September 15, 2019
Or, The Genus of Kuyperianism
We start a new series tonight, and it aims to cover everything. Well, there’s no way that these eight messages can actually cover everything, but we do want to build some wall-size mental shelves and maybe even put a few conceptual books on the shelves.
What is the main problem with the modern world? Sin, that is the cardinal answer. But which sin is the worst? It’s not greed, though that certainly messes with our economic lives and causes fights between the Haves and the HaveNots whether or not someone is a cultural Marxist. It’s not gender denial or homosexuality, though in Romans 1 that kind of sin demonstrates that a society is already a good way down the moving sidewalk of God’s abandoning wrath. The primary sin is not fatherly abdication, though that messes with families for generations. It’s not pride and political aspirations to rule over other men to their hurt (Ecclesiastes 8:9). It’s not murder, though 60-plus million babies murdered under government protection in this country shows our barbaric side, and murder has the additional complication of being terminal for the victim.
For honest optimists, these are very dark days, and when reasonable people look at the trajectory, it’s hard to be hopeful. Sins of various kinds are all around us. But none of the above may be the worst.
The main problem with the modern world is that we live as if God is irrelevant.
It’s true that there is a new viral strain of militant atheists who are making good money from their books and YouTube ads, ironically protected by Christian principles that prohibit killing blasphemers. There are some self-identified political conservatives who lament our cultural condition and call for a return to reason and virtue, but they can’t get to the source of reason or the reason for virtue beyond pragmatism; it works…better, or it seems like it did. And there are Christians who read their Bibles and who fly across the country to attend conferences with theological preaching, who have quiet times and take their kids to church. But all along the spectrum, from the angriest God-deniers to the most serious Bible-studiers, most of us don’t think about God most of the time for most of what we do.
I’ve said before that, looking back, this was the structural problem with my public schooling. I don’t remember ever hearing a teacher say that only stupid people believe in God, let alone hearing a teacher say that God was dead. But I also don’t remember ever hearing a teacher say that God deserves recognition for our brains and babies and books and biospheres and barns and banks and nations. No name, date, or place, no formula or element, ever belonged to God. No wonder nothing after graduation belonged to Him either.
Of course, the Bible gives the opposite account.
The earth is the LORD’s and the fulness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills,
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. (1 Chronicles 29:12)
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. (Acts 17:26)
We ought to see God’s sovereignty in and through and over our lives so much that we don’t even need others to watch us work.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)
Some of the reason for putting God in the appendix of our lives is because we’ve been so blessed by God in temporal ways, through His common grace, that we just forget about Him. In Proverbs 30, Agur prays for two things, “give me neither poverty or riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?'” (Proverbs 30:8-9). Moses warned Israel about the same thing:
“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, … Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8:11–14, 17-18)
When the pantry is full, and the gas tank in the car is full enough to get to the store that’s fully stocked with almost too many varieties of whatever you want, and we have abundance leisure time and resources to be choosy in our entertainment, we can sit back and “lift up our hearts” in forgetfulness.
This is also unbelief. In our doctrine we confess what we believe, and the Bible-people are very concerned about accuracy. But somehow we are not likewise occupied with piety, with godliness, with doing the good works which accord with sound teaching (see 1 Timothy 6:3).
This series is a reminder about believing what is right, but even more than that, it is a call to a certain kind of believing life. It is a call to live believingly.
The series is titled, “Centers and Circumferences.” It is also the title for this introduction message, along with the thought, The Genus of Kuyperianism. There are a few things this is intended to bring to mind.
Abraham Kuyper was a pastor, theologian, journalist, editor, university professor, politician, and even prime minister in the Holland. He started a new denomination, a new college, a new newspaper, and a new political party. One of the mental shelves that he screwed together better than anyone before him is the concept of life spheres. He never gave an exhaustive list of the spheres, perhaps on purpose. But some of the larger spheres are easy to identify: family, church, state, along with education, science, art, and he would undoubtedly include media and medicine, economics and business, even if some of them overlap and/or are sub-categories.
In his book Lectures on Calvinism, in which each chapter was edited from addresses he gave at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1898, he described the development of Calvinism at a “centre, with its fulness and purity of vitality of strength, and the broad circumference with its threatening declensions” (17). But this has application beyond the development of Calvinism itself, and touches every sphere that Calvinism touches.
Before we continue, let’s talk about Calvinism, and also about Kuyperianism.
Kuyper was less interested in Calvinism as a sectarian/denominational division, but more as a scientific classification for a whole way of viewing the world (it certainly wasn’t to revere John Calvin as a man, but rather a helpful reference to the teaching and implications that came from Calvin’s efforts to organize a way of thinking). Kuyper compared Calvinism to Paganism, to Catholicism, to Islamism, and to Modernism. These are not (merely) different approaches to the ordo salutis as if a contrast with Arminianism, these are different weltanschauung, that is, different orientations and explanations for things like knowledge, values, and meaning, and mission.
The thing is, I was a Calvinist for a long time without ever realizing there was more application than God’s sovereignty in salvation (than TULIP). Kuyperianism is like Calvinism on nitro, a jolt to the system.
The dominating principle [of Calvinism] was not, soteriologically speaking, justification by faith, but, in the widest sense cosmologically, the Sovereignty of the Triune God over the whole Cosmos, in all its spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible. (“Sphere Sovereignty,” A Centennial Reader, 488)
For Kuyper, Calvinism’s “mother thought” is that “the whole of life is to be lived before God.”
[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. (Lectures, 26)
And this is what the modern world forgets, or resists, to do.
God’s sovereignty does not just mean that He has authority for all things but also that we have direct access to God from every sphere. Yes, we are personally accountable to Him in every area of life, but direct accountability to God means a kind of freedom. God’s sovereignty also means that we can love one another in community, without constantly posturing or trying to get power over one another. God’s sovereignty also means that we can enjoy and steward all the things that He has made and given to us rather than fear that His gifts will necessarily lead us into idolatry. It’s all His, and because we are His, “All are ours” (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).
The twist of Kuyperianism, the blessing of that particular nickname, is that it opens up a Niagra Falls size river of gratitude for the cosmological not just soteriological blessings of God’s authority. The elect are God’s, and their faith. The earth is also God’s, and the fulness thereof.
This is different than other systems that try to account for the world and our place in it. Evolutionists think that the world is one long mechanistic process that happens to be making some sort of progress toward complexity, but we have no real significance, especially since tomorrow’s stage of “progress” may show today’s stage, our stage, to be quite ignorant and weak. Looking back, we’re just better talking monkeys. Looking forward, we’re still monkeys. Others take the fruits of evolutionary process and say that we can become anything we choose to become, though that is not consistent with the blind, random promise of the evolutionary theory.
What we acknowledge as Christians is that God created and God sustains all things, and that also means He likes all those things. It also means that He is the boss of them, and not the church. The church is not the boss. The church is not mediator, or master, but is like a mother. And she teaches that all of life, not just church life, Sunday life, devotional life, is lived before God.
We need a life-system, a life-style, and not just arguments. In this series we’re going to consider how living all of life before God affects:
Other spheres could include agriculture, architectures, athletics, and military matters.
Kuyperianism is the genus, the principle naming category that can be divided into different species. This also makes for the genius of Kuyperianism, because the boundaries of the spheres protect them from morphing into one or being under the dominion of one. We can love many species for one reason, but we will get into trouble if we limit our love to one species and make it the lord. God created boundaries between the day and the night, between the dry land and the waters, between male and female, between the church and the state, but He rules them all.
Kuyperianism is a nickname, is not necessary for the living, but it is helpful for the discipling and transferring of the root principal to others. Churches and pastors have have not been doing it, and we have not been doing it along with our grandparents and great grandparents for too long. So we don’t know what it means to be disciples of Christ. It’s time to change that.
Kuyperinism is the only way to be humble with chutzpah, to know when to bow the knee and when to bend the neck.
We must not let the spirit of half-heartedness gain the day. Let us pray for a generation of the contagiously non-compromising, who will confess Jesus as Lord with certainty and gravity.
And if you can’t make any other Kuyperian effort, just don’t grumble.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, (Philippians 2:14–16)
So embody Christ in every sphere. Sit in the center of the merry-go-round with joy. Stand at the circumference and spin the merry-go-round with thanks.