Kuyper for Our Time: Three Books Reviewed and One Free Offer

Usually in these pages I recommend books that are fairly
basic. I have never been one to promote texts that are so academic that
typical folk involved in ministry can’t wade through them. I sometimes even
refer to the paperbacks we sell as “ministry tools,” implying they are helpful
for their practical use. Most of the more meaty books that I often suggest–say,
Os Guinness’ Time for Truth or Ron Sider’s important Good
News & Good Works
–are relatively brief and accessible. Even
the important introduction to philosopher Michael Polanyi that I have promoted
(Tacit Knowing, Truthful Knowing) is an audio tape
for Pete’s sake! Last month’s list on higher education was, mostly, books
which are not at all tedious or difficult.

Occasionally, though, it pays to read
a long, serious book, accepting the Godly challenge of being a life-long
learner and pressing against the cultural routines of hurry, skimming
the surface, multi-tasking and channel surfing. You recall Postman’s worries
of such shallowness in Amusing Ourselves to Death and, if
he’s even partly right, it may be wise to intentionally exercise the ol’
gray matter a bit more than usual on regular occasions–lest we end
up, in Guinness’ memorable phrase, with “fit bodies and fat minds.”

Broad-ranging works like the ones below
call me to work harder than usual and yet happily remind me of the joy
of rubbing shoulders with someone who is more than just bright, but who
has real depth and has poured years of their life into a book, resulting
in what can sometimes only be called magisterial.

Three such books which deserve that sort
of high accolade, and that sort of attentive reading, are reviewed here–not
just because of the recent debate in our circles about the CCO’s relationship
with the Dutch neo-Calvinism of Abraham Kuyper, but because, by any standards,
these are truly wonderful and significant works. Certainly in our organization,
many of us should read them; others less connected with the Kuyperian
all-of-life-redeemed worldview have raved about them. These are the heavyweight
texts of our tradition and we should rejoice in them.

I have previously mentioned Peter Heslam’s
fine 1998 work, Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s
Lectures on Calvinism
(Eerdmans, $28.00). An Anglican who isn’t
Dutch, Heslam has given us what may be the best treatment of Kuyper in
English. Kuyper’s Stone Lectures delivered at Princeton in 1898 argued
for a worldviewish, culturally-significant understanding of the sovereignty
of God over all creation. These big ideas are discussed, compared with
others, and are shown to be a major contribution to the 20th century religious

The lectures, as Helsam documents, were
published widely, discussed throughout the world, and taken seriously
even by critics. (And, of course, are still in print today, simply entitled
Lectures on Calvinism.) The liberal theologian Ernest Troeltsch
called them a “manifesto of Kuyperian Calvinism,” and Princeton titan
B.B. Warfield was extolling their importance 20 years later! (Heslam includes
letters of appreciation between Warfield and his Dutch hero, an interesting
point for those who emphasize the differences between Dutch Calvinism
and the Princetonian sort.)

Heslam covers much ground, and this book
can only help us learn more about this amazing man’s remarkable career.
A bit is told of his pioneering work in starting a Christian newspaper,
the first free Protestant university, Christian schools, a political party,
and his stint as Prime Minister. The book’s focus, though, is on the nature
and influence of Kuyper’s amazing perspective. Sure, Al Wolters’ little
book Creation Regained spells it all out with precision
and clarity, but this major work shows where Al is coming from, literally.
Such creation-wide concerns–political liberty, economic justice,
Christian perspectives in science, an openness to common grace in the
arts, a hope-filled view of history, a radical call to commitment to Christ’s
reign over every human endeavor–were developed by God’s Spirit perhaps
most clearly in the Netherlands, and now are being taught in many evangelical
outposts. (Think, for instance, of Chuck Colson’s magnum opus,
How Now Shall We Live?)

It is helpful that Heslam mentions particular
places and people who have been informed by and are attempting to advance
the overall vision of Kuyper’s brand of thoughtful, principled public
witness–the staff of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto,
Alan and Elaine Storkey in England, James Skillen’s team at Washington’s
Center for Public Justice, just for instance. And it is especially nifty
to think that each of these folks have had an influence within CCO, have
been supportive of our work with college students, and see us as colleagues
in the international movement to press the cosmic claims of our Lord Jesus
in an intelligent way that brings shalom. This is a well-documented
and thorough book that will teach you much, inform you about one of Christianity’s
best-kept secrets, and keep you well-rooted in the tradition into which
we have been grafted.


More exhilarating, more learned and including
even more fascinating footnotes–from 19th century archives to contemporary
current events–is the breathtaking new study Free Church, Holy
Nation: Abraham Kuyper’s Public Theology
by Calvin Seminary professor
John Bolt (Eerdmans, $38.00).

Throughout this 500-page book, Bolt goes
on delightful excursions (delightful, that is, if you are not in a hurry).
For instance, he spends considerable time in a fascinating comparison
of Kuyper with deToqueville and Edmund Burke, who shared his distrust
of the secularizing autonomy of the French Revolution. He reproduces turn-of-the-century
landscape paintings from the Hudson Valley School to show how American
self-understanding was shaped.

As Bolt works through his chapters, each
idea falls into place as he develops an argument about the need for an
explicitly Christian moral imagination to undergird our public
work and witness. (I don’t know if the professor would appreciate it,
but Bolt’s notion here made me think of Brueggemann’s Prophetic
or his book on preaching, Finally Comes the
.) Similarly, it is Bolt’s creative thesis that it was Kuyper’s
role as a “poet” (meaning a rousing rhetoritician who appealed not just
to cold logical ideas, but to visions and dreams) which helped create
a social movement that transformed late 19th century Holland. His passionate
sermons, his bombastic speeches, his fiery editorials (indeed, his regular
reminder that he drew strength from certain reform-minded poets) and even
his well-orchestrated public appearances all served to galvanize a people
on the move! Not unlike the American orator and activist Martin Luther
King, Jr. (or even Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell) Kuyper tirelessly
preached and published, networked and mobilized the political elite and,
even more, the common folk, the rural “little” ones in Reformed churches
who were culturally marginalized and discounted.

Kuyper’s thrilling appeal to the imagination
was not just personality-driven (although he was quite the character)
but was, as portrayed by Bolt, an intentionally wholistic approach which
broke with the reductionistic arguing styles of modernity’s Rationalism.
Kuyper knew that in God’s good world, people are created multi-faceted
and artists often carry the day. As a politician and journalist, he was
progressive and hopeful–perhaps with rhetoric similar to Campolo
calling his Jubilee audience to be “children of tomorrow.” But for Kuyper,
rooted in the political theory of one of his mentors, Groen van Prinsterer,
Christian hope is always located in real history, rooted in the past and
tied to God’s providential work in God’s own world. As Bolt summarizes,
“a Christian historical imagination is rooted in divine revelation, honors
the past not by slavishly seeking its repristination but by reappropriating
its truth through creative application to the present, with the visionary
promise of future blessing….it was just such a Christian-historical
imagination that nurtured and shaped Abraham Kuyper’s public theology.”

The thrust of Bolt’s work is to glean
from Kuyper not just a moral imagination–a compelling worldview–but
to explore the particular political ideals that emerged from that worldview
and translate them into 21st century American politics. Clearly, the evangelical
world–described at Jubilee by Christy Wauzzinski as “individualistic”–may
be good at personalistic evangelism, simple acts of compassion, short-term
mission trips, urban outreaches and the like. But, due to what Noll has
called “the scandal of the evangelical mind,” we have failed to develop
a coherent Christian public philosophy; our civic work is, at best, piecemeal,
issue-oriented and moralistic. Still, the Kuyperian tradition calls us
to distinctively Christian thinking of a comprehensive sort (“architectonic”
Kuyper called it). Bolt’s book reminds us that the previously mentioned
Center for Public Justice is perhaps the best example of this tradition
currently working in North America.

Interestingly, the Center’s Kuyperian
understanding of principled pluralism and the conflict of various worldviews
(which all deserve legal protection and just room in a free society) was
one of the specific insights which gave rise to President Bush’s White
House Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives that has been so much
in the news this winter. CPJ’s role in the creation and passage of this
law over four years ago–that faith-based groups may not be discriminated
against as they apply to be partners in the government’s distribution
of social service monies, against the previous bias of only working with
secular groups–cannot be overstated. Now, under Bush’s daring strategy
to have a specific office in the White House emphasizing this plan, CPJ’s
Stanley Carlson-Thies (a former Jubilee speaker) is in that office, and
we can see the fruit of decades of Kuyperian research and mobilizing in
the political sphere. Please note, this is indeed a strategic victory
for those who believe that this very Dutch model is helpful and that its
product will be greater justice for all, especially the poor. Whether
it can be a signpost of the Kingdom of Christ, to the credit of reformational
thinking and to the glory of God, remains to be seen. Abe, though, would
be pleased. That this initiative links themes typically thought of as
liberal (passionate concern for the poor and governmental advocacy) and
conservative (rejecting the typical welfare-state model of sheer governmental
answers to social issues for local and religious solutions) is remarkably
innovative and exciting. The head of the White House Office, John DeLulio,
is a Catholic Democrat, a friend of Ron Sider’s and Tony Campolo’s and
has graced the cover of Sojourner’s magazine and Stanley,
of course, is a Dutch Kuyperian. Those of us who read John Bolt will have
more insight about all of this than any of the numerous journalists and
pundits who have weighed in on this historic initiative.

A Free Church, A Holy Nation
really is one of those books worth owning. It is readable and, as Mark
Noll says in an endorsement blurb, “serves as an antidote to what ails
the various “ËœChristian politics’ on offer in the US today.” He continues,
“Those who take the time to engage Bolt’s careful arguments will know
why this Dutchman should be employed as a major force for good in the
American political landscape.” And, I might add, why we in the CCO should
be proud to be a part of an organization that in at least some ways, attempts
to embody and live out his legacy.


Lastly, no discussion of recent scholarly
books on Kuyper would be complete without mentioning the spectacular collection
of various articles in the compilation entitled Religion, Pluralism
and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century
edited by former Calvin College prof, Luis Lugo (Eerdmans, $28.00). Written
by a truly diverse gathering of political scholars, this offers specific
ways that Kuyper’s civic ideals and political theories can or cannot be
applied in postmodern American.

Several authors in this collection are
quite critical of Kuyper’s notable blind spots and a few do not appreciate
all of his many contributions. Still, the tone is laudable (even among
those who are critical) as they struggle to appropriate the legacy of
this energetic Dutch statesman to our times.

Excellent pieces by Richard Mouw on
Kuyper’s important notion of “sphere sovereignty,” John Bolt’s comparison
of Kuyper with his contemporaries, Pope Leo XIII and social gospeller
Walter Rauschenbusch, and Bob Goudzwaard on globalization make this truly
a vital collection. CCO friend Elaine Storkey offers helpful insight as
an Anglican, calling some of Kuyper “timeless.” Peter Paris, a well-known
African American academic, offers insight, as do two South Africans, a
writer from India, and several Europeans, making this a truly trans-national
work. But perhaps the most poignant essay is James Skillen’s, whose piece
“Why Kuyper, Now?” summarize the book’s proceedings. Finally, says Skillen,
it is not just that Kuyper was ahead of his time, with books, speeches,
sermons and cultural deeds hardly matched in his century, but because
he strove to work as a Christian, biblically-informed and prayerful, and
thereby gave evidence to the Lordship of Christ and the coming of the
Kingdom of God. His own work gives us a framework, a place to stand and
to work. And for that, we can all be grateful and only hope to carry on
the grand tradition of the Protestant Reformation’s slogan, always



To assure you that I have not
lost my passion for communicating this Dutch neo-Calvinism and it’s worldviewish
engagement with the burning issues of the day to the younger students
among us, I want to make you a remarkable deal. For every one of the three
books I have reviewed above that you order, I will include–absolutely
–a copy of Albert Wolters’ Creation Regained: The Biblical
Basis for a Reformational Worldview
. After reading this historical
Kuyperian stuff, you will be reinspired to invite students to this perspective
and you’ll need extra copies of Wolters around. Or, if you’re feeling
unsure yourself, re-read Wolters to remind you why this more serious work
is so very important. Either way, you buy an enduring text and get a fabulous
“ministry tool” to give away for free! How else do you keep a reformation