Dr. David M. VanDrunen
Dr. Godfrey has asked me to write a response to Dordt College president Carl Zylstra’s recent review of my book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. Given the very negative tone of the review and the fact that Dordt College and my institution (Westminster Seminary California) both claim to be Reformed institutions and serve overlapping constituencies, I agreed to do so. Zylstra’s review is very disappointing, not because he does not like my conclusions—that is his right and the right of every reader—but because of his complete lack of engagement with the arguments I make in support of my claims, his misleading descriptions of what I say, his ad hominem jabs, and his treating me as an enemy of himself and his institution. I will respond briefly to these features of Zylstra’s review and offer a few comments on an issue he emphasizes: Christian education.
My first point, then, concerns the lack of substantive engagement with my book. Book reviews can take many forms, but some things that every review should do, however briefly, is identify the main claims of the book, describe the arguments by which the author supports his claims, and offer an analysis of the quality of these arguments. Zylstra doesn’t provide any of these. A reader of his review will not learn what the “vision for Christianity and culture” is that I try to provide or why I think this vision is biblical. Zylstra never describes what I mean by the “two kingdoms” doctrine. He does not even mention my detailed discussions of the creation and fall in Genesis 1-3, the successive biblical covenants (with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the church), the significance of Christ as the “Last Adam,” the Sermon on the Mount, and many other biblical themes that are central for questions of Christianity and culture. Likewise, Zylstra does not provide me, as author of the book, any indication of where my extensive biblical arguments have gone wrong. I know that he dislikes my book, but I have no idea where exactly, in his judgment, my interpretation of Scripture has erred. Readers of his review will learn much about Zylstra’s opinions, but exceedingly little about the book he’s supposedly reviewing.
December 7th, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
Carl Trueman wrote a series of posts about how churches go liberal. Among the culprits are celebrity pastors, pastors who publicly reject a denomination or church’s professed standards, and their enablers, pastors who pursue peace and purity of the church to avoid controversy.
As the Baylys point out — and this is truly scary when you are 2k and find yourself agreeing with 2k haters — Trueman’s post lacks specifics; it’s an abstract account of how churches go liberal (which is surprising since at Westminster Trueman is sitting on a gold mine of evidence about how American Presbyterians lost their way).
One further abstraction that Trueman may have noted was the tendency for Christians to identify their own ideas with the Bible, thus turning the thoughts and words of men into those of God. To avoid the problem of abstraction, I offer the case of — yet again — neo-Calvinism. I understand Baus will go berserk but at his prodding I cracked open Roy Clouser’s Myth of Religious Neutrality and found the following argument identified by Clouser himself as “radically biblical”:
In the context of scientific or philosophical theory making people are generally quite earnest about what they are doing, quite anxious to be as clear as possible, and have nothing to gain by proposing or defending a theory they do not believe. Thus, the possibility of deception rarely interferes in the world of theory making. Of course, the obstacle of cultural difference remains and can perhaps only be overcome by experiencing and appreciating the other culture. But at least one of the two major difficulties with recognizing presuppositions is reduced to a minimum when we are dealing with highly abstract theories.
These features of presuppositions are important because it is by acting as presuppositions that religious beliefs exercise their most important influence on scientific and philosophical theorizing. This point therefore sharply distinguishes the radically biblical position from all the other positions concerning the relation of religion to theory making, including the position of the fundamentalist. The radically biblical view does not seek to find statements in Scripture on every sort of subject matter to establish religious influence. What we want to say is that the influence of religious beliefs is much more a matter of presupposed perspective guiding the direction of theorizing than of Scripture supplying specific truths for theories. (pp. 103-104)
December 4th, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
One of the interlocutors at this site suggested that neo-Calvinism and biblical theology of an amillennial variety go together well, and that no reasons existed for suggesting tension between someone like Geerhardus Vos and Abraham Kuyper. He linked to an essay that Richard B. Gaffin wrote on theonomy and claimed that Gaffin, a marked proponent of biblical theology in the Vosian tradition, was on board with neo-Calvinism. He even supplied a quotation from Gaffin that showed his neo-Calvinist bona fides:
It will not do simply to dismiss this chapter as the ramblings of someone who has be-
trayed his Reformed heritage—with its ennobling vision of life itself as religion and the whole of life to the glory of God—for an anemic, escapist Christianity of cultural surrender. Without question, the Great Commission continues fully in force, with its full cultural breadth, until Jesus returns; “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” is the mandate of the exalted Last Adam to the people of his new creation. We can not measure the limit of that “everything” and its implications; of it we can only confess with the Psalmist: “To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless” (119:96). That mandate, then, is bound to have a robust, leavening impact—one that will redirect every area of life and will transform not only individuals but, through them corporately (as the church), their cultures; it already has done so and will continue to do so, until Jesus comes.
Not to pick nits but when this comment referred to this paragraph as the concluding one in Gaffin’s essay I decided to take a look. In point of fact, Gaffin concludes that essay on a decidedly different note, one that fits the allegedly wimpy profile of 2k as opposed to those world-beaters, the neo-Calvinists. Here is what Gaffin wrote in his conclusion:
November 28th, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
I have said many times that the prefix “neo” is more important for understanding neo-Calvinism than the noun. But the more I read neo-Calvinists, I wonder if they actually read Calvin or simply make up what they contend to be the Reformed faith. Just this afternoon I was reading Henry Van Til’s A Calvinistic Concept of Culture and saw the classic Reformed triumphalism which turns Calvin into a reason for Reformed Protestants to take credit for all the blessings of modern Western society — his impact on economics, politics, and culture. Why I even read that Calvin was responsible for defending and maintaining civil liberty. That may be, but do neo-Calvinist cheerleaders ever consider the downsides of liberty and whether Calvinism deserves blame for libertinism and licentiousness? Most would respond, “of course, not, because Calvin properly grounded liberty in the Word of God.” But once people taste civil liberty is it so easy to avoid Rousseau or Voltaire (Calvin was a Frenchman, for those who may be ethnically challenged).
Meanwhile, the idea of redemption as the restoration of creation picks up more and more steam and neo-Calvinism puts more and more novelty into ideas Calvinistic. Here’s just a smidgeon of the contrast. Over at a website devoted to Kuyperianism, I ran across a whimsical essay by James K. A. Smith on the nature of redemption from a Reformed perspective. For Smith, salvation is not individual but cosmic:
The Word became flesh, not to save our souls from this fallen world, but in order to restore us as lovers of this world—to (re)enable us to carry out that creative commission. Indeed, God saves us so that—once again, in a kind of divine madness—we can save the world, can (re)make the world aright. And God’s redemptive love spills over in its cosmic effects, giving hope to this groaning creation.
Odd perhaps might be the idea that we can save the world. (Bad enough, as James Davison Hunter reminds us, is the idea that we can actually change the world.) Smith not only has us changing but also saving the world. Charles Finney and John Calvin have joined sides.
November 26th, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
Actually, the title should be plural since in one of his first reviews of VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms Nelson Kloosterman decided to insert a [sic] after VanDrunen’s phrase, “the Reformed tradition of natural law and the two kingdoms.” Kloosterman explained, “Because we are in danger of annoying our readers, we shall now desist from using ‘[sic]‘ [which abbreviates the Latin sicut, which means 'thus' or 'such'] as our way of identifying the author’s repeated, persistent, and unqualified use of the definite article to identify his construal as ‘the’ Reformed natural law and two kingdoms doctrine.”
Aside from the small-mindedness among the Dutch-American Reformed when they hear of a “Reformed” tradition that does not follow their way of doing and thinking, this is a petty remark and reveals the lengths to which Kloosterman will go in condemning 2k. I wonder when he will mention the typos in the book (if there are any). To younger writers out there, these are the sort of criticisms that should be left on the editing floor and any good editor would have it deleted it on grounds of impropriety and triviality – improper because the level of disagreement is already high and this detracts from the main point; trivial because the use of a definite article is not essential to Kloosterman’s argument.
But the pettiness continues in Kloosterman’s most recent part of his review — I guess he is really going to go through VanDrunen chapter by chapter. (Kloosterman better be hoping that Harold Camping is wrong about the date of Christ’s return and that a significant theological controversy does not prompt the editors of Christian Renewal to reserve inches for more important business.) In this stage of his response to VanDrunen – specifically, the chapter on Calvin – Kloosterman faults the Westminster professor for poor scholarship. VanDrunen uses John Bolt’s discussion of Calvin’s Christology to make a point about the difference between Christ’s rule as mediator and as creator. But because Bolt uses Calvin’s Christology to affirm Kuyper and because VanDrunen — who hasn’t tipped his hand on his own use of Calvin — uses Calvin’s Christology to understand Calvin’s views of the two kingdoms (views for which Kloosterman cannot account), Kloosterman judges VanDrunen to be a poor academic.
November 25th, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
The reason is that Dave is a Calvinist who knows his Bible and is turning up the heat on that turkey we know as neo-Calvinism.
Ultimately, however, neo-Calvinism needs to be questioned not because of its struggle to accomplish what it set out to do but because it is so foreign to the message of the New Testament. The idea that the heart and soul of Christianity consists in the transformation of existing cultures is arrestingly and glaringly absent from New Testament teaching. Time and again the New Testament emphasizes the present suffering of Christians, the transitory and fleeting nature of the things of this world, heavenly citizenship, and the hope of the age to come. The things that it says about broader cultural affairs are so infrequent and so sparse – basically, submit to legitimate authority and work hard – that it is quite incredible to think that Christ and his apostles intended to instill a vision akin to the neo-Calvinist world and life view. The neo-Calvinist case from the New Testament rests upon a handful of scattered verses – the kingdom as a leaven, the groaning of creation, every thought captive, the kings of the earth bringing their glory into the new Jerusalem – that sound inspiring out of context but do not make the case intended. The burden of the New Testament is about as far away as imaginable from imparting an agenda of cultural transformation. . . .
November 23rd, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
For the most part, the critics of 2k do not care for (to put it mildly) the work or arguments of Meredith Kline (who happens to be arguably the most original and creative of Old Westminster’s faculty – and still remained theologically reliable). Those who argue for a 2k-position have generally drawn from the biblical theology of Kline. In my own case, spooked from greater investigation of the Old Testament through my boot camp in seminary Hebrew, I found my way to 2k through a New Testament scholar, J. Gresham Machen, who followed the Old School Presbyterian tradition of the spirituality of the church.
So one fault line in the contemporary debate is Kline and whether you draw from or trash his work.
The other fault line is Herman Dooyeweerd and the tradition of neo-Calvinism that he handed on to 20th-century Reformed Protestantism in the United States. Thanks to his understanding of worldview and the ascendance of neo-Calvinism among evangelical academics since 1960, Presbyterians and Reformed have lost touch with an older understanding of natural law and the two-kingdoms that was part and parcel of Reformed reflection from Calvin and Turretin to Witherspoon and Robinson. This is one of several useful points that David VanDrunen makes in his history of 2k thought in the Reformed tradition. After Dooeyweerd, arguments based on distinctions between general and special revelation, between civil and ecclesiastical realms, between Christ’s creational and mediatorial kingships sound foreign and un-Reformed. The reason is that dualism is bad.