If anyone is in any doubt that the Association for the Advancement of Christian Studies (AACS) and the Institute of Christian Studies (ICS) have maintained their doctrinal and philosophical position over the years, he has only to read this book; it will soon convince him that no change of substance has been made in the thinking of the men in this movement. The same doctrinal errors appear in this book which have appeared in the writings of other men from the ICS. The errors set forth in the book are, however, important enough to discuss, though briefly, in this review. Let us trace the argument which the book constructs.
The general purpose of the book is, as the title indicates, to deal with the problem of what it means to be Christian and Reformed in today’s world. The answer is given along strictly neo-Kuyperian and Dooyeweerdian lines.
Very clearly the author must face the question at the very outset what is a definition of “Reformed.” Here already he makes a fundamental mistake. He rejects traditional ideas, such as the idea that the truth of God’s sovereignty lies at the heart of the Reformed faith, and comes to the conclusion that, “A Reformed person is trinitarian in theology and catholic in vision.” “Reformed Christianity,” he says “purports to be nothing more or less than authentic orthodox, catholic Christianity.” And he adds to this, “In other words Reformed Christianity is self-consciously non-sectarian” (pp. 20, 21). Now this is simply not true in any genuinely historical sense of the term. Whether one interprets “Reformed” to be all that which stands in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, or whether one speaks of “Reformed” in the more limited sense of that branch of the Reformation, in distinction from Presbyterianism, which developed continental federal theology, the definition of Bolt is neither historically nor theologically correct.
But it soon turns out that he has a purpose in defining Reformed Christianity in trinitarian terms, for the whole book is really based on his conception of the trinity. Yet, in his conception of the trinity too he is wrong. Rather than proceeding from the Biblical viewpoint that all the works of God are from the Father (as the triune God), by the Son (as our Lord Jesus Christ), andthrough the Spirit (as the Spirit of Christ), he ascribes separate works to each Person of the trinity. By means of this distinction he really becomes guilty of tri-theism, for one Person acts in a given work apart from the other two. And, even more importantly, while claiming to believe in the equality of the Persons of the trinity, he teaches a certain pre-eminence of the Father in the work of creation: “What does make Reformed trinitarian Christianity distinctive however, is that the Father and creation receive the pre-eminence” (p. 26).
But this too is not without purpose, for by giving the first Person of the trinity in the work of creation pre-eminence, he separates our work in creation from our salvation, and in fact gives to our work in creation a certain precedence over our salvation. Here again it is true that repeatedly throughout the book he claims not to make separation between the two—creation and salvation; but the fact is that he does and does this repeatedly. He is too well aware of Reformed thought to make such a separation explicit, but in the interests of maintaining his philosophical position, he nevertheless makes this distinction and does so in a very decisive fashion: “When Reformed trinitarian theology begins with the Father, this has some important implications. It means specifically that creation has priority over salvation . . .” (p. 28. See also pp. 31, 36, 38, etc.).
Now this incorrect distinction is carried through when applied to the other Persons of the trinity. He makes a distinction again between the second Person of the trinity and our Lord Jesus Christ and argues that, as the second Person of the trinity, Christ is the creation Word, while as the Son in our flesh He is Redeemer. While, in a certain sense, this distinction is, of course, true, his conclusion is that we have two callings: one cultural and the other spiritual; one dealing with the creation in which we live, the other dealing with salvation and the mission task of the church. Between these two callings there is apparently no relation whatsoever because the author repeatedly speaks of “tension” between these two callings (cf. the whole of chapter 4 where this matter is discussed).
The same applies to the Holy Spirit. There are two works of the Holy Spirit, one in creation and one in salvation, and between these two works there is no discernable relationship. It is true that the author repeatedly reminds us again that these two must not be separated and only distinguished, but the fact is that he himself constantly makes separation and never shows us how they are related. And so, here too the citizen of this world has a twofold task—one having to do with the cultural mandate and the other with salvation of souls (See Chap. 5, especially pp. 81, 83).
These distinctions lead quite naturally to a distinction (traditionally made in Reformed theology) between the church as institute and the church as organism. The church as institute is to be busy with salvation and mission work; the church as organism is to be busy with social, cultural, and political activity (pp. 68, 69). And, again, while the distinction between the church institute and the church organism is a proper one, his use of this distinction is neither correct nor Reformed.
From all this follow several important conclusions. In the first place, the Christian has really a dual calling in the world, one which relates to the cultural mandate and the other which is concerned with the salvation of sinners. Nowhere in the book is the relation between these two callings set forth. The most the author ever says is that the Christian must subdue the world andlive as a saint, must emphatically do the former while continuing to be the latter. This is a totally unacceptable dualism in the life of the child of God which is neither Biblical, nor Christian, nor Reformed.
In the second place, he concludes that the covenant of grace can never serve alone as a basis for Christian schools (p. 101), although the author could just as well have said that it cannot serve at all as a basis for Christian schools. In fact, he affirms that the covenant of works is really the basis for education in the schools (p. 102), and this is because the primary (if not only) task of the schools is to prepare children for their work in subduing the earth. Here too there is some kind of absolute distinction implied between the church and the school. The church gives spiritual instruction, while the school gives cultural instruction. The church prepares people to engage in saving souls; the schools are interested in teaching children how to fulfill the cultural mandate. And it ought to be rather clearly understood that the latter is the most important of the two (cf. pp. 102, 104, 105, 113-116).
And all of this leads to a certain implicit postmillennialism. The author does not come out forthrightly for post-millennialism, and in fact, in some passages, seems to argue against it; but it is there for all that. Consider, e.g., a statement such as this: “Christians are not only to save men from sin; they see themselves as obligated to build the kingdom of God on earth” (p. 36). Even Scripture is called in to support this thesis: “Scripture is not only about salvation from sin but it is also a word about creation” (p. 36). And the great Reformed fathers (Calvin, Kuyper, and Bavinck) are extensively quoted in support of these theses—when in fact they taught nothing of the kind.
We have written on other occasions concerning the errors of this movement, and need not go into detail here. Nevertheless, there are two or three points which ought to be made. While the basic error is undoubtedly to be found in the application of the truth of the trinity to the life of the child of God in the world, other errors follow from this. One such error is a failure to take sin seriously. When Adam fell as the head of the creation as well as the head of the human race, this had important implications for the cultural mandate, for the fall of the head of the creation brought upon it the curse, a curse which makes all true cultural activity in this present creation impossible. In the second place, and closely related to this, no dualism exists in the life of man. In this sin-cursed world sinful man is able only to develop in sin until the cup of iniquity is full. But the purpose of redemption in Christ is accomplished by God in the salvation of His church. This does not mean that the people of God anabaptistically are called to separate themselves from the world, for the creation remains God’s and is destined to be redeemed with the elect in Christ Who is Head of all and Who has reconciled all things to God by His death. Every creature of God is good and is to be used with thanksgiving by Gods people. But the child of God has not two callings, basically separate from each other: he has one, for that one calling is to “seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness” in distinction from taking thought for our life, what we shall eat and what we shall drink and wherewithal we shall be clothed (Mt. 6:25-34); he is to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” He is to “set his affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-3).
And this is not just half of his calling so that in addition to this he must also fulfill a cultural task which is not related basically to this calling, for “ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” This calling is an only calling. He is to live exclusively as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. He is to do this in every aspect of his life. He is to use the creatures of this creation which God will someday make new in the new heavens and the new earth as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. That is, he is to use them in seeking the kingdom of heaven. And to prepare him for this kind of life in the world, he is given the home, the church, and the school, all of which are to labor in unison towards this one glorious task.
In other words, God ordained in His eternal counsel that even the original creation (as well as the fall) would have its meaning and significance only as it stands related and subservient to redemption. The creation and the cultural mandate have no meaning and importance apart from salvation and the realization of the kingdom of Christ. After all, by Christ “were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, . . . and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the death; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:16-18). This is not said of the second Person of the trinity in distinction from our Lord Jesus Christ. This is our Lord Jesus Christ Who is the Head of the body, the church.
It is only with a radical and unBiblical view of common grace that one can come up with a position such as Bolt advocates. It is dangerous teaching and must be rejected by those who want truly to be “Christian and Reformed today.”
While a number of good biographies of Calvin are to be found on the market, we do not regret that this one has been added. The author, professor at Potchefstroom University in South Africa, is something of an authority on Calvin, and he has used his vast knowledge of the Calvin Reformation to prepare a very good biography of the Genevan Reformer. As the title suggests, the book puts Calvin’s life into the terms in which he lived and thus gives many details of Calvin’s life which are not to be found in most existing and popular biographies. The book is well-written and easy to read by people of all ages including children from Junior High level upwards.
We strongly recommend the book as a very worthwhile addition to home, church, and school libraries. It can be obtained from: The Institute for Reformational Studies, c/o Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, Potchefstroom, 2520 Republic of South Africa.