The day the tulip died, part 4

It’s time I said something nice about Calvinism.

The Reformed tradition puts a lot of emphasis on having a biblically informed worldview. Maybe more so than other Christian traditions. In fact, this might be one of Calvinism’s most important contributions to the wider church.

Everyone has a worldview — a framework of core beliefs, values, etc. But not everyone is intentional about who or what shapes their worldview.

For me, this changed with a book I read in college. Albert Wolters’ Creation Regained is a good presentation of a traditional Dutch Reformed worldview, heavily influenced by 20th-century theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper.

Wolters organizes his worldview around the defining events of the biblical narrative: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

Perhaps most importantly, he reminds us that creation is something God pronounced “good.” This is a much-needed corrective to some of the rhetoric you hear from some Calvinists, particularly in the neo-Reformed camp. At times it seems like they bypass creation altogether — as evidenced by the iconic TULIP acronym, which begins (unfortunately enough) with “total depravity.”

A truly Reformed worldview starts with creation, not the fall. Wolters insists that God made the world good and still has plans for it. In other words, don’t read Genesis 3 until you’ve read Genesis 1-2.

This has serious implications for how we engage the world today. Wolters argues that we are still called to fulfill the cultural mandate of Genesis 1. As divine image-bearers, we are God’s representatives to every aspect of creation. We’re not supposed to compartmentalize into categories like “sacred” and “secular.” It’s all sacred.

This doesn’t mean we don’t take the fall or its consequences seriously. The fall is precisely why we need the last two motifs of the biblical story: redemption and restoration.

And this is precisely where the Reformed tradition (or the best of it, anyway) offers a vital alternative to the escapism so prevalent in some corners of the American church: if God hasn’t given up on his creation, then redemption and restoration must have something to do with this world (as opposed to some far-off, ethereal realm).

This explains how the psalmist, writing long after the fall, could declare that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1). It explains why both Old and New Testaments envision a “new heaven and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21). And it explains why Jesus looked forward to the “renewal” — not the eradication — “of all things” (Matthew 19:28).

Ultimately, God is our only source of redemption and restoration. But he invites us to participate in in the renewal of all things. We are still his image-bearers — not only his voice, but his hands and feet to a world he intends to restore.

Now, different people have applied a Reformed worldview in different ways — not all of them good. Some historians believe that Kuyper, for example, was the inspiration for Christian nationalism (sometimes known as dominionism), which gave rise to such ill-advised projects like apartheid in South Africa.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s one unfortunate consequence of combining a Reformed worldview with a belief that God predestined only a select (and therefore superior) minority and consigned the rest of the world to damnation. Many of the Jewish religious authorities of Jesus’ day thought along similar lines, and it led to a theological and racial arrogance not unlike the worst elements of Christian nationalism or dominionism in more recent times.

But if a Reformed worldview (minus the baggage of doctrines like limited atonement, perhaps) can help us rediscover a world that God made good and intends to renew, then that would be something worth celebrating.

So what do you think is Calvinism’s best contribution to the wider church?

Part 5 of this series can be found here.

3 thoughts on “The day the tulip died, part 4

  1. Calvinism’s best contribution is, indeed, its insights into how knowing God impacts other areas of life – political life, e.g. I don’t now what your objection is to total depravity, but I’d bet you’re mistaking it for ethical depravity. It’s limited atonement I think is the mistaken letter in tulip.

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    • Hi Ray,
      The objection I’m describing here is mainly one of emphasis. It seems to me that many Calvinists begin their theology by contrasting the holiness of God with the total depravity of humanity. I happen to think it’s true that God is holy and that the entire human race is captive to sin and death. But I believe the proper starting point of any Christian theology – Calvinist or otherwise – is with a God who, in his infinite love, creates a good world, which he intends to share with us. Starting with total depravity is, for me, like starting a good novel by reading chapter 2.

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  2. Pingback: The day the tulip died, part 3 « Ben Irwin

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