Friday, April 18, 2008

Neo-Calvinism Part 1: Culture


Neo-Calvinism is a movement founded by the Dutch Reformed minister Abraham Kuyper. Although he called it Neo-calvinism, it was to him simply Calvinism rejuvenated. As an editor-journalist, pastor, University professor, political party leader and Prime Minister Abraham had many channels in which to disseminate his views but the clearest expression of them is in the Stone Lectures he gave for Princeton University in 1898 titled Lectures On Calvinism. To Abraham, Calvinism represents Christianity in its purist and most consistent sense, and so as goes Calvinism so goes Christianity. His purpose in formulating Neo-Calvinism was to make Calvinism an all encompassing worldview that touches every area of a person's life because there is no area that Christ does not declare "Mine". Abraham believed Calvinism needed it's own culture, philosophy and science instead of borrowing from the worldly presuppositions of unbelievers. I will examine this movement in three parts and discuss why this movement is a departure from the Bible and therefore fraught with danger. This first part looks at culture. For another excellent discussion click on the link at the title with the lighthouse.


While it is a truth that a Christian is to recognize Christ as Lord of every area of his life, and walk consistently therein as we are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" and "a people for God's own possession" (1 Peter 2:9) Christ prayed in John 17:15 "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one". We are to be the "salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" (Matt. 5:13-16). If we withdraw into our own communities and isolate ourselves from the surrounding culture we become useless to God as "salt that has lost its savor". On a trip to Pennsylvania , my wife and I went to see the Amish communities there. We took a buggy ride and the Amish driver candidly admitted that they do not get any converts from outside their community, but only the children they raise. The Amish are just a tourist attraction with nothing to really offer the world but a nostalgic look at the past.

Another problem with this mentality is that it can kill creativity and individualism among Christians with its focus on uniformity and bring with it a judgmentalism. The Amish believe a Christian can only adorn ones walls with things which have a practical use such as a calender. Abraham similarly believed art was to be for religious or edifying purposes and denied "art for art's sake". We see in Scripture however that God loves beauty and much of the decorations on the Ark of the Covenant and Solomon's Temple, for instance, had no practical use but aesthetics only. We read in Genesis 1:31 that "God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" and in 2:9 "God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight" as well as "good for food". Ezra 7:27 tells us that God put it in the king's heart to "beautify the house of the Lord". In Exodus 28:2,40 we see garments described for the priesthood which were for the purpose of "glory and beauty" and notice God says in verse 3 that they were to use "gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom" to make the garments. Scripture is replete with examples of artistic talent and beauty. Leland Ryken has well said "(God) did not create a purely functional world. From a utilitarian point of view, God did not have to create a world filled with colors and symmetrical forms. He could have made everything a drab gray color, or he could have created people color-blind. Surely God could have made trees whose leaves do not turn to beautiful colors in the fall of the year, or a world in which all flowers are brown in color or grass that is gray instead of green" and he goes on to say "artistic beauty needs no justification for its existence, any more than a happy marriage does, or a bird, or a flower, or a mountain, or a sunset."(p72-73, Culture in Christian Perspective) Although art is ultimately reflective of God and is therefore ultimately for the sake of God, as is everything we do from eating, to using the bathroom to brushing our teeth, in the regularly understood sense, art is for aesthetic purposes and needs no practical necessity.

Finally this view fails to take into account the different cultures among christians themselves that are all equally following the Lordship of Christ in all areas of their life. Romans 14 clearly articulates this very thing as the church at Rome was struggling over foods and holidays. Paul says it is okay to be a vegetarian or a meat eater, to recognize holidays or have none but "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind"(verse 5). Some may argue that it is the weak brother that is the vegetarian(14:2) and so he needs to grow but this does not prove he is not following the Lord in all areas of his life. Also it is not always easy to determine who the weak christian is in some cultural distinctions. Are only weak christians the ones who celebrate Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving? Are only strong christians allowed to go see movies and listen to rock and roll music? Many other issues come to mind such as alcoholic beverage consumption and education whether it be public, private or home schooling. There is no one christian culture and to try and make one is tyrannical. It was reported to me that at a recent Vision Forum conference for fathers and daughters, a speaker at the conference said that all daughters are to be groomed for marriage. This is blatantly unscriptural as 1 Corinthians 7:25-38 clearly teaches that marriage is an option and Paul says it is ultimately better for her not to marry in verse 38. Like-minded people argue that women, as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7), are not able to go to college or hold a job outside the home. This is an unchristian philosophy often called "chauvinism" and subjugates women to secondary status teaching them to be ignorant and lazy and deny their divine purpose of being a "helpmeet" or "helper comparable"(Gen. 2:18). 1 Peter 3:7 could be saying that a man is to deal with his wife's weaknesses as Paul tells the strong christians at Rome to deal with the weak christians in Romans 14 or could be a referrence to her physical weakness as it is a biological fact that men have more muscle mass than a woman. Either way, it in no way encourages a woman to sin or allows her to stay in sin. Proverbs 31:10-31 and Romans 16:1-16 (many of whom are women)show women leaving their homes to labor. While many of these issues are not issues in and of themselves, it is an issue to make them issues. Galatians 5:1 says to "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." We must take extra care not to force our "culture" on others in a mandate or forbid theirs as "the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth."(1 Tim. 4:1-3)

For further reading on this subject, I recommend Culture In Christian Perspective: A Door to Understanding & Enjoying the Arts, and Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken, Where in the World is the Church: A Christian View of Culture and Your Role in It, and Beyond Culture Wars: Is America A Mission Field Or Battlefield? by Michael Horton also by Michael is a debate with Doug Wilson at on these issues.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


ARCHIBALD McLEAN (1733-1812)

I joyfully retract what I wrote about Archibald McLean in my blog bio of him at The Scottish Legacy part 2 on 11-9-06. Due to the inaccessiblity of his out of print works, I had to rely on secondary resources for my information of him and his writings. These resources stated he held to a doctrine of "baptismal regeneration" and I repeated this in my blog. Fortunately, the Lord has recently allowed me access to some of the works of this Scottish Baptist theologian. I have recently read his The Nature and Import of Baptism and found he clearly delineated between the sign and the salvation. If he wrote something else in which he changed his mind and articulated baptism as necessary for salvation I am not aware and would appreciate the knowledge. I have no knowledge of where the resources I used got their information and have no judgment as to their motives. They too may not have had access to McLean's works and relied on false reports or they may have honestly misunderstood something he wrote. There is also the possibility of nefariousness as McLean was considered a maverick theologian even amongst his fellow baptists. I have changed my bio of him and encourage readers to read the new bio and am sorry for the bearing of false witness. I also encourage his works on faith and the doctrines of grace as well as his work on baptism previously cited.