The Last From Myers

So, where I left you all last time (and you can work back from there) was with a promise to show you some concrete examples of setting aside special revelation to allow general revelation to reign in cultural contexts.  Although the examples come from Ken Myers’ paper, “Christianity, Culture, and Common Grace,” they are quotes which Myers himself has gathered from others.

First up is Calvin.  Myers quotes about 3 pages worth of the Institutes, and I will show extreme restraint and only give you a few snippets (with my emphasis):

to perceive more clearly how far the mind can proceed in any matter according to the degree of its ability, we must here set forth a distinction: that there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly. I call “earthly things” those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call “heavenly things” the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.

…What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are.

Here’s a bold statement from Bavinck:

The good philosophical thoughts and ethical precepts found scattered through the pagan world receive in Christ their unity and center. They stand for the desire which in Christ finds its satisfaction; they represent the question to which Christ gives the answer; they are the idea of which Christ furnishes the reality. The pagan world, especially in its philosophy, is a pedagogy unto Christ; Aristotle, like John the Baptist, is the forerunner of Christ.

If you think about it, that’s kind of like saying that even Natural Law provides the First Use by driving us to Christ (of course, absent special revelation, that drive is directionless).

Finally, some excellent quotes from Abe “Every Square Inch” Kuyper.  So Abe, the world was in a horrible mess until Christianity came along, right?

The unbelieving world excels in many things. Precious treasures have come down to us from the old heathen civilization. … [Kuyper insists that] the one Aristotle knew more of the cosmos than all the church-fathers taken together; that under the dominion of Islam, better cosmic science flourished than in the cathedral and monastic schools of Europe; that the recovery of the writings of Aristotle was the first incentive to renewed though rather deficient study.

OK, well maybe heathens and pagans can accomplish some earthly good for a while, but once God’s covenant community brings special revelation to the table, we can shed the seed of the serpents’ culture like a snakeskin, and usher in God’s Kingdom, right?

As far as holy things are concerned, Israel is chosen, and is not only blessed above all nations, but stands among all nations, isolated. … But just in proportion as Israel shines forth from within the domain of Religion, so is it equally backward when you compare the development of its art, science, politics, commerce and trade to that of the surrounding nations. The building of the Temple required the coming of Hiram from a heathen country to Jerusalem; and Solomon, in whom, after all, was found the Wisdom of God, not only knows that Israel stands behind in architecture and needs help from without, but by his action he publicly shows that he, as king of the Jews, is in no way ashamed of Hiram’s coming, which he realizes as a natural ordinance of God.   . . . if Israel was chosen for the sake of Religion, this in no way prevented a parallel election of the Greeks for the domain of philosophy and for the revelations of art, nor of the Romans for the classical development within the domain of the Law and of State.

So Kuyper’s conception of Christ having dominion over “every square inch” includes the foundations of state and law coming,  not from the model God gave to Israel, but from classical pagans?  Wow.  He must not have known much about statecraft!  (wink, wink)  Myers summarizes Kuypers’ view of classical knowledge as “normative”.  It makes me think of the opening of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” — not authoritative due to bible, but self-attesting.  So then where does that leave God’s sovereignty and Christ’s universal lordship?

Now of course this is not to question God’s sovereignty over all of life, nor Christ’s lordship over all of the earth. It is merely to acknowledge diverse mechanisms and methods that God himself has established in his rule. God rules over all, but not all exists in the same position of submission to him.

From there, Myers moves into the quote about Christ’s “headship” of the church having having no scriptural analogue wrt the world, which is one of the best quotes of the paper that Zrim originally picked out.

Well, that pretty much covers all the highlights.  Even if you never find time to read Myers’ whole paper (and I do recommend it very highly), if you’ve stuck with me this far, at least you know what you’re missing!

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3 Responses to The Last From Myers

  1. court says:

    Thanks Reuben, and your timing is nice considering Tallman’s sermon on God’s sovereignty and man’s willful choices.

  2. Zrim says:

    “The pagan world, especially in its philosophy, is a pedagogy unto Christ; Aristotle, like John the Baptist, is the forerunner of Christ.”

    Oops, bright line alert. What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem? Methinks this sort of thinking may be the forerunner to kingdom collapse, since John the Baptizer is nothing like Aristotle. One wore camels’ hair and his head on a platter, the other, well, not so much.

    Re Kuyper, I think I can find some quotes from “Lectures on Calvinism” that might make Uncle Abe appear a bit compromised. Stay tuned.

  3. Pingback: Calvin and Natural Law « The Confessional Outhouse

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