Everyone Is Subject To The QIRE

Abraham_KuyperOn a recent trip I began James D. Bratt’s, terrific new biography of Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. I knew (or thought I knew) the outlines of Kuyper’s life but there was an aspect that I did not know: Kuyper was deeply affected by the QIRE for a three-year period from 1875–78.

The QIRE or the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience, is a sub-species of an over-realized eschatology or the desire to experience more of heaven now, in this life, than is promised by Scripture. It comes in many forms and seemingly strikes without warning. That Kuyper was briefly afflicted with a serious case of the QIRE is interesting because he was a great student of Reformed theology. He was well read in the primary sources of Reformed theology. He did his doctoral work on Johannes a Lasko (1499—1560; AKA Laski or Waski). He wrote an undergraduate thesis comparing Calvin’s ecclesiology with a Lasko’s.

As you may know, Kuyper was prone to work himself to physical and nervous breakdown. He did so in 1861 and again 1876–77. During the second episode he became quite attracted to the “Higher Life” movement and piety. This was a quasi-pentecostal movement that downplayed doctrine, confessions, and the due use of ordinary means in favor of the immediate encounter with the risen Christ. This wasn’t the first time Kuyper had been attracted to forms of pietism and subjectivism. As a young man he was essentially a Socinian. When he was first converted it was to a generic form of broad, pietist evangelicalism. He only gradually became confessionally Reformed.

What is fascinating about this episode, however, is that it occurred 12 years after he had embraced the Reformed confession. Exhausted, he attended a series of Higher Life meetings in Brighton, England led by the energetic Robert Pearsall Smith and Hannah Whitehall Smith. He was so impressed with what he saw and experienced at Brighton he took it back to the Netherlands and began advocating it quite forcefully. When I think of Kuyper I think of De Heraut, De Standaard, the Free University, The Doleantie, the GKN, the antithesis, of common grace, of sphere sovereignty, of his study of Reformed orthodoxy, of his devotional writing, and of “every square inch,” but I don’t think of him as an advocate of higher life piety and pietism but he was so briefly. His new passion even led him to criticize Reformed piety as lacking a certain spark. He temporarily adopted (the Arminian) Phoebe Palmer’s language of consecration and laying all on the altar and that Jesus “lives in my heart.” He attempted to connect this way of speaking with Reformed orthodoxy but it was an uneasy union.

After returning from Brighton, however, Kuyper collapsed again. He was discouraged by the discovery that Pearsall Smith had been found in a sexual indiscretion. He rejected an offer by the Brighton folks to work with them even more closely and finally rejected what he later called the “enthusiasm” and perfectionism of the movement. In the Reformed vocabulary “enthusiast” is an adjective historically used to describe the Anabaptists, who themselves pioneered much pietism and of the “second blessing,” “higher life,” perfectionist, and neo-pentecostal pieties. “Pelagius always lurks in the shadows of this heresy” he wrote of perfectionism (Bratt, 101). He admitted that the Brighton movement was dominated by Arminianism.

According to Bratt, it was this dalliance with revivalism and higher life piety that formed the immediate background for his great work, The Work of the Holy Spirit. The antidote for the QIRE was a serious dose of classical Reformed theology from the 17th century. That even Kuyper was subject to this temptation reminds us that the QIRE is so pervasive, so seductive, so widespread, that anyone can become enthralled by it and one can also become disillusioned and return to reality as revealed in Scripture and confessed by the churches. It also signals again that genuine confessional Reformed piety is one thing and the QIRE is another. Genuine Reformed piety isn’t broken. It does not need a booster shot of Anabaptist enthusiasm. It is not dry. It is not arid. It is simply not Anabaptist or Higher Life or perfectionist. It is a piety born of theology of the cross, not a theology of glory.

The good news is that Kuyper also shows that the QIRE doesn’t have to be a permanent condition and that confessional Reformed theology, piety, and practice is the antidote.

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  1. Though my comment may be tongue-in-cheek, it bears truth to the sad condition found in many Reformed churches today. I have sat under years of “experiential” Reformed confessional preaching where the primary focus of every sermon was to know and feel one’s misery ever so deeply, through Moses. And deliverance was short-lived and temporary. And where gratitude was to return again to Sinai to learn from Moses how to render “good works” – which were but filthy rags anyways.

    It was a cycle of despair, and it demonstrates a Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience from a Reformed perspective.

  2. Dr Clark is right. By nature, we the Old Adam is subject to QIRE. Original Sin is Enthusiasm – as Luther puts, seeking God-within – in our feelings, in our emotions, in our subjectivity, in our SELF.

    Revival (and revivalism) is alien to Reformation piety. It is something added rather than integral to Reformation piety.

    Revival *divorces* the work of Christ (for YOU) and the work of the Spirit (which for Reformed and Lutheran Orthodoxy is in you). The shape of the Christian life is not revival-centric but Christ-centric in Word and Sacraments.

    That is to say, the Spirit’s work is *not* to ADD to Christ’s work but IS the doing of the work of Christ in the living present, here and now. This is the meaning to preach in the Spirit.

    Justification and sanctification come(s) only by PREACHING (that is proclamation) ALONE. One is not justified and sanctified by feeling (whether feeling terror-stricken and then relief). One is justified by the preaching of the Word and the Word alone: For faith comes by hearing alone, and hearing the Word of God.

    For one to look (away from and) to the supposed outpouring of the Spirit that rends the heaven open do NOT understand what Reformation preaching is all about. The proclamation of Word and Sacraments are eschatological – heaven is “rent” open (to employ revival language) or better still – God breaks in, breaks into … this world (breaking, smashing into another realm covered by the sphere) of sin, wrath, alienation and damnation” – to reclaim sinners EACH TIME. Election and predestination becomes intensely personal and take place each time in time and space when sins are forgiven in the Absolution, Baptism is performed and the Lord’s Supper is distributed.

    The proper preaching of the Word means that it is theology and theology alone which fosters and drive to proclamation. IOW, preaching is not about psychology. Preaching is not about the preacher trying to get the hearers to repent and believe. That is not his job. Preaching consists of two things, namely what God has done in Jesus Christ and simply doing what God has done in Jesus Christ to the hearer. Preaching is “UNLEASHING” Christ and His Spirit to kill the sinner by the Law and raise that sinner by the Gospel.

    The paradigm of death and resurrection presupposes and implies that Law and Gospel are both eschatological acts. It’s NOT as if that God is dangling the sinner just above the flames of hell (as in Edwards ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God). For it means that there is a still route to escape – the preaching of the Law is meant to open an exit to flee from the wrath to come.

    BUT that the Law in its theological use is the manifestation (though not irreducibly and exhaustively so) of the wrath of God ALREADY here and now in the living present. IOW, the apocalypse now – not as in the future. This means that not only is the wrath of God universal, it is ever-present and without proportion, boundless, infinite and everlasting. Hell is simply the condition in which the wrath of God is *manifested* fully and finally as the ultimate fulfillment of the eschatological reality. Hence, there is *continuity* between the wrath of God now AND the wrath of God in the future.

    The discontinuity lies in the relationship between the Law and Gospel. For one induced by terror to seek the mercy of God as in revival, it means it is by that SAME subjectivity that the sinner seeks *assurance* – namely the SELF. There is no death and resurrection, properly speaking. The Law is then a preparatory step to the Gospel – hence continuity (rather than discontinuity where and when Law and Gospel are properly distinguished). FAITH is lost.

    Instead of fleeing the Hidden (not-preached) God in repentance and fleeing to the Revealed (preached) God in faith, one becomes psychological and emotionally motivated to seek this same God Who is all wrath and terror but *no* WORD (promise). Thus, instead of looking to the historical Cross (which to sure is eschatological as can be but precisely) in all its intense and sheer physicality, one looks to a “transcendent” God “up there” (Who has NOT revealed Himself).
    Then DESIRE and LOVE comes in to substitute for faith – for desire and love are what drives the Christian to RECEIVE this Incarnate-less God. One becomes therefore justified by love, by desire.

    BUT this upward movement is contradictory and opposed to the sacramental reversal or direction of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection. God comes DOWN for our salvation as the Nicene Creed says. It means that Jesus has overcome ALL distance for YOU.

    Thus, the spectre of synergy is always lurking in the background in revival.

    The bondage of the will means that one is so bound, curved into one self that one can ONLY be absolutely and utterly destroyed so as to be raised up anew. Where one’s misery becomes the motivation for spiritual deliverance, it’s obvious that in this paradigm, the will is NOT bound.

    Hence, the EXTERNAL Word must *precede* the Spirit – because only such a paradigm guarantees the irreducible from without objectivity. IOW, you cannot get anymore objective than this. (Of course if I may, the subjectivity is found precisely in such objectivity for YOU).

  3. “Preaching is “UNLEASHING” Christ and His Spirit to kill the sinner by the Law and raise that sinner by the Gospel.

    The paradigm of death and resurrection presupposes and implies that Law and Gospel are both eschatological acts.

    BUT that the Law in its theological use is the manifestation (though not irreducibly and exhaustively so) of the wrath of God ALREADY here and now in the living present. IOW, the apocalypse now – not as in the future.”

    The Law is indeed eschatological if we recognize that Israel was a federal representative, a National Adam, through whom universal death and condemnation was formally indicted upon the whole world by way of covenant writ, carved in letters on stone (Rom 3:1-6).

    And furthermore, the Law’s killing ministry is not effected by using it merely as scourge to expose the disobedient “works” done in the flesh and produce an “experiential” emotion of misery. That type of external “works” preaching is not of faith (Gal 3:13) and does not point men to see the true Righteousness that they have usurped and failed to obtain.

    The Law’s killing ministry is one of deep spiritual blindness. The Law blinds men’s eyes to that one only incarnate Righteousness which it typified and pointed toward . . . Jesus Christ. The Law is the alluring “forbidden fruit” that Adam partook of . . . a delight to the eyes, to be desired to make one wise, able to make one become like God, to know good and evil.

    The Law always kills a willing victim. Those who are slain by the Law willingly take hold of its works to do them . . . and miss Christ, the only true Righteous One. Such was Israel’s folly under the Law (Rom 9:30 to 10:4).

    Israel was not slain by the Law for failing to do perfect works. They were slain by the Law for failing to believe in Messiah’s righteousness that was typified and proposed to them in the Law, and seeking to replace His only righteousness with their own.

    The Law kills by seducing those outside of Christ to think that their own “fig leaf” righteousness is perfectly fine for acceptance with God.

    Such was Adam’s folly in the Garden. His obedience was not to render perfect law-works . . . but to render perfect faith in the Righteous One that was proposed and typified to him in the Tree of Knowledge. Look at the eschatological Garden in Rev 22. It contains the Tree of Life, but absent is the Tree of Knowledge . . . because He is there as the crucified and risen Lamb . . . he was hung on that Tree and became for us true Wisdom, Knowledge, and Righteousness.

    • John makes the same eschatological argument concerning the Law as does the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:30 – 10:4. Jesus, the Righteous One, is the incarnate Righteousness of God who fulfills the Law’s dim shadow (Heb 10:1) . . . and those who fall short of that Righteousness do so by failing to believe in the Son, and continue on, blindly trying to fulfill Law-righteousness (evil works) in their own strength.

      “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the Light and does not come to the Light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” John 3:18-21

  4. The Decalogue blinds men from beholding Yahweh’s final revelation of Righteousness found only in Jesus Christ, and made alive in those who walk by his Spirit . . .

    2 Corinthians 3:14-18
    But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant [specifically, the Decalogue as per vs 3 & 7], that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

    And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

  5. Dear Dr. Clark,

    Grace and peace in Christ Jesus!

    Good to know Kuyper’s affliction passed… Also very thankful for BB Warfield taking a stand against Mysticism (my street name for qire:).

    Since we now live in a culture of “spiritism” and Eastern Spirituality is ever present ( every magazine, show, commercial, movie, and book suggests meditation relaxation and Yoga) can/should this be addressed from the pulpit?

    I reside in the buckle of the bible belt and we probably have more Yoga places than New York city. The women are not making and connection that Yoga is a spiritual concept and not merely exercise. But why should they? No one talks about it… Next thing you know they are reading “God Calling”–another great product of the Higher Life/Keswick delusion.

    People are falling away to grand deception because they are slowly biting the apple and not realizing they are being poisoned until it is too late. However, God is in charge and not one of His will be lost and there will be faithful shepherds to sound the alarm to the wayward sheep!

    Praise the Lord for His faithfulness, charisse

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