The redemption of culture, science, and the arts
We see our job as being to redeem to people, and when we do, we don’t tell them much about God’s will for their job, their hobbies, or their role in society. We are mainly concerned with church attendance, volunteering for church ministries — nearly all of which serve the needs of Christians and their children, and giving money.
Kuyper realized that God reigns over much more than that. Science is God’s sphere, because science is the study of God’s creation. And we see this in the fact that science has brought vast blessings to humanity: prosperity, medicine, and so on. Not many of us would want to return to world as it existed pre-antibiotics and pre-electricity. Kuyper argues that these blessings are not human blessings. Rather, we simply discovered potentials in God’s good creation that he put there for us to find. Studying the good — the Creation — brings us closer to God, and so it’s hardly surprising that science has blessed those whom God loves.
Arts — art that’s any count — is about beauty, and beauty is a mark of God’s creative hand. The only reason we humans perceive some things as ugly and some as beautiful is because some things take us closer to the heart of God. Now, when I say art is about beauty, that doesn’t mean that all art is beautiful. Some great art is ugly, but it’s great art because it shows us the ugliness that comes from the absence of God or the need for God’s work to be completed among us.
Culture includes more than science and art. It’s just a matter of applying the same thought to other areas of life. God reigns over TV, movies, literature, etc. Obviously, much of American culture does not bow before God, but it should. The solution isn’t merely to enforce a language or morality code on the making of entertainment. The Bible likely wouldn’t survive the scissors of modern censors! Rather, it’s not sex and language that makes a TV show Godly or not — it’s the values behind the sex and language. And it’s the values behind the stories and the characters.
Victorianism is not the same as Christianity. In the Bible, we read of rape, incest, bigamy, homosexual sex, and on and on. But the writer writes from a Godly perspective — seeing God as sovereign, sin as sin, and virtue as virtue.
God extends his grace to all
When we think of grace, we think of God’s generosity in terms of salvation. But the Biblical concept is indeed broader —
(Mat 5:43-48) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 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.”
I’ve quoted this before, but it bears repeating. Jesus’ point is that we should be like God, particularly in the way God gives rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous. The Calvinists call this “common grace,” as opposed to the grace of God’s unconditional election extended only to the elect. My own view is that all God’s grace is available to all.
(Psa 145:9) The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
We, as God’s children, are therefore required to do as God does — serve the world and the church, the lost and the saved, the unrighteous and the righteous. And this is more than serving in order to gain converts. Rather, we serve out of love, and the love will produce converts. The converts may not even be from among the people we serve — they may be others watching our good deeds and being convicted.
You see, we can never be truly effective in evangelism until we become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Kuyper’s concept of “antithesis” emphasizes teh importance of being distinct from the world. We must be in the world but not of the world. We are to participate in God’s mission to transform the world, and not be transformed by the world.
When we do our good works, we do them in the name of Jesus. We don’t let the world think we are acting for any motive than out of the love of God. We make certain that we are seen as different — and if that gets in the way of the work, we nonetheless act in Jesus’ name. Therefore, if the government won’t let us serve except as a secular organization, we find another way to serve. Otherwise, Jesus won’t be glorified and the powers of the world will have won a victory. It’s not negotiable.
This is where the Social Gospel movement messed up. They were so focused on the immediate mission: to help the poor — that they forgot about the larger mission: to bring glory to Jesus. Therefore, even though they had great success and did great good in bringing public education to the millions, Jesus was not glorified by their victory. They failed to create a system that preserved the sovereignty of Jesus over their good works. It was a mistake.
And this is where the great divide in American Protestantism originates. Some churches focus only on evangelism, because that plainly serves Jesus. Others focus solely on social justice, because that plainly is an act of love for our neighbors. But the evangelistic churches fail to love as Jesus loves. That’s a poor form of service indeed. And the social justice churches fail to bring any glory to Jesus — they don’t bother to preach Jesus to those they claim to love. That’s a pitiful form of love.
True love — love for God and love for fellowman — is found in serving the needy always and only in the name of Jesus, seeing the lost as lost but also as people whom God loves — indeed, people whom God loves already, whether or not they are converted. And so we must love them, too.