The War Between Belief and Unbelief: It’s Not New

Tuesday is for Thinking

The article below is from Kairos Journal. We live in an age that in many ways, practices age discrimination in a very creative way. Unless an idea is new, presented in new garb, new voice, a young voice, a new look, a new spin, a new approach—you get the idea—it can’t possibly be relevant, or accurate, or true, or helpful. C.S. Lewis had a typically brilliant way of stating  this but I have lost track of where and exactly how he phrased it. I’m not brilliant, but I try not to discriminate against anything simply because its source is old.

These thoughts are worth your time even though they are almost 170 years old.

Reformation versus Revolution—Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801 – 1876) According to Dutch historian and politician Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, the primary conflict of history is the struggle between belief and unbelief. He taught that the French Revolution, with its attendant massacres and horrors, was caused by a radical philosophy of unbelief. His greatest concern was that this revolutionary philosophy had not died with the defeat of Napoleon, but lived on in the seminaries, universities, and parliaments of Europe. His public life was a protracted effort to defend Holland and the Dutch Reformed Church against further “revolutions.”

The quote below is an apt reminder that all political struggles are ultimately religious in nature. Men who lead such movements either submit to the authority of God or make an idol of reason.The [French] Revolution ought to be viewed in the context of world history. Its significance for Christendom equals that of the Reformation, but then in reverse. The Reformation rescued Europe from superstition; the Revolution has flung the civilized world into an abyss of unbelief. Like the Reformation, the Revolution touches every field of action and learning. In the days of the Reformation the principle was submission to God; in these days it is a revolt against God . . .

The Revolution proceeds from the sovereignty of man; the Reformation proceeds from the sovereignty of God. The one has revelation judged by reason; the other submits reason to revealed truths. The one unleashes individual opinions; the other leads to unity of faith. The one loosens social bonds, even family ties; the other strengthens and sanctifies them. The latter triumphs through martyrs; the former maintains itself by massacres. The one ascends out of the bottomless pit and the other comes down out of heaven.1. . .

Revolution is in its entirety nothing other than the logical outcome of a systematic unbelief, the outworking of apostasy from the Gospel . . . [S]ince religion and society have the same origin, God, and the same end, man, a fundamental error in religion is also a fundamental error in politics . . . The Revolution doctrine is the religion, as it were, of unbelief. It is the negation of everything resting upon belief . . . The principle of this vaunted philosophy was Reason, and the outcome was apostasy from God and materialism.2

1 Groen van Prinsterer, Lectures in Unbelief and Revolution, ed. Harry Van Dyke (Ontario: Wedge, 1989), 14; quoted in David W. Hall, The Arrogance of the Modern: Historical Theology Held in Contempt (Oak Ridge, TN: The Calvin Institute, 1997), 209.
2 Van Prinsterer, 192; Hall, 216.

4 thoughts on “The War Between Belief and Unbelief: It’s Not New

  1. I don’t have the Lewis quote, but I did think of a Chesterton quote from “Orthodoxy”: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”


  2. The Church needs to be exposed to the great Christian thinkers and apologists of the past. Their reasoning of the Scriptures and their depth of understanding is a treasure that the Church has ignored. I have heard a lot of weak preaching over the last 20 years. Thanks Marty for all the reminders and challenges to be what God has called us to be.


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