Friday, January 25, 2013

Abraham Kuyper, Part IV

This is the conclusion to my four-part introduction to the Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III)
During all of his life, Kuyper never set down the pen, writing many different devotional and theological books. Following his term as Prime Minister, Kuyper was invited to Princeton to deliver the Stone Lectures. His lectures focused on the idea that Christianity is a life-system, or worldview, and that its distinctive stamp on reality makes it fundamentally different from its competitors, including Islam and Modernity. These ideas would come to shape the theological and philosophical minds in the United States, especially those in the Reformed and Presbyterian communities.

Kuyper understood that Christianity was an all-encompassing system of beliefs. He knew that he could not relegate his faith to one little box. Rather, Christian truth saturates everything. He articulated this in a series of talks published as Lectures on Calvinism. The extent to which Abraham Kuyper acted on what he believed is plainly seen in his involvement in so many different spheres of life and culture: in journalism and writing, in the Church as pastor and theologian, in government as a party leader and Prime Minister, and in education as a university founder.

The study of Kuyper and his writings is difficult since so few of his works have been translated into English. Further, since he is a relatively unknown figure, there are few secondary sources available. When I wrote a paper on him in college, this was a wall I constantly ran up against. Nevertheless, there are some books and essays that will give you a start:

Lectures on Calvinism
Since it was delivered in English this is the most popular and easily acquired book by Kuyper. He introduces the idea of life-systems, or worldviews, and shows how it affects art, science and many other "spheres" of life.

Principles of Sacred Theology
This is the only other work by Kuyper himself that I have been able to get my hands on. While I only had time to read parts, what I did read looked good and I’d love to finish it someday.

Worldview: A History of the Concept, by David Naugel
This is a book mentioned at the beginning of the series that introduces Kuyper by way the discussing the history of the "worldview."

“Abraham Kuyper and the rise of Neo-Calvinism in the Netherlands” by Justus M. Van der Kroef
This is a good biographical overview of Kuyper’s life and work. It comes from a periodical called Church History, Vol. 17, No. 4 December 1948.

"Dutch Reformed Philosophy in North America" by Thomas K. Johnson
This essay does a good job of showing the connections between Kuyper's thought and later thinkers. Most of the figures discussed are probably not familiar to most readers (or at least, I had never heard of them), but again, it shows the impact that Kuyper's ideas had on those who came after him.


Anna said...

I may have missed this from one of the previous entries, but was Kuyper a main instigator of the "worldview" concept? Or even the main instigator?

Jacob said...

I'm not entirely sure of the origins of the term or idea of worldview (I think the book Worldview: A History of a Concept would answer that question, though.

Regarding Kuyper's place, he popularized the idea. Most of the people using it now were taught it by people who were in turn taught it by people influenced by Kuyper's thought. The last link in the post does a good job of showing this. Pay close attention to the line of thinking that goes through Westminster Seminar via Cornelius Van Til, who developed the presuppositional apologetic method, and taught it to people like Francis Schaeffer, who popularized outside of the Reformed tradition and made it accessible to your typical evangelical Christians. At least, this is the story as I understand it! Fact remains, "Lectures on Calvinism" articulates a comprehensive Christian worldview and sees it in conflict with modernity/liberalism, which he regarded to be equally comprehensive. While I haven't studied a lot of 19th Century theology, it seems like this is one of the first places you see someone doing something like that.