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It Takes More than a Theory: Part 2

19 Nov

By Gary DeMar—11/18/2008

Calvinism was set off from Christianity in gen­eral precisely be­cause it has always advocated a comprehensive bib­lical worldview. Quot­ing Francis R. Beattie, Calvinism was de­scribed as “the richest systematic expression of revealed truth yet made, . . . the richest product of Protestant­ism.”[1] What does this greater con­sistency im­ply? “It means gre­at­er Biblical consistency, being more genuinely and more deeply and more richly true to the teaching of the Word of God.”[2] Quot­ing Benjamin B. Warfield:

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He who believes in God without reserve, and is deter­mined that God shall be God to him in all intellectual, moral, spiritual, through­out all his individual, so­cial, religious relations-is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which pre­sides over the outworking of prin­ciples into thought and life, by the very neces­sity of the case, a Calvinist.[3]

Similar to the appeals by Kuyper, Henry R. Van Til, and Meeter, the au­thors of the symposium believed that the comprehensive nature of the applica­bility of the Bible was unique to Cal­vinism. This includ­ed the applicability of God’s law. “In Re­for­med church worship the law is an integral part of the sacred pro­gram. Many Fundamentalist fellow-Christians seem to know the law in only one relation, viz., that of sin and re­demption. . . . The Heidelberg Cat­echism recog­nizes the significance of the law both as a tea­ch­er of sin and as a norm for the Christ­ian’s life of gratitude, and it gives an exposition of that law precisely in the latter context.”[4]The Presbyterian dispensationalist, Donald Grey Barnhouse, had no such high view of the law. He considered it to be a “tragic hour when the Reforma­tion churches wrote the Ten Commandments into their creeds and catechisms and sought to bring Gentile believers into bondage to Jewish law, which was never intended either for the Gentile nations or for the church.”[5] A number of Reformed theologians seem to be more com­fortable with the dispensationalism of Barn­house than the high view of the law of the Reformed confes­sions and cate­chisms. It is time for Calvinists to abandon dispensationalism.There was no such depreciation in the writings of the Calvinis­tic Action Committee. The comprehensive biblical worldview of Calvin­ism includes an “ethical task.” Bouma wrote:

This calls for a Christian witness in every realm of life. A wit­ness in the home, in the church, in the school, in the state, and in every other social sphere. Calvin­ists have always been deeply aware of an ethical task. To them gospel prea­ching and social reform are not mutually exclusive, whatever Fundamental­ists on the one hand and Modernists on the other, may have made of them. To live for the glory of God in every relationship of life, to be a soldier for the King, to battle for the Lord, to crown Christ King in every legiti­mate realm of human endeavor -this belongs to the very essence of being a true, full-orbed Christian, and it is the Calvinist—the true Calvinist, not his caricature—who stands committed to this task. It is to the expo­sition of this ethical task for our day that this book would strive to make a contribution.[6]

With the devaluing of God’s law among fundamental­ists, evan­geli­cals, and some in the Reformed camp we can ex­pect a reevaluation of a supposed worthy substitute. “There has been a tendency among evangeli­cals to give too much credit to the redeemed conscience, as though the con­science itself con­tained the standard of righ­teousness. It has been forgotten that the conscience needs to be guided by the inflexible standard of God’s law. . . . Failure to preach the law of God has left the Christian without a clear sense of direction in his Christian life. For many this has per­mitted a too easy con­science with respect to the need of Chris­tianizing his life and influence.”[7]Notice the indictment on those who “give too much credit to the redeemed conscience.” Some “inflexible standard” is neces­sary to keep even the redeemed conscience in check. This would also include the redeemed conscience’s ability to discern ethical requirements in general revelation. And what about those who give too much credit to the unredeemed conscience? This is the latest trend in ethical pluralism. Supposedly “‘the law written on our hearts’ (Romans 2:15)[8]. . . is the law by which all can­did people know that murder is wrong, for example. It is the law by which our consciences, if they are not too cauterized by sin, judge us.”[9] There are “candid” abor­tionists who daily support the murder of innocent preborn babies. There are “candid” homosexuals who practice “degrading passions, . . . men with men commit­ting indecent acts. . .” (Rom. 1:27).Does the Bible have a clear standard of ethical behavior that should be followed by sinners every­where? Why the need to go to general revelation if the Bible already gives an answer? When you lead someone to Christ, do you point him to general revelation or special revelation? What book did you use for daily devotions this morning? What law have you adopted for the governance of your family? What principles should govern your mind as you enter the voting booth?Kenneth A. Myers has gone so far as to argue that “there is a biblical mandate for not at­tempting to solve all cultural prob­lems with deductions from Scripture.”[10] What about some cultur­al problems? How about the debt crisis and the inflation “cure” (Isa. 1:22)? Abortion? Homosexuality? Foreign policy? Education? Would­n’t it be legitimate to exhaust the Bible for all that it says about answers to “cultural problems” before we lay aside Scripture for the less clear state­ments of general revela­tion?My guess is that advocates of a general revelation ethic are view­ing general revelation through the corrective lens of special revela­tion. For them general revelation is clear only because special revela­tion is clear. This was the point of God-Centered Living.

For the Calvinist law is not a matter of conve­nience, or of protec­tion primari­ly. It is the expression of the will of God; it is based upon eternal principles of right and justice as re­vealed in the Scriptures, for example, in the Ten Command­ments. From them man learns that theft, murder, and immorality are sins. To be sure, not all points of law and justice are directly covered in the Bible. However, the principles which govern them can readi­ly be distilled from these eternal princi­ples of right and justice which are expressed there. Again, government is divinely insti­tuted, and obedience to its ordinances, if they be in accord with these eternal principles, is the duty of the Christian.[11]

It is one thing to talk about the ethical requirements easi­ly dis­tilled from general revelation, but we are still wait­ing for someone to demonstrate that this can actually be done without any regard to the Bible. As our nation moves stea­dily from an ethic that most Americans recognize as being Bible-based, any ethic based on general revelation will dissipate as quickly as a morning fog vanishes at the appearing of a blazing sun. Robert Bork, in the Preface to Herbert Schlossberg’s Idols for Destruction, recognizes the “borrowed capital” principle.

Some few years ago friends whose judgment I greatly respect argued that reli­gion constitutes the only reliable basis for morali­ty and that when religion loses its hold on a society, standards of mo­rality will gradually crumble. I objected that there were many moral people who are not at all religious; my friends replied that such people are living on the moral capital left by generations that believed there is a God and that He makes demands on us. The pros­pect, they said, was that the remaining moral capital would dwindle and our society become less moral. The course of society and culture has been as they predict­ed, which cer­tainly does not prove their point but does provide evidence for it.[12]

G­eneral revelation operates only when it is constantly checked and balanced by special revelation. Even the “Golden Rule” must function within the parameters of a biblical worldview, contrary to what New-Age religionists claim. C. S. Lewis recognized in his book The Abolition of Man that the “Golden Rule,” what he unfortunately called the “Tao,” was universal among all cultures. But this is only true as men and women acknowledge a transcendental law giver. There can be no “Golden Rule” given a materialistic foundation for reality. If there is no God, as the atheist bus campaign declares, then what are the restrictions on a person enjoying his life to the fullest in every way imaginable? Does this apply to someone like Hannibal Lector or Armin Meiwes, known as the “Rotenburg Cannibal”?God-Centered Living almost produced a plane with wings, but like Kuyper, Henry Van Til, and Meeter, the symposium was little more than a version of Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose“: a few seconds of flight and then back to the hangar. There was a great deal of discus­sion about applying the Bible to every area of life, but only a few glimpses as to how this might be done.The Chris­tian com­munity would soon put its faith in a pilot named Francis A. Schae­ffer to fly the promised plane. There is no doubt that Schaeffer broadened the appeal for biblical worldview Christianity with his popular writing style and activist philosophy. Schaeffer’s popularity was extensive enough that he was recognized by the secular media as the “Guru of Fundamentalism.”[13]Schaeffer filled the intellectual gap that resided in much of fundamentalism. In a sense, he carried on the tradition of his early mentor, J. Gresham Machen. Prior to 1968, little was known of Schaeffer. He had isolated himself from American evangelicalism by ministering to the roaming discards of society who were trekking through Europe hoping to find answers to life’s most perplexing problems.The publication of The God Who Is There and Escape from Reason introduced him to an American evangelicalism in crisis. Schaeffer had an impact where many Christian scholars had made only a few inroads into the hearts and minds of a disenchanted and impotent Christendom. What did Schaeffer do that was different? Certainly Carl F.H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism[14] made an impact. Henry’s work was more of a statement than a system of cultural solutions. Schaeffer worked at integrating theory with practice. His desire was to be more than just a critic of culture. This is why he asked the question, How should we then live?First, Schaeffer began at the presuppositional level. Although no credit is given to Cornelius Van Til, the Van Tillian method is evident in the first chapter of Schaeffer’s first published book. In The God Who Is There, Schaeffer introduces his readers to the importance of presuppositions in rectifying the shift from antithesis to relativism in modern thought.

It was indeed unfortunate that our Christian “thinkers,” in the time before the shift took place and the chasm was fixed, did not teach and preach a clear grasp of presuppositions. Had they done this, they would not have been taken by surprise, and they could have helped young people to face their difficulties. The really foolish thing is that even now, years after the shift is complete, many Christians still do not know what is happening. And this is because they are still not being taught the importance of thinking in terms of presuppositions, especially concerning the truth.[15]

Second, with the fuselage of a worldview Calvinism on the runway, Schaeffer began to design wings to get the long overdue plane off the ground to its culture-changing destination: Comprehensive lordship over all of life.In the 1981 Preface to A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer explains his methodology. He began with “the Lordship of Christ over all of life—philosophy, theology and church, art, music, literature, films, and culture in general. The books that followed dealt with and extended areas of Christ’s total Lordship in all of life.”[16] In this, Schaeffer worked in the shadow of Abraham Kuyper.Third, late in his career, Schaeffer saw extended implications to the worldview he put in motion in his earlier works. “That led to the demand of the next logical step: What is the Christian’s relationship to government, law, and civil disobedience.”[17] It was here that Schaeffer saw where his initial flight plan was about to take him-constructive cultural transformation-and he didn’t like it. A reading of A Christian Manifesto will alert the reader that Schaeffer moves from being a critic of culture—his main contribution to worldview Calvinism—to an advocate of civil disobedience. The missing step was the particulars necessary to bring about cultural transformation. To advocate civil disobedience was an admission that no constructive alternative to the humanistic system existed. While he refused to discuss the particulars of the law of God as the “base” for authority, he knew something had to be done to confront a bold humanistic law system. Schaeffer turned to Samuel Rutherford’s doctrine of Christian resistance while ignoring Rutherford’s biblical approach to the application of the whole law to contemporary society, including, but not limited to, the civil magistrate. The appeal to Rutherford came early in Schaeffer’s writing. Schaeffer rightly decried a de facto sociological law—”law based only on what the majority of society thinks is in its best interests at a given moment”—but offered no worked‑out worldview to counter and replace it. He writes about a “Christian consensus” and how that consensus is found in the Bible, but he does not inform us of its biblical content as it relates to a comprehensive biblical worldview in the particulars. He even makes repeated references to Paul Robert’s painting Justice Instructing the Judges.

Down in the foreground of the large mural the artist depicts many sorts of litigation-the wife against the husband, the architect against the builder, and so on. How are the judges going to judge between them? This is the way we judge in a Reformation country, says Paul Robert. He has portrayed Justice pointing with her sword to a book upon which are the words, “The Law of God.” For Reformation man there was a basis for law. Modern man has not only thrown away Christian theology; he has thrown away the possibility of what our forefathers had as a basis for morality and law.[18]

The emphasis on the law continued to play a part in Schaeffer’s worldview theology. “In Reformation countries,” Schaeffer wrote, “the Old Testament civil law has been the basis of our civil law.” Of course, he wanted to add the obligatory aside that “we are not a theocracy.” Even so, Schaeffer went to argue, “nevertheless, when Reformation Christianity provided the consensus, men naturally looked back to the civil law that God gave Israel, not to carry it out in every detail, but to see it as a pattern and a base.”[19] Schaeffer saw the book of Joshua as “a link between the Pentateuch (the writings of Moses) and the rest of Scripture. It is crucial for understanding the unity the Pentateuch has with all that follows it, including the New Testament.”[20] It was the law of the Pentateuch that was linked by Joshua with the New Testament.Unfortunately, Schaeffer left behind an unfinished legacy. He knew where the answer was, but he was unable, within the confines of his own methodology and his premillennial eschatology, to see it through. How influential have the Schaeffer disciples been? Not very. They continue to offer incomplete critiques of culture, but as of yet, except for musings about how pluralism is the answer, little that is constructive and specific has come from them. Even Schaeffer’s son, Frank, has abandoned much of his father’s work. The Schaeffer crowd has talked a lot about social involvement but little is said about the details. Of course, they are not alone in their ambiguity. Few Christian leaders want to get down to the nitty-gritty of really applying the Bible they say they believe in.


[1]Francis R. Beattie, Calvinism and Modern Thought (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: West­min­ster Press, 1901), 13, 14. Quoted by Clarence Bouma, “The Relevance of Calvin­ism for Today,” God-Centered Living or Calvinism in Action (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1951), 14.

[2]Bouma, “The Relevance of Calvinism for Today,” 14.

[3]Benjamin B. WarWeld, Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 354-355.

[4]Bouma, “The Relevance of Calvinism for Today,” God-Centered Living, 20.

[5]Quoted in S. Lewis Johnson, “The Paralysis of Legalism,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 120 (April/June 1963), 109.

[6]Bouma, “The Relevance of Calvinism for Today,” 20.

[7]Peter Van Tuinen, “The Task of the Church for the Solution of Modern Problems,” God-Centered Living, 43-44.

[8]While it might not seem to make that much difference to some, Romans 2:15 actually says, “in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts.”

[9]Thomas C. Atwood, “Through a Glass Darkly: Is the Christian Right Over­confident It Knows God’s Will?,” Policy Review (Fall 1990), 49.

[10]Atwood, “Through a Glass Darkly,” 49.

[11]Garret Heyns, “Calvinism and Social Problems,” God-Centered Living, 236.

[12]Robert H. Bork, “Preface” in Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: Christian Faith and Its Confrontation with American Society (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, [1983] 1990), xvi.

[13]Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Guru of Fundamentalism,” Newsweek (November 1, 1982), 88.

[14]Carl F.H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1947).

[15]Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who is There (1968) in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 5 vols. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 1:7.

[16]Schaeffer, “Preface,” A Christian Manifesto (1981) in Complete Works, 5:417

[17]Schaeffer, “Preface,” A Christian Manifesto, 5:417.

[18]Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (1968) in Complete Works, 1:261-262.

[19]Schaeffer, Joshua in the Flow of Biblical History (1975) in Complete Works, 2:298.

[20]Schaeffer, Joshua in the Flow of Biblical History, 2:153.

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