5 Models For Christians In The World

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 7.08.44 PMIn his exceptional book Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition, Craig Bartholomew lays out five models of how Christians relate to the world, or how they perceive what they do in terms of the mission of God in the world. Or, to use terms philosophers like, five models of the relationship of nature and grace. Here they are:

1. Grace against nature (gratia contra naturam) (Anabaptism)
2. Grace over nature (gratia supra naturam) (Roman Catholicism)
3. Grace alongside nature (gratia iuxta naturam) (Lutheranism)
4. Grace within nature (gratia intra naturam) (Calvinism)
5. Grace equals nature (gratia instar naturae) (liberalism)

For Bartholomew, who has written the best explanation and exposition of Kuyperianism I have read, and I consider both Kuyper’s own work as well as Rich Mouw’s to be very good, the Calvinist view/Kuyperian view wins. Which means, #4 wins.

Here are some of the big ideas of this most important chapter two: (1) it’s about grace restoring nature, which means grace restoring all of nature and not just the spiritual life. Thus,

Kuyper points out that in the Reformed confessions it is clear that everything in this world has Christ as its aim and that the body of Christ is at the center of God s work in history so that we can and must say that “the church of Christ constitutes the center of world history.” [SMcK: I’ll get to a particular criticism I have of what’s being said here, but I want to keep to Bartholomew’s description of Kuyper and Bavinck first.]

Kuyper makes clear through this chain of questions that the work of Christ extends beyond the salvation of individuals to include the renewal of the entire creation. God s grace in Christ thus certainly saves individuals but is also aimed at restoring the creation and leading history toward that destination for which it was always intended.

The danger for Kuyper is dualism, a spiritual life and a secular life. It creates, he contends, a vocational pyramid in which pastors and missionaries do what’s most important while everyone else gets by with their lesser callings.

(2) Behind the grace of redemption is common grace, or God’s restoring graces to all humans and creation this side of the Fall.

(3) Redemptive grace, thus, penetrates into every facet of life. Here Kuyper expresses himself in ways that everyone Kuyperian likes but I sense some inadequacies.

… that he will one day triumph over all enemies in that world; and that the culmination will be not that Christ will gather around himself some individual souls, as is presently the case, but that he will reign as King upon a new earth under a new heaven—then of course all this becomes entirely different and it becomes immediately apparent that grace is inseparably linked to nature, that grace and nature belong together.

The question becomes for Whom and Over what does he reign?

(4) Kuyper thinks “re-creation” is better than creating anew. Bartholomew steps in to clarify that the famous lines of 2 Peter 3:10 are not about destruction so much as purgation.

(5) Bavinck raises Kuyper’s thought to a higher level. “The natural,” he says, “is just as divine as the church” (46). This one beggars definitions but Bartholomew doesn’t provide them. Grace for Bavinck affirms and restores nature. Resurrection and incarnation are important, and thus so too is culture making.

(6) In this chp, then, Bartholomew turns to the five models above as they were developed by Al Wolter, and then he turns into evaluation of each, reserving special evaluation of both the Anabaptist view and the Lutheran view.  He admits contemporary Anabaptists — Thomas Finger, Yoder, Hauerwas — are more nuanced than the “grace against nature” or what Niebuhr called Christ against culture.

A few observations:

First, Bartholomew’s sketch of the Kuyperian-Bavinckian tradition does not have an adequate theory of World, the Powers or systemic evil at work. It’s all about restoring grace penetrating culture and society. More needs to be said here. When powers and world emerge in this chp it is because of the anabaptists, and rather than grabbing them for Kuyper he assigns them to the anabaptists.

Second, there is insufficient attention to the redemptive threshold that alone marks the Christian from the world that then marks the threshold into the church vis a vis the world, which then creates the anabaptist theory of the church as politics, the church as restored grace.

Third, in spite of his attention to eschatology it is left anemic and general. What will happen in that Eschaton determines what is done here and now. That is a theme he presses for Kuyper but once one admits that systemic structures will be destroyed and the Powers rule we need to have on the table the War with the World in a nature-grace conversation and not just an influentialism and transformationalism.

He admits this:

Where the Kuyperian tradition needs to listen carefully to the Anabaptist tradition is in its stress on the extent to which the fall penetrates public life. Especially in separatist groups such as the Amish, we often witness a radical alternative to the global consumer culture of which most Christians in the West form a relatively uncritical part. The Anabaptist tradition prophetically provides a conscience for Kuyperians in terms of the extent to which we have uncritically become complicit in the misdirected structures of creation. Kuyperians readily affirm cultural development, but amid global consumerism and the industrial military complex, groups such as the Amish and the Anabaptists in general raise in an acute fashion the question of the creational norms for development.

I really like this admission. It’s right. Now I want to see it played out in his nature-grace discussion.

This is what he says on Bonhoeffer:

For Bonhoeffer the world is the place of concrete responsibility, which is given to us in Christ. He articulates a keen sense of the particularity of implacement: our task is not to transform the world but “to do what is necessary K at the given place and with a due consideration of reality.” Grace comes to the human in his or her place, and it is in this place that we are called to hear and respond to Christ’s call. “The calling is the call of Jesus Christ to belong wholly to Him; it is the laying claim to me by Christ at the place at which this call has found me; it embraces work with things and relations with persons; it demands a ‘limited field of accomplishments,’ yet never as a value in itself, but in responsibility towards Jesus Christ.’
’

[I don’t know how he can then say this:] Bonhoeffer s theology seems to me far closer to a transformational worldview than to the paradoxical vision. [DB says “our task is not to transform the world” but he wants him to be more Kuyperian than he was/is.]

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