These posts will be built around a lecture given by Rev. C. Pronk on neo-Calvinism to the Student Society of the Free Reformed Churches of North America.
For Kuyper the domain of Calvinism was much broader than what most people in his time understood by it. His contemporaries in Reformed circles saw Calvinism as basically an ecclesiastical and confessional movement [correct church order and correct doctrine — sound familiar?]. Reformed or Calvinistic for them meant believing in the depravity of man and his absolute dependence on God for salvation. In other words, they stressed the doctrines of grace or the so-called Five Points of Calvinism in opposition to Arminians and Modernists who denied these doctrines.
Kuyper saw it as his mission in life to convince his fellow Reformed believers that Calvinism was much more than that. It was an all-encompassing world-and-life view, he insisted, which enables us to understand and make sense of reality. Our task as Christians, he said, is to bring the principles of Calvinism to bear upon the world so as to influence and change it, redeeming and claiming it for Christ to whom the whole created order belongs.
The key-concept of Calvinism, according to Kuyper, is the sovereignty of God over the whole cosmos in all its spheres. This Divine sovereignty is reflected in a three-fold human sovereignty, namely in the State, in Society and in the Church.
Kuyper was a TULIP Calvinist. And he wrestled with the same problem we see in modern evangelical and fundamentalist churches — the tendency to define our Christianity exclusively in terms of “going to heaven when we die.” Thus, we argue salvation issues endlessly and we focus on evangelism, but we don’t see our Christianity as deeply influencing other areas of life.
Though he respected God-fearing folks … , he realized that their faith was too inward directed and that they had to be brought out of their religious and cultural isolation. They needed to let their light shine and take seriously their task as Christians in the world, while still showing that they were not of the world.
How did Kuyper convince and persuade his religious constituency? He did so by teaching two seemingly contradictory doctrines, namely those of the antithesis and common grace. The word antithesis is made up of anti, meaning against, and thesis which means proposition, theory or statement. Antithesis, then, means taking position against beliefs held by one’s opponents e.g., in the area of religion and philosophy. According to Kuyper there exists a basic “antithesis” between the church and the world. The redeemed live out of one principle — love for God — and all others live out of the opposite principle, enmity of God, however this might be expressed.
Kuyper saw the line between the church and the world as being about much more than being saved and being lost. Rather, the church was called to a life of active love, whereas the world was infected with enmity toward God.
[Common grace] is the idea that in addition to special or saving grace which is given only to God’s elect, there is also a grace which God bestows on all men. Whereas special grace regenerates men’s hearts, common grace (1) restrains the destructive process of sin within mankind in general and (2) enables men, though not born again, to develop the latent forces of the universe and thus make a positive contribution to the fulfillment of the cultural mandate given to man before the Fall.
Because all men share in this common grace by virtue of the image of God left in them, Christians can and should work together with unbelievers towards improving living conditions, fighting poverty and promoting social justice for all. Besides, Kuyper argued, common grace enables us to recognize and appreciate all that is good and beautiful in the world and allows us to enjoy God’s gifts with thanksgiving. Therefore Christians should be actively involved in the arts and sciences and thus in the development of culture. In this way Kuyper challenged the Reformed community to “purge themselves of their ‘pietistic dualisms,’ their separation of Sunday from the workweek, of the spiritual from the physical — in theological terms, of nature from grace” (James Bratt).
Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace has been called the linchpin of his entire work and thought. By skilfully combining it with the doctrine of the antithesis, he reassured those who were concerned to preserve the difference between church and world, while on the other hand he also satisfied intellectuals within the Reformed camp who appreciated at least some aspects of culture.
Now, I would refer to this “common grace” as the fact that all men are created in God’s image, and while we are all fallen, we aren’t totally fallen. Therefore, even the lost may well share the church’s concerns with poverty or the common good. On the other hand, because the lost don’t have the Spirit and haven’t committed to the Lordship of Jesus, there will inevitably be points where the church and the world must go in different directions.
And I’d agree that Christianity sometimes slips into a modern Gnosticism where we draw too dark of a line between the spiritual and the worldly. After all, God made all seven days of the week, God made all men — the saved and the lost — and God made the government, the creation, and the family. Nothing is outside of God’s sovereignty, and therefore nothing is outside the concern of the church.
[T]he world is not the result of human effort but the fruit of divine grace. But not only that, common grace also showed that such institutions as the government and the law, the arts and sciences were not just products of grace but means of grace — instruments whereby God restrained sin and enabled man to develop creation as He had originally intended.
And this is, I think, also true. You see, the contemporary church flees both the arts and the sciences. The church flees the arts because artists are often not Christian and because we tend to see Christianity as being all about getting certain intellectual truths right. We fail to see that we worship a creative Being, who is best worshiped creatively.
And we flee science because our faith is weak and so we fear that science will destroy our faith. But if God really created the heavens and the earth, then science will declare the glory of God.
Study your history. Science has rid the planet of some of the worst of all diseases. Science has given us a level of prosperity that even the kings of old would envy. Science is therefore an instrument of God’s grace — whereby God allows his people to be blessed in his creation. But we refuse to give God the glory.