Hodge vs. Kuyper: Two Modern Reformed Traditions

The title of this post is a bit simplistic, or perhaps underdeveloped. On this site, sometimes I speak on matters I am quite comfortable with, that I consider myself decently knowledgable about (epistemology and economic theory, for instance), and there are other matters which I am still working through, but get certain senses about the conclusion I am reaching.

This short post is the latter— I have a lot to study in order to write authoritatively on the influence of Dutch Theological tradition (Kuyper, Bavinck) in America. However, I have read enough, and my intellectual sense is dependable enough, to draw a sharp and vital distinction between what I might call the Dutch versus the American Reformed traditions.

Consider recent themes on this site:

  • Tim Keller [There are theological, not just social, problems with Keller, in my opinion]
  • The current Reformed assault on Capitalism (as John Robbins labelled it years ago, before Keller had even entered the scene)
  • Van Tillian presuppositionalism [which is self-consciously neo-Kuyperian]
  • One Kingdom Theology [I hold a version of 2k theology– see my post here]
  • The pitting of the individual and his interest against “society”
  • Eschatology and “Transformational” Social engagement
  • The modern Reformed revolt against Justification by Faith Alone [See Brandon’s blog for more]

All these, and so much else, seems to have its roots in the Dutch Reformed tradition, which I have very strong suspicions against. I believe that the Dutch tradition should be juxtaposed to the American tradition of Gordon Clark, Gresham Machen, Charles Hodge, and Old Princeton.

I keep seeing references back to either Kuyper or his disciples. Kuyperianism, also known as Neo-Calvinism (this is not a pejorative label— I’m using the phrase as many refer to it), seems to be the source of so many of the ideas I have opposed over the years. When I look at the Systematic theology of folks like Clark, Robert Reymond, Charles Hodge, etc., I get a very different interpretations of major Reformed themes than when I read those heavily influenced by Kuyper and Bavinck.

Anyways, I say all this because I just read this Kuyper quote referenced by a Neo-calvinist:

“Inevitably capital absorbs more and more capital, until it meets a power of resistance which it cannot break. That resistance is, in the present context, the impossibility of the worker remaining alive. And, whatever one may say, LaSalle is perfectly correct in saying that this brazen law of iron necessity is the curse of our society. Yet this law is a spontaneous consequence of laissez faire, of absolutely free competition. Capital absorbs more capital in this way not because of any evil purpose, but simply because it does not meet with any other power of resistance short of the ‘to be or not to be’ of the worker, the instrument of capital-nourishment.”

This is really fascinating because, as I have previously discussed, actual and self-described Neo-Marxists like the very influence French Thomas Piketty argue the exact same thesis in their argument that “the rate of return on capital grows faster than the rate of economic growth, perpetuating inequality.”

And this inequality, of course, is a matter of injustice. In Kellerite social thought, so too is inequality a problem of injustice (whereas in my own interpretation of justice, equality is only related to justice in the sense that all individuals are to be held to the same ethical standard— all men are under the same (Natural) “Law” [Natural Law here holds the meaning of Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments]. But given the meaning of equality held by those who emphasize it, I’ve started to refer to this concept as impartiality, so I don’t even have to use equality, given the difficulties.

Anyways, digressions galore.

The point is this: I think, rather than thinking of “The Reformed Tradition,” we should realize that there are a variety of interpretations and developments of the thought of the Reformers, all of which are on a spectrum in their relationship to original Calvinistic thought, and all of which are on a spectrum as well in their consistency with the Bible. There have been positive and negative developments from Calvin, of course, as well. For instance, I mention here how the American Princeton School of Reformed thought in Charles Hodge improved the older Reformed understanding of Church and State.

Going forward, I hope to elaborate and explicate the two frameworks which for now I am summarizing as Hodge vs. Kuyper. And I know he’s quite popular, but I’ve been less than impressed by what I have read of Kuyper. Many reference the Dutch theologians, but I haven’t found as much value in them as others.

But at any rate: it keeps coming back to Kuyper. That’s the sense I’m getting.

More to come.