The Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) reject Abraham Kuyper’s worldview of common grace. They reject it root and branch. The explanation of this rejection was the burden of the previous three editorials.
But this rejection of Kuyper’s worldview does not stem from, or imply, a denial that the Reformed faith is, in fact, a worldview. On the contrary, inasmuch as Kuyper’s Stone Lectures were, in the words of contemporary scholar Peter S. Heslam, “an attempt to answer one of the most crucial questions that has faced Christianity throughout its history, the question of the relationship between Christianity and culture,” the attempt by Kuyper was legitimate and praiseworthy (Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism, Eerdmans, 1998, p. 266).
The Comprehensiveness of Calvinism
Kuyper was right when he asserted the comprehensiveness of Calvinism, that is, that the Reformed faith, extending to all of human life, empowers and calls the Reformed believer to live the distinctive Christian life in every sphere. “The Calvinist demands that all life be consecrated to His service, in strict obedience. A religion confined to the closet, the cell, or the church, therefore, Calvin abhors” (Lectures on Calvinism, Eerdmans, 1953, p. 53).
The Dutch theologian is not to be faulted for combating “the unhistorical suggestion that Calvinism represents an exclusively ecclesiastical and dogmatic movement” (Lectures, p. 78).
It is not Kuyper’s insistence that Calvinism is a worldview that is objectionable, but his specific, peculiar description of this worldview as a worldview of common grace.
The Error of World-flight
We fully agree with Kuyper that the world-flight of Anabaptism is forbidden to the disciple of Jesus Christ. Indeed, world-flight is impossible. World-flight, as represented in the Anabaptist radicals and heretics at the time of the Reformation, is the attempt to live, as much as possible, in physical separation both from ungodly people and from the ordinances and spheres of creation. It roots in a renunciation of creation itself, as though creation were essentially evil. It interprets the biblical call to separation as the command to have no contact with ungodly men and women, or as little as possible; physically to withdraw from society, in isolation; to have nothing to do with culture—education, business and industry, the arts, recreation, and the like. It is the thinking that sees the life of the Christian as “met een boekje in een hoekje” (sitting in a corner with a little [religious] book). The world-flight of Anabaptism is the rejection of worldview as such.
Kuyper may even have been right in his observation that there is an Anabaptistic tendency in some, pietistic circles among Reformed churches. Even today it is not unknown that in the name of the antithesis some Reformed people question education, especially advanced education; are doubtful that the library of a Christian school should contain books by unbelievers; and contend that a Christian has no business becoming a doctor, a lawyer, or a politician.
A False Dilemma
But Kuyper was wrong to posit Anabaptistic world-flight as the sole alternative to his own worldview of common grace. This is what he did in the Princeton lectures on Calvinism.
The avoidance of the world has never been the Calvinistic mark, but the shibboleth of the Anabaptist. The specific, anabaptistical dogma of “avoidance” proves this. According to this dogma, the Anabaptists, announcing themselves as “saints,” were severed from the world. They stood in opposition to it. They refused to take the oath; they abhorred all military service; they condemned the holding of public offices. Here already, they shaped a new world, in the midst of this world of sin, which however had nothing to do with this our present existence. They rejected all obligation and responsibility towards the old world, and they avoided it systematically, for fear of contamination, and contagion. But this is just what the Calvinist always disputed and denied (Lectures, pp. 72, 73).
Kuyper did the same thing in his work on common grace, the three-volume De Gemeene Gratie (Hoveker & Wormser, 1902-1904) . According to Kuyper, those Reformed, and even Protestant, people in the Netherlands who rejected his worldview of common grace and who declined to support his political activism in the Anti-Revolutionary Party thereby manifested themselves as guilty of the Anabaptist error of world-flight.
As though the alternatives were the worldview of common grace or no worldview at all, that is, the world-flight of Anabaptism!
The Christian Reformed opponents of Herman Hoeksema in 1924 employed the very same tactic against him. Did he reject the common grace worldview of Kuyper as perfectly sketched in their three points of common grace? Then he must be a modern proponent of Anabaptist world-flight. So they charged against him. Spearheading the attack, the Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen wrote the booklet, De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch? (Eerdmans-Sevensma, 1922; the English translation would be, The Denial of Common Grace: Reformed or Anabaptist?). Van Baalen’s answer to the question of his title was, “The denial of common grace is Anabaptistic” (p. 84).
Van Baalen did not want the church to be under any illusions concerning the seriousness of the sin of Danhof and Hoeksema in rejecting Kuyper’s common grace. In the common grace controversy that was then opening up, the Christian Reformed Church was on the “eve of the most important struggle that it has yet known. That is the struggle between Calvinism and Anabaptism” (Loochening, p. 9; the emphasis is Van Baalen’s). In light of the fact that the Christian Reformed Church had just condemned the premillennialism of Harry Bultema and the modernistic higher-critical views of Scripture of Ralph Janssen (whom Van Baalen was defending by his attack on Danhof and Hoeksema), this was a severe indictment of the denial of common grace indeed. Van Baalen’s booklet received high praise from virtually all the leaders in the Christian Reformed Church.
Over the next year, Van Baalen warmed to his task as defender of the Reformed faith against encroaching Anabaptism. He produced another book attacking Danhof and Hoeksema, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling: De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie (Eerdmans-Sevensma, 1923; the English translation would be, An Innovation and an Error: The Denial of Common Grace). The title is sublime irony. Van Baalen borrowed the phrase, “nieuwigheid en dwaling,” from the Canons of Dordt, which knows of no common grace in the Reformed system of theology, condemns “common grace” by name as part of the Arminian heresy, and teaches only particular grace for the elect alone.
In this book the Christian Reformed minister waxed hysterical in his condemnation of the rejection of Kuyper’s common grace worldview by his colleagues, Danhof and Hoeksema: “(They) deny common grace. (They) become Anabaptist; (they) end up in Pietism; (they) end up in hostility to culture, in a shunning of the world, in a hatred of the world, in everything that lies along that line” (p. 195). What these further bogies might be, Van Baalen did not tell his readers, but he left the impression that they were fearful indeed.
So the Christian Reformed Church has always represented the denial by the PRC of Kuyper’s and their common grace worldview. They have parroted and perpetuated Kuyper’s false dilemma: the worldview of common grace or Anabaptism.
Hoeksema on Worldview
The founding fathers of the PRC, particularly Herman Hoeksema, denied Kuyper’s and the Christian Reformed Church’s charge of Anabaptism. Hoeksema repudiated the world-flight of Anabaptism and affirmed that the Reformed faith is a worldview. Hoeksema gave this testimony well before the common grace controversy was underway in the Christian Reformed Church, when he was still a minister in good, indeed high, standing in that church. Writing in 1919, in the periodical, Religion and Culture, Hoeksema declared:
Also Calvinism, holding the original goodness of the world, and still professing that the world as kosmos is not essentially bad but good, being the product of an Almighty and Allwise God, infinite in perfection, strongly repudiates the erroneous separation of nature and grace, and always maintained that the power of redemption through grace is not destined to remain a foreign element in the life of the world, but much rather to redeem that life in all its abundance and in every sphere. Calvinism has always sent its worshippers, equipped with a complete view of life and the world, into all the complex relationships of human existence to claim it for Christ our Lord. The truly Calvinistic Christian is a Christian everywhere and always. In the home and in the church, in society and in the state, in shop and office, in art and in science, in trade and industry, always and everywhere is the Calvinist a Christian, would he be consistent and in harmony with his own confession. All life and all relations of life he claims must be based on and permeated by Christian principles. In a word I know of no view that is broader in its vision, that is more kosmological in its application, that is more all-embracing in its powerful grasp, that is more truly liberating in its power than the Calvinistic view of life and the world; and it may safely be said that, if an indictment is brought against the Christianity of former ages, as if it meant to be an anabaptistic separation from the world, Calvinism should straightway be acquitted and may, indeed, go with a free conscience.
Hoeksema gave the same testimony in the heat of the controversy over common grace. Responding to Van Baalen in a booklet entitled, Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd (Grand Rapids Printing, n.d.; the English translation would be, Not Anabaptist but Reformed), Hoeksema flatly denied the charge that his denial of common grace was Anabaptistic. He insisted that
exactly the opposite is our conception. We exactly will not to go out of the world. It is exactly our purpose to abandon no single sphere of life. We have exactly called God’s people to occupy the whole of life. However, it is our will that this people of the Lord, which is His covenant people, in no single sphere of life shall forsake or deny its God. That people is called, in every sphere, to live out of grace, out of the one grace by which they are implanted into Christ and love God, so that they keep His commandments (pp. 67, 68).
He disdained Van Baalen’s accusation of Anabaptism as mere “mud-slinging.”
The mature Hoeksema likewise confessed the Reformed faith as a worldview. In his commentary on the book of Revelation, Behold, He Cometh! (RFPA, 1969), he wrote:
And thus the people of God have their own life-view with regard to every sphere of life and every institution of the world. The home is an institution existing primarily for the perpetuation of God’s covenant in the world. The school is an institution for the purpose of instructing the covenant children according to the principles of Holy Writ for every sphere of life. Society, with business and industry, art and science, and all things that exist, must . . . be controlled by the principles of the Word of God and be made subservient to the idea of God’s kingdom in the world. In a word, they have a new life-view. They are members of God’s covenant, His friends in the world, subjects of His kingdom. And, in principle at least, they want to live the life of that kingdom also in the present world (p 211).
Does this sound like Anabaptism?
Is this the call to world-flight?
Or is this the proclamation of the worldview of the gospel?
Whether Kuyper’s and the Christian Reformed Church’s false dilemma—common grace or Anabaptism—was due to ignorance, shrewd tactics (Kuyper wanted the support of the people for his political ambitions), or malice, we leave to God to judge. He will. But the dilemma was—and is—mistaken.
There can be no question whether Calvinism is a worldview. For Calvinism is simply biblical Christianity, and biblical Christianity is a distinctive view of all creation with its history and a distinctive life in all the ordinances that God has established for man in His world.
But the question for Reformed people today is: “which worldview?”
The common grace worldview of the fertile and ambitious mind of Abraham Kuyper in Lectures on Calvinism, which worldview is now embodied in the Christian Reformed Church’s three points of common grace?
Or the particular grace worldview of the mind of Jesus Christ in the Holy Scriptures?