Review: Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church

Van Reest, Rudolf. trans. Theodore Plantinga. Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church. Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1990.

The Golden Age of Dutch Theology came in the person of Kuyper, yet within Kuyper were the seeds of its own destruction. The younger generation either went with the worst of Kuyper’s theology or with liberal Protestantism.

The Problem with Scholasticism

Schilder seems to equate “scholasticism” with Kuyper’s bizarre views on covenant, and Kuyper’s view:

(1) We baptize on the presumption that the child at the baptismal font is already regenerate.

(2) Yet some children are not saved.

Therefore, (1) must become

(1*) Their baptism was not a genuine baptism after all (Van Reest 47).

But if no one knows whether his baptism is real, then only the most morbid self-examination can follow:

(3) You must use the distinguishing marks as a checklist.

The payoff, or lack thereof, is you can’t ever go to the Lord’s Supper.

But is Scholasticism just shorthand for Kuyper? I don’t think so, though Schilder is never clear. It seems to be when a church starts with faulty presuppositions and draws conclusions from them. Over time this builds up into a system which can never be challenged by Scripture (50-51).

Woe to you, my people

Key part of the Solomonic thesis: “When people become Solomonic, their concern is not for the Truth alone, or for belief in the Scriptures and faithfulness to the confessions” (251).

Van Reest details the tragic events unfolding in the 1930s. Schilder, along with a few others, saw that National Socialism was pagan in its root. This is often forgotten. In the 30s “Nazi” did not mean Jew-killer, and this explains why H.H. Kuyper and V. Hepp could implicitly support the Nazis and formally rebuke Schilder for attacking the Nazis.

Schilder was arrested for writing Reformed articles against the Dutch Nazis. He was soon freed, yet began writing again. He barely escaped a concentration camp and had to go into hiding. His story is the stuff of heroism and suffering.

Sadly, the Synod deposed Schilder for not holding to Kuyper’s doctrine of presumptive regeneration, yet they did not attack him on doctrine, but on church order. They said he was schismatic in not obeying the order of Synod. Yet his leading accusers, HH Kuyper and V. Hepp, ignored previous synods’ warnings against Dutch Nazi youth groups.

Nor should they have deposed him without his being there. But had he been there, the Nazis would have deported him to a concentration camp.

Those events then led to the Liberation of 1944. But it does not appear that the Synodocratic forces won. Consider Van Reest’s words:

“The spirits of the men at the synod were also very low. You could see it in their faces and in the slack way they walked. They had run completely stuck with their ecclesiastical scheming, but there was no way out for them…

G.C. Berkouwer sat there in the president’s chair, a sunken heap of a man” (356).

Plantinga, the translator, then ends with how the Liberated churches fared in America.

The book reads like hagiography, which it probably is. Still, it contains valuable first-hand information about a great theologian during one of the darkest hours of the 20th century.

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Covenantal Relations in the Trinity

One of the Reformed Thomist criticisms of Kuyper, Vos, etc., is that they posited covenantal relations in the Trinity.  And this is bad because of Hegel or something.  I want to do two things: actually see what they say and see what Scripture says. And perhaps note why Reformed Thomists resist this point so much.

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We always come back to him for some reason

By way of prep reading I recommend Ralph Smith’s website.

First of all, what is a covenant?  Answering this question is a nightmare, but we can give it a try:

 

 

 

 

From the beginning of God’s disclosures to men in terms of covenant we find a unity of conception which is to the effect that a divine covenant is a sovereign administration of grace and of promise. It is not compact or contract or agreement that provides the constitutive or governing idea but that of dispensation in the sense of disposition…. And when we remember that covenant is not only bestowment of grace, not only oath-bound promise, but also relationship with God in that which is the crown and goal of the whole process of religion, namely, union and communion with God, we discover again that the new covenant brings this relationship also to the highest level of achievement. At the centre of covenant revelation as its constant refrain is the assurance ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people’. The new covenant does not differ from the earlier covenants because it inaugurates this peculiar intimacy. It differs simply because it brings to the ripest and richest fruition the relationship epitomized in that promise. [Emphasis added.]

So we can at least get the term “relationship” derived from it.  Following Van Til I argue (Or posit) that the relationships between the persons of the Trinity is covenantal:

The three persons of the Trinity have exhaustively personal relationship with one another. And the idea of exhaustive personal relationship is the idea of the covenant (“Covenant Theology” in The New Twentieth Century Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge).

Let’s take Jesus’s words in John 17: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (This is often taken to prove the divine oneness of the Trinity, but I don’t think that is the point of this passage).  That Jesus is using covenantal relation language is evident from verse 11:  that they may be one even as We are.  Jesus isn’t asking the Father that we have the same divine nature as they do.  Rather, it is that we have the same covenantal relation in unity.

Kuyper on Covenant:

If the idea of the covenant with regard to man and among men can only occur in its  ectypical form, and if its archetypical original is found in the divine economy, then it
cannot have its deepest ground in the pactum salutis that has its motive in the fall of
man. For in that case it would not belong to the divine economy as such, but would be introduced in it rather incidentally and change the essential relations of the Three
Persons in the divine Essence (quoted in Hoeksema 295).

I think Kuyper is saying something like the following:

  1. If the covenant is ectypal, then it isn’t part of God in se (if you want to use those categories).
  2. Therefore, it is accidental to the being of God.
  3. Therefore, it would call into question the Pactum Salutis, which must refer ontologically and not economically.

Ralph Smith concludes and sums up Kuyper’s position:

If Father, Son, and Spirit do not relate to one another in covenant essentially in their fundamental intratrinitarian fellowship, why should the contemplation of man’s fall and redemption introduce something new and different in their relationship? And how should we think of God as the unchangeable God, if intratrinitarian relationships have been fundamentally and essentially changed in the pactum salutis? (Smith 23).

Mutual Exhaustion in the Covenant

Van Til said the members of the covenant mutually exhaust the scheme.  Granted, there probably is a better way to say it, but I think it is worth unpacking.  Smith writes,

First, the covenant idea, he says, is nothing but the representative principle applied to all of reality. This makes the whole creation covenantal in the nature of the case. God does not enter into a covenant with man after creating him, for man is created as God’s image. Man is God’s representative and therefore a covenantal being from the first. The same is true in a general way for the rest of creation, since all the creation is a revelation of God, representing Him in a secondary sense. As Van Til says, the representative idea must be applied to all reality.

I think what CVT is saying is that when God creates, he creates covenantally.  It is a representational principle, but who is representing what?  CVT doesn’t specifically state it, but the covenantal relation in the Trinity is being represented. Smith again,

Second, Van Til sees the source of this representative, which is to say, covenantal
principle in the eternal relations of the persons of the Trinity. The covenant in God is not merely a covenant between Father and Son, nor is it merely an agreement entered into for the sake of the salvation of the world. To quote again one sentence from the previous paragraph: “the Trinity exists in the form of a mutually exhaustive representation of the three Persons that constitute it.”

In this sentence Van Til clearly defines the eternal, internal relations of the Persons of the Trinity as representational and therefore covenantal.

In conclusion, Van Til:

In the Trinity there is completely personal relationship without residue. And for that reason it may be said that man’s actions are all personal too. Man’s surroundings are shot through with personality because all things are related to the infinitely personal God. But when we have said that the surroundings of man are really completely personalized, we have also established the fact of the representational principle. All of man’s acts must be representational of the acts of God. Even the persons of the Trinity are mutually representational. They are exhaustively representational of one another (Survey of Christian Epistemology. 52-53).

Why do Reformed Thomists get up in arms about this?  My guess is that a covenantal ontology really doesn’t mesh with Thomism.  It’s hard to square covenant with the idea that relations = persons, for then the covenantal relations between the persons would also be persons.

Notes on Schilder’s Christ and Culture

by Klaas Schilder, 1890-1952.

Translation of Christus en Cultuur

ISBN 0-88756-008-3

The numbers represent the sections in the book.

(2) The Christian must engage culture because we are prophet, priest, king. It is our task.

(3a) Part of our difficulty is that we deal in abstractions when we speak of “church and culture.”  The cultural ideal cannot be a master key that opens any door we want.

(3c) Whenever we come up with programs like “Christ and x” or “Christ and y,” we almost always devalue both.

(3e) What is culture? Must we go to the world’s culture-philosophers for a definition?

(4) Schilder indirectly critiques Kuyper here.  He notes those who want to promote Christ in “all areas of life.”  He argues that it is a big leap from “law of nature” (the direction of a certain sphere) to the specific sovereign in that sphere.

(6a) Part of the difficulty in “Christianity and culture” is that “Christianity” is an abstraction.

(7) Schilder’s reading of Revelation posits a struggle between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the serpent.

(8) Jesus is not a “concept” for culture.  He cannot be abstracted from his work and atonement.  We cannot isolate “Jesus” from “Christ.”

(9) The church has often abstracted the four gospels from the larger narrative.

(10) Jesus didn’t give us anything about a theory of the arts.

(11) We gain knowledge of our cultural task from the office of Christ.

(12) Not everything Christ does is meant to be imitated.  His office is his office alone.  We must first see the justice flowing from Christ’s office before we see it imitated in the marketplace.

(13) A Two Adam Christology can help us here.  The first Adam’s task involved the creative unity of cultural work.  Christ, as Second Adam, takes up the first Adam’s office.

(14) thousand years: the dominion of peace in which Christ equips his office-bearers.

Schilder: As the Logos-Mediator-Surety He is the hypostasis, the solid foundation, the original ground, the fulfiller, redeemer, and renewer of culture—a cultural sign which shall therefore be spoken against.

Translation: the debate between Christ and Culture can only happen on Christ’s terms.

(15b)  Covenant: God’s speaking to Adam was of mutual relation of promise and demand. The Second Adam recapitulates the dominion order of the First Adam.

(16) Covenant and Culture: man’s covenantal role is to cultivate the earth.  The world God made must unfold.

(18) Common grace:  it is true that sin is being restrained.  But by similar logic the fullness of Christ’s eschaton is not fully experienced.  Apparently, it is restrained.  If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.”

Schilder then advances the argument that “development” and “corruption” belong to nature, not grace.  They are temporal.  And if it is nature, it can’t be grace.  Hence, it can’t be “common grace.”

NB: Schilder comes very close to a nature-grace dialectic.

Key argument: There is indeed “common” grace in culture (grace for more than one person). But there is no universal (or general) grace for all men. Therefore Abraham Kuyper’s construction was wrong. There is indeed also a “common” curse in cultural life (a curse shared by more than one person). But there is no universal (or general) curse. “Common” can sometimes be the same as universal, but it is not necessarily always so. Something can be common to all people, but it can also be common to more than one person, not to all. In the present scheme “common” is intended to mean: shared by many, not by all people. There is a common (not: universal) grace in culture, as far as the redeeming work of Christ is shared by all those who are His—which grace has an effect upon their cultural achievements.

Bottom line:  common grace is common to the elect, not to all.  They share the common grace in culture.

(19) Yet Christ’s person, in taking upon humanity, is connected with culture. There is grace, but it is not a lowest-common denominator common grace.  These gifts are eschatologically tied to Christ’s purpose.

(20) God is holding back both the full manifestation of Satan and the full manifestation of a godly culture.

(21) On Antichrist:  real, future figure.

(24) Conclusion: To establish koinonia in the sunousia, as members of the mystical union of Jesus Christ, that is Christian culture.

(25) “First of all, we must emphasize that, since there is a cultural mandate that existed even prior to sin, abstention from cultural labour is always sin.”

(26) Common grace revisited: our cultural mandate is common command, common calling, not common grace.

(27) Nature, too, has a history.  Christ is guiding that history.  By implication, he is King of the World.

(28) Some conclusions: One’s awareness of his office will always urge him to turn to the revelation of God’s Word, in order to learn again what the norms are.

 

Always Obedient (Schilder)

I want to thank the Rev. John Barach for spurring my interest in Schilder.  Barach’s lectures on covenant and election were a big help, also.

obeient

History

History, including the covenant, is a unity because it is a work of the Triune God (ix).

Cultural Mandate

Schilder connects the cultural mandate to man’s office before God.

Schilder on the Covenant

In the covenant God treats man as a responsible being who is either for him or against him, all or nothing (alles of niets!).

Schilder starts from the historical deeds of God. God establishes the covenant ‘in time.’  God’s grace doesn’t touch our life the way a line touches the edge of a circle.  It enters into our existence.  The covenant of grace continues the covenant of works.  The difference is in means, not essence.

The New Covenant is bilateral.  There are “threats” in it.  This gives life to preaching and responsibility.  God speaks to man as a responsible partner.  Precisely because the covenant comes to us with legal warranties, it incites our trust in Him.

Baptism seals the promise of the Gospel.  But this promise demands our faith.  In my baptism I receive a concrete address from God–a message that proclaims to everyone who is baptized, personally: if you believe you will be saved (28-29). We do not identify election and covenant.

Schilder on Christ and Culture

Kuyper wanted to use the term “common grace” instead of culture.

Schilder:  Jesus can’t be isolated from his office, Christos.  If Jesus is king, then the world should be brought back to its rightful owner.  Christ regenerates his people back to obedience.  The result should be a Christian culture.

Def. of culture: the totality of work to be done in this world (42).  The cultural mandate implies that the world has to be developed. Key difference between Schilder and Kuyper: Kuyper explained culture as a result of common grace.  Schilder replaced common grace (at least for Christians) with a mandate (59 n35).  Kuyper sees it as the result.  Schilder sees it as the work.

Schilder rightly connected dominion with being created in the image of God.

Schilder on the Church

Kuyper’s view of the church (75ff):

  1. The institutional church is a mother.
  2. The church is an organism.  We are knit together in one body.
  3. Immediate regeneration.
  4. Local church is the basic unit of the church.
  5. Pluriformity of the church

Schilder agreed that the church is a mother. Schilder, unlike Kuyper, stressed the mediation of word and sacrament in the covenant.  Covenant is not defined by regeneration.

Schilder did break with Bavinck in one area: covenant faithfulness leads to institutional church faithfulness (79).  God makes his covenant with believers and their children.  There are not two sides to the covenant, substance and form, but rather two reactions to the single covenant of grace (80).

Church Militant, Church Triumphant

Earlier reformed view: the church militant is on earth; the church triumphant is in heaven.

Schilder: the church on earth triumphs daily by faith.  The church in heaven is not wholly at rest, as it still prays for the coming judgment (Rev. 5; 6).  The old distinctions are still good, but they can’t be absolute.

Summary of theses on the church

  • Visible/invisible church is misleading, because we can never observe the church in its fullness–since the final elect person has not yet been gathered.
  • Our ability to see the church is time-bound, historical.  This is good, since Schilder spoke of historical/eschatological long before Wilson.
  • Being/well being can be misleading.  Can never disengage itself from the “gathering/coming together” of believers.
  • We are co-workers with Christ in a real sense if we gather in obedience.

Schilder on Heaven

Proposition: it is only on earth that we can think of heaven” (102).  Schilder wants to avoid a static view of heaven.  That’s not as shocking today as we have fully embraced the idea of “new creation.”

Schilder holds to the pactum salutis (105).

Schilder on Revelation

He was one of the first to oppose Barth. How do we know God?  We know him because of his condescension to us in the covenant (118). There is a “boundary” between God and man, but it is not a “death line”–Barth’s great chasm between life and death.

 

Common Grace and the Gospel (review)

The Christian Philosophy of History

Metaphysically, we have all things in common with the unregenerate.  Epistemologically, we do not.

Universals of non-Christian thought are ultimately non-personalist.

For the Reformed Christian God’s counsel is the principle of individuation.

Paradox

God’s being and his self-consciousness are co-terminous (9).

Abraham Kuyper’s Doctrine of Common Grace

distinction between constant and progressive aspects of common grace.  

COMMON GRACE IN DEBATE

Recent Developments

Schilder on the importance of thinking concretely.  Common grace shows us the importance of seeing historical development and progression (31).

Danger of Abstract Thinking

Kuyper:  all creation-ordinances are subject to the will of God (35).    Kuyper was unclear on the relation between universal/particular.

  • universals themselves exist as a system.  They are organically related to one another.  But how can they be related to one another and still remain universals?  Whenever universals “overlap,” they begin to admit of “change,” which seems to deny what a universal is.  This was Plato’s problem.
  • Plato ascribes the transition between universals as “chance.”
  • The Christian can begin to allow for transitions between universals because the universals are ascribed to the counsel of God.  No abstract staticism and no abstract change.
  • Therefore, the Christian reasons analogically with respect to these relations between facts.  Facts never exist as facts;  they always exist as facts-in-relation (and this is where Hegel did have correct insight).    Reasoning analogically, if the being and self-consciousness of the ontological Trinity are coterminous, may we not also say that facts and universals are corelative in the counsel of God (40).  

Bavinck:  there is one principle in theology.

  • What is the Christian notion of mystery?  For the Greeks “god” is abstracted to the point of an empty concept (moving up on the chain of being).  
  • Bavinck does not fully break with this concept of mystery.  

Hepp: sought to build a general testimony of the Spirit

  • Difference between psychological and epistemological.
  • If we take the original human nature and the sinful human nature and realize that everywhere both are active, we are done with the natural theology of Rome.

Positive Line of Concrete Thinking

  • Even prelapsarian man was confronted with positive revelation.  God walked and talked with him.
  • Natural revelation is a limiting concept.  It has never existed by itself as far as man is concerned.
  • To insist that man’s relation with God is covenantal is to say that man deals with the personal God everywhere.
  • After the common comes the conditional; history is the process of differentiation.  It is a common-ness for the time being (74).  
    • The offer comes generally so that history may have differentiation.
    • Per Platonism, the conditional can have no real meaning.

PARTICULARISM AND COMMON GRACE

Socrates was correct: men and gods agree as long as we talk about general principles.

  • Pace Aquinas, to sing the praise of being in general is to sing the praise of man as well as God.
  • On the neo-Orthodox analogy of faith scheme, God and man are correlative.  

Interestingly, Van TIl says he does not reject Old Princeton’s epistemology; simply it’s apologetics (155).

SUmmary of Van Til’s Position contra critics (158-159):

  • all facts in the unvierse are exhaustively revelational of God.
    • This is true of the environment, nature, and history.
    • This is true of man’s constitution (perhaps there is a correlation with Reid’s belief-creating mechanism).
  • All men unavoidably know God.
    • natural knowledge and sense of morality are not common grace.  They are the presuppositionof Common grace
    • The “starting point” is not the absolute ethical antithesis, but rather the imago dei.
      • This image contains actual knowledge-content.
      • Protestantism is a matter of restoring man to his true ethical relation.
      • The immediate testimony of the spirit has to terminate on man.  It has to be mediated to man through man’s own consciousness (178).  
      • The Antithesis is ethical, not metaphysical.  
        • The Romanist (and others) cannot really grasp this point because on the chain of being there are only gradations, not separations.
  • The Image of God in Man
    • Kuyper:  image in wider sense is the essence of man, which remains unfallen.  The image in the narrower sense consists of true righteousness, knowledge, and holiness.  It can be lost/marred/defaced.
      • Does this distinction really work?  Is the “narrower” sense so loosely/accidentally related to man that it can be lost without effecting that image at all?  This looks a lot like donum superadditum.
      • This is what happens when we use concepts like “essence” and “Nature” loosely.
      • The image must be used in an analogical sense (205).  
        • each concept must be subject to the whole of the revelation of God.

Going Dutch (book review)

In explaining how the Dutch Reformed could exist in a largely secular yet still national church society, Abraham Kuyper was forced anew to wrestle with the meaning of church government and baptism.  John Halsey Wood Jr. gives not only a fine account of Kuyper, but also a skilled handling of church-state relations and the idea of a “nation,” something poorly lacking in modern scholarship.

kuyper

In short, a nation isn’t a state.  A nation is the collective ethnos of a people, including language, religion, and culture.  The state is the necessary (yet often parasitic) apparatus in the modern world.  Surprisingly, one could have a national church without a state church.

Kuyper’s solutions were new because while advocating separation of church and state, he also tried to avoid a purely voluntarist church while also having a relatively high view of the sacraments.  Said another way:  would not leaving the government of the church to “the people” entail the horrors of the French Revolution?

Rooted and Grounded

Kuyper was able to alleviate some of the tension with his concept of “organicism.”  The organic church precedes the institutional church. Kuyper’s use of organicity isn’t supposed to be Hegelian, but like our Lord (John 15-17) it is to note our interdependence.

Rooted:  free life doesn’t come from human skill but from the hand of the Creator (63).

Grounded: metaphor for the institutional church

Unfortunately, Kuyper’s desire for a purer church drove him very close to a Baptist view of baptism while retaining a Reformed practice.  If the church is a church of believers, then why baptize babies?  Kuyper solved this problem at great cost:  he presumed regeneration on the part of the infants.

Conclusion

This is an outstanding account of late Dutch church and state politics.  Wood notes Kuyper’s strengths and weaknesses and places them within the unique situation Kuyper found himself.

Abraham Kuyper: A Personal Introduction (review)

As far as introductions to neo-Calvinism go, this is the most lucid. Prof Mouw goes beyond the standard “take every square inch” models of Neo-Calvinism and asks us to reflect on what it means to be created for many-ness.

mouw

His chapter on “Filling the Earth” is standard Kuyperian treatment, so I won’t spend much time on it here. His chapter “Celebrating Many-ness” was pure gold. Contrary to state-church claims, the church of Christ doesn’t depend on only one form and that being manifested in a national church. Indeed, we should celebrate a “multiplicity of institutions” (16). Pluriformity means “created complexity” (17). We have to be careful, though. Affirming many-ness without insisting on an integrated whole leads only to the nihilistic void of postmodernism.

This reminds the reader of James KA Smith’s suggestion that in Genesis 1-2 God “creates in plurals.”  This contrasts very nicely with the Greek chain-of-being concept where any movement away from the one is always a diminution from goodness.

Sphere Sovereignty

So what counts as a “creational sphere”? Mouw notes Kuyper wasn’t always clear. In fact, what is a sphere? Let’s call them structures where “interactions take place” and “authority is exercised” (23). Each structure has a “point” and to that point corresponds an authority-pattern (24).

Per Kuyper, Christians must form collective entities within each “sphere.” The many-ness of mediating structures, per Peter Bellah, protects from both individualism and statism. It strengthens social bonds.

The part I particularly enjoyed was the section on neo-Kuyperianism and the Holy Spirit. As a continuationist and a Kuyperian, I’ve often sensed that the two streams could merge quite fruitfully, yet I haven’t really seen how it is to be done. Mouw’s (or Kuyper’s) suggestions were interesting. The Holy Spirit is to prepare creation for God’s glorious future (88-89).

Politics

Indeed, we need a crowded, public square. Not a naked one. A pluralism under secularization but not secularism (110, Mouw quoting James Bratt). Mouw correctly notes how the term “Constantinian” has been so over-used to be useless (113). Kuyper is not a Constantinian (whatever that word means).

Reflections

I am not sure how Kuyper’s correct insights on the antithesis give him any grounds on thinking a secular government will protect the “spheres.” I agree with Kuyper that we should have a “crowded public square,” and perhaps this “crowd” will make it difficult for the government to take away our liberties. Perhaps.

All in all, an outstanding work.