Kuyper rightly recognized over a hundred years ago the end game of Modernism. He says, “Finally Modernism, which denies and abolishes every difference, cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity” (p 27). God has assigned each person to a specific role and task and it is only in the presence of God that these roles can be fully understood. This means that only a supernatural life system can explain the true and real difference between men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children, etc. A life system based on naturalism collapses everything into single blob of matter.
This is the first in a six part article series on Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism. He gave these lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary over a series of days in October 1898. Happy International Abraham Kuyper Month!
In his first lecture, Abraham Kuyper sets out his reason for lecturing on Calvinism. He sees that Modernism is on the rise and so we need a solid theological foundation that can combat this rising threat. He says that Calvinism is this true foundation because it is a life-system. It covers every aspect of man’s condition: Man’s relation before God, his relation with his fellow-man, and his relation to creation. Kuyper also argues that Calvinism is not tied to any one country or people group and so Calvinism is a truly catholic force that brings good to the whole world.
We Need a Life System
First, Kuyper sets out the need for a life-system. In 1898, Kuyper saw correctly the threat of Modernism coming and he understood the dangerous nature of it to Christianity. Kuyper observes, “Two life systems are wrestling with one another, in mortal combat” (p 11). There is no neutral ground between these two life systems. He says that this is the struggle in Europe and in America. He describes the two sides this way: “Modernism is bound to build a world of its own from the data of the natural man, and to construct man himself from the data of nature; while on the other hand, all those who reverently bend the knee to Christ and worship Him as the Son of the living God, and God himself, are bent upon saving the “Christian Heritage” (p 11). Kuyer rightly saw that the worldview of naturalism and supernaturalism could not stand together. One must win in the end.
Kuyper suggests what is needed for the Christian side to win: a truly principled system that can respond to the deep attacks of Modernism. He says, “If the battle is to be fought with honor and with a hope of victory, then principle must be arrayed against principle” (p 11). It is not enough to have an answer for an atheist or an answer for a darwinist; the only method of attack that will succeed is one that has a sure foundation that can provide answers integrated across the board. These other systems of belief have something to say about everything; Christians must also have a position that can respond to anything and everything. In Kuyper’s mind, Calvinism is that system.
Kuyper says, “Calvinism, as the only decisive, lawful, and consistent defence for Protestant nations against encroaching, and overwhelming Modernism–this of itself was bound to be my theme” (p 12). He points to all the great nations in his time: “Calvinism has liberated Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England, and in the Pilgrim Fathers has provided the impulse to the prosperity of the United States” (p 14-15). Calvinism was the impulse behind true freedom in these nations and it will be the source of new, great nations that rise in the future.
Calvinism is a Life System
Kuyper then lays out how Calvinism is a life system because it deals with Man’s relation to God, Man’s relation to man, and Man’s relation to creation.
In the first area, the Bible teaches that there is no mediator between each man and God, except for the God-man, Jesus. Kuyper writes, “At every moment of our existence, our entire spiritual life rests in God Himself” (p 21). This means there is no human priest or church institution that stands between God and each man. Each and every Christian lives his life coram deo, before the presence of God. This means that God calls each man to a specific job and task in the world. This also means that each man will stand before Jesus as judge and answer for how he lived his life. It is only in the presence of God that a man can find true freedom in this world.