Will the Real Kuyper Stand Up?

From Crawford Gribben’s recent review of George Marsden’s book on 1950s America (and more):

His conclusion draws from the philosophy and political strategies of Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), the renowned theologian, newspaper editor, and founder of the Free University in Amsterdam, who also found time to become the Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1901–05).

Kuyper’s theory of “sphere sovereignty” incorporated central tenets of the Calvinism he had inherited, but radically reconstructed its traditional political obligations. The Reformed tradition within which Kuyper operated had long assumed that the role of government was to uphold the moral claims of Scripture, and to effect a confessional culture in which societal norms paralleled those of believers. Kuyper’s great contribution to the Reformed tradition was to overturn this consensus, sometimes at substantial risk to himself, arguing for a more limited view of the responsibilities of government, and emphasizing that it ought not to intrude into the “spheres” of family, church, and voluntary associations. Kuyper argued that believers and unbelievers were divided by an “antithesis” that was simultaneously spiritual and existential, and so advocated the establishment of denominational schools and universities within which believers of different kinds could be separately educated.

This intrusion of sharp religious distinctions into the public square was balanced by Kuyper’s advocacy of “common grace”—the notion that all of humanity, as God’s image-bearers, were recipients of divine kindness—which permitted the construction of a public culture that could be non-confessional and non-denominational. Believers, in other words, could organize in robustly confessional institutions within a broader political environment that respected religious difference while enshrining the non-confessional principles of “natural law.” Kuyper’s utopia looked a lot like constitutional Americanisms, however far it would be from the sometimes theocratic assumptions of modern evangelicals.

This is a Kuyper behind whom I can line up. Church is a distinct sphere with limited responsibilities. Kuyperians use natural law instead of insisting on revealed truth in public life. Christian truth serves not as a basis for driving out the secularists and leftists but offers a strategy for embracing pluralism.

So why is it that the influence of neo-Calvinism flourished precisely during the most contested battles of the culture wars? One account would have to rely on Francis Schaeffer and his use of w-w to show why Christians could never bend the knee to a neutral public space. Along with that has to go a stress upon the neo-Calvinist notion of antithesis which does a handy job of dividing believers from unbelievers — why it doesn’t divide Calvinists from Arminians, or Protestants from Roman Catholics, or Christians from Jews is another matter.

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Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Mystery-Averse Minds

In case you haven’t noticed, Christianity is riddled with dilemmas and perplexities. For instance, Christ tells his followers to have nothing to do with the world but then he leaves Christians in the world. Another is that Christ wins by defeat; by dying on the cross, Satan’s apparent victory, Christ snatches believers from the grip of the evil one. Yet another is the doctrine of the Trinity. Still another is that Christ is Lord and Christians should submit to a counterfeit lord by the name of Nero. If you wanted intellectual consistency, then you’d likely end up abandoning orthodox Christianity.

The intellect defying mysteries of Christianity do not prevent critics of 2k from pointing out 2k’s apparent inconsistencies. Neo-Calvinism’s condemnation of all dualism fortifies critics in their quest to iron out all of Christianity’s wrinkles and gives them the upper hand in public relations contests since St. Joe the Home Schooler is more likely to trust a simple and direct answer to his questions than one that begins “well, yes and no.”

A recent attempt to catch 2k in the clutches of inconsistency came from Steven Wedgeworth at his new blog, The Calvinist International. He asks whether a seminary that trains pastors belongs to the spiritual or temporal kingdom and follows the reasoning of Ryan McIlhenry from an article in Mid-America Journal of Theology, not a journal that one associates with fans of the Federal Visions (but opposition to 2k makes for strange bed bugs). At a conference at Westminster California, David VanDrunen responded to this question in ways inconceivable to the perplexity challenged. Dissatisfied by VanDrunen’s response, Wedgeworth argues:

. . . VanDrunen attempts to soften things with a general admission of complexity and a denial that “every single plot of ground” can be put into one kingdom or the other, he does not admit the more obvious point: his specific expression of the two kingdoms cannot be coherently applied in the world. This is because he is still attempting to distinguish the kingdoms along the lines of vocation. Churchy callings and, specifically, Bible-teaching, are the business of the spiritual kingdom, whereas more ordinary jobs like committees, administration, and custodianship are the business of the worldly kingdom.

But what business does a common institution have training up the leaders of the spiritual kingdom? Indeed, under the terms of de jure divino Presbyterianism, this would mean that the spiritual kingdom of Christ is in fact dependent upon the worldly kingdom for one of its essential marks. Is VanDrunen now also among the Constantinians?

Notice that VanDrunen’s response was complex. But the actual 2k doctrine, elaborated by Wedgeworth’s interaction with Calvin and Luther, will not admit of such complexity. In which case the proponents of 2k are really not 2k after all.

But once again, history to the rescue. You don’t have to be 2k to understand that the work of seminaries does not fit easily in any of the modern categories of politics, education, or religion. Back in the 1940s the OPC debated whether to adopt Westminster Seminary as a denominational institution. Each of the committee members who studied the matter and rejected the idea of an ecclesiastically overseen seminary — R. B. Kuiper, John Murray, and Paul Woolley — appealed to the neo-Calvinist notion of sphere sovereignty, an indication that they may have been channeling Kuyper more than Machen. And each member recognized that a seminary does not belong to the church, nor to the state, but — get this — to the family, a common institution that belongs to both believers and unbelievers. According John Murray (in his portion of the report):

The teaching of the Word of God given in the family and in the Christian school will indeed, as regards content, coincide with the teaching given by the church, but this coincidence as regards content does not in the least imply that such teaching should be given under the auspices of the church. In like manner a theological seminary should teach the whole counsel of God. A great deal of the teaching must therefore coincide with the teaching given by the church, and, furthermore, a great deal of it is the teaching that may properly be conducted by the church and under its official auspices. It does not follow, however, that the teaching of the Word of God given in a theological seminary must be given under the auspices of the church. The mere fact that, in certain particulars, the type of teaching given is the type of teaching that may and should be given by the church and may also properly be conducted under the official auspices of the church does not rove that such teaching must be conducted under the auspices of the church. This does not follow any more than does the-fact that the teaching of the Word of God given in the home and in the school is in content the same as may and should be given by the church prove that the family and the school should be conducted under the auspices of the church. A theological seminary is an institution which may quite properly be conducted, like other Christian schools, under auspices other than those of the church, and a great deal of its work is of such a character that the church may not properly undertake it.

So if Reformed theologians not known for advocating 2k recognize that the formal academic training of ministers does not easily fall within either the temporal or spiritual kingdoms as designated by the earthly institutions of state and church, is it really a problem that 2kers offer complex answers to questions about to which kingdom Westminster California belongs?

Which leads to one last quibble. My impression of Mr. Wedgeworth is that he is a nice enough fellow and does not intend to bray or holler the way some anti-2k bloggers do. But when he complains that VanDrunen’s “expression of the two kingdoms cannot be coherently applied in the world,” my jaws tighten. When will the critics of 2k acknowledge that the teachings of Calvin or Richard Hooker cannot be applied coherently to our world either, or that 2k looks a whole lot more coherent after the revolutions of the late eighteenth century than do Constantinian politics applied to a mixed body of citizens? Again, for the gazillionth time, the problems of state churches and the demands of diverse populations led all the Reformed churches to drop the Reformation’s teaching about the Christian responsibilities of the magistrate. This may mean that all the Reformed communions are incoherent in their application of 2k theology. But that problem is not the peculiar possession of 2k’s advocates. I’d encourage pastor Wedgeworth to send a letter to NAPARC.

Home Schoolers Beware! Why Proponents of Christian Schools in Michiana Are Out to Destroy the Family

home schoolingOkay, that’s a little over the top, but it may be a fitting response to those who use scare tactics to oppose two-kingdom theology. Our favorite theonomist in the CRC, Rabbi Bret, has posted at his blog a piece that apparently appeared in Christian Renewal, that un-American (okay, it’s Canadian) publication which touts worldviewism from its corner of Dutch-Canadian culture. (The author is an elder in the URC and a supporter of Mid-America Reformed Seminary. I thought the URC and MARS were opposed to developments in the CRC but apparently Christian schooling makes the ordination of women look trivial.)

The article in question is a review of Westminster California’s recent issue of Evangelium where the faculty write about the importance of Christian education. Now we are all for a return to the polemics of nineteenth-century America when Charles Hodge would engage in lengthy debates with the likes of Edwards Amasa Park by simply responding to articles published in another theological quarterly. But a review of a publicity piece that offers a little food for the mind of potential and existing donors? Hello!?!

As if a “review” of promotional material doesn’t prove the lengths to which the editor and author will go to try to demean two-kingdom theology, the author’s introduction seals the deal. He begins by quoting someone who doesn’t even write for Evangelium – that would be me, whom he identifies as a WSC professor. Since the author is a lawyer, you might expect him to pay respect to technicalities, which would mean identifying me at least as an adjunct professor, not a professor. But higher purposes will not get in the way of righteousness, justice, and a Christian school.

To add insult to WSC’s injury, he even quotes a comment I wrote about teaching American history to a string of interactions about worldview at this blog. What this has to do with the issue of Evangelium under review is again one of those technicalities that one would expect a practicing attorney to understand. A quotation from a random comment on a blog would likely not hold up in a court of law, or even an ecclesiastical court. But for the cause of Christian education, all evidence is legitimate, all two-kingdom comments are in contempt.

Such disregard for minor formalities may explain the author’s complete indifference to major questions of jurisdiction. The author seems to agree with the idea that parents are responsible for the education of their children. But then he assumes that parental responsibility is the equivalent of the Christian school. Here are a few illustrative quotations:

So Daniel’s mastery of pagan education while maintaining his godly faith serves as an example for the education of our covenant youth. Translation for our time: as long as your child maintains his spiritual faith, education in a non-Christian school may be a legitimate venue of choice.

Let’s pause here to note that foundational principles of Christian education do not vanish due to someone’s bad experience at a non-Reformed Christian school, or one’s favorable memory of “witnessing” to unbelievers at a public school. Rather, the issue is our principled commitment to a full-orbed, Reformed-shaped, Christian education.

Read again the representative NL2k quotations cited in the introduction to this review and ask whether these be can reconciled to our Reformed worldview. If you find they cannot, then until such errors are rejected, general affirmations coupled with contextualized qualifiers will not stem the concern over the effect NL2k could have in the Reformed churches and in our Christian schools.

Each of these quotes highlights the way that the author only thinks of Christian schools when considering a Christian education. For him, the antithesis is writ large in the subjects children study and that antithesis is manifest formally in the antagonism between Christian schools and state schools.

Pardon my interruption, but did the rapture occur and leave this author behind in the year 1960? Has he never heard of home schools where the Christian teacher is the parent? Do the advocates of Christian schools really mean to exert tyranny over Christian parents so that fathers and mothers who educate their children at home are found guilty of providing a non-Reformed education?

One line is indicative of this slight to Christian parents: “Christian parents can be like a customer deciding between a Cadillac and a Ford. One choice may be better and cost more, but either one will get you to your destination. Such a consumerist ‘common realm’ approach to education certainly strikes a discordant note from our historic Reformed ethic.”

So it comes to this, the sacred responsibility of parents to teach their children becomes for Christian school advocates something as trivial a buying a car made in Detroit. This is a long way from the sphere sovereignty taught by the likes of Abraham Kuyper in which parents do have responsibility for education. Home schooling, in fact, is the purest form of parental responsibility for education. But “reviews” like this one heap spoon fulls of scorn upon those parents who sacrifice time, careers, parts of the house, and even standing within the community to insure that their children receive a Christian education.

And here I worried about the Obama administration destroying the family. Little did I know I had to worry about the Christian school board.