Another Case for the Gateway Drug

Once again comes a suggestion that neo-Calvinism in its desire for comprehensiveness paves the way for Roman Catholicism:

As it happened, the young pastor Abraham Kuyper found something to like in the “Syllabus [of Errors]” too, and said so on no less an occasion than his Reformation Day sermon in 1865! The pope went too far, Kuyper quickly assured his startled (if not outraged) congregation; the document was not to be affirmed in all its details. But its intention was correct. The rising philosophy of naturalism and ethical materialism which the pope was condemning was exactly the enemy that needed to be opposed, Kuyper said, and that opposition would mark his work in church, state, and cultural commentary across the 50+-year career upon which he was just embarking. In fact, this philosophical challenge—this rise of a cruel worldview antithetical to Christianity—is what motivated Kuyper’s turn to strict Calvinism from the more nebulous piety in which he had started out his ministry a few years before. A much older Brownson, now near the end of his career, held much the same sentiments.

If I understand the implications of James Bratt’s argument, reasoning about politics, society, economics, and education apart from first principles (read revealed truth) — one of the building blocks of modern liberalism (and secularism) — is an indication of naturalism, and the enemy of Christians. Thus the antithesis between Christianity and secularism, between 1689 (the Glorious Revolution) and 1789 (the Inglorious French Revolution), between Christian schools, labor unions, and political parties and secular schools, labor unions and political parties.

I can understand that. But if the antithesis is right and if Christians live in societies with unbelievers, on what basis are non-Christians supposed to operate in their social endeavors? If Christians alone have the true w-w, then should they allow those with false w-w’s to “run things?” Or if unbelievers do have access to positions of authority, wouldn’t they need to rely on what they know which does not include revealed truth?

Separating church and state was a long and difficult struggle for Roman Catholics. Distinguishing the differences between neo-Calvinist and theonomic arguments is also difficult. Of course, it needs to be noted that Kuyper did affirm social pluralism and found remarkable ways to include Roman Catholics in Dutch society. Still, when you start with opposition to naturalism and the antithesis between Christians and unbelievers, how you avoid winding up in theonomy or church-above-the-state (e.g. Roman Catholicism) is not at all obvious.


9 thoughts on “Another Case for the Gateway Drug

  1. On the other hand (not denying your point), how, apart from first principles of some kind, do you decide that murder is wrong (& whether abortion is murder or therapy)? Do Christians decide their influence by their first principles, anti-christians by their own, and then we just count the votes? That seems to be, in fact, what we are doing, but it doesn’t create a conversation because it affords no common ground for one. Each side just tries to get strong enough to require the other to submit.


  2. From the link Bratt says of Brownson and Kuyper:

    “Neither was inclined to knuckle under to anybody else, yet both were ardent proponents of community. Above all, both were hungry for certainty in a world where old certainties had been blasted away. One found it at Rome, the other took it from Geneva.”

    plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose


  3. -re:Christians alone have the true w-w
    -re:who allows anyone to “run things” who gives access to positions of authority
    re:all truth ‘revealed and who does so
    re:’reasoning’ from above and from below

    Daniel 2: 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven; 20 Daniel said,“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him.21 “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings;He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.22 “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him….
    37 You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; 38 and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold….
    47 The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” 48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.

    Daniel 4: 30 The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royalresidence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ …
    31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared:sovereignty has been removed from you, 32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’ 33 Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.34 “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever;
    For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
    35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
    And among the inhabitants of earth;
    And no one can ward off His hand
    Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
    36 At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His waysjust, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”

    Isaiah 45:22 “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;For I am God, and there is no other.23 “I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back,That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
    Romans 14:11 For it is written,“AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, aND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.”12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

    Philippians 2: 10 at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


  4. I was recently reading Marsden’s book on Kuyper. It struck me that Kuyper generally gave much more weight to common grace than his socially conservative prolocutors in the US are wont to do. To the extent that Kuyper emphasized antithesis at the expense of common grace, he did so as an antidote to the ideas that fueled the French Revolution.

    In other words, Kuyper relied on the idealism of antithesis to counter a secular form of idealism that had arisen in continental Europe at the time. By contrast, Kuyper’s socially conservative American prolocutors tend to rely on the idealism of antithesis to counter realist (pragmatist) forms of secular thought, which, ironically, are largely embraced by Kuyper’s notion of common grace. Kuyper relied on the concept of antithesis primarily to arbitrate disputes between competing forms of idealism. There’s scant evidence that Kuyper intended antithesis to play a major role in countering realism.

    In my view, that’s where Kuyper’s American prolocutors have gone off the rails. They’ve completely vitiated the notion of common grace, almost to the point of denying any role for general revelation. Dan Reuter’s comment above seems to reflect this kind of antithesis-on-steroids way of thinking. It’s led to a generation of Christians who are such lazy observers of the natural world that they can’t even come up with an argument against murder drawn from general revelation.

    This is why it’s so difficult to take social conservatives seriously. The challenges faced by social conservatives in the US bears little resemblance to those that Kuyper faced. Kuyper faced a politically ascendant secular idealism. By contrast, social conservatives in the US face a politically ascendant secular realism. And they’re losing because they can’t make arguments that pass muster with even the most casual observers of general revelation. I see no evidence to suggest that Kuyper would ever have approved of such spiritualized ignorance. In fact, it’s hard to see much difference between American forms of Kuyperianism and populist anti-intellectualism. They’re about as Kuyperian as Taco Bell is Mexican.


  5. Bobby
    Posted December 12, 2015 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Kuyper faced a politically ascendant secular idealism. By contrast, social conservatives in the US face a politically ascendant secular realism. And they’re losing because they can’t make arguments that pass muster with even the most casual observers of general revelation.

    Exactly, although the “secular realists” will never be convinced by natural law arguments anyway, since they have rewritten reality–a boy is a girl and a girl is a boy, or maybe both a boy and a girl.

    The “good” people left the heavy lifting to Falwell and Robertson–some “good” people even mocked them–so by the time articulate defenders of natural law finally got it together with stuff like the Manhattan Declaration and the Witherspoon Institute, it was too late.

    This is where radical Two Kingdoms theology gets it wrong, IMO–the City of Man still must be run under the natural law. We need not agree on soteriology [the business of salvation] and the concerns of the next world to do God’s will in this world. On earth as it is in heaven…


  6. @TVD

    I’m sorry, but the Manhattan Declaration is a joke. The Witherspoon Institute has about as much intellectual firepower as an episode of The View.

    I term “natural law” is fairly malleable. I prefer to speak in terms of general revelation. The Kuyperian term “common grace” is ok, but I think general revelation captures the notion better. So, I can accept “natural law” as long as its realist in its epistemology. By contrast, I tend to reject the “Whig Thomism” of guys like John Finnis and Robert George, whose version of “natural law” wreaks of idealism.

    In thinking back about my earlier comment, I suspect that the chief culprit in driving the train off the rails was Van Til. Van Til seems to have effectively denied Kuyper’s notion of common grace and replaced it with a kind of biblicism. Thus, the Van Tillian version of Kuyper is devoid of any realist component, which is how you end up with a denomination that provides a comfy home for Kevin Swanson.

    Odd, isn’t it. I still have difficulty figuring out what error Lee Irons committed. I suspect that it had something to do with having a wife who penned an article in favor of civil same-sex marriage, but that’s not clearly reflected in the record. Even so, the OPC ran Lee out of town on a rail in the blink of an eye. But what’s its response to Swanson’s repeated calls for rounding up all LGBTQ people and executing them? Silence. Enough said.


  7. Bobby
    Posted December 14, 2015 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but the Manhattan Declaration is a joke. The Witherspoon Institute has about as much intellectual firepower as an episode of The View.

    More than you. As for the rest of your rant, I enjoyed the expose of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s internal incoherence very much. 30,000 people and 29,999 different theologies.

    Kevin Swanson indeed. This is why Dr. Hart dodges any substantive engagement with his own blog, lest he be hanged on his own gallows.


  8. Still, when you start with opposition to naturalism and the antithesis between Christians and unbelievers, how you avoid winding up in theonomy or church-above-the-state (e.g. Roman Catholicism) * OR CHURCH-APPART-FROM-THE-STATE I.E. HAUWERAS ET AL) is not at all obvious.


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