19 December 2015

Abraham Kuyper's moment

Nearly a century after his death, Abraham Kuyper’s moment may finally have arrived. It was a long time in coming.

I find it odd to recall a time when I myself had not heard of Kuyper. My ignorance of the great statesman and polymath might be surprising because I grew up in an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation with many Dutch and Frisian surnames among its members – CRC expats I would imagine. In fact, I discovered much later that the father of an elderly widow in our church had delivered groceries to Kuyper back in the Netherlands. And still I somehow managed to avoid hearing his name.

Until just short of my twentieth birthday, that is. I was studying at a Christian university in Minnesota and had switched my major from music to political science several months earlier. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus the previous summer had forced my paternal relatives from their homes, and I was suddenly interested in seeing justice done, especially to those unable to defend themselves.

After a brief flirtation with anabaptism and pacifism, a friend alerted me to the writings put out by the old Wedge Publishing Foundation and the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. Among other things I read H. Evan Runner’s Scriptural Religion and Political Task and The Relation of the Bible to Learning. Runner’s dictum that life is religion strongly resonated with me, as did Kuyper’s commitment to the comprehensive lordship of God in Christ over the whole of life. Here was something worth celebrating. Biblical truths that had previously been in the background for me suddenly came alive and made sense in a new way.

But almost none of my Christian friends and family had heard of Kuyper or knew of the vibrant intellectual tradition associated with his legacy. They knew Billy Graham and D. L. Moody and a host of well-known mostly English-speaking missionaries to foreign lands. But the notion of a Christian statesman seeking to honour God in concrete political service was far from view.

The turning point may have come just before the turn of the century, when Nancy Pearcey and Chuck Colson published How Now Shall We Live?, in which they succeeded in raising Kuyper’s profile in the larger evangelical community in North America. Another milestone was reached when James Bratt’s highly readable biography, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat, was published two years ago. Then there are Richard Mouw’s Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction, and Jan de Bruijn’s handsomely illustrated Abraham Kuyper: A Pictorial Biography, worthy of gracing the coffee table in any family’s living room.

Of course, many of Kuyper’s writings are still locked away in the Dutch language, inaccessible to the Anglophone world. But the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society is working hard to change this, with the assistance of a number of people, including my friend and emeritus colleague, Dr. Harry Van Dyke. Co-sponsors include the Acton Institute, Christian’s Library Press and Kuyper College of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

As of now three volumes have been released of Kuyper’s Common Grace, published by Christian’s Library Press, with more to come. Ons Program (Our Program), the program of Kuyper’s Anti-Revolutionary Party, was released in 2013 under the title, Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government.

In October of this year Lexham Press announced the publication of several of Kuyper’s most important works in English to be spread over twelve volumes in both print and digital formats. Together these constitute his Collected Works in Public Theology, the first of which is now available.

Kuyper’s moment may at last have come. And just in time for Christmas when so many of us are puzzling over what to give to the Kuyperians among our loved ones. My hope is that, with the increasing availability of Kuyper’s writings in English, more North American Christians will immerse themselves in his world and in his distinctive piety. At a time when an increasingly aggressively secularism is challenging a biblical witness in so many areas, Kuyper once again offers the tools we need to live obediently as redeemed sinners in the public realm – every square inch of it.

David T. Koyzis is the author of the award-winning Political Visions and Illusions (InterVarsity Press). He teaches politics at Redeemer University College. This originally appeared in the 14 December issue of  Christian Courier.


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