laws that forbid incest. Therefore, the state is justified in refusing to grant marriage licenses between brother and sister. I assume that all 50 states have such laws because it is the general judgment of society that incest is wrong. In contrast, no state currently criminalizes sodomy.


  28. So, social contract is the only basis for legislated morality? That’s very shaky ground. ON that ground, what “is” is what “ought,” and you can never oppose anything.

    Because a state doesn’t criminalize sodomy that means a state shouldn’t? (and I am pretty sure it is still on the books in several places, just not enforced).


  29. Bob,

    First, you are dead wrong that no state criminalizes sodomy. For example, see Alabama Code §13A-6-63. I am confident that many other states have similar laws.

    Second, did you not read the word “assuming” in my initial question? You have just cut the legs out from your own argument. If a state can conclude that consanguinuity is a rational basis for denying marriage, can it not also do the same for sexual orientation?

    The point is this: the state often has plenty of reasons apart from biblical revelation for concluding something is malum in se.


  30. From that same Confession of Faith from which I quoted previously:

    “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time” (24.1)

    “Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the Word. Nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife” (24.4).

    1. Do you really think that the Confession is here saying that incestuous marriages CANNOT “ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties,” but that same-sex marriages CAN?
    2. Admitting that marriage is a creation ordinance and revealed by the light of nature; if nations are, in the judgment of God (Rom. 1) so blinded that they can’t even see the light of nature on this subject anymore, are we as Christians to recognize their prostitution of this divine ordinance as “marriage?”


  31. Darryl, neotwokingdoms is your and VanDrunen’s view of “two-kingdoms,” as opposed to the paleo-twokingdoms view, such as Luther’s and Calvin’s.
    Sorry, but the shoe fits, so you’re wearing it whether you realize or not.


  32. Baus, have you read any Old Schoolers or have the Dutch hackers wiped them off your hard drive? If you ever read the Old School you’d not say that this view is VanDrunen’s or mine. Plus, the spirituality of the church doctrine is more historic than Kuyperianism.


  33. My point is that fellows like Coffin and neocalvinists can and do consistently affirm the spirituality of the church and reject your and VanDrunen’s view of the two-kingdoms.


  34. Baus, if you listen to both sermons, he mentions VanDrunen and me by name and says we are some of those who are welcomely responsible for recovering the spirituality of the church. I’ve had enough negative remarks about my views to know when someone says something favorable.


  35. I’ve heard Coffin speak to the issue previously. I’ll listen this Lordsday.
    Perhaps he’s changed his view? I’ll find out.

    [audio src="http://media.sermonsonline.com/nhpca_43694_32K.mp3" /]
    [audio src="http://media.sermonsonline.com/nhpca_43695_32K.mp3" /]


  36. Darryl, listen carefully and you will notice that Coffin continues to affirm that the “this worldly” callings of Christians are yet sacred and may be done Christianly. Thus, as I said, he rejects your and VanDrunen’s “neo-twokingdom” view.

    Believing in separation of church and state is not, as Coffin also says, to say that religion is removed from politics or culture.

    Of course, according to your categories, that’s nonsense, right?


  37. Baus, “religion is removed from politics or culture”? Is that what you think 2k is? What about vocation? What about church authority? And if church and state are separate, then how is religion not separate from politics?

    But you still haven’t conceded that Coffin credits DVD and me with recovering the spirituality of the church through the doctrine of 2k. That conflicts with your many assertions to the contrary.


  38. Darryl, yes, you’re right. Though he hadn’t in the past, in that sermon and evening discussion Coffin does identify spirituality of the church and two-kingdoms (which he equates with separation of church and state). And he certainly credits you and VanDrunen.

    [ On the other hand, my assertion was that Coffin is not in favor of the neotwokingdoms view. One thing that, in part, makes your and VanDrunen’s view “neo” is exclusive identification of ‘Christian’ with the church. Coffin rejects that. You might ask Coffin your question: if church and state are separate, then how is religion not separate from politics? ]


  39. Baus, where does Coffin reject the idea that Christianity is found in the church? How is something or someone a Christian apart from the church? Are you becoming one of those Jesus-in-my-heart Christians? Or is this what neo-Calvinism leads to? Obama is a Christian president and every member ministry?


  40. Darryl, it’s not that Christianity is not found in the church, nor that one is a Christian apart from the church, but that one can act Christianly in this-worldly matters, in one’s vocation. Christianity has meaning for ones understanding of culture and for ones cultural activity. You have denied this, haven’t you?


  41. Baus, whatever my answer, it would be hard to find Coffin rejecting points that I have argued. And that was what you first came on asserting.

    As to answers, I believe that Christians act in the world. I do not know the adverb for Christian is. How does a plumber plumb Christianly? I know it’s an old question. But I still haven’t seen an answer. What I do detect is a lot of inspiration bordering on hot air to help Christians think THEY are really making a difference when I’d think they should be thinking that CHRIST made all the difference.


  42. WOW, I have read some bad interpretations, but something this ridiculous, and from Calvin?, is worth commenting on. It seems to me, that it is clearly the point of the parable of the rich fool to answer this situation of the brother asking for the inheritance to be split. The issue behind the man’s request was one of covetousness (Luke 12:15), which Jesus so aptly points out. The man was a fool because he wanted to hoard the inheritance, like the rich fool did his riches, all for himself. But our Lord gives us riches not so we can hoard them, but so we can invest them for the kingdom. It is in this way that one lays up treasures in heaven and is rich toward God. The opposite is being rich toward self, which is covetousness, which is idolatry and poor stewardship.


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