In Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, James Bratt cleans the image of Kuyper (1837-1920) from long-held misconceptions and caricatures. One of those aspects Bratt highlights is the multivocal character of Kuyper’s career: statesman, theologian, politician, scholar, and journalist. If we want to interpret Kuyper’s writings correctly, a perspective informed by an accurate social-historical context of Kuyper’s life is a must. Part of the problem arises from the fact that Kuyper “was a man of many voices… He was multivocal in the number of fields in which he spoke: church and theology, politics, and society, culture and education, international affairs and village life, the home, the self, the cosmos.” (Bratt 1998, p. 1) Kuyper’s multivocal character constitutes perhaps one of the reasons why the figure of Kuyper has traditional been misunderstood. As Bratt mentions, to fight against modernism, Kuyper tries to build a Christian worldview which seems to permeate all his writings and theological projects. This could explain the reasons why Kuyper engaged so many areas of human endeavor, including areas which sometimes seem contradictory in appearance. For instance, despite Kuyper not being a fundamentalist Christian thinker, he behaved like one: he defended a traditional understanding of Christianity but was open to engaging with science, anthropology, politics (Cf. Bratt 1998, p. 3).
Kuyper’s faith development could be appreciated in the essay “Confidentiality,” where we notice Kuyper’s interest in the relation of the mission of the church vs. the increasing power of the state. (Bratt 1998, p. 45-46. Cf. p. 61). Paradoxically, it caught my attention how Kuyper became both a religious worker as a preacher and a statesman (Cf. Bratt 1998, p. 55). I interpret this as Kuyper’s commitment to fully integrate his beliefs and the Christian life in general (Cf. Kuyper, p. xiii). Christianity in the Calvinist tradition provided Kuyper the framework he needed to build the Christian worldview he was looking for. One question which emerges is whether Kuyper was right that a Christian worldview is what Christians need to fight modernism. In this respect we might argue that the Scriptures could fulfill such a need. I wonder, for example, about the application of a Christian worldview in places that are against Christianity. There’re no doubts modern societies are currently very secularized, and it seems there is no room anymore for a national development of a Christian worldview among the Christians in that society.
In the first two chapters of Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Brattpoints out another issue while interpreting Kuyper’s writings: how Kuyper’s readers understand him. The problem, in this respect, has to do with the difficulty to locate Kuyper in only one camp: conservative or liberal (Kuyper, p. xix). This issue could be fixed by being aware of the rhetorical strategies used by Kuyper. As Bratt states, Kuyper “parlayed answers both theoretical and practical” of the debatable topics of his times (Kuyper, p. xix). Indeed, Kuyper responded to the church divisions of his times. Not surprisingly, such segregations impacted Kuyper’s thought (Kuyper, p. 14-5). I think, Kuyper’s desire to build a Christian worldview has more sense in this context. A Christian worldview would help the Dutch to concentrate on what unites Christians by forming common beliefs. Besides such a purpose, they would be better prepared to fight against modernism and its influence. We observe how the worldview topic arises again.
In the end, Kuyper was a visionary who knew that the technological and scientific advances of his time were not the problem. Instead, the theoretical framework that was spreading in the Western culture – that sets of beliefs which threatened Christian faith and the life of the church.
Notes & References
All references are taken from Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) and James D. Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013).