A View for the World

Even though I love theological nicknames, I don’t want to underestimate the threat some people feel when introduced to something they feel is “new,” even if all that’s new is a name. I remember taking apart and explaining our church’s Sunday morning liturgy after we’d already been following the same pattern for a year, and it caused dyspepsia for more than a few people. It’s like finding out about a surprise ingredient in your favorite dish. You thought you liked it, but knowing changed your taste.

You may already be more Kuyperian (whether you’d use that description or not), you may be more Dispensational (whether you admit that in Reformed circles or not), but there isn’t anyone else we’ve found trying to talk about them together.

Usually “new” theological things are dangerous things. Neither Kuyperian thought or Dispensational thought are new, what’s new is seeing how they necessarily fit together. The trellis and the vine image emphasizes life over structure, even if the structure provides space for growth. Peanut butter and chocolate taste great together but also taste fine apart, and a sword and a trowel could both be hooked on your belt but you’d probably only use one at a time. Oil and water do not mix at all.

But we think Kuyperianism and Dispensationalism are like the tongue-in-groove that keep the worldview floor from sliding around under you. Kuyperianism and Dispensationalism are like a door knob bolt and the latch in the frame that “click” into place. Kuyperianism and Dispensationalism are like the chain and the teeth on a gear that “catch” and crank the wheel forward. Kuyperianism lets the clutch out of Dispensationalism. Kuyperianism is the ink to Dispensationalism’s pen. Kuyperianism takes the lens off of Dispensationalism’s binoculars. Kuyperianism is the bow to Dispensationalism’s arrow.

Some might keep reading and say, “Oh, yeah! That’s exactly what I believe but never had a name for it!” Others might say, “Oh, no! I’ve been wrong! I need to repent!” Still others might say, “Oh, no! You guys are crazy and I don’t want anything to do with you!”

But this is no less than an attempt to fuse a Weltanschauung (German from Welt = world + Anschauung = perception), a new way to perceive the world. This is no less than an attempt to read the Bible from beginning to end, to account for every promise given, every promise fulfilled, and all the ones yet to be fulfilled. This is no less than an attempt to obey every command and commission given to humanity and to Christians, all together in and for Jesus. He is Lord. He claims it as His own, from before the foundation of the world through the last days. It is an explanation of history and an expectation for the future. This is not a worldview so that we can label the world and distance ourselves in order to complain about it, it is a worldview with marching orders for today. Kuyper himself called for:

“a central motive in the mental and emotional life of a people, which shall dominate the whole existence from within, and which consequently carries its effect from this spiritual center to its outermost circumference.”

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 150

More than an abstract cause, it is a comfort and a catalyst centered on the Triune God.

The Kuyperian Dispensationalist: it’s not a new brand, but a way of reading the Bible and seeking to obey all of it. We need to define the terms, and then show how things fit. The question is, can Kuyperianism and Dispensationalism commingle, or must they contradict?

When He was with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” His Word created a new world of thought and connections. He “said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” On the map, we are here.

Be patient. Be Bereans. Be Kuyperians. Be brothers and sisters. Be humble. Be ready. And may the Lord bless the work of our hands.

What’s In a Name

Soon we’ll start to consider more carefully what a Kuyperian Dispensationalist is. We need to answer questions such as, What makes someone Kuyperian? What is a Dispensationalist? Is it conceivable for them to go together?

But before dealing with those, a typical question, or even strong objection, is: Why use names at all? Abraham is a Bible name, but not Abraham Kuyper. Dispensations can be found in the Bible but never the word itself, even if you agree with the doctrine. Must we use extra-biblical descriptions? Don’t names cause divisions and upset stomachs? And especially, considering the history of using a name such as Calvinism, isn’t this elevating a man over Scripture? Like any system, won’t we be guilty of forcing an external pattern onto the Bible?

It absolutely could be any of those things, and much worse things. But when Adam named the animals God created it didn’t change what they were. Even more so, it was part of Adam’s calling by God to label and classify things. That was part of his image-bearing glory. Recognizing patterns is not making the patterns, like the golden ratio in nautilus shells or planetary orbits in astronomy, or theology. Doctrine about the One God in Three Persons, eternally co-equal, could require us to say the Athanasian Creed every time (though it isn’t inspired either). Or we could use the the one word summary, “Trinity,” that isn’t in the Bible.

As for systemizing things, Spurgeon once said that a truth isn’t contradicted because it can be organized.

“To affirm of any human production that it contained many great and instructive truths which it would be impossible to systematize without weakening each separate truth, and frustrating the design of the whole, would be a serious reflection upon the author’s wisdom and skill. How much more to affirm this of the Word of God! Systematic theology is to the Bible what science is to nature. To suppose that all the other works of God are orderly and systematic, and the greater the work the more perfect the system; and that the greatest of all His works, in which all His perfections are transcendently displayed, should have no plan or system, is altogether absurd. If faith in the Scriptures is to be positive, if consistent with itself, if operative, if abiding, it must have a fixed and well-defined creed. No one can say that the Bible is his creed, unless he can express it in words of his own.

Charles Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel, 1872, 141, quoted in The Forgotten Spurgeon by Ian Murray, 9.

Names help diagnose and then treat diseases. Names help conceive and assemble buildings. Names can be misused, they can also help to communicate, to share the meaning of something in common. It doesn’t matter if someone says he is a Trinitarian as long as he believes the truth of it. It doesn’t matter if someone hates the word dualism as long as he actually hates dualism. It doesn’t matter if someone has ever heard of the “hypostatic union,” but he must believe that Jesus is both God and man. And if he does believe it, why not use the label?

So the Kuyperian Dispensationalist is shorthand, a nickname, a quirky code for sake of convenience in order to share an understanding about how things connect. If it happens to cause some provocation along the way, maybe that’s just what the doctor prescribed.

One More in the World

So what are we doing here? What is a Kuyperian Dispensationalist and who cares?

This website, and more specifically the series of posts in the queue, has been brewing for quite a while. The coffee in the pot hasn’t turned into sludge, though, not yet at least. It’s hot and fresh and on the front burner.

There have been a few stages of development, starting with a gnawing discontent with epistolary exclusivity, by which I mean a tendency in some church circles to focus on the New Testament epistles in such a way that causes the rest of the Bible to be functionally neglected. I have more to say later about the eyes—on-earth-opening effect of books such as Ecclesiastes, Genesis, and the Psalms, but there is more to the Old Testament than just historical background to or illustrations for the New Testament. The New Testament is great, inspired even (!), but the whole thing was written in one long generation. Sometimes in the Old Testament you can skip a couple hundred years between chapter breaks. The revelation in the first 39 books of the Bible has a breadth to it, and a breath in it, as it points to Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, the Savior of the Nations. As I started paying more attention to things outside of the apostolic letters I also started longing to answer some questions I didn’t even know I needed to ask.

Then I got asked a question for which there was no good answer. I was meeting for coffee one Saturday morning with one of the men in our church, probably about a year after our church started. He asked me what book he could read that would explain what we were all about. I think I laughed out loud, and am still laughing today, because there isn’t just one (except the Bible, of course, though who doesn’t say that?).

Our church is not a purebred anything. In terms of our theology and philosophy of ministry, we are not just a mix, we are a mutt. Some might actually call us a mess. We love the truth, but we also think that relationships and fellowship in love is the aim of the truth. We love the fundamentals, we even love the Fundamentalists, and we’d hug them if they hadn’t isolated themselves away from everyone. We believe that the greatest commandment is to love God, not be right about Him, but we also think that affections are supposed to be driven and directed by doctrine. We do not fall into the Bible-study-at-all-costs camp, nor would we pitch our tent in the doctrine-divides camp.

We have a high view of the pastoral office, so much so that we invite everyone have a close look at it. We asked all our men to read a book on eldership and talk through it together before we officially affirmed the first board. We are an elder-rule church, and we also expect every shepherd to remember that he is a sheep and to participate alongside—like, you know, even talk with—others in the flock.

We believe in the sovereignty of God, the Solas of the Reformation, and the Five Points of Calvinism so much so that we have a heart hernia; our Reformed organ is so large that it tries to protrude through the muscle wall. We also think that the Reformers didn’t go far enough, perhaps because many of them were just trying to get themselves not dead. We are Reformed and still reforming.

We believe something uniquely supernatural happens when the church assembles for worship, and that the whole assembly is worshipping the whole time we’re together. We believe that good liturgy should be more than singing a couple songs to get ready for the sermon, listening to the sermon, then singing a song to respond to the sermon. We also think that liturgy connects us to previous generations of saints, and yet we don’t parrot their words, we want to define what we mean by “saints,” and we would never include an icon to help us worship.

We usually have verse-by-verse preaching, but we don’t do verse-by-verse-Bible-study small groups. We use air war (public) and ground war (house by house) tactics in the battle of discipleship.

We think the rapture could happen at any moment and also that adultolescent men should get off their mom’s wifi and out of her basement and start families, businesses, and do stuff because of the rapture. We think kids can love the Lord when they are still quite young, yet we won’t baptize them until they can profess it.

We think wine is a gift from God but not because we demand to exercise our Christian liberty. We believe in feasting and fasting. We care about politics because we think Jesus is the King of kings. We believe in the Trinity, in the gospel of forgiveness, and that we really should get along with one another.

So we’re not close to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. We’re not Charismatics or Lutherans. Nor are we Presbyterian or Seeker Sensitive or Emergent or Post-Neo Anything. We are close-ish to being Baptists, and we will re-baptize, but that’s ironic since most Baptists/Anabaptists have been separatists and we’re trying to be engage-ists (without becoming inclusivists). The very first “missionary” we supported is a lawyer. We rent and meet in a Seventh-Day Adventist building. We are hopefully not heretics, but we are a mutt. What we believe can be pinned down, but it takes a lot of pins.

It’s not actually that convenient. What are we supposed to put on the church brochure? How should our members tell others what we’re about? “We’re like every other church except for the ways we’re not.”

Anyway, the book I settled on as a recommendation was The Trellis and the Vine, which I still think is a good choice. We like a lot of what it says about how to use the Word to make faithful men and give away grace-work. It’s good, but it’s not enough.

We are a peculiar people. We are not by any means the only faithful assembly of Christians, but when we read the Bible our hearts burn with a hot cup of joy as we see certain things fit together. In particular, we have started to see more about God’s created world and how He considers it good.

Our Calvinism had to pull up the other pant leg. God’s glad sovereignty works salvation and sustains the cosmos. This could be nicknamed a Kuyperian viewpoint, and more needs to be said about it.

But historically, the kinds of people who have thought in a Kuyperian way, whether or not they used (or even knew) his name, have been our Presby brothers, Covenantalists, Post- or A-mil Christians. They have a heritage of appreciating creation and the work of men on earth. We epistle-dominated-readers don’t have that rich inheritance.

But when we started learning about image-bearing in individual and cultural ways according to the beginning of all things in Genesis 1, not only did we realize that it all still applies, we who pride ourselves on Bible reading realized that we had been reading the Bible wrongly. To help course correct we read through The Things of Earth in our men’s and women’s meetings. Our ladies read The Supper of the Lamb and the men read Lectures on Calvinism and our small group leaders watched and talked about For the Life of the World together. We needed to repent from dualism.

At the same time we also think there is a way of looking at the end of things, a certain eschatology, rooted in good Bible reading. We’re jealous of the cultural heritage among Covanentalists, but we’re possessive about the distinction between Israel and the Church, a distinction that is usually better cared for by Dispensationalists. It’s our Dispy brothers, though, who historically haven’t built much but bookshelves for study Bibles (and rapture fiction) in their bomb shelters. Actually, they are also good at building walls between themselves and others.

Here we are, trusting God and joyfully working in the world, knowing that He says things are going to “go on from bad to worse” (2 Timothy 3:13, see also 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1), while we also trust that the power of the gospel is and will continue making things better in other ways. We are thankful for the Christian accomplishments in missions, and in medicine, technology, education, indoor plumbing, free markets, and Internet publishing. Christians have made many things better because they were here on earth rather than plucked to heaven when they said the sinner’s prayer. We are optimistic Pre-millennials. This is how we read the Bible. It’s what makes our hearts burn.

A few summers ago, my friend Jonathan was in Moscow, ID, with some of the teachers from our school, and he was talking with Douglas Wilson about our mutt-ness. Jonathan will be writing for this site as well, and sometime he’ll give a more detailed account of their discussion. But Doug, who is an ebullient Postmillennialist, had no ready category in which to put this juxtaposition. So he told Jonathan, “You know what you ought to do? You ought to start a blog and call it The Kuyperian Dispensationalist.” He, Doug, doesn’t think the two things go together, but he thought it might be fun to watch.

When Jonathan told me about the idea, my heart burned. Even the name: The Kuyperian Dispensationalist, rather than -ism, is so good, because there may only be one other Kuyperian Dispensationalist in the world. We’re on a mission to find that one! Actually, all the elders at our church would consider themselves to be such, while still trying to figure out what it means and what we should do about it. But we hope that there are more, more who think this way but don’t know how to describe it, more who are primed to join in the work. Some will need a lot of time to think about it, and that’s why we’re writing here. Others, of course, won’t agree until we’re raptured together in the air.

Making Our Hearts Burn

On the very first resurrection Sunday two Jews were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus and talking with each other about all the things that had happened over the previous days. While they conversed, the risen Jesus joined them and started asking them questions. They didn’t recognize Him as Jesus, and they were surprised that this stranger seemed not to know about all the events concerning “Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). They went on for a while explaining to Jesus about His death and sharing reports of His tomb being empty. But they themselves hadn’t come to any conclusions.

At some point “[Jesus] said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (verse 25). All these things were in the Bible.

They arrived in Emmaus and Jesus sat down to dinner with them. “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed it and broke it and give it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight” (verse 30). We might imagine them saying, “Wait! Now we have more questions!” They hadn’t had a problem with their physical sight, but now they could finally see.

Not only could they see who they had been talking with, they could see how what He had said made sense. “They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (verse 32) Jesus had been clearing brush away from the signs and then showing how all the signs pointed in one direction.

Both because the Bible is a more-than-human book, and because sin is a blinding force, not seeing what is right in front of us, especially on the pages of Scripture, is a typical problem. We can be obtuse on a sentence level, we can be oblivious on the story level. But this is the beginning of a sign-clearing effort to see a way of explaining God’s plan, from beginning to end, that has been in the Bible all along but for whatever reason we haven’t recognized.

It is a Bible reading project, “beginning with Moses” and including “all the Prophets,” as well as the Gospels and the epistles of Christ’s apostles. This is a project to read and believe that “‘everything written about [Jesus] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” This is a project to describe the things that make our hearts burn within us.