A long, personal review of a short, personal book: Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Richard J. Mouw

41NIa29YruL._SL500_AA300_.jpgI’m sitting here at the keyboard, my heart beating faster than usual.  I’ve been jittery all day, excited to start this column, but lacking confidence.  This is a moment that I’ve been looking forward to—with excitement and a bit of anxiety—as I am about to tell you about a book that I believe is truly excellent, quite helpful, almost entirely interesting, and very, very important, especially for those who are involved in the sorts of efforts at faithful discipleship and public renewal that we write about here from time to time.   I believe it could be important for you and—if you care about these sorts of things—it is important to us, here, to Beth and I.  I want to tell you why.  This book shares some of who we are, what we are about, and how we’ve arrived at some of our deepest convictions, convictions that shape our inventory selection, what we write about, the story that is Hearts & Minds. This book is about an old hero of mine from another era, written by a hero of mine who is quite contemporary.  But I’m worried that some or our readers just won’t be that interested; some just want a good deal on a book and are less interested in its story, let alone the story of why we sell it.   I am both eager and yet unsure if I have the capacity to do justice to this brilliant little book, explaining why it is important to us and why you should buy it.

I could almost write a book—and over the years, nearly have—about the run up to this, why my own faith journey was enhanced when I discovered the work and witness of  Abraham Kuyper, the larger than life Dutch pastor, theologian, scholar, activist, and Prime Minister of Holland who lived from the end of the 1800s into the early 1900s.  It may have been Kuyperabraham-kuyper.jpg who introduced the phrase worldview to contemporary evangelicals (see the hefty one-of-kind-book on the history of the phrase Worldview: The History of a Concept by David Naugle for the real scoop on that.) Kuyper’s dense set of lectures given at Princeton in 1898 are still in print from Eerdmans, entitled Lectures on Calvinism, although it could easily be marketed as Serious Lectures on a Christian Worldview.  It was Kuyper who gave us that memorable line about the ascended Christ claiming “every square inch” of creation—“Mine!”— a colorful call to missional action on every front of social and cultural life.  Here is a nice article on Kuyper by the aforementioned David Naugle–check it out (after you read this long post, of course!) 

From Kuyper’s Dutch descendants I learned about a Christian association of radical farmers who thought about renewed ways of doing their agriculture and an alternative approach to labor organizing based on cooperation, not class struggle, and a uniquely Christian political witness–a political party Kuyper founded which in some ways influenced the important witness for good citizenship known as CPJ (The Center for Public Justice.)   A journal I sometimes write for called Comment, published by a Canadian think-tank, Cardus, has similar Kuyperian roots.  In some ways, the gang of young writers who put out the wonderfully fascinating e-zine catapult (published by *cino) stands in this same tradition.  I simply wouldn’t be without the CPJ Capitol Commentary, Comment and catapult coming into my inbox each week.

Some of my all time favorite books—I could say Calvin Seerveld’s book on creativity and daily aesthetics, Rainbows for the Fallen WorldTransforming Vision by Walsh & Middleton, Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Until Justice and Peace Embrace or Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen’s Gender and Grace—are written by folks who stand in the shadow of Father Abraham.  Those who study Reformed theology know that he wrote massive amounts of still-relevant theological work, and a beautify devotional (Near Unto God.)  He also was known as a lover of the common people and honored their daily lives of service and discipleship.  He rejected any philosophical movement that celebrated humankind’s achievements devoid of God, so maybe we shouldn’t call him a “renaissance man.” (Although one good biography, by James McGoldrick, nicely calls him Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man.)  He certainly wasn’t an Enlightenment guy (he realized that Rationalism alone was a dead-end and despised the brutalities of the French Revolution and its guillotines.)  He was something more than a revolutionary (he didn’t need The Who to warn that the new boss is same as the old boss.) And although an ardent Calvinist, he wasn’t just Reformed, if one means by that a Calvinistic theologian who didn’t live out the culturally-shaping ethos of that theology. No, he was more. He was reformational.

Through the larger than life teaching of a brilliant boisterous philosophy professor I met inSteen.ICS.12-75.1 .jpg 1973 who for a while worked for the Pittsburgh-based campus ministry the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach), Dr. Peter J. Steen, a group of us involved on the fringes of the Jesus movement and the charismatic renewal sweeping mainline churches in the early 70s came to understand that God cared about all of life, that we are called to serve Christ’s reign in everything we do, that we were made to help God run the world with purpose and integrity.  He was the first person I ever heard use the word “reformational” and when he first said “Kuyperian”, I had no clue that it was a reference to this pious, intellectual, Dutch visionary—it wasn’t a school of thought I had heard of in my Sunday School.  Kuyper was so important in his day as founder of a major university, a daily newspaper, and more, that he lectured at Princeton and as the Dutch Prime Minister even visited the White House, but who heard that in history class?  

Professor Steen taught us that Kuyper and his tribe insisted that part of this calling to take up our vocations in the world for Christ included (for at least for those of us in universities) the demand to think Christianly, to see our academic work in light of the Word of God that sustains the creation, to work for change within each college department. (This was parallel to the stuff the Marxists in the SDS and the radical feminists were saying, then, too, of course—taking your foundational principles and allowing them to color every academic discipline, since no area of scholarship is value-free or ideologically neutral.) We must ponder the warning “do not be taken captive” by secular theories (Colossians 2:8) but rather we must learn how to “take every theory captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5.)  Or, to use the language of Romans 12:1-2, we are not to be conformed to the ideas and ways of the f
allen world order, but should have “renewed minds” so we can think as God would want, worshiping daily in the things we do in our bodies, illustrating for the watching world what God’s ways for living really are. 

Steen–channeling Kuyper–dramatically insisted that the non-conformed but renewed minds of Romans 12:2 would give us new theories of wise science, new schools of thought for normative architecture, stewardly alternatives to the deadlock between free market vs state-influenced economics, Godly ways to nuancefully review contemporary films, insightful ideas about education, family life, play and more.   Neither culturally liberal or politically conservative, this reformational worldview allowed us to engage the culture with both prophetic denunciations and glad appreciation—“saying no and saying yes” so to speak. This demanded of us to evaluate the books and authors that were influential in our particular classrooms and careers with faith-based critical thinking (which both dismayed and delighted some of our teachers, not to mention our parents) and changed our prayers a bit, allowing us to dream of offering transforming initiatives that could emerge out of communities of shared discourse about the Bible and life.

We studied the Bible with Steen as Kuyper might have, believing it “as a grown up child of
img-article---carter-bailout-for-publishers-book-pile_221732747638.jpg God” and always with a view to how it was to be lived out in the biggest issues of our contemporary culture.  Other authors we read in those years, from other denominational traditions—as diverse as Harry Blamires, Francis & Edith Schaeffer, Pope Leo XXIII, John Howard Yoder, Reinold Niebuhr, Lesslie Newbigin, Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, Os Guinness—began to make sense.  I became a reader of the sort I am today in part because this campus minister named Steen name-dropped Abraham Kuyper and told stories about the consequences of the revival of which he was a part in long-ago Netherlands. 

Steen’s role in the CCO in those years taught those of us who worked in that campus ministry organization to equip students to take their studies seriously—corum deo, before the face of God, as Kuyper would have put it—and, in significant ways, gave CCO and its evangelism and discipleship efforts a weight and vision and direction that was very different than other popular ministries on campus in those days.  The mainline church’s often feeble United Campus Ministries and the fundamentalist Campus Crusade for Christ couldn’t imagine the wide-as-life, wholistic vision of the Kingdom of God that Steen taught us, bringing orthodox Christian insights to bear on technology and science, arts and theater, politics and economics, education and psychology.  A special and overtly Christian perspective on work and sports and schooling and voting?  Biblically-based direction for principles and practices for renewing higher education, business, family life, and environmental care? Caring about what we now call ‘fair trade’, working to understand global poverty but seeking a “third way” between the answers provided by the secular left and the religious right, baptizing neither but offering inherently, consistently, deeply Christian insights?  No other groups of which I knew, in church or parachurch, was doing that.  Francis Schaeffer had books on art, environmentalism, and philosophy and we later learned that he was greatly influenced by a Dutch philosopher (Herman Dooyeweerd) who himself was a Kuyperian.

The CCO (to name just one organization of which I have been a part) has grown in its outreach to students and has come to be respected on many college campuses and churches in part because of its care for institutions—like colleges, churches and local businesses—in a way most para-church ministries do not.  This is, in part, a Kuyperian distinction, that CCO does student ministry but takes their context (the world of higher education and classes and careers) seriously. They partner with established organizations in the towns where there are colleges.  Learning from Steen about Kuyper’s call to love all of God’s creation, including organizations and institutions, and to take our callings into those places seriously influenced my life, and it was working with the CCO that influenced our dream to have a unique Christian bookstore that tried to resource folks for this kind of reformational living in every zone of culture.  We read to understand the Lordship of Christ over all of life, we sometimes say, intoning Kuyper’s “every square inch!” motto.

It was from this Kuyper-influenced vision of “whole life discipleship” and the deepening of the Christian intellectual life that the legendary Jubilee conference was shaped, a story that I’ve told elsewhere. (Plan to go to Pittsburgh for this year’s conference, February 17-19, 2012!  Richard Mouw will be there!)

This same Kuyperian worldview influenced books which were written by CCO staff (or former staff) over the years.  For instance, All of Life Redeemed and At Work and at Play were compiled by four CCO staff that J.I. Packer called “Pittsburgh’s fab four.” (Both are sadly now out of print.)  We still heartily recommend William Romanowski’s Eyes Wide Open: Finding God in Popular Culture, Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, Sam Van Eman’s On Earth As It Is In Advertising, Donald Opitz & Derek Melleby’s Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness and the only academic book on collegiate student development from a Christian perspective, Student Affairs Reconsidered: A Christian View of the Profession and Its Contexts (edited by David Guthrie) were in one way or another influenced by the CCO’s “reformational” effort to think faithfully about being “in but not of” a various sphere of daily living.  And these are just books written by those who have direct CCO connections—the listing of contemporary neo-Kuyperians grows monthly, so, who “get” the vision without citing the sources.  Two of the very best two books of the last several years–-Culture Making by Andy Crouch (IVP) and The Next Chrisitans by Gabe Lyon (Doubleday)— sure seem to have been influenced by these conversations on a neo-Calvinist take on cultural reformation. 

If I may say so, it was this gang—influenced by Dutch North American immigrant neo-Calvinists who had grown up hearing from their grandparents about Abraham Kuyper’s influence in Holland generations before—that helped Hearts & Minds gain our vision of becoming a Christian bookstore that stocked books in nearly every area of life, books that are critical of the idols of the culture but also books that celebrate life and affirm common grace.  Our “books by vocation” bibliography developed (and will be updated soon, Lord willing) because of Steen and because of Kuyper.

So, we have the CCO to thank for teaching Beth and I this vision, Dr. Steen to thank for preaching to us about Kuyper, and now, once again, to Dr. Richard Mouw for, even this week as I read my early copy, helping me understand our journey.  I am thrilled to think again about the path we’ve been on, occasioned by reading this little gem of a book, a “short and personal” introduction to Kuyper.  If you care even a bit about our odd little business here–if you find yourself glad about these BookNotes reviews and our work (here in
the shop or out on the road where we’ve met so many appreciative readers), if you, too, ponder the connections between historic, orthodox Christian faith and lasting cultural renewal–you may want to pick up this little paperback.  It will mean a lot to us and, we think, help our tribe increase.


Pete Steen had a few accomplices in his 70s and 80s perspective workshops, philosophy classes, Bible studies and reformational conferences, and one was a bookseller named Wesley Seerveld.  Wes would somehow get to Steen, or Steen would get to him, and they’d promote books among the students, faculty, pastors and congregations with whom they’d have contact.  My love of pushing books, doing up-front announcements at events, (maybe even overstating the culturally-formative influence of certain books—moi?) came to me as much from Wes as it did from Pete.  For the first time in my life, I saw intellectually credible Christian books and heard somebody say they were important to read. C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer and Lewis Smedes and James Skillen, Van Til and Goudzewaard and Rookmaaker.  That traveling bookseller, son of Dutch immigrants, showed us books on the relationship of faith and art, faith and history, faith and science, faith and film, faith and health care, faith and sports.  One of the books that Wes sold that truly impacted me in the mid-70s was a book with the intriguing title Political Evangelism, by a then-young evangelical/ neo-Calvinist I could relate to, one Richard Mouw.  I trusted Mouw because he obviously cared about inner city poverty, and racial injustice, about the Viet Nam war—concerns that I cared about; he desired Biblically-faithful thinking about civic life, seemed to posit a “third way” between the left and the right (or at least that is how I understood it.)  I had never read anything like it.  I’ve since read every book Mouw released, including an edited volume about hymns.  I love this guy.

Over the years, Dr. Mouw’s books have increased his stature in my eyes, books that are clear, well-reasoned, pious, generous, and usually with a sense that he was offering plain old Christian common sense, but yet–somehow–really distinctive, special, insightful.  This wasn’t warmed over liberal social gospel stuff, and it wasn’t far out Christian right stuff. It wasn’t like the anti-war writers like Stringfellow, Wallis, Hauerwas and Yoder or, later, the new monastics or emergents, although had been in discussions with them all.  Where was this guy coming from?


Mouw is now the President of the largest seminary in the world, and certainly the most multi-cultural one in North America, Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena.  He was previously a professor of political philosophy at Calvin College.  He has written my favorite introductory book on Reformed theology (Calvinism at the Las Vegas Airport) and one of the most necessary books for public discourse these days, a fine book on civility called Uncommon Decency and one of the great little books relating the new creation images of Isaiah to the final days of the New Jerusalem in Revelation (When the Kings Come Marching In.)  You have to love a guy ponders the meaning of the line from “This Is My Father’s World” and names the book He Shines in All That’s Fair.  He has a book on what evangelicals can learn from fundamentalists (which I adored) and another about what Christian scholars can learn from popular culture and those outside of the academy. A small collection of very short pieces is called Praying at Burger King (and most of those brief chapters are well worth discussing–somebody should do a study guide for it!)  Although it is out of print, The Lutheran publishing outfit Augsburg Fortress did a book of his that was perhaps one of my favorite books of the 1980s, Called to Holy Worldliness, part of a series about the role of the laity, and the title alone speaks volumes. 

Mouw has dialogued richly with Roman Catholic folks and Mormon scholars;  he is interested (as was Kuyper a century ago) in Christian-Muslim dialogue.  He often indicates that he has good friends in the Jewish community and amongst mainline Protestants.  In most of his books he quotes medieval mystics or mentions little books some nun gave him about the inner life.  He writes sometimes for Christian Century and for Christianity Today and, in the old days, for Sojourners.  He attends a PC(USA) congregation.  In the late 1970s and into the 80s he instigated conversations between the Reformed and the Mennonites, working out similarities and differences in ways to relate to the modern world, including important questions of war and peace. (He was one of the original planners for the famous 1973 Chicago Declaration of Social Concern developed by Ron Sider.) On one thing or another he sometimes seems to be pushing the envelope just a bit, but always with calm and grace and impeccable balance.  His writing is clear about who he is, where he is coming from, and yet is generous and open to others.  He is Kuyperian to his core yet delightfully ecumenical. Did I say I want to be like him when I grow up?

And, so, the big question: how does somebody get to be like this? Why aren’t his books more popular?  Where in the world is Mouw coming from?

Well, anyone who has followed him—or knows anything about this Pete Steen mentor of mine that I mentioned—realizes at least part of the answer is simple: Abraham Kuyper.  This early 20th century Dutch theologian and statesman had a shaping influence on Mouw in the late 60s, as he explains in the opening pages of Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction (Eerdmans; $16.00.) 

In the late 60s I found myself immersed in the turmoil of secular university campus life.  It precipitated a crisis of faith for me, as I wrestled much with how I as a Christian should be dealing with some of the big issues being debated in American public life.  This was the time of the civil rights movement and the bitter debates about the legitimacy of the war in Viet Nam.

I felt ill prepared for these challenges as an evangelical Christian.  I had been raised in the kind of evangelical environment where the life of the mind was not held in high regard.  We were suspicious of “worldly learning.”  I had made my way out of that kind of anti-intellectualism, but I still was not sure where to look for help in finding an alternative to the “other worldly” mentality of my younger years.  I had been told often that getting involved in “social action” was not the kind of thing God wanted from us.  One of the favorite lines I heard from preachers as a kid was that trying to improve things here on earth is like trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic…

Eager to distance myself from that mentality—especially given the pressures of the activist sixties—I explored other theological alternatives.  But it was a frustrating time for me spiritually and theologically.  I was not attracted to a liberal “social gospel” approach.  And while the social teachings of the Catholic tradition made some sense to me, I was not ready to travel the road to Rome.

It was during this time that I came upon Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism, the Stone Lectures that he had delive
red at Princeton Seminary during this 1898 visit to the United States.  In Kuyper’s robust Calvinism I discovered what I had been looking for: a vision of active involvement in my public life that would allow me to steer my way between a privatized evangelicalism on the one hand and the liberal Protestant or Catholic approaches to public discipleship on the other.  I have attempted to walk this way ever since.

Well, this is somewhat my own story, if in less dramatic tones.  I, like Mouw, have easily gotten beyond the rejection of the “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through” nonsense. (Again, learning of Kuypers insistence that Christ is returning to bring restoration and renewal to the creation has become a non-negotiable truth, deep in my bones, articulated well in the title of Kuyperian Al Wolter’s book Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview.)
Further, I am not ashamed to be counted among those who are eager for social action—I don’t find myself on the picket line as much as I used to, but try to remain active for several important causes and issues.  So, social action?  Sure. But what shape should our social action take?  And what is social action?  Isn’t our public discipleship more than working for peace, justice, or racial reconciliation, more than advocacy for a few key issues?  What about daily work, chemistry, gender roles, congregational life, shopping habits?  Isn’t almost all of life, social, after all?  What should our life in the world look like?  As the famous Francis Schaeffer–himself influenced by the Kuyperian vision—put it a popular book How Should We Then Live?  It is the same question Nancy Pearcy later helped Charles Colson ask in How Now Should We Live?  It is the question Jamie Smith has brilliantly explored in his major work Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Way of Life.

abraham_kuyper.jpgMouw is right.  Kuyper’s sacred principles, explained in his voluminous writings, speeches, devotionals, sermons, and lectures—and, significantly, in the legacy of his Kuyperian tradition as his devotees gave equal vigor to thinking through the implications of a Christian world and life view for all areas of life—opened up a framework for a coherent way to think about cultural engagement, multi-faceted Christian living.  It isn’t enough to say we must be missional, living for the Kingdom in the world.  What does that look like?  How do we know how to determine what cultural changes we should work for?  What, if any, are the principles for various societal institutions?  Of course we all want quality education and good government and strong families, but what does that really mean?  This goal of a life well lived that is whole and integrated—not fragmented or compartmentalized—and that moves towards cultural renewal, is significantly aided by the insights of Abraham Kuyper.  And in the hands of Mouw, Kuyper’s seminal insights, his key ideas, his major points, all come to life for today.

Mouw calls this book personal because it it his take on Kuyper, and much of it is tells of how Mouw has tried to appropriate the work of this giant in our own setting.  (It is a huge and very interesting project. Think how edifying it would be to read of someone who might pay similar tribute to and bring into contemporary relevance the overall teachings of, say, William Wilberforce or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King.)  It doesn’t matter if you are Presbyterian or not, if you care about serious thinking about “changing the world” this will help.

And, it is short.  Mouw explains,

I decided to make it short because I want to introduce some basics about Kuyper’s thought for readers who may be curious enough about this nineteenth century Dutch leader to read a fairly concise introduction.  Kuyper has some enthusiastic devotees in the English-speaking world, and there are probably some how there who wonder what all the fuss is about, even though they may not be eager to know every detail.  This book is meant to satisfy that kind of curiosity….

He admits there is a scholarly renaissance about Kuyper these days (there is the Kuyper Center at Princeton, for instance) but this book is for those who may not want to study such scholarship.  Just getting familiar with a bit of Kuyper, through Mouw’s teacherly introduction, may nudge some of us in the right direction.

Heaven knows we need some nudging.  All kinds of publishers and all kinds of websites and gatherings are nowadays celebrating the need for Christians to transform the culture.  A generic sort of Kuyperianism has won the day—few really want to be fundamentalist anymore, and it is evident that the mainline churches do not have the influence they once did. Who doesn’t want to “engage the culture” or “make a difference?” We all know Jesus’ dictum, “in but not of” the world.  Yet there is this paradox—many are studying culture, missional living, social engagement, but there seem to be less and less clarity about what we should be doing, how to engage culture, what kinds of social initiatives are most prudent and faithful.  That is, we need less convincing to be responsible in the world, and more teaching about what that actually might look like.                                                   
Kuyper’s principles are not to be applied woodenly as if our postmodern, globalized world is the same as his was at the end of the 19th century.  And, as Mouw makes clear in a few powerful chapters, Kuyper was woefully mistaken about some things.  (Even in the important Stone Lectures he indicates he was a man of his time with embarrassing comments regarding peoples of Africa.)  But does the Kuyperian philosophy about social spheres, authority structures, principled pluralism and such offer us tools for faithful living in these days?  I believe more than ever that the answer is a resounding yes.

I will tell you more about this fine little book in the next post.  Mouw has it broken up into two major sections: Kuyper on Theology and Culture: An Overview and Kuyper for the Twenty-first Century.  I don’t know which portion I enjoyed more, learning some basic facts about Kuyper’s life, times, theological insights and important teachings or Mouw’s telling of how some are renewing Kuyperian impulses and instincts for contemporary discipleship.  Both are very, very helpful.

For now, consider this one small portion, a brief example of why we think this book is so very helpful.  Kuyper is, Mouw says, doing some appropriate kind of imagining.  When asked if a particular Kuyperian theory of how social institutions should work together is taught in the Bible, Mouw admits that Kuyper, and his younger colleague Herman Bavinck, might have been more attentive to grounding their social theory in specific texts of the Bible.  But then Mouw says this, and it is both a good reason to appreciate Kuyper, and a fine reminder of what we re
ally need from our Christian theologians, thinkers, authors.  (Which is not to just to merely create a system of arranging the facts of Scripture, but to allow them to guide what C.S. Lewis called our “baptized imaginations.”)

Here’s Mouw, admitting that Kuyper’s keen call that the creation is ordered in a way that it demands a separation of social institutions, may be a bit over-reaching from what the Bible directly says.

Yes, there certainly are some leaps in all of that.  But at least two points have to be made in defense of what Kuyper and Bavinck are doing.  One is that they are engaged in the kind of intellectual activity that gives life to much good theological reflection.  This is the kind of thing that theologians—really good theologians–do.  They go beyond the explicit statements of Scripture to explore larger patterns of coherence that can shed light on the patterns and implications of what the Bible explicitly says.  That’s precisely the kind of thing that happens when theologians write treatises on the Trinity, or when the spell out what they see as a biblically faithful understanding of the church.

The second point in defense of the Kuyperian view is that there is a “fit” of sorts between the actual biblical passages Kuyper and Bavinck allude to and the more speculative claims they make.  The Bible does address in very specific ways how God shapes and governs the creation.  What Kuyper and Bavinck are doing is to try to catch the spirit of those specific references in order to talk in more general terms and categories about how God structures and orders created life.

Kuyper indeed catches the spirit of what some Biblical texts say and then he draws  generative insights on how to best build a social architecture that allows for human flourishing, social justice, public righteousness, the widening of the common good.  Don’t we all want that?   Are we not to be working for that?  Kuyper—as explained by Mouw—gives us some intellectual tools and some spiritual instincts on how to proceed in being true salt and light and leaven in a good but fallen world.

41NIa29YruL._SL500_AA300_.jpgIf Pete Steen, the flamboyant philosopher and visionary for a Kuyperian worldview within the CCO, were still alive, and if Wes Seerveld, were still hawking books like this, believe me, they’d be all over this.  I wonder if this book will change lives the way Mouw’s first book so impacted my own?  Will there be a new movement of world-changers who are eagerly reformational, glorifying God by working for the inner transformation of each social sphere and every area of influence?   Having Richard Mouw expound on Abraham Kuyper, inviting us to “catch the spirit” of what some Bible texts says, and then run with them, surely will help!

My goodness, this is the sort of stuff that changed my life, that propelled me in to book-selling, and that, I believe, can help continue the work of a wide-as-life redemptive vision, modified Kuyperianism for our own day.  Whether you are Reformed or not, Calvinist or not, edgy or traditional, mainline or evangelical or Catholic, whether you’ve heard of Kuyper or not, this is good reading that will lead to good learning.  And, I believe, good living.

Here is what Jamie Smith–himself now a philosopher in Grand Rapids where Mouw once was–says about it:

This marvelous little book pulls off an astounding feat: though it is both compact and accessible, it also gives us the whole Kuyper.  Too often we get Kuyper in slices: folks gravitate to a ‘side’ of Kuyper, adopting his theology of culture but neglecting his emphasis on the church, or picking up common grace but neglecting antithesis.  [These are words, by the way, that Mouw nicely explains.]  But Mouw, with typical wit and warmth, introduces us to Kuyper in all his multifaceted richness.  A gift for the next generation.

If you are still with me, you may understand why I was a bit nervous.  I couldn’t just tell you that Kuyper was a famous theologian that worked for a unique sort of social influence a century ago and that this book is a warm introduction to his views.  No, this is a central chapter in the Hearts & Mind story, and insofar as you read BookNotes, we wanted you to know why it matters to us.  More urgently—as we will explore in the next post—there is a distinct need today to get beyond the typical perspectives of both conservatives and progressives, and give some radical texture to a “third way” of thinking.  Kuyper has not only been influential in helping evangelicals get involved in “every square inch” serving Christ in the real world.  His views have helped forge a social perspective that is worth thinking about in the 21st century.  Mouw’s book is not only inspiring, it can be substantive in helping us take next steps towards faithful action.  More on that, soon.

Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction
Richard Mouw (Eerdmans)
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2 thoughts on “A long, personal review of a short, personal book: Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Richard J. Mouw

  1. Dear Byron,
    Just stopping in to say amen and amen. I am one of those who was also hugely influenced by Kuyper in college (Cedarville) in the 70’s—through a philosophy professor as well. Both men shaped my own world-and-life-view. James McGoldrick, who wrote one of the bios you mention, was my history prof as well. Many of the books you mention were all passed around our small college circle of like-minded students, hungry for a vision other than cultural condemnation and separation. Thank you for the depth of thought and investment of time in this post, which returns me with much gratitude to the bold men of the faith who have called us into the world, where we belong. I hope Abraham Kuyper finds new generation of readers, which he well deserves. Thank you for reminding us of his amazing teachings and legacy, and for making this book available.

  2. Hey, Byron,
    I thought you’d be interested to know that a granddaughter of Pete Steen’s in my congregation. (I sent them the link to this post.) Great stuff as always, Byron. We’ll be sure to pick up a copy of the book.

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