Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader Edited by James D. Bratt
Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998, 498 pp.
Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuypers Lectures on Calvinism Peter S. Heslam
Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998, 300 pp.
Review by David W. Hall
For too long, the English-speaking world has been without easy
access to the abundant corpus of Abraham Kuyper. Publishings spawned by this
years centennial commemorations of his Stone Lectures at Princeton, however,
remedy that lacuna. Two outstanding volumes have been released in the past year
that will end that theological drought.
Prior to 1980, besides Kuypers devotional works (To
Be Near to God and The Work of the Holy Spirit) and the massive Principles
of Sacred Theology, only a few selections by Kuyper were widely available.
Although Kuypers 1898 Lectures on Calvinism were released earlier
(1931), copies were often difficult to locate. The year 1991 saw the reissue
of his The Problem of Poverty, formerly Christianity and the Social
Question, and translations of selections on science and politics. Yet, prior
to 1998, it would have been difficult to provide English-language texts for
studies on Kuypers own voluminous worksa corpus comprising 223 separate
publishing entries exclusive of his newspaper editorials. With these two new
books, classes on Kuypers thought and Christian worldview now have adequate
James Bratt and Peter Heslam have provided two very different
books that work well in tandem. Bratts volume contains primary resource
material that has long been out of print or never before translated. He has
reproduced representative samples from various periods of Kuypers writings
and also from a variety of disciplines. Bratt attempts to complement the Stone
Lectures (which present the mature conclusions of "the statesmanlike scholar")
with documents from speeches, newspaper columns, sermons, party speeches, and
other academic addresses to round out more of Kuypers "nuances of thought,
his pragmatic applications of principle, the contexts of his thinking, the sources
off which he drew," and so forth. He succeeds in providing the reader with a
wide, overdue, and prudent cross-section of the Kuyper corpus.
Following a short introduction to the context and work of Abraham
Kuyper, James Bratt collects primary source material under the following rubrics:
Beginnings (a narrative of Kuypers conversion and an early cultural
critique), Church and Theology (including sermons against modernism and
critiques of unorthodox theology of the day), Politics and Society (with
essays on Calvinist political principles and a variety of political discourses),
and Culture and Education (with an essay clarifying the dangers of evolutionary
thought, an epistemology of common grace, and his 1880 inaugural address at
the Free University on sphere sovereignty). These selections are well-chosen
and representative; already one professor has told me that he had identified
many of these as the most exemplary samples of the Kuyperian corpusonly
heretofore he had to provide his own Dutch translations.
Especially intriguing for their thrust are Kuypers early
social critique ("Uniformity: The Curse of Modern Life"), which shows a surprisingly
Romantic side of Kuyper; his brilliant "Modernism: A Fata Morgana in the Christian
Domain" (which could serve as a prophylactic against the seduction of neolatry);
"Common Grace" and "Common Grace in Science" (for Kuypers own formulations
of his distinctive contribution to neo-Reformed systemics); and "Evolution,"
which both skewers naturalism more than some would expect while also respecting
organic development more than often anticipated.
Most enjoyable for those delivered from what Kuyper called
"politicophobia" are the seminal political essays: "Maranatha" (the keynote
at the formation of the Antirevolutionary Party); "Our Instinctive Life" (on
the interface of human nature and practical politics); and the champion pièce
de résistance "Calvinism: Source and Stronghold of Our Constitutional
Liberties," a straightforward manifesto of the history and philosophy of Calvinistic
Regarding technical aspects of Bratts volume, pictures
grace the book well, the selected bibliography is worthwhile even if short,
footnotes are insightful and reserved, and an index would have been helpful.
Bratt supplies a brief, unobtrusive introduction to each selection, and occasional
sidebars provide useful supplements. This should become the leading text for
studies in Kuyperianism if the original voice is valued.
Peter Heslams volume will fill in some of the gaps that
Bratts primary sources cannot address. Heslams book is an excellent
analysis of Kuypers Lectures on Calvinism. It is indeed, as James
Bratt assesses, the most comprehensive English treatment available. Heslam,
an Anglican curate and Oxford scholar, has provided a fine talmud on
Princetons 1898 Stone Lectures. Heslam defends his choice of Kuypers
Lectures on Calvinism as the best exposition of Kuyperian thought because:
(1) it is a summary of Kuypers thought; (2) it reflects his peak performance,
occurring at the high point of his career; (3) occurring in a foreign context,
it demanded that he enunciate his findings in universalistic rather than particularistic
categories ("it is therefore of singular value to interpret Kuypers
ideas in a context wider than that of the Netherlands alone"); and (4) it had
the greatest international influence. Heslam has selected the "manifesto of
Kuyperian Calvinism" to exhibit "the most complete, cogent, and visionary expression
of Kuyperian thought."
His intent of analyzing some of Kuypers motivation is
attained without stretching the textual fabric too thin. Among the other goals
of Heslams volume are: to explore "the way in which America and Calvinism
were related in Kuypers thought" (15); "to contextualize Kuypers
school of thought" (16) within its international setting; to compare Kuypers
thought with Calvins (17); and to provide a sympathetic but realistic
appraisal of Kuypers life, work, and impact.
Heslam offers three preliminary chaptersthe first is
an elaboration of the historical importance of the Stone Lectures, the second
includes a lively biography of Kuyper based on primary sources, along with pertinent
discussions of religious and cultural factors at the time, and the third sets
the Stone Lectures in the context of American evangelicalism and especially
the Princeton tradition. Heslams doctoral work that compares Kuyper and
Warfield (also James Orr to some extent) is useful and illuminating at points.
Chapters 4-9 each discuss one of the six 1898 lectures. Each
chapter provides summary, analysis, scholarly documentation, and perspective.
The final chapter discusses the public and academic reception of the Stone Lectures,
and contains Heslams own concluding assessments. An excellent bibliography
(complemented by the first chapters review of the secondary literature)
and index round out this book, which will certainly become a standard for classroom
use and research.
Among the few points that might be disputed: Heslam may have
slightly overstated Kuypers inclination toward progressivity (e.g., p.
4, especially when compared with his Fata Morgana piece), and at times
may reflect an attempt to tailor an historical figure to modern contexts. The
volume could be strengthened by showing the continuity of Kuypers thought
with that of Groen van Prinsterer, while the connection to Burke is noted several
times. However, Heslam has not marred the image of Kuyper in these attempts
to render him intelligible to a later audience. To the contrary, he has provided
a very literate and useful replica. It may even prove that future studies of
Kuyper will be held up against Heslams icon.
This volume also indicates the pragmatic efficacy of Roman
Catholic and Reformed cooperation in social issues, it accurately displays Kuypers
philosophy of education (and founding of the Free University) against the Dutch
relief, it explicates Kuypers emphasis on the difference palingenesis
makes for scientific theorizing, and it illustrates the affinity between Kuyper
and fin de siècle American evangelicalisma nexus that is
frequently overlooked, minimized, or miscast. Heslam also perceptively notes
that differences of interpretation of Kuyper stem from the interpreters
own choice to focus primarily on either common grace or antithesis as the core
dynamic of this thought (18). The author has also clarified Kuypers limited
appreciation for and repudiation of Marxism (99).
Moreover, the enduring significance of Kuypers views
will remain important, as Heslam suggests, while "postmodern people of today
find much to agree with in Kuypers critique of modernity, especially its
core beliefs in human progress and autonomy" (ix). With the ubiquity of the
notion of worldview, and with the continuing need to critique pantheism in modern
and future discussions, Kuypers thought will remain an important part
of the arsenal of public theologians.
Such analysis of a Dutch Calvinist by a British Anglican must
surely bring a smile to Kuyper in Abrahams bosom as a vindication of his
belief in common grace. It also will become necessary material for discussions
about the future of Calvinism. Both volumes are contributions that will help
unveil one of the most influential hidden hands of our time.