Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism

Students at Reformed Theological Seminary where I graduated in 1979 who were interested in cultural Calvinism 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, Kuyper discussed, for example, politics, science, and art:

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-kingdoms approach to ethics that separates special revelation from our world beyond the church. Of course, Kuyper did not dismiss natural law. 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.

Restoring the Foundation of Civilization

Restoring the Foundation of Civilization

There are many Christians who will not participate in civilization-building efforts that include economics, journalism, politics, education, and science because they believe (or have been taught to believe) these areas of thought are outside the realm of what constitutes a Christian worldview. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Henry Van Til’s The Calvinistic Concept of Culture

Next was Henry Van Til’s The Calvinistic Concept of Culture. Van Til, in his discussion of Augustine, a favorite of two-kingdoms advocate Michael Horton, wrote:

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 Christian culture is a biblical imperative. He castigated the Barthians for their repudiation of 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]

H. Henry Meeter’s The Basic Ideas of Calvinism

H. Henry Meeter’s The Basic Ideas of Calvinism focused on politics from a distinctly biblical starting point. 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]

God and Government

God and Government

With a fresh new look, more images, an extensive subject and scripture index, and an updated bibliography, God and Government is ready to prepare a whole new generation to take on the political and religious battles confronting Christians today.

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The Calvinistic Action Committee’s God-Centered Living

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?

Read Part Two…

[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.