Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bye, Bye Kuyper

Bye, Bye Kuyper

What is below is a slightly revised version of an article that appeared originally in The Nicotine Theological Journal ( It has some connection to an earlier blog on mercy ministries, but its scope is broader. Here I challenge the whole concept of “world and life view” as it is held and practiced by many Reformed Christians. Of course, I, in common with everyone, have a world and life view. Part of my world and life view has to do with the mission of the church and the Christian’s relation to this present world.

Christ is Lord of all. No doubt about it. The ascended Christ is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. And, though all things have not yet been fully subdued under His Messianic rule, they will be, for He must reign until all things are placed under His feet, until even the last enemy, death, is destroyed, as which point He will turn over the kingdom to the Father, and submit Himself as Messianic King, so that God may be all in all. That is a glorious vision of the present and the future. But what does it mean for the here and now life in this world?

More than 40 years ago I thought I had begun to understand. I began to grasp “A Christian World and Life View.” I learned that Christ is Lord over all the “spheres”, that there is a distinction between the kingdom and the church, the kingdom being larger than the church while the church is the central institution in the kingdom. This, of course, was a very moderate form of Kuyperianism. It might be called Kuyperianism mediated through Southern Presbyterianism with its historic emphasis on the spirituality of the church.

One could, or so it seemed, hold to a distinctive mission for the church while not abandoning a “square inch” of the world to secularism. Christ could be Lord over all of life, and there could be a distinctive Christian view of education, biology, astronomy, business, economics, politics, art, history, labor relations, and all the rest, but His church could be the church. Ministers could focus on the ministry of Word and sacrament, while encouraging Christians, individually, or corporately by means of voluntary organizations, to take the whole world captive for Christ.

However, from time to time doubts came and had to be suppressed. Could one still sing, “I love thy kingdom, Lord, the house of thine abode, the church our blest Redeemer saved with his own precious blood”? Or, should a Presbyterian officer, who held this kingdom and church distinction, express a scruple in his subscription to the Confession of Faith? “The visible church…is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” Hymn and Confession seemed to identify the church and the kingdom. If they were the same, then either our concept of the church was way too small (it would have to be in principle as big as the universe) or our concept of the kingdom too big.

There were inevitable questions about how far one could push the idea that there is a distinctive Christian view of everything. In The Spirit of the Reformed Tradition Eugene Oosterhaven gives an example of Kuyperianism gone too far in the existence in the Netherlands of a Christian goat breeders’ society. But why not?  Couldn’t there something distinctively Christian about a goat breeding society and perhaps about goat breeding itself (perhaps  something learned from Jacob’s goat husbandry)? Why could not an educator produce a series of articles entitled An Educational Commentary on the Bible (no doubt suggested by scary Gary North’s book An Economic Commentary on the Bible) and find significance for teachers’ dress in Joseph’s coat?

Then there were strange things that happened in Christian schools.  In a quest for a distinctly Christian curriculum, some schools, claiming a Reformed theological foundation, adopted the Abeka or Bob Jones curricula, produced by fundamentalists who are enemies of Calvinism. As one who had experienced the original Abeka education and is still in recovery, I might reasonably think, “If that’s all there is to the principles, content, and methodology of Christian education, I think I’ll take a pass.” Within the Reformed educational community today can one can hear that “classical education” is Biblical and unbiblical, that “outcomes based education” is to be embraced or damned, that phonics is the only or one way to teach reading, that memorization and drill produce disciplined or small minds. What's Christian?

Such questions as “Is there a distinctively Christian mathematics or chemistry?” kept rising to the surface. One had to hope that some smarter person could spell out the distinctively Christian view of them. One could become quite uncomfortable with the contradictions and absurdities to which folks were pushed to find a Christian view of everything having to do with education. (Of course, if my case is proved, we will still need Christian schools, to counteract the stupidity and irrationality of the state schools, to bring up our children in the context of Christian morality, and to add the Bible classes and chapels to “regular” courses.)

Then one had to ask how successful the church has had been in making itself Christian. In the days I learned about a Christian worldview, conservatives in the PCUS were battling unbelief and liberalism (including “the social gospel”). When that did not succeed and a new denomination came into existence, there continued to be a disconnect between the church’s confession and practice. Churches Calvinistic by confession practiced Charles Finney’s evangelism and taught his views of sanctification. It was not surprising then that the seeker service took the place of the invitation system as the updated, more sophisticated Finneyism.

In the PCA at least, changes of view and practice regarding some of the issues that brought it into existence have occurred. For instance the doctrine and practice of the spirituality of the church is now criticized as a pietistic withdrawal from the world; what would have been labeled the social gospel is now word and deed ministry; what once what was the inappropriate meddling of the church in civil affairs is now following the Biblical imperative that church must “speak prophetically” and “do justice.”(See the early publications by Presbyterian Churchmen United that argued the necessity of a new denomination and compare the practices condemned in them with the practices of the new denomination.)

The most nagging problem had to do with the New Testament. Where in the teaching of Jesus and/or the apostles could be found the exhortation for “Christian engagement” that is taught as a duty by Kuyperianism in all it permutations? Paul and Peter both taught Christians how to respond to the state, and in the process indirectly said something about the functions of the state, but where did they call for the reformation of the state? Is it really legitimate, for instance, to pour into the "good" of “minister for good”, referring as it did to the Roman Empire, all the content of Old Testament Law?   

Paul taught Christian masters and slaves how they should conduct themselves as masters and slaves, but where did he call for the abolishment of slavery? 

What did the oft-used “taking every thought captive” have to do with exercising Christian dominion over the world of thought about everything? In the context it seems to have to do Paul’s ministry as an apostle for the church, not engagement with politics, or art, or economics, or any other sphere. One could hope to find the foundations of a Biblical world and life view in Scripture, but honest moments required admitting that, if it were there, it was by no more than implication.

The nagging problem also had to do with the uses to which the Bible was put. If Christ is Lord, and has a will on everything, where could one find it? Unless one believes in continuing revelation, then the expression of Christ’s will had to be found in the Bible.

But, is there a distinctly Biblical business model, or does one do business in a Christian way acting on moral principles such has having integrity and treating employees and customers right? (BTW, I have more than once observed that some “Christian businessmen” are less concerned for their employees’ welfare than some who make no Christian profession.) 

Did I have to say about economics that I believed in capitalism because it was taught in the Bible? Or could I not say simply that I thought it best conformed to the nature of man and his place in creation and that it seemed to work better than all other systems?

Did I have to say, as did D. James Kennedy, that Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem taught the necessity of the space missile defense system or just say I thought it a good defense policy?   

Could I not just say that the welfare system seemed not to work to help poor people in this country and that the welfare state is proving non-sustainable in Western Europe without claiming there is a revealed plan of social welfare?

Over and over I had the sense that the Bible was being forced to address subjects its authors never meant to address and that it was being forced to say things it never intended to say. (One can address to a document questions it did not intend to address and get answers, but the answers are not fairly considered those of the document.) The Confession clearly says that the Bible is the infallible rule of faith and practice. The Confession is not speaking about all things one may believe or all one’s actions, but about the Church’s belief and conduct. 

It says that the Bible reveals everything needed for man’s salvation and God’s glory, not everything we need or want to know. To say this is not to fall into the error of holding that the Bible is infallible only when it speaks on matters of salvation and not when it records history, but it does tell us something about the reason that history is recorded and what use we are to make of it.

What has been the consequence of this Kuyperianism on the church? It has blurred all sorts of important distinctions – the church and the world, general and special revelation, special and common grace, the sacred and the secular, worship and life, the calling to ministry and all other callings.

 The distinction between church and kingdom has proved impossible to maintain. The church now offers everything from “Christian aerobics” to “Christian financial planning.” The church must be strong in “word and deed” (as Jesus was). These ministries God has joined together and must never be put asunder. Deed is just as important as word. The church must do something for people – build homes, establish enterprise zones, teach job skills, advocate for justice on their behalves. No longer is there any attempt to draw the line between what the church does and what individuals, private organizations, and government do. The church and the kingdom are one, not in the traditional sense that the rule of God is displayed in the vital but limited ministries of the church, but in sense that the church may and should do anything and everything.

It has turned the church into a blabber mouth. There is not only very little the church may not do; there is very little about which the church may not express an opinion. A denomination whose historical roots are in one that insisted that the church could not condemn slavery because one could be a member in good standing in the apostolic church as slave or master, now apologizes for slavery – not for evil ways in which it was practiced but for the institution. (This writer 40 years ago served two summers as an assistant to an African American pastor in an all black congregation in the deep South. Later in ministry to students he had a fully integrated group when sister groups in his state had even one minority student.)

A church whose Confession teaches that church courts must not intermeddle in civil affairs and should speak to the state only if the state asks for an opinion or in extraordinary cases (one would guess that such things as the suppression of the gospel by the state were in the minds of the writers) and whose system of government says that the church and state are planets moving in concentric orbits, nevertheless has found itself compelled to express its opinion on women serving the armed forces.

Christians have come to believe that they worship God as much in their weekday jobs as they do on the Lord’s Day gathered with the congregation to pray, sing, read, and preach. In fact, Monday can be more important than Sunday. Sunday’s gathering is justified not by offering God acceptable worship and dispensing the means of grace, but only if it has some good effect on one’s work and leisure Monday through Saturday. 

Ministers who lead in worship, preach the Word, and administer the sacraments are doing nothing more important than the politician or housewife (or husband) or professor of physics or laborer.  In fact he may be doing something less important as he provides only the spiritual inspiration for those who really advance the kingdom. The Christian school is as important as the Church, perhaps more important if we want to prepare our young people to conquer the world for Christ.

The whole thing has led to a denigration of the traditional mission of the church. Churches are embarrassed to say that they have no more to offer than the ordinary means of grace. Ministers feel they must apologize if they do no more than preach the Word, administer the sacraments, show lost sheep the way to the fold, and help make sure the gathered sheep have the provision and protection they need as they make their way to the heavenly sheepfold. The world, it is contended, will rightly condemn the church if it does not see the “practical effects” of its existence (hence the church must distribute voters’ guides to promote Christian political agendas, create faith-based ministries to provide cradle to grave welfare, put on get seminars so everybody can communicate and have good sex, and offer concert seasons and art shows to provide the congregants and community with cultural experiences).

When we moved to the Washington D.C. metro area, I got off the Beltway confident that I would find a “landmark” and lead my family to our destination. One wrong turn led to another and soon we were lost and confused. It is one of those family stories oft repeated at my expense. Only when we got right directions and follow them did we find our home.

Perhaps it’s time to do the Reformed thing – go back to the Bible and ask for directions. Matthew 28: 18-20 would be a good place to start. Then see how the Apostles worked that out in there time and places. Perhaps if we ask the right question, get the right answer, and follow the directions, we can find our way to letting the church be, of all things, the church. And so we will do most to hasten the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father


D.J. Cimino said...

This was a great post! Thanks so much...

D.J. Cimino said...

BTW, I recently started attending a PCA church. Among other things, (CT) the 2 kingdoms and the spirituality of the church were key in finding a Reformed congregation.

Scott said...

I think you've done a pretty good job of highlighting a lot of the abuses of Kuyperian thinking. But abuses in the name of the "spirituality of the church" are equally plentiful. The church proclaimed Jesus as Lord--that proclamation alone was political blasphemy. In effect, they were telling the entire roman empire that the Roman political system was a system of misplaced worship.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

The Christian message was the Jesus is Lord and the Christian may not do anything the Lord forbids or fail to do anything he requires. Beyond that Jesus, Paul, and Peter did not go. They had not political strategy or plan to promote or pursue. The government that is is ordained by God and Christians are to respect and obey that government.

Scott said...

That depends on how you define political, and equivocation on that term is one of the problems in current debate. I'm no fan of D.J. Kennedy's political gospel either, but in a broader sense of the word, the Christian proclamation that Jesus is Lord is fundamentally political. It's a proclamation that ought to turn every political system on its head.

Equivocation on the word "spiritual" is another problem in the debate. I believe in the spirituality of the church, properly defined. But the southern presbyterian understanding of this is basically gnostic. It draws a dividing line between spiritual and physical never found in Scripture. The Gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is the resurrected Lord to whom every knee will bow and every political authority will submit. It is the hope of a restoration of all creation--physical creation.

The Bible does not give believers an excuse for ignoring global problems like injustice, global warming, the economic downturn, what have you, even if the church's role (as an organization) in those issues is smaller than what believers are called to do. The cultural mandate applies to all of life for all people.

K. Hugh Acton said...

Scott, you have accused the Southern Presbyterian doctrine of gnosticism without any evidence. You just broad-swiped a whole tradition and many godly, orthodox men to make your case.
The Bible does quite a bit of ignoring the world and its injustices. Yes, it condemns them from time to time, but its focus is on the church. This is particularly true of the NT, which has a lot of positive things to say about a corrupt and idolatrous civilization and its Caesar. No where do the apostles deal with Roman economic injustice, political inequity, or even poverty (aside from personal and church duties toward the poor). Paul doesn't have anything to say about Corinth's institutional sexual debauchery, only that the church is to keep herself from it.
You can't slam the Southern Presbyterians without bringing the apostolic church under your censure.

Paul said...

The CC wrote,

"Christ could be Lord over all of life, and there could be a distinctive Christian view of education, biology, astronomy, business, economics, politics, art, history, labor relations, and all the rest,"

How does this square with David VanDrunen's claim that,

"Though these disciplines [e.g., chemistry, political science, mathematics, law, epistemology, etc] focus upon interpreting natural revelation, however, Scripture says significant things relevant for them all. Each field of learning explores some aspect of the created order, and thus the very first thing taught in Scripture, that God has created all things, pertains generally to all academic inquiry. God’s upholding the natural order underlies mathematics and the natural sciences, his upholding the social order underlies the social sciences, and the twin facts of human sinfulness and image-bearing underlie the humanities.

These considerations suggest that Scripture says crucial things about the big picture of all academic disciplines, while it is silent about nearly all the narrower, technical details of these disciplines (except theology). (I recognize this can only be a general rule and that it will not always be clear where to draw the line between the big picture and the technical details.)


Second, the church must teach ideas that have broad relevance for all the academic disciplines, that is, the big picture concerns about which Scripture speaks. Since the church is to proclaim all that the Scriptures say, then the church should teach something (directly or indirectly) about every discipline.

–David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 2010, 175-176, most emphasis supplied

It at least *appears* to this reader that you'd disagree with DVD.

You also say,

One could hope to find the foundations of a Biblical world and life view in Scripture, but honest moments required admitting that, if it were there, it was by no more than implication.

I wonder the juxtaposition between what Scripture *says* and what it *implies*. Isn't an implication of Scripture, itself Scripture, or to be believed as Scripture?

Cont . . .

Paul said...

Cont . .

"Paul taught Christian masters and slaves how they should conduct themselves as masters and slaves, but where did he call for the abolishment of slavery?"

Are you suggesting "Kuyperians" suggested that Paul explicitly called for the abolishment of slavery? Of, have they rather claimed that the Bible laws for anthropological and ethical principles from which the immorality and impropriety of something like, say, modern European salvery may be deduced?

"Such questions as “Is there a distinctively Christian mathematics or chemistry?” kept rising to the surface."

Perhaps it would help my reading if you defined what it is to be a "distinctively Christian view" of X.

"Did I have to say about economics that I believed in capitalism because it was taught in the Bible? Or could I not say simply that I thought it best conformed to the nature of man and his place in creation and that it seemed to work better than all other systems?"

I'm not sure I grasp the distinction. Where did you learn about "the nature of man and his place in the creation?" Is this all or nothing? Or is your view based on a conjunction of special and general revelation?

"Did I have to say, as did D. James Kennedy, that Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem taught the necessity of the space missile defense system or just say I thought it a good defense policy?

Tell me, is something like this an *entailment* of transformationalism per se, or is it simply the result of a specific *model* of transformationalism? If the former, how would you show this strong claim? If the latter, what's the importance, for people can find silly statements made on all sides. For example, Darryl Hart's need to distance math from Christianity drove him to claim that the value of 2+2 changes depending on what base you add in. Should I hold this up as an example of what supposedly happens if you deny that the Bible does have significant things to say about mundane matters like math?

"It has turned the church into a blabber mouth. There is not only very little the church may not do; there is very little about which the church may not express an opinion."

To this reader, it looks like you'd say DVD wants the church to be a blabber mouth, given his claims in the 2K manifesto I cited from.

I guess I'll stop now. Answers to the above would help in reading this piece. Thanks in advance!

Scott said...

K. Hugh, I think if you read what I wrote carefully, you'll see I did no such thing. I did not accuse southern presbyterian doctrine of being gnostic. I said that their understanding of "spiritual" is "basically gnostic." Those are two different accusations. I used to see myself as SP, and I have good friends still in that camp. But I'll stand by what I said. Historically, the SP doctrine of the spirituality of the church has been used to isolate what it deems "spiritual" from what it deems "secular." In at least some circles, ministry to the physical needs of people rather than the spiritual needs of people a catering to a "social gospel." The person is divided into two halves, spiritual and physical, and the church is only allowed to care for half the person. Now, obviously, not all are so crass in the distinction. But in reality, you cannot help the poor in today's society without being "social" or even "political."

Now please understand, I'm not saying we should go to "reclaiming america" nonsense. But the church is called to minister to the whole man, not just what it deems the "spiritual" part of man. Likewise, Scripture never catalogs a list of areas in the world deemed off-limits to the church by calling them "secular." Scripture knows nothing of the secular. That's a modern invention imposed upon the Bible to make the arbitrary distinction that has been so damaging to the church and the honor of Christ.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Paul, it was not my purpose to interact with DVD, but to write of my own pilgrimage and views with relation to the brand of Kyperianism I earlier embraced.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Scott I would refer you to my earlier blog "Spitting into the Wind."

Scott said...

I hate to say it, but that post confirmed my suspicion--it says the church is only allowed to minister to what it deems the "spiritual" needs of unbelievers, driving a wedge between the spiritual and the physical that Scripture never does.

When Moses led Israel in her exodus and gathered her together at Mt. Sinai, he called Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Israel was to have a priestly function with respect to the nations. How? Primarily through obedience to the Law, summarized in the 10 commandments.

Likewise, after Jesus' "exodus" from Egypt, he ascended a mountain and delivered the Sermon on the Mount, defining the church's mission for a new age. You can imagine the significance of this, as well as the questions--is this replacing the Law? Absolutely not, he argues. But nevertheless, the beatitudes and the sermon on the mount direct the church's priestly relation to the world.

The NT does not give us a rule book on how mercy ministry is to be done, but the sermon on the mount does insist that mercy ministry should characterize the church's relationship to the world. So the early church assembled believers together, and they sold their possessions to "give to everyone as he had need." It doesn't say to all believers, or all members. It says to everyone. Was Luke assuming we would understand his words to be all believers? It's possible that was what he was trying to say. But I think it's significant that it's "believers" that gather, but the giving goes to "everyone" with need.

When Paul is sent on his church planting mission, the apostles in Jerusalem tell him not to forget the poor. They're not telling him not to forget to tell individual converts to serve the poor. They're telling him as he plants churches, don't forget the poor.

Paul addressed the Galatian letter to "the churches" in Galatia, not individual members of churches. And he exhorts these churches to not grow weary in doing good to "all people." Here he's obviously talking about unbelievers, since he singles out believers to place a greater emphasis on them. So the church is to do good to all, especially believers.

If we don't walk around with the assumption that people are made up of two halves, one spiritual and one physical, this really is common sense. Obviously, we must preach the word--the gospel. Obviously, we must not neglect members to reach out to nonmembers. But it's lunacy for a church to go into an impoverished area and say, "we have spiritual food for you! Take, eat without cost! Accept the gospel and have eternal life!" But do it quick because you're obviously malnourished and on death's door, and the Bible says the church can't give you physical food until you take spiritual food first.

You might respond, "No, obviously, you could give them food, since you're an individual and not a church." To which I say, really? That's what you got to do to let the poor be cared for? I can preach to starving people as a ministry of the church, but I can't feed starving people as a ministry of the church, only as an individual? It really is silly.

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Scott, I think you have assumed some exegetical conclusions and a Biblical-theological or redemptive-historical framework which I do not share and which I think are mistaken. Without your assumptions your argument loses force.

Scott said...

Maybe, though I suspect we're closer than you might have guessed. It seems to me we're both conservative Presbyterians that both accept the WCF as our confessional document. I suppose on the scale between Kline and Kuyper, I'm closer to Kuyper than you, and if that's what you mean, I suppose you're right.

I also suspect I have a somewhat unique approach to the SoM, though much of it comes right from Ridderbos, and the parallels between Matt 1-7 and Exodus have been well-documented in commentaries. Jesus went through the same events as Moses and Israel in the Exodus, and so it seems to me very clear that the SoM ought to function in a similar fashion to Ex. 20-23. Of course, not undermining the Law (I'm a good presbyterian), but applying the law to the church in light of the coming of Christ. It seems to me clear that it's an ecclesiastical sermon, not just a sermon for individuals.

Not so long ago, I was much more Klinian in my approach to Biblical theology. It was partly the implications for mercy ministry that caused me to say goodbye to a lot of what I learned from Kline. I still consider his writings wonderful on a lot of subjects, but the whole package together I think has problems.

I reread my last comment earlier, and I thought to myself, "you know that could be taken in an unkind way." I apologize for that--I don't know how you took my words, but I mean no disrespect to you.

At the same time, I hope you can appreciate the practical difficulties of applying this theology in real world ministry. I believe you consider ministry to the poor important, even if not the proper ministry of the church. But how practically can you live that out when seeking to evangelize the poor? Do you have to find some parachurch organization to do the mercy work so you can do the gospel work? Should gospel ministry be held back by a theology that says the church can't help the poor physically, only spiritually? I worked as a minister for many years, and these issues would crop up all the time when the church's mission entered into poor areas.

So please forgive my tone in my last comment, but also, if I can offer this, please don't let perceived differences in our hermeneutic detract from a very real problem facing two-kingdom thinking, namely how it defines "spiritual."

Paul opposed "spiritual" with "natural" in 1 cor. 15, but not with physical. We now have natural/physical bodies, but in the resurrection, we'll have spiritual/physical bodies. I suspect you agree with me on that because you're not gnostic, you're presbyterian. But when the spiritual/physical dualism is thrown out, many of the two-kingdom divisions disappear with it.

Paul said...

The CC,

Thanks, but my posts were not only about DvD's remarks. Thus I scratch my head at your response.

Second, thanks for the answer you did give. It was a personal testimony that is ostensibly at odds with standard 2K literature but gives the *impression* of being solidly in-line with the Old School, 2K, Confessional movement. But even that answer isn't satisfying. See, according to your post it seems you'd have to label DvD's position "Kuyperian" and "transformationalist." But apparently his position is, if anything is, totally *opposite* Kuyperianism and transformationalism! So i think DvD's comments provide a touchstone which indicates your post may be a tad more radical than "Bye bye Kuyper," since it's also "Bye bye David VanDrunen." But that can't be right, can it?

Again, any interpretive help in reading your post would be appreciated, thanks!

markmcculley said...

Maybe it all goes back to Bill Gothard, and not to Kuyper, at least in baptist (bible church, mennonite, etc) congregations. Though they deny that the new covenant is the same as the Abrahamic covenant, they still that fathers are the special priests to their families.