Neo-Calvinism, also known as “Kuyperianism,” is a nuancing and application of Christianity to all aspects of life that was developed by Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. It is based on John Calvin’s (aka The Bible’s) program to every square inch of a person’s life (beyond the realm of Sunday mornings and into a leavening into Monday through Saturday). Neo-Calvinism is Biblically, historically, and theologically conservative through and through, but unfortunately, it has been appropriated and distorted by theological liberals. As a result, many orthodox, Bible-believing, conservative Christians when they first hear “neo-Calvinism” often associate the tradition with all the whack-jobs out there who claim to be neo-Calvinist when in reality Kuyper is rolling over in his grave.
“Whatever else believers may tolerate or bear, false teaching they may not.”– Abraham Kuyper
I’m annoyed that the liberals have usurped Kuyper. I’m mad that many (most?) modern “neo-Calvinists” teach un-Biblical/un-Kuyperian views (click the previous link for an example on the ultra left). I’m mad that Kuyper often gets lumped in with these usurpers. Why should the heretics and liberals get Kuyper as their own? Well, they shouldn’t(!). It’s time we reclaim Kuyper and see what the Spirit might teach us from him. Let’s put these liberals who have infiltrated our ranks on alert. Let’s call them out. Let’s tell these spirit-of-the-agers to pack up. Let’s read Kuyper for ourselves, ad fontes, girding our loins, let’s go toe-to-toe, precept for precept, in waging war against the proponents of this diabolical monstrous liberalized version of “neo-Calvinism.” It was said of Kuyper that he was the “one who rings the [church] bell” calling the rank-and-file to Spiritual-arms for their King. Well, those in the political and philosopher class can no longer go unchecked – they must stop putting their heretical views in the mouth of the bulwark of Orthodoxy (BB Warfield said Kuyper is “one of our own prophets to whose message we have a certain right, and a new book from whose hands we welcome as we would a new gift from our near friend charges in a sense with care for our welfare.”
“But these same pagans who were added to the church were not all simple souls thirsting for truth. An increasing number of pagan thinkers, pagan philosophers, and pagan theosophists also began to embrace Christianity eagerly in order to incorporate it into their thought world, to transform it as they saw fit into a totally foreign teaching, and to corrupt it in such a way that it was no longer recognizable.”– Abraham Kuyper
Nowadays we are out to convert the whole world, to conquer all areas of life for Christ. But we often neglect to ask whether we ourselves are truly converted and whether we belong to Christ in life and in death. For this is in- deed what life boils down to. We may not banish this question from our personal or church life under the label of pietism or methodism. What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, even for Christian principles, if he loses his own soul?– Herman Bavinck
“Neither the temptation of over-friendliness, nor a desire to keep the peace, was allowed to detract in any way from the plea for the truth. The lie was to be opposed not only in words but also in deeds, for the false prophets and teachers had launched a direct attack upon the very essence of Christ’s kingship.”– Abraham Kuyper
Just a quick note on terminology and emphasis: Neo-Calvinisim is not to be confused with “New-Calvinism” (that might also be called “neo-Puritanism”). New-Calvinism was/is a phenomenon that has folks, like John Piper, pointing us back to Jonathan Edwards. A fruit of new-Calvinism is, unfortunately, constant fruit-checking, naval-gazing and lack of assurance. You need only hear a sermon from Paul Washer or John Piper, who often co-mingle the Law and Gospel, or John Macarthur who insist upon a “Lordship Salvation” and if your biggest take away is “I hope I have been predestined to heaven” and “I better try harder this week” then, I’m sorry to say, you have just heard the gLAWspel of new-Calvinism/neo-Puritanism (whereas a sermon that has properly distinguished the Law and the Gospel will cause you to leave the sermon saying of yourself “O wretched man that I am, who will save me from my law breaking? What am I to do since I agree with the law that I shouldn’t sin, yet I keep on sinning all the same?! Praise be to God that I am clothed in Christ by faith! Praise be to God that, though I am a slave to sin and carry around this body of flesh, it is no longer I but Christ in me! Praise be to God that because I am in Christ and that God says of me “this is my son with whom I’m well pleased”! Praise be to God that as much as I keep returning to my sin, like a dog to his vomit, that that is the old Adam that I carry around, but I am, by faith, hidden in the last Adam! This week, therefore, I will indeed strive to sin no more and strive to be better, not because I fear I will lose my salvation for lack of fruit – not trying to improve upon my salvation or impress God, but simply because why would I (though I often do) return to do those sub-human ways? I will (try to) do good works this week from a place of rest knowing that I am fully righteous before God (because of His son’s active obedience that belongs to me by my mere mustard seed of faith)! Thank you, Jesus!”).
Nothing but grace can then bring deliverance, and the Holy Spirit alone can comfort us. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to diminish the upsurge from that evil fountain and to strengthen in us the upwelling from the fountain of salvation. And if the struggle continues until the end, then that very struggle increasingly bears fruit, so that it will be for us as it was for the apostle: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? My desire is to depart and be with Christ” [Rom 7:24; Phil 1:23]. With him, free from sin!– Abraham Kuyper
Question. How are you righteous before God?
Answer. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, 7 if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.– Heidelberg Catechism Question 36
Abraham Kuyper, the “founder” of the neo-Calvinist tradition, embodied this Christianity that is applied to all of life: This Dutchman was involved in the “sacred” domain as a pastor and Theologian (who also penned thousands of daily devotionals) to be sure, but he saw the entire earth and every institution as belonging to the Lord, and so, Kuyper (in addition to his “sacred” activity) also started a newspaper, offered cultural critique (this guy had an opinion on everything, which is fitting though, because He knew everything belonged to the Lord even things like literature, fashion, vaccines, etc.), he started a university, he was a politician that worked towards (and brought about!) education reform (asking: why should the demi-god that is the state decide that schools will be taught from their humanistic worldview rather than, say, a Protestant or Catholic or Muslim worldview? And why should a Protestant, for example, have only the choice to send their sons and daughters to Babylon when they are citizens of Zion? Kuyper knew well the myth of religious “neutrality”), labor reform, and was even the Prime Minster (1901-1905).
Abraham Kuyper wasn’t necessarily the most precise Theologian, but his value is in Theology applied. That is to say, Herman Bavinck was a sound theologian, but it was chiefly Kuyper who was apt to take eternal truths from the Bible and show how they flesh-out in the day-to-day. Kuyper was absolutely concerned with truths like the atonement, the trinity, the Lord’s supper, etc., but he was also very much concerned with these things in such a way as asking what these truths have to do with, say, being a father, being a citizen, being an artist, etc. You need only survey a few of chapter-titles in his 3 volume set “Pro Rege” (“For the King”) where he does his best to address what it looks like for a Christian to live for King Jesus (Pro Rege) in contexts other than merely Sunday morning and evangelism. Some chapters include: Family and Society, Fear and Danger, Custom and Habit, Gifted Leaders, Money Play, The Woman, The Government, Christian Organizations, Public Opinion, Political Parties, Internationalism, Science as a Power, Reflection, Thinking God’s Thoughts after Him, The Mystery of Beauty, Our Awareness of Beauty, Beauty and Sin, The Origin of Beauty, Beauty in Christ, The Sublime and Worship, Art and Religion… Kuyper knew that we humans are more than just souls waiting to “go to heaven when we die.” He knew that there is an un-Biblical view of the sacred/secular, he knew we as Christians desire to pray and sing worship songs, but he also knew we like to talk to our friends about our favorite sport team, about romance, about mountain climbing, about collecting model ships, etc.
“Christ is King not only of our soul but is just as decidedly King of our body. A one-sided spirituality is not supported anywhere in Scripture and is actually countered and attacked throughout it. The body is a creation of God just as much as the soul is. It is the lot of angels to be spirit alone, but we people have a twofold existence that is at once invisible and visible.”– Abraham Kuyper
“Everyone who has been redeemed by Christ stands in his service all the years of his life on earth, whether he be a merchant, storekeeper, public functionary, domestic servant, or farmer.”– Abraham Kuyper
Abraham Kuyper was a polymath. Theology, literature, education, operations, politics, philosophy, history, etc. – you name it. However, most modern “neo-Calvinists” focus either on politics or philosophy only (often removing Kuyper from his highest programs of living for the King and of “Reformation not Revolutuon”). This is shame for a few reasons, First, perhaps Kuyper’s greatest contributions are his Theological insights – specifically his robust doctrine, and implications of, creation. Image-bearers have much to learn about our own telos in this world, as well as God’s ultimate reason for creating us, and therefore what we as Christians should be busy doing in our day-to-day lives from Kuyper. And, not only what we should be doing in mere theory, but he offers some examples of what it might look like lived out (again, Kuyper might be wrong on some of his conclusions, but he at least gets us talking about things that otherwise are left almost completely ignored and often seen as sub-Christian and less important). The second reason it’s a shame that most modern “Kuyperians” neglect Kuyper-the-theologian and exchange that for Kuyper-the-philosopher and politician but in their own “Theology” they are wild heretics. Many modern folks who fancy themselves as “neo-Calvinist” would advocate for things like homosexual ordination, championing the cause of the LGBT cult, abortion, coerced vaccinations, etc. Again, they unhitch themselves from Kuyper’s theology, yet maintain the label that associates them with him, and then go on to speak from a forked-tongue.
“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. One type must answer for all, one uniform, one position and one and the same development of life; and whatever goes beyond and above it, is looked upon as an insult to the common consciousness.”– Abraham Kuyper
When men and women dissatisfied with their respective natures attempt to eradicate the distinction that God had once established between men and women in terms of body and soul… They sense a personal inadequacy within themselves as women, and rebel against the ordinance of God, who determines in our very birth whether we will be male or female. Against God’s ordinance, their sense of personal inadequacy seeks to attain an image that simply lies beyond the reach of women. Such women throw away the very thing that makes them valuable as women, and grasp in vain for the thing that gives men their value, although they can never attain it. Feminists want to be men, but they cannot; in fact, they will never become men, and the very most they will display is a caricature of them.– Abraham Kuyper
For this reason alone, compulsory cowpox vaccination should be out of the question. Our physicians may be mistaken and government may never stamp a particular medical opinion as orthodox and therefore binding. Moreover, compulsion can never be justified until the illness manifests itself and may therefore never be prescribed as a preventative. A third reason is that government should keep its hands off our bodies. Fourthly, government must respect conscientious objections. In the fifth place, it is one or the other: either it does not itself believe in vaccination, or if it does, it will do redundant work by proceeding to protect once more those already safeguarded against an evil that will no longer have a hold on them anyway. Vaccination certificates will therefore have to go—and will be gone at least from our free schools. The form of tyranny hidden in these vaccination certificates is just as real a threat to the nation’s spiritual resources as a smallpox epidemic itself.– Abraham Kuyper
A third reason it’s a shame many modern “neo-Calvinists” philosophers in this branch of “neo-Calvinist” philosophy (often called “Reformational Philosophy” – which, by the way, isn’t all bad) ignore Kuyper-the-Theologian is because many of them overly-philosophize to the point that they can almost put forth any rank heresy, label it as part of the “Kuyperian tradition” and get a rubber stamp (wielded by none other than Satan himself). Since these “Philosophers” arrive at conclusions using Kuyper’s “methods” they drag Kuyper’s name into their folly. It’s simply because they don’t see the Bible for the infallible word of God, and for all of their pontificating and teaching they never arrive (but often usher their poor students to the domain of the spirit of the age).
“Altho the Holy Spirit spoke directly to men, human speech and language being no human inventions, yet in writing He employed human agencies. But whether He dictates directly, as in the Revelation of St. John, or governs the writing indirectly, as with historians and evangelists, the result is the same: the product is such in form and content as the Holy Spirit designed, an infallible document for the Church of God… But it must be insisted that the Scripture as a whole, as finally presented to the Church, as to content, selection, and arrangement of documents, structure, and even words, owes its existence to the Holy Spirit, i.e., that the men employed in this work were consciously or unconsciously so controlled and directed by the Spirit, in all their thinking, selecting, sifting, choice of words, and writing, that their final product, delivered to posterity, possessed a perfect warrant of divine and absolute authority.”– Abraham Kuyper
“Yet this same impulse leads to another danger, namely, that erudition might take the place of spirituality, that the head might drive back the impulse of the heart, and that the preaching of the living Word might give way to an academic display of embellished erudition. Soon a situation arises where ministers look down on the simple faith of the congregation as something inferior, as they themselves take leave of this simple faith, change the truth on many points, and thereby spiritually weaken both their congregation and their own person. This is how nearly every aberration managed to creep in and, once inside, festered until the church was destroyed.”– Abraham Kuyper
Screwtape has been effectual in keeping the Evangelicals from these nuancers of the faith – but we know his schemes.
All this to say – don’t believe the ramblings of the heretics who claim to be “neo-Calvinist.” Therefore, with your Bible next to you, Read Abraham Kuyper. Read Herman Bavinck. Read AA van Ruler, Read Klaas Schilder. Read Henry van Til. Read Gordon Spykman. Read John Bolt. Read Nelson Kloosterman. Read Robert Godfrey. Read Joe Boot. Read Bruce Ashford. Then read your Bible again.
[NOTE: This is a work in progress – please comment below with any corrections, clarifications, suggestions, or rebukes and I will update it accordingly]