Monday, September 26, 2011

Kuyper's Tension and Challenge

As I finish Kuyper's book, I appreciate both Kuyper's love for Calvinism and full belief that it is more than a set of doctrines but rather an entire "world and life view" or way of looking at the world. In fact, Kuyper's entire series of lectures has been given in order to establish that Calvinism isn't merely a series of doctrines or an "ecclesiastical movement," but rather a "life system" or worldview, "able to fit itself to the needs of every stage of human development, in every department of life" (p. 171):

It raised our Christian religion to its highest spiritual splendor: it created a church order, which became the preformation of state confederation; it proved to be the guardian angel of science; it emancipated art; it propogated a political scheme, which gave birth to constitutional government, both in Europe and America; it fostered agriculture and industry, commerce and navigation; it put a thorough Christian stamp upon home-life and family-times; it promoted through its high moral standard purity in our social circles: and to this manifold effect it placed beneath Church and State, beneath society and home-circle a fundamental philosophic conception strictly derived from its dominating principle, and therefore all its own.  Lectures on Calvinism, p. 171

Kuyper is quite strong on his belief of "the Calvinistic principle as the sole trustworthy foundation on which to build" (p. 191). Nonetheless, he is also realistic that to expect all Protestant to subscribe to its system "can never be realized in this our dispensation" (p. 191). Why not?

What, then, are we to understand by this return to Calvinism? Do I mean that all believing Protestants should subscribe, the sooner the better, to Reformed symbols, and thus all ecclesiastical multiformity be swallowed up in the unity of the Reformed church-organization? I am far from cherishing so crude, so ignorant, so unhistorical a desire. As a matter of course, there is inherent in every conviction, in every confession, a motive for absolute and unconditional propagandism, and the word of Paul to Agrippa: “I would to God that with little or with much, not only you, but also all that hear me this day, might become such as I am,” must remain the heartfelt wish not only of every good Calvinist, but of every one who may glory in a firm immovable conviction. But so ideal a desire of the human heart can never be realized in this our dispensation…. not one Reformed standard, not even the purest, is infallible as was the word of Paul. Then, again, the Calvinistic confession is so deeply religious, so highly spiritual that, excepting always periods of profound religious commotion, it will never be realized by the large masses, but will impress with a sense of its inevitability only a relatively small circle.  Lectures on Calvinism, pp. 191-92

I appreciate Kuyper's words here because he is clearly someone who has grappled on a profound level with the beauty, power and even "totality" of his Calvinism, i.e. his "Reformed world and life view" (if you prefer). That being said, Kuyper is equally willing to acknowledge that a Reformed perspective is by no means "infallible," as the Holy Scriptures. Kuyper presents a kind of tension that I can more than appreciate, in fact a tension that started me off on this entire D.Min. quest in the first place (if interested, see here: The Beginning of the D.Min. Quest).

Really, Kuyper's conclusion is that "Calvinism should be strengthened where its influence still exists."  Also, he speaks of its system being taught with the hope the outside world comes to know it and that it should be "developed in accordance with the needs of our time" (p. 192). He has some rather strong words for Calvinistic churches as well:

A Church Calvinistic in origin and still recognizable by its Calvinistic confession, which lacks the courage, nay rather which no longer feels the impulse to defend that confession boldly and bravely against all the world, such a Church dishonors not Calvinism but itself. Albeit the Church reformed in bone and marrow may be small and few in numbers, as Churches they will always prove indispensible for Calvinism; and here also the smallness of the seed need not disturb us, if only that seed be sound and whole, instinct with generative and irrepressible life. Lectures on Calvinism, p. 195  

I think this quote of Kuyper's could certainly be taken to encourage arrogant, doctrinaire and divisive Calvinists who claim themselves to be "the frozen chosen"; however, I think there is another way to read Kuyper's words here. How will we as a Reformed and Calvinistic church be faithful in the small things, seeking to influence and draw others to the beauty and comprehensiveness of the Reformed faith? Even the majority of people at our church Grace Chapel, a PCA Reformed Church, do not confess with rigor and zeal the Reformed faith. Nonetheless, being "small and few in numbers," as we find many people of many stripes drawn to our congregation, if we can find ways faithfully to communicate the "Reformed system" in a way that is winsome and translatable, perhaps, even in small places like Grace Chapel, we stand to be as faithful as ever to Kuyper's challenge.

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