When Every Square Inch is not Literally Every Square Inch

On the day that Betsy DeVos wins Senate confirmation as Secretary of Education (when will women advance beyond the secretariat?), we need to remember that neo-Calvinism has its better and worse forms.

As the recent editorial in Calvin College’s Chimes observed, private Christian day school education does not mean public education is bad (imagine saying that in W. Michigan in 1857):

Many of us entered Calvin College directly from Christian high schools and spent our entire elementary and secondary school years in these institutions, as did Mrs. DeVos. While we appreciate the opportunity to thrive and learn that is provided by these educational systems, we recognize that the vast majority of K–12 students are educated in the public school system. Because of this, we believe that any individual who is nominated to be Secretary of Education should have a strong commitment to public education, which Mrs. DeVos does not.

So the RCA was right to worry about the CRC’s rejection of public schools?

And when it comes to all that kingdom of God rhetoric, not to mention the Lordship of Christ, take it as meaning Republicans don’t belong to the kingdom (how inclusive):

Growing up in the CRC and attending Calvin College, I heard this kind of language all the time. Calvin does indeed call its students to be “Christ’s agents of renewal in the world.” We are told to “advance God’s kingdom.” Without being inside of that tradition, it can sound, perhaps, like theocracy.

What do these phrases actually mean? Most broadly, they mean a service-oriented vision of vocation. Students are called to serve, and they can serve in many ways. For example, Calvin students are regularly called upon to work in the world for racial reconciliation. Why? Because racial reconciliation advances God’s kingdom. That’s why Calvin College faculty signed a letter to Turning Point U.S.A., asking to be added to its “professor watchlist.” The watchlist targets “radical” professors who teach about systemic racism. Serving as Christ’s agents of renewal, Calvin’s faculty spoke up, asserting together that institutional racism is real and that it must be addressed.

What else advances God’s kingdom? Social justice and care for the poor. Clean water in Flint. An improved education for all children in America. All these things advance God’s kingdom. Strong differences will arise about how to get there, but framing these goals in religious language does not mean we have to fear them. After all, those who pray together “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer, across many different Christian faith traditions every day, can still disagree quite powerfully about what exactly that kingdom looks like and how it comes about.

Never mind that folks inside the neo-Calvinist bubble don’t worry about how their rhetoric sounds until the bubble bursts and people see inside. Makes you wonder what Afscheiding folks who didn’t join Abraham Kuyper’s church thought of Kuyper as Prime Minister.

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Why I Love (all about) Kuyper

From John Halsey Wood’s Going Dutch in the Modern Age:

Kuyper departed from Calvin and his Reformation forbears on one critical point, a deviation that imprinted his ecclesiology with a distinctively modern tint. The church had to be absolutely separated from the state. The Reformation was right to break up Rome’s worldchurch, wherein a single institution had been foisted on all Christians, but the Reformation had not gone far enough. It had stopped short at the settlement of cuius regio, eius religio, the state or societal church. “The Spirit of Christ yielded to an institution that wanted to twist the spiritual lines of humanity according to her geographical boundaries.” In practical terms, separation of church and state meant giving churches control over their own property; it meant that the state should stop subsidizing the salaries of the ministers (an ongoing reality even after the 1848 constitutional separation of church and state); and it meant that the state should relinquish its role in social welfare. Most importantly though, it meant abolishing Article 36 of the Belgic Confession. . . . Abolishing Article 36 as Kuyper proposed was the logical step in securing the doctrinal freedom of the church. (70-71)

But it also had an upside financially as Halsey Wood also explains:

Kuyper believed that the Netherlands Reformed Church (NHK) stood to benefit greatly from a shift from a state sponsored church to one arising from the voluntary participation of the members. Kuyper compared the Amsterdam congregation of the NHK with the Christian Reformed Church (CGK), the secession church of 1834. The Amsterdam congreagation of the NHK counted almost one hundred forty thousand members, while the whole CGK church totaled about one hundred thousand, which was forty thousand less than Kuyper’s own Amsterdam congregation. He estimated tha since 1834 (the year of the secession of the CGK from the NHK) his Amsterdam congregation had received almost eight million Guilders in state subsidy, yet the entire CGK had not gotten a cent. What did the NHK have to show for it? The Amsterdam congregation had fourteen buildings and twenty-seven pastors. The CGK, on the other hand, had two hundred buildings and two hundred and twenty pastors — with nothing but the free will gifts of its members! Kuyper went on for half a dozen pages with example after example of the deadening effects of state subsidy. (72)

So why is the separation of church and state with a 2k accent such a bogeyman to those who call themselves Kuyperian? Granted, Kuyper’s conception of a pluralistic society constructed along the lines of confessional or ideological pillars — Calvinists, Roman Catholics, and liberals each with their whole set of institutions, from labor unions to schools is not exactly what the United States turned out to be with its state consolidation and centralization to fight world wars and its suffocating two-party system. But what U.S. Kuyperians seem to have done is regard the U.S. as one big Christian pillar, even as they get in the tank for Christian nationalists of the GOP.

If New World Kuyperians were truly interested in a pluralistic society, one in which straights and gays lived together, 2kers and Kuyperians tolerated each other, I might be willing to tolerate the flawed rationale for Christian schools (read w-w). But what seems to have happened is that outside the confines of Netherlands’ pluralism, American Dutch Calvinists have determined that theirs is the only true Calvinism (why 2k is a threat) and have appropriated the logic of every-square-inch for national identity even while forgetting entirely the legacy of sphere sovereignty and pillarization.

Congregationalism as Constantinianism

Peter Leithart wants to add to my work as clerk of session. First, he’s reading a lot of sociologists of religion (would John Milbank approve?) on the capacity of congregations to function like families and provide for members in similar ways:

This social capital is not merely intangible. Congregations offer material support to needy members: “When people in congregations talk about building relationships and creating community, they are talking about more than warm, fuzzy feelings. These relationships often take on a depth of mutual obligation that involves pain and sacrifice, as well as joy and celebration. Once having entered these communities, participants are challenged to care for each other, in good times and in bad, and most of this caring takes place informally, rather than through organized programs” (65). Tangible support is particularly beneficial to immigrants: “In Chicago we encountered a congregation whose religious roots are in Nigeria—the Holy Order of Cherubim and Seraphim. There we heard, ‘Our church has a lot of immigrants that are coming to this country. Some of them are very young families. . . . So, you have the church trying to be like a family structure. To be able to mend all of this together so they can have a life.’ Mending together a life often requires informal assistance, rituals of healing and mourning, and the timely visit of a pastor”

Next, he thinks congregations can contribute to a number of the policy questions before the nation:

The US faces policy challenges of gargantuan proportions. Immigration, social security, drugs, race, crime and prison reform, health care, Islamicism and other international challenges. I’d put same-sex marriage, the ethical issues surrounding biotechnology, and abortion high on that list, and some would add environmental issues to the short list.

For ordinary Americans, that list poses two challenges. First, each is a hugely complex, apparently insoluble problem. A health care reform bill has been passed, but many doubt whether it will improve health care or lower costs. The difficulty of formulating a policy on immigration that answers to all American interests and values is evident in the fact that no such policy has been formulated and legislated. There are limits on what a war-weary America can do about ISIS.

Second, ordinary citizens don’t have the capacity to do much about any of them. We can vote, but few have the ability or opportunity to do much else. At best, we respond by bitching about the state of the world or engaging in Facebook polemics; at worst, we throw up our hands and find some way to avoid thinking about it.

For Christians, there is an alternative approach that disaggregates the problems and opens the possibility of constructive action. Instead of treating these issues as questions of national or state policy, we can examine them as ecclesial questions, questions about the ministry and mission of the church.

I don’t mean that we stop debating the merits of policy proposals. Institutional and legal patterns are critical, and there are definitely healthy and unhealthy, good and bad ways to organize our life together. But public policy isn’t the only way to address social needs, and for the church, legislated policy isn’t the primary way to address social needs.

No group of citizens can build a wall along the Mexican border, and few contribute in any meaningful way to formulating immigration policy. But nearly everyone lives in a town with a Hispanic minority. In addition to (or before) asking, “How can America control immigration?” Christians should ask, “What obligations do churches have toward immigrants? What can we do to proclaim the gospel to them in word and deed?” We shouldn’t merely ask how Federal or State governments can make health insurance available, but how churches can provide affordable basic medical care to the poor in a local area. We may not have the policy answers to the drug trade, but many churches support or provide help for addicts and some have effectively intervened to reduce gang violence. We can’t stop ISIS, but churches can send and support missionaries in Islamic countries, and churches can mount targeted evangelistic campaigns to Muslims in our neighborhoods. We can think of Muslim immigration to the US as a threat to our Christian heritage; we can also recognize it as one of the greatest opportunities for Muslim evangelism since the sixth century.

Well, one relief is that the economy is so bad in this part of Michigan that we don’t have that many Hispanics, so that round of meetings is not needed (even if it means finding a good Mexican-restaurant is a challenge). But how in the world if congregations barely agree on the order of service are we now supposed to find consensus on drug treatment procedures?

Plus, I’m not going near Islam (except when having drinks with our Muslim neighbor). Hasn’t Peter seen any of those ISIL videos?

Just this morning I was reading an almost twenty-year old verdict on the effects of modernity on Dutch Reformed churches:

Whereas once (and still in some isolationist communities) there was considerable homogeneity of perspective on virtually all matters of faith — that is, the Reformed message was uniformly accepted throughout the Reformed community — that is no longer the case. Among respondents in each of the countries under consideration, there is immense variation in matters of belief. Whether considering new understandings of Scripture or new formulations of divinity or new attitudes about the fate of nonbelievers, consensus is rare. On matters of political and moral concern, Christians of the Reformed churches have significant differences of opinion. (Rethinking Secularization: Reformed Reactions to Modernity, 281)

So do members of most communions (Roman Catholics included where they put the “it” in unity). But now Peter wants us to take on social policy? How much free time does he have in his new position?

Sad Day in Calvinist History

Say so long to New Amsterdam.

On Aug. 26, 1664, 350 years ago Tuesday, a flotilla of four British frigates led by the Guinea, which was manned by 150 sailors and conveying 300 redcoats, anchored ominously in Gravesend Bay off Brooklyn, between Coney Island and the Narrows.

Over the next 13 days, the soldiers would disembark and muster at a ferry landing located roughly where the River Café is moored today, and two of the warships would sail to the Battery and train their cannon on Fort Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan.

Finally, on Sept. 8, the largely defenseless settlement tolerated a swift and bloodless regime change: New Amsterdam was immediately renamed New York. It would evolve into a jewel of the British Empire, endowed with a collective legacy — its roots indelibly Dutch — that distinguished it from every other American colony.

Do not take it personally, though, if you have not been invited to the 350th birthday party. None is scheduled in the city. Neither the British nor the Dutch are planning any official commemoration. Nor is Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Shouldn’t the good Calvinists at Redeemer NYC have led a protest? After all, those Dutch colonists were the forerunners of neo-Calvinism.

When Dutch Calvinism was 2k — even Republican

Bruce Fronen explains why Reformed Protestants oppose absolute monarchy both in the state and the church:

Calvinism generally is identified with the Swiss city state of Geneva. But that city existed, politically, as a kind of hothouse flower, protected for years by the presence of Calvin himself (though that did not prevent significant problems) and, more important, the strength and isolation of the Swiss confederation. The Netherlands, on the other hand, was a nation born in the crucible of sustained conflict. The Dutch people over generations developed a pluralist society and a kind of federal government sufficient to win independence from the Spanish monarch while retaining local freedoms and significantly divergent, traditional ways of life.

The Dutch republic had only a relatively short time as a major power and example of good government, before descending for some time into a rather petty empire seemingly motivated only by greed. But beginning in the 16th and going into the early 18th century, the Netherlands provided examples of ordered liberty, as well as practically-grounded theories underlying good government. Here a people numerous and organized enough to constitute a nation gave perhaps the first viable alternative to the centralizing monarchies then solidifying power throughout Europe. Here an early modern people came to grips with the intrinsically plural structure of society in such a way as to win their independence as a nation without losing their religious identities or local rights of self-government.

The great theorist of this time and place was Johannes Althusius. Born in what is now Germany, Althusius identified closely with his fellow Calvinists in the Netherlands. He understood, in part from simple observation of lived examples all around him that people do not exist as individuals. We all are, in our essence, members of various communities. Where in most early modern states monarchs had set about destroying most of the communities in which people become fully human and live out their lives, the Dutch never fully succumbed to the power of any single monarch. Their “petty” republics and principalities hung on tenaciously to their particular liberties and ways of life. Split by religious differences, the Dutch developed somewhat (note the lack of emphasis, here) more toleration of religious dissent than most other countries. But where they truly showed their strength was in their recognition and practice of what Calvinists in the New World would term “federal liberty.”

This piece of Dutch Calvinist history often goes overlooked by transformers of every square inch, even though Abraham Kuyper himself capitalized on Dutch pluralism to recognize a variety of groups in Dutch life in ways that would drive American Protestants of Anglo backgrounds batty. The odd thing about Dutch Calvinism is that it was far more tolerant than those whom today it inspires. I can’t help but blame w-w, which drives a wedge between believers and unbelievers in totalizing ways and animates the bejeebies about secularization.

Calling All Neo-Calvinists and Kuyperians!!

I need serious help. I have been conversing (yes, snarkly) with the good Dr. K. about 2k after all that Rodney King mojo that descended like a dove on Lookout Mountain last week when Mike Horton ascended the same. He keeps faulting 2kers for many faults — basically giving away the faith — and then in comments he does a great impersonation of Muhammad Ali, dodging and weaving against any untoward construction, at once sounding biblicist, then bobbing like a Dutch Calvinist, and then ducking like a 2ker. It’s enough to give you vertigo.

Here are some samples from the comments and exchanges. On the one hand he wants the Bible to be the norm for all of life:

Declaring the Bible to be authoritative over all of human living, and acting accordingly, are confessional matters. Nevertheless, all of us continue to wrestle with how the Bible is authoritative (for example, more directly / less directly; by way of norm, orientation, or example; and the like). The concretization of the principle, however, need not be a confessional matter. . . .

The neo-Calvinist vison is that together Christians cultivate their witness and walk in the various spheres of cultural activity. Insofar as they seek to apply the principles of God’s Word in the particular area of politics, the neo-Calvinist vision aims to pursue biblical justice for all members of society according to the divine norms relevant to various kinds of human activity.

One of those norms involves protecting unborn life. Another involves protecting the divine institution of marriage, which, as we know even from Scripture, by divine permission allows divorce for the hardness of the human heart. Another norm involves truth-telling, such that biblical teaching requires fidelity to one’s oath, the enforcement of contracts, punishing perjury, anti-libel laws, etc. I know of no neo-Calvinist who would argue that politicians must advocate to ban heresy or false religion. Some might advocate punishing blasphemy. Most would seek to do everything politically feasible to limit non-marital sex.

On the other hand, Dr. K. strives (why, I don’t know) to distance himself from advocating a Christian state or the state’s enforcement of Christian norms:

The prohibition of polygamy is most certainly entailed in the Seventh Commandment. As WLC 139 puts it, among the sins forbidden in the Seventh Commandment is “having more wives or husbands than one at the same time.” (Though the WLC list of sins prohibited also includes “allowing, tolerating, keeping stews.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever done that; I’ll look in the fridg.) You compare polygamy with divorce, with respect to how Christians should respond to this in the public square. If it were possible for me as a Christian legislator to introduce now, in 2012, a law that upholds monogamy over against polygamy, should I do so, or would I be forcing my morality on the public? By the way, in none of my comments, questions, or observations, have I called for the state to enforce any commandment—Seventh, Third, Ninth, or any. Rather, I have simply pointed to specific duties or obligations, whose wording I have borrowed conveniently from the WLC, which we have as Christians, we who presumably who adhere to the WLC. That as a Christian living in a democratic republic I should want the state legislatively to promote and preserve unborn human life, monogamous heterosexual marriage, and truthful contracts is not at all to desire that the state somehow become Christian, or that the state enforce what are merely Christian values. These values are universally binding moral values. (emphasis mine)

I emphasize this line because in the previous quote (all in the same discussion thread) Dr. K. did speak about Christian politics and the application of biblical norms of justice to all members of society.

What is also worthy of emphasis (hence the bold) is Dr. K.’s assertion that pro-life, heterosexual marriage, and honest contracts are matters that we recognize as true universally, in other words, apart from the Bible. Here he adopts the 2k logic of natural law.

Finally, the kicker is that Dr. K. believes 2k is in fundamental opposition to Reformed Protestantism:

For my part, our disagreement begins with the Bible—with the exegesis of the entire biblical story from Genesis through Revelation. It continues with the Confessions—both the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. It moves from there to the application of the truths and principles harvested from these sources to all of Christian living in the world. None of this denigrates the institutional church, the office of minister of the Word, the pivotal, crucial role of the means of grace, the essential ecclesiastical activities of catechesis, family visiting, discipling, and service. It is simply saying: the gospel is for more than these.

I’d like to say I understand where Dr. K. is coming from but I cannot. Perhaps my neo-Calvinist friends, few though they may be, can help me translate. Is this a function of not understanding Dutch?

Dr. K's Two K's

One of the odder aspects of Nelson Kloosterman’s objections to 2k is the way he blows hot and cold on Reformed Protestantism. On the one hand, he bangs the drum of Reformed particularism, invoking Kuyper and Van Til to argue that 2k is not sufficiently Reformed. This is a version of “if you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.” And because 2kers differ with Dutch Reformed worthies, they are suspect.

On the other hand, other American Protestants get a pass. When it comes to Rick Warren or Chuck Colson (and I don’t mean to dishonor an admirable man who recently died), Dr. K. forgets the standards of Kuyper and Van Til and lifts at least one thumb if not two — to match with his own version of Dr. K’s 2k’s. I understand that Colson claimed the influence of W-Wism as outlined by Kuyper. But sometimes W-W loses sight of the churches’ confession and leads Protestants to join forces — even in the name of the gospel — with Roman Catholics.

In other words, Dr. K. is at times provincial, never moving outside the orbit of Dutch Reformed sources, and at other times treats celebrity American Protestants like the Indiana farm boy who visits Yankees Stadium the first time.

Recent praise for Warren and Colson notwithstanding, Dr. K’s recent quotes from Dutch scholars have me wondering if even the Dutch Reformed are the most reliable guides to Christ and culture.

First, he cites the work of J. Bouma on ethics and says, “Here you will find a substantive, competent, and classically Reformed analysis of one of the issues lying at the heart of the current NL2K discussion. It deserves—and will repay—careful study and reflection.” If you read the attached chapter, you’ll see Douma make a point that is pretty basic to the 2k position:

Nobody can deny that after proper reflection we can reach shared conclusions about many issues. If that were not the case, we wouldn’t be able to speak of living together in a civic community. Often such issues involve the arena of what is legal and illegal. Everybody has some notion of what unfairness and discrimination are. Numerous human rights are clearly formulated and can be accepted as universal claims in the struggle against gross injustice. Everybody knows the rule of thumb, “what you don’t want done to you, don’t do to others.” That rule belongs not only to the Christian way of life, but appears in other cultures as well. Sometimes we have the experience that non-Christians armed with this rule of thumb will expose injustice more effectively than Christians have. Removing poverty, developmental assistance, organ donation, and many more issues provide examples that show the outworking of “universal” arguments.

Within our pluralistically arranged society, Christians also need to work together to reach agreement about various issues. If that doesn’t succeed, they need to consider whether a compromise can be struck.

So the antithesis pedal doesn’t have to pushed to the floor all the time. And it’s even okay to suggest a different approach follows in a world comprised of believers and unbelievers. I wonder where I’ve heard that.

But then Dr. K. goes to the old country again with a mystifying point (implicitly) about the Holy Spirit and good plumbing:

For some Christians it is perhaps confusing that the Spirit who is given to us in Christ should also be active in technicians or artists who are totally unbelieving. We could distinguish between the work that the Spirit performs as Creator (proceeding from the Father and the eternal Son) and the work that he performs as Redeemer (proceeding from the Father through the incarnate Son who now sits at the Father’s right hand). This distinction signifies no separation, for the creating and maintaining work of the Triune God is tied to his redeeming and restoring work.

The statement that “the Holy Spirit works only in the hearts of believers,” seems to me to be formulated too narrowly, with the result that people have trouble with the rest of the Spirit’s work. I would change that statement this way: “The redeeming work of the Spirit of Christ occurs only in the hearts of all those who are reborn unto faith: at that point the human heart is opening up for that same Spirit who has always been doing his creating and maintaining work in all people, very often without these people giving God the honor for that work.”

This is from Jakub Van Bruggen who teaches at the Theological University in Kampen. This is a very strange construction because it self-consciously blurs the antithesis. Lost is the distinction between creation and redemption. Lost as well is the distinction between beautiful art, good plumbing, and extortion. For if the Holy Spirit is at work in non-believers when they create beauty, is the Holy Spirit also at work in non-believers when write beautiful poetry to seduce a married woman?

It seems to me this is just another version of Christians trying to take credit for whatever is good in the world in a way that is filled with a host of theological problems. But it does keep you from being 2k even if it means you confuse the categories that are basic to the work of redemption.

I wonder if Dr. K. could spot those problems if he could sort out American Protestants better.

Three Strikes and You're Out

The piece by David Noe on Christian education (or the lack of it) has attracted a number of heated responses and none of them give much confidence that the proponents of Christian education are going to do something that is distinctly Reformed or decidedly educational. But these responses show the real weaknesses of w-w thinking and why their days are numbered unless they come up with more compelling answers and arguments.

Strike One: Noe’s piece has received much more indignation (Kuyper is turning in his grave) than it has reasoned response. Does this mean that Christian education is not interested in hard questions, only in passing on received ideas that can never be questioned lest we upset the dead? If so, I’m not sure these people are doing something that is genuinely educational, especially when it comes to teaching subjects like Shakespeare and chemistry on which Christians might have different ideas and about which Scripture is silent.

Strike Two: advocates of Christian education do not seem to notice that their practice is only generically Christian and not distinctly Reformed. (When they appeal to Augustine and Aquinas is Van Til turning in his grave?) They like to quote Cornelius Van Til who argued for an education based on a Reformed outlook. But what college or Christian day school has insisted on teaching Reformed theology, even to the Baptists and Evangelical Free Church students who enroll? Why is it that the more tenaciously an educational institution holds to the distinctness of Christian schools, the less Reformed they become? (Does question this make Dr. K.’s brain turn?)

Strike Three: advocates of Christian education invariably quote the likes of Van Til and Machen on the import of Christian schools. But the formal principle of the Reformation — sola scriptura — teaches that we are to base our faith and piety not on the doctrines and commandments of men but on the word of God. In which case, what kind of response is it to point out that Noe may disagree with Machen or Van Til? Machen was not the pope, not even the apostle Paul. He could have been wrong. Dr. Noe could be wrong. So if the advocates of Christian education want to be Christian and even Protestant, why not make a concerted exegetical case for Christian schools and colleges from the Bible, not from dead Reformed luminaries? (By the way, a wave of the hand to Deuteronomy 6 is insufficient.)

One aspect of this controversy that has yet to receive the attention it should is the difference between Dutch Calvinism and American Presbyterianism. Dutch Reformed Protestants, from the Afscheding to Dr. K., have insisted on Christian education and this reflects at least a European perspective on schooling that is foreign to the United States where public schools were always generally acceptable among American Presbyterians. Only for a brief period in the mid-19th century did Presbyterians entertain the idea of Christian schools. But the thought quickly passed and Presbyterians went back to the public schools where a generic Protestantism (via Bible reading and prayer) prevailed. Only after the Civil Rights legislation did American Presbyterians, primarily in the South, turn to private Christian schools, at least in part to avoid desegregation of public education.

The historical experiences of American Presbyterians and Dutch Calvinists rarely comes up in these discussions because Kuyperians have dominated conservative Reformed Protestantism in the United States, as if Dutch norms are the patterns for Yankees, Rebels, Farmers, and Miners. This is, as I’ve written before, one of the important features of David VanDrunen’s big book on two-kingdom theology — to show how Dutch Calvinism has dominated discussions of natural law and two kingdoms. Sometimes we need to pinch ourselves to remember that Reformed and Presbyterian churches existed before Abraham Kuyper and that they did not always do what he did. For conservative Calvinists who think Kuyper was merely following Bucer, A Lasco, and Ursinus, the idea that differences exist between the Dutch polymath and his Reformed forebears is alarming (and the source of most opposition to a certain seminary on the West Coast). But it is true. Kuyper was not the reincarnation of Calvin or Knox. That’s why they call it neo-Calvinism.

With A Little Help from Our Experimental Calvinist Friends

Some of the critics of 2k have created the impression that it is a radical or non-mainstream position in the history of Reformed teaching. David VanDrunen’s recent publications suggest otherwise. Sometimes it seems that the debates are merely conflicting interpretations of history, with theology and exegesis, not to mention the church’s confession, waiting on the sidelines for their turn to enter the match.

Often lost in the discussions is the point that the neo-Calvinist understanding of Christ and culture is confused and confusing. Kuyperianism is long on inspiration but it fails on a number of fronts – what is a Christian view of the election of 1828? or what is the Christian interpretation of As You Like It? or what is the Reformed position on national health care? The lack of obvious or even complex answers to these questions does not stop, however, lots of evangelicals and New School Presbyterians from appealing to the PRIME MINISTER!!!! of the Dutch Republic for justification to go out and vote, raise heart rates, conduct experiments, lobby Senators, and fix toilets.

The difficulties of neo-Calvinism have not been lost on other Calvinists. I do not presume to know where Geoff Thomas, a pastor in Wales and regular contributor to Banner of Truth, stands on 2k. I still recall and have a very kind letter he wrote to me upon the publication of my book on J. Gresham Machen. But since I only believed in the spirituality of the church then, and had not blossomed into a full-blown 2k proponent, perhaps Geoff did not notice 2k implications of my biography and so wrote a gracious note.

No matter his assessment of 2k, he did write a series of articles for Banner of Truth on Klaas Schilder, the hero of Dr. Kloosterman and often the standard by which 2k is brought up short for not having a Reformed world-and-life-view. What is interesting to see in this four-part series is that Thomas not only offers some pointed reservations about Schilder, but he sees similar defects in Kuyper. For instance, here is Thomas’ take on the debate between Kuyper and Schilder over common grace:

Schilder opposed the concept of common grace. After man falls into sin life in a fallen world goes on and there is music, poetry and various skills mentioned in the line of Cain. Kuyper says that that is due to God’s goodness to all mankind, and is not that, we ask, God’s common grace? Is the phrase that inaccurate or offensive? Schilder does not accept the phrase but simply accepts that some men in the Cainite civilisation, as God’s servants, used their time wisely and others did not. Dr Jan Douma gently differs from Schilder in places, and, though he does not support Kuyper, he commends going back to John Calvin and his view of common grace. But the actual difference between Schilder and Kuyper in their attitude to the achievements of the non-Christian is confusing. According to Kuyper there cannot and should not be a Christian culture. Christ adds his particular grace to the culture of Greece or Rome as a result of common grace. Therefore Christians should not try to make a specific Christian culture. They should further ‘Christianise’ Western culture. Schilder says that there should be Christian culture, for Christ regenerates people to renewed obedience to the original mandate and this results in a Christian culture. But what of all the work in which we are involved with people who are not Christians? Schilder states that we are building different pyramids, but are we not often co-operating with unbelievers in building the same pyramid, but from different convictions? Think of a non-Christian and a Christian scientist who co-operate together in a research programme and the publication of a joint-paper. It frequently happens. What of the two women in Matthew 24:41:- “Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left”? Are they not co-operating in the same cultural work even though one believes while the other does not?

Then Thomas follows with a comment on the small difference between Kuyper and Schilder, with speculation on the Dutchness of the entire matter:

Our concern with Schilder is that he did not go far enough from Kuyper’s views. In practical terms there was scarcely a membrane between those leaders. The views of both men tended to externalise the doctrines of grace, especially justification and regeneration. Schilder shared in the judgment of Kuyper that the pietists had a too rigid view of the Christian’s separation from the world. The Reformed faith as a result of theie convictions became more hollowed out. They did not give enough attention to the needs of the individual heart and soul. This lob-sided emphasis on culture was encouraging a Christianity that was speculative and abstract, rather than one that focused upon the sovereign, spiritual, inward working of the Word. Almost a hundred years ago Herman Bavinck wrote an introduction to a Dutch translation of sermons by the Erskine brothers of Scotland, and he said, “Here we have an important element which is largely lacking among us. We miss this spiritual soul-knowledge. It seems we no longer know what sin and grace, guilt and forgiveness, regeneration and conversion are. We know these things in theory, but we no longer know them in the awful reality of life” (quoted by Cornelis Pronk in “Neo-Calvinism”, Reformed Theological Journal, November 1995, pp.42-56). Those sermons are still revered in Holland today. Whether it was in the name of ‘common grace’, or ‘Christ and culture’ the ‘Christianising’ of the cosmos became the deeply optimistic enterprise on which both men and their followers set out. There is a triumphalistic note in Kuyper’s Stone Lectures at Princeton on ‘Calvinism.’ It seemed to be saying, “look what we’ve done in Holland. Next … the world!” That is a fantasy. Twenty years later began the first of two world wars which came in quick succession, and the rise of Marxism and humanism which was to devastate Europe and make the Netherlands known as much for being the home of moral anarchy as it is for the European centre of the doctrines of grace. The drug culture of Amsterdam would have been something which Kuyper could never have envisaged. Yet his doctrine of the dreadful wickedness of the heart of man, the hostility of the world to Christ and his church, and the activity of the powers of darkness should have made him alert to the bleakness of the future.

I hope that by mentioning this fine series Dr. K. will not take it upon himself to open up a thirteen-part series on Christ and culture in Great Britain through the lens of the Banner of Truth. But if he does, he may also wake up to the possibility that it is more than a few kooks in the OPC or at a certain California institution of higher learning that have reservations about neo-Calvinism.