When it comes to responding to contemporary shifts in culture, Christians have much to learn from Abraham Kuyper, the late Dutch theologian, university president, and prime minister of the Netherlands.
“If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life,” Kuyper wrote, “and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit.” Kuyper’s public theology offers plenty of challenges to our public responses, bringing a range of implications for the future of a free society and social, economic, and political life.
In an effort to make Kuyper’s insights more accessible, the Acton Institute has partnered with the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society and Lexham Press to produce the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology, a collection of newly translated writings comprising 8 works spread over 12 volumes (5 of which are now available). In addition to these, Acton continues to explore Kuyperian thought through related collections, such as The Church’s Social Responsibility and Makers of Modern Christian Thought: Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper on the Social Question.
Taking notice of these efforts, Stephen Bishop has offered a diligent, comprehensive review and summary of these works for Koers, noting that the translation project has “got into its stride,” producing highly readable editions for those of us in “Kuyperania.” Writing on the impact of the Collected Works in Public Theology, Bishop notes that “these volumes will deserve to be widely read, inwardly digested and then, we can in Kuyper’s words, ‘take hold of the plow’.”
You can read the entire review here, or see some selected excerpts below:
One surprising thing is that Kuyper begins his book not with creation but with the flood. He places much emphasis on the inclusive nature of the Noahic covenant and that it was not a redemptive covenant. The flood changed the state of the earth and the purpose of the covenant was to take into account these changes. This was because of God’s grace – a common grace as it applied to all…
For Kuyper common grace is ‘deduced directly from the sovereignty of God’ and is the ‘root and conviction for all Reformed people.’ Kuyper thinks that resuscitating the doctrine of common grace will help the believer ‘take hold of the plow’ rather than retreat from the world. Common grace provides the foundation for engagement with the world thus avoiding spiritual and ecclesiastical isolation and thereby helping believers exercise dominion. Let us hope that this will be the case. It is a much-needed message for many Christians who mistakenly tend to place the spiritual over the secular and grace above nature.
[Kuyper] notes that: ‘The kingship of Jesus comes to you with a demand. It demands faithfulness, allegiance, and submission. It demands of you—especially in this Christian nation—that you confess him, that you stand up for him, and that you plead for the honor of his Name.’
But Kuyper laments: ‘But in public life there is no regard whatsoever for Jesus’ kingship.’ He then traces some the reasons why this is the case. Here Kuyper is exploring the reasons for secularisation – and this was before it became a popular area of sociological research. Some of these reasons he identifies are the rise of science, the pressures of work and life, the shifting patterns of work and lifestyle, and the notion that religion is now seen as being outmoded as well as general busyness.
On On the Church:
Kuyper’s later major contribution to ecclesiology was the distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism. For Kuyper, the church has to do not only with Sunday services or missions but the reforming of all facets of life and culture. Kuyper uses several metaphors to illustrate the church as organism—institution. In essence, the institution is the church organisation, its sacraments, its ministers; the organism is the church in the world, Christians at work in society, the body of Christ, strengthened and served by the church as institute. The church as institute does not run schools, universities, or trade unions; that is the role of the church as organism.
In November 1891 Kuyper opened the first Christian Social Congress in the Netherlands with an address ‘The social problem and the Christian religion’… This version is titled ‘The social question and the Christian Religion.’ The book also contains the Rerum Nova[rum] by Pope Leo XIII also delivered in 1891. In his introduction, the editor, Jordan Ballor points out some striking commonalities between the two speeches; these include ‘the doctrine of anthropology, the significance of private property and human stewardship, and the normative value of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity’.
This book contains a diverse range of short articles – it can be read in less than two hours and yet it is packed with insight and wisdom. What is perhaps most remarkable is the agreement of most of the authors on the importance of the distinction between the church as organism and the church as institute. It was a distinction that Kuyper made first in his ‘Rooted and grounded’ sermon in 1870 republished in On the Church, yet as can be seen from these essays it is still relevant; and indeed more than relevant it can help to frame the role of the church in the public square today. This book is an important contribution to the debate regarding the role of the church in society.
The lessons spread across these works have much to teach Christians about how to engage, communicate, and serve in a complex, modern world, and are likely to spur fruitful thought and debate.
For more of Bishop’s review of recent contributions to “Kuyperania,” see here.
To follow future developments from the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society, see here.
To purchase any of these new translations, visit the Acton Book Shop.