The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Worldview Writers and God’s Law

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Students at Reformed Theological Seminary, where I was a student from 1974 to 1979, who were interested in worldview thinking first were directed to Abraham Kuyper’s 1898 Lectures on Calvinism. It was here that we were told that we would find a fully developed, comprehensive, biblical world-and-life view. Kuyper’s brand of Calvinism has been described as the “only modern exception” to the tendency of Christians either to abandon social action in favor of piety or to abandon piety in favor of social action. [1] The “Kuyperian” tradition “was at once pious and socially influential.” [2] An often quoted Kyuperian aphorism is, “there is not one inch of creation of which Christ doesn’t say ‘Mine.’” [3] In his Lectures on Calvinism, Kuyper discussed politics, science, and art — more than the familiar five points that are most associated with Calvinism and concluded,

That in spite of all worldly opposition, God’s holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which the Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God. [4]

Everything that has been created was, in its creation, finished by God with an unchangeable law of its existence. And because God has fully ordained such laws and ordinances for all life, therefore the Calvinist demands that all life be consecrated to His service in strict obedience. A religion confined to the closet, the cell, or the church, therefore, Calvin abhors. [5]

Notice that there is no talk about natural law or a two-kingdom approach to ethics that separates special revelation from our world beyond the individual, family, and church. Of course, Kuyper did not dismiss natural law, but like every natural law advocate he was “reading” natural law through the prism of the Bible. He couldn’t help it. Even natural law advocate David VanDrunen agrees that in Kuyper’s thought, “natural knowledge becomes of service only with the help of special revelation.” [6] The world at large can only be read through correction of heart and mind, as Kuyper himself stated: “[F]or the Calvinist, all ethical study is based on the Law of Sinai, not as though at that time the moral world-order began to be fixed, but to honor the Law of Sinai, as the divinely authentic summary of that original moral law which God wrote in the heart of man, at his creation, and which God is re-writing on the tables of every heart at its conversion.” [7]

If this is true and necessary of the converted, how is it possible that the unregenerate will be able to read and apply the natural law properly or even know what it is in the particulars? Kuyper believed the Bible, operating as a corrective lens on our fallen selves and fallen world, was needed to read ourselves and our world. While two-kingdom adherents acknowledge this in Kuyper’s work, they reverse the order and contend that natural law is adequate to interpret natural law.

In Henry Van Til’s The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, the following is found:

Augustine believed that peace with God precedes peace in the home, in society, and in the state. The earthly state too must be converted, transformed into a Christian state by the permeation of the kingdom of God within her, since true righteousness can only be under the rule of Christ.

Not only in the realm of ethics and politics must conversion take place ... [but also] for knowledge and science. Apart from Christ, man’s wisdom is but folly, because it begins with faith in itself and proclaims man’s autonomy. The redeemed man, on the other hand, begins with faith and reason in subjection to the laws placed in this universe by God: he learns to think God’s thoughts after him. All of science, fine art and technology, conventions of dress and rank, coinage, measures and the like, all of these are at the service of the redeemed man to transform them for the service of his God. [8]

Van Til believed that the building of a Christian culture is a Christian imperative. Van Til castigated the Barthians for their repudiation of a Christian culture. “For them,” he wrote, “there is no single form of social, political, economic order that is more in the spirit of the Gospel than another.” [9] While I would not want to lump our Reformed friends with the Barthians, it seems that their different theologies are taking them to the same place.

H. Henry Meeter’s The Basic Ideas of Calvinism focused on politics from a distinctly biblical starting point. The first edition (1939) was described as “Volume I.” A subsequent volume never appeared. Again, the Bible was emphasized as the standard for Christians and non-Christians because there is only one law of God.

The Calvinist insists that the principles of God’s Word are valid not only for himself but all citizens. Since God is to be owned as Sovereign by everyone, whether he so wishes or not, so also the Bible should be the determining rule for all. But especially for himself the Christian, according to the Calvinist, must in politics live by these principles. [10]

Since God is the Sovereign of all His creatures and creation, He must be recognized as the lawmaker for all mankind. How does one determine what that rule is? Meeter told us that the Bible should be the determining rule for all, not just for Christians and not just for settling ecclesiastical disputes.

Whenever a State is permeated with a Christian spirit and applies Christian principles in the administration of civil affairs, it is called ‘Christian.’ If that be what is meant by a Christian State, then all States should be Christian, according to the conscience of the Calvinist, even though many states are not Christian. If God is the one great Sovereign of the universe, it is a self-evident fact that His Word should be law to the ends of the earth.” [11]

Meeter had moved from “Christian principles” to “His Word should be law.” The goal, then, is God’s Word as the “law.”Meeter continues:

If God is Ruler, no man may ever insist that religion be a merely private matter and be divorced from any sphere of society, political or otherwise. God must rule everywhere! The State must bow to His ordinances just as well as the Church or any private individual. The Calvinist, whose fundamental principle maintains that God shall be Sovereign in all domains of life, is very insistent on having God recognized in the political realm also. [12]

In what way is the State to “bow to His ordinances”? Where are these ordinances found? “For matters which relate to its own domain as State, it is bound to the Word of God as the Church or the individual.” For Meeter, a “State is Christian” when it uses “God’s Word as its guide.” [13]

Meeter left the inquiring Christian with additional questions: “If the Bible, then, is the ultimate criterion by which the State must be guided in determining which laws it must administer, the question arises, with how much of the Bible must the State concern itself?” [14] He told us that “Civil law relates to outward conduct.” [15] The starting point is God’s Word. Does this mean that every law is applicable to the civil sphere? Not at all. The Bible sets forth a clear jurisdictional separation between Church and State, and I might add, the individual, family, business, and economics as well. [16]

The Calvinistic Action Committee’s God-Centered Living. God-Centered Living began with this noble goal: “This book seeks to be of help to those who desire to know what the will of God is for the practical guidance of their lives in the complex relations and situations of our modern day.” Clarence Bouma’s Introduction is titled “The Relevance of Calvinism for Today.” The Committee encouraged the reader with its intent not simply to “theorize,” describing its method as “a call to action” based on the “clarification and application of basic Christian principles. There will be no solution for our pressing modern social problems without recourse to the verities of the Word of God.” [17] The book is comprehensive, covering everything from the role of “The Church for the Solution of Modern Problems” to “Calvinism and International Relations.” William Spoelhof concludes his chapter on “Calvinism and Political Action” with these words: “Calvinists in America have the theory — all they need is the practice.” [18] This is the question of the day. How should Christians act and by what standard?

There is no doubt that Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984) broadened the appeal of the Reformed faith with his popular writing style and activist worldview. Schaeffer’s popularity was extensive enough that he was recognized by the secular media as the “Guru of Fundamentalism,” [19] but his worldview was nurtured in the soil of world-and-life-view Calvinism. Schaeffer filled the intellectual gap that resided in much of fundamentalism. In a sense, he carried on the tradition of his early mentor, J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937).

Prior to 1968, little was known of Francis Schaeffer. He had isolated himself from American evangelicalism by ministering to the roaming discards of society who were trekking through Europe hoping to find answers to life’s most perplexing problems. The publication of The God Who Is There and Escape from Reason introduced him to an American evangelicalism in crisis. Schaeffer had an impact where many Christian scholars had made only a few inroads to the hearts and minds of Christians. What did Schaeffer do that was different? Certainly Carl F. H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism [20] made an impact. It was, however, more of a statement than a system of belief with worked-out implications. Schaeffer worked at integration. His desire was to be more than just a critic of culture.

Schaeffer saw extended implications to the worldview he put in motion in his early works. He expanded the areas over which He believed Jesus is Lord with the publication of How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? “That led to the demand of the next logical step: What is the Christian’s relationship to government, law, and civil disobedience?” [21]

Schaeffer rightly decried a de facto sociological law — “law based only on what the majority of society thinks is in its best interests at a given moment” — but offered no worked-out worldview to counter and replace it. He wrote about a “Christian consensus” and how that consensus is found in the Bible and spills over to the broader culture. This is best demonstrated in his repeated references to Paul Robert’s painting Justice Instructing the Judges.

Down in the foreground of the large mural the artist depicts many sorts of litigation — the wife against the husband, the architect against the builder, and so on. How are the judges going to Judge between them? This is the way we judge in a Reformation country, says Paul Robert. He has portrayed Justice pointing with her sword to a book upon which are the words, “The Law of God.” For Reformation man there was a basis for law. Modern man has not only thrown away Christian theology; he has thrown away the possibility of what our forefathers had as a basis for morality and law. [22]

This emphasis on the law continued to play a part in Schaeffer’s worldview theology. “In Reformation countries,” Schaeffer wrote, “the Old Testament civil law has been the basis of our civil law.” Of course, he quickly reminded his readers that “we are not a theocracy, it is true; nevertheless, when Reformation Christianity provided the consensus, men naturally looked back to the civil law that God gave Israel, not to carry it out in every detail, but to see it as a pattern and a base.” [23] Schaeffer saw the book of Joshua as “a link between the Pentateuch (the writings of Moses) and the rest of Scripture. It is crucial for understanding the unity the Pentateuch has with all that follows it, including the New Testament.[24]

Surveys continue to show that Christian beliefs, for example, on homosexuality are changing. An attitude of “live and let live,” “love” is the important element in any relationship, and we’re not supposed to judge are three common responses to negative responses to homosexuality. There is almost no talk about God’s law. For decades the church has drilled into Christians that it’s all about grace. As these above writers show, the law of God is fundamental to a Christian worldview. There is no Christian worldview without God’s law. There is no grace without law.

  1. Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, Understanding Cults and New Religions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 126.[]
  2. Hexham and Poewe, Understanding Cults and New Religions, 126[]
  3. Douglas Groothuis, “Revolutionizing our Worldview,” Reformed Journal (November 1982), 23.[]
  4. Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, [1931] 1970), iii.[]
  5. Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 53.[]
  6. David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 280.[]
  7. Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 72.[]
  8. Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, [1959] 2001), 87.[]
  9. Van Til, Calvinistic Concept of Culture, 44.[]
  10. H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 5th rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1939] 1956), 99–100. A 6th edition appeared in 1990 with three chapters added by Paul A. Marshall.[]
  11. Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 111.[]
  12. Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 111–112.[]
  13. Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 112.[]
  14. Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 126.[]
  15. Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 127.[]
  16. Gary DeMar, God and Government: A Biblical, Historical, and Constitutional Perspective, rev. ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, [1982–1986], 2011).[]
  17. Calvinistic Action Committee, God-Centered Living or Calvinism in Action (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1951), 5.[]
  18. God-Centered Living or Calvinism in Action, 173.[]
  19. Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Guru of Fundamentalism,” Newsweek (November 1, 1982), 88.[]
  20. Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947), 14.[]
  21. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, 14.[]
  22. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (1968) in Complete Works, 1:261–162.[]
  23. Schaeffer, Joshua in the Flow of Biblical History (1975), Complete Works, II:298.[]
  24. Schaeffer, Joshua in the Flow of Biblical History, II:153. Emphasis added.[]

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