An Evaluation of Kuitert’s Dogmatical Views (Continued)
Christ and Creation: Common Grace Dualism
At the close of my last article on this subject I proposed that the failure of some Reformed theologians to see and to maintain an intrinsic connection between Christ and creation is connected with the common grace theory. I pointed out that I was not referring to the general-offer aspect of the First Point, the notorious “puntje van het eerste punt,” (which is more properly called “general grace” in the Arminian sense), but to common grace in the Kuyperian sense. And I suggested that there is a theological connection between the theory of common grace and the failure to teach the unity of creation and the work of Christ.
In other words, the theology of common grace posits adualism between creation and Christ, rather than seeing in Christ the focal point of all the work of God, including creation.
This I shall now explain.
First of all, what is implied in this common grace theory of Dr. A. Kuyper, Sr.?
Kuyper makes a distinction between “common” and “special” grace. Only so-called special grace is of saving power and efficacy; and it, according to Kuyper, is strictly particular, for the elect only. The fruit of “special” grace is eternal life and glory in Christ. “Common” grace, on the other hand, is not saving. It has to do only with the present life and history of man in the world and is common to all men. Kuyper sought to differentiate the two by using the term “gratie” to indicate common grace, and reserving the word “genade” for particular grace. His purpose in developing this theory was to show that there is still a positively good world-life and development of the human race in connection with all created things. By the theory of common grace he meant to offer an explanation of this alleged positive good in the world in view of the fact of the fall and the curse of God in the world and the total depravity of the natural man. It is also significant that according to Dr. Kuyper, “common grace” is a grace that does not flow from Christ Jesus as the Mediator of redemption. Not only is it true that according to Kuyper all men receive this grace, regardless of their relation to Christ Jesus, regardless of whether they believe or not; but Kuyper also develops the idea that this common grace does not flow from the Mediator of redemption, but from the eternal Word, as the Mediator of creation. Even as before the fall, according to him, all things were made and sustained through the Word, so after the fall all that is of common grace comes to men through the same Logos. It is not a grace that is based on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, but a grace outside of atonement and satisfaction.
Secondly, where does this alleged dualism enter the picture?
Dr. Kuyper makes of the history of this present world an interim. Permit me to quote the exposition of Rev. H. Hoeksema in his “Reformed Dogmatics,” p. 740: “His theory is as follows. God had in mind an original purpose in the ordinance of creation. And in spite of all the attempts of sin and Satan, He nevertheless realizes this ordinance. Although Satan opposes this purpose of God, the Lord nevertheless causes His creation to develop, and causes her to reach the purpose, the destination, which it should have reached also without sin. This is effected by what Dr. Kuyper calls ‘common grace’. He maintains that if common grace had not intervened and begun to operate immediately after the fall, the end of all things would have been reached in paradise with man’s eating of the forbidden fruit. The whole world would have relapsed into a chaotic state. Adam would have died the complete and eternal death. And there would have been no history, no development of the human race in the world. As a result, there would have been no room for the establishment and development of God’s covenant of grace in Christ. The elect would not have been born. Christ would not have come. And the works of God would have been completely spoiled and destroyed by the wiles of Satan. The devil’s purpose would have been reached. However, by His common grace God intervened. The universe did not suffer destruction. Man did not immediately die. And the original, divine idea in the ordinance of creation can be, and is realized in the history of this world. At the same time a sphere is created for the realization and development of special grace in Christ Jesus. He therefore conceives of the work of God in a dualistic way. God has an original purpose with creation, the normal development of all things under man as their king. This purpose is apparently frustrated by the temptation of the devil and sin. But through the operation of common grace God carries out the original idea and brings about a positively good development of the human race in connection with the earthly creation. But, on the other hand, God also carries out His purpose of predestination in the redemption of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate. Kuyper, therefore, makes of the history of this present world really an interim.”
Now there is much to be criticized in this theory of Kuyper. But this is not my purpose now. I only want to point out that in Kuyper’s view there are two parallel lines in history: 1) God carries out the covenant of His election, and saves the new mankind. 2). Along the line of common grace God realizes His original creation-idea. And although Kuyper makes the common-grace-world the stage upon which God realizes His work of election, nevertheless there is no intrinsic, unified connection between the two. And what is the basic trouble? This, that Kuyper fails to view all the work of God as one, and that he fails to see Christ, the firstborn of every creature, and that 1 too, as the first begotten from the dead, as the focal point in Whom all the work of God concentrates. For this reason he has an organic conception of sorts, but he includes merely the church, as the new mankind, in that organic conception. He does not further apply the organic idea to the organic whole of all creatures. For this reason, he speaks of an original creation-idea, separate and distinct from the work of God in Christ, the work of particular grace. Kuyper has two works of God: a common-grace-work outside of Christ, and a special-grace-work in Christ; and the two are essentially unrelated. They are lines which never meet. Moreover, lurking beneath this dual conception is another dualism, which views sin, death, and the curse as powers outside of and apart from God, which He must restrain.
Now I do not know whether Dr. Kuitert in his lecture had in mind any criticism of the theology of Abraham Kuyper. Kuitert mentioned no specifics, but made the general charge that traditional Reformed theology failed to connect creation and Christ. As a general charge, the charge is false. The main line of Reformed theology is not guilty of this failure. As a specific charge against the presentation of some theologians, the charge is true. And though Kuyper undoubtedly would not have accepted all of the consequences of his theory, yet essentially his theory is guilty of the dualism mentioned. Perhaps Dr. Kuitert, consciously or sub-consciously, sensed a lack in the theology which has always claimed the Free University as its citadel and which was developed by the father of the Free University. However this may be, it is indeed strange that from the very citadel of common grace theology a voice should be heard which complains of a failure to connect creation and Christ. And yet it is not strange: for the dualism of this common grace theory is, after all, productive of a sterile, disunified theology; and it must needs leave one with a feeling of dissatisfaction.
There was a third question which we were to face in this connection. It was this: what does Dr. Kuitert, with all his criticism of so-called traditional theology, have to offer in its place?
My answer is, in the first place: very little!
Recall, now, the scant positive presentation which Dr. Kuitert made of his dogmatical views. He spoke in vague generalities. We must see the Genesis record as a “teaching model,” whatever that may mean. And then a teaching model of what? For one thing, the creation story can be told as the story of development, of evolution. Mark this! This is sheer nonsense. Creation story told as the story of evolution? But worse than this, it is poorly disguised corruption of the truth. Put in plain language, Kuitert does not mean to speak of creation at all, but of evolution. And if one believes in evolution, and means evolution, then to me it is blasphemous to talk as though he still believes in creation.
Again: he suggests the point that we must learn to see the whole of our history as the course of God’s action. God the Creator is not something of the past, but He has to do with the present and the future. Now here is supposed to be a real dogmatical contribution, I suppose! Is this something new, something fresh? Is this supposed to be an advance over traditional Reformed theology? Do we need Kuitert and his radical views to teach us that God the Creator is not something of the past? Amazing! Are we just learning now that God has to do with the present and the future? Astounding! Must we still be talking about first principles and learning that the whole of our history is the course of God’s action? I always thought that our God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was the God of providence, Whose counsel shall stand and Who does all His good pleasure. I have a not-so-sneaking suspicion that Kuitert does not even mean the same thing as we tradition-bound theologians mean, or understand, by this statement; but however that may be, I much prefer the formulation of our Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day X) on this subject. It is much clearer, much more precise, much warmer, and much more Christ-centered. Besides, how, pray tell, if theology first throws God out of His own creation, and substitutes evolutionism, can the whole of our history be the course of God’s action? I have always learned to confess that it is precisely the God of creation Who is the God of providence (Heidelberg Catechism, IX, X; Confession of Faith, XII, XIII).
Again: sin is the “contra”? Sin is regression? Someone in the audience sensed immediately,—and correctly,—that this very terminology smacks of evolutionism. Is this the Biblical and,—if I may be pardoned for using the favorite terminology of the new theology,—the kerygmatic concept of sin? I challenge anyone to show this,—from Scripture, of course. Again: Christ nullifies the regression, deflects what interferes with history, completes the development, is the measure of creation as history, as progress? Is this, perhaps, what Dr. Kuitert makes of Colossians 1? Thank God, the Scriptures speak a clearer language than this theological jargon. Thank God, too, that they speak of expiation and propitiation,—ideas which Kuitert conceded as an after-thought when he was confronted by them in a question, but whose place in his view he did not attempt to explain.
Finally, is it responsible theologizing to do as the doctor did in his address, that is, iconoclastically throw out all that is old, and then speak of many problems which remain with regard to the development of his own theology, and leave us with the sop of a “panorama unfolding and of life becoming meaningful under this view?” All this,—and precious little it was—was offered, I suppose, as being more Biblical, as being an emphasis on the content of the Bible. But the language is not Scriptural language, and there was no attempt whatsoever to relate what was said to the Scriptures.
In conclusion, therefore, I can only say; in the first place, that if I must choose between a dogmatics which prizes the historical order of creation-sin-salvation and this theological jargon of Kuitert, give me the former,—by far! For the former, to me, has the power and authority of “Thus saith the Lord.” The latter, to me, has the false ring of “Thus saith Man”
In the second place, it is high time,—more than time,—that those who hold dear the Reformed faith stop dilly-dallying around with this new theology. Perhaps some will think my language sharp and impatient. But I insist that it is about time that such as love the truth be stirred with some holy impatience for a change. And I insist that it is time to let the sword of the Spirit cut. It is time to stop working even on the abstract possibility that this kind of theology could be Scriptural and could have a plausible place in the Reformed sun. It is time to stop acting on the basis of the liberals, acting as though it is possible to have a lovely and friendly and brotherly dialogue about this kind of theology. The issue is far too clear and far too simple to be in doubt. And it is far too serious! Let it be understood that this is no limited, academic issue of creation versus evolution. Kuitert’s views go to the very roots of Reformed theology, the Reformed faith. Anyone who does not think so had better examine not only his own theology, but his own heart. What is so sorely needed today is not dialogue, but militance. Dialogue plays into the hands of the liberals: they will dialogue you, and the church, to death. Militance, a willingness to do battle in the name of the Lord and with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, will bring about reformation. And where there is reformation, there is the blessing of the Lord.