Dutch Neo-Calvinism and the Roots for Transformation

In June 2011, we spoke with Bill Dennison, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Covenant College, about Transformationalism and Christian Higher Education. In that episode, we touched upon his article, “Dutch Neo-Calvinism and the Roots for Transformation: An Introductory Essay” from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42/2 (June 1999). We only had a few minutes to discuss the article in episode 180, and so today, we pick up where we left off. Dennison contends that while Dutch neo-Calvinism sought to transform culture in response to the threat of the Enlightenment, they stood upon a foundation of Enlightenment principles to do it. Many of the themes discussed in this episode were developed and applied in our twelve-part series on Christ and Culture, in which Dennison debated Darryl Hart, Nelson Kloosterman, and Doug Wilson.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

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Arjen Vreugdenhil

3 months ago

An engaging interaction with Kuyper and his legacy!

I have one major concern, though. I don’t know if Dennison intends this, but he seems to imply that Kuyper rejected a transcendental view of heaven, and falls on the side of Plantinga (or Mouw, for that matter), with their emphasis on a “mended creation”, with a post-millennial kind of optimism. Perhaps one could find some passages in Kuyper that seem to confirm this, but overall I don’t think it reflects Kuyper’s spirituality. One must make a distinction between
– Kuyper and his later heirs
– Dutch Kuyperians and American Kuyperians
– Kuyper the theologian and Kuyper the social “prophet”.

This is not to deny that Kuyper (especially in his later period) had an excessive optimism about cultural development, about “Calvinism” as the new socio-cultural paradigm, and at times about the extent of common grace. On this point he was criticized by the next generation theologians, such as Hoeksema and Schilder (each, in their own way, very much Kuyperian in many respects).

Cameron Clausing

3 months ago

This podcast was an engaging discussion and one that needs more interaction. I thank Reformed Forum for having Dr. Dennison on. That being said, there are a couple concerns that I had listening to this podcast.

First, I wonder if words like ‘neo-Calvinism’ and ‘Transformationalism’ ever were fully defined. Throughout the podcast they seemed to be used interchangeable as if they are synonymous. I am not convinced that they are. I see some of the concerns Dr. Dennison has with transformationalism (whatever that is). Nevertheless, I am not convinced that ‘transformationalism’ and ‘neo-Calvinism’ are the same thing. At the very least, it could be argued that neo-Calvinism could be defined as a particular period of time that ends in the 1920 with the deaths of Bavinck and Kuyper? If this is the case, then there are people who can have neo-Calvinistic sympathies, but they themselves are not neo-Calvinists. If they are not neo-Calvinists, then neo-Calvinism and transformationalism are not synonymous. Terms need to be defined better when dealing with slippery language like ‘neo-Calvinism’ and ‘transformationalism’. The failure to better define terms caused the flattening of the entire conversation.

Second, the podcast is discussing Dutch neo-Calvinism, yet there did not seem to be any substantial interaction with Bavinck or Kuyper. At the very least the question of an exclusively or even primarily ‘horizontal eschatology’ in neo-Calvinism seems questionable at best and patently false at worst. A cursory glance at Bavinck’s last volume of Reformed Dogmatics clearly lays that out. He does not see his eschatology as solely a repristination of the Edenic state. In fact, he makes the point that Eden was never supposed to be a terminal state for Adam, but it was a probationary period. Upon perfect obedience Adam would obtain his final reward which would be better than Eden. Reviewing current at the current Bavinck scholarship (i.e. Brian Mattson’s – Restore to Our Destiny) lays this out pretty clearly.

Third, I am unsure who exactly these ‘neo-Calvinists’ are that Dr. Dennison was discussing. He repeated talks about things that the ‘neo-Calvinists’ are saying, yet he does not tell us who they are. If I am curious about the accuracy of the view that is being described, how can I do my own research on this? What if I disagree with the label ‘neo-Calvinist’ for a certain source, how would I know? It seems like a strawman is being built only to knock it down. If this teaching is so dangerous (possibly the heresy of the 21st century?), why not tell the listener who the people are that are being cited? It seems disingenuous to do it any other way.

Fourth, so much current scholarship is being done on Dutch neo-Calvinism. Why pick up an article that was writing 18 years ago? It seems that you could have talked to any number of neo-Calvinist scholars as guests. Some of which you have already had on at least once. I think of Gray Sutanto or Cory Brock. James Eglinton has a forthcoming book on the topic of neo-Calvinism that will be published with Brill. There are any number of neo-Calvinist scholars readily available, many of whom are sympathetic to Reformed Forum’s particular doctrinal perspective, why not bring them on? At the very least, you could have had someone on that would critically engage with Dr. Dennison in this conversation. It seems like an opportunity missed.

In the end, I appreciate a lot of what Reformed Forum has done and is doing. I think this conversation is needed, but I wonder how helpful it actually was. Hopefully in the future Reformed Forum will pick up this conversation again, and address some of the issues that have been raised.

Camden Bucey

3 months ago

Cameron,

Thanks for the thoughtful remarks. For additional critical interaction, I would encourage people to listen to the twelve-part series of debates I linked to in the description above. That being said, I’d love to interact with current scholarship in future episodes.

Cameron Clausing

3 months ago

Camden,

I want to make it clear that I appreciate a lot of what you guys do and regularly listen to all the podcasts. This episode was just especially disappointing to me. As a guy is currently working on a PhD interacting Bavinck and Dutch neo-Calvinism, I thought it was a rather uncharitable reading of the entire movement. That being said, depending on how one is defining transformationalism, I can see some of the same issues of which Dr. Dennison spoke.

Thanks for all your work, Camden. I appreciate what you guys are doing. I would highly recommend getting someone like James Eglinton on your program in the near future to discuss Dutch neo-Calvinism. I think it would be a good balance to what was put out this week.

CM

3 months ago

Van Prinsterer, Unbelief &Revolution:

Van Prinsterer, Unbelief & Revolution:
http://www.reformationalpublishingproject.com/pdf_books/Scanned_Books_PDF/UnbeliefinReligionandPoliticsUnbeliefandRevolutionLectures_VIII_IX.pdf

I also see parallels to neo-K in the development and influence of cultural Marxism’s ‘Long march’ across the institutions (Fabianism, the Frankfurt school, i.e. Marcuse, Gramchi, etc.) For example,
https://youtu.be/G8pPbrbJJQs, https://youtu.be/gIdBuK7_g3M
Id love to hear more on this subject.

Steve in Toronto

3 months ago

I must say I found it very odd that Dr. Dennison spent so much time responding the paraphrased arguments of men that he refused to name. It made me wonder if he was accurately representing the views of the movement. He seemed remarkably ungenerous.

Keith Furutani

3 months ago

Are Dr Dennison’s lectures at Covenant College recorded and available online anywhere?

Spencer

3 months ago

Thank you for the great podcast. Can anyone please send me the link or place I can find the sermon mentioned by Vos on Hebrews 11? Thank you!

Eddie Mercado

3 months ago

Here is a link to a PDF copy of Heavenly Mindedness (https://www.scribd.com/mobile/document/234125336/Heavenly-Mindedness)

There are minor typos, by the way. If you want to read more, this sermon comes from Vos’s Grace and Glory, a series of sermons from his time at Princeton.

Spencer

3 months ago

Thank you, Eddie

A Anderson

3 months ago

I agree with the above consensus concerning the lack of charitableness. Especially difficult for me was the needless polarization of the PCA and OPC, and the accusation that the Neo-Calvinists lack christocentricity. That is a strong statement.

I agree with the commentator who referred to Bavinck. I do not think Dr. Dennison has an ally in him (see Renewal of Creation, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4, 715-730). It seems Dr. Dennison is unwilling to highlight any continuity between this world and the world to come. The first thing in a parade of thoughts is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sown seed raised imperishable. As Doug Kelly says, there are atoms in this world that make it to the world that comes . . . and all of this soli Deo gloria.

I also wonder how Greg Beale would interact with him.

Corby in Saskatchewan

3 months ago

Hey guys,
Like most episodes I really enjoyed this installment. This was my first introduction into Neo-Calvinism and although it may have been a broad discussion about how it relates to transformationalism I found Dr. Dennison’s comments to be very interesting. I’m looking forward to reading his article and continuing on studying this fascinating topic.

A Anderson

3 months ago

Bavinck on New Creation: “According to Scripture, the present world will neither continue forever nor will it be destroyed and replaced by a totally new one. Instead it will be cleansed of sin and re-created, reborn, renewed, made whole. While the kingdom of God is first planted spiritually in human hearts, the future blessedness is not to be spiritualized. Biblical hope, rooted in incarnation and resurrection, is creational, this-worldly, visible, physical, bodily hope.” It seems to me that horizontal continuity magnifies the power, glory, and grace represented by the vertical and transcendent. Is not His condescension eternal?

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