The WCF and "neo-Calvinism"

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Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
A friend sent me this review of Tim Keller's The Reason for God this morning. Of course, the article mentions Keller's abandonment of a van Tillian apologetic in the book. But I was interested in the following paragraph in the article and its implications in understanding the WCF and modern takes on it:

Since a biblical and confessional view of the atonement is in question in Keller's presentation, what can be said about the grand narrative of the biblical story? Herein, Keller adopts the popular neo-Calvinist scheme: 'creation, fall, redemption, and consummation' (214). This 'story line' has its roots in nineteenth century Dutch neo-Calvinism, which eventually evolved into a paradigm that teaches the 'absolute harmony of humanity with nature' (222). Moreover, Keller endorses the neo-Calvinist's canon when he writes: 'The purpose of Jesus' coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it' (223). Herein, justice and shalom finally embrace. Keller continues: 'The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care for and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world' (223). Keller's approval of the neo-Calvinist horizontal scheme of the biblical story is quite distant from Calvin's pastoral gem regarding the believer's pilgrimage in this creation: 'If heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but a place of exile?'[9] Furthermore, with respect to the WCF, a serious revisionist view of the biblical narrative is put in place by the scheme and content of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Although one can infer this pattern as a subordinate scheme in the WCF, that blueprint is not the self-conscious model of the authors of the Confession. Rather, the paradigm of the WCF is the 'fourfold state of man.' The ninth chapter reveals the broad outline of the Confession: state of innocency (9.2), state of sin (9.3), state of grace (9.4), and state of glory (9.5). For the authors of the WCF, the focus of God's activity in the creation is anthropology (God in covenant with man, i.e., from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace in Christ). But during the nineteenth century a paradigm shift occurred, mainly in continental Reformed thought. This shift emphasized God's activity in the creation. Herein, man is called as a servant and instrument in God's teleological plan to restore and secure the creation. This post-Enlightenment paradigm shift from anthropology to creation reached its high point in the famous quip by Herman Bavinck, 'grace restores nature.' For many, Bavinck's phrase has come to define the canon of neo-Calvinist dogma for the twentieth century and beyond as the content of that quip has evolved.[10] Perhaps a simple way to state the difference between the two paradigms is this: the WCF understands that the believer's end (Christ's bride) is the inheritance of God himself, through Christ, in the glorious transcendence of heaven (WSC Q#1), whereas neo-Calvinism understands the end as a restored creation in which believers 'labor' in 'deeds of justice and service' with the 'expectation of a perfect world' (225). I would suggest that the neo-Calvinist needs to reread Romans 8:18-25. Paul teaches in Romans 8:18-25 that creation serves redemption, nature serves glory, the universe serves eschatology — specifically, creation serves the 'sons of God' (the church: see also Matt. 6:24-34, Eph. 1:15-23, Phil. 3:20-2, 2 Cor. 4:16-5:8, Heb. 3:14, Rev. 21:22-22:5). In my judgment, the neo-Calvinist's scheme is guilty of deconstructing the vertical realm of eschatology taught clearly in Holy Scripture and our Reformed standards. More importantly, however, it is deconstructing the entire biblical narrative and replacing it with a post-Enlightenment gospel of cultural and social relevance.

Although I have read some Bavinck, I must confess I am completely ignorant of Dutch "neo-Calvinism." Are these critiques warranted? And any further thoughts on this?
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
I read this review a while back. Though I don't think he abandons Van Til wholesale, he certainly prefers Lewis to Van Til. The structure of the book is similar to Van Til's approach, pointing out the inconsistencies of unbelief, then setting forth the positive case for Christianity. But he does tend to conclude the arguments with a case for probability rather than absolute certainty (which Van Til would definitely oppose).

Regarding the 4-fold scheme, I honestly don't think there is a difference between the historic Creation/Fall/Redemption/Consumation scheme and the 4-fold state of man scheme. I'm certainly open to be educated on that difference if there is one. This review was the first criticism I had heard of in this regard. I suppose Bavinck's scheme could be more open to post-millenial and/or social gospel ideas. But I'm not sure he went that direction. Even if you are rigid on the 4-fold state paradigm, it's still undeniable that the gospel does impact society for good, at least while the witness is present and strong. It may not be permanent, but it's there, as we are lights in the world.

And grace does restore nature. It's grace that transforms our nature from sinful to holy through regeneration and sanctification. I don't believe that effect produces permanent impact in the rest of creation until the resurrection occurs but it's still true. Even though outwardly our bodies waste away, inwardly our nature is renewed. The creation will be liberated from corruption at the resurrection. And it's God's grace that will turn our natural bodies into glorious bodies. As always, we just need to be careful about defining what we mean by these slogans... :2cents:
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
Good point out Keller preferring Lewis to van Til (though I thought I heard him once "brag" about being VanTillian in his apologetics; this was long before I read the book, though). However, when I was reading the repeated references to Lewis in the book, I wanted to extend to Keller a great deal of grace. Ministering in his particular setting (Manhattan), C.S. Lewis is going to be a whole lot more appealing to skeptics than van Til. I figured that was a major reason he kept going to that well, but I also see how he might also fancy himself a Lewisian (is that a proper term?).
 

lynnie

Puritan Board Graduate
On one CD I listened to he says Lewis is his favorite author. His other three top mentors (I was told by someone highly credible) are Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd Jones, and Jack Miller.

I thank God for Tim Keller. I may not agree with every single thing he thinks but I am so grateful for how God has used him. Sometimes I wonder how much of the negative all over the internet is just jealousy cloaked in a garb of seemingly defending orthodoxy.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Good point out Keller preferring Lewis to van Til (though I thought I heard him once "brag" about being VanTillian in his apologetics; this was long before I read the book, though). However, when I was reading the repeated references to Lewis in the book, I wanted to extend to Keller a great deal of grace. Ministering in his particular setting (Manhattan), C.S. Lewis is going to be a whole lot more appealing to skeptics than van Til. I figured that was a major reason he kept going to that well, but I also see how he might also fancy himself a Lewisian (is that a proper term?).

He does claim to be presuppositional is his approach. And certianly presuppositionalism has a great influence. But other presuppositionalists seem to disagree. I'm not exactly sure why yet. But I do think that he appeals to Lewis not just out of personal preference, but because Lewis is much more accessible and well-known to common people than Van Til or any other Presuppositionalists.

:2cents:
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Is the writer implying that the neo-Calvinist Gospel is more "worldly" than the Calvinist?

There are more paradigms for the Christian life in the Bible than the wilderness journey one, which is also at the same time very true. Ultimately we are passing through. We should not get entangled in the world that lies in the Wicked One or worship the Creation, while yet being involved in the Great Commission and Creation Mandate.

There is also e.g. the paradigm of possessing the Land (or inheriting the Earth). For this to take place there must also be a strong emphasis on evangelism, apologetics, preaching, and being salt and light, as well as the Creation Mandate.

None of these things when emphasised properly, is contrary to true Christianity i.e. Calvinism, nor should lead to an imbalanced or "worldly" - in a bad sense - Christianity. :2cents:
 

Christusregnat

Puritan Board Professor
There are more paradigms for the Christian life in the Bible than the wilderness journey one, which is also at the same time very true.

Richard,

This is an excellent point! When the Scriptures speak of strangers and pilgrims, it refers to them being such in a land which they were destined to inherit. The patriarchs were "strangers and pilgrims" in the very land that God had promised that they would inherit. We are in the same position; we will inherit the earth, and the whole earth will be full of the glory of the Lord. BUT, we are strangers and pilgrims in it.

Cheers,
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Dutch neo-Calvinism is a distinct school with different emphases to historic Calvinism. I can't dig up bibliographic references at the moment, but search for articles by William Young in WTJ and Cornelis Pronk in the Banner of Truth magazine.

The creation, fall, redemption, consummation scheme is not the same as the traditional fourfold state of man. The traditional scheme acknowledges a nature-grace distinction, whereas neo-Calvinism denies it. As shown by William Young, neo-Calvinism makes covenant a metaphysical concept. The creation covenant transcends all reality. OTOH, traditional Calvinism teaches a post-creation covenant of works with Adam and a post-fall covenant of grace. Further, neo-Calvinism is necessarily strong on presumptive regeneration whereas historic Calvinism is distinctively experiential. Young brings out many other points of contrast which need to be considered when evaluating the "reformed" world today.
 
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