I Thought Canadians Were Smarter than This

But w-w seems to obscure the clarity that comes with distinguishing between the heavenly and the earthly.

Over at the Cardus Blog, Doug Sikkema employs Wendell Berry with a view toward a higher estimate of the environment. He goes as far as to liken the earth to a sacrament:

Religion is an elusive term. Bron Taylor, author of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, has traced the term’s origins to Roman rituals (religio) and sacrifices (sacra), and to the Latin leig, meaning “to bind fast”—definitions which place religion in opposition to mystical beliefs (superstitio). If religion, then, is concerned with unifying actions as well as unifying beliefs, it coincides nicely with Berry’s notion of caritas, a love that extends to creatures and the land. Also, this love is not meant to be abstract, but particularly applied to actual places and creatures within our purview.

. . . [Berry believes that] the Bible, read deeply and sympathetically, gives powerful support to appreciating the world’s sanctity. One of Berry’s strengths in this regard is to go beyond the conventional discussions of stewardship towards a sacramental vision of the environment. In “The Gift of Good Land” he writes: “[T]o live we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully reverently, it is a sacrament.” Berry is not asking us to run from use, but to exercise discretion and self-restraint and to recognize the necessary limitations we face as creatures in a fallen world.

I don’t object to Berry‘s critique of the industrial economy nor to Sikkema’s effort to prompt Christians to think of their responsibilities to planet earth as stewards. What does concern me is a blurring of the spiritual and temporal that apparently elevates creation care to the Lord’s Supper (remember the quote from Belgic 35).

I would argue that Abraham Kuyper turned neo-Calvinists down that path when he likened every vocation to a sacred obligation:

Thus domestic life regained its independence, trade and commerce realized their strength in liberty, art and science were set free from every ecclesiastical bond and restored to their own inspirations, and man began to understand the subjection of all nature with its hidden forces and treasures to himself as a holy duty, imposed upon him by the original ordinances of Paradise : “Have dominion over them.” Henceforth the curse
should no longer rest upon the world itself, but upon that which is sinful in it, and instead of monastic flight from the world the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life. (Lectures on Calvinism, 30)

Which makes the frequent charge that folks who distinguish the temporal from the spiritual are fundamentalists. Kuyperianism strikes me as a form of fundamentalism that instead of drawing the line between the movies and worship, draws the line between all legitimate activities and sin (such as prostitution, theft, card-playing, theater, and dance). Neither fundamentalists nor Kuyperians make room for those earthly activities that are common, basic, and ordinary, neither holy nor profane, the things that sustain pilgrims on earth who await a heavenly home.

Postscript: Here is Kuyper’s brief against cards, theater, and dance (in case you think I was taking a cheap shot):

. . . scarcely had Calvinism been firmly established in the Netherlands for a quarter of a century when there was a rustling of life in all directions, and an indomitable energy was fermenting in every department of human activity, and their commerce and trade, their handicrafts and industry, their agriculture and horticulture, their art and science, flourished with a brilliancy previously unknown, and imparted a new impulse for an entirely new development of life, to the whole of Western Europe.

This admits of only one exception, and this exception I wish both to maintain and to place in its proper light. What I mean is this. Not every intimate intercourse with the unconverted world is deemed lawful, by Calvinism, for it placed a barrier against the too unhallowed influence of this world by putting a distinct “veto” upon three things, card playing, theatres, and dancing — three forms amusement. . . (74-75)


9 thoughts on “I Thought Canadians Were Smarter than This

  1. Culture calvinists have “vocations”, the rest of us have jobs.

    Christendom churches have “Christian families”, the rest of us have some relatives who have been effectually called by the power of the gospel.

    Romans 9: 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenantS, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are imputed as the children….


  2. I’ve been lurking for a few months and haven’t been able to figure out what “w-w” refers to — can someone clue me in, please?


  3. “Sacramental”?
    Is Berry a papist?
    The latter often talk about a sacramental/eucharistic view of life/reality/creation, whatever that means.
    IMO it is just a bunch of mystic schtick to confuse people all the while it sounds real pious.

    The reformed from Perkins and Ames through Dabney and Kuyper(?) opposed the big three vain and idle amusements.
    Not so the reformed today.
    Neither do the (grimace) “don’t smoke, dance, drink . . .” fundamentalists.

    MMcC, 1 you’re off topic.
    2. I know it’s the OT, but Genesis 17:7 reads:  
    And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.

    Likewise Rom. 4:11 says circumcision is a seal of the righteousness by faith that Abraham had. The question then becomes, what business did Abraham have applying that seal to his household?
    IOW God is pleased that the line of election runs in the loins of believers. Not exclusively by any means, but the covenant is taught in Scripture, however much baptist theology ignores it.



  4. Not every intimate intercourse with the unconverted world is deemed lawful, by Calvinism, for it placed a barrier against the too unhallowed influence of this world by putting a distinct “veto” upon three things, card playing, theatres, and dancing

    Awww maaaaann! Big Dog Kuyp says I shouldn’t do card playing, and dance!?!

    Oh well, there goes playing Uno with my kids, their school plays, and their dance recitals!

    What will we do with all that spare time? I guess it gives us more time to transform our culture.


  5. The Christian Reformed Church: A Familiar Trajectory?

    By Laura Smit

    When I saw R. Scott Clark’s blog posts about some recent Banner articles (here: http://goo.gl/AC204o and here: http://goo.gl/NEKoUi), I decided I had better get caught up. What I’ve discovered is a very discouraging fiasco. Why is it that confessional Reformed folks are so often entranced by liberalism? Why does the surrender of ethical and confessional standards look so appealing to people raised in the CRC?

    I know something about trying to live out a Reformed identity without recognizing the normative value of our confessional tradition. Just over a year ago, I left the Presbyterian Church (USA), the denomination I had loved and served since 1987 and in which all my pastoral work has been exercised. The PCUSA has grown more liberal in many ways over the past decades, and it was becoming more and more difficult for me to remain a member of this denomination with integrity. In the summer of 2012, I transferred my ordination from the PCUSA to a new denomination, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. (Our website is here: http://eco-pres.org/.)

    The PCUSA likes to think of itself as “a big tent,” in which a variety of theological approaches and moral views are accepted. The problem is that such “tolerance” only works for those who think that matters of theology and ethics are relative and contextual, in which case it makes perfect sense to be accepting of those with whom one disagrees. The only people who are not welcome in the big tent are those who reject a relative view of theology and ethics, who believe that the Bible and our Reformed confessions continue to speak authoritatively to questions of faith and practice and that the denomination should be held accountable to those standards. The relativists will say to such non-relativists, “Of course you’re welcome here, but you need to be as accepting of us as we are of you,” refusing to recognize that requiring non-relativists to become relativists isn’t really accepting their position on anything at all.

    I was raised in the Christian Reformed Church and educated at Calvin College and Calvin Seminary. I became a member of the Calvin College faculty in 1999, and in 2003, when I became the college’s Dean of the Chapel (a position that no longer exists), I was ordained into the ministry of the CRC (while still retaining my Presbyterian ordination). I’m part of the CRC. But the current state of conversation in the CRC about theology, about cultural engagement, and specifically about sexual ethics exasperates me, because I hear us making the same mistakes that the PCUSA made before us.

    Some of my friends in the CRC seem to think that this would be a good thing. They speak to me with wistful longing about the “freedom” of the PCUSA. This is a romantic vision that is unrelated to the truth. The PCUSA is not a place of freedom, but a place of chaos, lacking any clear direction, and losing members at an alarming rate. It is a denomination without a spiritual or theological center that is unequipped either to offer sustenance to its members or to proclaim the gospel to the world. There are faithful pastors and congregations within the PCUSA, many of whom are my dear friends, but they are working in a difficult mission field, and their situation should not be envied.

    The CRC has resources in our confessional heritage to keep us from falling into this same situation. We need to regroup around them. As long as we insist on defining the Reformed tradition as nothing more than “engagement with culture” we are destined to end up following the PCUSA in its descent into irrelevance. The Reformed tradition is not simply a posture of engagement toward the world (which is what passes for the Kuyperian vision in many parts of the CRC). It is a theological and confessional tradition that has real, objective doctrinal and ethical content on which we must insist. The Banner should be a place where we read thoughtful articles about the meaning of that tradition, perhaps even articles that disagree with one another about exactly what our confessional commitment require of us. But there should be no place in The Banner for articles that simply call for discarding our theological tradition. Let people who advocate such positions publish in one of the PCUSA magazines instead.


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