James Bratt’s following words could summarize one of the goals Abraham Kuyper achieved as a Christian thinker. Kuyper “upgrade[d] Calvinism from an old dogma to an active life, to put Modernist methods to orthodox ends, and to redefine the church to make it fit, and challenge, the contemporary world” (Bratt 2013, p. 42). I concur. However, how did Kuyper do it in theoretical terms? To trying to answer the former question, I will look to another Bratt’s work on Kuyper. One of the issues which emerge from the Chapters “Modernism” and “Conservatism & Orthodoxy” in James Bratt’s Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader is Kuyper’s (over?)use of his anti-thesis. The anti-thesis has to do with the rejection of any neutral position on a specific matter or topic. It is very clear from Kuyper’s early life that Kuyper’s struggles allow him to give faith in his life the importance it deserves. He, for example, defends a kind of social conservatism not based on disparate reasons such as political affiliation or cultural tradition but based on the belief that such a position might be closer to Christianity or finds strong support in it. In other words, Kuyper believes that his conservative positions regarding faith “were not enough but required firm doctrinal definition.” (Bratt 1988, p. 65). This suggests that Kuyper’s anti-thesis applied to his religious thoughts is reflected in his particular strategy of defending the Christian faith. For him, anti-Christian systems (such as modernism) must be understood as life systems that encompass all human life and not merely a series of positions. As one observes the Kuyperian concept mentioned earlier grants Kuyper the tools to consider Christianity and modernism opposing worldviews.
In this respect, Kuyper believes Christianity in its Calvinist interpretation must be understood as a
As one might note, the anti-thesis in Kuyper’s religious thought allowed him to defend his Calvinist system using several cultural arguments and not only religious reasons. Two places where Kuyper believes Modernism fails are in its moral system (Bratt 1988, p. 112) and its flawed historiography (Bratt 1988, p. 114). However, the list does not stop there. The Modernist life system has “[n]o real God, no real prayer, no real divine government, the reality of human life under threat, no real sin, no real ideal, no genuine history, no true criticism, no dogma that could withstand scrutiny, not a real church.” (Bratt 1988, p. 118). As seen, Kuyper’s reasons against Modernism demonstrate Kuyper’s engagement with it from a faith-based worldview.
To reflect I ask the following question: What role did the events of Kuyper’s personal life play in the use of the Anti-thesis in his religious thought? For instance, on the one hand, two of Kuyper’s primary vocations (for example, religious minister vs. journalist-politician) seem to go in opposite directions, almost excluding each other. On the other hand, one appreciates how Kuyper’s career as a journalist and politician opened the door for him to develop further his cultural vision of the Christian life. It is clear to me that Kuyper tried to avoid any dichotomy in such a vision. If the anti-thesis is valid, then faith must encompass all human life. Kuyper’s mature religious life is not compartmentalized. Rather, faith shaped all that he thinks and does, all the spheres of his life.
Notes & References
All references are taken from James D. Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) and James D. Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013).