You guys pay attention. My head is about to be served on a platter! haha. Actually, thanks for dropping in. I’m interested in learning a few things from an actual expert, because I have totally backed into Kuyper from an odd direction – the culture war and Schaeffer – and that only recently, so I have some large blind spots in relation to him, such as his views of common grace. Enlighten me!
I definitely see how there could be different takes on Kuyper, but this confuses me. The first of his lectures on Calvinism declared war on modernism, but he wanted to embrace it? I’m not sure how the two of those are compatible. I definitely understand his desire to contextualize Christianity for a new generation, but, again, wasn’t that just an aspect of his call for a “Christian system” of thought to do battle with the “modernist system” of thought?
I’m coming at Kuyper from a different angle, which is his influence on our current situation when he told his audience at Princeton: “Two life systems (ME: worldviews) are wrestling with one another, in mortal combat. Modernism is bound to build a world of its own from the data of the natural man, and to construct man himself from the data of nature; while, on the other hand, all those who reverently bend the knee to Christ and worship Him as the Son of the living God, and God himself, are bent upon saving the ‘Christian Heritage.’ This is the struggle in Europe, this is the struggle in America …”
As far as I can tell (correct me if I’m wrong!), Kuyper’s ideas instigated the first “culture war” of fundamentalism vs. modernism, which he identified as a struggle to save the “Christian heritage” of Europe and America. Kuyper took aim at the French Revolution, evolution, and German pantheism (i.e., liberal theology). But in America, according to George Marsden, this took the form of a two-pronged attack. First, the “fundamentals” of Christianity’s supernatural origins (Jesus’ virgin birth, miracles, resurrection) had to be defended, of course, but the battle primarily revolved around the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, especially in regard to natural history and science. Second, there was the battle against secularism, in which most Christians "instinctively looked back to the recent evangelical heyday and proclaimed that the best way to fight secularism was to bring back the Bible-based civilization that they pictured in their grandparent’s time,” as Marsden put it. W.J. Bryan’s campaigns against evolution and strong drink are conspicuous examples, as well as super-patriotism, anti-communism, and anti-Catholicism, which actually was anti-immigrant sentiment, since the major immigrant groups of 1900s-20s were Irish, Italian, and Central European Catholics. (Of course, these were U.S. reactions, not really Kuyper’s fault.) What were the results of this first culture war? It was a disaster. Within one generation (1890-1930), the “extraordinary influence of evangelicalism in the public sphere of American culture collapsed,” as Marsden characterized it.
Now, we are in another culture war. What are the battlegrounds? The same as before – inerrancy of the Bible, evolution, and liberal theology on the religious side, and on the nationalistic front, super-patriotism, anti-foreigner, and anti-immigrant sentiments. And what are the results of Culture War II? Church attendance has been sliding since the ’70s, and the Millennial generation is abandoning the faith twice as fast as their parents, the Baby-boomers. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
To make matters worse, both Kuyper and Schaeffer sought to save our “Christian heritage” through political power, which is not the way of Jesus, and through demonstrating that Christianity, as a philosophy, was superior in every way to its mortal enemy – modernism. Yet, modernism was already in eclipse in the 1960s when Schaeffer published his own critiques. He just failed to notice it. Let’s be honest. Modernism did not fall before the blows of Kuyper or Schaeffer or their followers; modernism succumbed to subsequent developments in philosophy, which had nothing to do with the “Christian worldview.” On every level, the strategy of culture war has failed.
To paraphrase Schaeffer, What should we then think? Is Christianity now in a life-and-death struggle with Postmodernism? Some seem to think so. And after that? Will it be ultra-postmodernism we must fear, or will it be a resurgent neo-modernism that proves itself the final, true enemy? The goalpost will never stop moving, and culture war is never-ending, in that case.