Reformation Month: Day 7

31 Days, 31 Books

One of many covers for the many editions of Abraham Kuyper’s classic work on applying the Christian faith to all of life.

It was the year 1898.  Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch theologian and political leader, arrived in the United States.  He came here to lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Along with the series of lectures he delivered there, he spoke across the nation to an assortment of groups and to such dignitaries as President William McKinley.  Each lecture was supposed to be an hour long, but Kuyper spoke for about 2 hours during each lecture.

Kuyper lectured over Calvinism.  He was preaching to the choir.  His closest friends at Princeton were Benjamin Warfield, who taught systematic theology, and fellow Dutchman Gerhardus Vos, who taught Biblical theology.  Why would a Calvinistic theologian from across the waters come to the most Calvinistic seminary in America to talk about Calvinism?  Basically, Kuyper was interested in spreading a vision.  He did not rehearse the Five Points of Calvinism or this or that distinctive practiced in Reformed churches.  Instead, he emphasized the implications of the Sovereignty of God to all areas of life. The impact of his lectures lives on to this day.

The terms “Worldview” or “Christian Worldview” are popular in our time.  Those of us in Christian schools emphasize in the classroom and in our promotional materials that we teach from a Christian worldview.  Of course, Kuyper was not the first to extend Christian thinking and Biblical norms to all areas of life.  Going back to Calvin and further back to Augustine, there have always been applications of Biblical law, ethics, and thought to all areas of life.  Nevertheless, to a large extent, much of the coherent thinking and application, particularly in both America and the Netherlands,  stems from Kuyper and from his lectures given in America.  Kuyper actually called his model a “World and Life System.”  He contrasted the Protestant, Calvinistic, Reformed vision he had with that of Roman Catholics, Muslims, and materialists.  Many Protestants who might not have gone along with Kuyper on matters relating to salvation and church government found themselves in agreement with his “World and Life System.”

Kuyper’s lectures were originally known as the L. P. Stone Lectures. It was not and still is not that unusual for a lecture series to be published in book form.  But Kuyper’s lectures were published and have remained in print up to this day.  Lectures on Calvinism is still one of the best books around on Christian thinking and application.  Kuyper’s chapters apply the faith to politics, science, art, and the future, as well as religion.  He gives an incredible amount of history, along with comments that were relevant to the culture wars of his time, but even more relevant to us today.

Because the title Lectures on Calvinism tends to turn some people off (Not me!), the book was simplified somewhat a few years ago and published under the title Christianity as a Life System.  There have also been quite a few books written about Kuyper and one book written about Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.  That book is Peter S. Heslam’s Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.  See my May blog post about some more recent Kuyper books here. 

To get a sense of Kuyper’s vision and passion, simply read the following quote.  I have made it a point to always have this quote somewhere within reach and have hoped that it has defined my life mission as it did his:

One desire has been the ruling passion of my life. One high motive has acted like a spur upon my mind and soul. And sooner than that I should seek escape from the sacred necessity that is laid upon me, let the breath of life fail me.  It is this: That in spite of all worldly opposition, God’s holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation again pays homage to God.[1]

A conference at the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at Princeton Seminary in 2011

 

A recent book on Kuyper’s visit to America in 1898.

 


[1] Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, Tenth Printing  (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), iii.

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