For [Kuyper] common grace is primarily a grace directed to the redemption of the cosmos and culture. By rooting this doctrine in the divine decree of predestination he was able to construct a system whereby God’s plan for His creation is realized along a double track: the elect are brought to salvation by Christ as Mediator of redemption (particular grace) and the cosmos with all its potential for culture is redeemed by Christ as Mediator of creation (common grace). Such a conception had to lead to an essentially optimistic view of culture and the world. Not that Kuyper himself lost sight of sin and its awful consequences for the human race and the cosmos. He deeply believed in the antithesis and thus in the fundamental difference between common and particular grace.
I’m good with optimism. I think anyone who is on God’s side should believe he’s on the winning team — not just that he’ll be saved in the end, but that God will accomplish his entire agenda in time.
On the other hand, it makes no sense to believe that God has predestined some to salvation out of love and others to a better existence in this life, out of love, but ultimately an eternity in hell. If it pleases God to burn them alive forever, why would God want to bless them in this life?
The much more sensible interpretation is that God loves all men, and he therefore wants them all saved and all blessed in this life. He is not pleased with war, environmental disasters, or poverty, and we Christians are part of God’s plan to set things right. Common grace and particular grace are both manifestations of God’s love, and wants no one damned and no one to suffer or be oppressed.
What do Neo-Calvinists still know of justification as an inner occurrence wherein the living Word in union with the Spirit introduces a sinner into the spiritual reality of Christ and His Realm? Speculative, abstract, philosophical thinking has eliminated the sovereign, spiritual, inward working of the Word, turning it into a cerebral, intellectual concept. An abstract, organic idea of regeneration as a slowly maturing seed has taken the place of regeneration and justification by Word and Spirit.
No, rather, the neo-Calvinists see salvation as about much more than a personal relationship with Jesus. This is not diminished at all, but magnified so that this relationship is about much more than what happens when you die or how you spend one hour on Sunday morning! Indeed, the accusation is true in one sense; when we see Christianity as requiring us to be involved in God’s mission to the world, the poverty of the alternative view is revealed. We see how obedience to God in serving the hurting and needy turns the alternative kind of “faith” into a mere “cerebral, intellectual concept.”
What Neo-Calvinism has ultimately led to or at least contributed to, can be seen in the apostasy taking place at present in the very churches Kuyper did so much to establish, the Gereformeerde Kerken [Reformed churches in the Netherlands] and to a lesser extent in their sister churches in North America, the Christian Reformed Church. May God help us avoid making the same mistakes and may He preserve us in the faith once delivered to the saints by the apostles and rediscovered and set forth by the Reformers and their successors the Puritans. What we need is not Neo but Old Calvinism or the true Reformed Faith because it is Scriptural, confessional and experiential.
Finally, we get to the heart of the complaint — many Reformed (Calvinist) churches have become so secularized that they hardly concern themselves with salvation and damnation at all, preferring to become about social justice to the near exclusion of Christianity. And it’s a very real, very legitimate concern. Many churches that got heavily involved in social justice issues lost their spiritual focus, and became indistinguishable from secular good-works organizations. it’s true.
But the solution isn’t to run to the opposite extreme. As always, the solution is to return to the scriptures, and the scriptures tell us precisely who God is –
(Deu 10:14-21) To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.
17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.
At the beginning of the Law of Moses as set forth in Deuteronomy, God re-introduces himself to his chosen people. And he teaches election. But he also explains what’s important to him — orphans, widows, and aliens — the needy and the oppressed. And he then issues many laws designed to protect these very people.
He also explains that he takes no bribes and is impartial. He later commands his people to be honest judges who take no bribes and give justice to the poor as well as the rich.
You see, Deuteronomy teaches us that we are to be like God and care about those things that he cares about. It’s just that simple.
And God cares about the fate of our souls — so much so that he gave the life of Jesus to rescue our souls. But he also cares about each of us even now. And so must we.
(Mat 22:37-40) Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Why do we care about reforming the government? or the environment? or the poor? Because God does. How do I know that I’m supposed to participate in God’s common grace to help? Because he told me to love him and to love my neighbor. It’s really that simple.
The last thing we should do as God’s children is retreat to our church buildings and our theology and figure God has predestined the rest of the world to burn. No, God has chosen us — his Kingdom — to give us a mission: to be like God.
(Mat 5:44-48) But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What does it mean to be “perfect” as God is perfect? Jesus answers plainly. It’s to participate in the same common grace that God grants to all. He makes it rain on the good and evil, and so we must love even our enemies. And love means we must actively work for their good –
(1 John 3:18) Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
And so, am I a neo-Calvinist? No, because I’m no Calvinist. But if you look past that, you see that Kuyper was reaching for something very close to the heart of God. Call me a neo-Calvi-minian.