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Christ and Culture

Written by: Schilder, Klass    Posted on: 05/04/2006

Category: Misc.

by Klaas Schilder, 1890-1952.
Translation of Christus en Cultuur
ISBN 0-88756-008-3

1. Christianity and Culture. I. Title.
BR115.C8S313 261.5 C77-002118-2

Copyright© G van Rongen and W. Helder, 1977
A note on the text

    This translation was published by Premier Printing LTD of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. It has been released on the World Wide Web for noncommercial use by permission of G. van Rongen and W. Helder. Conversion of the printed text to ASCII for the Web, courtesy of Dan Weise.

    The translation is by G. van Rongen and W. Helder.

    This text is was obtained using OCR software on scans of a photocopy of a marked-up copy the book, which was set in some typeface similar to Souvenir. Italic characters were hard to distinguish from roman even in the original book. We used spelling checker programs to find and correct the OCR errors. In the process various British spellings and idiosyncratic hyphenations got converted to the forms preferred by whatever spelling checker was in use at the time. Undoubtedly other errors remain.

    The entire book is in this single file for the sake of those who wish to retrieve it with one access to print and read at their leisure. We have inserted horizontal lines and page numbers to indicate the pagination of the book. In the original there were endnotes only. We changed these to footnotes for the Web version, and in the present file have retained both.

Almost twenty-five years ago, on March 23, 1952, the LORD took unto Himself His servant Klaas Schilder. The present translation of one of his works thus appears at a very appropriate time.

Christ and Culture is the English translation of Schilder's Christus en Cultuur. The original version of this publication was issued in 1932 under the title "Jezus Christus en het cultuurleven": it was included in Jezus Christus en het menschenleven, a collection of contributions by various authors. In 1947 it was published separately as Christus en Cultuur: a reprint followed in 1953.

The author was born on December 19, 1890, in Kampen, The Netherlands. In his native city he later studied at the Theologische School of De Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, from which he graduated cum laude in 1914. After having served as minister in several congregations, he was in 1933 awarded the doctoral degree summa cum laude at the Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen, Germany. His dissertation was entitled Zur Begriffspeschichte des "Paradoxon," mit besonderen Berucksichtigung Calvins und des Nach-Kierkegaardschen "Paradoxon." In the same year he was appointed Professor of Systematic Theology at the Kampen Seminary, which post he held until his death in 1952.

Dr. K. Schilder wrote numerous books and articles. His trilogy Christus in Zijn lijden became internationally known especially in its English version, Christ on Trial (1938). He regularly contributed to the weekly De Reformatie ever since it began publication in 1920, becoming one of its editors in 1924: from 1935 on, he was its only editor. The strong stand that he took, not only in theological and ecclesiastical matters but also over against the anti-christian philosophy of National-Socialism, led to his arrest by the Nazis in August, 1940 Soon after his release he was forced to go into hiding, for he was among those wanted by the German occupying forces. He remained in hiding almost until the end of the Second World War.

Twice, in 1939 and in 1947, Schilder visited the United States of America. The return voyage in 1947 provided him with the opportunity to revise and expand his above-mentioned 1932 essay. The preface to the new edition of Christus en Cultuur was signed and dated: "On board s.s. Veendam, August 24, 1947." This Dutch publication attracted attention also in the English-speaking world, particularly in the U.S.A.: for example, Schilder's ideas, together with

those of Aurelius Augustine, John Calvin, and Abraham Kuyper, were thoroughly discussed by Henry R. Van Til in his The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (1959; repr. 1972). A Japanese translation by Professor Y. Yamanaka of Kansaigakuin, University, Takarazuka, Japan, was published in 1974.

The present English translation was made possible by the kind permission of Mrs. A.J. Schilder-Walter and the cooperation of the original publisher, T. Wever, Franeker, The Netherlands.

May the LORD bless this publication and use it in the battle for true culture.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A. -- G. van Rongen

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada -- W. Helder

December, 1976

Christ and Culture
"Christ and culture" -- this theme has occupied the minds of many as long as Christianity has had a place in this world. Rather, it did so already many centuries before. For the name "Christ" is nothing but a translation of the word "Messiah." Even during the days of the Old Testament, when the Messiah was still expected, men thought, struggled, and prophesied about as well as rebelled against the "Messiah" (Christ) and "culture." If what we are about to write is true, then this age-old theme will continue to strain the attention in joy as well as in sorrow until the end of time: The complete solution also of this problem will not be reached in the course of time but is reserved for the day that will put an end to time. It will not be obtained in the way of evolution but along that of the catastrophic parousia of Christ Himself. Therefore the great joy and the deep sorrow about the final outcome of the struggle concerning Christ and culture can be expected at the end of the ages. Here one utters two heavily charged words: heaven -- and hell.
The above already makes it clear that the theme which we are broaching here must not be inserted in the list of subjects that the hasty heathen takes into his sphere of interest before and the careful Christian only after the academic discussion thereof. The problem of the relation between Christ and culture immediately concerns the fundamental questions of Christian thought and action. Therefore a Christian must continually contend with it. The one who does not touch it neglects his direct calling. The definition of a Christian's life-task as it is given in Lord's Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism and in which a Christian is considered as a prophet, a priest, and a king, is so ample and comprehensive that the matter of the relation between Christ (and the Christian) on the one hand, and cultural life on the other, is under discussion as soon as the question is raised how the pertinent words in this section of the Catechism must be interpreted. For this reason in particular, a confessing Christian is not allowed, before entering into the cultural struggle, to wait quietly (ad calendas graecas) for academic resolutions regarding the cultural problem. Neither has he permission to wait for what is more and more becoming their substitute, the resolutions or conclusions of a conference.

For life builds up the academy, but the academy does not build up life. At best it can think about life. The same way the problem of the right appreciation of culture or that of the evaluation of a concrete situation which a Christian comes across or has to help create in a given cultural phase, must never be reduced to a so-called merely academic matter. Life precedes the academy: primum vivere, deinde philosophari. Everyone has to deal with a temporally and locally determined phase of cultural life. At his birth he is thrown into the midst of it, and no one is able to withdraw from it, not even for one single day, supposing that he would be allowed to do so. Man cannot isolate himself, though he may flee into a cloister that does not distill liqueur or anything like that, nor helps to fill the pages of a magazine.

Why is this problem such a difficult one? Many things could be said in explanation. We shall mention a few points only.

a. One of the main reasons is that the opinions so widely diverge. Not only in what we sometimes too abstractly call the world, but also in what -- again we must say, often in too abstract a way -- is called the church, we see the struggle between opinions that are very much each other's opposites. There is nothing unusual in this. Those who really adhere to the authentic philosophy of pure materialism will have a view of culture that completely differs from that of people who think along the lines of metaphysical universalism. Those who think that history is linear set up a construction that is completely different from that of the man who sees history as a cycle. The theist and the pantheist are one another's opponents, also in their conception and appreciation of culture. A Lutheran's evaluation -- if only he is loyal to Martin Luther -- will differ from that of a Calvinist; that of a pessimist is not the same as that of an optimist. A Platonist differs from an Aristotelian, a Spinozist from a Cartesian, a Kantian from a pupil of Fichte. Even among the Romantics, Goethe does not agree with Novalis, nor Schleiermacher with the Schlegel brothers. We did not even mention Bismarck and Rosenberg, Otto and Walt Whitman, or the Buddhist of one sect or another. The differences which divide the philosophers will influence the theologians and the ordinary church members. It is only a dream if someone believes that "the cultural idea" is a sort of master key opening the door to the conference hall that offers a peaceful reception to cultural congresses. It will be war there -- that is to say, it the participants in the conference have their wits about them, which unfortunately is unusual.

b. A second factor, then, is that time and again the problem itself is given new solutions which -- even within the same period -- contradict each other. Or that it takes the shape of theoretical foundations. All this happens in as well as outside the church. Both concepts, "Christianity" as well as "culture," are thus frequently created, fixed, and used in different senses. Consequently the problem of "Christianity and culture" is in the (as we shall see later on: incorrect) opinion of many people -- wittingly or unwittingly -- narrowed down to a problem of "religion and culture," or of "nature" and "grace," which are then repeatedly considered as two separate territories. Indeed, the word "territory" is easy to handle. However, it is mostly used in a too strongly geographical, not to say, mathematical sense. And mathematical concepts (such as e.g. a point, a line, a plane, a "territory") do not find their correlative equivalents in reality. Besides, one may perceive that even then many questions appear one after another.

c. To all this must be added that the devaluation of the name Christ caused also the devaluation of the concept of culture. The church started to trifle with the name Christ, and philosophy did the same. As a result they also trifle with the problem of Christ and culture. As soon as two concepts are devaluated, the right track that must be followed by those who search for the relation between them is blotted out.

d. One has only to consider how those who call themselves church, broken adrift from the contents of the Confession of Faith, speak about the Christ. What is Christianity? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the historical position of this Jesus in the world and His significance for historical life? Does He have any influence at all on our historical life with its continuous relations? Is He indeed the incarnate Word of God, or is He (rather: he) no more than one of the many Gestalten of God's Word? Is the Gestalt of the Word of God an adequate revelation of its Gehalt, or is the Gestalt the paradoxical opposite of the Gehalt? Is the historical Jesus of Nazareth the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation of the Christ (the Messiah), or is the messianic idea not adequately revealed in Him, or perhaps only fragmentarily? What does the name Christ mean? What does God intend with the name Messiah? What does His anointing mean? Does it really include a divine commission ("His being ordained"), and also a real gift ("His being made capable"), or are these two only designated in a symbolic way? Is there a fundamental difference between those "anointed ones" whom we consider as ordinary men and Jesus of Nazareth as One anointed in a completely distinct way? Or is this suggested fundamental difference no more than a fiction only? To what extent can He, as a historical person, act in human life in a critical, that is, judging and absolutely decisive manner? Does He Himself, as Jesus, as a historical person, together with our whole human life, lie under a crisis, that is, under a radical judgment of God that condemns the world as this, as our world, or did He let us hear on earth, in a pure and effective, lively, judging and sifting way, the voice of God as the perfect Judge and perhaps also as our Father, the voice of the supreme and, in fact, unique criticism, repelling or attracting? It is actually something to weep about, but it is a matter of fact that in the circles of what is called Christianity there is much serious dispute about all these questions nowadays. And so we stand there as a concrete or legendary "community" of "Christians"; we all lay claim to this name, and get angry as soon as the one denies it to the other. But in the meantime we are very uncertain about the fundamental questions concerning Jesus and concerning Christ, at least among ourselves. Neither are we sure about each other. Opposing each other we stand with a series of written and especially unwritten Christologies in the midst of a multifarious world which claims that it is continuing to build up its "culture." And although we repeat a thousand times in tense and agitated Christian protest that the culture of this world is not mature and not pure, that it is deceptive, and that the reward of (also cultural) sin is death, the question is urgent and hurts so deeply, especially as question, whether we ourselves are not (at least as a group) completely unauthorized and unable to utter even one single word on this problem, because of our profound differences with regard to the term "Christ" as we find it in the problem of "Christ and cultural life." We are more and more active as a group in international, interdenominational, and interconfessional, ecumenical relations, and in sending out all sorts of messages concerning world life and culture. But it all lacks power, for as a group we no longer know Christ. As long as Jesus Christ, for us as a group, is not the Known One and the Familiar One, we utter nothing but immature statements about the relation between Christ and cultural life. For the first of these two terms is already hazy. And an international, inter-academic, ecumenical haze is the worst of all.

e. Is the situation any better as far as the second term of our problem is concerned, namely, cultural life? What actually is culture? The answers differ. We have already referred to that in a few words. However, it is really oppressing that in spite of this we still present all sorts of nervous, hurriedly fabricated and even, as far as our own point of view is concerned, illegitimate constructions. The worst part is not that the culture-philosophers time and again supply widely divergent answers to the fundamental issues. The worst part is this, that while all sorts of culture-philosophers entrench themselves behind a certain -- as a matter of course, subjectivistic -- theory of value, Christians, even confessional ones, fail to ask themselves more and more if not the first and actually only true value is that of the covenant communion with God, that of the assurance of faith, the value of Christian gratitude, which in a practical syllogism assures faith from the fruits thereof that it is true faith. The worst part is the servility with which Christian confessors, as soon as they touch the problem of culture, timidly look up to the unbelieving culture-philosophers next-door: Would they be so kind as to grant us a nod of approval? The progressive submission of Christian thinkers and theologians to (non-Christian) cultural and other philosophers, is more and more becoming an obstacle to giving a unanimous and unequivocal answer of faith. The youth leaders of today and lecturers of adult education classes, as far as they have a Christian background, realize perfectly well that the drafting of a concept of culture meets multiple and searching questions. At their conferences they toil with the problem of history, that of the individual and society, of the essence of the nations and the distinct races of men, of time and eternity, of physics and metaphysics, religion, morals and natural law, of evolution and creation. But about the fact that we as Christians have to take our starting point in the prejudices of faith, and that we have to accept upon authority, and consequently to act accordingly, that our positive and negative attitudes must merely and solely be a matter of faith, which (as we confess in our Catechism) is a sure knowledge and a firm confidence -- about all this one can hear quite often as long as certain points of systematic theology (ecclesiastical suspensions included) are at stake, but one hardly hears the same things as soon as the sphinx of cultural life comes under discussion. There is much pride in the many words that are spoken on the theme of right action, but in the meantime the speakers do not discern the oppressive fact that this whole ideogram of "culture" and "cultural life" remains very hazy, and that one can work with it only a premature and hypothetical basis. It is an artificial term that many people operate with; however, they do so without being justified philosophically, theologically, and, above all, as far as the concrete service of the living God is concerned.

f. When finally we act as if we really have established a connection between "Christ" and "culture," then the main question is not always put to the fore: What is it actually all about? Are we talking about culture as such (the culture) or only about a certain kind of culture? Is there indeed a permanent culture, which may be known by the peculiar style to which it is faithful, or do we, if we keenly discern things, find only a chaos of cultural tendencies? If it is not culture as such but only a particular form of culture, which is it then? The national culture or just a national one? The or an international culture? The or a temporary one? The or a future one? Is it a (or the) culture which we have created or have to create. Let alone are able to establish -- that is to say, we as Christians? Or is it a sort of ideal culture that we are required to acknowledge or to hope for? Do we as Christians have to act in this world and its culture in the way of reform and revolt? Are we capable of doing this? Or have we perhaps been given only the limited task that we might somehow or other force our way through the rapid currents of this world's multifarious life, and thank God afterwards because the ship of our life just missed being wrecked in the tremendous energy of the breakers? Is there really a positive task for us as Christians? Does "following after Jesus" then really include the tireless actualizing of a God given creative ability unto a peculiar (or distinct) Christian culture with world-conquering tendencies? Can the "following of God" be recognized in certain concrete acts in conformance to the material contents of divine commandments, and also in an accordingly concrete and steady attitude? Or is the following of God a formal concept only: God did indeed create the world, but He also permanently changes it, and once will do so in a catastrophic manner, wherefore only those can follow Him who replace any "yes" spoken to the existing world by "no" and thus consider any attitude as being of the devil, the revolutionary as much as the conservative attitude, and vice versa? Is a Christian's action performed in earnest or just as a game -- by virtue of a fixed ordination that does not permit us anything but the game, and thus makes the game into the only possible "earnest"?
Innumerable are the questions that have not been answered, and, indeed, that have not even been formulated yet. "Jesus Christ" and "cultural life" have alternately been called enemies and friends. Or even complete strangers one to another. The one, with Tolstoy, sacrifices "culture" to (his) "Christianity"; the other, with Nietzsche, abandons Christianity in favour of "culture"; a third one flares up in anger as soon as he hears that Christ and culture are considered to be connected with one another (cf. the contemporary, Barthian inspired, criticism of a so-called neo-Calvinism). The starting point of the first two views -- partly also of the third one -- is an antithetical relation between Jesus Christ and cultural life, real as well as potential. On the other hand there are also those who, eagerly or with the feeling that they, too, are fortunately still allowed to participate, raise the slogan that Jesus Christ and "culture" can certainly be reconciled with one another and that the relation between the two may ultimately be considered an amicable one.

It may be unintentional, but the inevitable result of all this is, of course, that among those who swing back and forth in this manner practice reveals many greatly varying aspects. According to the one there is no higher task for a Christian than timidly to eat under the table "the crumbs which fall from the table" of unbelieving "culture builders," and consequently he defends this timorous eating with the thesis that in cultural affairs God has not imposed teetotalism. He, then, will never get beyond a questionable argumentum e silentio: What he wants has not expressly been forbidden; it is therefore all right. Do not ask him whether this eating of crumbs from the table of others is a meal of faith and love or a gesture of embarrassment, with a corresponding argument of embarrassment providing the necessary rescue. The other, however, jauntily asserts himself in cultural life, puffs up his little Christian person to a certain cultural pride, and keeps himself convinced that it is nothing but an argument of embarrassment when the above-mentioned brother, sighing and apologizing a thousand times for his meals of crumbs, quotes the apostle Paul and says, that one "cannot go out of the world" (I Corinthians 5:10). He in fact brands this argument as inferior. In his opinion it must be replaced by the proud watchword that a Christian has to promote God's honour "in all spheres of life," cultural life included. However, the crucial question, what "cultural life" actually is, and, in close relation with it, what exactly the sphere or territory of cultural life is, most likely remains unanswered for the time being, even by him.

We are fog-bound. Even the followers of Dr. Abraham Kuyper are. For years and years they talked of nothing but "God's honour in all spheres of life." The more scholarly ones among them constantly repeated Kuyper's adage concerning "sphere sovereignty." Every "sphere" of "life" had its own "sovereignty. However; often they do no more than repeat this slogan. No wonder. For Abraham Kuyper himself could not clearly explain what exactly those "sovereigns" in all those "spheres" are. One single Sovereign -- that we can accept and understand But as soon as one starts to speak about "sovereigns" in the plural, each of them in his own sphere, then things become vague. When Kuyper says that God created everything "after its kind," he only repeats a biblical datum. However, it is really a big leap from "law of nature" to "sovereign." It is also a big leap from a creature of God to a product of man. And the same must be said about a third one, the leap which he makes from the respective kinds of creatures to the so-called "spheres" in which they play their role either with or without the help or hindrance of man. Kuyper's metaphorical language is here also a metabasis eis allo genos, a matter of mixing up unequal and heterogeneous quantities.

This is disastrous, in particular when one speaks about "spheres" each having its own sovereign. Really, we are fog-bound.
Now the sky can clear up only if we quietly put ourselves under the preaching of the Scriptures. They are fundamentally nothing but a revelation from God, knowable and known in Jesus Christ, His Son. Therefore no one can derive from their teachings anything concerning the theme of "Christianity and cultural life" unless he lets them reduce the problem to the matter (not of "Jesus and cultural life," but particularly) of "Jesus Christ and cultural life." It is no doubt very useful to consider briefly why the first two formulations of our theme are never able to penetrate to the foundation of our problem, while only the last mentioned one really can. As soon as we have found the answer to this question, we believe that we are holding the clue to our subject as the Scriptures present it to us.
Actually, as we said, the problem should not be formulated as "Christianity and cultural life" For this formulation would not bring us to the root of the problem. As a matter of fact, by "Christianity" one can understand among other things: (1) the community of Christians (in the proper sense of the word or not, including or not including those who are Christians in name only), and (2) the visible result which it was possible to record in the visible world because of the Christian activities of the community of Christians, or, rather, which was and time and again still is, recorded within the framework of a more or less fixed communis opinio. Of course, the word has many more meanings However, let us leave them for what they are for convenience' sake. For even when we restrict ourselves to the just mentioned two meanings of the word, we have enough problems. As for the first definition, what, for example, does "community" mean? Is it just the simple fact of being together, or the possibility of gathering together for those who call themselves Christians, correctly or incorrectly (sun-ousia)? Or is it a spiritual unity, spiritual in the sense of produced by the Spirit of God? In other words, is it a unity that is in conformity with God's Word (koinonia)? Is this koinonia the result of the efforts of man, some thing that must come into existence by his actions, or is it the product of God's efforts, something that has come into existence and now calls on people to act accordingly by acknowledging the communion which God has made, de jure as well as de facto? Or, as far as the second definition is concerned, is one, for the registration of such a result of Christian communion, dependent on history and tradition, or can every age thrust upon us its own theory concerning this registration and qualification? "Christianity" is a difficult word -- if one wants to go into the matter.

Nevertheless, in whatever sense one may take this word, one thing is certain: it is impossible to take "Christianity" as one's startingpoint when one wants to ask questions regarding cultural life, let alone solve the problem of "Christianity" and culture.

a. This is impossible in the first place because Christianity can never be the standard. Take (in the first of the two above mentioned meanings) Christians together as a community, and then -- if you could, by theoretical abstraction (for you cannot get any further!) -- purge this community of all those who are Christians in name only. Or (according to the second meaning of the word) take Christianity in the sense of the result of the Christian (in your ideas even supposedly catholic) creed in man's and the world's life, and even be as strict here as you can in applying the standard and in bestowing the title of honour "Christian." Whichever way you would take it, in neither of the two cases would you be able to derive from this "Christianity" a standard for dealing with your problem. No Christian can be the standard, neither can a factual datum be. Facts do force our hands, no one can dispose of them, and everyone's actions rest upon the facts. Our hands can easily beat the air, but this does not result in or lead to anything. Only when they are put into the material produced by reality as it has historically developed, they are able to fashion this material. And as for this fashioning of the material (our acting with responsibility), we fully depend on the standards which God has established. The latter do not force our hands, they command us. Only the Word of God, Holy Scripture, is the standard; not the Christian or Christianity, but the speaking Christ Who has been made known to us by revelation, and Who also Himself "explains" God to us, and as the Giver, Keeper, and Interpreter of the Law speaks God's Word to us without any restraint caused by sin or impotence, He Who has been sent to the people on behalf of God. Any historical trend, also any cultural trend or construction, that would be based on Christianity as a datum or even on an ideal Christianity, which is a product of the mind, must necessarily end in sin, violation of the Law, and irreligion; it would be able to establish nothing but a Tower of Babel. For by taking a wrong startingpoint, it has already started to do so. This way also historical materialism and positivism have taken the courage to orate on Christianity and culture. This way (though proceeding from different presuppositions) idealism, too, in more than one form, has done the same thing. This way even Barthianism has sometimes done so, when it said, "Es predigt": there is the fact of "preaching" in Church, which fact is then the startingpoint for further theoretical development. There is a certain quantity called "Christianity". However, this fact is not the foundation of any doctrine, although every doctrine must take into account all facts, also this one. Facts do not form a foundation for doctrine. On the contrary there is already a certain measure of doctrine in any description of a fact (or of what is considered as such). When there is a thunderstorm, this is a fact. But those who believe in Wodan and those who can explain it and have become acquainted with the theory of electrical discharges understand and describe this fact in completely different ways.

There is even more than this. "Christianity," as it takes shape in the midst of the world carries the name of its own choice, and can be registered, is itself always deeply involved in a current cultural process or even in a series of cultural processes. Followers of Hegel, and consequently also Marxists, arid National-Socialists, count Christianity itself among the cultural phenomena: the suppliers of the theories that were chartered by Anton Mussert[1] wanted to entrust the "Department of Culture"[2] with the interests of Christianity (which could be protected only in the European part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands). This already shows how seriously and inevitably "Christianity" itself -- even if it were only to protect its name -- is always involved in the clashing of the cultural trends that are present in every constellation of world life. Besides, it varies according to local, national, anthropological, and even climatological types. In brief, the term "Christianity," taken in this sense, is a sphinx, and nothing else.

b. And to the extent that it is no sphinx but can be allocated in history in a pure or (which is something different again) fixed shape, it has on its part often interfered in the cultural struggle in a high handed and arbitrary way and with many shortcomings and sins. In

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