November 19, 2003

Neocalvinism, US conservatism and Christian labour unions (or: Why my head hurts)

So yeah, last night I was at another one of those talks that gets my brain spinning so fast that the gelatinous mass inside my skull was centrifugally forced to the outside resulting in severe cranial pain and, I fear, destruction of brain cells leading to lowered mental capacity. In other words, if I am reduced to a gibbering idiot anytime in the near future, blame people like Professors Goheen and Plantinga and especially these Christian Labour Association of Canada-type people. I can only take so much new stuff in at a time, I am an überconservative even by American standards, you know -- have a little mercy.

OK, so I've been throwing this neo-calvinist term around in my head for about a year now, and I'm still not quite sure what it means. So in the long tradition of me talking completely out of my bum, I'm going to try to define it and relate it to this notion of a "Christian labour union"; then you Redeemer bloggers like Brian and Richard and Prof. Koyzis and Rob can come over and correct me in the comments to your hearts' content.

That said: Neo-calvinism is the view that salvation is about both the salvation of souls and the redemption of the whole creation, including human society and culture. Therefore, Christians ought to be actively working within society to promote not only Christian morality, but fair structures and satisfying arts -- excellence in everything. In some ways, it represents a liberalization of conservative Christian ideas about the inherent evil of movies, modern arts, etc. Unlike liberal Christian theology, however, it re-affirms the doctrine of sin and even extends it, holding the view that sin is not mere commission of wrong actions or omission of right actions, but an all-pervading influence in every aspect of society. Our very minds, the ways and patterns in which we think and act, must be converted and remoulded. Our societal structures are tainted as well; our cultures have taken good things (like material goods, the love of the good gifts God gives) and stretched them into idols (in the case of money, capitalist unconcern for the poor and social justice, among other things).

Abraham Kuyper, a pastor, theologian and the prime minister of the Netherlands at the beginning of last century, said that "There is no square inch of creation over which Jesus Christ does not shout, 'This is mine! This belongs to me.'” This is the basic innovation of neo-Calvinist philosophy; that there is nothing that cannot (and will not) be redeemed (not even rock music!). God made all things; all things fell; all things are being redeemed.

On the whole, I think I agree with what I've just said, if that is indeed neo-calvinism. I'm a bit concerned about its implications for the doctrine of judgement -- does that 'all things made new' include human beings, who presumably have free will and can choose not to be redeemed? I'm not a huge fan of the whole danation thing (who is, really?) but if I believe the Bible is the Word of God, it's sort of hypocritical to pick and choose what I like.

I also like what neo-calvinists say about sphere sovereignty -- namely, that there are different kinds of authority and they ought to keep each other in balance, not invading each others' territory. For example, under the Nazi and Communist regimes of the last century (and several today), the government overstepped its boundaries, infringing on the authority of the market, the family, the church, etc. In contrast, in Iran and other Muslim countries, the Church (well, religion) has usurped too much power.

This seems to me a very US conservative approach, favouring the decentralization of government power not because the government is inherently evil but because too much power in anyone's grip is dangerous. Of course, traditionalists would say that the heart of American conservatism is our unique (in that we're still sort-of Christian) Christian heritage and the libertarians would say it's all about a government with very little power.

Happily, I can sort of side with both, since I favour a government with much less power than the US Federal government has now, because I think the Federal Government has got too much power, and I favour the shift to a more Christian culture, but not in quite the reactionary way that many Christians do.

What does this all have to do with CLAC, the Christian Labour Assn. of Canada? I'll try to answer that later -- it's 5 AM right now, and if I write about CLAC in this state who knows what I'll get wrong. I just don't want Brian to have to spend all day correcting my errors.

Update: I forgot to mention that my favourite part about the talk was that the guy from CLAC was a Dutch guy who emigrated to Canada after World War II. As he got more and less passionate about what he was saying, his Dutch brogue got stronger and weaker. I thought it was entertaining, and also inspiring to see how excited he was about what he was saying, even after fifty-some years in that line of work.

That's the whole point of CLAC, I think... against this assumption that unions (representing the workers) and management have to continually be at odds (and this is, if you think about it, a very Marxist, "class warfare"-ish notion), CLAC is working to bring a environment in which both parties are satisfied, reconciled -- note that this is one aspect of the reconciliation that neo-Calvinists believe Christians are called to bring to all of culture and creation.

Another issue brought up last night was the purpose of labour. We tend to think of work as something that has to be done, a result of the fallen world -- "I have to sit here from nine to five so I can earn money so that I can enjoy my family and friends". But notice that even before the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve tasks, to name the animals, to "fill the earth and rule it", which suggests a desire to work inherent in human nature. Think of the good feeling you have after, say, helping a friend move into a new house all day. You come home physically exhausted, but it's a satisfied, fulfilled feeling too. That is what work is supposed to be.

My church recently (well, 10 years ago) commissioned a new confession to be written, one that would speak directly to current issues facing the Church. It's called Our world belongs to God: a contemporary testimony and can be found here. One paragraph sums up what I'm trying to say here:

In our work, even in dull routine,
we hear the call to serve our Lord.
We must work for more than wages,
and manage for more than profit,
so that mutual respect
and the just use of goods and skills
may shape the work place,
and so that, while we earn or profit,
useful products and services may result.
Rest and leisure are gifts of God
to relax us and to set us free
to discover and to explore.
Believing that he provides for us,
we can rest more trustingly
and entertain ourselves more simply.

Posted by Tim at November 19, 2003 05:03 AM

I'm looking forward to this discussion. More later maybe after I digest these concepts a bit.

Posted by: Ted at November 19, 2003 07:20 AM

Tim: Nice, man! That's a great synopsis! I will give Gideon Strauss (CLAC guy) two days until he sniffs this out and posts it to his page.
Heh, keep it up man.

Posted by: Brian Dijkema at November 19, 2003 05:44 PM

Tim, I think you should sign up for my Introduction to Political Ideologies (POL 122) next term. I'd love to have you in this class.

Posted by: David T. Koyzis at November 19, 2003 09:01 PM


Posted by: Gideon Strauss at November 24, 2003 08:50 PM


The "all of life redeemed" motto is not a universalism or an arminianism. Anyone who makes it that is fundamentally misunderstanding it.

It means that, given the "cultural mandate" in Genesis, there is no "part" of life that is closed off to obedience and service to God.

Idolatrous culture WILL be judged and condemned by God, just as the reprobate (persons) will be. And even though we might prefer every single individual person (and thing) to be saved, we say "Thy will be done."

This attitude is part of our (neocalvinist) cultural endeavor too. We count "sucess" as faithfulness to God in our cultural task, whether or not the culture-at-large remains in their rebellion.

Welcome to the movement, bro.

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