The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, by Dr. Henry Van Til. Published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich. Price $4.50.
This book is divided into three parts. The first part defines the issue, the second is historical, the third is entitled: “Basic Considerations Toward a Definition.”
It seems to me that the nearest approach to a definition of Culture is found, not in the third part of the book, as one would expect, but already in the first. Van Til defines or, at least, describes culture as “any human labor bestowed on God’s creation in its widest sense, including man himself, by which it receives historical forms and is refined to a higher level of productivity for the enjoyment of man. Culture, then, is any and all human effort and labor expended upon the cosmos, to unearth its treasures and its riches and bring them into the service of man for the enrichment of human existence and unto the glory of God.”
The author rather strongly emphasizes the idea of the antithesis also in the sphere of culture. For this reason I cannot understand how he can nevertheless speak of and believe the doctrine of so-called common grace, maintaining the favorable attitude of God to the wicked, the restraint of sin, and civic righteousness. Writes he: “And although man in that state of sin hates God and not subject to the law of God yet by virtue of God’s restraining grace he is able to do good,” p. 235. In another connection he speaks of “relative good” whatever that may be. The author seems to have felt himself that this “common grace” cannot very well be harmonized with the truth of the antithesis. Yet he makes an attempt to do so. Cf. p. 237.
With all this we do not agree, as the author well knows. We do not believe in the restraint of sin but instead we teach the organic development of the human race and with it the organic development of sin. We do not believe that there is such a thing as “relative good” as does the author, simply because neither Scripture nor the Confessions speak of this. An act or deed of man is either good or evil. This is taught in Scripture throughout even in Luke 6:33. It is true that Rom. 1 tells us that, from the revelation in creation, the heathen knows God, but do not forget, in that same chapter, the Scriptures tell us that they hold under the truth in unrighteousness.
It is true that, according to Genesis 1, it was man’s calling to subdue the earth. But, after the fall, he cannot do this anymore. The reason for this is, on the one hand, that the earth is under the curse and all the creatures are subject to vanity; and, on the other hand, that man has lost all his excellent gifts and has only a few remnants left. The result is that, in the real sense of the word, there is no true culture: death is the end of all man’s labor under the sun, and presently creation will be destroyed by fire, even as the first world was destroyed by water. There is no final purpose of what is called culture. I have an idea that Kuyper felt, this, too, and that for that reason he invented the absurd philosophy that the products of culture will be brought into the New Jerusalem. Culture and its products must have a final goal and purpose in order to be real culture. And this is not the case. The man of culture walks, as it were in a treadmill: he gets nowhere.
Nevertheless, I recommend this book to our readers and to read it critically.