The Challenge of a Calvinistic Culture

History, according to the Calvinist, is not a meaningless, endless cycle but a progressive fulfillment of the eternal, divine decree for the salvation of the elect and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. However, evil is also progressively developing. The knowledge of God is dwindling more and n!ore from the consciousness of mankind. It is a noteworthy fact that pagan peoples in all their primitive darkness had still several formal features of worship as a remnant of the true religion. The pagans believed, e.g., that sacrifices are necessary for removal of sin. And for them all of life was a religious experience. But today we have become godless. We do not think that religion has anything to say for the marketplace and in the lecture hall. Religion, for most people, has become it thing apart—a Sunday affair, while for the primitive every daily task was a religious act. No building was erected, no rice-paddy planted, no baby born, no ox slaughtered but with loud acclaim of the deity. In this, modern man is behind the pagan and has impoverished his existence. He is now living his life “under the sun” without taking God into account.

Hence it is very important at the outset to have a clear understanding of the fact that Calvinism sees all in the light of eternity, that we cannot accept the thought patterns of the modern mind, that we may not be conformed to this world with its secularism and godlessness.



Definition of Terms

Calvinism in its theological meaning is just another term for the Reformed Faith. It stresses the sovereignty of God in creation and in redemption. It confesses that all things come to pass after the counsel of his will, that he hath made all things for himself—even the wicked for the day of punishment, that no one can say to him: What doest thou, “that of him and through him and unto him are all things, to whom be the glory forever.” We confess furthermore that God saves only those for whom Christ died, and that this salvation is a gift of sovereign grace, [or it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth but of God that showeth mercy.

Calvinism, then, is a profound apprehension of God in his majesty accompanied by the corresponding realization that man as a sinner is undone in tile presence of God. Calvinism is covenantal religion at its best. It sees man as made in the image of God and standing in an unavoidable relation of service and friendship to the God of his being. Man is God’s understudy on the created level, he is the vice-gerent in the world—he has been anointed as prophet, to know and speak the truth of God; as priest, to love his Maker and be devoted to holiness; as king, to cultivate and keep the garden, to rule over all the created universe in the name of the Creator. Thus Calvinism is concerned above all to render to God his rights in every sphere of human activity. The Calvinist, then, is one “who believes in God without reserve, and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, willing in the entire compass of his life-activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual; throughout all his individual, social, religious relations” (B.B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism, p. 255). With Dr. Abraham Kuyper as he dedicated the Free University of Amsterdam, we would insist: “There is not a hairsbreadth in all the domain of human culture and achievement of which Christ, the universal Lord, does not say: It is mine!” Calvinism believes that each moment must be lived in the presence of God and its motto is: Carpe Diem Coram Deo—pluck the day before the face of God!


There is still a good deal of misunderstanding about the term culture. The English word “culture” comes from the Latin colere, which means to cultivate or till the ground. This idea is conveyed in Genesis 2:15 when God gave Adam the command to dress the garden and to keep it. We find the idea in such English words as agriculture and horticulture, that is, belabor and work a thing that it may bring forth fruit and may give up to man the riches of the created universe. Today we use culture in a much wider sense as applying to any labor of man’s brawn or brain upon nature—whether external to or upon man himself (e.g. in physical culture, voice culture, and all educatlon) for the purpose of bringing about some refinement, some improvement and fruition—or to use the term of Prof. Wincelius of Swarthmore—“to fulfill the creative will of God.”

Culture, then, is not narrowly confined to an improvement in manners, external refinement, or simply the development of personality by education. It has no narrow concern with the fine arts but it includes the whole man as created in God’s image. It is the covenantal relationship and the cultural mandate which places man above all the works of God and gives him dominion in the name of his Maker. For culture sees man as the divine image-bearer, prophet, priest and king, operating in the realms of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

In issuing to you a call for a Calvinistic culture—I am saying that we must apply the concept of the sovereignty of God to the whole realm of human endeavor—so that all our striving is for his sake, in obedience to his commandments and for his glory.

Culture as a Creation Ordinance

We, Calvinists, believe in culture since God gave it as a creation ordinance. It antedates matrimony and the sabbath on God’s timetable. For in the order of the day when God issued the decree for the creation of his image-bearer—God said: “Let them have dominion…” and God blessed them and said: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the the earth, and subdue it.” After the institution of the Sabbath, before Eve had been created, God said to Adam: “dress the garden and keep it!”

This cultural mandate is common to all men, it is repeated after the flood to all the sons of Noah. And corresponding to the mandate there is the instinct to rule and to procreate–to have dominion and to replenish the earth.

Therefore a godly culture is not distinguished from an ungodly one by different materials, methods, techniques. But Christian culture—in this case the Calvinistic culture—is the consciousness that we with all the earth are God’s acre, with a promise and a command to develop all that God has put into creation. Whereas all God’s creatures are, according to the Belgic confession, as so many letters in a beautiful book, man is also the lector, that is, the reader of the book. (Cf. Schilder: Christus en Cultuur) . To know God and the soul is part of man’s calling as cultural being. Hence, God condemns the cultural product of ancient Greece because in all its wisdom it failed to recognize God or to know him. (Cf. I Corinthians 1:21 ff.)

Since man is part of nature he must develop himself, but this may never become merely a self-culture for its own sake—for that would be idolatry. The worldly development in art and physical culture is idolatrous in that it is a deification of the natural man.

Our God is, we believe, culturally interested in our work. He did not make the world perfect. We read that he beheld it and it was good, but it was not yet completely finished. It was rather a world of promise and of hope. That we are co-workers with God does not, therefore, apply only to the preaching of the Gospel, but from the beginning the Creator has so constituted man as to fulfill his creative purposes in the world. Only one man after the Fall has fully responded to the cultural mandate of God—the man Christ Jesus, who was without sin and who came to fulfill the will of the Father. But he, as the Sun of Righteousness, has arisen with healing in his wings. For in him the Father has reconciled all things to himself—and in him all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are hidden. Christ is the redeemer and renewer also of culture—and as such he is a sign that shall be spoken against. And a!l those who are Christ’s have in principle been restored, are new creatures, and begin once more to function properly culturally. Theirs is true knowledge, true holiness; and also true righteousness. The true and the good and the beautiful belong to the people of God by right of redemption.

The Culture of the World

But the seed of the serpent is also culturally active and increasingly self-conscious as such. Lamech, the boaster, says: “I have slain a man for my wounding,” that is, I am above the law. Whereas Cain had appealed to God for protection against the vengeance of mankind, Lamech is willing to go it alone and defies God and man. This was occasioned by the technical advancements that had been made by his sons. Lamech is the precursor of the modern mind which claims that due to our control over nature and our changing view of the world we no longer need the God of the Bible. At Babel we see, a further picture of godless culture. But God confounded their speech. Think of the cultural degradation at Babylon, Nineva, not to mention Sodom and Gomorrah and the world that was filled with violence before the flood.

Later there was Athens, which Paul describes as hating the truth and holding it down ill unrighteousness and in which men and women had left the natural sex-function and perverted it contrary to nature in sodomy and lesbianism. Does someone want to hold up Athens as the fount of pure culture because a few remnants of good sculpture and architecture and literature remain in which this God-defying rebellion is not at once glaringly evident? And then there was Rome in all its corruption, which as prototype of all that is anti-Christ is called the whore. What exactly is meant by this unflattering title? Is it because Rome persecuted the Christians? No, that was only the effervescence of her whoredom. But just as a prostitute can only be prostitute with the help of her God-given nature as woman, and hence is degrading herself by not serving the God-given goal of her womanhood—just so Rome in her God-defying culture is prostituting herself by not dedicating the creatureIy gifts in the service of God. In that sense all of modern culture is also prostituted in the service of mammon or in some other form of man-made idolatry.

Relation of Religion and Culture

If, then, culture is either God-honoring and glorifying or God-defying and God-dishonoring—the question ought to be faced—what is the relation of religion and culture? Under the influence of the mind of sin the predominant thought of our day divorces religion and culture. This is a result of the enmity of the carnal mind which in all of life has pulled apart that which belongs together, abstracting form from matter, the real from the ideal. But from the beginning it was not so. For religion is not a mere segment of life, or from life a thing apart, as the modern man would have it in his godlessness. Religion is not the function of the feelings, it is not an isolated action of a separate group of pious people in moments of sublimation. But religion, which is distinguished from religiosity, is the service of God with the whole heart, mind, and strength.

Religion is not reduced to knowing, or feeling, or doing, but it includes all of these in a voluntary, spiritual relationship to God which is covenantal, in which man responds to the love of God and seeks to know him and enjoy him forever. Therefore, ideally considered as in Paradise, the cultural task is simple service of God, or true religion. Paul in the New Testament is therefore able to exhort, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, which is your reasonable service.”

Everything in this world, then, must be brought under cultivation: the good earth under our feet and the good heart within, the world of plants and animals and the meditative souls of men. But sin has brought about a cleavage between effort and purpose; man departed from the living God and life has disintegrated. There is no longer any unity in the world nor in the human spirit. All knowledge is fragmentary and all culture is divisive and piecemeal. Man’s mind no longer sees the whole but only the details. And it has fallen in love with a detail here and there. Man has lost the purposive striving that ought to characterize all human culture, namely, to know God and to glorify him in his works. Therefore the truth is not in him, says the apostle Paul. All sinful culture apart from special revelation is false, is fragmentary, and does not see life whole. It does not only serve the creative purpose of God, which is to glorify him.

Race Suicide

To be more specific, let us consider some of the cultural activity of the natural man. Instinctively man obeys the command to replenish the the earth. He seeks the preservation. of the race. But also in the process of procreation in which man is gloriously co-labored with God, the sinner perverts this function. He begets sons for his own glory or aggrandizement, to have dominion for himself. On the other hand, there are those who simply refuse to obey the creation ordinance of God and pervert the sex-instinct for self-gratification, resolutely refusing to populate the earth. There are also those who practice birth control because their own comfort and well-being are the guiding principles instead of the law of God.

If we are to establish a Calvinistic culture in our time we must seriously consider our calling in this matter. Are we going to follow the standards set by Hollywood in its God-defying culture and become a race of sensualists practicing race-suicide? Are we going to give the world over to the seed of the serpent as it is coming to world power in culturally less developed peoples? Or shall we in faithful obedience to the commands of the Covenant-keeping God fulfill this creation mandate? For ours is not only the command but also the promise that children are a heritage of the Lord. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them, he shall not be ashamed to meet the enemy in the gate! That is to say the man that has a numerous progeny is master of the situation. This is also true today. How, I ask you, shall we dominate the earth for Christ if we fail to replenish the godly seed?

Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome not to be conformed to this world, that is, do not, says he, use the same cultural patterns and do not follow the same cultural ideals. Do not think and feel and act as the man of this world. Do not accept his standard of right and wrong. We are not to be conformed to this world in its current sport-craze nor in its evaluation of the place of pleasure and amusement. Neither are we to accept the worldly evaluation of the home, of the bearing and training of children. “Be not conformed to this world!” “But be ye transformed,” Paul goes on to say, “by the renewing of your mind.” And our minds are renewed by the truth of God that has been revealed in his Word. As those who are transformed by the truth of God we now have a cultural task in this world, from which we are not set free by redemption, but for which we have been reconditioned.

Our Calvinistic culture, then, is the counterpart of our Calvinistic worship, for all of life may be divided into worship and work. But there ought to be no perspiration nor inspiration for the artist apart from the aspiration of the soul to God seeking him in that which is truly his. For all that is not out of faith is sin!

In Kuyper’s Line

But to be still more concrete, cultural activity includes all science and art and politics. Abraham Kuyper, that peerless leader and many-sided genius of the Reformed Faith, has shown us the way here. He issued a call to all the confessors of the Christ to develop a Christian culture in the field of science on the ground that there is an inevitable conflict between Christian and non-Christian science. This conflict is based on the difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate consciousness. There is no common human consciousness. there is no universal mind -that is the contention of Dr. Kuyper, and discerning Calvinists the world over have agreed with him.

For those who have been enlightened by the Spirit o[ God the world today is obviously abnorrnal due to sin. The earth was cursed for man’s sake and man’s mind is now darkened by sin, is, in fact, at enmity with God. On the other hand, those who lack this inner illumination of the Spirit are “normalists.” For them aIl that is, is right, and man by his native equipment of mind and spirit can know reality truly. The mind of man as the sole interpreting agency of reality is assumed to be autonomous (a law unto itself). The world is thought of as existing without the sustaining power of God, and the modern scientific method is accepted as the only sure road to an understanding of the world in which man lives. But this current scientific method rules out the Christian interpretation from the start. However, we must make it clear to our opponents that Christianity and science are not opposed, but that two religions and two sciences are engaged in a great spiritual warfare. For the modern scientist, as well as the Calvinist, is religiously committed. He is committed to a universe without God or to a god made in his own image who exists only by man’s suffrage. But there is in the non-Christian scientist no consciousness of sin, no assurance of faith, and no testimony of the Spirit, for “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.”

However, we ought to note, observes Kuyper, that we do not require the same consciousness in the non-Christian that we have. vVe recognize the fact that the human race is not one, but the “normalists” will not grant us the right to differ from them. To quote Kuyper,

The Normalist tries to do us violence even in our own consciousness. He tells us that our self-consciousness must needs be uniform with his own, and that everything else we imagine we find in ours stands condemned as seIf-delusion. In other words, the Normalist wishes to wrest from us the very thing which, in our self-consciousness, is the highest and holiest gift for which a continual stream of gratitude wells up from our hearts to God….We resign ourselves to the fate of being slighted and oppressed in the world, but refuse to be dictated to by anyone in the sanctuary of our heart. We do not assail the liberty of the Normalist to build a well-construed science from the premises of his own consciousness, but our right and liberty to do the same thing we are determined to defend, if need be, at any cost. (Calvinism, p. 138).

Distinctive Christian Culture

In the science of sociology, for example, the Calvinist proceeds upon the presuppositions of revelation. man’s creation in the image of God, his fall into sin and restoration through Christ. Sin, therefore, is not a disease to be treated by doctors and psychiatrists, but calls [or punishment. Murder is disobedience to the law of God and as such calls (or capital punishment. The whole science of criminology wiII be approached and interpreted differently from a Calvinistic point of view. So, too, with economics, psychology, etc. Man is not seen as a political animal, (a la Aristotle), nor as an economic being chiefly, (6 la Marx), nor in the Freudian sense of a being moved basically by sexual urges, but man is a spiritual-religious being standing in covenantal relation to his Maker.

Literature, too, as part of art belongs to our culture. It, too, must be determined by one’s basic philosophy, which in turn is religiously determined. As such literature cannot be universally valid and neutral—except on incidental matters of technique and on the matter or the stuff literature deals with. As a work of man in his cultural striving it arises either out of the Spirit of Christ and the regenerated consciousness or out or the Spirit of the abyss. And we are duty bound as confessors of the Christ to test the spirits to see whether they be of God.

Literary production then, or appreciation, for that matter, will be determined and influenced by the following: Whether a man be a new creature in Christ Jesus, a restored prophet, priest and king; or whether one be a member of the kingdom of Satan, that is, a false prophet, priest and king. For we confess, do we not, that Jesus Christ is become unto us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification, that the truth has made us free. But of the natural man the apostle says that God gave them up to vile affections, to a reprobate mind, whose end is perdition, whose God is their belly, whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things—a perfect description of the colonies of artists in Hollywood, Greenwich Village, Broadway, or the Latin Quarter in Paris.

The Judgment of the Word

Ought not the child of God then to put this worldly culture under the judgment of the Word? Ought we not to get rid of our servility and our boundless admiration for the works of the men of the flesh? Ought we not to have our own set of standards for what is good and beautiful and true? Then only can we fulfill our cultural calling in this world. For the true end of cultural striving is to build and to achieve for God’s sake. Sin, however, is not constructive, but destructive. The godless culture of our day stands under the judgment of God just as that of the Ninevites, the Babylonians, and that of the Canaanites. True reformation of culture has been a result of the work of God’s Spirit. We find—it in the rise of Christianity when pagan culture decayed and in the Protestant Reformation. Calvin in Geneva gives us an idea of what the service of God can achieve culturally. He was the creator of a Calvinistic culture, and Geneva became according to the testimony of John Knox, “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the apostles.” Calvin distinguished the church and state without separating them. He taught men the meaning of vocation, namely, that every recruit of Christ has an order of the day to work with all his might, to pluck the day before the face of God! Calvin taught God’s people the right use of the natural. He cried, “All things are yours, but ye are Christ’s.”

And it is here that a Calvinistic culture takes its form. One Christian home of which Christ is the Head; one Christian school in which the ‘Word of God is honored and Christ is the center of the curriculum; one Christian community dedicated in all its striving and all its seeking; these are more significant than the production of a literature in which man’s striving is reflected. For the thing itself, the service of God in this world, the dedication of our lives to his glory is the real thing. To write about these or to portray these is secondary. It is especially in Christian education that our cultural efforts come to fruition. Whereas the church ministers mostly to the life that is hidden with Christ in God, in the home and the school Christian culture bears its richest fruits as it develops consecrated servants for the service of God. This influence must be extended to politics, business, the field of labor relations, etc.

A good parallel of our efforts in developing a Christian culture may be found in the history of Nehemiah’s building of the walls of Jerusalem. Under the able leadership of Zerrubabel and Ezra the temple had been restored and the worship of the only God again nourished. The priests and Levites had been reestablished in their respective courses of work in the temple, but a godly culture could not be achieved as long as the walls of Jerusalem were broken clown and her gates burned with fire. The day of the Lord was remembered and the temple worship was observed, but the rest of life was not sacred. And for that purpose the walls had to be rebuilt, so that the Arabian and the Ammonite would not be able to bring their wares in on the Sabbath and that mixed marriages could be curbed, and the law of God could be enforced over the whole life of the people.

In the New Testament there are no walls of brick but there is a spiritual barrier. Says Paul, “What fellowship hath light with darkness, or Christ with Belial? Therefore, come ye out and be ye separate and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness! Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers!” Paul is not saying to the people of Corinth that they may not buy or sell from unbelievers (that will be the restriction placed on us by the world by and by if we do not have the mark of the beast upon us). We may certainly eat and drink with sinners of the world although Paul forbids such social contact with one who is called a brother and lives in sin, one who is scandalizing the fellowship of the saints. But, we may not cooperate with the servants of the anti-Christ on their own standard and on their basis or their program of action which defies God. We may not accept the culture of the world as our criterion of action (d. B.B. Warfield, Faith and Life, pp. 243,ff).

In the Greek text Paul does not forbid social intercourse with unbelievers (though that may well prove fatal in any given case) but we are not to adopt their mode of life, or their points of view. It is not a question of association but of standards. We as Christians may not take on the coloring of our worldly environment, for though we are in the world we are not of the world. We may not conform to the thought patterns of our contemporaries, but instead we are to exert an influence. We are to be the leaven that changes the whole lump. The application seems clear, that if our leavening influence is null and void in the godless labor unions of our country or the American Medical Association, then there is only one course of action: be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For such yoking leads to compromise with the world. It makes for conformity so that we accept the standards of action which the world holds to be normal in business, in labor disputes, in wedlock, etc.

In challenging you to build a Calvinistic culture, Men of the household: of faith—I set before you the requirements for a good soldier of Jesus Christ who is willing to bear hardship for his Lord and Master. It will mean in many cases a call to separation, for how can we educate our children in the fear and nuture of the Lord and train them for service in God’s Kingdom in a secular, godless environment? The call to a Calvinistic culture, to me means the call to separation, to the organization of a Christian Labor organization, a Christian medical association, a Christian writers’ association, a Christian political association. “Thy this separation? you ask. Simply because or the compromise that results from being unequally yoked together with unbelievers. I believe that the text quoted from Paul not only applies to marriage in the Lord, but also to any voluntary association in which we must deny our Christian principles for the sake of filthy lucre or social prestige. And the only argument that I have ever heard against the C.L.A. is that it does not deliver the goods financially. But this is based on worldly reasoning, namely, that we are here for our profit. This is a veritable denial of Calvinistic culture at the outset. As Calvinists we confess that all our labor is for the Lord and that we are seeking his kingdom first and most of all. We must raise a standard here in this world against Satan, and we trust the Lord to add unto us all these things after which the Gentiles seek.

“Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we shall offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28, 29) .

*This speech was delivered before the Grand Rapids and Newago County Leagues of Reformed Men’s Societies.