Relevance Of Neocalvinism For Today

Craig G. Bartholomew, October 2004


Neo-Calvinism is a particular Christian tradition. It originates in Dutch Calvinism and is brought to expression through Groen van Prinsterer, Herman Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper among many others, and has been given particular philosophical expression in the last century in the Reformational philosophical tradition of Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven and their colleagues and students including Evan Runner in North America.

In this inaugural I suggest that neo-Calvinism’s time has come. There are a multitude of ways in which it offers what –so many analysts are saying the church needs at this time and place. In the time available to me I will:
- revisit the contours of the neo-Calvinist tradition
- indicate why its time has come
- ask how we/neocals may best serve the church in our day


During the second half of the 19th century, the reformed churches in the Netherlands experienced a revival. This took the form, not only of large numbers of personal commitments to Christ, but also of a vigorous social movement intent on proclaiming and advancing the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life. For neocalvinists, Christianity is world-formative , it provides a worldview, a way of understanding all of reality, with radical consequences for every part of our lives. Participants in this movement believed it to be a faithful revival of authentic Calvinism, and easily appropriated the label stuck on their movement: neocalvinism. Several characteristics or distinctive contours of this tradition can be discerned which distinguish it from other Christian traditions:

(1) Neocalvinism insists on a comprehensive and integrated understanding of creation, fall and redemption.

The whole world belongs to God. At the same time, all of reality is under the curse of sin - and all of reality lies within range of redemption in and through Jesus Christ. In Kuyper’'s justly celebrated words: ‘"There is not a square inch of the entire world of which Christ does not rightly say, “That Is Mine.”’" Or as Zylstra says, ‘"The covenant is as wide as creation.’ There is a good creational structure for everything, but with the fall serious misdirection is opened up. Neocalvinism does not recognize any conflict between gospel and creation. Neocalvinists understand the gospel to be the healing power which re-directs fallen creation, in line with God's original design, and towards its originally intended consummation."

Bavinck articulates this beautifully when he asserts that:
"The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God. Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Eph. 1:10). It describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end – God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name."

(2) Neocalvinism emphasizes God’'s good and dynamic order for creation.

O'’Donovan rightly asserts that the order for kinds of things and the means by which things can be distinguished from other kinds of things comes from this wise order embedded in creation. God establishes the possible structure and distinctive identity of created things: linden trees, cigars, human beings, states - everything. The order of creation is constant, grounded in the covenantal faithfulness of God. There is a close connection for neocalvinists between creation and the rich diversity of things in this world. God not only brought reality into existence, but brought it into existence as an extraordinarily rich, complex and diverse order of distinct kinds of things.

As Bavinck notes:
"The world is a unity, but that unity manifests itself in the most magnificent and beautiful diversity. Heaven and earth were distinct from the very beginning; sun and moon and stars each received their own task; plant and animal and man each have their own nature. Everything is created by God with a nature of its own, and exists and lives according to a law of its own."

Kuyper developed this sense of ordered diversity in relation to society in his doctrine of sphere sovereignty, and argues that, for instance, the family has sovereignty in its own sphere in the face of both the state and the church, and should not be internally made subject to these other relationships. The authority of mother and father does not require the rubber stamp of a party commissar or the holy water of a parish priest - it is received out of the very hand of God. But all human authority, every human relationship, is subject to the sovereign rule of God, This view does not deny historical development in society, but rather emphasizes the possibilities given in creation which provide room and set limits for the emergence of a wide range of different relationships in society.

(3) Neocalvinism affirms the historical development or differentiation of creation.

Neocalvinism has a deep appreciation for the historical development of human cultures and societies. The development of technology, the advances of the sciences, the building of cities, and the disentanglement of various distinct relationships in society (often referred to as 'differentiation') - these are all fundamentally appropriate human responses to God's command to realize the possibilities of creation, the cultural mandate (see Genesis 1:28 and 2:15). It is the responsibility of Christians to affirm normative differentiation in the context of the coming of the kingdom of God - while opposing all misdirection away from the glory of God.

(4) Neocalvinism recognizes an ultimate religious conflict: the antithesis, in all of life.

There is a battle going on at the deepest level in every society and within every human person - a struggle between the inclination to submit to God and the inclination to rebel against God. This personal and public conflict between the kingdoms of light and darkness neocalvinists call the antithesis. This struggle is not relegated to some spiritual realm above, or alongside, or in paradox with everyday, common life. Rather, it is a spiritual struggle for everyday life itself. The antithesis issues forth a clarion call for Christian cultural activity in opposition to every manner of idolatry. Glorifying God in everyday life is what neocalvinists mean when they speak of "redeeming" or "transforming" culture and societal spheres. It is a transformation from various ways of life that are sinful or at odds with the truth, to ways that are lawful and according to the truth, by the sanctifying power of Christ's Spirit.

A tradition is always much more than its distinctives, and it is important to remember that neocalvinism is a Christian tradition . Thus it is inter alia also Trinitarian, but of course I have not emphasized that here because it shares such fundamental Christian doctrines with all other orthodox traditions.


All humans are ‘"traditioned’." Part of being human is inhabiting a tradition/s that describes and directs our understanding of life. The neocalvinist tradition, the differentiating features of which I have described above, is one such tradition. Of course, you may reject it as the tradition you choose to inhabit, but one should remember that rejection of a tradition never means that you stand outside of every tradition. – To reject one is to adopt another. Neocalvinism is certainly not the only tradition –calling itself "Christian." Think only for a moment of the Anabaptist tradition (eg. Amish, Mennonite, etc), or of the Romanist ('Catholic') tradition. Why then should we take particular note of the neocalvinist tradition?

A major reason is that...
Neocalvinism has devoted considerable energy over the past few centuries to developing a "public theology" and there is widespread recognition that this is what the church urgently needs today.

Acknowledged as probably the greatest missiologist of the 20th century, David Bosch attends to our ‘postmodern’ Western culture in his 1995 posthumous publication, Believing in the Future: Toward a Missiology of Western Culture. He explores what an appropriate missiology for Western culture today will look like. In his final chapter before his conclusion, Bosch poses the question, ‘"What is it that we have to communicate to the Western “post-Christian” public?’" His answer is noteworthy: ‘"It seems to me that we must demonstrate the role that plausibility structures and worldviews play in people’s lives.’"

Bosch rejects the Christendom model of mission, but equally warns against a withdrawal from public life. ‘It belongs,’ he says, ‘to our missionary mandate to ask questions about the use of power in our societies, to unmask those that destroy life, to show concern for the victims of society while at the same time calling to repentance those who have turned them into victims, and to articulate God’'s active wrath against all that exploits, squanders, and disfigures the world for selfishness, greed and self-centered power.’ Neocalvinists, holding to the principle of sphere sovereignty, do not believe it is the mission of the institutional church to address herself outside her appointed ministry of Word and Sacrament, the diaconal care of her members, and such ordinances. But it remains for Christians who are also members of various other societal communities to involve themselves Christianly in the varying matters of those communities.

The great myth of the standard narrative of modernity was neutrality and progress. Many Christians felt compelled to acquiesce to this and to work hard at accommodating Christianity with modernity. The outworking of modernity in postmodernism has however made it clearer that there are fundamental differences between modernity and Christianity so that accommodation is exposed as a futile task . And for the West, philosophically at least, modernity has splintered into a myriad of fragments, so that the tenuous glue left holding the West together is, perhaps, consumerism. This is not good societal glue, neither for the West nor for the "developing world," and in this context it is urgent, as Bosch indicates, that Christians declare The Faith as all encompassing and demonstrate theoretically and practically that the gospel is glue sufficient for individual and communal life.

Bosch, Newbigin, and many others have come to recognize the development of a public theology as one of the great needs of the day. We need to know in depth how the gospel relates to all of life today, at this time in this place.

If this is an accurate reading of our times then few traditions are as well positioned to answer this call as the neocalvinist tradition. For the neocalvinist tradition is firstly Reformed, and (as Charles Taylor explains in a wonderful chapter called ‘"God Loveth Adverbs"’ in his monumental Sources of the Self), the Reformation challenged the synthesis between Platonism and Christianity. As a result, certain of the original potentialities of Christian faith, which tended to be neutralized in the amalgam with ancient metaphysics and morals, were allowed to develop. The crucial potentiality here was that of conceiving the hallowing of life not as something which takes place only at the limits, as it were, but as a change which can penetrate the full extent of mundane life.’ The Lutheran and Puritan idea of vocation stems from this biblical understanding of our world. Perkins thus asserts that ‘"Now if we compare work to work, there is a difference betwixt washing of the dishes, and preaching of the word of God: but as touching to please God none at all’."

Within the Reformed tradition no group has taken up this imperative towards public theology as strongly as the neocalvinists. Kuyper'’s extraordinary range of activities exemplifies the creation-wide concern that has fired the neocalvinist vision. It is instructive in this respect to remember that while Spurgeon, a well-known Calvinistic Baptist, was preaching in London, Kuyper was busy not far away in the Netherlands. And it was Warfield and Vos in the USA who invited Kuyper to come and give the Stone lectures at Princeton. For all Spurgeon’'s social concerns and for all Warfield'’s and Vos' Reformed orthodoxy, none compare when it comes to public theology and the commitment to giving expression to Christianity in all area of life.

In 20th century theology there has been an impressive flowering of "Trinitarian" theology emerging out of the work of Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann, Colin Gunton and others. Much of this has been refreshing in its concern for a Christian starting point in our thinking and in the recognition that we need a public theology. But, in my opinion, it has generally failed to deliver a conceptual apparatus able to do the analysis required, largely because of an inadequate or erroneous doctrine of creation. In this century, Evangelicalism has also worked hard to recover a sense of the importance of all of life, as seen particularly in the Lausanne Congress (and Covenant) of 1974 . Since then, social issues and concerns with worldview have steadily gathered momentum in Evangelical circles. But by and large, really hard work on public theology is only beginning to get going in Evangelical circles whereas neocalvinists have a tradition of some 200 hundred years of focused work in this area. And the neocalvinist tradition connects with many of the best contemporary concerns in public theology. Take the renaissance of Trinitarian theology, for example. The theme that shapes Herman Bavinck'’s entire theology is the ‘trinitarian idea that grace restores nature.’

According to Bavinck,
"The thoughtful person places the doctrine of the Trinity in the very center of the full-orbed life of nature and mankind. The confession of the Christian is not an island in mid-ocean but a mountain-top overlooking the entire creation. The mind of the Christian is not satisfied until every form of existence has been referred to the Triune God and until the confession of the Trinity has received the place of prominence in all our life and thought."

I do not have the time to explore many of the rich ways in which neocalvinism has constructed a public theology. One would have to take note of its highly relevant work on pluralism, exemplified in the Center for Public Justice's remarkable work in recent years on welfare policies in the USA. One would have to note the Christian Labour Association of Canada with some 30,000 members and the affiliated Work Research Foundation. And there are other examples. Are these perfect? – No, far from it. But they are real, tangible, and substantial. In the orthodox, Reformed tradition we have, with all its imperfection, a head start on what the church desperately needs today. Surely that is good reason to give thanks, receive it with grace, and work at Reforming it biblically to be a blessing to our neighbors for God's glory today.


1. We should hold fast to the main contours of the tradition.

I recall hearing Gore Vidal give the European lecture some years ago at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in the UK. He was cheered wildly before his lecture. In it he described Christianity as "crude" monotheism. He was cheered wildly after his lecture. I doubt he would have said or got away with saying that sort of thing about Islam, but of course it has become fashionable in the West to ridicule the Christian tradition while finding room for alternative more exotic species. Exposure to a tradition confronts one with its warts and weaknesses and neocalvinism surely has those. I would plead that we don'’t, however, despise it.

Indeed, our strategy will be deeply influenced by how we read the times in which we live. To attempt an answer we have to firstly discern the question. Viewing every contemporary societal question in terms of "postmodernism's" broad label often strikes me as trying to do cultural analysis with a club whereas one actually needs a scalpel. However, at least it is a way into the debate about what constitutes our time and place.

Christian thinkers are somewhat divided over how to respond to postmodernism, and I cannot explore the nuances of that debate here so let me make a few comments about my own approach. It seems clear to me that there are different elements to postmodernism: there are social, cultural and philosophical dimensions and it is important to distinguish these. Philosophically, for example, postmodernism represents a radical questioning of modernity, but culturally we are witnessing, by comparison, the triumph of a sort of global capitalism in the guise of our consumer culture. Philosophically, I think that postmodernism represents the outworking of historicism that is inherent in modernity. As Harvey says in his The Condition of Postmodernity, modernity rejected tradition and religious authority but held on to the hope that reason alone would lead us to truth. Postmoderns have given up on the illusion that reason alone will lead us to truth, but they have not recovered tradition and authority.

If this analysis is close to the truth, then it has significant implications for a Christian strategy today. It would mean, for example, that the last thing Christians should do is to capitulate to the historicism endemic in Western culture. Historicism means that everything is adrift, relative to the moment, and that there are no sure guides to how to live. As O’'Donovan notes in relation to marriage, a historicist account "must argue that this ‘natural good’ is not given transhistorically in nature at all, but is the product of cultural development peculiar to a certain time and place." By making marriage an item of cultural history in this way, historicism necessarily raises a question about it. Historicism makes all created goods appear putatively outmoded. So that if there are currents of dissatisfaction evident in a society’s practice of marriage, such as might be indicated by a high divorce rate or an open homosexual culture, they will be treated with great seriousness as signs of the evolution for which the institution is destined.

Historicism has no transcendent norm; the best you can do is to support one element of culture against another. ‘To criticize the culture as a whole is unthinkable; one can only speak for the culture against the culture, as the representative of a new strand in the culture which will fashion its future.’

In a fascinating book on Islam and the West, Gellner points out the Western tendency for its scholars to disembowel its own core traditions, and how unhelpful this is in relation to contemporary Islam . Indeed, the answer to historicism is a robust, biblical, dynamic doctrine of creation, and this needs to be a cornerstone for Christian thought and activity in our day. As H.H. Farmer says, "‘If you go against the grain of the universe you get splinters,"’ and we need to hold on to this insight.

In our day there have been tough debates in Reformational circles about the neocalvinist tradition in this respect. This perspective I have outlined should help us at least to see why those debates are crucial –from my perspective we make a fatal error if we move in this direction at precisely the time of all times when the church at large needs our insights into public theology. Evan Runner stresses in this writings that the Reformational movement is not firstly a Dutch movement: ‘But then,’ he writes, ‘it is extremely important "that we make clear by our actions that we are not interested in the first place in extending Dutch ways of thinking and Dutch customs and institutions, and that we clearly lay the accent on our faith and our principle.’"

The treasures we hold through this tradition of "Dutch" Calvinism, must never, never be ethnically restricted. God'’s gifts to us are for the world as a whole, especially at such a time as this. The church international needs a public theology, and in that context we need to offer our loaves and fishes. Our loaves are crumbly, a bit mildewed at places, not always fresh and bursting with goodness, but they are loaves and most of the church hasn'’t yet got a recipe. And this church is increasingly located in the developing world, in developing nations like the Philippines, China, and in large swathes of Africa. If our eyes are lifted up to that ready harvest and is in places already reverberating back into the West and renewing Western churches then, I suggest, we will want to cast our bread upon the waters.

Please note that I am not suggesting that postmodernism is all danger. The Scripture and Hermeneutic Seminar, which I direct, is premised on the belief that this is a time of danger and great opportunity, which needs to be seized with both hands. Jacques Derrida, and others, have for many dismantled the fortress of rationalistic consciousness that is so fundamental to modernity and for this we ought to celebrate and give thanks. Levinas, and others, have alerted us to the indispensability of ‘the Other’ in our lives, ethics and theories. Yes, we should critically affirm and reformingly build off various common grace insights in our culture. But I suggest that we will only be well positioned to do so if we have a strong doctrine of creation which will enable us to discern these moments amidst the idolatry of our age.

2. We should work to renew the neocalvinist tradition in our day.

If the neocalvinists tradition is as relevant and significant as I think, then we should work hard to maintain, develop and renew this fertile tradition. Tellingly, at a colloquium in the UK in June 1996 Lesslie Newbigin commented that “the Gospel and Our Culture network has hardly begun to answer the questions of mission in the public square’ and that the ‘Reformational, Kuyperian tradition has obviously been at work long ago spelling out concretely in the various spheres of society what it means to say ‘Jesus is Lord.’” He continued to say that, “unfortunately, this Kuyperian tradition is almost unknown in Britain” and expressed his fervent wish that it “would become a powerful voice in the life of British Christianity.” Sometimes I fear that the neocalvinist tradition faces a double whammy: –those who know it have become a bit jaded and over-familiar with its insights into worldview and culture, while simultaneously it is not substantially understood by those outside the tradition.

In conclusion let me reflect on what I think we need to do to renew the tradition.

a. We need to recover a strong sense of neocalvinism as rooted in Scripture and the Christian tradition.

When I teach on a Christian worldview I love to turn to 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, where Paul masterfully sets out that the mark of the Spirit is the confession ‘Jesus is LORD.’ ‘Kurios’ is a rich term which evokes Jesus superiority to Caesar, and his status as Living God in an Old Testament context. This passage thus tells us that worldview-ish Christianity is normal biblical Christianity and not the hobby of an eccentric few. Neocalvinism understands this well. From this passage it is equally clear that biblical Christianity is Christocentric and communal. Those who make this confession have been baptized into the body of Christ by the Spirit and the head of that body is Christ.

Healthy Christianity will always therefore have a good sense of catholicity. Bavinck articulates the catholicity of Christian thought well when he says of the theologian that, ‘"He therefore stands on the shoulders of previous generations. He knows he is surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and lets his witness merge with the voice of these many waters. Every dogmatics ought to be in full accord with and part of the doxology sung to God by the church of all ages.’"

And not just theology. – All Christian thought and practice will take Scripture (and the Reformed confessional tradition) with the utmost seriousness. Runner rightly says, ‘"But that Word, though the church as institute carries the responsibility for its faithful proclamation, is Rule for the whole of life, and every other, also limited, administration must each in its delegated sphere and with its bestowed right and responsibility, preserve and give orderly form, according to that Word’s light.’ Christ is the author of life and God’s Word is for all of life."

There has been a worrying tendency in UK Evangelical circles and, if I may say so, in some Reformational circles for renewed interest in "culture" to lead away from a strong attachment to the authority of the Bible so that one ends up aping the culture with a "Christian" veneer. We so urgently need deep immersion in Scripture as God’'s Word leading us to profound cultural engagement which enables us to bring the gospel critically to bear on our time and place.

In this we do well to emulate the church fathers. Robert Wilken, in his wonderful book, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, notes that ‘when the first Christian thinkers took the Bible in hand they were overwhelmed by it. It came upon them like a torrent leaping down the side of a mountain.’ Clement’'s writings, for example, embody a ‘conceptual framework drawn from the Bible.’ And in his struggle with Marcion and the Gnostics over the unity of the Bible, Irenaeus articulates the unity of the Bible as a single story. Two histories converge in the biblical account, the history of Israel and the life of Christ, but because they are also the history of God’'s actions in and for the His people, they are part of a larger narrative that begins at creation and ends in a vision of a new, more splendid city in which the ‘Lord God will be their light.’ The Bible begins, as it were, with the beginning and ends with an end that is no end --life with God, in Irenaeus'’s charming expression, "a life in which one is ‘always conversing with God in new ways."’ Nothing falls outside of its scope.

Wilkin speaks of the ‘omnipresence of the Bible in early Christian writings.’ This is a characteristic that we need to recover to a greater degree in the neocalvinist tradition. Of course we must avoid a sort of fundamentalism or otherwise bad hermeneutic that seeks proof texts where they are not to be found. So too must we avoid a discourse which starts to control Scripture rather than the other way round. The big question is of course the hermeneutical one: how do we read Scripture for public theology? And in our tradition there are already some good signposts.

Runner was much enamored of a Redemptive-Historical reading of Scripture, and that is why he and his wife translated De Graaf’'s three volumed Promise and Deliverance into English. He was quite right to see that we need covenantal Biblical Theology to help us have the Scriptures themselves speak on their own terms.’ Mike Goheen and I have tried to update this concern in our forthcoming The Drama of Scripture: Finding our Place in the Biblical Story. Scripture, we argue, is the story of the world, and we must immerse ourselves in it, indwell it and think and live out of it.

In terms of our scholarship I find Oliver O'’Donovan’s work fascinating in this respect. He is no fundamentalist and knows that to do scholarly work you need concepts and not ‘just’ the bare story of the Bible. However, as his concepts take hold, he does more and not less exegesis. The church fathers and O'’Donovan remind us too that Christian scholarship and the development of a public theology also require intimate knowledge of the Christian tradition. We short-change ourselves if we think we can do without historical theology.

The neocalvinist tradition has rightly, in my opinion, discerned the need to develop Christian insight in philosophy so that we now have an embarrassment of riches in this area. We have the Reformational philosophy of Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven and their students. Sadly, the sort of creative theological work such as that by the late Gordon Spykman has been the exception rather than the norm, and there has been a dangerous tendency in some neocalvinist circles to underplay systematic theology. Indeed, for some, there still seems to be considerable fog around the crucial issue of their interrelationship.

b. We need to work consciously in relation to the needs of the day.

Martin Luther noted how useless it is to fight where Satan is not attacking and to ignore where he is. I love the title of Dooyeweerd'’s Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian Options in this respect. Here is this tremendous insight that neither the gospel nor Satanic attack can be trivialized, to be reduced to ninja turtles, or Harry Potter, but that demonic activity manifests itself across the whole vista of culture and we need to work hard to read our culture aright. As Cranfield notes in his commentary on Mark, it is hard when confronted with realities like South African Apartheid to summarily dismiss the manifestly demonic as shown in the Gospels.

All this requires unpacking and nuance, which I cannot provide here. But I do want to assert strongly that we need to relate the resources of our tradition to the great needs and issues of the day. Within Evangelicalism, there is, for example, a growing sense of the importance of a Christian worldview. Within our Reformed circles, where such analysis has been around for a while, it is too easy to say well we’'ve been there, done that and got the T-shirt, we want to work elsewhere! We may be way beyond the ABC's of popular Evangelical thinking, but we must be willing to serve the Lord faithfully in every circumstance.

Let me return to consumerism. If postmodernism represents the triumph of consumer culture, in the absence of any other unifying metanarrative, consumerism fills the vacuum. As Susan White notes, if there is any overarching metanarrative that purports to explain reality in the late 20th century, it is surely the narrative of economy. In the beginning of this narrative is the self-made, self-sufficient human being. At the end of this narrative is the big house, the big car, and the expensive clothes. In the middle is the struggle for success, the greed, the incessant getting-and-spending. Most of us have made this so thoroughly ‘our story’ that we are hardly aware of its influence . The result is, as Wendell Berry so aptly puts it, "The truth is that we Americans, all of us, have become a kind of human trash, living our lives in the midst of a ubiquitous mess of which we are at once the victims and the perpetrators."

In some neocalvinist circles I fear that in the name of transformation, or perhaps simply a work ethic, we have become at ease in consumer culture, so that we need a good dose of our own critique to alert us to the idols staring us in the face on a daily basis. I do not wish to fudge the complexity of tackling such issues, nor do I want to opt for a Leftist (anti-free market or pro-statist) position, but I use this as an example that we have to work contextually. It is what makes the work of someone like Goudzwaard so very important.

c. We need to work at, and out of, a cruciform spirituality.

The practice of public theology, like all of the Christian life, involves spiritual warfare and taking up the cross. And if we are to go this route then we need to ensure that we weigh the costs and have adequate resources. Several years ago I heard speak a young Christian doctor who went to serve in Chile. There she made the "mistake" of treating a government opponent. She was arrested and gruesomely, brutally tortured and sexually violated. In her talk in Cheltenham she made the point that we need an understanding of God that is adequate to the journey of life.

Neocalvinists require the development of a prayer life that sustains, nurtures and is the ground for all our public theology. Neocalvinism is effective at spotting reductionist worldviews and philosophies, and we must not ourselves become reductionist at this point. There is danger if our social activism is formed on the presumption that God is superfluous to the formation of a world of peace with justice; if we think it is all up to us.’ And as Nicolas Berdyaev says, ‘"There is something morally repulsive about modern activistic theories which deny contemplation and recognize nothing but struggle."

This is not to say that the neocalvinist tradition lacks its own resources for devotional piety. Far from it! But some have sadly departed from the riches of our Calvinist heritage. I was fascinated to discover that Kuyper was deeply affected by his reading of a novel The Heir of Redclyffe, and in particular its description of how worship relates to the life journey of a person. He writes: "When I thumbed through this delightful book again, mindful of the care of the Church; when I realized how Guy had been touched by what we seem to have lost, by the lofty significance of the Sacrament, by the prescribed forms of private and public worship, by the impressive liturgy and the blessed “prayerbook,” which he bequeathed to Phillip just before his death --at that moment the predilection for prescribed ritual, the high estimation of the Sacrament, the appreciation for Liturgy became rooted in me for all time. From then on I have longed with all my soul for a sanctified Church wherein my soul and those of my loved ones can enjoy the quiet refreshment of peace, far from all confusion, under its firm, lasting and authoritative guidance ."

Public theology will bring us continually to Gethsemane and Golgotha. None of us are adequate to the task without being rooted and deeply nurtured in Christ. We must therefore as a matter of urgency attend to the development and practice of a cruciform spirituality.


The task of thinking and embodying, however imperfectly, the Reign of Christ is exhilarating, but not easy. Disciples of Jesus should embody a difficult hope and be ready to give an account for it, as the apostle Peter says, because in our postmodern world it will stick out like a sore thumb. To you students in particular I want to say that there is work to be done, and much to pray about, and then we need to work steadily for a renewal of this tradition. May we rise to the challenge!

The test of our discipleship will always be how well we represent Christ. Wouldn't it be great if it could be said of us neocals what Kierkegaard said of Chrysostom: ‘"He gesticulated with his whole existence"? Such is the holistic nature of Christ’'s redemption that this is the only way to gesticulate, as neocalvinism recognizes. Witness can never only be in word but must be in word and deed, in all areas of life.

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