The Limits of W-w

Like I say, transformationalism is good on inspiration but not so good on transformation. Jim Bratt gave a peak behind the curtain of neo-Calvinist culture in the U.S. in his last post before heading to China on a Fulbright (happy trails, Jim):

Boy, do we need that now. I’m thinking of the death this past week of Tim LaHaye. The span of tomfoolery he pumped out in the name of Christianity has created lasting disrepute for the faith. The creation “science.” The “end-times” irresponsibility, compounded of self-pity, blaming others, and a certain cultural idolatry. All of it redolent of the John Birch Society swamp from which he first slithered. Still, it’s the sort of religious fantasy you can expect to hit the American best-seller list. The death that really strikes home for me is the moral nadir of Mr. Family Values, “Dr.” James Dobson. His endorsement of Donald Trump puts paid to any pretense that the ethics and politics he pushed, lo, these many years have come to anything but authoritarian nationalism with a particular macho strut. For that is Trump. Dobson’s worse for covering it with smarmy God-talk.

I say this hits home for me because back when I was on a denominational committee studying the future of the CRC’s magazine, The Banner, we were given some research stats of readership habits and opinion. James Dobson turned out to be the CRC’s #1 rated authority on current events. Charles Colson was its #1 theologian. The Fraud and the Felon atop the Calvinist hit parade. Two minor sins in that revelation somehow stuck out for me. Dobson, a member of the Church of the Nazarene. Read rank Armininian. Colson, invoking the name of Kuyper as he bullied along.

All this, I mused, was the price of that “Americanization” to which the CRC, as an immigrant church, had been long pushed to accede. Well, nationalist mush compounded by militancy turns out to be the bitter fruit of that process. And so it is today.

I don’t pretend that Kuyper ever represented more than a small fraction of Dutch people claiming a Reformed commitment. Ditto, in Dutch-American Reformed circles, for The Forum, The Journal, or Perspectives. But these magazines have fought hard and punched way above their weight because of that magic formula that Kuyper caught, and taught. And it’s worth carrying on their mission, worth trying to maintain cultural, political, and theological integrity above the open sewer into which white-American Christianism has descended.

I bring this up not to delight in the sufferings of neo-Calvinists, nor to take a shot at Jim on his way out of the blogosphere. Bratt, it must be said, is honest about the state of neo-Calvinism and properly annoyed at its abuses.

I do refer to this to remind those would-be Kuyperians that the neo-Calvinist project is a lot harder than it sounds. Take every thought captive. Christ is Lord of every square inch. Television (and plumbing) redeemed. Integration of faith and learning. New York City as a tipping point for global revival. Bratt’s own account of the CRC is a ready warning that even with all the infrastructure of neo-Calvinist culture — church, school, catechesis, denominational magazine, world-and-life bleep, you are a poor match for mass culture in a liberal capitalist democracy.

Take every though captive? More like, kid yourself that you are large and in charge.

I truly admire the grit and determination of Dutch-American Calvinists. They are one of the true success stories of transplanting a distinct form of Old World Calvinism to the New World. They were BenOp Calvinists before the Benedict Option became hip.

But as all immigrant groups know, leaving the ghetto for the suburbs is part of the American dream. So for w-w to happen you may need to hunker down in the ghetto (or if Amish on the farm or if Benedictine in the monastery). But if you are going to live and move and have your being as a citizen of a modern nation state, chances are many of your square inches will be taken captive.

And if you want a theological rationale or explanation for that, for being part of the mainstream society but not, learn, live, and love 2k. The water’s warm.

Act Two, Scene Four: If the Bible Is the Standard, Are Faith and Repentance Required for Citizenship?

I haven’t been keeping up with Dr. Kloosterman’s serialized review of VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms. The series is reminiscent of the way that George Eliot and Charles Dickens wrote novels – you put together enough stories and episodes over a half-year in a magazine and you finally have one Home Depot of a novel. By going chapter by chapter, Kloosterman was pointing toward a review of novel-sized proportions. (It surely has its fictional elements.)

The last I noticed, when he came to VanDrunen’s chapter on Kuyper, Kloosterman indicated that he might need to back off lest the length of the series seem like a personal vendetta (ya think?):

First, institutional friends and defenders of NL2K are mistakenly characterizing this extended review as a personal attack or worse, an institutional polemic, neither of which has ever been the case. I have been writing this review as a Reformed theologian and ethicist who for several years has been vigorously and publicly disagreeing with the project and analysis being promoted by NL2K representatives, during which time I have never written as an institutional representative. Until now I had failed to realize that, as one respondent has put it, in criticizing Dr. VanDrunen’s views I would be perceived to be criticizing his school. Are we to conclude, then, that his NL2K project is that of an entire seminary? Moreover, the refusal of these friends and defenders to engage the substance of my observations in this review, which have been supported by contextual citations, numerous source references, and sustained argument, seems to suggest that there is more interest in securing turf than in seeking truth.

So it seemed in this fifth installment that Kloosterman was going to wrap up this review. Well, lo and behold, I now see that he has two reviews of the Kuyper chapter alone, and has since written three installments on the neo-Calvinist section of VanDurnen’s book (it is, of course, all Dutch all the time with Dr. K).

So here we go back to his first response to VanDrunen on Kuyper. Kloosterman boils down his entire objection to 2k in one simple point:

The very point of debate involves our use of and appeal to Scripture in public moral discourse, the authority of Scripture and the rule of Jesus Christ over Christian living in the world, involving issues like education, sexual ethics, marriage, euthanasia, and the like. We have just seen how Kuyper insisted on the need for, and priority of, Scripture for rightly interpreting and applying the natural law concretely.

So this is it — may we appeal to Scripture in public debates or not? Is the Bible the standard for public life or not? For Kloosterman it must be Scripture before natural law. Otherwise, sinful human beings will misinterpret natural law. Scripture is the only sure foundation.

I know I have said this before, but I do wonder if Dr. K. has actually considered where his logic leads him.

First, only the regenerate can interpret the Bible correctly because they have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

Second, only the regenerate have the capacity to interpret natural law correctly.

Third, unbelieving citizens have no possibility of participating in public life because they are unregenerate and cannot interpret the Bible correctly. Scripture cannot be a standard for them.

Fourth, unbelievers may not hold public office for the same reasons as the third point.

Fifth, Dr. K. is advocating a theocracy even though he doesn’t know it. He has no place in his scheme for unbelievers. If the Bible is the standard, the only people who submit to and read the Bible faithfully are those upon whom the Holy Spirit has worked.

So in his effort to bring the Bible back to the public square, Dr. K. has just vacated the square of all who cannot submit to Scripture.

Now, this is one possible solution to our predicament as Dr. K. understands it. All Christians can gather together in one nation (the Netherlands), or several Christian nations (the United States, Canada, and Scotland), and unbelievers can scatter to their nations. But haven’t we been here before? And isn’t that really the theocratic arrangement of the Old Testament?

Or we can affirm that every person has the capacity, though flawed, to perceive the moral law that God has written on the human heart and that is writ large in the book of nature. This morality is not sufficient for salvation. And it won’t see justice roll down like a river, maybe only like a faucet leak. But it is sufficient for the magistrates whom God has ordained to do their jobs in pursuing a measure of justice and establishing social order.

But if Dr. K. wants the Bible to be the standard without a Christian Taliban in power, how is it possible for non-believers to submit to the standard of Scripture for righteousness? That standard, the last I checked the creeds of the Reformed churches, includes saving faith and repentance for people to have any hope of complying with God’s law.

The only way, then, that divinely revealed law could be used as a standard for the United States, which included Christians and non-believers, might be for Dr. K. to revise what Scripture requires as its standard for goodness. Maybe he has in mind merely outward conformity to the norms of Scripture, but not a love of God with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind. But that would mean that Dr. K. had adopted an Arminian standard for public life. In which case his standard is no longer biblical.

Amazing the contortions we go through when we try to make the Bible speak to what we think is most important.