Bob Godfrey: What’s Going On Right Now? Sex, Race, Politics, And Power (13)—Five Responses To The Collapse Of Christendom

How do Christians live in hostile environment and how do they know whether it is a hostile environment? “If you live in an environment where most people don’t believe in God at all or do not believe that God is relevant to our lives or believe that God, if he has any relevance at all, is only relevant for our very personal, internal, religious feelings, then you’re living in a hostile environment.” What’s a Christian to do? There are five possibilities. One is the Amish choice, to form our own communities and leave the wicked world to go its own way. One sees this response to culture in the Amish communities in Pennsylvania. Then there’s the option that seeks to restore the Christendom that has been lost, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, who regards Vladimir Putin as a hero against Western decadence. A third way is to press the claims of natural law, by which we can discuss with non-Christians how things ought to be. The problem with the way Roman Catholics discuss natural law, however, is that it too often omits God. A fourth way might be called the American evangelical approach, which seeks to convert people one at a time so that when enough people are converted the culture will change. Were there to be a mass conversion, then what? Conversion is not a program for social action. The actions they typically have sought has been the platform of one of the two political parties. Neither of the parties has the interests of Christ and his kingdom in view. Finally, there is a fifth option, the correct, helpful, and realistic option, is the Kuyper Option, which he pursed more than a century ago: we as Christians must insist that we as Christians may speak as Christians to the social questions of our time. Our political consciences must be informed by God’s Word.

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  1. Scott—

    The Kuyperian position is exactly what I have understood to be the correct Reformed view for many years. The arguments from natural law—the weaknesses of which Van Tillian thought decimated—are used by Thomists/Romanists, but according to what you have written in this space, do represent the older, Reformed scholastic approach. It seems that Sproul (and Gerstner) also appropriated natural law arguments in apologetics—in opposition to the presuppositionalists. As you are well aware, there is a Sproul/Bahnsen debate on this very subject from 1977–which is commercially available.
    Bahnsen saw himself as a direct ideological descendant (mediated through Van Til and John Murray) of Kuyper. If you could please explain how it is that Kuyperian thought may be advanced as the correct Reformed position without an attending allegation of the charge of Reconstructionism…that would be helpful. Ian Clary—in his review of “The Mission of God”—also advances the idea that the Puritans also operated within the natural law tradition—and look at the theocratic society they still maintained—contra Joe Boot’s characterization.
    There is some kind of sense in which arguing from natural law should be done within the Kuyperian framework—and this is what needs to be explained. Further, we need to know how to talk about this without it being alleged that not only aren’t we Reconstructionists, but we do not eschew Paul for Benjamin Franklin (or, the Founders)—

    • Greg,

      The Kuyperian view is, in some respects, a novelty. I very much appreciate Bob Godfrey and am enjoying the series—that’s why we’re posting it here—but I dissent from his prescription somewhat.

      What was the outcome of the Kuyperian moment in Dutch culture & politics? What is the state of the Reformed Churches in the NL after the Kuyperian and neo-Kuyperian movements? It’s not in great shape. The NL is notorious for its libertinism. The project has not succeeded on its home turf nor has it been a roaring success in the New World. Were there more evidence that it was successful I would be less critical but the evidence just isn’t there.

      Bob only really addresses the Roman use of natural law, not the Reformed.

      My interest is in recovering the older, pre-Kuyperian Reformed tradition, which includes the Reformed appropriation of natural law.

      Bahnsen’s whole program, from his idiosyncratic reading of Van Til to his ethics is a non-starter. It has more to with the Anabaptist Karlstadt than with historic Reformed theology or the Westminster Confession.

      As for a renewed theocracy, it will be over my dead body.

      • Scott,

        Thank you for the clarification; what I was reading didn’t seem like what Scott Clark would write; perhaps I didn’t pay close enough attention to the formatting, and thus it escaped me that this was Godfrey’s view.
        You would know better than I, but it seems to me that what drives the Kuyperian motif is not necessarily a perceptible “success”, but rather a “directive”. Kuyperians in our own day, as you well know, speak in terms of “marching orders”. Besides that, it may be in their schema that it’s up to we in the New World to reintroduce Kuyper back to the continent—not dissimilar to the task of the Irish all those centuries ago. I don’t know.
        While Godfrey is capable of speaking for himself, there still is a point that needs clarification; and that is, this: can the Kuyperian model be divorced from the triumphalism of the postmillenialist Rushdoony warrior children (e.g. Bahnsen)? I know Godfrey to be a classic amillenialist. Is he really just saying that the church is to carry out a witness of “prophetic concern” to the civil magistrate to let them know that we are here and we are upset and that it is a legitimate responsibility to do this? Or, is he rather saying that this is a Kuyperian way to “advance the Kingdom”?
        The Dutch Reformed I have read (which mostly involves anything published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association; I have many of their titles), have a sort of tenuous relationship with Kuyper, and I still don’t quite understand the nuances. From time to time they will talk of intramural nineteenth and early twentieth century debates that took place within Holland. Engelsma seems to be very much into Bavinck. But they do not equivocate on the (1) firm maintenance of the “antithesis”, and a rather (2) pessimistic amillenialism. I know that Hoeksema and Danhof were charged with having a “spirit of Anabaptism”—back in the 1920’s—but they subsequently defended themselves against this charge in either a monograph or a series of Standard Bearer articles. I cannot help but wonder if this slice of history—or the birth of the PRC itself—doesn’t also hinge somehow on how Kuyper (and those in Holland who pre-date him) may be appropriated within a historically informed Reformed piety.
        I’ve said this before and I say it again: it seems to me that there are the Reformed and there are the Presbyterians. Please correct this or elaborate, but the “pieties” seem qualitatively different. It’s like Mozart and Beethoven; to someone who just sees “classical music” as a monolithic expression, their ears perceive no real difference. To a trained musician (or concert goer) any six or eight bars of music will give away the difference. To my “ear”, the Reformed are “Mozart” (Classical) and Presbyterianism is “Beethoven” (Classical-Romantic, or Classical “Prime”, if you will). And this Kuyper problem (with the ecclesiological and eschatological implications) underscore this distinction. Am I way off here??
        Indulge me a moment: Mozart=John Calvin, Wagner=Kuyper, Van Til/Gordon Clark=Bruckner or Mahler, Dooyeweerd/Vollenhoven=Schoenberg, Karl Barth=Stravinsky, Rushdoony/North/Bahnsen=Leonard Bernstein/Aaron Copland, Sproul/Godfrey/R. Scott Clark= a retrogression back to Franz Schubert (classically contained, suffused by simple beauty and clarity, adventuresome but always tasteful, never forgetting oneself).
        Yes, I studied music academically and I hope these musical parallels have meaning for someone in this space! They won’t stand over analysis, but it’s a fun project to think in this way. What can I say?

        • Greg,

          If Kuyperianism hasn’t actually “transformed” anything then what are we discussing? This isn’t 1922, it’s a century later. We’ve been observing the Kuyperian and neo-Kuyperian (they are distinct) experiments in action, in government, in education, and in church and I don’t see the pay off.

          The Free Reformed Pub Assoc is the publishing arm of the Protestant Reformed church, which is much more about the idiosyncratic theology of Herman Hoeksema than it is about Kuyper or neo-Kuyperianism. Hoeksema and his followers flatly and vehemently rejected the three points of Synod Kalamazoo and thus repudiated a substantial part of the Kuyperian program. I, by contrast, accept and endorse the three points.

          Kuyper himself was much more closely and deeply connected with traditions Reformed theology than Hoeksema.

          I can’t comment on the analogy but to say that Doyeweerd may have been brilliant but again, what is the fruit of his extension of Kuyperianism? The Doyweerdians I’ve read or otherwise encountered seem positively hostile to traditional Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

          If my project (recovering the Reformed confession) is retrograde so be it but I don’t see how losing the covenant of works and the pactum salutis (e.g., Hoeksema, Barth, and many other contemporary Reformed theologians) or the archetypal/ectypal distinction (Hoeksema) or an Anabaptist hermeneutic and theory of the abiding validity of the judicial laws (e.g., Rushdoony/North/Bahnsen) or the rejection of common grace (e.g., North and Hoeksema) is any advance over the tradition. Barth’s project has mostly been a disaster. Under his influence Reformed theology was mostly wrecked. We lost our law/gospel distinction, our covenant theology, our view of Scripture.

          Many of the people you listened are more like the hippies who took acid in 1969 and lost their minds. If people like that stuff, well there’s no accounting for taste I guess but most of that stuff is part of the problem not the part of the solution for what ails us.

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