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The Ends of the Theology Department


*Selected Scriptures
July 23, 2017
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

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The sermon starts at 15:50 in the audio file.


Or, What is a Kuyperian? (Part 2)


The confession of the Christian life is: Jesus is Lord. Paul wrote to the Romans:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

What better summary of what we believe that that? He is Lord. Jesus reigns. “God has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), Messiah and Master. As we considered last Lord’s Day, there is not one thumb’s width in all of creation that Christ doesn’t claim as His own. This is what we confess, what we celebrate, and also a large part of what motivates us as His disciples. Where can we go from His Spirit? Where can we go from His concerns?

It is, however, not only possible, but also confirmed, that in some circles, Christians agree with teaching about the Lordship of Jesus who nevertheless limit the implications of His Lordship to spiritual matters alone (as defined in ironically worldly ways). Jesus cares about our beliefs, that they be biblical, and He cares about our conduct, that we be obedient, and about our worship, that we be loving. But it is still possible to define our Christian lives in unbiblical categories.

For example, in no verse in the Bible does God say that a good Christian must have quiet times with the Lord or follow a Bible reading program. I think this was mostly because copies of God’s Word were not available for most people throughout most of Church history. We take our access to Scriptures for granted, and such saturation is a good problem to have. But “somehow” the disciples honored the Lord without a New Testament. David spent time with the Lord, Jesus spent time alone with His Father, and I don’t know where I’d be apart from some private time with the Lord each day. But minutes in prayer is not the measure of one’s godliness any more than gas in the tank is the measure of how far you’ve driven.

For that matter, it has often been the case that in churches where the Bible is loved, which is a good thing, that the mark of having arrived at spiritual growth and maturity is teaching a Bible study or a Sunday School class. On one hand, Colossians 3:16 says that the word of Christ should dwell in all of us richly (though again, that is not necessarily reading it) so that we will be naturally “teaching and admonishing one another.” This is one-another encouragement from the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” because lyrics would be memorable, easier to pull out in a conversation with a brother.

This is a different sort of teaching than the more formal teaching position that many ministries push people toward. Yet James explicitly says, “Let not many of you be teachers”! This is due to the difficulty of not sinning with one’s tongue; it’s hard. But in the name of teaching the Bible how have we Bible people so blatantly disobeyed the Bible? And if most people are NOT to be teachers, how are the actual teachers supposed to teach in such a way as to help the non-teachers become “complete in Christ”? This means that there must be a lot of ways to be like Christ.

This is why the adjective “Kuyperian” can be so helpful. It intends to take intentionally and seriously the Bible’s teaching that God is interested in His image-bearers being interested in a universe worth of things. Yes, we are not God, so our capacity for interests will be finite. But we ought to purposefully seek to increase our capacities and also to maximize our interests for His sake. That’s one of the ways we become more “complete in Christ.” Abraham Kuyper was a guy who worked to apply this truth and to spread it into the corners.

God is sovereign in salvation: Calvinism. God is sovereign everywhere: Kuyperian Calvinism. John Calvin started with the truth of God’s control in the universe, Kuyper just continued to roll out what that means.

[T]he persuasion that the whole of a man’s life is to be lived in the Divine Presence has become the fundamental thought of Calvinism. By this decisive idea, or rather by this mighty fact, it has allowed itself to be controlled in every department of its entire domain. It is from this mother-thought that the all-embracing life system of Calvinism sprang. (Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 25-26)

Seeing the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28, human beings, and especially redeemed human beings who know and follow the Lord, have stewardship responsibilities in all their daily work. What happens in the theology department must not stay in the theology department.

In the final chapter of Lectures on Calvinism Kuyper makes a distinction between the world’s understanding of (natural) selection (survival of the fittest) and the Calvinist’s understanding of (divine) election (sovereignty of the Father). It’s a one letter difference, but a worldview apart.

When we look around, why are things different? “There is no life without differentiation, and no differentiation without inequality. … Whence are those differences?”

Calvinism dared to face this same all-dominating problem, solving it, however, not in the sense of a blind selection stirring in unconscious cells, but honoring the sovereign choice of Him Who created all things visible and invisible. The determination of the existence of all things to be created, of what is to be camellia or buttercup, nightingale or crow, hart or swine, and, equally among men, the determination of our own persons, whether one is to be born as girl or boy, rich or poor, dull or clever, white or colored, or even as Abel or Cain, is the most tremendous predestination conceivable in heaven or on earth; and still we see it taking place before our eyes every day, and we ourselves are subject to it in our entire personality; our entire existence, our very nature, our position in life being entirely dependent on it. This all-embracing predestination, the Calvinist places, not in the hand of man, and still less in the hand of a blind natural force, but in the hand of Almighty God, Sovereign Creator and Possessor of heaven and earth; and it is in the figure of the potter and the clay that Scripture has from the time of the Prophets expounded to us this all-dominating election. Election in creation, election in providence, and so election also to eternal life; election in the realm of grace as well as in the realm of nature. (Lectures on Calvinism, 189)

We believe that the world is filled with givens, things that the Lord chose things to be one way and not another. We can, and should, receive the givens with thanks, and then respond accordingly to what God has chosen.

Gender is a given, not a cultural idea or social contract. Marriage is a given, not a pragmatic agreement among citizens. God chose how things work. His sovereign concerns are not limited to spiritual things, salvific issues, or church relations alone. His sovereignty extends out of our private places and into the public square. To be a disciple of the Lord is to seek to obey Him in a lot more places that we’ve previously acknowledged.

A Kuyperian acknowledges Jesus as Lord in all the wide wide world. A Kuyperian does his work as to the Lord because he thinks that the Lord actually cares about it, and it involves honesty and more.

Out in Public

Kuyperians take their work outside the theology department and the Sunday School class. The elders started reading Empires of Dirt a while ago, and here is a helpful summary of our options:

When a Christian says that Christians ought not to insist that Jesus be recognized as Lord in the public square, he is either saying that we shouldn’t do this because Jesus doesn’t want us to, or we shouldn’t do this because Jesus doesn’t care, making it OK for us to go along with the secular flow. But if Jesus wants the public square to be secular, how did we learn this? From the Bible? And if we arrange the public square in this way because of what Jesus said, isn’t this just a form of theocracy? And if we go the other way and say that Jesus doesn’t care what goes on in the public square, and we can therefore make a treaty with the secularists out there, two questions arise. One, how do we know Jesus doesn’t care? Did He say? If He didn’t, how do we know? If He did, then isn’t this just another theocracy variation? (Empries of Dirt, 37-38)

Jesus definitely never says that He does not care. Even if He didn’t say He cared, did He say we should not? But we don’t actually need to guess.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
and let them say among the nations,
“The LORD reigns!”
(1 Chronicles 16:29–31)

The Obedience of Faith

Paul wrote to the Romans about the apostleship given to him “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5). The final chapter of Romans includes the same phrase with the purpose of God included: the gospel “has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26).

What does this “obedience of faith” look like? What does it do? In other words, what is our salvation unto? And how does it affect the “nations”?

Ask it still another way? What is a light for? It is not to hide under a bushel basket. And Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Light shines; it can’t help it. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

So due to Christ’s sovereignty over and interest in the cosmos, what cannot be consecrated in the obedience of faith for His name’s sake? Consider how many things are dealt a death blow by a Kuyperian understanding.

A Kuyperian cannot be a Darwinian. We believe that Christ created all things, that He chose what they would be, what they could become, and what they could not become.

A Kuyperian cannot be a Deist. We believe that Christ sustains all things, that they all hold together in Him moment by moment. He did not create the world and then leave us to our own devices like a watch-maker.

A Kuyperian cannot be a Dualist. We believe that Christ created and sustains what He cares about, which includes invisible and visible things. As a subset of this, a Kuyperian cannot be an asceticist, one who gives up all things. This is not even of true spiritual value, and it defines spirituality in worldly terms (see Colossians 2:20-23). It goes against the positive that Paul described to Timothy (see 1 Timothy 4:1-5, which Jonathan preached last October).

A Kuyperian cannot be indifferent. Our apathy, our boredom, our unthankfulness is a failure to honor Christ.

Whether you use the adjective “Kuyperian” or not, it is intended to give us some common language about the sort of Calvinists we are. We believe that “our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” He calls the nations to worship Him. The gospel is the power of God to salvation for the Jew first, and also for the Gentiles. Saved men are commissioned to use their thumb’s for Christ, and for more than flipping the pages of their Bibles.

Theology Out of Church Doors

This is public theology, not because it is decided by the people, but because it is for the people.

In Christ the cosmos has order and meaning everywhere. It’s all for His glory, including anthropology, sociology, science and technology, medicine, agriculture, gender and marriage and sex and parenting, education, economics, government, art, and hygiene. Among other things, Kuyper himself helped to start a daily newspaper, a university, and a political party. You can get the “Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (12 vols)”.

[N]ot only the church, but also the world belongs to God and in both has to be investigated the masterpiece of the supreme Architect and Artificer. A Calvinist who seeks God, does not for a moment think of limiting himself to theology and contemplation, leaving the other sciences, as of a lower character, in the hands of unbelievers; but on the contrary, looking upon it as his task to know God in all his works, he is conscious of having been called to fathom with all the energy of his intellect, things terrestrial as well as things celestial. (Lectures, 125)

A Kuyperian is a Christian who worships with the church and then works outside the church. The church is not the boss, but Christians can be. Kuyperianism is concerned for everything outside of the institutional church. The ends of the theology department are hard to see from here, but some of us have never even noticed the door.

But what about…?

It’s a false choice to be a spiritual disciple or a Kuyperian disciple.

In Colossians 3 Paul said “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2) But “things of earth” Paul says not to think about are defined in the next paragraph. “What is earthly in you” are the sinful things (see verses 3-11).

When you are filled with the word as it says in Colossians 3:16, go on to Colossians 3:18-4:6. When you are filled with the Spirit as it says in Ephesians 5:18, go on to Ephesians 5:22-6:9. Spouses and kids and salty speech are things of earth in a different way, and they are things that must be different because of being indwelt by God’s Word. Working hard is a thing to do because of the Bible, not by definition in competition with it.

So, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

Conclusion

As a disciple of Christ I must constantly ask, What does Christ’s lordship look like wherever I am going? I have been excited about the meaning of discipleship on earth for a while, at least since first working through Genesis. Then it has been corroborated in a hundred other places, reading history and literature in Omnibus or reading about education and culture and family. It all points to the fact that it all matters to God. It is part of our very nature to be interested in things and make things and work and be social. We do not have to feel guilty, we do not have to hide, we do not have to limit our “faithfulness” to church defined activities.

There are, as it turns out, many professing Christians who don’t want to hear about it, and some who would go so far as to be critical of this mindset.

There are a least a couple reasons for this. One is fear, agitation, distress, the “willies.” If everything matters to God, then I will have to think about everything, and care about everything, and answer for everything. It is more comfortable to be lazy, or to be inconsistent. We might even try to convince ourselves that it is better just to live with some level of guilt for pursuing all the things we’ve decided to define as not mattering. The Kuyperian worldview is relieving, even exciting, until realizing that the standard was just raised, and raised significantly. Thinking about our own work, all of it, as mattering to God is an almost unbearable glory. But it is glory. It is also biblical, and it is the worst to squirrel ourselves away under the pretense of loving Scripture.

Another reason for rejecting this Kuyperian mindset may masquerade under the banner of faithfulness, but is really just pride, perhaps we could call it “Christian narcissism,” which cannot be redeemed by the adjective. Men are always looking to justify themselves and some also desire a sort of power or control over others. Christian men are no different. It is easier to measure your likeness to Christ by how many chapters of the Bible you read today. And it is easier to claim power over someone if you can convince them that their soul depends on doing what you say is right. But there are so many things outside of the theology department that, in order to manipulate with any hope of success, you have to narrow it down to something manageable, like spiritual disciplines and church-run events. Our inner-Pharisee gets super excited about the law. Pastors, even in the Protestant tradition, have been the worst.

So we must repent. We must read all of the verses and not just the ones that other people aren’t doing. We must also let God be God and let Him call different men to different things that we don’t control, nor do we judge.

Not only is this worldview not a retreat, it shows our position on top of the hill. We, with Christ, assume the center. We should think and talk downhill. The world may act as if they have the lock on the outside of the door to the theology department, but they’re bluffing.

Also, this is not Postmillennialism. We do not think that we are making the world a better place for Jesus to return and rule. Like Israel—somewhat ironically for the point I’m making—in Egypt before the exodus, we will continue to grow and multiply and that will make the surrounding pagans nervous. We won’t win, but we will be delivered. This is Dispensational, and more on that in the weeks to come.


Charge

There are at least two conditions for changing the world. The only people who can change the world are those who are 1) still in the world and, 2) not of the world. Stated differently, salt works by contact, and salt cannot be contaminated. Stated differently still, the only people who can change the world are those who are not slaves to it. You worship the Creator, not the creation. You are free from the things of earth in one way so that you can receive and wield the things of earth in another way. Because you have escaped the world, you can be effective and fruitful for Jesus in it.

Benediction:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4, ESV)