Christ and Culture
What follows are some thoughts on Klaas Schilder’s Christ and Culture (PDF).
I had been aware that there was some falling out between Schilder and followers of Kuyper, but wasn’t sure what the nature of the disagreements were. From this book, it seems at a minimum that there was disagreement over the possibility of common grace, and over the notion of presumptive regeneration of covenant children. Steven Wedgewords provides some additional background information.
I appreciate many of the points that Schilder stresses in this book. He reminds us that the work of individuals must be evaluated with respect to Jesus — our work is pleasing to God only to the degree that we receive things with thanksgiving and offer our work to him in faith and worship. There is a distinctively Christian way to eat a bowl of ice cream, paint a painting or mow the lawn. Or, to put it in other terms, even our working must undergo a sort of death and resurrection if it is to be pleasing to God. And by extension, if we are to speak with Kuyper of “spheres” of life, the church as the center of worship and the center of the Spirit’s out-breaking into the world, holds a central and formative position relative to all other spheres. Schilder offers all this as a criticism of Kuyper; I’m not familiar enough with Kuyper to know how well it sticks, but it is something with which I agree.
There are some areas where I disagree with Schilder. On the petty side, I disagree with some of his application of imagery from Revelation. More significantly, I question his suggestion that Christianity or that Calvinism should be expected to beget a single peculiar style. I don’t think this is a necessary consequence of his principles, although I do think that as Christianity develops in a nation one would expect to see the church and her worship fostering a more mature or “high” style throughout the culture. The kings who bring gifts to Jesus in Psalm 68, Revelation 21, etc. may be attired differently, but they will all be invested with glory of one sort or another.
My most significant area of disagreement is with Schilder’s deduction (primarily in chapter 18, but appearing throughout) that we cannot speak of a “common grace” in the sense that Kuyper and others would have. He deduces this in a very hyper-Calvinistic manner from God’s eternal decrees: since God intends to condemn the reprobate, everything that they enjoy and do, and even the very lengthening of their life, is fitted for the purpose of their destruction and is not fit to be called grace. But Scripture reveals that God is always doing more than one thing at once; it is false to say that, because God intends to condemn someone, that what he is giving them now is not a genuine gift or an expression of of genuine love. As Mark Horne chides:
So the question arises: Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them? The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.
We know from passages like Romans 1:21 that unbelievers no less than believers have an obligation to give thanks to God for all they have. More than that, there is a history in the reformed tradition of recognizing that these gifts from God are in fact a spillover from the cross. While this is not saving grace, it is a gift none the less. This explains passages such as 1 Tim. 4:10. Consider Charles Hodge:
Augustinians do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that he died equally, and with the same design, for all men. He died for all, that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumnerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God, on condition of faith and repentance.
These are the universally admitted consequences of his satisfaction, and therefore they all come within its design. By this dispensation it is rendered manifest to every intelligent mind in heaven and upon earth, and to the finally impenitent themselves, that the perdition of those that perish is their own fault. They will not come to Christ that they may have life. They refuse to have Him to reign over them. He calls but they will not answer. He says, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Every human being who does come is saved.
This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. . . .
While I believe Schilder is wrong in saying that we cannot regard the abilities and work of unbelievers as a genuine gift from God, he is right to remind us that no working is neutral with respect to God. So there are multiple layers we must wrestle with — not only the permissibility of our enjoying the work, but also how we are to regard the worker. And yet there are a great many works of unbelievers that we can receive and enjoy with thanksgiving, and even offer to God in worship.
See also: Common grace.