Acton Institute Powerblog

New Amsterdam Redivivus

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As part of our ongoing engagement with the Protestant world, the Acton Institute has taken on the translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace, under the general editorship of Stephen Grabill and in partnership with Kuyper College. We’re convinced that renewed interest in the thought of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), and in fact rediscovering aspects of his thought that have been lost or misconstrued in the intervening decades, is critically important for the reconstruction of Protestant social thought.

So it’s a big encouragement to us when we see figures in the broader evangelical world echoing similar sentiments. In a recent interview with a Dutch newspaper, the PCA pastor Tim Keller spoke about how Kuyper and Herman Bavinck have served as inspirations. The translator for our Common Grace project, Nelson Kloosterman, provides a translation of the interview in English on his blog.

Keller says that the task of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer in New York City would be “unthinkable without Kuyper.” He adds, “Kuyper said many helpful things. Especially his idea of sphere sovereignty has helped me. That idea assumes that various social relationships—among persons, families, volunteers, associations, and churches—each has its own responsibility.” So here in the ministry of Redeemer in NYC we have a renewal of interest in Dutch neo-Calvinism. Maybe we can call some small part of New York by its original name of New Amsterdam again!

It’s only fair to note, too, that Keller is not uncritical of the all the developments of neo-Calvinism since Kuyper’s own day. He contends “that many churches in this tradition place heavy emphasis on living according to a Christian worldview while neglecting spiritual piety and evangelism.”

Here’s a video from a few years back where Keller makes some similar points.

Be sure to follow along as the Common Grace translation project proceeds. We’ve got some developments to announce in the coming weeks and months. You can also “like” the Common Grace page on Facebook to keep up-to-date, and sign up to receive email updates on the Common Grace project page.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Keller is right about the Neo-Kuyperian tendency to ignore or downplay confessional orthodoxy in favor of a kind of social gospel, which is quite contrary to Kuyper’s own perspective on the importance of faith, theology and the confessions. This social gospel tendency, along with a rather negative attitude toward the institutional church and confessional orthodoxy can be observed in those North American institutions that tended to redefine the Reformed tradition as a kind of universal activism, advocating a form of “justice” defined in terms of left-wing politics.

  • Crmlpc

    I will admit that I have never read Kuyper. Since I am not part of any of the Dutch Reformed tribes why would I look to him instead of to the New England Puritan Divines for help in reconstructing Protestant social thought?

    • By all means, I think we should draw on the New England Puritan Divines. But I don’t see why it has to be either/or. And there are a number of reasons to read someone outside of your own “tribe.” Despite being Dutch, Kuyper is closer to us today in North American in many ways than the 17th c. Puritans, a fact that has both its positives as well as drawbacks. I didn’t mean in the post to claim that we only need Kuyper, or that we need to uncritically venerate Kuyper. But if you check out what he has to say, I think you’ll find a great deal of value and insight, particularly with respect to Protestant social thought.

  • Clynngd

    Randy, you are right on (as usual). That’s why it’s important simultaneously to remember the reverse of the coin with common grace – antithesis. Without antithesis, it’s too easy for common grace to be blurred into universal (and cheap) grace. Just as there are pitfalls in antithesis without common grace (think: hyperCalvinism), there are likewise problems with common grace devoid of antithesis (think: Kuitert).

  • Bill Gram-Reefer

    It is too broad a stroke to paint the Kuyperian movement in the U.S. as “social gospel” Far from it. Accepting the lordship of Christ in all of life only increases the need for solid biblical preaching and genuine xian community that can witness to same. If you mean piety in terms of the rich young ruler or pharisees, then we know how that turns out.

    • I think that’s right, although I understood the concern about the “social gospel” to be more about a tendency, or a possible danger, than a necessary outgrowth or consequence of a Kuyperian world-and-life view. I think there certainly are neo-Calvinists who have gone too far in the direction of accommodating culture and articulating something that sounds much too close to a social gospel at times. That doesn’t mean that’s true of all Kuyperians, though.

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