Monday, August 25, 2008

Neo-Calvinism Part 3: Science

The last major flaw of Neo-calvinism is it's view of science. Although etymologically, the word science means "knowledge", it's practical meaning is usually narrowed to be that knowledge attained or attainable through the five senses in observation and/or experimentation. For Kuyper and Neo-calvinism there are two sciences, one for the elect and one for the reprobate. Kuyper said as there are "Two kinds of people" this mandates "two kinds of science" (quoted in Creating A Christian Worldview by Peter Heslam p. 183). Kuyper believed nothing is neutral, not even facts and therefore the science of a christian is different than the science of an unbeliever. According to this view, a proper sense of total depravity demands the understanding that our reason was also affected by the fall and so humanity is unreasonable and in need of God's irresistable grace to bring one to faith. At the outset, to the undiscerning reader, this appears to be something all "Calvinists" would agree with and not just "Neo-calvinists, and so I have my work cut out for me.

While it is true that humans are totally depraved and in need of God's irresistable grace for salvation, this does not mean our senses are any less acute than before the fall or that humans are less able to articulate in speech or aesthetics. It does means that unaided by the Holy Spirit, mankind is blinded to the truth spiritually, exchanges the truth for a lie and worships the creature over the creator. Depravity is exhibited intra nos(inside ourselves) and does not affect the reality of truth itself, which is extra nos(outside ourselves). Due to this, there is only one true science and that is the science that leads to the knowledge of the truth. Christianity alone is a rationally demonstrable and coherent system. All other religions and philosophies are irrational. Kuyper in contrast, according to James Bratt, believed that "the world could contain any number of relatively coherent worldviews, none of which could finally convince another of its own superiority on strictly rational grounds."(Reformed Theology in America edited by David Wells, p.122). The result of Kuyper's thinking is an insipid anti-intellectualism that makes Christianity nonsense and surrenders the intellect to the world.

Concerning neutrality, it depends on the context in which you are using it as to whether it is valid. Ultimately, 2+2=4 proves logic and order in the universe pointing to the creator God, but 2+2=4 is shared by both saved and unsaved individuals of all stripes, and so, is in a sense "neutral". Alot of science shares this affinity. Does it matter to the person dying from a particular disease whether the person who finds a cure is a Christian or not? Have only Christian scientists found cures for diseases? How about the other discoveries making life more comfortable and convenient? Should Christians abstain from the use of inventions of unbelievers? While ultimately everything a reprobate believes is against God and useless, this does not mean it manifests itself in everything he does. Jesus asks in Matthew 7:9, "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" and in verse 11 He says that humans "being evil" still "know how to give good gifts".

The Bible knows of only one kind of science. All else is "science, falsely so-called"(1 Tim. 6:20). The Bible teaches that there is "one body and one Spirit... one hope... one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all (Eph. 4:4-6), one wisdom (Jam. 3:13-17) and one Gospel (Gal. 1:6-8). Gnostic dualism has no place in the church.

Warfield on Kuyper

Kuyper's odd new movement did not go unnoticed in his own day. Ben Warfield was a professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Princeton University in that day and was a stalwart calvinist. He wrote an introduction to F.R. Beattie's book on apologetics, in which he articulated why he found Kuyper's view "a standing matter of surprise". This intro is so telling and profound I feel it should be read in it's entirety and so include it here in Warfield's own words. For more excellent articles click on the link at the lighthouse at the title of this blog.

By B. B. Warfield

It gives me great pleasure to respond to Dr. Beattie's request that I shall say a few words by way of introduction to his comprehensive work on Apologetics. I am purposely laying stress on the comprehensiveness of the work. It is always a satisfaction to have placed in our hands a treatise on one of the theological disciplines, which develops with serenity and sanity its entire content. In the case of Apologetics, however, such an achievement is particularly to be welcomed. We have had many apologies; perhaps no branch of scientific theology has been more fruitful during the past two centuries. But we have had comparatively few surveys of the whole field of Apologetics. Perhaps Dr. Beattie's is the first to be produced by an American Presbyterian.

The fact is, despite the richness of our apologetical literature, Apologetics has been treated very much like a stepchild in the theological household. The encyclopaedists have seemed scarcely to know what to do with it. They have with difficulty been persuaded to allow it a place among the theological disciplines at all. And, when forced to recognize it, they have been very prone to thrust it away into some odd corner, where it could hide its diminished head behind the skirts of some of its more esteemed sisters.

This widespread misprision of Apologetics has been greatly fostered by the influence of two opposite (if they be indeed opposite) tendencies of thought, which have very deeply affected the thinking even of theologians who are in principle antagonistic to them. I mean Rationalism and Mysticism. To Rationalism, of course, Apologetics is an inanity; to Mysticism, an impertinence. Wherever, therefore, rationalistic presuppositions have intruded, there proportionately the validity of Apologetics has been questioned. Wherever mystical sentiment has seeped in, there the utility of Apologetics has been more or less distrusted. At the present moment, the rationalistic tendency is perhaps most active in the churches in the form given it by Albrecht Ritschl. In this form it strikes at the very roots of Apologetics by the distinction it erects between religious and theoretical knowledge. Where religion is supposed to seek and find expression only in value-judgments -- the subjective product of the human soul in its struggle after personal freedom -- and thus to stand out of all relation with theoretical knowledge, there, obviously there is no place for a vindication of Christian faith to reason and no possibility of Apologetics. In a somewhat odd parallelism to this (though, perhaps, it is not so odd after all) the mystical tendency is showing itself in our day most markedly in a widespread inclination to decline Apologetics in favor of the so-called testimonium Spiritus Sancti. The convictions of the Christian man, we are told, are not the product of reasons addressed to his intellect, but are the immediate creation of the Holy Spirit in his heart. Therefore, it is intimated, we can not only do very well without these reasons, but it is something very like sacrilege to attend to them. Apologetics, accordingly, is not merely useless, but may even become noxious, because tending to substitute a barren intellectualism for a vital faith.

We need not much disturb ourselves over such utterances when they are the expression, as they often are in our modern Church, of the intellectual distress of those whose own apologetic has proved too weak to withstand the rationalistic assault, and who are fain, therefore, to take refuge from the oppressive rationalism of their understandings in an empty irrationalism of the heart. In these cases the extremes have met, and the would-be mystic preserves nothing but his dialect to distinguish him from the Ritschlite rationalist. What he needs for his cure is clearly not less Apologetics, but more Apologetics -- lacking which he must ever remain of a "double mind," clinging with the desperation of a drowning man to a faith on which his own intellect has passed the' sentence of irrationality. The case is very different, however, when we encounter very much the same forms of speech on the lips of heroes of the faith, who deprecate Apologetics because they feel no need of "reasons" to ground a faith which they are sure they have received immediately from God. Apologetics, they say, will never make a Christian. Christians are made by the creative Spirit alone. And when God Almighty has implanted faith in the heart, we shall not require to seek for "reasons" to ground our conviction of the truth of the Christian religion. We have tasted and seen, and we know of ourselves that it is from God. Thus, the sturdiest belief joins hands with unbelief to disparage the defenses of the Christian religion.

Dr. Abraham Kuyper, one of the really great theologians of our time, is a very striking instance of thinkers of this tendency. It is not to be supposed that Dr. Kuyper would abolish Apologetics altogether. He has written an Encyclopaedia of Sacred Theology, and in it he gives a place to Apologetics among the other disciplines. But how subordinate a place! And in what a curtailed form! Hidden away as a subdivision of a subdivision of what Dr. Kuyper calls the "Dogmatological Group" of disciplines (which corresponds roughly to what most encyclopaedists call "Systematic Theology"), one has to search for it before he finds it, and when he finds it, he discovers that its function is confined closely, we might almost say jealously, to the narrow task of defending developed Christianity against philosophy, falsely so called. After the contents of Christianity have been set forth thetically in Dogmatics and Ethics, it finds itself, it seems, in a threefold conflict. This is waged with a pseudo-Christianity, a pseudo-religion, and a pseudo-philosophy. Three antithetic dogmatological disciplines are therefore requisite -- Polemics, Elenchtics, and Apologetics, corresponding, respectively, to heterodoxy, paganism, philosophy. The least of these is Apologetics, which concerns itself only with the distinctively philosophical assault on Christianity. Meanwhile, as for Christianity itself, it has remained up to this point -- let us say it frankly -- the great assumption. The work of the exegete, the historian, the systematist, has all hung, so to speak, in the air; not until all their labor is accomplished do they pause to wipe their streaming brows and ask whether they have been dealing with realities, or perchance with fancies only.

Naturally it is not thus that Dr. Kuyper represents it to himself. He supposes that all these workers have throughout wrought in faith. But he seems not quite able to conceal from himself that they have not justified that faith, and that some may think their procedure itself, therefore, unjustified, if not unjustifiable. He distributes the departments of theological science into four groups, corresponding roughly with the Exegetical, Historical, Systematic, and Practical disciplines which the majority of encyclopaedists erect, although for reasons of his own, very interestingly set forth, he prefers to call them, respectively, the Bibliological, Ecclesiological, Dogmatological, and Diaconological groups of disciplines. Now, when he comes to discuss the contents of these groups in detail, he betrays a feeling that something is lacking at the beginning. "Before dealing separately with the four groups of departments of study into which theology is divided," he says, "we must give a brief resume from the second part of this Encyclopaedia, of how the subject arrives at the first group. Logical order demands that the first group bring you to the point where the second begins, that the second open the way for the third, and that the third introduce you to the fourth. But no other pre- cedes the first group, and it is accordingly in place here to indicate how we arrive at the first group." [1] Just so, surely!

Dr. Kuyper proceeds to point out that the subject of theology is the human consciousness; that in this consciousness there is implanted a sensus divinitatis, a semen religionis, which impels it to seek after the knowledge of God; that in the sinner this action is renewed and quickened by the palingenesis, through which the subject is opened for the reception of the special revelation of God made first by deed, culminating in the Incarnation, and then by word, centering in the Scriptures. Thus, by the testimonium Spiritus Sancti, the subject is put in possession of the revelation of God embodied in the Scriptures, and is able to proceed to explicate its contents through the several disciplines of theological science. Now, what is it that Dr. Kuyper has done here except outline a very considerable -- though certainly not a complete -- Apologetics, which must precede and prepare the way for the "Bibliological Group" of theological departments? We must, it seems, vindicate the existence of a sensus divinitatis in man capable of producing a natural theology independently of special revelation; and then the reality of a special revelation in deed and word; and as well, the reality of a supernatural preparation of the heart of man to receive it; before we can proceed to the study of theology at all, as Dr. Kuyper has outlined it. With these things at least we must, then, confessedly, reckon at the outset; and to reckon with these things is to enter deeply into Apologetics.

As the case really stands, we must say even more. Despite the attractiveness of Dr. Kuyper's distribution of the departments of theological science, we cannot think it an improvement upon the ordinary schema. It appears to us a mistake to derive, as he does, the principium divisionis from the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures, after all, are not the object of theology, but only its source; and the principium divisionis in this science, too, must be taken, as Dr. Kuyper himself argues, [2] from the object. Now, the object of theology, as Dr. Kuyper has often justly insisted, is the ectypal knowledge of God. This knowledge of God is deposited for us in the Scriptures, and must needs be drawn out of them -- hence "Exegetical Theology." It has been derived from the Scriptures by divers portions and in divers manners, for the life of the Church through the ages, and its gradual assimilation must needs be traced in its effects on the life of the Christian world -- hence "Historical Theology." It is capable of statement in a systematized thetical form -- hence "Systematic Theology." And, so drawn out from Scripture, so assimilated in the Church's growth, so organized into a system, it is to be made available for life -- hence "Practical Theology." But certainly, before we draw it from the Scriptures, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the Scriptures. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the world. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that a knowledge of God is possible for man. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a God to know. Thus, we inevitably work back to first principles. And in working thus back to first principles, we exhibit the indispensability of an "Apologetical Theology," which of necessity holds the place of the first among the five essential theological disciplines.

It is easy, of course, to say that a Christian man must take his standpoint not above the Scriptures, but in the Scriptures. He very certainly must. But surely he must first have Scriptures, authenticated to him as such, before he can take his standpoint in them. It is equally easy to say that Christianity is attained, not by demonstrations, but by a new birth. Nothing could be more true. But neither could anything be more unjustified than the inferences that are drawn from this truth for the discrediting of Apologetics. It certainly is not in the power of all the demonstrations in the world to make a Christian. Paul may plant and Apollos water; it is God alone who gives the increase. But it does not seem to follow that Paul would as well, therefore, not plant, and Apollos as well not water. Faith is the gift of God; but it does not in the least follow that the faith that God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason. It is beyond all question only the prepared heart that can fitly respond to the "reasons"; but how can even a prepared heart respond, when there are no "reasons" to draw out its action? One might as well say that photography is independent of light, because no light can make an impression unless the plate is prepared to receive it. The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the heart. What is supplied by his creative energy in working faith is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, al- ready present to the understanding. We believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in him, not though it be irrational. Accordingly, our Reformed fathers always posited in the production of faith the presence of the "argumentum propter quod credo," as well as the "principium seu causa effficiens a quo ad credendum adducor." That is to say, for the birth of faith in the soul, it is just as essential that grounds of faith should be present to the mind as that the Giver of faith should act creatively upon the heart.

We are not absurdly arguing that Apologetics has in itself the power to make a man a Christian or to conquer the world to Christ. Only the Spirit of Life can communicate life to a dead soul, or can convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. But we are arguing that faith is, in all its exercises alike, a form of conviction, and is, therefore, necessarily grounded in evidence. And we are arguing that evidence accordingly has its part to play in the conversion of the soul; and that the systematically organized evidence which we call Apologetics similarly has its part to play in the Christianizing of the world. And we are arguing that this part is not a small part; nor is it a merely subsidiary part; nor yet a merely defensive part -- as if the one end of Apologetics were to protect an isolated body of Christians from annoyance from the surrounding world, or to aid the distracted Christian to bring his head into harmony with his heart. The part that Apologetics has to play in the Christianizing of the world is rather a primary part, and it is a conquering part. It is the distinction of Christianity that it has come into the world clothed with the mission to reason its way to its dominion. Other religions may appeal to the sword, or seek some other way to propagate themselves. Christianity makes its appeal to right reason, and stands out among all religions, therefore, as distinctively "the Apologetic religion." It is solely by reasoning that it has come thus far on its way to its kingship. And it is solely by reasoning that it will put all its enemies under its feet. Face to face with the tremendous energy of thought and the incredible fertility in assault which characterizes the world in its anti-Christian manifestation, Christianity finds its task in thinking itself thoroughly through, and in organizing, not its defense only, but also its attack. It stands calmly over against the world with its credentials in its hands, and fears no contention of men.

It is a standing matter of surprise to us that the brilliant school of Christian thinkers, on whose attitude toward Apologetics we have been animadverting, should be tempted to make little of Apologetics. When we read, for instance, the beautiful exposition of sin and regeneration to science which Dr. Kuyper has given us in his Encyclopaedie, we cannot understand why he does not magnify, instead of minifying, the value of Apologetics. Perhaps the explanation is to be found in a tendency to make too absolute the contrast between the "two kinds of science" -- that which is the product of the thought of sinful man in his state of nature, and that which is the product of man under the influence of the regenerating grace of God. There certainly do exist these "two kinds of men" in the world -- men under the unbroken sway of sin, and men who have been brought under the power of the palingenesis. And the product of the intellection of these "two kinds of men" will certainly give us "two kinds of science." But the difference between the two is, after all, not accurately described as a difference in kind -- gradus non mutant speciem. Sin has not destroyed or altered in its essential nature anyone of man's faculties, although-since it corrupts homo totus -- it has affected the operation of them all. The depraved man neither thinks, nor feels, nor wills as he ought; and the products of his action as a scientific thinker cannot possibly escape the influence of this everywhere operative destructive power; although, as Dr. Kuyper lucidly points out, they are affected in different degrees in the several "sciences," in accordance with the nature of their objects and the rank of the human faculties engaged in their structure. Nevertheless, there is question here of perfection of performance, rather than of kind. It is "science" that is produced by the subject held under sin, even though imperfect science-falling away from the ideal here, there, and elsewhere, on account of all sorts of deflecting influences entering in at all points of the process. The science of sinful man is thus a substantive part of the abstract science produced by the ideal subject, the general human consciousness, though a less valuable part than it would be without sin.

It is well that it is so; for otherwise there would be no "science" attainable by man at all. For regeneration is not, in the first instance, the removal of sin: the regenerated man remains a sinner. Only after his sanctification has become complete can the contrast between him and the unregenerate sinner become absolute; not until then, in any case, could there be thought to exist an absolute contrast between his intellection and that of the sinner. In the meantime, the regenerated man remains a sinner; no new faculties have been inserted into him by regeneration; and the old faculties, common to man in all his states, have been only in some measure restored to their proper functioning. He is in no condition, therefore, to produce a "science" differing in kind from that produced by sinful man; the science of palingenesis is only a part of the science of sinful humanity, though no doubt its best part; and only along with it can it enter as a constituent part into that ideal science which the composite human subject is producing in its endless effort to embrace in mental grasp the ideal object, that is to say, all that is. Even if the palingenesis had completed its work, indeed, and those under its sway had become "perfect," it may be doubted whether the contrast between the science produced by the two classes of men could be treated as absolute. Sinful and sinless men are, after all, both men; and being both men, are fundamentally alike and know fundamentally alike. Ideally there is but one "science," the subject of which is the human spirit, and the object all that is. Meanwhile, as things are, the human spirit attains to this science only in part and by slow accretions, won through many partial and erroneous constructions. Men of all sorts and of all grades work side by side at the common task, and the common edifice grows under their hands into ever fuller and truer outlines. As Dr. Kuyper finely says himself, [3] in the conflict of perceptions and opinions, those of the strongest energy and clearest thought finally prevail. Why is not the palingenesis to be conceived simply as preparing the stronger and clearer spirits whose thought always finally prevails? It is not a different kind of science that they are producing. It is not even the same kind of science, but as part of a different edifice of truth. Through them merely the better scientific outlook, the better scientific product, are striving in conflict with the outlook and product of fellow workers, to get built into the one great edifice of truth ascertained, which is rising slowly because of sin, but surely because of palingenesis.

Only in the divine mind, of course, does science lie perfect -- the perfect comprehension of all that is in its organic completeness. In the mind of perfected humanity, the perfected ectypal science shall at length lie. In the mind of sinful humanity, struggling here below, there can lie only a partial and broken reflection of the object, a reflection which is rather a deflection. The task of science is, therefore, not merely quantitative, but qualitative; the edifice must be built up to its completion, and the deflection induced by sin must be corrected. This cannot be accomplished by sinful man. But he makes the effort continuously, and is continuously attaining his measure of success -- a success that varies inversely with the rank of the sciences. The entrance of regeneration prepares men to build better and ever more truly as the effects of' regeneration increase intensively and extensively. The end will come only when the regenerated universe becomes the well-comprehended object of the science of the regenerated race. It would seem, then, a grave mistake to separate the men of the palingenesis from the race, a part of which they are, and which is itself the object of the palingenesis. And no mistake could be greater than to lead them to decline to bring their principles into conflict with those of the unregenerate in the prosecution of the common task of man. It is the better science that ever in the end wins the victory; and palingenetic science is the better science, and to it belongs the victory. How shall it win its victory, however, if it declines the conflict? In the ordinance of God, it is only in and through this conflict that the edifice of truth is to rise steadily onwards to its perfecting.

In the fact thus brought out, the ultimate vindication of the supreme importance of Apologetics lies, and as well the vindication of its supreme utility. In the prosecution of the tasks of Apologetics, we see the palingenesis at work on the science of man at its highest point. And here, too, the "man of stronger and purer thought" -- even though that he has it is of God alone -- "will prevail in the end." The task of the Christian is surely to urge "his stronger and purer thought" continuously, and in all its details, upon the attention of men. It is not true that he cannot soundly prove his position. It is not true that the Christian view of the world is subjective merely, and is incapable of validation in the forum of pure reason. It is not true that the arguments adduced for the support of the foundations of the Christian religion lack objective validity. It is not even true that the minds of sinful men are inaccessible to the "evidences," though, in the sense of the proverb, "convinced against their will," they may "remain of the same opinion still." All minds are of the same essential structure; and the less illuminated will not be able permanently to resist or gain- say the determinations of the more illuminated. The Christian, by virtue of the palingenesis working in him, stands undoubtedly on an indefinitely higher plane of thought than that occupied by sinful man as such. And he must not decline, but use and press the advantage which God has thus given him. He must insist, and insist again, that his determinations, and not those of the unilluminated, must be built into the slowly rising fabric of human science. Thus will he serve, if not obviously his own generation, yet truly all the generations of men. We may assure ourselves from the outset that the palingenesis shall ultimately conquer to itself the whole race and all its products; and we may equally assure ourselves that its gradually increasing power will show itself only as the result of conflict in the free intercourse of men.

Thinking thus of Apologetics and of its task, it is natural that we should feel little sympathy with the representation sometimes heard, to the effect that Apologetics concerns itself only with "the minimum of Christianity." What is "the minimum of Christianity"? And what business has Apologetics with "the minimum of Christianity"? What Apologetics has to do with is certainly not any "minimum," but just Christianity itself, whatever that may prove to be. Its function is not to vindicate for us the least that we can get along with, and yet manage to call ourselves Christians; but to validate the Christian "view of the world," with all that is contained in the Christian "view of the world," for the science of men. It must not be permitted to sink into an "apology" for the Christian religion, in the vulgar sense of that word, which makes it much the synonym of an "excuse"; and much less into an "apology" for what is at best an "apology for the Christian religion" -- possibly nothing more than "a couple of starved and hunger-bitten dogmas," which for the purposes of the moment we may choose to identify with "the essence of Christianity." The function of Apologetics is not performed until it has placed in our hands God, religion, Christianity, and the Bible, and said to us, Now go on and explicate these fundamental facts in all their contents. When men speak of "the Apologetical minimum," we cannot help suspecting that they have for the moment lost sight of Apologetics itself altogether, and are thinking rather of some specific "Apology" which they judge might usefully be launched in behalf of Christianity, in the conditions of thought for the moment obtaining. If such an "Apology" were identifiable with "Apologetics," we might well sympathize with those who consider Apologetics a department of "Practical Theology," and it is doubtless because they do not rise above such a conception of it that many encyclopaedists have so classified it. But the Apologetics with which we are concerned is a much more fundamental, a much more comprehensive, and a much more objective thing. It does not concern itself with how this man or that may best be approached to induce him to make a beginning of Christian living, or how this age or that may most easily be brought to give a hearing to the Christian conception of the world. It concerns itself with the solid objective establishment, after a fashion valid for all normally working minds and for all ages of the world in its developing thought, of those great basal facts which constitute the Christian religion; or, better, which embody in the concrete the entire knowledge of God accessible to men, and which, therefore, need only explication by means of the further theological disciplines in order to lay openly before the eyes of men the entirety of the knowledge of 'God within their reach.

It is because Dr. Beattie's treatise conceives Apologetics after this fundamental, comprehensive, and objective fashion, and develops its contents from that point of view, that we accord it our heartiest welcome.


*Introduction to Francis R. Beattie's Apologetics: or the Rational Vindication of Christianity, Richmond, Va., 1903, pp. 19-32.

1 Encyclopaedie der Heilige Godgeleerdheid, Deel III, pp. 4 ff.

2 Encyclopaedia, E. T., p. 629.

3 Encyclopaedia, E. T., p. 151.
For further reading on these topics consult Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach by Vern Poythress, Science & Grace: God's Reign in the Natural Sciences by Tim Morris and Don Petcher, Creating A Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism by Peter Heslam which are written from neo-calvinist persuasion. Also Reformed Theology in America: A History of its Modern Development edited by David Wells which is an excellent overview of Reformed theologies.