Two Books (2)

Previous article in this series: January 15, 2012, p 172.

Last issue we commented onWonder & Wisdom, a translation of the last ten chapters of Abraham Kuyper’s De Gemeene Gratie, published to alert the public to the coming publication of the translated three-volume work.

Mention was also made at that time of Reformed Thought: Selected Writings of William Young(published by Reformed Heritage Books).

Dr. Young (b. 1918) is a member of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, a denomination of the ‘old’ Princeton Presbyterian persuasion. This is to say that Young has bound himself to the Westminster Creeds and is a strong advocate of a rigorous purity of worship practice (a subject to which a chapter of the book is devoted, “The Puritan Principle of Worship,” a chapter worth reading if you would know what governs the Presbyterian brethren of this rigorous persuasion).

We alert our readers, and in particular our colleagues in the ministry, to this second book for a number of reasons.

First, because with the publishing of Kuyper’s magisterial work on common grace there is going to be a renewed interest in ‘Father Abraham’ again and his entire body of work. An examination of any number of Kuyper’s theological positions is likely to be once again in vogue. This is the value of the book. The editors (Joel R. Beeke and Ray Lanning) have selected, for the first section, a number of Young’s critiques of Kuyper and Kuyper’s influence on twentieth-century Reformed thought.

Young has a thorough knowledge of Kuyper. His doctrinal dissertation, Toward A Reformed Philosophy (1952), dealt with Kuyper’s influence on twentieth-century Reformed philosophy (with special focus on Herman Dooyeweerd, no less). Anyone who has made any attempt to penetrate the impenetrable ‘theoretical thoughts’ of Dooyewoord will understand that last comment.

Significantly, in the selections chosen, what Young has to say about Kuyper and a number of his influential views is anything but complimentary.

This is not to say Young does not have a high view of Kuyper and Kuyper’s spirituality and Reformed positions in a number of areas. He does. In a brief selection entitled “Infra- and Supralapsarian Calvinism,” Young rises to defend the orthodoxy of the supralapsarian perspective, of which perspective Kuyper was a representative, along with such stalwarts as Beza, Perkins, Gomarus, and Gillespie, to name a few. To defend those of the supralapsarian persuasion against the charge of scholasticism and incipient hyper-Calvinism is a rare phenomenon these days.

But Young also lays at Kuyper’s door any number of baneful developments that have arisen out of his theological positions. In particular, Young takes to task Kuyper’s theory of common grace and his doctrine of presumptive regeneration. It is these two views that Young is convinced puts Kuyper at odds with historic Calvinism and makes him the father of a neo-Calvinism, which neo-Calvinism comes to expression in what Young labels as Hyper-Covenantism, which baneful evil Young charges Kuyper with introducing into Reformed covenantal doctrine.

Second, it is this labeling of Kuyper’s covenantal view as Hyper-Covenantism that is of particular interest to us because into this camp Young puts Hoeksema, and by implication our PRC (in distinction from his own PRC, the Presbyterian Reformed Church).

In fact, Young goes so far as to charge Hoeksema with going further than Kuyper in developing this error.

Young states (in Chapter 10) that, in spite of Kuyper’s many and great contributions to Calvinism in the Netherlands, “…[Kuyper] must be held responsible for that exaggeration of the doctrine of the covenant of grace that may be termed Hyper-Covenantism.” And to that statement Young appends a footnote that reads, “It may be observed that while Hoeksema, Schilder, and Van Til have denied or at least revised Kuyper’s theory of common grace, they have carried Hyper-Covenantism to an extreme not to be ascribed to their mentor [Kuyper]” (emphasis ours—KK) (p. 207, ft. nt. 3).

That Hoeksema’s name is mentioned in the same breath as that of Schilder’s and Van Til’s we may find surprising enough. But that is another matter.

It is this charge that Hoeksema in his doctrine of the covenant is not only guilty of this evil of Hyper-Covenantism, but even carries it to a greater extreme than Kuyper himself that catches our attention, and to put it frankly, causes us to bristle a bit.

Well, maybe more than just a bit.

Young’s implication, of course, is that Hoeksema’s covenant view is even more out of line with historic Calvinism (and with Calvin himself) than Kuyper was with his presupposed regeneration view, to which view Hoeksema did not hold, and to which the PRC does not either, and which Dr. Young, well read and intelligent as he is, knows full well.

Why Young would put Hoeksema into this category we will point out later. At this point, all we state is that there is injustice here, and that a man of Young’s evident caliber and character and Reformed convictions should state it this way grieves us, and does so deeply.

I will go so far as to say that, in spite of my regard for Young’s evident spiritual integrity (as gathered from our reading of his selected writings), in this instance he is guilty of a dishonesty, unwittingly perhaps, but a dishonesty nonetheless.

Why we make that charge we intend to demonstrate in due time (in our next installment).

Third, this book is important because, we are convinced, its publication will not mark the last that we hear of Hyper-Covenantism. It is going to become part of the present covenantal controversy and conversation, and it is going to be flung our way. Not only are those of Hoeksema’s persuasion to be labeled Hyper-Calvinists (due to their rejection of the well-meant gospel offer), but they are now to be labeled Hyper-Covenantists as well.

And what this is will be defined as Dr. William Young defines it in this book.

Why should Hoeksema and those who share his covenant view be banished to the category of Hyper-Covenantists?

The chapter entitled “Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism” explains Young’s reasons why.

In brief, it is because we are of the conviction (on the basis of the Scriptures and the Reformed creeds) that children of believers are to be viewed and addressedas having spiritual life, rather than as those numbered amongst the unconverted dead.

The former, according to Young, is what believing parents must not do, address their children, deal with them, as if they were spiritually alive.

For such a practice Young has extremely harsh criticism, as we will see.

Rather, according to Young, it is the latter, namely, viewing one’s covenant seed as numbered with unconverted spiritually dead, that is to be honored as historic Calvinism and in line with the apostolic Scriptures.

The former covenantal view feeds deadness and apostasy.

The latter view is the antidote.

The former is a departure from Calvin and his perspective.

The latter is in line with Calvin’s view.

Indeed, is that so?

We do not deny it may be Young’s view and the view of the old Princeton Presbyterian school, but Calvin’s also and the proper historic Reformed line?

Again, something that deserves a response, however brief.

But before we do that, Young’s sharp criticism of Kuyper’s common grace teaching is worth noting, especially in light of the coming publication of Kuyper’sCommon Grace.

There are few of the Presbyterian and Reformed persuasion who have taken issue with Kuyper and his view of common grace and the inflated importance Kuyper gave to this ‘grace.’ Young is one of those few. This is not to say Young rejects the notion of a common grace altogether. He has a common grace view, and there are indications in what we have read that he views it as a preparatory grace for the conversion of God’s elect. But be that as it may, what Kuyper made of common grace in his De Gemeeme Gratie Young does reject and criticize, especially as it has served to make the heart and soul of Christianity, as well as the working of grace, a fulfilling of the “cultural mandate.” As Young properly points out, Kuyper took his theory of common grace and so inflated it that in the end “[t]he supreme importance of the salvation of sinners fades into the background, while emphasis is placed on the cultivation of the manifold spheres of human social life in this present world” (p. 207).

Young’s sharpest criticism of Kuyper’s common grace is found in chapter 3, a paper entitled “Historic Calvinism and New-Calvinism.”

There Young asserts that, in large measure due to Kuyper’s (and his followers’) “…elaboration of the hitherto subordinate theme of common grace into alocus of systematic theology” (p. 31) and its resulting covenant with nature implications, “[t]he covenant is not to be viewed primarily as soteriological, but as cultural, Genesis 1:28 being construed as containing a ‘cultural mandate’ for the human race” (p. 36).

And then this:

[This] thesis…. lacks solid exegetical grounding, …and is fraught with pernicious consequences. Talk of a culture mandate should be banned from the “language of Canaan” (Christ’s Church—KK)…. The word “culture” is far from clear and well-defined in its meaning, and in neo-Calvinistic circles lends itself to encouraging the introduction of a humanistic attitude toward life, involving idolatry of the works of man’s hand in the fine and useful arts, accompanying, under pretense of zeal for the covenant, gross neglect of the great salvation. The biblical and classical doctrine, on the contrary, is soteriological from the start to finish (pp. 36-7).

Common grace, as something that “lends itself to encouraging the introduction of a humanistic attitude toward life, involving idolatry of the works of man’s hand in the fine and useful arts,” to say nothing of supplanting the Reformed and biblical emphasis on particular and saving grace, which is to say gospel preaching! That is quite an indictment, one to keep in mind as Kuyper’s book is introduced to the Reformed church world once again.

We can appreciate Young’s criticism of Kuyper’s theory of common grace. I do not know if Hoeksema could have said it any better.

However, what Young has to say about Kuyper’s doctrine of presupposed regeneration is another matter. Not because Kuyper’s baptismal, covenantal doctrine should not be criticized in this regard (it should be, and the PRC have done so), but because Young mentions the name Hoeksema (and by implication the PRC) in this context, and brings the same charge against us as he does against Kuyper.

Originally it was our intention to bring to our readers’ attention the two books mentioned, Kuyper’s translatedWonder & Wisdom and Young’s selected writings,Reformed Thought, by devoting but one article to each, offering little in the way of critique. But having introduced Young and his assessment of Kuyper’s and Hoeksema’s covenant views, upon reflection we find ourselves constrained to respond a bit more specifically to Young’s analysis and allegations.

This we intend to do in our next installment.

Hoeksema’s covenantal view neo-Calvinistic, and our covenantal perspective Hyper-Covenantal?

And Young’s old Princeton Presbyterian view Historic-Calvinism?

Or more to the point, biblical and Apostolic?

We shall see.

Meantime, if my colleagues can find the time to read the book, in particular the chapters mentioned, and would like to offer some critique of Young’s analysis and conclusions, feel free.

Room will be provided in the SB.