Neo-Calvinism and American Decline

Evangelicals Finally Waking Up Should Beware

Close to sixty of us Evangelicals packed into our premium quality folding chairs, row-by-row, on the third floor of a nondescript office building. The fluorescent light (never flattering its subject) felt slightly more exotic as it landed on a white-haired, professorial man striding up to the podium in front of the white backdrop with “Reformed Theological Seminary” recurring some dozen times upon it. The man was George Harinck, a Dutchman and leading neo-Calvinist historian, who was introduced with his notable accomplishment of writing well over 100 academic articles and books on Abraham “one square inch” Kuyper and his Philip Melanchthon, Herman Bavinck, who has experienced a small centenary renaissance within Christian academia. 

My limited experience has confirmed that the Dutch Calvinists are a very warm—almost American—bunch, and Dr. Harinck was no exception. And as that warm and brilliant scholar concluded his lecture on the history of Herman Bavinck, he closed with a most peculiar reflection on why neo-Calvinism was experiencing this revival now, more than a century after America first became acquainted with the Dutch duo. Pondering the final victory of the neo-Calvinists over their Barthian rivals, he remarked, “neo-Calvinism became relevant to [evangelical] Americans when they began secularizing.” In other words, neo-Calvinism is the typhoid Mary of Protestant political consciousness.

Neo-Calvinism was the unique blend of the populist Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, and his elitist theologian, Herman Bavinck, both of whom adhered to historic Reformed soteriology while renegotiating Calvinism’s relationship to pluralism, apologetics, and the conscience. Serving in the Dutch Anti-Revolution party, they argued the telos of Calvinism was always to progress beyond its scholastic theological shell (especially regarding political theory), providing instead the only consistent foundation for individual rights, freedom of conscience, and a pluralistic society.  

The Dutch neo-Calvinists traveled to the United States, spoke frequently at Princeton Theological Seminary, and their work was sustained for generations at Calvin College and Seminary, reemerging in popular American evangelicalism first in the work of Carl F.H. Henry and Francis Schaeffer, and then more recently through a resurgence in Protestant seminaries and universities. 

While this second resourcement can and certainly will bring many valued aspects of Kuyper and Bavinck to Evangelicalism, to the extent neo-Calvinism is adopted as a cohesive worldview from the Netherlands, its adoption by American evangelicals is a grave mistake. 

Bavinck is an erudite scholar, and his work can and should be critically mined for its apologetic wisdom and clarity. But the recent reception of Bavinck (and continued interest in Kuyper) has conspicuously blossomed at the very moment when American Evangelicalism has clearly emerged as the “lone bulwark” against a radical political agenda seeking to undermine our nation. Witnessing a rare moment of political consciousness, Evangelical leaders seem to be pumping as much neo-Calvinism into the bloodstream for the expressed purpose of slipping American evangelicalism back under. This is surely not entirely intentional. I believe men like Dr. Gray Sutanto, one of the foremost advocates of Bavinck today, has the best of intentions in his translating and popularizing of Bavinck, but his (and other neo-Calvinist scholars’) project will be a kiss of death to evangelical institutions. The George Custer of Reformed thought. The Tony Romo (Mark Sanchez?) of the culture war. 

After Rod Dreher published The Benedict Option, he remarked that many evangelicals would not heed its message because of Donald Trump’s electoral upset. This certainly proved true, with its message of building anti-fragile communities, restricting internet access to youth, and recovering church history going largely (but not entirely) unheeded until at least late 2020 after a summer of riotous chaos. What few Christians realized back in 2017 was that leading Evangelicals were already working for the other side, and beginning to develop a theological framework to combat any sort of drastic action that would awaken evangelical political consciousness, construct alternative economic systems to avoid participating in an activist economy, or lead evangelicals to recognize the direness of the American political system until after they had been stripped of all political autonomy. As long as evangelical Christians could remain sedated until after their numbers were too small to affect elections or seriously impact political decisions, America would be safe for a more tolerant and ethically Christian nation, even if that meant far fewer Christians represented. 

A number of religious traditions have combined to marginalize the Evangelical will. Stanley Hauerwas mainstreamed the Anabaptist (anti)political tradition which has been adopted by several evangelical seminaries and influencers. David VanDrunnen and Meredith Kline’s Kantianism-by-any-other-name spiritualized Old Testament covenants such that God’s promises carried no political significance whatsoever. Mark Noll sided with the modernists against Old Princeton and ridiculed the Presbyterian Thomas Reid’s Common Sense philosophy—the philosophical backbone of the Great Awakenings and re-Christianization of the United States after the War for Independence—in his Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. But no Christian philosophy has been more of a scandal than Dutch neo-Calvinism. 

Part of this is due to sheer scale. Pastor Timothy Keller, historian George Marsden, philosophers James K.A. Smith and Alvin Plantinga, and theologians Richard Mouw and G.C. Berkouwer, all heavily influenced by neo-Calvinist philosophy, have left a massive imprint upon American evangelicals, particularly in how they imagine the public square and their role within it. Recapitulations of “Two Kingdoms” and Anabaptism have had far less impact within the rank and file. While there have been neo-Calvinist strands that leaned into the antithesis between Christianity and pluralism such as the Reconstructionists, the South African neo-Calvinists, and Van Tillians suspicious of transformationalism (such as Briarwood’s late Harry Reeder), the vast majority of those under the sway of Kuyper’s Stone Lectures have weakened, not strengthened, the will of their pastors and followers to engage politically.  

The first and principal mark against the neo-Calvinist tradition is its bad historiography. The Reformers simply did not intend to introduce a pluralistic public square. Many of them, Calvin and Zwingli most infamously, but also Archbishop Whitgift, Martin Bucer, and countless others actively defended and exercised the civil magistrate’s active role to “punish wickedness and vice and maintain true religion and virtue.” As Richard Muller has proven, the Reformed theologians maintained that same theology of governance for centuries. That Calvinism was distinct from other Protestants “in its impress[ion] in and outside the church upon every aspect of human life,” may very well be true, but that does not mean the Institutes contained the First Amendment in seed form. 

The religious liberty of conscience which emerged particularly in England was a uniquely English phenomenon, and resulted in part from a pragmatic political situation and in part from the rise of Thomas Reid’s Scottish Common Sense philosophy taught by Declaration-signer and Princeton president John Witherspoon to a whole host of other founding fathers. This Common Sense philosophy undergirded almost all American colleges into the late 19th century, and was the epistemic basis of Old Princeton until it split in the 1930s. With Common Sense went the epistemic basis for Anglo-American liberty of conscience and self-government. 

Neo-Calvinism seemed to provide an updated defense of that limited government and free exercise of religion tradition, and gave the Reformed tradition the credit for its adoption in the Western world—a sort of Protestant Work Ethic defense of industrialism—but for individual liberty and orthodox faith. For ambitious orthodox Protestants after the Scopes Trial such as Cornelius Van Til, Carl F.H. Henry and Francis Schaeffer, the tenets of neo-Calvinism seemed to provide the intellectual basis for an academic, social, and political revolution within the United States. They defended key Reformed theological doctrines such as the reliability of Revelation, a traditional view of sex and gender, and the right of political resistance even as it offered an historical lineage from America’s conservative Puritan founders down the U.S. Constitution to the neo-evangelicals so keen on saving America’s soul. 

The neo-evangelicals, interfacing with Bavinck primarily through Van Til and also with Kuyper’s own speeches, were fast at work, making prominent converts out of men such as Chuck Colson, and building evangelical institutions such as Christianity Today, Fuller Theological Seminary, InterVarsity, and Campus Crusade for Christ (not to mention the immense influence exerted at Gordon-Conwell and Wheaton College). Unfortunately, what was made could not be saved. Fuller was entirely lost within a few years of its inception, and all the other institutions have moved significantly to the left on Revelation, gender, and social reform even as they maintained an identical stance on religious plurality within the public square. This is equally if not more true of the other strand of neo-Calvinists in the United States: West Michigan’s Dutch Christian Reformed Church. Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, where the apostolic succession from Kuyper and Bavinck is most pure, are unrecognizable to historic Dutch Reformed theology, but at least they celebrate LGBTQ+ affirming groups and faculty on campus. Coincidentally, defending neutrality in the public square is the clearest commonality between the neo-Calvinists of 1900, the neo-Evangelicals of 1975, and the Evangelical institutions they have created today. The great modification of Calvinism has become the gravitational center around which the rest of the neo-Calvinist system has orbited. “Tis the sounding of the trumpet that shall only call retreat.”

The Netherlands has always had large self-governing minorities, so the “Calvinists are the real pluralists” ostensibly had some political mileage. As it was, the neo-Calvinists absolutized their political strategy for winning Parliamentary elections in the Netherlands by masquerading it as dogmatic theology, and in so doing telegraphed a playbook to orthodox Calvinist hold-outs in the United States exiled from the public square. “This is how the politically successful conservative Calvinists talk.” This bad theology has become standard fare “Calvinist” doctrine for decades since, replacing our tradition of Anglo-American Protestant political philosophy with a hodge-podge of decontextualized political strategy, bad historical scholarship, and proof-texting to defend the Warren Court’s bad jurisprudence. 

In hindsight, it seems hard to avoid the neo-Calvinists’ baptized “free state” as a sort of Divine Command to not dominate the public square’s multiculturalism. The neo-Calvinist doctrine evolved into political antinomianism. And like any sort of antinomianism, it claims to deal with “real life,” and then suffocates spiritual life. Look at the statistics: from 1840 until 1900 adherence to a Protestant church did not move so much as 2 percentage points (and when it did, it went up). Kuyper’s party came to power with over 60% of the Netherlands worshipping in Protestant Churches. Yet after the decade of Kuyper’s greatest influence, religious participation had declined to a record low 57% Protestant. By the end of his life, it was under 54%, and by 1930 all the Protestant Churches combined to be 46.3% of the nation, the first time since the Reformation Holland was not majority Protestant. Protestant affiliation has only shrunk since Kuyper first took office, and under him, it saw the greatest losses in its 350-year history, well before the great secularization after World War I. Notably, Romanism, which had been shrinking through the late 19th century, actually began a slow ascent from 35% of the country when Kuyper took office as Prime Minister of Declining Protestantism, to over 40% by the early 1970s. The cataclysmic decline in faith was unique to the Calvinists. 

Perhaps neo-Calvinism had other benefits: it certainly energized many creative minds in the Netherlands and gave a second wind into orthodox Calvinism, creating a new Reformed denomination in the Netherlands and founding the Free University of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, that denomination now accepts homosexual unions, women’s ordination, and has had a large contingent of atheistic clergy. Only a small splinter group, rejecting women from any office of ordained ministry and prioritizing their sung Psalter, has maintained their confessional identity. The Free University began accepting government grants in the 1960s and ended its Protestant subscription and quickly left behind any semblance of Protestant identity. None of Kuyper and Bavinck’s organs for cultural, political, or theological reform survived fifty years past their own lifetimes. All drifted and then flat-out reversed their mission, all moving significantly to the cultural, political and theological left. “Judge none blessed before his death: for a man shall be known in his children,” saith Jesus ben-Sirach. 

The neo-Calvinism reformation project failed in the Netherlands, and the last four decades have proven the project very unreliable in the United States as well. Riding on the evangelistic efforts of Billy Graham’s Crusades, Carl Henry, Alvin Plantinga and Francis Schaeffer made significant headway in collecting Evangelical energy towards constructive political ends, but none of those organizations would let their original founders lead their institutions today. To quote the prophetic introduction to Crossed Fingers from 1996: “it boils down to this: you’ve been sold out to liberals; you’re being sold out to neo-evangelicals who will later sell you out to liberals; or you’re not yet worth buying.” The Dutch neo-Calvinist project and its conservative American adaptation were already post-confessional Protestants retreating behind their Maginot Line and unable to recreate the splendors of a mainline denomination, they settled for a diverse post-denominational coalition which has been splintering ever since

It is worth asking what happened when Neo-Calvinism first traveled across the pond. According to the warm Dr. Harinck, it was displaced almost immediately within the United States (and especially at Princeton Theological Seminary) with Karl Barth. Harinck suggested this was due to translation efforts, but that only tells us the efficient, not the final, cause. Nobody cared to translate Bavinck because he was irrelevant to both Fundamentalists and Modernists. Barth had the double advantage of being to the theological “right” of the liberals without actually affirming traditional confessional orthodoxy, allowing theological conservatives to criticize their liberal counterparts without having to defend the actual Scriptures or confessions. In other words, Barth was more effective than Bavinck at helping conservatives in the PCUSA save face as the most intellectually powerful denomination sank into cultural and theological irrelevancy. 

The Presbyterian supporters of the neo-Calvinist doctrines exited Princeton and joined J. Gresham Machen’s Westminster Theological Seminary, where they would have an outsized influence on the neo-evangelicals (led by Christianity Today) and American neo-Calvinists (such as Professor Timothy Keller). While Protestant Orthodoxy’s old intellectual bulwark developed many respected and hardnosed American public intellectuals, Westminster has never recreated anything resembling the old Presbyterian elite (despite its many brilliant scholars). The conservative Presbyterian denominations have never regained the status they lost in their exoduses from the mainline. It cannot be a complete coincidence that Westminster and neo-evangelicalism’s adoption of an ethnic minority’s theo-political system from a religiously pluralistic society set up theologically and socially conservative American Protestants to lose. Neo-Calvinism, distinguishing itself from historic Calvinism precisely in its absolutizing of political pluralism, never had a politically successful DNA. Losing was baked into the system from its founding, and its adoption by American Evangelicals, then and now, cannot bring different results. 

Neo-Calvinists in the United States have never been connected to the Evangelical Protestant base, and notably have had the most recent success in minority-majority areas where Evangelicalism is already weak to non-existent. Neo-Calvinism’s greatest influence is in the northeastern corridor from Reformed Seminary Washington DC to Westminster Philadelphia to Reformed Seminary NYC, and then in Dutch West Michigan. 

Despite repeated attempts to introduce Bavinck and Kuyper to an American audience, they have never caught on with the rank-and-file American Evangelical. The duo has captured the hearts and minds of urban church planters seeking to slim the gospel of its historic (and confessional) social and political commitments to lower the barrier to entry. The neo-Calvinists are not the first to soft-peddle harder Christian doctrines (Clement and Origen of Alexandria withheld more mysterious doctrines until Christian maturity), but they are the first to theologically justify lobbing off entire historic doctrines of the church (such as the civil magistrate and natural law) altogether in the name of contextualization and sphere sovereignty. The consequences of this slimmed-down, contextualized neo-Calvinist gospel is a Gospel that has neither a consistent standard with which to call nations to repentance nor a standard by which Christians ought to legislate while in power. Every pastor preaches what is right in his own eyes because pluralism is the desired outcome, not subservience to the Ten Commandments, the basis of natural law.  

Pluralism, that is, permanent minority status, is the status quo of neo-Calvinism. The very idea of a Moral Majority is not just outdated, it is medieval. Neo-Calvinist Christianity wins spiritually when it stops winning politically. You see that? For the elite-adjacent evangelical in a medium-to-large metropolitan area, Bavinck is just as advantageous as Karl Barth was for Princeton justifying their remaining in the PCUSA a century ago. 

Neo-Calvinism justifies your non-threatening presence in the city, academy, denomination, or National Institute of Health by leaving the currently objectionable parts of your theology in the past (a century ago in the U.S. the historicity of the Bible, today the presence of natural law and politically binding claims on the magistrate) by making them matters of individual faith and personal expression instead of normative claims for all nations, places, and cultures. Barth’s neo-orthodoxy and Bavinck’s neo-Calvinism both allow for respectability in the current cultural moment, but would earn them ridicule and excommunication from three centuries of their forebearers. Which statement is more ridiculous, Barth’s, that the incarnation declared all forms of secret espionage illegitimate, or Bavinck’s, that the Image of God demanded women’s suffrage? Yet were either questioned by the leading lights of the academy in their own day?

Christian pastors, academics and civil leaders who adopt neo-Calvinism are leading, whether intentionally or not, the churches, communities, and nations they serve back into a secular Egypt. Under the guise of theologically mandated pluralism, they are training their people to theologically rationalize political and social subservience at a time when they are the only group able to successfully challenge a radical political agenda.

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Jackson Waters

Jackson Waters is a Virginian living north of the Potomac with his wife, Emma Leigh, and daughter, Elizabeth Anne. He graduated from Union University and is the former Managing Editor of Providence Magazine. He studies at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is a former Cotton Mather Fellow with American Reformer.

20 thoughts on “Neo-Calvinism and American Decline

  1. Perhaps all of the woes that Waters is lamenting over have nothing to do with Kuyper and Bavink, but they have everything to do with a lack of exposure to how the Taliban mixes religion and politics. For perhaps the Taliban model is the Muslim version of Calvin’s mixing of religion and politics. Thus the major fault of the Neo-Calvinists is their refraining from using enough coercion on the political scene. Perhaps the hesitancy to rely heavily on coercion could have had influences more ancient than the Reformers. After all, didn’t an itinerant, radical Middle East preacher say that His followers should not ‘lord it over others’? So what if some of his Reformed followers compromised that command? After all, James wrote that all of us ‘stumble in many ways.’

    But so long and those we want to punish stumble over different things than what we trip over, we can call on the government to punish the evildoers of society. And then we can build churches and even a whole nation out of Stepford believers and call it ‘pluralism.’

    It is a good thing then that we can’t learn from unbelievers. Otherwise, we might start worrying that our need to have our religion so dominate our political scene is not due to spiritual concerns, but is due to strong personal needs to control those who disagree with us.

  2. Jackson,

    Thought provoking piece. Thanks for the work.

    I did have one follow-up, though. I can track exactly with what you are describing as the trends and outcomes Neo-Calvinism, and I can see how some their prominent proponents have espoused a pluralism that loses (i.e. Keller). However, I have seen just as many Kuyperian-type leaders that would reject the pluralism of our age in light of the “every square inch” mindset. I believe these folks would typically be Van Tillian, too, though not exclusively.

    Where is the disconnect here? Is it embedded in the teaching of Kuyper/Bavinck but not recognized by those types of people? Has it been twisted by those left-leaning adopters of it? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

    1. From what I understand Cagan, Kuyper said a lot of things, and he in particular can be made to say almost anything you want him to say. But the consistent outworking of his ideas in 20th and 21st century America over multiple generations has been poor. Best case scenario he’s irrelevant and Reformed Christianity’s decline continued without regard to him, worst case scenario he’s the lynchpin that seals the deal for Reformed Christians in the west by giving progressives and leftists a backdoor into conservative christian institutions. Most likely case is he has hastened the long term political decline of Evangelicals through his divine-sanctioning of pluralism despite many well intentioned actions and many honest and industrious followers who have made good use of him for Christ’s kingdom.

  3. “but they are the first to theologically justify lobbing off entire historic doctrines of the church (such as the civil magistrate and natural law) altogether in the name of contextualization and sphere sovereignty.“

    Hogwash! Actually read Bavinck, consider him in light of the great conversation and think consequentially regarding his place in history, a secular(liberal) state church that he split from. If you read his Christian Worldview and Philosophy of Revelation, you get natural law and natural theology brought in opposition to figures like Nietzsche, humanism, various pantheisms, etc— all while being self conscious of his dependence on historic Protestantism (various Protestant ologies, political and otherwise).

    The question to ask of critical importance is what has shifted in the consensus of the American mind that would have to turn from its religious foundations for life as a people, and turn them see reality as material, energy, and chance (scientism and skepticism) as the final reality and foundation for our life together in America (and the Netherlands). Read Bavinck better, and against the right backdrop. I’m reminded of Mortimer Adler who sat across from William F. Buckley on the Firing Line discussing Aristotles Ethics about how modern readers missed the point and argument by a mile. Your reading of historic neo-cal philosophy and politics “comes as close to being a non-reading as anything… the missing of the point is so egregious, stands out so plainly”.
    Read Bavinck carefully.
    Trace arguments.
    Cite your sources.
    Refute statements and arguments.
    Avoid fallacious reasoning.

    There are many neo-cals in name only who have appropriated the tradition who are really guided by the spirit of the age.

    A good starting point is Bavinck’s essay “Ethics and Politics”.

    1. Daniel,

      Your last line gives away a lot: you can’t separate a father from his children, or Bavinck and Kuyper from the Neo-Calvinist tradition after them. The question has to be asked, why have so many adopted neo-Calvinism now? And I think Harinck understands that.

      My mother attended and regularly spoke well of her Kuyperian education at Calvin College, my brothers and I both visited Calvin University, my father has read most of Bavinck’s “Dogmatics” and loves him, and besides the Stone Lectures, just in the last three months I’ve read Bavincks’ newly translated “Christianity and Science” and “Christian Worldview,” as well as the Keller-endorsed “A Theological Introduction to Neo-Calvinism,” dedicated to expositing Kuyper and Bavinck’s worldview. There were so. many. quotes. from that last one which might as well have written my essay for me. What more do I need to read? I’ve listened to Vincent Bacote, a Neo-Calvinist, tell dozens of young professionals that Kuyper is a shining example of pluralism, a model stateman for our day (which is why we can love him too), and I’ve read Richard Mouw and Jamie Smith wax poetically that MLK is practically the second-coming of Kuyper. How many scholars and books and lectures do I have to absorb before I can believe my eyes and ears?

      The Neo-Calvinists certainly build upon the Reformed tradition with many admirable and ingenious results, but they redefine its terms (conscience and natural law being two glaring examples), leave plodding multi-generational institutions (the church was not “secular liberal,” though it was stodgy and in need of a reforming, as Hoedemaker points out), and provide the academic equivalent to “I’m dating Jesus right now” in revising the Belgic Confession.

      I’ll go read “Ethics and Politics,” but I recommend you read “Apostles of Reason” by Molly Worthen to see more of the deleterious influence of Neo-Calvinism w/in American Evangelicalism.

      1. Imagine someone walking away from what you read, energized and motivated to make a difference, but instead of seeing the organic whole of your work and your mood as indicative of your intentions, they picked you apart, took what had utility and discarded what opposed their project. We can read of Schaeffer’s opposition to drifting institutions for that very reason. Many neo-cals are the sons of Kuyper and Bavinck in the same way the Pharisees were the sons Abraham— they take the name by force, and make their disciples twice over children of the devil. Bavinck’s time at Leiden and his response in the direction of his scholarship, and Kuyper’s opposition to hollow confessionalism lead to the founding of a recovery movement in politics and theology. Hoedmaker may have wanted to labor from the inside, but imagine a church history parallel for a moment; it would be like a Machen working to save the PCUSA after getting defrocked. The liberal drift is despite best efforts, not because of it— and it doesn’t take much to see in light of those whom Bavinck and Kuyper wrote against.

        Appropriation, accommodation, shifting of terminology to better suit the day— all reflect the tactics of a spirit of the age movement to counter claim society and culture; all are tools to make a long march through institutions, and all are tactics of activist and bad actors set on winning the day and poisoning the well.

        1. “If Kuyper were alive today he would start a Christian version of the Drudge Report. He would run for office. He would be engaged in local activities, and He would be faithful to our Protestant Reformed heritage. I commend to you the life of Abraham Kuyper as a model for civil and cultural discourse in a day when Christians have given up on the world. Abraham Kuyper would say: “No, this world belongs to Jesus, and I will give my every breath to see the world submit to him.”

          1. Daniel,
            The last line of your comment is troubling because of its ambiguity.

            Rather than trying to decipher it, we should note a couple of things that apply to the comments of both you and Waters. People often try to claim the name of a prestigious person to their cause because they know that we live in an authoritarian culture that is even more amplified in religiously conservative Christianity. subcultures. The dynamics of that is that truth in authoritarian cultures is determined more by irrelevant but highly valued criteria more than by facts and logic. So claiming that a person who is highly respected would support one’s own ideology, and theology is an ideology, is a tactic that is based more in persuasion than depending on facts and logic.

            And that is the problem much of the “Reformed” perspective on this website. Rather than showing how the New Testament supports their cause, many of the contributors here rely on Reformed traditions established during Christendom. That should raise red flags for us.

            We should also note that Jesus gave us the Great Commission, not Kuyper. And the tactics used in that Great Commission are teaching, preaching, and discipling. The tactics that Jesus leaves with us does not include what to do when people don’t want to bend the knee to Jesus before Judgment Day. Jesus told us to walk away from such people. The New Testament writers gave no instructions that differed from what Jesus told us to do.

            We are told to preach the Gospel and let the Spirit work on whom He wills. And so we need to be like the Bereans when we hear the different theologies and different sets of traditions within those theologies. And quoting this or that person can supersede using the Scriptures to judge the truth of a particular theological perspective.

            BTW, in case you want to easily disagree with me. In terms of theologies regarding the Godhead and Soteriology, I more-less follow the Reformed tradition. And I believe the 5 fundamentals of the Christian faith that were used to distinguish the Christian faith from theological Liberalism. But politically I lean toward Marx and promote the tactics of Martin Luther King Jr who had much more to say about society and the nation than what he said when he talked about the horrors of racism.

        2. Well put, Daniel. The argument taken in this article is rather simplistic and could be leveled against practically any group. Are the Puritans to blame for the state of New England, or the Anglicans for the tyrannical state of things in England? What about the Calvinists’ culpability for the state of contemporary Geneva? I suspect Jackson would say “No!” and provide us with other causalities for consideration. And he would be right to do so. Thus, it is for the same reason that he is off in his broad brushing of Neo-Calvinism here.

          It would appear from church history that a cognizance or embrace of natural law and a Christianized civil magistrate are sufficient, but not necessary, to lead a nation or state into moral disarray just as much a lack of emphasis on natural law and a Christianized civil magistrate.

  4. I read this article with particular interest since I’m both a neo-Calvinist with ties to west Michigan and RTS NYC and also worked briefly with Jackson on a high school newspaper (if I’m not mistaking him with someone else of the same name).

    One of the arguments that Jackson made about the leftward tug that many neo-Calvinist institutions have felt needs a bit more thought, in my opinion. It has been my experience that nearly every Protestant institution has felt a leftward tug and that those who have not are those who have intentionally stood up against it. That is the minority position, both in neo-Calvinism and Christendom as a whole. Just as institutions have pushed against leftism in general, so also have portions of neo-Calvinism (think, for example of the OPC, which is largely neo-Calvinist in its membership). I see neo-Calvinist institutions moving leftward but I don’t believe that it is doing so more than other traditions.

  5. This piece has been extremely enlightening for me. I’ve often wondered why Kuyper’s influence in the Netherlands was so transient given what I perceived as the expansiveness of his worldview. I embraced Reformed theology when I was 24 and attended Westminster Philly in the mid-80s. I grew increasingly frustrated over the years by the Reformed folks I read and listened to because of the lack of political and cultural file in the belly. Looking back I now think of them like I think of Con Inc., the Republican Party and institutional conservatism, controlled opposition. Schaeffer was a huge influence on my young Christian life, but I saw over time that applying a Christian worldview to social life never had any real influence, but it made people feel like they were doing something profound.

    Then I had a most unexpected conversion in August of ’23 to postmillennialism, and it was one of the most thrilling red pill experiences of the many I’ve had over the last 8 years. All the guys I started to get exposed to like Doug Wilson and Joe Boot and many others have been incredibly encouraging. It put everything together. I just finished Frame’s “Escondido Theology” and am now reading “The World is Christ’s: A Critique of Two Kingdom’s Theology” by Willem Ouweneel. I’d never heard of the guy until a month ago! Just the dust up this week with Kevin DeYoung and the “Moscow Mood” says it all. This post has been printed out and will be a resource for my next book, so thank you for all the work that allowed you to build your knowledge and insights.

  6. Jackson, thanks for the article. I confess that you are better read than I on this topic, so I won’t dispute your claims.

    However, what is the alternative that you prefer to pluralism? And how would you encourage a Reformed body to pursue that? Reading between the lines of your article suggests some implications, but I’d prefer to simply ask.

    1. Hey Jason, I would hold up the ideal of Christian governance and then modify that as wisdom demands. This both allows for less simplisitic moralism, yet also stronger political stances.

      One of my concerns is the need of contemporary Neo-Calvinists to tie political platforms to specific Bible verses, and then act like they’ve solved the political crisis “biblically”. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Bavinck or Kuyper themselves, but many of their disciples seem all too willing to do this, as can be seen throughout Christopher Watkin’s “Biblical Critical Theory” or “Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1-2” or much of the simplistic pietism coming out of the Gospel Coalition pretending to be cultural analysis.

      Do you think church members would act differently in daily life and in conversation if during pastoral prayers if their Reformed and Protestant pastors prayed explicitly for national repentance of divorce, sabbath breaking, abortion, and the proliferation of idolatry across the land, and that our governments would do all in their power to return our nation to true religion and virtue as proclaimed in the Ten Commandments? This has the double advantage of being a far more prophetic witness, and far less tied to simple policy proscriptions. This does not say “Josh Hawley is in sin if he doesn’t vote yes on x bill,” but empowers him to follow the Scriptures in legislation as he sees best and encourages him to think creatively about how to achieve those temporal ends.

      1. Jackson, thanks for your thought-provoking response, particularly with your vision of a pastor praying differently in worship. That really helps fill in between the lines. I’ve considered myself a “soft theonomist” for a while. One of the problems with that perspective (from my vantage point) is this line of thinking:

        (1) Would it be better if every citizen of my city/state/nation obeyed the Law of God, regardless of their relation to Jesus? Certainly, in the sense that God’s Law is intended for human flourishing.

        (2) At the same time, we know that the effect of the Law on unregenerate persons is pretty brutal. It kills. It exposes. It condemns. Whether the law concerns the Sabbath or murder, they all show us to be ruined lawbreakers, in need of a Savior and the indwelling obedience-empowering Spirit.

        (3) Now, feel free to point out my latent neo-Calvinism here, but it seems that this tension can be resolved in seeing some qualitative difference between the two tables of the Law. It seems reasonable that a human government would attempt to prevent murder and theft, while promoting life and private property/stewardship (love of neighbor). Granted, that process is doomed from the start, in terms of transformation of the individual and society because of the limitations of the Law. So when you turn to the second table of the Law, it seems even more ineffective. A human government enforcing sabbath-keeping and true worship (love of God) seems like a fruitless effort.

        Final thought: inefficiency/effectiveness are not our measure of the Good. It is my sense that the Church should be much more clear about that. That said, when I look at the (ineffective) method of Jesus in reaching the masses, I see Him transforming society from the ground up through grace and the giving of the Spirit, while being persecuted by the State.

        Thanks for listening to my rambling and sorry if I’m missing the point!

        1. And to clarify, because this is the internet, by the ineffectiveness of Jesus, I mean the short-term gains. From an earthly perspective, he looked like a failure. Yet in time, it was through death that He conquered. It was through one-on-one engagement, service, and Gospel-speaking that lives (and the world) are being changed.

  7. Neo-Calvinism emphasizes the need for Christians to reform culture according to biblical principles. This includes areas like family, education, and economics. Proponents believe that such cultural reformation is necessary for national renewal.

  8. I think this article fails to factor in the Missional theological movement that has blended with Neo-Calvinism. Neo-Calvinism provides some tools, but many of the City Church Culturalist brands of Reformed folk are, at heart, Missional theologians first and foremost. Look to Newbigin first and then see how the progressive elements adopt ideas from Kuyper and Bavinck to provide a Calvinistic flair to their Missional commitments.

  9. Did Bavinck and Kuyper know that they were neo-Calvinists?

    I am certainly not of the intellectual caliber of any of the above commenters, but I have read “The Wonderful Works of God” by Dr. Bavinck and found it to be “wonderful”. And I have read and listened to much of Professor Tim Keller, a “neo-Calvinist”, and he has always left me wanting, Christian-wise.

    Perhaps Bavinck wasn’t one of the “frozen chosen” whom I have seen so many of in the Presbyterian Church. Perhaps it’s because he had both the knowledge and the faith (heart) which leads to the confidence that comes with a personal relationship with Christ and assurance that all MY sins are forgiven. That special faith, knowledge and confidence, i.e., saving faith (most wonderfully explained in The Triple Knowledge, an Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism, Herman Hoeksema, Volume One, Page 309, The Nature of Faith.

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