As to Being Reformed by Rienk Bouke Kuiper (1886-1966) is an older book, looks like 1926 or 1927, per the preface. It’s writing style is, well, lacking. It is sort of grating and difficult to read. It’s a bit of a rant. Even so, Kuiper gives the reader a great deal to talk about. What I’d like to explore in this piece is his perspective on fundamentalists, premillennialism, and Anabaptist theology. That seems like a lot but he does tie them together.
One of my concerns about modern church life is one that has hung around for a couple of centuries. We lack a strong educational institution in most all of our churches and often even our colleges and seminaries. Kuiper describes the situation:
Perhaps the most general characteristic of Anabaptism is that it teaches a dualism of nature and grace, of the natural and the supernatural. It denies that the two can be harmonized. It even drives a wedge between them. And the int proceeds to extol the supernatural at the expense of the natural; or, to put it more precisely, ti underestimates nature in favor of grace. Much the same thing, I fear, is true of present-day Fundamentalism.
Let me offer some concrete evidence.
How very poor a showing many a Fundamentalist has made in an argument with a Modernist! This, I fear, is not accidental. The Fundamentalists do not value sufficiently a broad liberal education as the foundation of theological training. Every once in a while a Fundamentalist betrays his ignorance of the distinction between mechanical and organic inspiration and fails to do justice to the human element in the writing of the Scriptures. How wary many Fundamentalists are of admitting that God frequently employs natural means in performing miracles, in themselves supernatural. Who has never heard of a Fundamentalist speak of the catastrophe which is to tend this dispensation as a destruction of the present order of things, to be followed by an entirely new creation, rather than an act of purification issuing in the restoration of all things? And would not many a well-meaning but short-sighted teacher of Christianity hesitate to admit that the student who neglects his Aristotle in order to engage in city mission work may for all that be a poorer Christian than his roommate who makes so thorough a study of this pagan philosopher that he has no time left for evangelical work; that the businessman who bungles his income tax return in order to attend prayer-meeting is not necessarily more spiritual than another who so scrupulously exact about the same piece of work that he fails to hear the striking of the sweet hour of prayer; and that the woman who is rearing so large a family that she has little or no time left for church work may well receive a richer reward in heaven than her sister without children who is president of the Ladies’ Aid or the Ladies’ Missionary Society? (78-79)
The point Kuiper makes can be summed up in the error of the old fundamentalist demand that a Christian ought to be in church every time the door is open. That is a thought just as foolish as the argument which would counter criticism, specifically that to make such a complaint gives believers the opportunity to disobey Hebrews 10:25. The mindset of the (to Kuiper) Fundamentalist and Anabaptist is so simplistic that there are few options.
The error works out in church teaching and evangelism. What is the primary mission of the church, they would say? Well, evangelism, of course. Who would even dare argue with that? And when is Christ coming back? It could be any time … Could it even be in the next five minutes? If that is so, and it is believed to be the case, then why waste our time doing these long-term things like teaching and training when we could be evangelizing to keep people from going to hell?
There is something emotive about the idea that Christ could come back at any time. It always comes with the tone that it *will* happen quickly — any time now. All the prophecies have been fulfilled. What’s left? There is nothing left. It *has* to happen Really Soon Now. So there is not only any need to do these long-term things, but those things actually get in the way of what we are *supposed* to be doing as a church.
Evangelism thus takes the place of everything else. Teaching is minimal. Apologetics is too philosophical and too demanding. We need to put it all on the bottom shelf. The sermon needs to be persuasive more than educational. A quality sermon given by a persuasive pastor will bring more to Christ than any time spent on the works of pagan philosophers.
These things are readily observed in churches with that “revivalist” mentality. No, they’re not identical in every church, but yes, they are ubiquitous within the movement.
Running alongside as a sibling to these problems is a theological concern: Premillennialism and especially Dispensationalism. Of course, it’s not a problem on my part. This is from the perspective of an Amillennial Reformed theologian. Though I most certainly disagree with him on the eschatology, Kuiper makes some useful points about the attitudes and structure of premillennial theology.
The problem of the premillennialist is the same as the Anabaptist and fundamentalist: There is a false duality between what is physical and what is spiritual. We see it in the political perspectives expressed in the U.S. expressed as a certain type of two-kingdom theology. The earthly kingdom is treated as having almost equal authority with the Kingdom of God. They are set up as parallels and cooperating entities based on a few important passages. I agree: That’s a problem with the premillennialist structure.
The amillennialist also has a two-kingdom theology but in theirs, the earthly kingdom is entirely subordinate to the Kingdom of God. The amillennialist works to grow the Kingdom where the premillennialist looks forward to the Kingdom. Kuiper is right: We do have an unnecessary dualism.
Now a little excursus:
One might also say that the premillennialist is a bit of a pessimist. Both the postmillennialist and the amillennialist work to build the Kingdom. They work to see God’s righteousness put in place as an influence in the world. They look optimistically at the Kingdom in which they participate. But the premillennialist sees no hope because the Kingdom is a future event. If Christ is likely coming back Real Soon Now then the state of the world leaves little in the way of room for compassion. The Lord will come and will then judge and restore all things.
The amillennialist sees “covenant” as the driving principle here. The current world is part of the Kingdom. Covenant establishes relationships and boundaries. Covenant sets up the long-term relationships. The amillennialist takes covenant principles more seriously than does the premillennialist. Except for the covenant with Israel, that is.
As a result, the influence of the premillennialist (notably fundamentalists and other premillennial evangelicals) has been minimal. There was some change in the 70s and 80s with the rise of the “religious right” and the growth of the “reconstructionist” — both of which borrowed what was needed from amillennial and postmillennial theology. It didn’t matter if it was consistent with premillennial theology. It was there and it did the job for the moment.
And a summary thought:
One of the greatest strengths of premillennial theology is its very Biblical attention to certain covenants. Romans 9:1-5 and 11:28-29 sit as a sound critique of a weakness in amillennial (Reformed) eschatology. Likewise, the pessimism and dualisms of premillennial theology do get in the way. They hurt our influence in the world and make us look isolated. Some of us are. And in the world’s eyes, they might as well be Amish.
There is a lot of good reading in Kuiper’s works. The premillennial theologian might learn something for his correction and improvement.