Is Neo-Calvinism different from the old, classic Calvinism?

The question is not whether Christians have a task in this world or not, but what this task consists of and what is the Scriptural basis and warrant for it

Such a conception had to lead to an essentially optimistic view of culture and the world. Not that Kuyper himself lost sight of sin and its awful consequences for the human race and the cosmos. He deeply believed in the antithesis and thus in the fundamental difference between common and particular grace. The same cannot be said of all his disciples, however. If some had problems with his theory of common grace because they saw in it a threat to particular or saving grace, many others were only too happy with it because it offered an escape from what they considered a too rigid view of the Christian’s separation from the world. Thus common grace opened the door to worldliness.

 

In the November 1995 edition of the Reformed Theological Journal (98 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 6AG), he wrote a 15 page article entitled “Neo-Calvinism” examining the teaching of Abraham Kuyper and his followers. It is extremely valuable, being the only readily available evaluation of that movement. The following is the conclusion of his article and is reprinted from that Journal with permission. The full article is available for download here as a Word file, and is provided with permission of the author and the Reformed Theological Journal. 

The question is not whether Christians have a task in this world or not, but what this task consists of and what is the Scriptural basis and warrant for it.

Kuyper found the basis in the doctrine of common grace. This doctrine, or at least the way he formulated it, is open to serious question. If he had only meant by common grace what the church has always understood by it, namely God’s gracious disposition toward all men, so that he lets his sun shine and his rain fall on the just and the unjust, few in the Reformed community would have a problem with it. Again, if common grace for him meant that God wants his Gospel to be preached to the whole world and offers his grace to all, most would heartily agree.

But Kuyper’s version of this doctrine includes much more than that. For him common grace is primarily a grace directed to the redemption of the cosmos and culture. By rooting this doctrine in the divine decree of predestination he was able to construct a system whereby God’s plan for his creation is realised along a double track: the elect are brought to salvation by Christ as Mediator of redemption (particular grace) and the cosmos with all its potential for culture is redeemed by Christ as Mediator of creation (common grace). Such a conception had to lead to an essentially optimistic view of culture and the world.

Not that Kuyper himself lost sight of sin and its awful consequences for the human race and the cosmos. He deeply believed in the antithesis and thus in the fundamental difference between common and particular grace. The same cannot be said of all his disciples, however. If some had problems with his theory of common grace because they saw in it a threat to particular or saving grace, many others were only too happy with it because it offered an escape from what they considered a too rigid view of the Christian’s separation from the world. Thus common grace opened the door to worldliness.

Is Neo-Calvinism different from the old, classic Calvinism? Yes, in many ways. W. Aalders, a scholar of renown in the Netherlands who has studied this issue thoroughly does not hesitate to refer to Kuyper and the whole Neo-Calvinist movement as ‘The Great Derailment’. In his view, Kuyper with his lop-sided emphasis on culture and social involvement has contributed greatly to what he calls the externalisation of the doctrines of grace, especially justification and regeneration.

In Neo-Calvinistic circles, he says, justification is not denied, but no longer experienced as it was by Luther, Calvin and all who live by God’s Word rather than by human, be it Christian philosophy. What do Neo-Calvinists still know of justification as an inner occurrence wherein the living Word in union with the Spirit introduces a sinner into the spiritual reality of Christ and his realm? Speculative, abstract, philosophical thinking has eliminated the sovereign, spiritual, inward working of the Word, turning it into a cerebral, intellectual concept. An abstract, organic idea of regeneration as a slowly maturing seed has taken the place of regeneration and justification by God’s Word and Spirit.’

Kuyper’s zeal for the kingship of Christ in the world had to lead to an acceleration of the process of the secularization of spiritual values.

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[Editor’s note: Original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid, so the links have been removed.]