Friday, April 18, 2008

Neo-Calvinism Part 1: Culture


ABRAHAM KUYPER







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.







A CHRISTIAN CULTURE







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 http://www.credenda.org/issues/8-2disputatio.php?type=print on these issues.

4 comments:

Tom said...

You speak as though most Christians should not marry (using 1 Cor 7 as your proof text) and yet at the end of your post you quote from 1 Tim 4 about those who forbid marriage. Since you are married I'm going to assume you're in favor of it.

It would appear that you mention 1 Cor 7 in order to bring an accusation against someone who at a Vision Forum Conference said something about "grooming daughters for marriage". While I'll admit I have some issues with Vision Forum, at least they are attempting to counter the worldly, modern culture which discounts marriage and devalues motherhood.

Reading the entirety of 1 Cor 7, Paul is talking throughout it about marriage and in many instances is also saying to be married going so far as to provide godly counsel to those who are married. Since most people do get married, why is is unscriptural to prepare both sons and daughters to be married? It may go a long way to help stem the tide of divorce if parents were diligent about teaching their children what the scriptures do say about marriage, 1 Cor 7 being just one of many such passages. As well, parents should be an example as they live out their married lives before their children.

Elsewhere in scripture, (Titus 2 & Eph 5) Paul cites the rolls of men and women. It's clear from these texts he expects men and women to marry. Other scripture writers also concur such as Peter (1 Peter 3) and the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:4) where it says, "Marriage is honorable among all...". Marriage is an earthly symbol of Christ who is the bridegroom and the church who is the bride. Furthermore, children are a blessing from the Lord (see Psalms 127 & 128.)

Therefore, to not prepare our children for marriage (or adult life in general) would like planting a fruit tree in a garden and then walking away from it expecting it to flourish on its own. Lack of water, nutrients, weeds, proper pruning, and insects all will affect the growth of the fruit tree. If you do nothing, when you come back will you expect there to be mature fruit? Of course not. Mature fruit takes hard work or husbandry as the Bible puts it. We need to train our children so they do not adopt the culture of this fallen world. True Christians have a culture that transcends when and where we live. It is a Godly, Biblical
culture. It is a Christian culture.

Part of raising children (as well as our own sanctification) is to not just read the scriptures but to apply them in our lives. Obviously the world doesn't care if you call yourself a Christian but then live like the world. It's when we follow through and try to live out Biblical principles that the world becomes hostile to the faith and calls us chauvinists.

One of the definitions of chauvinism from the on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary is, "undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which one belongs or has belonged".

If by the world's modern culture I’m a chauvinist, then charge me guilty. That does not absolve me from my responsibilities. Do not fear man but fear God. (Matt 10:28)

Chauvinist for Christ,
Tom

Scott said...

Good to hear from you Tom! I appreciate your thoughts on the subject but they are just your thoughts and not God's. To be blunt, I expected a little more exegesis. You say I speak as though most Christians should not marry and assume I am in favor of marriage. First of all it really does not matter what I think about marriage but what God says about it.I am neither for or against marriage but am pro-choice on the subject as Paul is in 1 Cor. 7 and as Jesus is in Matt. 19:11,12. In response to His disciples statement "it is better not to marry", Jesus articulates to them three types of eunuchs, the third being so for the kingdom of heaven's sake and He says "He who is able to accept it, let him accept it".

You next wonder why it is unscriptural to prepare both son and daughters for marriage. I do not think it is, but for a ministry to command a father to prepare his daughter (or son) for marriage when he chooses not to is wrong(1Cor. 7:37,38). Just as it is wrong to forbid marriage it is wrong to command it(1 Tim. 4:3). It is better for some people not to marry and if they are forced into it,or coaxed,feeling that is the thing to do,it will probably lead to divorce.

In paragraph #5 you clearly believe in a "Christian culture" without describing this culture. I ask you are all Christian males circumcised or none? Do all Christians observe Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving(by any name)or none? Should all Christians abstain from alcoholic beverages or should we all drink them? Christianity is Spiritual, not cultural, political, national or legal.I agree Christians live out the principles of the Bible, but this includes the freedom principles I have already exegeted and not including in them "Jewish fables and commandments of men"(Titus 1:14)

Lastly, in your zeal to rebuke me you have proudly proclaimed yourself as a "Chauvinist for Christ" without taking proper heed. Even if you accept the Webster Dictionary definition you quote instead of the context in which I use it as an human philosophy, equal to although opposite from "Feminism" it still falls short of the truth. Webster says it is "Undue partiality and attachment". Romans 12:1 indicates attachment to Christ is our "reasonable service" and Revelation 4:11 tells us Christ is worthy.

Ultimately Tom, marriage is worldly. We will not marry in Heaven(Matt. 22:29,30). Unfortunately ministries that focus on the family often lose sight of Christ and his Word.

Scott

Tom said...

Scott,

I am a bit hesitant to reply to your comments as I do not want to enter into an argument which would not be profitable. Also, as I reread the whole exchange, it's possible that I may not be understanding what you are saying. Then in my efforts to keep my comments brief, regarding what the Bible does have to say about marriage, perhaps that has caused you to misunderstand what I was trying to say. With that in mind, I'd like to try to establish some kind of understanding of what your initial post and subsequent reply to my comments really meant.

We certainly do agree on one thing, it doesn't matter what you or I say but what the scriptures plainly teach. Failure to make God's word the final authority would be the same error as the RCs who hold their tradition on par with scripture. Likewise, the modern, liberal theologian will often relegate the scriptures to nothing more than a fable and instead seek to impose his or her views and those of the culture in which they live.

As I stated before, since you are married that means you're not opposed to marriage. :) Therefore I will also assume you don't disagree with the many scripture passages regarding marriage. Am I still on track here? If so, then it appears to me that what you're objecting to is this idea of preparing one's children for marriage?

Now if I am still on track, let me start by saying I'm not talking about arranged marriages or commanding our children to marry against their will. What I am talking about is Biblical child training. As parents we are commanded by the scriptures to train up our children. That means we are to teach them everything that the Bible has to say. What does the Bible say about loving your brother? What does the Bible say about evangelizing the lost? What does the Bible say about lying, stealing, murder, fornication? What does the Bible say about love, patience, humility? What does the Bible say about qualifications for elders? What does the Bible say about the hypostatic union? What does the Bible say about divorce? What does the Bible say about marriage?

One Biblical teaching on marriage is the principle of not being unequally yoked. Some may take that to only mean that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. But it should be applied even further, such as does he/she hold to the same doctrines? Do their lives show fruit (evidence of salvation and then sanctification?) Do they share the same convictions regarding the Biblical roles of men and women? Is the women willing to submit to the leadership of the husband? Is the husband willing to lead and provide for his wife and their children should the Lord bless them with children? So even in that one simple Biblical instruction about not being unequally yoked, there are multiple facets that need to be taught. Since the Bible has quite a lot of instruction regarding marriage, then those things need to be taught to our children, along with everything else the Bible teaches. It is not our prerogative to withhold instruction.

Be assured, if we do not teach them what the Bible has to say, the world will not hesitate to fill the vacuum. That includes what the Bible has to say about marriage vs. what the world has to say about marriage. Spurgeon put it well when he said, “I have heard of one man who said that he did not like to prejudice his boy, so he would not say anything to him about religion. The devil, however, was quite willing to prejudice the lad.”

Now if I was not on track in regards to your objection to the idea of preparing one's children for marriage please let me know! In that case I need to know what the whole latter half of your initial post was really all about. Let me add too that if the Lord does bless you and Amanda with children, your perspective will change. I know mine did!

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Regarding the part of the discussion about culture, here I do admit fault. I should have made myself more clear when I said “Christian culture” since I was using the word culture in the broader sense. If you look up the word culture in the dictionary you'll find it's far more than just the customs of people in a particular place and time.

You say that Christianity is spiritual and that is true but if we are truly redeemed the effects of that will change who we are, how we think, how we act, and what we do. It changes everything about us because we are new creatures in Christ. As such we are now part of a Christian culture. It is in this application of Christianity to our lives that Christianity moves out of the spiritual realm. That's where Christian culture (broader sense) transcends the culture in which we live (narrower sense.) So, just to make myself clear on this, when I say Christian culture I'm not talking customs that Christians have. I'm speaking of the much broader meaning of the word culture.

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Finally, regarding the reason I signed my first reply, “Chauvinist for Christ” was because we are to be partial to Christ in a way that the world does not understand and does not like. In fact Jesus said the world would hate us because it hated him. I said in my first reply (and I still stand by it) that the world doesn't care if you call yourself a Christian. It's when we try to live out Biblical principles that the world becomes hostile to us and calls us close-minded, uneducated, chauvinists, and foolish. We need to remember that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. We should not fear men but God, so if I am a chauvinist according to the world’s perspective, so be it. I am not offended.

However, my concern for you is that it appears in your initial post that you used the term chauvinist in exactly the same way the world does. That is to say, in a derogatory way as in “male chauvinist”. You even went so far as to chant the common, stereotypical, feminist mantra, “chauvinism subjugates women to secondary status teaching them to be ignorant and lazy”.

Wow, that’s quite a loaded statement and full of so many worldly misconceptions that I won’t even take the time to try and refute them. I will only caution you brother to reconsider what you have said and examine your motives for saying it. The world devalues the work of a wife and mother who stays at home but any work done to the glory of God is godly work, especially raising a godly seed. As Christians we need to be in the world but not of the world. Our Christian culture should always take precedence over the culture in which we live. We need to take every thought captive so that we are not deceived by the vain philosophies of men or women.

“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” – Colossians 2:8

Now it might be that I have seriously misunderstood what you meant here so please correct me if I’m off track and if I am off track then you need to choose your words more carefully.

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” – Colossians 4:6

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Tom

Scott said...

Tom,

I appreciate your time and attention to this matter. Most of the questions you ask are clear in my initial statement and first response and so I am not going to go in circles at this point but simply encourage a careful reading of what I have already written. One thing that does need emphasis, however, is the issue of (male)"Chauvinism". I know from our personal conversation the other day this is not true, but from your statements in your response it seems you are ignorant that there are "Christians" that look down on or mistreat women. This seems very naive. The Puritan Theologian and Pastor, Richard Baxter once commented on "the natural imbecility of the female sex"(quoted in Worldly Saints p.196)and Thomas Parker (another Puritan) told his sister in a public letter "Your printing of a book, beyond the custom of your sex, doth rankly smell."(Worldly,p.196). Whether these men were true Christians or not is not for me to determine but that they claimed to be is the point. I deny that all women are naturally imbeciles and unable to improve their status. I believe it is perfectly alright for a woman to write a book,article or have a blog. I hope and think you agree with me and think I have proved my point. If you disagree and care to respond further I will publish it as I am content to give you the last word but I must devote my time to Neocalvinism part 2 and will not respond. I do encourage your equal attention at parts 2 and 3 and look forward to the discussions.

Scott