However history remembers me … it shall only remember a fraction of the truth.
The multi-talented Abraham Kuyper is sometimes difficult to introduce. I often use the descriptors, “theologian, statesman, journalist” to highlight his many interests and talents. But there is much more than this to the life and work of this complex and compelling figure. As a recent introduction to Kuyper’s thought puts it, “Kuyper was a man of many hats: statesman, politician, educator, preacher, churchman, theologian, and philosopher.”
Kuyper was, indeed, the head of state of the Netherlands from 1901-1905, and had previously led a church movement that formed a new denomination, initiated the publication of two newspapers, wrote a series of essays, books, and editions of works across decades, and much, much more. He is the real-life kind of persona that the words recently placed in the mouth of a fictionalized Abraham Lincoln, who apparently enjoyed a career as a vampire hunter before his ascendancy to the nation’s top political office, would aptly apply to: “However history remembers me before I was a President, it shall only remember a fraction of the truth…”
Many theologians and seminarians first become acquainted with Kuyper through his famous Stone Lectures, delivered at Princeton University and published as Lectures on Calvinism. This is a rich enough work to be significant in its own right, but with a thinker as dynamic and compelling as Kuyper, the Stone Lectures barely scratch the surface.
There is of course no better way to get to know a figure than from his or her own works, so the Stone Lectures are a good place to start. One of my favorites is Kuyper’s lecture from the 1891 Christian Social Congress, available as The Problem of Poverty. A nice reading to pair with that lecture are the series of essays, “Christ and the Needy” from 1895, which focus on presenting a balanced picture the social and material implications of the gospel.
The Acton Institute has also partnered with a number of institutions to bring more of Kuyper’s seminal works into wider circulation. The first installment from the larger Common Grace Translation Project is Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art, and future installments of the set will be available soon.
Increasingly there are a host of valuable secondary materials on Kuyper’s rich legacy as well. These include some brief introductions available online, as well as Richard Mouw’s short and personal introduction to Kuyper’s thought. Fans of Kuyper should also get to know organizations like the Kuyper Center at Princeton Theological Seminary (which produces the Kuyper Center Review), the Center for Public Justice, Cardus, as well as a host of other institutions of higher education across the United States and Canada, including his namesake, Kuyper College. Kuyper was also a special inspiration to Charles Colson as evidenced from this testimony from Chuck given in his last recorded interview:
Abraham Kuyper is dead, but his influence lives on through his works and through the legacy of those he has inspired in the generations since his passing. There is certainly much more to learn about this intriguing figure. Did you know, for instance, that Kuyper suffered a number of breakdowns, and took trips across Europe and Africa during periods of recuperation? Not one to take such retreats lightly, these trips have been preserved for us in a variety of travel narratives, which lend insight into Kuyper’s own personality as well as the world at that time.
So indeed there is much more to Kuyper than we might initially think; perhaps one day we’ll learn that he was a vampire hunter as well! Maybe we should take a closer look at those travel narratives…