Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Abraham Kuyper and Neo Calvinism
Here's a paper by a friend of mine. It's pretty informative if you are interested in Neo-Cavinism or Abraham Kuyper.
Mark Noll, in his acclaimed book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, bemoans the fact that most evangelical Christians today are unprepared for serious intellectual engagement with postmodern culture. In casting about for any example of such intellectual engagement among Christians, Noll points to the Dutch Reformed tradition1, and more particularly, to the man who played such a decisive role in shaping that tradition: Abraham Kuyper.2 The feature of this Dutch Reformed—also called Kuyperian or neo-Calvinist—tradition which is invariably invoked in its engagements with contemporary culture is the concept of worldview.3 The term became a part of the Dutch Reformed tradition through a series of lectures delivered at Princeton University in 18984 in which Abraham Kuyper presented Calvinism not simply as a denomination or collection of doctrines, but as a worldview or, to use Al Wolters’ definition of the term, “[a] comprehensive framework of one’s basic belief about things.”5 In this essay, we shall briefly examine how the worldview concept worked its way into the discourse of nineteenth century intellectuals and how it came to be applied to Christianity in particular. Then we shall turn to Kuyper himself and examine how the Calvinistic worldview, as he referred to it, developed in his thought and action in the years leading up to 1898.
The term worldview6 is something of a new term in the English language. The term first appeared in English in a letter by J. Martineau in 1858 as a translation of the slightly older German term Weltanschauung. Weltanschauung first appeared in a work by Immanuel Kant entitled Critique of Judgement published in 1790. The term was used only once by Kant himself, somewhat incidentally and without the connotations and robust meaning it would come to have. However, his disciples, most notably Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), seized on the term and used it extensively. For Kant’s followers the term came to mean, according to David Naugle, “an intellectual conception of the universe from the perspective of a human knower.”7 Weltanschauung soon became a favourite word among German philosophers and within twenty years was used in the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Novalis, G. W. F. Hegel and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. By the middle of the nineteenth century the term had spread into the discourse of a number of other disciplines including history, music, linguistics, and even physics. At the same time the term began to spread into other European languages. By 1898, the year of Kuyper’s Stone Lectures, Weltanschauung or worldview had become embedded in the intellectual discourse of Europe and North America and occupied a place on the same conceptual plane as philosophy.8
Worldview was first used to refer to Christianity in a series of lectures by the Scottish Presbyterian theologian James Orr (1844-1913). Orr delivered these lectures to the United Presbyterian Theological College of Edinburgh in 1891. They were published two years later under the title The Christian View of God and the World. Their purpose was to defend the Christian faith to a European culture which was in the midst of a massive and, in Orr’s mind at least, catastrophic shift. C. S. Lewis referred to this shift as the “un-christening of Europe”9: the move from a Christian age to a ‘post-Christian’ age through the modernist revolution. The strategy which Orr used to make his defence was to speak of Christianity as a comprehensive Weltanschauung. Orr recognised the futility of trying to defend specific doctrines to a European audience which was growing increasingly suspicious of Christianity and saw the need to deal with Christianity more comprehensively as a worldview:
The opposition which Christianity has to encounter is no longer confined to special doctrines or to points of supposed conflict with the natural sciences,…but extends to the whole manner of conceiving of the world, and of man’s place in it…. It is no longer an opposition of detail, but of principle.10
This worldview had implications for all thought, not just the religious. Orr’s Christian worldview was based on the firm conviction that belief in Christ “committed [the believer] to much else beside.”11 The believer is committed to certain views of God, man, sin, salvation, and human destiny which are unique to Christianity and which stand in stark contrast to the purely scientific or philosophical worldviews. Thus Orr paved the way for and inspired Kuyper who, five years after the publishing of The Christian View, would seize on this idea of worldview and make it the centre of his thought. Before delving into how that came about, a brief biographical note is in order.
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) possessed, among other things, a very big head to the extent that, when he was child, his parents feared that he suffered from water on the brain.12 Whether or not he also possessed a big head in the egotistic sense is open to debate. But if anyone could ever be justified in having such a disposition, Abraham Kuyper was certainly such a one. The list of accomplishments of this man are quite considerable.13 After receiving a doctorate in sacred theology from the University of Leiden, he served ten years (1864-1874) as a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. He founded two newspapers, De Heraut (The Herald) in 1871 and De Standaard (The Standard) in 1872, and was editor of both for more than forty-five years. In 1874 he was elected to the Dutch Parliament. In 1879 he founded the Anti-Revolutionary Party, the first modern, organised, and popular political party in the Netherlands. He served as its leader for more than forty years including four years (1901-1905) as Prime Minister. He was an academic theologian and in 1880 founded the Free University of Amsterdam. In the early 1880s he led a protest movement in the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) which result in a schism in 1886 and the formation of the confederation of Gereformeerde Kerken (Reformed Churches). He wrote more than two hundred books and over a thousand articles on a broad range of subjects. He spoke several languages and travelled extensively throughout Europe. He was also married and had a number of children.14 Perhaps unsurprisingly he suffered three nervous breakdowns during his lifetime. All the while, he managed to maintain the love and loyalty of the Dutch people, almost to the point of hero-worship.15
James Bratt has aptly commented that Kuyper’s life is characterized by “a work ethic gone gargantuan out of a conviction that, though the world theoretically lay in God’s hands, the project of proving that fact in detail had fallen to him on every front.”16 Kuyper himself put it this way in the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of De Standaard:
One desire has been the ruling passion of my life…. 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 pays homage again to God.17
The “worldly opposition” which Kuyper is referring to here is modernism, which he saw as being represented in the ideals of the French Revolution, German pantheism, and Darwinian evolutionism.18 The tool, or weapon, which Kuyper used to defend against such opposition was worldview. It was his conviction that, if modernism, which was based on idolatry, could be ‘stretched out’ to apply to all facets of life, could have such wide implications, then Christianity, which was based on obedience to God and faith in Christ, must be similarly ‘stretched out’ into an equally comprehensive view of reality. This is what Kuyper’s Stone Lectures were meant to show. We have seen how this concept developed generally in the philosophical discourse of the nineteenth century and how it came to be ‘Christianized’ through the work of James Orr. What about Kuyper himself? How did his concept of the Calvinistic worldview develop in his own thought in the years leading up to the Stone Lectures?
While Kuyper gave his idea of worldview its fullest expression in the Stone Lectures and indeed did not use the term ‘worldview’ or Weltanschauung in its full sense in any of his discourse up until that time, a number of its key features appeared much earlier. First, he discovered the impact of worldview on his own personal thought and action. In his reflections upon his 1863 ‘conversion’ from liberalism to orthodox Calvinism, he acknowledged that his former life was based upon a foundational, unifying principle or “spiritual orientation of the…heart”19 which directed all his thought and action. Through conversion that principle changed and thus his thought and action were redirected accordingly. Thus the realisation that one’s life is inherently guided by one’s worldview. Second, he discovered how worldview, particularly the Calvinist worldview, can shape the life of a community. This development came during his first ministerial assignment in the village of Beesd (1863-1867). Here he was struck by the villagers coherent Calvinist way of life and way of looking at the world. Kuyper describes his discovery rather poignantly:
There was not only knowledge of the Bible but also knowledge of a well-ordered world-view, though of old-Reformed style. It was sometimes as though I was sitting on the lecture-room benches hearing my talented mentor [at the University of Leiden, J. H.] Scholten lecturing on the ‘doctrine of the Reformed Church,’ but with inverted sympathy. And what, for me at least, was the most attractive, was that here spoke a heart that not only possessed but also understood a history and experience of life…. Those ordinary working people, hidden away in a corner, told me in their rough regional dialect the same thing Calvin had given me to read in beautiful Latin. Calvin could be found, however misinformed, among those simple country-folk, who had hardly heard of his name. He had taught in such a way that he could be understood, even centuries after his death, in a foreign country, in a forgotten village, in a room floored with tiles, with the mind of an ordinary labourer.”20
Thus Kuyper discovered that a specific worldview could be lived out by a group of simple country-folk, i.e. it was not simply an intellectual category relegated to the ivory tower of philosophy. But perhaps more importantly, for the first time he experienced a specifically Calvinistic way of life, a Calvinistic worldview. Third, he discovered the importance of worldview for scholarship. This discovery was spelled out in Kuyper’s 1871 lecture Modernism: The Fata Morgana in the Christian Domain. In this polemical speech against theological liberalism, Kuyper describes a change in worldview of his former professor, J. H. Scholten. In 1858, when Kuyper was studying under Scholten at Leiden, the professor upheld the Johannine authorship of the Gospel of John. Six years later however, Scholten changed his mind on the issue, which he himself acknowledged to be the result of a shift in his own thinking from a Platonic to a more Aristotelian worldview. While Kuyper did not hold this shift against Scholten and still held him in high esteem, he used this shift to illustrate that every scholar’s conclusions are dependent upon their worldview.21
Despite these elements of worldview thinking in Kuyper’s thought, Peter Heslam has argued that before the Stone Lectures Kuyper made no attempt at articulating the Calvinistic worldview in a deliberate and specific way.22 While this may be true and while it is important not to read his later ideas back onto his earlier ones, greater nuance would perhaps be more helpful. For while the terms Weltanschauung or ‘worldview’ might not have appeared in Kuyper’s writings, key elements of what would come to known as the Calvinistic23 worldview were developed in the period between 1871 and 1898. These cannot simply be passed over. Kuyper’s activity in both press and politics as well as the formulation of the ideas of ‘sphere sovereignty’ and ‘antithesis’ during this period must be seen as being in continuity with what he discovered early on and what he articulated in the Stone Lectures.
In 1874 Kuyper was voted into the Dutch Parliament. In order to be sworn in, Kuyper first had to give up his clerical office. This change in careers did not mean a forsaking of his religious concerns but rather was an opportunity for Kuyper to increase his influence in pushing for the reformation of Dutch society. Already at this time, Kuyper conceived of Calvinism as being much more than simply a collection of doctrines, but as having real implications for the right ordering of society and politics (over against the real implications of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution).24 As such, “Kuyper saw it as incontestable that the Calvinistic…movement had to be active not only in the religious domain but also in society and political life.”25 It is this vision of Calvinism which motivated Kuyper in all his various roles. He worked tirelessly in his political career not only to work in Parliament for the reformation of society, but also to raise public support and sway public opinion through his daily editorials in De Standaard, often by appealing to the Calvinist national heritage of the Netherlands. This vision of the social and political implications of Calvinism would become a hallmark of the Kuyperian worldview. Thus the idea that Calvinism could be used as a comprehensive framework for the ordering of society was beginning to crystallize in Kuyper’s thought well before 1898.
The theory of ‘sphere sovereignty’ must also be considered in the development of Kuyper’s thought between 1871 and 1898. “Sphere Sovereignty” was the title of Kuyper’s address at the opening of the Free University in Amsterdam in 1880. In it, he put forth the idea that all of human life is divided into separate spheres.
Just as we speak of a “moral world,” a “scientific world,” a “business world,” the “world of art,” so we can more properly speak of a “sphere” of morality, of the family, of social life, each with its own domain. And because each comprises its own domain, each has its own Sovereign within its bounds…. The cogwheels of all these spheres engage each other, and precisely through that interaction emerges the rich, multifaceted multiformity of human life.26
Towards the end of his address Kuyper, in perhaps his most famous utterance, cried, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”27 This theory would play a tremendous role in the formation of Kuyper’s Calvinistic worldview. Precisely because Christ is sovereign over all spheres of life, there is no sphere in which Christian activity is illegitimate, and it is therefore possible to construct a Christian worldview which comprehends all spheres.
Also present in the “Sphere Sovereignty” address, Kuyper makes mention of two different “credos [which] stand squarely against each other”28: one is derived from the confession that all sovereignty rests in God; the other denies this confession and cannot think of a higher sovereign than the state. Again, while it would be presumptuous to read the worldview concept into this, this mention of two “credos”—or “life convictions” as he also referred to them—is of particular significance as an early expression of the idea of antithesis. A key aspect of Kuyper’s thoughts on worldview had to do with there being essentially two different kinds of people: the regenerate and the unregenerate. As Kuyper later expresses it in his Encyclopaedia of Sacred Theology (1893-1898): “Both are human, but one is inwardly different from the other, and consequently feels a different content rising from his consciousness; thus they face the cosmos from different points of view, and are impelled by different impulses.”29 In the Stone Lectures Kuyper would apply this concept to the two different and opposing worldviews fighting for the soul of Europe: the Modernistic one and the Calvinistic one.30
Thus in the period between 1871 and 1898 three key features of the Kuyperian worldview made their appearance in Kuyper’s thought: first, the idea that Calvinism is much more than a collection of doctrines and has implications for politics and society; second, that human life is divided into multiple spheres over which Christ has claimed supreme sovereignty; and third, the concept of antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate.
In an 1896 address to the general synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken, Kuyper bemoaned the fact that there was no Calvinistic worldview which could oppose the modern pagan worldview. Here for the first time Kuyper intentionally and decisively—and, in a way, finally—adopts the concept of worldview into his thinking. Here the influence of James Orr must be considered. The Christian View of God and the World was published in 1893 and while Kuyper makes only passing mention of it in a footnote of his Lectures on Calvinism, his concept of worldview bears striking resemblance to that of Orr’s.31 It is apparent that Kuyper was familiar with Orr and had read his work before 1898. Perhaps it was his reading of Orr which motivated Kuyper’s complaint. Whatever the source of Kuyper’s angst, he seems to have taken the matter into his own hands for, when a letter arrived in October 1896 from the faculty of Princeton University inviting him deliver the prestigious Stone Lectures, Kuyper seized on the opportunity to articulate the worldview which he saw as so necessary for the fight against modernism: “Calvinism, as the only decisive, lawful, and consistent defence for Protestant nations against encroaching, and overwhelming Modernism,—this of itself was bound to be my theme.”32
In formulating the content of this Calvinistic worldview, Kuyper did not have to do a whole lot of original thinking. Key elements of that worldview had been developing in his mind in the decades leading up to the Stone Lectures. Since his conversion he had at least pondered the significance of a guiding principle for the life of an individual. In the village folk of Beesd, he had discovered how such a principle could guide the lives a group of people. Through his work in politics and the press he not only embodied the practical implications of worldview for the life of a society but also realized the comprehensive nature of worldview. In his theories of sphere sovereignty and antithesis he had a coherent framework within which to construct his worldview. And it had a foundation on the historical, practical Calvinism which he had discovered in the village folk of Beesd. Thus Kuyper’s adoption of the concept of worldview did not indicate a major shift in his thought but as something into which his life and thought up to that point could become more clearly and coherently defined and defended against the overwhelming “storm of Modernism.”33
Thus we see, not only the historical development of the concept of worldview, but how this concept developed in Abraham Kuyper’s thought and life. In setting up Calvinism as a comprehensive worldview with implications for all ‘spheres’ of human life, Kuyper not only found a way in which to define and defend his vision for Dutch society, he provided his followers with a conceptual framework which continues to be a resource for guiding Christian intellectual engagement with contemporary culture.34
Bolt, John. “Editorial.” Calvin Theological Journal 31 no. 1 (1996): 9-10.
Bratt, James D. “Abraham Kuyper: Puritan, Victorian, Modern.” In Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Luis E. Lugo, 3-21. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
De Bruijn, Jan. “Calvinism and Romanticism: Abraham Kuyper as a Calvinist Politician.” In Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Luis E. Lugo, 45-58. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
Henderson, R. D. “How Abraham Kuyper Became a Kuyperian.” Christian Scholars Review 22, no. 1 (1992): 22-35.
Heslam, Peter S. Creating a Christian Worldview. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998.
________. “The Meeting of the Wellsprings: Kuyper and Warfield at Princeton.” In Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Luis E. Lugo, 22-44. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000
Kossmann, E. H. The Low Countries, 1780-1940. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Kuyper, Abraham. Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader. Edited by James D. Bratt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998.
________. Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931.
McGoldrick, James E. Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man. Auburn: Evangelical Press, 2000.
Naugle, David K. Worldview: The History of a Concept. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
Olthius, James H. “On Worldviews.” In Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, ed. Paul A. Marshall, Sander Griffioen, and Richard J. Mouw, 26-40. Lanham: University Press of America, 1989.
Wolters, Albert. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.
________. “Dutch Neo-Calvinism: Worldview, Philosophy and Rationality.” In Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition, ed. Hendrik Hart, Johan van der Hoeven, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, 113-131. Lanham: University Press of America, 1983.
________. “On the Idea of Worldview and Its Relation to Philosophy.” In Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, ed. Paul A. Marshall, Sander Griffioen, and Richard J. Mouw, 14-25. Lanham: University Press of America, 1989.
1 “The Dutch Reformed tradition has been the single strongest intellectual resource for the renewal of Christian philosophy” (Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 237).
2 John Bolt, “Editorial,” Calvin Theological Journal 31 no. 1 (1996): 9-10.
3 For recent examples of such engagements see Appendix A in David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2002), 349-356.
4 These lectures, endowed by the Stone foundation and known as the Stone Lectures, were also published in book form: Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered at Princeton University Under the Auspices of the L. P. Stone Foundation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931).
5 Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 2. A more comprehensive (and more lengthy) and perhaps more satisfactory definition of the term can be found in James Olthius, “On Worldviews,” in Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, ed. Paul A. Marshall, Sander Griffioen, and Richard J. Mouw (Lanham: University Press of America, 1989), 26-40.
6 The terms ‘world- and life-view’, ‘life perspective’, or ‘confessional vision’ all mean roughly the same thing, as does ‘life-system’ which was used by Kuyper in the Stone Lectures.
7 Naugle, Worldview, 59.
8 Ibid., 58-67.
9 C. S. Lewis, “De Descriptione Temporum,” in Selected Literary Essay, ed. Walter Hooper (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1969), 4-5, 12; quoted in Naugle, Worldview, 6.
10 James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World as Centering in the Incarnation (Edinburgh: Andrew Eliot, 1893), 4; quoted in Naugle, Worldview, 8.
12 James E. McGoldrick, Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man (Auburn: Evangelical Press, 2000), 11.
13 It was once remarked of him that it was as if he had “ten heads and a hundred hands” (John Hendrick de Vries, biographical note to Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, iii).
14 The fact that none of the biographies of him consulted for this paper made mention of how many children he had perhaps indicates the level of importance which Kuyper ascribed them.
15 For example, de Vries, Lectures on Calvinism, ii: “It was by his almost superhuman labors, no less than by his strength and nobility of character, that he left ‘footprints on the sands of time’ with such indelible clearness, that in 1907, when his seventieth birthday was made the occasion of a national celebration, it was said: ‘The history of The Netherlands, in Church, in State, in Society, in Press, in School, and in the Sciences of the last forty years, cannot be written without the mention of his name on almost every page, during this period the biography of Dr. Kuyper is to a considerable extent the history of the Netherlands.’”
16 James D. Bratt, “Abraham Kuyper: Puritan, Victorian, Modern,” in Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Luis E. Lugo (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 6.
17 Kuyper quoted in de Vries, Lectures on Calvinism, iii.
18 See Peter S. Heslam, Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 96-111.
19 Abraham Kuyper quoted in R. D. Henderson, “How Abraham Kuyper Became a Kuyperian,” Christian Scholars Review 22, no. 1 (1992): 31.
20 Abraham Kuyper, Confidentie: schrijven aan den weled. Heer J. H. van der Linden (Amsterdam: Höveker, 1873); quoted in Heslam, Christian Worldview, 33-34 (Kuyper’s emphasis).
21 Henderson, “How Kuyper Became Kuyperian,” 34.
22 Heslam, Christian Worldview, 92.
23 It should be noted at this point that Kuyper defined Calvinism rather broadly, tracing it back to Augustine and Paul’s letter to the Romans, thinking of it as the highest expression of Christianity. See Lectures on Calvinism, 33-34.
24 See Abraham Kuyper, “Calvinism: Source and Stronghold of Our Constitutional Liberties (1874),” trans. Reinder Bruinsma, in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 279-317. Kuyper would echo this in Lectures on Calvinism, 14-15.
25 Jan De Bruijn, “Calvinism and Romanticism: Abraham Kuyper as a Calvinist Politician,” in Religion, Pluralism and Public Life, 52.
26 Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty (1880),” trans. George Kamp in Centennial Reader, 467-8.
27 Ibid, 488.
28 Ibid, 468.
29 Abraham Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology, trans. J. Hendrik de Vries, introduction by Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 154; quoted in Naugle, Worldview, 21-22.
30 “Two life systems are wrestling with one another, in mortal combat” (Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 11).
31 For full discussion of the similarities between Orr and Kuyper see Heslam, Christian Worldview, 92-95.
32 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 12.
33 Ibid., 10.
34 For a listing of thinkers and institutions influenced by Kuyperian thought see Heslam, Christian Worldview, 5-8.