Did Dutch Theology have to go liberal?

Something I’ve always wondered: why did some of the most robust Reformed philosophical schools, which sometimes bordered on the theocratic, go liberal in Holland?  Now, the Anchorites will say that because they are Reformed and are dialectically destined to go liberal.  If the study were simply limited to Holland its step-children in North America (Grand Rapids, Toronto), it appears they would have a point.

However, Kuyperian onlookers have always narrowed their field of vision.    Francis Nigel Lee, however, suggests something else.  Calvinist South Afrika over the past 300 years (pre-Mandela) was very conservative and very Calvinistic.  So much so that it was targeted for destruction by Satan’s institution on Earth–the United Nations.

There’s an element  of Kuyperian thought that appears troubling, though.  It’s North American tendency towards statism has already been noted.   Kuyper’s view of sphere-sovereignty is often criticized in that while there is a separate sphere for the state, the fact of the matter is that the State can do whatever it wants and can transgress (presumably with impunity) into the other spheres.    Admittedly, Kuyper didn’t seem to have an answer to this.  As I reflect on the matter, though, this really isn’t a problem for Kuyper’s view: it’s just a sad fact of life, whatever your worldview paradigm may be (Gary North has his own response:  God places sanctions on criminal states and destroys them.  I agree.  Kuyper wasn’t clear on that point).

The reason it appears to go “liberal” probably happens along these lines:  1) a young Kuyperian seminary student chants that Christ is Lord over all (which is true).  2) He wants to apply his theology to politics.   3) He is contacted (made?) by high ranking members within a political party.   4) He accepts, thinking he is applying his faith to politics.   5) He then wakes up one day and realizes he is speaking at Bilderberg Conferences.

Kuyperianism needs to be buttressed by a robust, Scottish-Puritan-theocratic worldview or it will go liberal.

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Review Bavinck Prolegomena

Bavinck’s project consists of drawing upon the strengths of the Magisterial Protestants while formulating theology in response to the modernist crisis of his day.  To do so, he realized he could not slavishly mimic older platitudes and simply “hope for the best.”   Bavinck represents a very exciting yet somewhat embarrassing hero for modern Calvinists.  Exciting, because his work is simply awesome and coming into English for the first time ever.  Embarrassing, because modern Calvinists generally dislike the movement “neo-Calvinism,” yet Bavinck is the unofficial godfather of it.

Bavinck takes the traditional terminology of principia, yet in the background is an ever-present urgency to respond to modernism.   Therefore, he takes the terminology and reframes it around the neo-Calvinist slogan, “Grace restores Nature.”  There is an antithesis and dualism, to be sure, but it is not between nature and grace, but sin and grace.

Principia

God himself is the principle of existence for theology (principium essendi).  Objective revelation of God in Christ is recorded in the Scriptures and this is the external source of knowledge (externum principium cognoscendi).   The Holy Spirit is the iternal source of knowledge.   This leads Bavinck to a line he repeats throughout the book:  there must be a corresponding internal organ to receive the external revelation.  This anticipates the later Reformed Epistemology school.

Contrary to the convertskii, everyone’s reception and evaluation of his or her ultimate authority will be subjective in some sense.   One often hears the refrain, “You Protestants make yourself the Pope and judge of authority while we simply submit to the Church.”  Unfortunately, at one time this convertskii had to make a decision–using his own sinful Western-influenced reason–between Rome, EO, Assyrian Orthodoxy, Monophysitism and Nestorianism.  Whatever the external source of knowledge-the Church, God’s Revelation, etc.–the religious subject will have to respond to it.  Since the subject is responding, the response and evaluation is, quite naturally, subjective.   Bavinck hits a grand slam on this point.

Circular Reasoning and First Principles

Bavinck does not try to hide the fact of circular reasoning.  He asserts, quite rightly, that first principles in any science are by definition circular.  If they were proven by other principles, they would not be first principles!  With this acknowledged, Romanism and Orthodoxy are in no better position than Protestantism.  Positing either the Pope or the Church as the external principle of knowledge is highly laughable–and bears witness to my argument given that few even try to do that.

Towards the Future of Reformed Epistemology and Apologetics

It’s obvious that Van Til read Bavinck.  It is also obvious, if perhaps less so, that the Reformed Epistemologists follow in Bavinck’s train.   It’s interesting that while Van Til drew heavily from Bavinck, I don’t think they are always saying the same thing on apologetics.   Bavinck used the categories of presuppositionalism, but he knew when to stop the train.  I think he kept himself from many of what would later be some of Van Til’s errors, or at least weak points.

Criticisms

The book isn’t always easy to read.  If the reader does not have a background heavy in European Rationalism, many of Bavinck’s sparring partners will be over one’s head.  Conversely, if one does have such a background in those disciplines, then there is little point to read Bavinck on them, since he is merely given a cursory reading of them.

Are you using the term “mysteries” correctly?

Does “mysteries” in theology refer to:

a.  the sacraments
b. articles of faith which can’t be proven by pure reason (Vatican 1)
c. things which were unknown in the previous dispensation

?

Bavinck answers, “But this mystery is so called, not because it is still hidden in the present, but because it had been unknown n the past.  Now–of all things–it has been made public by the gospel of Christ (Rom. 16:25, Col. 1:26; 1 Cor 4:1 et al) and from now on will be increasingly manifest in history” (I: 620).

Francis Nigel Lee messages

I’ve been particularly blessed by the following series of messages:

The Eschatology of Victory by Dr F. N. Lee.

Dr Lee was able to read and communicate the Dutch theologians and apologists without getting sidetracked on the various debates, all the while remaining true to his Westminster roots.  I don’t particularly care for a specific time-frame on the millennium, and so I would differ wtih Dr Lee in that, but the theology expounded in these lectures is phenomenal.

A response to a query on Presbyterian distinctives

Evan asked,

Would you also be so strict on the Presbyterian distinctiveness with the Sabbath, images, , acapella worship, exclusive Psalmody, the Filoque, etc?

I’ll gladly answer this, although most of these questions could have easily been answered by consulting the Westminster Confession of Faith, but I’ll add to each answer:

Sabbath:  don’t work on it.

images:  contrary to a lot of young-pup critics of the Reformed faith, the Reformed faith does not preclude images of non-divine entities.   I understand the EO take on images:  it is not imaging the divine nature qua nature.  However, one must immediately respond that neither does an icon image the divine hypostasis, either, because the wood and painting is not the divine hypostasis.   The divine person incarnate in matter could be worshipped because the matter was in the divine hypostasis.

acapella worship:  some do; some don’t.   The same with Exclusive Psalmody.  Already I can anticipate the charge, “Look how chaotic the Reformed world is.  They can’t even agree on worship.”   Well, I am pretty sure the local Greek church electronic keyboard, is not the same church as what _________________ (insert name of great saint) worshiped in.

Filioque:   The Reformed world officially accepts it.   However, during that time period one can only fight the battles which are currently raging.   The Filioque, for better or worse, was not on the forefront (and I think it should have been, for thus could the Reformers have dealt a full blow to Rome).   Most Reformed systematic theologies do a terrible job on this (Turretin merely asserts every point;  he doesn’t even begin to argue the question).   To be fair, though, they’ve never had a reason to develop it.

My thoughts on the Confederacy

If any topic wanted to prove the presuppositionalist’s axiom of “no neutrality,” the Confederacy would probably be it.  Yet, I think I can come the closest.  I don’t want to defend the Confederacy.  I think life in the said South would have been dreary, as would most any place in the 19th century, save Protestant Scandinavia or Calvinist South Afrika.   Here are some theses on the Confederacy:

  1. Whatever else is said, it must be acknowledged that Abraham Lincoln was a vile white supremacist.  His “darkie” jokes continually made his advisors uncomfortable.
  2. While so-called neo-Confederates are correct in that the war was fought over states’ rights (Lincoln makes this very clear; similar to Pol Pot, university professors seek to erase uncomfortable facts), the deeper question is this:  precisely which states’ rights issue did they fight over?
  3. Abolitionism is hard to defend.   While some were godly Christians, most were Unitarians and a few were terrorists.   John Brown specifically targeted white, Yankee, non-slave owners and butchered them.
  4. A recent line of speculation suggests that many Northerners opposed the expansion of slavery into the frontier because they feared, not without reason, that America would become another version of Haiti.  If true, this utterly destroys the Yankee mythos today.  The North, therefore, opposed slavery on racist grounds!   We see this today:  Yankees and white liberals, while formally worshipping black people, are scared to death of them.  Compare the demographics of a KKK neighborhood and the demographics of a white liberal’s.  It is the same neighborhood.
  5. It’s hard for anyone to seriously argue that we have smaller government and more freedom today.  The 10th Amendment has as much authority as the English monarchy does.

Someone will say, “But doesn’t this make you a racist?”   Well, yes and no.  I love black people and Asians, so no, I am not a racist.  However,  by Att. General Eric Holder’s definition of racism–anyone who has white pigmentation–then yes, I am a racist.  That’s because white people = racists, by the State Dept’s standards.

Further, I am not a racist because “racism” is a specifically Marxist concept and I reject Marxist concepts.   Corollary:  those who do their theology around attacking “racism” are Marxists.

Someone might respond, “Doesn’t this make you a kinist?” No, it doesn’t.  Kinism is a larger movement which defines itself as consistent Van Tillian theonomists.  I am neither Van Tillian nor theonomist, so I can’t be a kinist.  I do think their debates with mainstream Presbyterianism are quite funny, though.