What Hath W-w Wrought?

One of our southern correspondents sent us this, which must be causing some embarrassment to Grand Rapidian neo-Calvinists:

After graduating from high school in 1975, Betsy [DeVos] enrolled at Calvin College, her mother’s alma mater. Calvin’s mission, as stated in the 1975–1976 course catalog, was “to prepare students to live productive lives of faith to the glory of God in contemporary society—not merely lives that have a place for religion … but lives which in every part, in every manifestation, in their very essence, are Christian.”

Once w-w is out of the bottle, gate keepers can’t control the gate. W-w can go Left or Right. The neo-Calvinist with the most money decides seemingly:

The DeVos family is Dutch, thoroughly so. All four of Richard DeVos’ grandparents emigrated from the Netherlands, and today, the family continues to observe the tenets of the Christian Reformed Church, a Calvinist denomination. Calvinism believes in predestination—that God has decided whether our souls are saved before we are born—and emphasizes an “inner worldly asceticism” in its practitioners. Historically, in avoiding ostentatious displays of wealth, Calvinist Protestants have instead turned their economic gains into savings and investments. One of the bedrock texts of sociology, Max Weber’s 1905 Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, is expressly about the links between Calvinism and economic success. (“In the place of the humble sinners to whom Luther promises grace if they trust themselves to God in penitent faith,” Weber wrote, “are bred those self-confident saints whom we can rediscover in the hard Puritan merchants of the heroic age of capitalism.”)

In this, Dick and Betsy DeVos’ familial roots serve as an object example. Dick is the eldest son of Richard DeVos, who co-founded Amway in 1959, and grew it from a meager soap factory into a multinational colossus with $9.5 billion in annual sales, enlisting his children to manage and expand the company. Betsy hails from a dynasty of her own. In 1965, her father, Edgar Prince, founded a small manufacturing company that came to be worth more than $1 billion on the strength of Prince’s automotive innovations, which include the pull-down sun visor with a built-in light-up vanity mirror.

Not to mention, that Christian day schools become a threat to public schools (the CRC beats the RCA):

In the 1960s and ’70s, Ed and Elsa Prince advanced God’s Kingdom from the end of a cul-de-sac just a few miles from Lake Michigan. There, they taught their four children—Elisabeth (Betsy), Eileen, Emilie and Erik—a deeply religious, conservative, free-market view of the world, emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and sending them to private schools that would reinforce the values they celebrated at home, small-government conservatism chief among them. . . .

In 2001, Betsy DeVos spoke at “The Gathering,” an annual meeting of some of America’s wealthiest Christians. There, she told her fellow believers about the animating force behind her education-reform campaigning, referencing the biblical battlefield where the Israelites fought the Philistines: “It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture—to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding-the-Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things—in this case, the system of education in the country.”

Dick DeVos, on stage with his wife, echoed her sentiments with a lament of his own. “The church—which ought to be, in our view, far more central to the life of the community—has been displaced by the public school,” Dick DeVos said. “We just can think of no better way to rebuild our families and our communities than to have that circle of church and school and family much more tightly focused and built on a consistent worldview.”

I understand that Right neo-Calvinists find private schools reassuring, the antithesis and all. But Left neo-Calvinists don’t have the stomach for such partisanship.

Will the real neo-Calvinism stand up? Calvin and the CRC or their daughter, Betsy DeVos? Faced with that choice, the spirituality of the church looks pretty appealing.

The Abraham Option (or been there, done that)

Kuyper, that is.

Rod Dreher leaves another hint that he has no real feel for the fundamentalist or confessional Protestant world:

That said, I think lots of Christian parents are going to have to make some hard calls now and in the years to come about moving for the sake of educating their children, and raising them in a peer environment where they are more likely to absorb the faith, or at the very least not have their faith leached out of them. Radical times call for radical measures.

Granted, the world of Dutch-American Calvinism is small and so faulting Rod for not knowing the Christian day school phenomenon is misguided. At the same time, when Abraham Kuyper is largely a household name to cultural conservatives in the U.S., you would think that Rod might know something about the tradition of family-run schools and its history that goes back to the 1850s!!!

At the same time, Rod’s proposals for the Benedict Option sound, as I’ve indicated before, like a person who has been part of mainstream churches and identified with the establishment for all of his spiritual life. For those of us who grew up on the other side of the spiritual tracks, whether fundamentalist or ethnic Protestant, we’ve known for a long time that worldliness is a danger and its a besetting sin of establishments, political and ecclesiastical.

Of Radical Minorities and the (Dutch) Reformed Mainstream

Vocal defenders of 2k are in such short supply – though practitioners are everywhere in North America (it is the default position for Reformed Protestants, after all) – that I wondered about commenting on this. But when I read this, it seemed that some comment was in order.

Matt Tuininga is a smart fellow and doing impressive work at Emory University on political theology. His blog is worth reading. In addition, he has defended 2k in the pages of Christian Renewal where Dr. K. has done his darnedest to associate 2k with all things profane. (Aside from the kitchen sink, the only charge that Dr. K. has not hurled is is that of Communism.)

In a fairly recent piece for CR, Matt tried to explain the controversy over 2k as one between those who use its logic without even thinking about it and a minority that takes the position to extremes:

The controversy arises when people appeal to the doctrine to question causes closer to home. For instance, some have used it to challenge the politicization of many evangelical churches directly involved in the political work of the Christian Right. Others have used it to challenge what they perceive as the excesses of Neocalvinism and its failure to distinguish the advancement of the kingdom of God through the work of the church with the work of cultural transformation.

Usually when I hear people opposing the two kingdoms doctrine today it is because they think it entails the abandonment of something like Christian education, or of a Christian worldview that guides the actions of Christians in every aspect of life. While there have been some recent two kingdoms proponents who do move in this direction, it is a massive theological and historical mistake to allow those people – who are most certainly in a minority – to define the two kingdoms doctrine and to control the way in which we speak of it. To do this ignores the importance the doctrine has held in establishing precisely the kind of Reformed biblical autonomy and church government that we value so highly and on which the integrity of the Reformed tradition depends.

Since I have in fact used the logic of 2k to question the necessity (as in “thou shalt”) of Christian schools and to wonder about the German idealist pretensions of nineteenth-century critiques of liberalism (i.e., w-w), Matt’s comments would appear to implicate me. Since he and I are friendly and recently had a pleasant chat at the Greenville seminary conference on Old Princeton, I doubt that Matt was necessarily singling me out. Even so, I would like to see him amend his analysis by considering the following.

In addition to the important debates about church power – with Geneva (2k) and Zuirch (Erastian) representing the main options on questions of excommunication – was the even more basic question of the authority of Scripture (i.e. sola Scriptura). Ministers could teach only what Scripture reveals, and churches could require only what the Bible commanded. The doctrines and commandments of men, no matter how wise, pious, or well intentioned, could not bind a believer’s conscience. For that reason, whenever the church evaluates the integrity of a believer’s profession, it must do so on the basis only of norms revealed in Scripture. The church must have a “thus, saith the Lord.” An effort like Adam’s instruction to Eve about not even touching the fruit of the tree won’t do. Either you don’t eat the apple or you sin. Touching it, looking at it, cutting it is not a command revealed by God.

All of the Reformed creeds begin with an affirmation of sola scriptura. Here is how the Gallican Confession (1559) puts it:

We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church, as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books upon which, however useful, we can not found any articles of faith. (Art. 4)

For churches to require anything that the Bible does not require is akin to establishing an article of faith on a foundation other than the Bible. Kuyper and his views about w-w’s or about education may be useful, though the way that places like the Free University turned out or that Christian w-w formation is playing out in numerous so-called Reformed day schools is not the best of testimonies to Kuyper’s wisdom. Still, the point should not be missed. Unless anti-2kers (and even some 2kers) can establish that Christian education and w-w are necessary as in an article of faith, then those who raise questions about Christian education and w-w are not radical or extreme. They are only doing what the Reformers did by asking where the Bible, as opposed to influential saints, establishes the existing practices and teachings of the church. In fact, it is those who establish a hierarchy of faithfulness based on tradition and look down on those who don’t follow the doctrines and commandments of men who are extreme.