One of the interlocutors at this site suggested that neo-Calvinism and biblical theology of an amillennial variety go together well, and that no reasons existed for suggesting tension between someone like Geerhardus Vos and Abraham Kuyper. He linked to an essay that Richard B. Gaffin wrote on theonomy and claimed that Gaffin, a marked proponent of biblical theology in the Vosian tradition, was on board with neo-Calvinism. He even supplied a quotation from Gaffin that showed his neo-Calvinist bona fides:
It will not do simply to dismiss this chapter as the ramblings of someone who has be-
trayed his Reformed heritageâ€”with its ennobling vision of life itself as religion and the whole of life to the glory of Godâ€”for an anemic, escapist Christianity of cultural surrender. Without question, the Great Commission continues fully in force, with its full cultural breadth, until Jesus returns; â€œteaching them to obey everything I have commanded youâ€ is the mandate of the exalted Last Adam to the people of his new creation. We can not measure the limit of that â€œeverythingâ€ and its implications; of it we can only confess with the Psalmist: â€œTo all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundlessâ€ (119:96). That mandate, then, is bound to have a robust, leavening impactâ€”one that will redirect every area of life and will transform not only individuals but, through them corporately (as the church), their cultures; it already has done so and will continue to do so, until Jesus comes.
Not to pick nits but when this comment referred to this paragraph as the concluding one in Gaffinâ€™s essay I decided to take a look. In point of fact, Gaffin concludes that essay on a decidedly different note, one that fits the allegedly wimpy profile of 2k as opposed to those world-beaters, the neo-Calvinists. Here is what Gaffin wrote in his conclusion:
The comprehensive outlook found in the Book of Hebrews provides a fitting close to
these remarks. Two realities dominate the writerâ€™s marvelous exposition of Godâ€™s eschatological, â€œlast daysâ€ speech in his Son (1:2). The one reality is Jesus, the high priest in heaven (e.g., 4:14; 8:1). Fulfilling Psalm 110, the exalted Christ is â€œpriest forever, in the order of Melchizedekâ€ (e.g., 5:6; 6:10; 7:17); the New Testament contains no more impressive presentation of the realized eschatological dimension of his person and work than this.
But for whom is the exalted Christ high priest? Who is served by his sanctuary service (8:2) of eschatological intercession (7:25)? The answer to that question is the other reality in viewâ€”the church as a pilgrim congregation, a people in the wilderness. Utilizing a broad covenant-historical analogy, the writer compares the church between Christâ€™s exaltation and return to Israel in the desert (see esp. 3:7-4:11): just as the wilderness generation delivered from Egyptian bondage (picturing realized eschatology) had not yet entered Canaan (a picture of still future eschatology), so the New Testament church, presently enjoying a real experience of the salvation promised in the gospel, has not yet entered into the possession of that salvation in its final and unthreatened form (â€œGodâ€™s restâ€).
Two basic perspectives emerge with these two realities. On the one hand, the writerâ€™s realized eschatology leaves no room for a premil position: Once Jesus â€œhas gone through the heavensâ€ (4:14) and â€œhas sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heavenâ€ (8:1), his return for a provisional earthly rule, prior to the eternal heavenly order, would be retrograde for the writer, a step backward eschatologically. Christâ€™s return will be the return of the heavenly high priest, not the appearance of Christ temporarily exchanging heavenly ministry for earthly duties. That return will mean the appearance on earth of the heavenly order/sanctuary where Christ is â€œa high priest foreverâ€ (6:20), the manifestation on earth, without delay at his return, of the â€œheavenly Jerusalemâ€ (12:22), the â€œlasting cityâ€ (13:14), the eternal â€œrestâ€-order (4:11).
But the writer is no less indisposed toward a postmil outlook: Until Christ returns the church remains a wilderness congregation; like the Patriarchs in the land of promise, believers are â€œaliens and strangers on earthâ€ (11:13). That tension is an essential dimension of their identity â€” aliens in the creation that is theirs by right and whose eschatological restoration has already been secured for them by their high priest-king.
There is no â€œgoldenâ€ age coming that is going to replace or even ameliorate these desert conditions of testing and suffering. No success of the gospel, however great, will bring the church into a position of earthly prosperity and dominion such that the wilderness with its persecutions and temptations will be eliminated or even marginalized. That would have to be the outcome if prosperityâ€”understood, for instance, in the terms of Isaiah 65:17ff.â€”is to be at all meaningful. Such prosperity and blessing for the church are reserved until Christ returns.
The writer of Hebrews operates with a simple enough eschatological profile: the bodily absence of Christ means the churchâ€™s wilderness existence, his bodily presence, its entrance into Godâ€™s final rest. What he must confront in his readers is a perennial problem for the church, a primal temptation bound up with its wilderness existence: the veiledness, for the present, of messianic glory and the believerâ€™s eschatological triumph; â€œat present we do not yet see everything subject to himâ€ (Heb. 2:8), with the longing as well as the promise that â€œat presentâ€ holds for the church. All of us, then, are involved in a continuing struggleâ€”against our deeply rooted eschatological impatience to tear away that veil and our undue haste to be out of the wilderness and see the realization of what, just because of that haste and impatience, will inevitably prove to be dreams and aspirations that are ill-considered and all too â€œfleshly.â€
â€œFor here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to comeâ€ (Heb. 13:14).
The point of this exercise is not to expose the error of an Old Life reader. It is to raise a question, though, about the way that 2kers and neo-Calvinists read. It strikes me that neo-Calâ€™s generally favor readings from texts that highlight a progressive and triumphant understanding of Reformed Protestantismâ€™s effects upon the world. This extends to which passages of Scripture to highlight in exploring a believerâ€™s identity as well as how to read the development of history and culture.
Abraham Kuyper established the model for this sort of reading when in his infamous Lectures on Calvinism he uttered inspirational prose such as the following:
The avoidance of the world has never been the Calvinistic mark, but the shibboleth of the Anabaptist. The specific, anabaptistical dogma of â€œavoidanceâ€ proves this. According to this dogma, the Anabaptists, announcing themselves as â€œsaints,â€ were severed from the world They stood in opposition to it. They refused to take the oath; they abhorred all military service; they condemned the holding of public offices. Here already, they shaped a new world, in the midst of this world of sin, which however had nothing to do with this our present existence. They rejected all obligation and responsibility towards the old world, and they avoided it systematically, for fear of contamination, and contagion. But this is just what the Calvinist always disputed and denied. It is not true that there are two worlds, a bad one and a good, which are fitted into each other. It is one and the same person whom God created perfect and who afterwards fell, and became a sinnerâ€“ and it is this same â€œegoâ€ of the old sinner who is born again, and who enters into eternal life. So, also, it is one and the same world which once exhibited all the glory of Paradise, which was afterwards smitten with the curse, and which, since the Fall, is upheld by common grace; which has now been redeemed and saved by Christ, in its center, and which shall pass through the horror of the judgment into the state of glory. For this very reason the Calvinist cannot shut himself up in his church and abandon the world to its fate. He feels, rather, his high calling to push the development of this world to an even higher stage, and to do this in constant accordance with God’s ordinance, for the sake of God, upholding, in the midst of so much painful corruption, everything that is honorable, lovely, and of good report among men Therefore it is that we see in History (if I may be permitted to speak of my own ancestors) that 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. (from Lecture 2)
2k proponents, in contrast, tend to take a more restrained even pessimistic view of Christian existence in this world. Believers have enough trouble overcoming sin in their own lives that taking on the entire world in a project of domination seems foolhardy and not the best use of spiritual resources.
This leaves 2k in a decided disadvantage with the Reformed rank-and-file. Neo-Cals can win people to their side because they are long on inspiration even if short on practical steps toward square-inch subjection. They can rally the faithful for all sorts of â€œyes, we can projects,â€ from taking back city hall to reclaiming the proper interpretation of the American or Dutch republicsâ€™ foundings. All 2kers can do is tell the faithful to cope; look to the Lord, count your blessings (name them square-inch by square-inch?), receive the means of grace, pray, and be faithful in your callings. This is not a project for changing the world. Most people â€“ Reformed Protestants included â€“ want to know â€œCanâ€™t we do more!?!â€
But if neo-Cals are better at inspiration, they are not so good at close reading. Not only do we fail to see in the New Testament exhortation for Christians to change the world, but we also read terms that 2kers are prone to use and neo-Cals to avoid. Peter and Paul refer to believers as strangers, aliens, and pilgrims. These are not the words that come to mind with neo-Calvinism. The mascot of neo-Cals is the crusader (retired recently by Wheaton College for obvious culturally insensitive reasons; but when have neo-Cals been sensitive to culture let alone people?)
But 2kers can take hope from the original Calvinist, John Calvin. He is hard to turn into a cultural transformer despite the efforts of Kuyper and H. Richard Niebuhr (has any neo-Cal ever asked why Kuyperâ€™s reading of Calvinism is so similar to a liberal Protestantâ€™s?). When you read Calvin you see the biblical themes of exile and pilgrimage. And when he comments on those favorite texts of cultural dominators, he is very short on the inspiration that typifies neo-Calvinism. Here are a couple of illustrations.
Calvin on Romans 8: 37 (â€œNo, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.â€)
We do more than conquer, etc.; that is, we always struggle and emerge. I have retained the word used by Paul, though not commonly used by the Latins. It indeed sometimes happens that the faithful seem to succumb and to lie forlorn; and thus the Lord not only tries, but also humbles them. This issue is however given to them, â€” that they obtain the victory.
That they might at the same time remember whence this invincible power proceeds, he again repeats what he had said before: for he not only teaches us that God, because he loves us, supports us by his hand; but he also confirms the same truth by mentioning the love of ChristAnd this one sentence sufficiently proves, that the Apostle speaks not here of the fervency of that love which we have towards God, but of the paternal kindness of God and of Christ towards us, the assurance of which, being thoroughly fixed in our hearts, will always draw us from the gates of hell into the light of life, and will sufficiently avail for our support.
Calvin on 2 Cor. 10:5 (â€œWe demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.â€)
And bring into captivity I am of opinion, that, having previously spoken more particularly of the conflict of spiritual armor, along with the hinderances that rise up in opposition to the gospel of Christ, he now, on the other hand, speaks of the ordinary preparation, by which men must be brought into subjection to him. For so long as we rest in our own judgment, and are wise in our own estimation, we are far from having made any approach to the doctrine of Christ. Hence we must set out with this, that he who is wise must become a fool, (1 Corinthians 3:18), that is, we must give up our own understanding, and renounce the wisdom of the flesh, and thus we must present our minds to Christ empty that he may fill them. Now the form of expression must be observed, when he says, that he brings every thought into captivity, for it is as though he had said, that the liberty of the human mind must be restrained and bridled, that it may not be wise, apart from the doctrine of Christ; and farther, that its audacity cannot be restrained by any other means, than by its being carried away, as it were, captive. Now it is by the guidance of the Spirit, that it is brought to allow itself to be placed under control, and remain in a voluntary captivity.
So the lesson for 2kers is the same lesson for all Christians: suffer, submit, and suck it up. But is contrary to such sucking to wish neo-Cals were better students of the Bibleâ€™s and Calvinâ€™s assigned readings?)