Neo-Calvinism: Abraham Kuyper, Criticisms, Part 3

Common grace

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.”

Liberalism

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.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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7 Responses to Neo-Calvinism: Abraham Kuyper, Criticisms, Part 3

  1. Joe Hegyi III says:

    I believe you're right, what Kuyper was reaching for is very close to God's heart. It's what drew me to this segment of the Church. If you ever want a really excellent view of how this could work in the real world, take a look at the life of Chuck Colson. I think he's found that balance that's needed. His book "How Now Shall We Live?" is a compelling vision, though I don't buy the whole "cultural mandate" thing.

  2. Kyle says:

    Not being entirely familiar with the majority of proof texting for Calvinism and it's doctrine of the elect and predestination, how heavy does it rely on the First Testament's understanding of Jewish election and does it just replace Israel with Christians?

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Excellent question, and in my reading, it does not do that. Here's a link to a summary by Piper of his teaching: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articl

    As you've suggested, it's based entirely on proof texting, and does not attempt to fit the theology into the scripture's narrative. It certainly doesn't take into account New Perspective theology — which Piper opposes.

    I've been thinking I should sort through that here shortly. We'll see if I have time and energy — and God gives me insight to figure it out. Maybe …

  4. Randall says:

    Kyle,
    Reformed theology aka Calvinism is associated with Covenant Theology. It is my opinion that many adherents of Covenant theology find many of the promises made to Israel fulfilled in the church. Another perspective is Dispensational Theology which is associated with a guy named Darby – I think from the 1800s so it is more recent than Covenant theology. Dispensational theology makes a BIG distinction between Israel and the church. Some feel that each point of view makes a contribution, but each ihas its shortcomings. That is, Covenantal theology confuses Israel with the church and Dispensational theology makes too big a distinction. Covenant theologians are almost always amillennial; and Dispensational theologians are almost always premillennial and typically believe in a pre or mid tribulation rapture. Postmillenialist understand the end times in a manner more consistent with a plain understanding (more like historic premillenialists – possibly Lipscomb or Harding) of scripture, but believe Jesus will return at the end of the 1,000 years (or very long period of time) during which the church reigned on earth. I mention this only b/c Alexander Campbell was a postmillenialist and he belived his movement was the beginning of the golden age which would be climaxed by the return of Jesus.

    R.C. Sproul wrote a rather short book titled Chosen by God which gives a good basic understanding of Calvinism (from a Calvinist) and I believe the book is available free on line. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries also provide the book for free to anyone that asks. There is a great deal of information (and misinformation) available on line to anyone that is interested in finding out what Calvinism really is. In short, it is a whole world view based on the foundation that this is God's world and he rules it as he sees best. The "five points of Calvinism" came from the Canons of the Synod of Dort which was called as a response to the Dutch Remonstrance which put forth the five points of Arminianism. It is not correct that Calvinism is based on the five points or simply proof texts – they simply grow out of the view that God rules his creation. Like every point of view they do have their proof texts.

    Charles Ryrie of Dallas Theological Seminary (I think he is still alive) wrote a book called Dispensationalism Today. It did not turn out to be all he may have hoped it would be, but it will give you an good idea on what Dispensational Theology is. Of course, there are also encyclopedias of the bible that give pretty good summaries of most things theological.

    A very easy way to get a lot of information w/o a lot of effort is simply to Google the terms and see what you find. Wikipedia almost always has some concise articles on any theological matter you might want to look up.
    Peace,
    Randall

  5. Joe Hegyi III says:

    Kyle:

    If you want the classic answer about predestination, check out the book "Reformed Doctrine of Predestination" by Loraine Boettner. It's a rather old book but still in print because it is still one of the best books on the subject. In fact here's the link to it at Amazon where it can be had for $10: http://www.amazon.com/Reformed-Doctrine-Predestin

    I used this book to try to wrap my brain around Calvinism and came away with the conclusion that there is something seriously wrong with a view that has God arbitrarily choosing people for salvation or damnation just because he feels like it.

  6. Kyle says:

    Wow….thanks for all those resources guys. Perhaps the question behind my question is really, do we need pick one? Are they not simply two sides of the same coin?

    Assuming the choices are staunch free will and staunch prdestination, am I being intellectually dishonest by agreeing that Scripture presents a God who has plans and predestines things but Scripture also admits that from our perspective we must make these choices for ourselves, that while they may have some predestination feel, practically speaking it matters very little since there is no full way of knowing the mind/will of God?

    Do I need to develop some deeply convoluted system of beliefs on this issue that takes one side or the other? Or am I too simplistic in wanting to admire the beauty in both doctrines and stand in awe of God?

  7. Joe Hegyi III says:

    Kyle:

    I won't speak for the others here but I don't believe you *need* to develop any particular theology but I believe most people do if for no other reason than to piece it all together in their mind. I admire aspects of several theologies of which I am not an adherent. I just can't get their theology to logically work in my head. If you can hold the two doctrines in tension in your mind, feel free!

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