Christian Political Action: Appraisal of a Theory


In this presidential election year our citizens have another opportunity to indicate their convictions concerning the political issues and cast their ballots for Congressmen and President. As in the past, Christians in America will go their separate ways, dividing their votes between the two major parties. Among Christian Reformed people there are those who deeply regret and others who merely accept the lack of Christian consensus and concerted action. This is not for lack of discussion on the need for Christian political action. The debate within our circles has not centered so much on individual versus organized action, but on what kind of Christian organization: political party or pressure group. These two alternatives were explored in a most important article on “Calvinism and Political Action” by Dr. W. Spoelhof, President of Calvin College.1

Dr. Spoelhof analyzed the “potentials for political action by Calvinists in America.” One can wholeheartedly agree with the author that “Calvinistic action without knowledge of the principles involved is inconceivable” (p. 160). Furthermore, one can agree that a program of compromise of principles “could not be dignified by the term Calvinistic. Calvinistic action implies that the principles which constitute its genius cannot be sacrificed or watered down” (p. 162). Also, one would not deny that it “is not within the province of the church to engage in political action” (p. 162). At the conclusion of the article the author states: “Calvinists in America have the theory—all they need is the practice” (p. 173).

Within our Dutch-American community Dr. Spoelhof’s contribution was the first full-scale treatment of Christian political action by one who is acquainted by experience and education with politics in America. The article was written to provide our people with practical guidance. It helped shape the mind of the Reformed Christians and still stands as an authoritative statement on political action. The article has been referred to frequently and generally quoted as a starting point of any discussion on organized Christian political action. Other academic leaders, such as Professors J. Daling, T. Brouwer, C. Orlebeke, and N. Wolterstorff, have added little or nothing new.2 On the whole, they accept as their own Dr. Spoelhof’s assumptions, arguments, and conclusions that a Christian political party is impractical and that the only effective method of concerted action is a Christian pressure group. However, no other article has hampered the actual formation of Christian organizations more than his contribution. His “non-ideological,” practical guidance has divided rather than united Reformed Christians. It has seriously retarded progress on individual and concerted witness for decades.

The purpose of this article is to indicate that the reasons advanced against a Christian party are inconclusive and unconvincing. Also, that the proposal for a Christian pressure group rests not on a Calvinistic but an unchristian theory of societal relations. Due to the length of this article, it is not possible to deal with the idea of a Christian pressure group at this time although it is given an important place in Dr. Spoelhof’s article. The author said that “Calvinists in America have the theory,” but the theory which Calvinists like Dr. Spoelhof have, however, is not Christian hut historistic and pragmatistic. What Christians in America need is not practice, because there is plenty of it, but if you will, a Calvinistic theory of society and politics, especially economic and political organizations.

Before we turn to the subject-matter we insert a word of warning to avoid misunderstanding. This article is aimed at the same readers who were reached by the above mentioned article and book and anyone interested in thinking Christianity concerning concerted political activity. Dr. Spoelhof’s article was written as an attempt to arrive at the truth with respect to organized Christian political action. This critical evaluation is intended to re-examine the basic premise of his article as it certainly cannot be considered a final statement on Calvinism and political action. This article is written to advance a public discussion on principles and primary issues, not important persons. It is hoped that Dr. Spoelhof will be challenged to reevaluate the potential of Christian action. He has written in connection with education; “…when questions are posed about the very essence of Christian higher education, I, for one, would not wish to complain about fault-finders” (The Banner, Sept. 11, 1964, p. 23). Earlier in the year, he wrote; “Never has there been as much serious soul-searching as to our calling and our commitment as a faculty as during this semester” (The Banner, May 15, 1964, p. 16). May the same soon be said about our calling and commitment in politics.

Calvinists in Holland and America

The author first of all compares the potentials of Calvinistic action in both countries. At the very outset he makes two statements of truths. “There are several propositions,…which must be understood thoroughly before anyone type of action can be contemplated. The first, and most important…political institutions…are outgrowths or expressions of a national consciousness” (p. 159). “Dutch institutions are Dutch, and American institutions are American. This smacks of a truism, which undoubtedly it is, but it is frequently forgotten in our thinking on and discussion of Calvinistic political action” (p. 160). “A second proposition…is that the Calvinistic political potential in America is wholly different from that in the Netherlands. Nothing can be gained from aping foreign Calvinistic political action, for it simply will not work. We must work within the sphere of American political tradition and practice and not attempt to impose methods and approaches which are novel to the American scene” (ibid, italics added). To illustrate the difference in potential he writes the following, among others:

The historic Calvinistic tradition, as a molding force of political institutions, played a much more significant role in the Netherlands than did the Calvinistic tradition in America.

This historic Calvinistic tradition does not only put history on the side of the Dutch Calvinistic political action but it creates a political atmosphere which makes possible the existence of a confessional political party (pp. 160–161).

It is submitted that Dr. Spoelhof has a special place in his heart for HISTORY. It is precisely this commitment to HISTORY, almost equal to a commitment to God, that prevents him from a real comparison of the potential for political action. This (scientific) commitment to history known as historism, the absolutization of history, has led ironically also to a relativism of history, the relativity of judgments and the denial of universal truths. Paradoxically, such a commitment to historism “has blinded us and prevented us from seeing the plain historical truth.”3

According to Dr. Spoelhof, it is “history” and “tradition,” rather than God, which is on the side of the Dutch and which makes possible the formation of confessional parties. Professor H. E. Runner has grave objections to such an interpretation of Dutch history. He writes:

Just think, if we should take this theory seriously, then all those gigantic struggles of faith by which the Dutch Christians of a century ago fought for Lebensraum against the oppressive liberalism which then had a stranglehold on Dutch culture would turn out to be nothing more than the natural expression of the Dutch genius!4

In short, the establishment of Christian political parties, according to Dr. Spoelhof, is a manifestation of the national consciousness; not the outgrowth of a new Reformation. In Holland a Christian party is possible because of the political practices and the “solidarity, and the compactness, and the relative ethnic, geographic, and economic homogeneity…” (p. 161). However, this same solidarity, geography, and history has led to the development of “non-confessional” parties in the Netherlands. Anyone fami liar with recent developments in Holland knows that confessional parties are no longer taken for granted. Must one conclude, then, that history is not only taking but changing sides?

Now that, according to the late President Kennedy, history is on our side, “with history the final judge of our deeds,” may we look forward to the formation of confessional parties in America? Actually, Americans, in particular protestants, believe that history has long been on the side of America. And, if there ever was a nation in the world where the Calvinist tradition has had an unprecedented impact on the morals, political economy, and economic policy, it is America. The “Protestant Establishment” had a firm grip on and molded the public political institutions and political leaders. The public school was the protestant school.

Confessional Parties

One of the outstanding differences between Holland and America is said to be that the former has and the latter does not have confessional parties. The reader should note Dr. Spoelhof’s description of the concept “confession” which is identified with church or theological confession. He writes:

Political action should be divorced completely from ecclesiastical action. Still political principles should arise from our religious convictions. To describe such action and to distinguish it clearly from ecclesiastical action I shall use the term “Confessional political action” (p. 162).

Unfortunately, his distinction is not clear and leads to confusion. Despite his intentions, he identifies confessional with ecclesiastical parties. In the United States we have “no tradition of confessional parties,” because we “have not had a favored church on a national scale…” (p. 164). As a matter of fact, the term is indiscriminately applied to both a Catholic (Church) party and a Calvinistic party. The Anti-Revolutionary Party, however, is not a confessional party. The principles and actions of the A.R.P. arise from religious convictions, but it is not based on a church creed. This Calvinistic party is in principle a Christian, not a confessional party.

In America, we do have what may be called “unofficial” confessional political parties, a definite correlation between church and party membership; Catholics are more likely to be affiliated with the Democratic than the Republican Party, while Calvinists are mostly identified with the Republican Party. The latter is so intimate that Dr. Spoelhof feels the necessity for stating that this is a “misconception of many Calvinists” which “must be rooted out” (p. 167). Within our Christian Reformed community this relationship is so close that Professor T. Brouwer felt compelled to point out that individual participation is possible and permissible in both parties.5

By way of summary of the 6rst section, it can be said that it is not self-evident that American institutions are an outgrowth of an American consciousness. Far from being a truism it smacks of “Americanism” (p. 167). Americanism has taken the place of Calvinism as a religious cultural force molding our political institutions. Ironically, twenty-five years earlier the late Dr. C. Bouma had forewarned our people that acceptance of Americanism would be a sure way of death for Calvin College.6 Finally, to state that Christian parties are a product of HISTORY is to imply that they are not an outgrowth of obedient listening to the Word of God in politics.

Christian Political Party in America?

Besides confessional parties there are supposedly non-confessional parties. The best example of such parties would be our American parties. In America a Christian party is impossible…

…as long as American political institutions maintain their present course. Whether this present course will long be maintained is not foreseeable, hence, in this discussion I shall abide by the current circumstances….

The reasons why…[it] is currently impossible should not be dismissed casually because these reasons go far toward explaining the modus operandi of American politics and indicate what avenues of approach to politics are open to Calvinists (p. 163).

Again history provides Dr. Spoelhof with the criteria. Pragmatically minded, he is concerned with the immediate situation. He has “little room” for “building up an unreal scheme.” It is not that he lacks vision. The way he “sees” things depends upon where he “stands.” He “abides by” current history and the present political scene. From this standing- and starting-point he “foresees” that a Christian party is presently and in the future an impossibility, an “unreal scheme.” However, someone, with a Christian vision of things possible by God and His people, would influence one to write differently about the potential of a Christian party. Let us examine his three reasons why such a party is currently impossible.

Impractical and Ineffective

The most obvious reason for the impracticability…is the lack of concentrated electoral strength…Our system of plurality elections instead of proportional representation, and the presidential type of government…demand such a concentration of strength (p. 163).

Is it not unrealistic to expect such a Christian party to immediately deliver a president? But it could provide immediately a presidential candidate, knowing full well that only one candidate can win. This is true for the two major parties also. Although the major parties want the big prize. it is submitted that this prize need not be the first and foremost concern of a Christian party. There are many congressional races to be decided every two years. However, Christians favoring an organized party would want nothing less than to witness in “the most obvious, the most direct, and the most significant” way (p. 163). And the main reason why it is inconceivable now is not so much the lack of concentrated electoral strength, but, as Dr. Spoelhof himself admits, the lack of genuine Christian commitment everywhere in the United States (bottom p. 163). Contemporary Christianity and Calvinism is compromised with Americanism and pragmatism. That is why Calvinism is impotent, not because of lack of numerical strength.

The single member district instead of proportional representation, as practiced in the Netherlands, is also advanced as a reason for our two party system and the ineffectiveness of a Calvinistic party. There is something basically wrong with this theoretical explanation. According to Professor J. C. Charlesworth:

The double fault in this theory is (1) that it does not explain why single-member-districts elections will produce the same two main parties in … the United States and multi-parties in…Europe, and (2) that it begs the question of why we have two main parties. The method of choosing councilmen does not create a two-party system; devotees of the two-party system determine the method of choosing councilmen.7

On the state and local level Christians could promote proportional representation. After all, there is nothing Dutch about P.R It was practiced in America and it could be reintroduced on a large scale. As a matter of fact, it is now being urged by leading political scientists. A good case can be made that it is more democratic, making possible representation of minority groups such as Negroes and Calvinists. But, unfortunately, too many Calvinists would rather defend the status quo, the present course, even when the opportunity presents itself to change the existing practice of representation, such as the 1961–62 Michigan Constitutional Convention.

A-Traditional and A-Historical

The second argument against a Christian party is said to be that in America “we have no tradition of confessional parties” (p. 164). Having said this Dr. Spoelhof Qualifies his statement immediately. because he remembers from history that we have had several confessional parties. As a matter of fact we had a Christian National Party in 1952. Significant or not. how can he still maintain that a “confessional party would run counter to the whole American tradition…” (p. 164). Counter to which tradition in America? Our Christian tradition? No. our constitutional tradition.

In the name of our constitutionally guaranteed right of religious freedom, religious tolerance, and separation of church and state, the American public has become opposed to all manifestations of a distinctive confessional element in any phase of public life and institutions (p. 164).

In the name of this constitutional tradition, however, the American public separates two institutions as well as the Christian religion from politics, only to substitute it with a civic religion. The American public does not oppose all manifestations of religion in public life. It is only intolerant of Christianity’s claim on the world of politics. The common, civic religion is Americanism. The well-known religious sociologist, W. Herberg has put it this way: “By every realistic criteria the American Way of Life is the operative faith of the American people.” The burden of his criticism is that this political religion is “so innocently man-centered.”8 This is not the burden of Dr. Spoelhofs article. because his operative faith irl politics is Americanism. He has no basic criticism of our political institutions or reservations about this constitutional tradition. Has he forgotten, then, that the Christian tradition is older and deeper than our American constitutional tradition and that the latter should be evaluated in the light of the former? Or, does he (in-)conveniently put the two faiths along side of each other: a God-centered and a man-centered life in politics? An uncritical acceptance of the whole American tradition eventually leads to a completely man-centered political action.

Contrary to the author’s contradictory position, a Christian party does not run counter to the whole American tradition. Even if it were contrary to past American history and present public opinion would strongly oppose it, it should not hinder Christians in their political task. Christians ought not to live and plan their actions according to the theories and traditions of men, but by the power of the Word of God.

Un-American and unnatural

Dr. Spoelhofs strongest argument against a confessional party “grows out of the very nature of American politics. American political parties are by and large based on men and on expediency and not on principles” (p. 164).

An explanation of the two-party system should serve to show why a separate confessional political party is impossible and also which avenues are open for distinctive Christian action.

The significant difference between European political parties based on principles and the American system based on expediency is the difference between division and union. European parties seek to divide men into cohesive political groups on the bases of these principles and ideologies. The American political parties, on the other hand, do not divide but unite men of conflicting and contrary principles and ideologies. This American feature, far from being artificial or superficial, is born of necessity (p. 165).

This necessity is born out of the fact that we are a “melting pot” of people with divergent backgrounds, occupations, and regions. “It is the task of the American parties to unite and hold together these divergent groups” (ibid).

There are significant differences between European and American parties, but it is not a difference between division and union, for the simple reason that parties, irrespective of orientation, unite and divide American and Dutch people along party lines. What should come as a shock to a Christian Reformed community, so conscious of principles in life, is the writer’s contention that principles divide and life not based on principles unites people. No doubt most readers would feel that principles unite people, and what troubles America today is the lack of clear principles which distracts us in our discourse on politics and religion.

The significant difference, however, is not what the author says it is. It is not a choice between a life with or without principles, but a choice between living out of two opposing principles. Expediency, as the “determining factor” is the guiding principle in American politics. Dr. Spoelhof admonishes us that expediency must also determine Christian action, because expediency is not opportunism but simply an “exercise of political sense.” It does not make sense. Expediency in contemporary politics is nothing less than a operative principle of American pragmatism.9

Our parties are said to be based not on principles but largely on personalities. No party can exist without leaders, but no major party can continue long without principles either. Is it not regrettable, however that so much of our political campaigns centers around personalities? Is it not a national disgrace that we talk so much about the personality rather than the principles, say, of President Johnson? And were our hearts not warmed with renewed hope in 1960 that it is possible to face issues rather than discuss personalities on a nationally televised debate between presidential nominees?

One cannot escape the impression that again history or national genius is the determining principle of interpreting political practice. Throughout the article (he emphasis is: “In America we have no tradition of…” and “American parties are…” etc. The inescapable conclusion one draws from the article is: that which is ought to be. The present practice becomes the predominant principle of explanation. The modus operandi of American politics becomes the modus vivendi for organized Christian activity. The possibility of degeneration in politics, that our parties previously operated on principles rather than personalities, is not even mentioned. W. Goodman, the author of a leading textbook on American parties, however, writes:

Evidence of ideological purity can be found in the formation of United States parties….[They] were deeply concerned with fundamental problems of their times and took commanding positions in regard to them…

What does seem to be an unbroken rule in American politics is that parties have progressively weakened their original ideological content in order to widen their appeals and attract more supporters.10

In Dr. Spoelhof’s article, there is no reference to the process of secularization or the operation of sin in political parties. It is simply explained away as the natural American way. Parties operating on principles or personalities are not viewed as a problem of right or wrong, but as a difference between a Dutch and an American genius. History, geography, and ethnic diversity “have made of the two major parties, parties of expediency and not of a principle” (p. 168). It is an expression of our national consciousness rather than political conscience.

Significance of Platforms and Principles

Despite the author’s persuasive arguments, platforms are significant and our parties are based on principles. His explanation is but one, albeit an important, irrational interpretation of the party system. His theory is hardly distinctively Christian. Many American political scientists have put forth this explanation. As a matter of fact, one is led to believe that his explanation is primarily based on E. Pendleton Herring’s interpretation, especially “Standards for Judging the American Party System” and “Our Parties Take Their Stand.”11 This book must have made a deep and lasting impression on Dr. Spoelhof. There is nothing wrong with relying on primary sources, but it is something else for a Calvinist to uncritically accept as one’s own a pragmatic theory of our party system. This is basically what Dr. Spoelhof has done. Compare for example the following sentences. Professor Pendleton Herring wrote: “…platforms were made not to stand on but to get in on” and “The American political party has not adhered to a fixed set of doctrines for deciding specific policies.12 Dr. Spoelhof stated: “An American platform is…something to get in on, not to stand on” and “Fixed dogma, rigid adherence to a body of principles…are foreign…to our party system” (p. 166). At any rate, it is important to note that for both of them platforms and principles are not significant in American parties. But Pendleton Herring also spoke of standards:

There can be, of course, no one interpretation of the complexity of our politics….A survey of the definitions offered by various authors shows how many ways there are of interpreting the nature and function of the political party in the United States.13

Why, then, does Dr. Spoelhof present a pragmatic interpretation, as if it were a Calvinistic theory, by advancing weighty arguments to show that a Christian party is impractical, a-historical and un-American?

In 1950 the American Political Science Association published a very important supplement entitled Toward a More Responsible Two Party System . Dr. Spoelhof may have read it, but it did not influence his discussion of the prevailing practices of the two party system. With regard to the place of platforms, this report refers to the position of William J. Bryan and Woodrow Wilson. Unlike Dr. Spoelhof, Bryan and Wilson took platforms and principles seriously. Bryan “took the position that a platform is completely binding on the party candidates, and that one who violates the platform is ‘worse than a criminal.’” Wilson “argued…that the established party principles should be considered as more binding than any exceptional plank departing from them.”14

The fundamentalist Bryan and the Calvinist Wilson, contemporaries of Abraham Kuyper, are leading figures in American history. They are excellent examples of Christians who permeated party politics the program of action which Dr. Spoelhof advocates. Such Christians “can get far up the ladder of success” (p. 170) not because they permeated the Democratic Party with Christian principles, but on account of their commitment to evolutionism and pragmatism. They are good examples of Christians who are theologically Calvinist or fundamentalist and politically progressivist or pragmntist; of Christians who reduce their religion to a church realm and their politics to evolution. Such Christians have two absolutes in their lives: a belief in God shapes their church life, a belief in Progress shapes their political outlook.

Like Brynn, Dr. Spoelhof would not for a moment permit the belief in evolution to undermine his understanding of the creation story. However, like Bryan and Wilson, Dr. Spoelhof accepts as “natural” the “evolution” (p. 168) of our political system.15

According to Professors Porter and Johnson, authorities on party platforms, platforms fulfill five functions:

(1) as “principal official statements that exist of party principles nnd policies.” (2) they “foreshadow issues that become significant in the campaigns…” (3) …“serve as a criterion by which to judge party success or failure…and provide the voters with information with which to evaluate the organization.” (4) as “propaganda by which to attract attention to party activities.” (5) they “assert certain party principles and objectives…”16 Indeed, Johnson and Porter as well as the committee on Political Parties Report represent different interpretations of the significance of platforms and principles than Dr. Spoelhof and Pendleton Herring. And did not President Johnson boast in 1965-66 that 85% of his Party’s 1964 Platform had been enacted into the law of the land?

American Parties -Non-ideological?

This depends upon how narrowly or broadly one defines the term “ideology.” Whatever one’s definition, our parties are not religiously neutral. The Democratic Platform of 1952 states under the heading “Progress in the New Era”:

Under the Democratic Party leadership, America has accepted each new challenge of history and has found practical solutions to meet and overcome them. This we have done without departing from the basic principles of our basic philosophy, that is, the destiny of man to achieve his earthly ends in the spirit of brotherhood.17

God-centered political action? Eight years later, in his speech accepting his P31ty’s nomination, the late President Kennedy, referring to his Party’s Platform, said: “Pledges which are made so eloquently are made to be kept. ‘The Rights of Man’…are indeed our goal and Our first principles. This is a platform on which I can run with enthusiasm and conviction.”18

On its centennial the Republican Party included a ”Declaration of Faith” in its 1956 Platform. Mind you, a confession, not a religious church confession, but a political party creed. It, too, reaffirmed its humanistic faith in the rights and dignity of man, adding to it a Christian flavor.19 Eight years later the Party under new leadership restated its faith in the people, the individual, and limited government.

Although both major parties find their religious inspiration in modern humanism, there is an important difference between them: the one is predominantly progressive and the other predominantly conservative. They have this ideological orientation in common with the original two party system in Great Britain. This is not surprising when one keeps in mind that the parties in the Anglo-Saxon world have their starting point in the religious and constitutional controversies of the 17th and 18th century as Professors H. C. Mansfield and H. E. Runner have so ably and admirably analyzed.20 The constitutional solution which modern man found in these two countries, namely, the separation of Christianity from public life, is a very important clue as to why in England and America we have only two major so-called non-confessional parties. In our country, for instance, Protestantism continued to have an influence on American culture, but Christianity was no longer integral to the political system. In politics Christians have a private and a public faith. Our national parties are often considered merely confederations of stnte and local organizations. Whatever the case, in no other state of the Union are the parties so ideologically divided as in Michigan, and, perhaps, in the city of Grand Rapids, the citadel of Calvinism. The Reformed Christian community in Michigan is so comfortably at home in either party, not primarily because these Christians permeate the parties with individual and concerted Calvinistic action, but because they are imbued with the prevailing winds of public and party opinion. At any rate, in Michigan there is no constitutional tradition or statute against ideological Socialist parties and, hopefully, not against a Christian party.

Permeation of Parties: Acceptable Alternative?

After having briefly described the nature of our party system, the author concludes that in the light of this historical evolution a Christian party is impossible, unfeasible, and unwarranted. However:

There remains the program of permeation, i.e., entering one or both of the two political parties in order to leaven the whole lump. Here, too, we face a colossal task although the change of effectiveness is more likely here than elsewhere (p. 166).

Two approaches are possible under this program of permeation. The independent approach, shifting electoral support from party to party, “being guided by the stand taken by either party on a crucial issue” and the partisan approach, using a “Christian political organization as a party within a party” (Ibid.). Far from being really effective these approaches are most impractical, as the author himself concludes, but he does not realize that his own doubts concerning these two approaches lead to no program of organized permeation at all.

With regard to the independent approach he writes:

The effectiveness of the Independent stand depends entirely upon the size of electoral votes such a Calvinistic political organization can deliver. That takes intense regimentation of the Calvinistic electoral potential….Even after this regimentation is being effected, the Independent stand becomes…a choice of the lesser of two evils…without having exercised any definite influence upon the formation of partisan politics (p.167).

The advantage of the partisan approach is that it can help influence party policy. A basic assumption underlies the “party within a party” approach, namely, an acceptance as natural the evolution of parties consisting of organized pressure groups. In Dr. Spoelhof’s article there is no reference to the possible deformation of parties and other voluntary organizations. However, the weakness of our party system and the strength of pressure groups are closely related. According to Professor Schattschneider, a prominent political scientist: “The effectiveness of pressure groups in American politics is related directly to the condition of the parties.”21 Dr. Spoelhofs proposal for a Calvinistic pressure group cannot be dealt with in this article. Even if such a pressure group were formed, the “decision, however, as to which party shall thus be chosen to express this Calvinistic influence even if concerted action can be achieved, might present an unresolvable problem” (p. 167). And with this statement he has left unresolved the program of organized permeation.

Professor Brouwer sensed the self-contradictions of both approaches and the potential of the permeation program. He writes: “If the above analysis [of Dr. Spoelhof]…be correct, the possibility of Christian influence through existing party permeation is weak indeed.” Dr. Brouwer offers a third approach of permeation which…

…I would recommend strongly for its compatibility with both the character of American institutions as well as the thrust of Calvinism. This is the instrument of individual, or group, participation in the two major parties.22

His uncritical presentation of Dr. Spoelhof’s analysis is not completely correct. Dr. Spoelhof did recommend the organized group approach, but the problem remained unsolved at its most crucial stage as to which party to associate with. If Dr. Spoelhof’s analysis of the potential of the partisan group approach is correct, Dr. Brouwer is only left with an individual approach. According to Dr. Brouwer: “An obvious strength of this method is that it is not dependent upon the formation of a unified bloc of opinion and need not await total or even substantial agreement among the Calvinistic community for it to become operative.”23 This individual or “Direct approach stands as one of the more promising methods of introducing a Christian influence into the stream of American political life.”24

In a responsible reply Messrs. H. Antonides and G. Vandezande write that, in their opinion, Dr. Brouwer has a “pessimistic view” rather than a promising method, a…

…defeatist attitude toward establishing unity and agreement….If it is impossible to achieve harmony among believers, how will it be possible to establish harmony among unbelievers? Is there not something seriously wrong when Christians despair of reaching agreement and unity within their own ranks, but pin their hopes for effective action upon agreement and co-operation outside of the Christian community? Dr. Brouwer’s essentially individualistic approach is fraught with dangers for the Christian community and threatens to render it completely ineffective.25

As they see it, the real paralysis lies with Dr. Brouwer’s advice to a divided Christian Reformed community.

The confusion within our ranks is, at least to a significant extent, due to the lack of sound leadership. Dr. Brouwer and others who occupy positions of influence within the Christian community must assume some of the blame, for they appear to have failed to deal with the real issues from the proper perspective.26

Christian Perspective and Leadership

It is promising that young Christian men, such as Messrs. Antonides and Vandezande are able to provide the sound leadership, which on the whole has not been forthcoming from professors at Calvin College. It is indeed ironic that an academic institution like Calvin, which claims to offer <l distinctive Christian education, does not provide a distinctive approach to the major problems of organized labor and politic…in America. Just think for a moment of the actual and potential for Christian witness, if only a majority of students in labor economics and political science had received a Christian perspective on political and economic organizations.

What is the problem? What is the difference in leadership? It is not the national difference between Canada and America. It is not a difference between principles vs personalities, theory vs practice, perspective vs the lack of it. Rather, it is a fundamental difference in perspectives and theories. While Messrs. Antonides and Vandezande have a Christian perspective and theory, Dr. Spoelhof and others accept a pragmatic perspective and theory. Dr. Spoelhof acknowledges that Dutch Calvinists have rendered a great service with regard to formulating principles. “…re-acquaintance with these principles appears to me to be sine qua non for organized Calvinistic political action” (p. 160). It is not that he and his colleagues are unacquainted with the writings of Dutch Calvinists, but, unlike Messrs. Vande-Lande and Antonides, they do not struggle or work with them. It is not strange that they think a Christian party or lat.or union impractical, because they lack a full-fledged Christian theory of political and economic organizations and institutions. They interpret the needs for and possibility of Christian organizations from a predominantly pragmatic point of view. Just as Dr. Spoelhof strongly opposes “aping foreign” ideas so, too, Christian action must not ape foreign (historistic and pragmatic) theories. It simply will not work.

It is hoped that Christians in America will reexamine the previous theories and realize that these have not” produced the potentials for Christian political action. Only a Christian theory of politics, originating from a Biblical perspective, can direct us toward the full potentials for political action.

1. W. Spoelhof, “Calvinism and Political Action,” in God-Centered Living. Grand Rapids; Baker Book House (1951), pp. 159–173. In order to benefit more fully from the following discussion the readers are urged to (re-)read Dr. Spoelhof’s significant contribution.

2. Their articles appeared in the following issues of the Reformed Journal:  J. T. Dating, “A Look at the Dutch,” May 1957, pp. 22–27; T. Brouwer, “Political Impact or Paralysis?”, Oct. 1962, pp. 5–7, C. J. Orlebeke, “Must we form a Christian Political Party?”, Nov. 1963, pp. 11–14; N. Wolterstorff, “The Reformed Community and Politics,” Nov. 1964, pp. 16–18.

3. E. Cassirer, The Myth of the State (Anchor Book, 1955), p. 157.

4. H. E. Runner, “Scriptural Religion and Political Task,” in Christian Perspectives 1962. Hamilton: Guardian Publ. Co. (1962), p. 252.

5. Brouwer, “Political Impact or Paralysis?”, Reformed Journal, Oct. 62, pp. 5–7.

6. C. Bouma “Our School and American Life,” in Theologicol School and Calvin College, 1876–1926 (semi-centennial vol.) pp. 188–221.

7. J. C. Charlesworth, “Is Our Two-Party System ‘Natural’?” The Annals (of The American Academy of Political and Social Science) vol. 259 (Sept. 1948) pp. 5–6 (italics added).

8. W. Herberg, Protestant-Catholic-Jew (Anchor Book, 1960) pp. 75 and 268.

9. See Rev. H. Van Anders excellent series of articles on “Expediency” from a Christian Perspective, in Church and Nation, Jan.-April, 1964.

10. W. Goodman, The Two-Party System in the United States (1956) pp. 44–45.

11. E. Pendleton Herring, The Politics of Democracy: American Parties in Action (1940), chapters 7 and 8.

12. Ibid., pp. 233 and 116 respectively.

13. Ibid., p. 100.

14. Toward A More Resvonsible Two Party System. Supplement Am. Pal. Sc. Review, vol. 44 (1980) p. 80. The Democratic Platform of 1928 stated: “‘The function of a national platform is to declare principles and party policies.’”

15. See H. S. Commager, The American Mind (Yale, paperback, 1950) pp. 322–325, 337–350, for a discussion or Wilson’s and Bryan’s commitment to evolutionism and pragmatism in politics.

16. K. H. Porter and D. B. Johnson, National Party Platforms 1840–1984 (1966, 2nd. ed.) pp. vi–vii.

17. Ibid., p. 475 ( italics added).

18. J. F. Kcnnedy s nomination acceptance sppech, “The New Frontier,” in President Kennedy Speaks (U.S. lnfonnation Service Publication, n.d. ) p. 1.

19. Porter and Johnson, 071. cit., p . 545.

20. H. C. MansReld, Jr., Statesmanship and Party Government (1965) and Runner, op. cit., pp. 179–236.

21. E. E. Schattschneidcr, “Pressure Groups Versus Political Parties,” The Annals, vol. 259 (Sept. 1948), p. 18.

22. Brouwer, op. cit., p. 8 (italics added).

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid., p. 7.

25. H. Antonidcs and C. Vandezande, “Political Reformation or Paralysis,” Reformed Journal, March 1963, p. 18. See also their reply in the Oct. 1963 issue. And their excellent article “Christian Politics – Why Not?” in The Christian Vanguard, Sept. 1965 (or Feb. 1968).

26. Ibid.

Professor Philip Bom is Professor of Political Science Dubuque University, Dubuque, Iowa.