With this new rubric in the Standard Bearer we take up a study of the Reformed worldview, using as the subtitle, Truth and Its Consequences.
In the past several years there have been a multitude of books written concerning a Christian worldview.
My first introduction to the concept of a Christian worldview probably occurred in the 1970s, when the writings and video presentations of Dr. Francis Schaeffer were making the rounds in evangelical circles, including Reformed churches.
Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984), a Presbyterian pastor and missionary in Europe—some would add Christian philosopher—was perhaps the most influential figure in the late twentieth century in attempting to develop somewhat systematically a Christian worldview. Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, moved to Switzerland in 1947 to work as missionaries for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. In 1955 in Huémoz-sur-Ollon, Switzerland they founded L’Abri (French for “the Shelter”) as a mission outreach primarily to students to discuss philosophical and religious beliefs and to demonstrate the application of biblical teaching to all of life.
Since then many who came under Schaeffer’s influence have continued to pursue the development of a Christian worldview or cultural engagement, including Os Guinness, James Sire, Nancy Pearcey, and the late Chuck Colson. Schaeffer’s books were influential not only in broader evangelical circles, but in Reformed and Presbyterian circles as well. The titles The God Who Is There; How Should We Then Live?; and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? attempted to demonstrate that Christianity is more than an intellectual set of propositions, it must incorporate all of life.
One of the reasons for Schaeffer’s resolve to develop a Christian worldview was what he observed as a rejection of biblical truth, the outworking of the higher critical views of Scripture over the preceding century and the advance of apostasy in much of the church world by the late twentieth century.
As the development of sin continues with remarkable strides in our day and as the relevance of Christianity has been called into question and even rejected in much of Western civilization, many others have written books attempting to set forth a Christian worldview. Sometimes those books attempt to demonstrate the difference between a Christian worldview and a worldview of the non-Christian religions or other philosophies such as secular humanism or postmodernism. Other worldview books are written with specific application to politics and particular social issues, sometimes with application to the arts, and sometimes with broader application to culture, including such subjects as economics and labor, history and psychology, philosophy and ethics, literature and other subjects.
The fact is, however, that even while Francis Schaeffer and others in our lifetime may have made worldview thinking more popular, the idea of a Christian worldview did not originate with Schaeffer. I intend to demonstrate that a Christian worldview has been the concern of Reformed theologians going all the way back to John Calvin.
Apart from that history, however, it is especially my purpose to consider the Reformed worldview.
The Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) have been blessed by God during their history with a steadfast adherence to the truth of God’s sovereign particular grace and a development in the doctrine of God’s covenant with its many practical implications, not only in the doctrine of the church, but also in the areas of education and marriage and family life.
For the past several years I have thought that the PRC lacked one area of development fitting with its rich theology. There has been a lack of a systematic development of a Reformed worldview as an unfolding of the treasures that God has entrusted to our churches.
That is different from saying that a Reformed worldview has been lacking in the PRC.
In the preaching of the gospel there has often been rich application to the daily lives of God’s people, an application often put into practice by faithful people of God living their Christian lives in the various callings God has given them.
A Reformed worldview is also evident in many of the writings of Protestant Reformed men through the decades of the existence of these churches. There have been particular developments in the application of a Reformed worldview to marriage, to mention one notable example. In the schools established by Protestant Reformed parents there has been, to varying degrees, the application of the truth of the covenant to the various subjects of study. There have also been efforts in some of our high schools to teach a course on different worldviews and the importance of a Reformed worldview.
But a developed treatment of the Reformed worldview has been lacking. When I began laying the groundwork for this rubric, I discovered only two brief treatments of this subject found in Protestant Reformed writings.
Herman Hoeksema’s The Christian and Culture was originally a lecture delivered in 1940 at First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The lecture, given at the request of the Young Men’s Society of that congregation, indicated an interest in the subject at that time among the PRC. After Rev. Hoeksema spoke on the topic, there were many requests to publish the speech, the result of which was the publication of the aforementioned pamphlet.
Some 65 years later, David J. Engelsma wrote The Reformed Worldview on Behalf of a Godly Culture, an article that first appeared in the ProtestantReformed Theological Journal, and soon after was published in booklet form by the Evangelism Committees of the Faith (Jenison, MI) and Grandville (MI) Protestant Reformed Churches.
To my joy, as I have been working on this subject and prior to the publication of this first article, the British Reformed Fellowship saw to the publication of The Word of God for Our Generation: The Reformed Worldview. This 142-page book began as six lectures given by David J. Engelsma and Herman Hanko given at the biennial British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) Conference held in 2010. This book is a noteworthy beginning of a more developed treatment of the Reformed worldview.¹
The Reformed churches historically and the Protestant Reformed Churches in particular have a solid foundation upon which to develop a biblical worldview. Indeed, the foundation laid in our Reformed confessions is essential to such a worldview! Without a consistent biblical doctrine of creation, including the creation of man, as well as the doctrines of the fall and redemption; without the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and His providential government of the universe, a Christian worldview is emasculated. Add to that the doctrine of the covenant that we are blessed to enjoy as Protestant Reformed churches, and we have a solid and rich foundation upon which to develop a distinctive Reformed worldview.
Such development is important.
Our own history as churches demands it.
It was the common grace controversy that gave rise to the PRC after its leaders were ousted from the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). In the midst of that controversy and before the formation of the PRC, the rejection of an unbiblical doctrine of common grace by Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof brought upon them the charge that they were Anabaptist—not that they called for a denial of infant baptism, but anabaptist in the sense of being sectarian and promoting world-flight, a withdrawal from the world.²
The charge was not true. Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema responded to the charge in an undated booklet in the Dutch language entitled Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd (Not Anabaptist but Reformed).³ In that booklet is found a detailed rejection of the charge of teaching world-flight. “The charge of Anabaptism must not be thrown any longer. In the last few years people have been much too eager to fling this mud.”4
Part of what Danhof and Hoeksema wrote directly addresses the subject that we consider:
. . . where have you ever heard us say that we want to go out of the world? And we will even tell you frankly that you will exert yourself in vain if you look for something resembling that in anything that has appeared from our hand. Where have you ever heard us claim that we must avoid all kinds of civic institutions, that we must not occupy any governmental office, or that we may not wage any war?
. . . the brother can be assured that this is absolutely not our view. Our position is just the opposite. We do not want to go out of the world at all. It is exactly our intention not to abandon any area of life. We have called God’s people to occupy the entirety of life. However, we want this people of the Lord, His covenant people, not to forsake or deny her God in one single domain. His people are called to live out of grace in every domain, out of the one grace through which they were incorporated into Christ and through which they love God, so that they keep His commandments.
This is what we have written and preached. And Van Baalen could certainly have known this. In fact, already in the Bannerof June 12, 1919 we wrote:
“Also, the child of the kingdom does not go along with this identification with the world as he strives to manifest himself in every domain of the life of that world. This is indeed his clear calling. In industry and commerce, in science and art, in state and society the citizen of the kingdom may never fail to manifest himself by drawing back into the closer sphere of the church as such. Then he would have to go out of the world whereas it is his calling to be in the midst of it.”
“World flight,” therefore, does not apply to us . . . . If you take “world” in the sense of “nature,” then you will certainly see that we do not separate nature and grace, but wish to live everywhere out of grace. And if you take “world” in the sense of the wicked, then we do not take flight, but we fight the good fight unto the very end so that no one may take our crown.5
1 The main distributors of this book are Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Ballymena, Northern Ireland (website: www.cprc.co.uk); Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Redlands, CA (website: www.hopeprc.org); and the Reformed Witness Committee (website: www.reformedwitness.org).
2 The charge was leveled by a colleague in the ministry of the CRC, Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen, who had written a pamphlet entitled De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Dooperish? (The Denial of Common Grace: Reformed or Anabaptistic?).
3 H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen Betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie, Grand Rapids Printing Co., ca. 1923.
4 H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, Not Anabaptist, But Reformed. English translation in the Standard Bearer, vol. 83, p. 423.
5 H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, Not Anabaptist, But Reformed. English translation in the Standard Bearer, vol. 85, p. 285-286.