Normally when it comes to books and book reviews we reserve the subject for the rubric Bring the Books, or offer it as a contribution for the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. For the two books to which we want to alert our readers, and especially the clergy, we make an exception.
The two books are Wonder & Wisdom, by Abraham Kuyper, and Reformed Thought: Selected Writings, by William Young.
That the first book should be the subject of some editorial comments will not come as a surprise. The author is Abraham Kuyper, and the book a translation of the concluding ten chapters of his treatise on common grace, chapters that deal with the importance of common grace for science and art.
The SB, of course, has a long and time-honored connection to the doctrine of common grace, or, maybe more accurately, to the theory of common grace. It was this very theory developed by Kuyper in one of his magnum opuses, De Gemeene Gratie (Common Grace), that served in the end for what is known by us as “the history of 1924,” events resulting in the expulsion of three ministers with their congregations from the CRC and the establishment of the PRCA. It was the growing infatuation with this theory by many of the clergy within the CRC and the synodical refusal to see its dangers that led to the birth of this very magazine 87 years ago.
As an aside, I realize that, strictly speaking, no theologian can have more than one magnum opus (greatest work), but Dr. Kuyper is an exception. There appears to be more than one Dr. Abraham Kuyper. I would not put it in the category of ‘Dr. Kuyper and Mr. Hyde,’ but there is the Kuyper of historic, Calvinistic, particular grace (and his magnum opus, Dictaten Dogmatiek, 5 volumes, 3,900 pp.), and this ‘other fellow,’ who came under the spell of culture and politics, the Kuyper of a neo-Calvinism embodied in his theory of common grace (and his magnum opus, De Gemeene Gratie, 3 volumes, 1,700 pp.).
In addition, I have gracing my bookshelves Kuyper’s 4-volume set on the Heidelberg Catechism, E Voto (2,300+ pp.).
All this in the days before keyboards and computers. What Kuyper would have produced if he had had such available I am not sure we want to imagine.
Up to this point Kuyper’s work on common grace has been locked away in the Dutch from the English-speaking world. As some of our readers are aware, Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, under the auspices of the Acton Institute (a conservative Reformed think tank headquartered in Grand Rapids), has begun translating Kuyper’s De Gemeene Gratie.
In an article in its December 10 religion section, the Grand Rapids Press explained the book this way:
“Wisdom & Wonder” is the last 10 chapters in the third volume of “Common Grace,” chosen for early publication because “it addresses two of the more difficult realms that intimidate Christians in modern-day conversations: science and art,” according to the book’s Foreword by Gabe Lyons and Jon Tyson.
The sections were mistakenly left out of the first edition of “Common Grace” published in the early 20th century. They appeared in a separate volume in 1905, and later were added to new printings of “Common Grace.” The massive work is hailed as one of the great treatises on how to live as a Christian in the world at large.
Nelson Kloosterman was asked by the Acton Institute to translate Kuyper’s work from Dutch into English. He translated “Wisdom & Wonder” and will oversee translations of the three volumes of “Common Grace.”
In the book’s ‘afterword’ the editors inform us that translating the three volumes is a three-year project, with the first volume scheduled to appear in the fall of 2012 (p. 183).
What the present book is intended to do, according to its publisher, is to whet the appetite of the public for the volumes to follow.
It is not our intention at this point to critique the book. We prefer to wait until the finished work (or at least the first volume) comes out, and then offer a lengthier critique for the SB or the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, or both. It may be best that there is offered a critique by more than one writer on the three-volume set.
Our main purpose at this point is to make our readers aware that this first offering is available, a precursor of the full volumes to follow. This is an introductory offering, $10 paperback, $15 hardcover. These days, for a 180+ page book, that is competitive pricing.
It is our judgment that the finished work will be a ‘must read’ for all of our clergy.
The PRC is the one group known to have taken issue with the theory of common grace from the beginning, vigorously, relentlessly, unabashedly, and not only with the infamous Three Points of the CRC Synod of 1924, but with the seminal work that gave the impetus to that perspective as well, Kuyper’s lengthy treatise of the subject, De Gemeene Gratie.
If we are going to take a credible stand against this doctrine today, and we must, those of us called to take the lead in defending the faith over against this error will have to be acquainted with this work. One thing is sure, as it becomes available in English, a whole new group of theologians and preachers, to say nothing of a whole new generation of seminary students, is going to be reading, digesting, and discussing Kuyper’s Common Grace. And if the glowing tribute by those on the dustcover to this initial offering is any indicator, they will gallop off once again with their ‘banners’ flying.
Deja vu, indeed!
If we are going to be in a position to respond credibly, we will have to know what we are talking about, which is to say, be able to assure its newfound promoters that “Yes, we have read the book as well.”
All this is to say, we have not heard the last of common grace. Not by a long shot. There is going to be a revival of interest in common grace, not simply for antiquarian reasons, but a promoting of it in order to justify the ‘redeeming’ of all of culture in the name of Christ. And redemption of culture these days means more interest in what the world is producing and greater interaction (even preoccupation) with its culture.
This is not what the church of the twenty-first century needs, beleaguered as it is on every side both by burgeoning immorality in society and by the anti-Christian spirit infecting the very State itself, but this is what the leading lights in Protestantism want.
All one has to do is read the list of names found on the dustcover of this volume praising not only this first sampling of Kuyper’s magisterial work, but the publishing of the whole work. The names Chuck Colson, Richard Mouw, and Nicholas Wolterstorff head the list—Kuyperian common grace aficionados one and all.
They are men of influence.
And likable fellows as well.
To be candid, I can appreciate Chuck Colson and his unabashed testimony against the immoralities that are consuming modern society, and his challenging the anti-Christian policies coming out of our federal government these days. But to justify entering into fellowship with Rome on the basis of a supposed doctrinal and spiritual oneness that we as Christians all share together in order to attain this, and to promote unity with all who call themselves Christians in order to oppose the evils of our day, which basis for oneness and unity has everything to do with this ‘common grace’ that we all share, is another matter altogether.
Let us not forget that it was exactly this supposed absolutely vital need for making common cause with Rome in order to reform[!] Dutch society in Kuyper’s day and to withstand the flood of immoralities beginning to dominate late nineteenth-century Western culture that galvanized Kuyper to develop (spin?) his theory of common grace to begin with.
Now the same cry, with its common grace justification, goes up again, and the republication of Kuyper’s translated volumes will simply serve to bolster their argumentation.
The irony of it all is that this championing of common grace has proved in the end not to serve as an antidote to the world at all with its vain glories and immoralities, working rejection and condemnation of these things, introducing a new direction, but rather it has served to justify an approving of and allowing these things into Christian lives, because in these things too, you know, some form of Divine (God approved!) grace is found.
Have these scholars not followed the history of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands and what happened to the CRC in the past century, error after error, evil after evil, all justified in the name of common grace? The seven ill-favored kine of Pharaoh’s dream (common-grace cattle) coming out of the Nile to devour the seven well-favored kine (particular, saving grace)—because that’s what the theory of common grace does and did!
And not in theory, but in real history!
Common grace has a way of becoming the dominating grace, the new gospel! And the true gospel of particular saving grace is swallowed whole. Having swallowed the gospel whole, the emphasis on common grace brings (has brought!) a famine to the land and to many a soul.
The gospel of saving grace is treated like a first wife who shows up unbidden at the wedding of a man who now has this second woman (wife?) ‘gracing’ his arm. An embarrassment, that’s all. There is not room for both at the head table, that’s for sure. There comes a point where the first woman this (church) man once professed to love so deeply is shown the door. And so it is in church after church and seminary after seminary that has become enchanted, enthralled with the beauty and charm of this second ‘bride.’
Was it not Lord Acton who said, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history”? Well, perhaps not. Though it was an aphorism he would no doubt have subscribed to, we are sure.
It is apparent that those who insist on promoting common grace as the great saving grace so desperately needed to save this ungodly society of ours, the last great hope of all mankind really, will learn nothing from history, not from the lamentable history of their own mother church. And as another well-known aphorism puts it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Gaining such insight does not take special grace, not even common grace, just a bit of common sense. And what I am reading these days indicates that many intelligent, well-meaning churchmen, far too many, sad to say, lack even that.
We will conclude this article with a quote from one of those involved with the publishing of this book. To give a flavor of the book and a summary, he writes,
Kuyper discusses the insights of the ancient Greeks as a bit of evidence for the existence of common grace. This is especially relevant for the pursuit of truth in philosophy and science. As Kuyper writes, “Anyone who ignores common grace can come to no other conclusion than that all science done outside the arena of the holy lives off appearance and delusion, and necessarily results in misleading anyone listening to its voice. Yet the outcome shows that this is not the case.”
“Among the Greeks, who were completely deprived of the light of Scripture, a science arose that continues to amaze us with the many beautiful and true things it offers us. The names of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have always been esteemed among Christian thinkers. It is no exaggeration to insist that the thinking of Aristotle has been one of the most powerful instruments leading Christians themselves to still deeper reflection.”
Kuyper’s point here is that there are many true and accurate things that non-Christians know and learn about the world, and that this truth is a common point of contact between Christians and non-Christians. This isn’t all there is to say, of course, and Kuyper goes on at length to develop the specific ways in which scientific endeavors pursued by Christians differ from and are similar to those undertaken by those who are “completely deprived of the light of Scripture.”
Such is Kuyper’s argument. We leave it to the reader to purchase the book and read more if interested.
But we spoke of two books, the other being Reformed Thought by William Young, just recently published by Reformation[sic] Heritage Books. Dr. Young is of Presbyterian conviction. The reason we intend to comment on this book and recommend it, especially to the clergy, is that Young is an astute, well-read theological thinker. He even has some good things to say of Dr. Gordon Clark and of Clark’s insistence on the use of reason in theology (logical consistency). Rather rare these days.
What is of interest to us is the sections that focus on Abraham Kuyper’s contribution to Reformed thought.
Of interest is Dr. Young’s critical view of Kuyper’s common grace theology and the resulting emphasis on the need to redeem culture.
But of special interest is Young’s critique of Kuyper’s doctrine of presupposed regeneration—in other words, Kuyper’s covenantal perspective and his view of baptized infants. This view Young charges with being inherently hyper-Calvinistic. Significantly, in this context Young brings up the name of Hoeksema and his covenantal views, placing Hoeksema (and by implication the PRC) in Kuyper’s camp, both in regard to presupposed regeneration and insipient hyper-Calvinism.
That warrants some response.
But there are a number of other issues of contemporary importance that Young raises (most in connection with Kuyper’s teachings) that are worth bringing to our readers attention for further reflection and consideration.
Our concern is that Dr. Young’s analysis of and judgments on various issues, especially as they tie in with Kuyper’s speculative doctrines, not only represent prevailing thought of many in Presbyterian and Reformed circles, but are likely to be adopted by still more.
To this we will turn next issue.