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Kuyper: Calvinism as the Worldview?

September 28, 2007

In Lectures on Calvinism Kupyer begins by introducing his Calvinistic Weltanschauung (world and life view) and then turns to apply it to several areas of life and thought: Religion, Politics, Science, Art, and the Future. In the seminal chapter on Calvinism, Kuyper briefly discusses various uses of the term from four acute angles: historical, confessional, scientific, and denominational. In short, he describes the comprehensive nature of Calvinism as follows:

“…[Calvinism] was developed first as a peculiar theology, then a special church-order, and then a given form for a political and social life, for the interpretation of the moral world-order, for the relation between nature and grace, between Christianity and the world, between church and state, and finally for art and science; and all these life-utterances it remained always the self-same Calvinism…Calvinism made its appearance, not merely to create a different Church-form, but an entirely different form for human life, to furnish human society with a different method of existence, and to populate the world of the human heart with different ideals and conceptions [italics added].”

Calvinism, he argues, is more than an ecclesiology or soteriology, but an entire way of thinking and processing the world around us. Although Kuyper is accurate to identify the necessity of a coherent Welantschauung, we must pose the question, “What makes Calvinism the best option?” Would it not be more effective to base a Christian Welantschauung on something broader like Protestantism? Kuyper responds to this query by pointing out the theologically fluid and intellectually weak nature of Protestantism, “Protestantism wanders about in the wilderness without aim or direction, moving hither and thither, without making any progress.” Tracing the Weltanschauung of Calvinism back to its roots, Kuyper states that in contrast to Luther, it was Calvin that extended the Reformation doctrines from justification to “a general cosmological principle of the sovereignty of God”. Kuyper proceeds to argue from history that it is Calvinism, not Protestantism or any other “ism” of Christianity that has developed the much needed Weltanschauung.

While Kuyper is correct to point out that Protestantism is incapable of the theological integration necessary to provide a unified “life system” or worldview, it may be that we need an approach that is more translatable than Calvinism. Although the theocentricity of Calvinism has enabled it to sustain the theological roots and intellectual vigor necessary to provide a coherent Weltschauung, its historical orientation, in some ways, may make it more limiting than liberating. Furthermore, by embracing Calvinism, as a worldview, we may zip ourselves into a culture-bound suit too occidental in orientation. In addition, the viability of Calvinism to address contemporary issues must also stand the test of time. Nevertheless, both Kuyper and Calvinism deserve thorough consideration before hasty dismissal.

Considering the contemporary value of Calvinism, it is interesting to note that when confronted with the claims of modernism (Scopes Trials etc.), Kuyper asserted that Christians failed to offer a substantial and coherent answer due to absence of a “unity of life system”. This unity of life system is indeed crucial if we are to thoughtfully and seriously engage the multifarious ideologies propagated by the thousands of cultures present in the global village. The phrase, unity of life system, expands our understanding of Weltschauung, encompassing its inherently integrative ability. Kuyper points out three main conditions necessary for a complete life-system: 1) our relation to God 2) our relation to man 3) our relation to the world. Beginning with our relation to God Kuyper reasons that we must start our thinking where the consciousness of all life has its unity- theologically in God and existentially in drawing near unto God. . The latter, he states, is ensured for the elect through the doctrine of Predestination.

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