abraham kuyper
Tag Archive

By In Books, Theology

Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition

In March 2017, IVP Academic published Craig G. Bartholomew’s systematic introduction to the Neo-Calvinist school of thought entitled, Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition.

Kuyper scholars like James D. Bratt, author of the 2013 Kuyper biography Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat, have recommended Bartholomew’s book. “Agree with Kuyper or not, this is the place to go to learn, in brief, what he said, did, and wrought,” said Bratt.

Over at the Jesus Creed blog on Patheos, The Rev. Canon Dr. Scot Mcknight has two posts on the book. On December 22, McKnight overviews his familiarity with Kuyper’s work and poses the usual objection to Kuyperian thinking: the how. In the Reformed world, we have seen a variety of Neo-Calvinist interpretations from Rushdoony’s Reconstructionism to James K.A. Smith’s efforts to revive Augustine’s “permixtum of the saeculum.”

McKnight is likely familiar with this variety (and history) of its applications and expresses his nervousness at Bartholomew’s paragraph: “Mission is easily reduced to evangelism and church activities, and indispensable as these indeed are, mission is much broader. As David Bosch points out, “Mission is more than and different from recruitment to our brand of religion; it is alerting people to the universal reign of God.”

McKnight and I belong to the same Anglican Diocese, where he is Canon Theologian. While McKnight doesn’t embrace the term Kuyperian – I do and here’s one reason why. McKnight returned to Contours on December 28, 2017 and pulls up to Kuyper’s conversion story. Interestingly, this is a place where McKnight’s Anglican tradition and Kuyper can actually touch historically. Kuyper’s conversation happens while reading a popular novel: The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte M. Yonge – a disciple of Father John Keble, who closely supervised the writing of the book.

McKnight and Bartholomew point to Kuyper’s quote:

“I read that Philip knelt, and before I knew it, I was kneeling in front of my chair with folded hands. Oh, what my soul experienced at that moment I fully understood only later. Yet, from that moment on I despised what I used to admire and sought what I had dared to despise.”

It is not clear in his blog if McKnight has made (or would agree with) this connection, but I would posit that it is no coincidence that Kuyper’s conversion and ecclesiology are born out of a Yonge novel. McKnight is likely familiar with the “Tractarian/Puseyite” traditionalism (or Oxford Movement) that Yonge hopes to romantically entangle the reader with. Her inclusion of high-church, sacramental Anglo-Catholicism is essential to the historic import of the book. In Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, Bratt notes how Kuyper made the connections himself, “the hero’s funeral rite in the Church of England conveyed the comforts available from a pure ‘mother-church’ that was there to guide each step of the pilgrim’s way.”

McKnight goes on to connect Kuyper’s critique of modernity with his emphasis of separation and the sphere-sovereignty of the church. While Kuyperianism is often maligned as a political theology, McKnight, Bratt, and Bartholomew all point to his bold emphasis on the importance of the Church.

Perhaps, I am putting too much weight on Kuyper’s conversion story and its connection to the Tractarians, but they both spring from the same revolt against modernity. Both Neo-Calvinism and Anglican Traditionalism are born to combat the tides of what they saw as liberalism. It is impossible to understand the Anglo-Catholics as a liturgical movement alone, they also represented an anti-modernist political philosophy for the Church against the encroachments of “whiggery.” In a similar way, Kuyper would develop a political theology as a result of his high view of the church, as a defence against modernism, not as a tool for power or mere social engagement.

Read more

By In Politics

Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 3: What Liberalism Implies for the Two Pluralisms

In Part 2 we examined the implications of Kuyperian and liberal pluralisms for ecclesiology, that is, our understanding of the nature and authority of the institutional church. We noted, in particular, that liberalism, following John Locke, is compelled to reduce it to a mere voluntary association of like-minded individuals.

There are two implications to this liberal move. First, it is incapable of accounting for structural differences among an assortment of communities. State and church are not essentially different from the garden club or the Boy Scouts. Whatever differences appear to the casual observer can be ascribed to the collective wills of the individuals who make them up. Proponents are persuaded that, even if different groups of citizens operate out of divergent comprehensive doctrines, they must be made to look beneath these commitments to what are believed to be the raw data of human experience that bind all persons together. These data are, of course, the constituent individuals themselves.

Every community can be easily understood as a collection of individuals who choose to be part of it for reasons peculiar to each member. There is nothing unusual about this approach, the liberal insists. Michael Ignatieff believes himself justified in asserting that liberal individualism is not peculiarly western or historically conditioned; it is human and universal: “It’s just a fact about us as a species: we frame purposes individually, in ways that other creatures do not.” Therefore if the claims of groups and individuals come into conflict, as they inevitably must, Ignatieff confidently concludes that “individual rights should prevail,” despite the contrary claims of nationalists, socialists and many conservatives of a communitarian bent.

The second implication flows logically from the first. If liberals claim that individualism is simply human and universal, then this implies that their own worldview must be privileged above any that denies this. Liberal tolerance is thus conditioned by a worldview that explicitly denies that it is a worldview, and thus finds no difficulty positioning itself as a supposedly neutral arbiter of the competing claims of the other alternative worldviews.

Yet there are those who object to this sleight of hand. Karl Marx, for one, famously denies that such neutrality is possible and argues that political institutions, like all other human agents, always act in behalf of a particular economic class, even if they claim impartiality. There is, in short, no neutrality in the global class struggle. Liberation theologians in Latin America and elsewhere refer to this lack of neutrality as a “preferential option for the poor,” an oft-used expression that does not sit well with the liberal emphasis on the autonomous freely-choosing individual.

However, one need hardly be a Marxist or a liberation theologian to recognize what is at work here. James Kalb points to what he calls the tyrannical character of liberalism, despite its proponents’ undoubtedly well-intended pleas for tolerance of religious differences. The liberal strategy for tolerance requires that the particular claims of traditional religions be softened to more manageable private lifestyle choices. “Even religion, to be legitimate, must transform itself so that it simply restates established egalitarian, rationalist, consumerist, and careerist values.” Moreover, “No religion can claim superiority over any other religion or over irreligion. Each must understand itself as an optional pursuit, and thus as not a religion at all.” Accordingly, the authoritative claims of church institutions will be tolerated only in so far as these institutions accept the norms of a liberal society. The church can continue to claim authority in some fashion over its members, but it cannot do so in a way that might be interpreted to negate the voluntary principle. No one has to belong to a church, after all, and those denominations emphasizing individual choice and free will tend to fit more comfortably into a society governed by a dominating liberal paradigm.

By contrast, an obviously hierarchical church body with a strong confessional identity may be seen as at least potentially disloyal, as was the case with the Roman Catholic Church in nineteenth-century America. As late as 1960, presidential aspirant John F. Kennedy felt compelled to assure the Greater Houston Ministerial Association that he would not be taking orders from the Pope in the conduct of his office. Similarly, in his famous 1984 speech at the University of Notre Dame, New York Governor Mario Cuomo explicitly stated that his belief in his church’s teachings on abortion was a private belief with no bearing on his pursuit of public policy.

Of course, it would be unwise to state categorically that all professed liberals everywhere necessarily follow a consistent individualist approach to human communities and religious diversity. With some spectacular exceptions, most people are generally better than their ideological visions would make them if they were to follow them consistently. Remaining open to correction by the real world is key here.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny the historic tendency of liberalism in its various permutations to downplay the significance of nonvoluntary community and to individualize and relativize the claims of traditional religious worldviews. We see this in the increasing trend in the western world to reconfigure marriage as a mere private contract between (thus far!) two persons and to deny any intrinsic structure that might negate this contractual status and even to stigmatize those who adhere to a “thicker” understanding of the marriage covenant. We see it too in judicial efforts to redefine the limited personal liberties found in the English Bill of Rights and its successors (to, e.g., freedom of speech) as a more expansive and normless individual autonomy (e.g., freedom of expression) whose only limit is conceived in terms of John Stuart Mill’s famous harm principle: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

However, Mill’s harm principle, despite its superficial libertarian flavour, has totalitarian tendencies in so far as it is suspicious of those communities bound by standards unrelated to this principle. Liberalism thus negates the very pluralism it claims to uphold. This suggests that another approach is needed.

Part 4: The Kuyperian Alternative

Part 1: Liberalism and Two Kinds of Diversity

Part 2: The Church as Voluntary Association

Read more

By In Politics

Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 1: Liberalism and Two Kinds of Diversity

Although it can be misleading to seek the meaning of commonly-used words and expressions in their etymological origins, in the case of liberalism, the linguistic connection with liberty is all too obvious. The promise of liberty is an attractive one that holds out the possibility of living our lives as we see fit, free from constraints imposed from without. We simply prefer to have our own way and not to have to defer to the wills of others.

Yet even the most extensive account of liberty must recognize that it needs to be subject to appropriate limits if we are not to descend into a chaotic state of continual conflict, which English philosopher Thomas Hobbes memorably labelled a bellum omnium contra omnes, a war of all against all.

Here I propose to compare two approaches to liberty, viz., those of liberalism and of the principled pluralism associated with the heirs of the great Dutch statesman and polymath, Abraham Kuyper. Although each claims to advance liberty, I will argue that the Kuyperian alternative is superior to the liberal because it is based on a more accurate appraisal of human nature, society and the place of community within it.

Arising in the context of an early modern repudiation of ancient, and seemingly outmoded, customs and mores, liberalism proposed to anchor human community in rational principles oriented around the self-interest of sovereign individuals. From Locke to Rawls the liberal project has sought to liberate public life from the particularities of the “thick” accounts of reality rooted in the ancient religious traditions. Why? Because these had apparently proven hopelessly divisive in previous centuries, engendering nearly continual warfare from Luther’s initial efforts at reforming the church 500 years ago to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Better, it was assumed, to anchor political order, not in a highly disputable claim of divine revelation, but in principles capable of being affirmed by all. Such principles would have to be rooted in a rationality whose only underlying assumption would be that individuals pursue their own interests as they themselves understand them.

Liberalism is thus more than just about liberty. Even in its mildest form it assumes that community is rooted in the collective wills of its individual members, thereby privileging the voluntary principle, that is, the belief that human flourishing depends on the free assent of sovereign individuals to their multiple obligations. The liberal project represents an effort to address the central dilemma of human life famously summed up by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the following maxim: “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains.”

Our very survival as a species in the face of hostile forces of nature depends on our ability and willingness to co-operate with each other for common purposes. If we do not do so, we are doomed at best to poverty and at worst to death. Nevertheless, in so far as we are interdependent, our individual wills are necessarily constrained by the rules we draw up to facilitate this co-operation. This is the paradox that Rousseau tried to address in his own proposals for political order. Although Rousseau, in his Social Contract, took these ideas in a superficially liberal direction, his recipe has definite totalitarian implications, thereby threatening to crush the very diversity that makes politics necessary and indeed possible.

According to the late British political scientist Sir Bernard Crick, politics is all about the peaceful conciliation of diversity within a particular unit of rule. What is meant by this diversity? Richard Mouw and Sander Griffioen identify three basic types: (1) directional or spiritual diversity, viz., the plurality of ultimate beliefs that bind particular communities but are potentially divisive of the larger body politic; (2) contextual diversity, viz., the diversity of customs and mores that come from people living together in local communities that are relatively isolated from each other; and (3) associational diversity, which might better be described as societal pluriformity, viz., the plethora of communal formations characterizing a mature differentiated society. While liberalism represents a longstanding effort to address all three kinds of diversity, for our purposes we shall examine its relationship to numbers one and three, viz., directional diversity and societal pluriformity. Although these two kinds of diversity are logically distinct, any effort to address one inevitably affects the other as well.

An obvious way in which these two types of diversity intersect can be seen in the often vexing church-state issue. If one is an unbeliever, one is unlikely to accord the gathered church a distinct status apart from the state except as a voluntary association of like-minded believers. In denying the authority of the gathered church institution, the political order formed out of this belief will nearly inevitably subordinate it to the political authority of the state, along with a variety of other voluntary associations, such as the Boy Scouts, the local garden club and little league baseball. This, of course, has profound implications for the protection of religious freedom, which is thought to belong only to individuals, and not to the institutions that have shaped them. A liberal worldview privileging individual rights, a particular manifestation of directional diversity, has effectively denied societal pluriformity, or Mouw and Griffioen’s associational diversity.

Crick believes that ordinary politics requires the tolerance of multiple truth claims. While he is undoubtedly empirically correct in his observation, we must be wary of attaching a normative character to this reality because it may effectively mask the extent to which a particular conception of church-state relations is itself rooted in a religiously-based worldview. And, if so, we will need to be prepared to admit that not all pluralisms are created equal.

Part 2: The Church as Voluntary Association

Read more

By In Theology

A Neglected Means of Grace: Kuyper on Fasting

Abraham Kuyper’s little book on the Christian life, The Practice of Godliness, closes with a thorough commendation of fasting.

In Kuyper’s day, individual fasting had all but died out, and congregational fasting was non-existent. Kuyper laments: “We have become estranged from fasting, and we do not count it among the means of edification.”

According to Kuyper, fasting is a beneficial spiritual discipline the church cannot afford to abandon: “In these times of spiritual poverty not one means of grace or one channel of closer fellowship with God should be neglected.”

Some Protestants associate fasting with Roman Catholicism (in order to condemn or avoid it), but Kuyper says this is a mistake, stemming from a “biased reading of the Word, ignorance of the practices of our forefathers, and lack of earnestness in the pursuit of a godly life.” In fact, fasting has a robust protestant pedigree, and was “commonly practiced” and recommended by the reformers as “an expression of godly living.” But if fasting is a practice of godliness, it must be grounded ultimately in God’s word, and not mere human prescription. (more…)

Read more

By In Scribblings

Kuyper and Social Justice

In his provocative book, The Problem of Poverty (previously published as Christianity and the Class Struggle), Abraham Kuyper devotes a section to sketching how the church was influential in society at the time of its founding. Kuyper highlights how the church addressed the class conflict, economic oppression, and injustice which festered in the civil and cultural milieu of the first-century Roman Empire.

According to Kuyper, Christ founded the church to “triply influence the life of society” and address social injustice as follows (emphasis in original):

First, through the ministry of the Word, insofar as the Word constantly fought against greed for money, comforted the poor and oppressed, and in exchange for the suffering of the present time pointed to an endless glory.

Then, second, through an organized ministry of charity, which in the name of the Lord, as being the single owner of all goods, demanded community of goods to this extent, that in the circle of believers no man or woman was to be permitted to suffer want or to be without the necessary apparel.

And, third, by instituting the equality of brotherhood over against difference in rank and station, through abolishing all artificial demarcations between men, and by joining rich and poor in one holy food at the Lord’s Supper, in symbol of the unity which bound them together not only as “children of men,” but, more importantly, as those who have collapsed under the same guilt and have been saved by the same sacrifice in Christ.

This revolutionary sociology enacted in the life of the church inevitably caused ripples in the broader culture. For Kuyper, this is entirely fitting, because the church “was instituted so as not only to seek the eternal welfare of its followers, but also very definitely to remove social injustices.” Kuyper says that “the Church forsakes its principle when it is only concerned with heaven and does not relieve earthly need.”

Note carefully that Kuyper is not speaking merely of an inner change in individual Christians which may affect their personal conduct in the world. Rather, answering injustice belongs to the very organization, institution, and mission of the church: its social structure, communal life, and public witness and work.

Given Kuyper’s status as a seminal reformed theologian, his views on the role of the church in the world are significant and relevant for contemporary discussion. Kuyper certainly does not restrict the scope of the church’s mission to preaching or even individual conversion, but understands it as encompassing societal reformation.<>продвижение  а оптимизация

Read more

By In Scribblings

Abraham Kuyper: On Baptism

We are Christians. Thus what distinguishes us, is not that we believe in God, for Melchizedek too did this, but what marks us is our holy Baptism; and that Baptism is administered unto us in Christ’s name, that as His purchased ones we should confess the Triune God. Christ, and He alone, makes separation between us and those who are not Christians. And Christ makes division between them and us, but not as Mahomet distinguished between Mussulmen [Muslims] and those who are called “unbelievers.” Hence it is not because in Him we honor the founder of our religion, nor yet because we hold ourselves to His institutions and make His doctrine our own; but because a mystical, mysterious tie binds us to Christ and unites us with Him in one body.

—Abraham Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem<>продвижение ов ссылками

Read more