Ed and Me

Our church has a monthly publication called the Courier. Mainly it’s a medium by which various bits and pieces concerning the church are passed. From time to time members who are ordained, have written books, or hold faculty positions one place or another take up topics of a theological interest.

There is a fairly new column in the Courier called “The Q and A Page.” It is penned by a gentleman named Edwin Walhout. Ed has written several books and taught at Kuyper College. The latest one was issued yesterday.

In the latest “Q and A” Ed was asked to sketch out the difference between the so-called “Reformed worldview” and that which is called “Fundamentalism.” While the “by whom” question is not answered, his response begins by locating the term fundamentalism in a “series of pamphlets written a hundred years ago entitled The Fundamentals.” The project of these pamphlets was to combat the subjectivism and moralism that was infiltrating the churches in the nineteenth century. According to Ed, while this was a laudable effort, over time Fundamentalism became something that had more to do with denying scientific discovery and the book of general revelation, something those in the broader Reformed tradition simply don’t tolerate. It is also usually associated specifically with a pre-millennial eschatology and a Dispensational theology generally. So far, so good.

“On the contrary, the Reformed view is that God created this world, that he loves it so much he gave his only-begotten son to save it, and that we humans are called to image God in the way we replenish the earth and subdue it. That is what Christianity is for, and we have the gospel and the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey his command.”

That is what Christianity is for? I thought it had to do with reconciling sinners to God.

Truth be told, Ed and I have had this conversation before. I once contributed something for our Courier around Christmas time reflecting on Mary’s Maginificat. Along the way I tried to delineate my own understanding of certain Reformed nuances when it comes to the interplay between this-worldliness and otherworldliness in order to show that there are both good and bad kinds of each. Essentially I tried to make the point that one of the beauties of the Reformed tradition is that it allows us at once to respond to this world appropriately without being too tied to it. We are allowed to rejoice in good times, lament in bad ones as well as be genuinely bored in times of mediocrity. And yet, the range of legitimate human experience all comports under an age which is passing away and will eventually yield to the coming age. Thus, challenging as it may be, we ought not get too caught up in our injuries or joys or whatever. This is how I understand the implications of Vos’s “eschatological ache.” With the coming age always in mind, the best of Reformed orthodoxy knows how to set our experiences in this age into proper perspective.

This apparently hit Ed as quite odd, and he took the time to respond in writing to me. What I thought seemed a fairly standard issue expression easily located in the Reformed tradition when it comes to this world and the next he took to mean something more akin to science fiction, what with all this talk of “this world and another one.” He seemed rather convinced that anyone who would suggest that there is actually a good kind of otherworldliness must also be some sort of pre-millennial, Dispensational polish stower. Beyond the fact that Calvin himself issued in his formulated prayers that we be not too tied to this world, this struck me just as odd. Me, a Pre-millennial Dispensationalist? Since having admitted years ago that along with the general intuition that none of it was on the up-and-up with what a truer Christianity was about, I never even understood the whole Dispensational scheme of the environs I inhabited upon conversion. Indeed, I have yet to decide what bothered me most in my credo-baptistic circles: the Arminian theology and practice, the deep-seated culturalism, or the blatantly Gnostic world-flight piety. For the sake of this post, let’s say it was that last one. Whatever else broad evangelicalism gets wrong, I could never-ever bring myself to equivocate on creation the way it did. One had various options when it came to engaging creation: evangelize it, stone it, Trojan horse it—but never engage it on its terms. That’s just carnal. The only comfort was that most evangelicals didn’t actually behave the way the system demands.

Anyway, in the course of our conversations it became clear that Ed is from the neo-Kuyperian school of thought where I am from the two-kingdoms camp. Unlike modern evangelicalism, his school begins with a high view of creation. To my mind, classic Reformed orthodoxy still has more in common with any form of Kuyperianism than it ever will with any form of evangelicalism for this very reason. It affirms the inherent “very goodness” of creation and the material world. One will simply not find that in evangelicalism where creation is looked upon with suspicion from the very start. However, as thankful as we should be that our transformational friends start with an orthodox view of creation things go quite south after that. When America, health care and light bulbs prove that the cross kicked off a creation slowly on the up-tick, it becomes just as unclear that they engage creation on its own terms any better than Gnostic evangelicals.

The answer to world-flight isn’t so much world-affirmation as it seems to be material transformation. Necessary to this effort is a categorical confusion of creation with redemption and out pops that the intent of Christianity is to

“…replenish the earth and subdue it….in the Reformed worldview we take our daily tasks in this world seriously, seeing them as the arena within which we are called to demonstrate our faith. We are concerned for the things God is concerned about: justice, truth, love, honesty, reliability, diligent work, integrity, concern for the welfare of the poor and elderly and sick, and so forth. We do accept this world as our home. God made it; he placed us on it; and he expects us to live faithfully and honestly in it.”

It is here that my own inner unbeliever and Calvinist conspire and render the transformationalist view another example of how we believers can come up with some of the most perplexing conclusions, references to sobriety and honesty notwithstanding. My unbeliever wants to know just what makes the believer think that every other created being doesn’t also have a concern for the litany of goodies like honesty, integrity and justice. This claim is as odd as saying believers want water when they are thirsty as if that distinguishes us from unbelievers. And my Calvinist wants to know just what sort of view of human ability owes to this religious fantasy. If something like revivalism relies on an optimistic view of human ability and will, transfornmationalism seems to have an equally sunny hunch about it as well. After all, only those whose nature is radically absent sin can pull off just what the transformers seem to be about as they apply the principles of redemption to creation. I know of only one such human being who possessed that kind of nature. And instead of compelling his cohorts to vanquish disease from every square inch he said the poor we’d always have with us.

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11 Responses to Ed and Me

  1. GAS says:

    I’m not aware of the definition of a “neo-kuyperian” but if I were hazard to guess, and if it is the one manifested in the current CRC culture, I would say it’s Kuyperianism minus the Antithesis.

    What you outlined above seems to me to be the categories of Creational ordinaces and common grace. But Kuyperianism needs the Antithesis to counter balance Creation otherwise it becomes a subjectivist, happy go lucky, we all have our own truth in our Creational categories which we see manifested in the CRC.

    Let’s not forget that Kuyperianism came out of Dutch pietism which was quite a feat. It’s always had a tension between those who have emphasized the Antithesis against those who emphasized the Creation, per Bratt.

  2. Zrim says:

    GAS,

    You could be right that all Kuyperianism needs is a good dose of creational antithesis to keep it healthy and not so neo. But I am not so convinced that Kuyperianism is all that innocent to begin with. From what I have read, Kuyper owed perhaps as much to Dutch pietism as to Liberalism. I think the common denominator in these things can be that true religion is relevant to the cares of the world on the world’s terms, that the gospel has a direct and obvious bearing on the things of the temporal order; I think this principle is found across the wide range of western religious traditions, from Catholicism to the peace traditions of the radical reformation to modern evangelicalism to Liberalism to Reformed theonomy—even paganism thinks this, which might give pause to these traditions. To be honest, it really isn’t so hard to see how Ed gets the conclusions from Abe that he does, it’s not as if Ed pulls these things out of thin air.

    I can certainly agree with Abe that every square inch belongs to Jesus, but just what that actually means as to how is where we get bogged down. To my mind, it doesn’t get us to the idea of Christian statesmen but statesmen who are Christian, which is the same sort of distinction one has to make between living the Gospel and living in light of the Gospel. These are distinctions I find most scoff at as petty. But I think they make all the difference in the world.

  3. heldveld says:

    “When America, health care and light bulbs prove that the cross kicked off a creation slowly on the up-tick, it becomes just as unclear that they engage creation on its own terms any better than Gnostic evangelicals.”

    Great line- The things he mentions (truth, love, the poor, etc.) are, I believe definitely a part of Christianity, but that is not what Christianity is for. When people remove the reconciling of sinners from the cross, it’s just sad.

    “My unbeliever wants to know just what makes the believer think that every other created being doesn’t also have a concern for the litany of goodies like honesty, integrity and justice.”

    This is where I think GAS hits it on the head. The unbeliever is concerned about these things sometimes in the way God is (by common grace) and sometimes according to his own standard. It seems that the church (CRC and others) is adopting man’s concern for these things and not God’s. God’s way is primarily eternal while man’s is the here and now. We can’t expect true justice on earth but know that God will righteously judge all in eternity.

  4. Zrim says:

    Held,

    If you like well-constructed lines here is an old favorite along these, ahem, lines: “While it certainly has one resident within it, Christianity is not a way of life.”

    If the church is doing what you say she is (and I think she is and always has to relative degrees), then I would tweak your previous line to read, “The un/believer is concerned about these things sometimes in the way God is (by common grace) and sometimes according to his own standard.” True, what we have over the unbeliever is the reality of sanctification, but that doesn’t mean we don’t share in his mixed bag of compromise.

    Good word re justice. But lest any think this tends toward some kind of antinomianism or no category for justice at all, there is a difference between exact and proximate justice.

  5. Chris Donato says:

    My unbeliever wants to know just what makes the believer think that every other created being doesn’t also have a concern for the litany of goodies like honesty, integrity and justice. This claim is as odd as saying believers want water when they are thirsty as if that distinguishes us from unbelievers.

    Consider that you’ve slightly misunderstand what people like Ed are saying: the litany of goodies is truly informed by gosple of Christ; it finds its true meaning and import in light of the gospel. It does not take the gospel to see the litany (located as it is in the natural world); rather, it takes the gospel to see that exacting the litany (“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”) here and now is part and parcel, a paving, if you will (however lame compared to the coming kingdom), of the way to the other world.

    Precisely recognizing that every non-believing Tom, Dick, and Harry can grasp the litany of goodies and work to fulfill them here and now means simply that we Christians ought not be so concerned with constructing “Christian _____” (fill in the blank: Christian social services, Christian schools, etc.).

    And my Calvinist wants to know just what sort of view of human ability owes to this religious fantasy.

    Fair enough. But we must be careful to not overemphasize one part of Calvin’s thoughts at the expense of others. True, he does paint a rather dismal picture with respect to man being able to do much of anything that is worth anything, but he goes on to affirm the ability and freedom of men to do good (short of pleasing God). At least that’s what I want him to be saying. If he’s not, well, then, I think he’s wrong.

  6. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    I don’t see how that is any different from Ed: exacting in the here and now is the point. But I don’t find that sentiment in the gospel. It’s the difference between a theology of glory and one of the cross.

    And, while I can’ t tell if you mean this, anything that ends up saying that the project of Xian schooling is something with which we ought not be concerned would be Ed’s sure litmust test that something ain’t kosher in Little Geneva.

    Re Calvinism’s low view of human ability, I have always considered that there is quite a difference between total depravity and utter depravity; Calvinism is not synonymous with fatalism.

    Graduating one’s self out of the probationary period is one thing, executing some pretty good stuff is another, agreed. But if that’s true, what’s with all the “exacting in the here and now to pave the way into the next world” stuff? Why can’t we all, believer and none, just be working together to get to tomorrow instead of the next world? Why can’t the road to the next age be paved with water, bread and wine?

  7. heldveld says:

    Chris,

    If ‘the litany of goodies is truly informed by gospel of Christ’ how can ‘every non-believing Tom, Dick, and Harry grasp the litany of goodies’?

    It seems to me that they would have an incomplete set. For example I see loving my neighbor as first and foremost caring about his salvation not just giving him food stamps, getting his mail etc. (although they could be part of it)

  8. Chris Donato says:

    Zrim, of course it’s in the mundane. We’ve been here before. My grandiose speech should not be taken to mean what transformationalists do (though I admit some overlap). I intend to give grandiosity to water, bread and wine.

    I’m not surprised that Ed, if he’s as you suggest (a Kuyperian transformationalist type), would hold something like that up as a litmus test. What I’m talking about exacting is (don’t laugh) fairly straightfoward and biblically indisputable. Parochial education is not. Federalized Xian moralism is not. Defeating Islamic fundamentalism is not. Constitutional ammendments to “protect marriage” are not.

    Caring for the widow and the orphan (the generally overlooked and undefended, handicapped, homeless) in our midst is. Reining in my tongue is. Keeping myself spotless from the world’s contaminating influence is. These are not exhaustive of “true religion” (Jame 1:26–27), to be sure. But they’re a good start, don’t you think?

    Still, the point stands: is not Ed merely saying the litany of goodies (even if he’s mistaken as to what they are) finds its ultimate purpose in the gospel (and not that the gospel is needed to see the need for such goodies in the world)?

    Calvinism is not synonymous with fatalism.

    In truth, it is not (despite what many early converts say), though not because it’s always consistent. But, then, neither was the guy who bears its name.

  9. Chris Donato says:

    heldveld

    Well, Zrim rightly notes the very questionable content of that litany. But if we grant MY litany, then I think the answer to your question is simple: it’s grasped because it’s right there in front of their faces, revealed in nature itself. (I realize this is fraught with naturalistic fallacies, but that’s inescapable, really.)

    The IS does lead to the OUGHT, even if the “ought” is understood finitely, even pragmatically.

    But to be sure, I grant what you say: their set would be incomplete. It might be better to say that the gospel supplements (with its backbone) and thus prioritizes said litanies.

  10. GAS says:

    Zrim: To my mind, it doesn’t get us to the idea of Christian statesmen but statesmen who are Christian, which is the same sort of distinction one has to make between living the Gospel and living in light of the Gospel.

    GAS: Well, that to me is just a rearticulation of the Antithesis. To live in light of the gospel means to have the mind of the Gospel. It’s the difference between gratitude and law. I think Abe get’s a bum rap on this deal.

    What’s seems strange to me are those Van Tillians who throw Abe under the bus. From his core concept of the Antithesis to his fight against Hoeksma and the PRC for common grace he mimiced Kuyper. A Van Tillian is a Kuyperian.

  11. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    Based on your last post, I think you and I agree with each other well before Ed does with either of us (!). Moreover, I guess I have the homecourt advantage of reading Ed in context of other things he’s written and said, etc. In other words, I hear him indeed saying that gospel is needed for anything good to “truly” happen.

    GAS,

    Bahnsen and Rushdooney were Van Tilian. And CVT was quite clear in his rejection of their conclusions, their forced patron saint claims on him notwithstanding.

    When the culture of the CRC can easily point to Kuyper for all its transformationalism something has to be askew. Like I said, I can agree with Abe that every square inch belong to Jesus–heck, I can even work with well sphere sovereignty, which can ironically be used to punch some holes in notions of Xian education–but the application is just plain different. And when I read Abe there is very little keeping notions of a Christianized society at bay; CVT’s legendary case for Christian education based on his Kuyperianism shows that. One can find as much transformationalism in Machen as theocracy in Calvin. But none of that means it’s right. Like Chris said about the potentiality of Calvin’s Calvinism being deterministic (and therefore disagreeable–but it isn’t so moot), I see no reason why any Kuyprianism should get a pass merely because CVT built on it. Again, Bahnsen and Rushdooney built on CVT’s, but…so?

    Don’t you think that time and place might play some role in determining some of these things?

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