Book Notice: Abraham Kuyper by James D. Bratt

James D. Bratt
Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013.
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Abraham Kuyper  (1837-1920) was an amazing chap. He was a pastor, theologian, educator, journalist, and statesman in the Netherlands. During the course of his career he founded a leading newspaper, a political party, a university, and  a denomination. This biography by James Bratt gives a great account of Kuyper’s life and achievements in the context of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In Bratt’s assessment, Kuyper had the organizing skill of Lyman Beecher, the platform presence of Charles Finney, and the theological convictions of Charles Spurgeon. Kuyper is most well-known for proposing a way for religious believers to bring the full weight of their convictions into public life. Obviously Kuyper’s account of “sphere sovereignty” has been integral to the idea that Christ is sovereign over all spheres of life and spurning on Christian activism in public life. Kuyper attempted a creative synthesis of Calvinism, Church, and Culture. The role of the church was not to be the custodian of redeemed souls, but carrying on Gods’ majestic purpose of redeeming the world.

Several interesting facts I learned about Kuyper. He was converted by reading a novel called The Heir of Radcliffe written by an Anglo-Catholic English author, he had three nervous breakdowns in the course of his life. Kuyper had pro-colonist views of Indonesia, was sympathetic to the South African regime, and supported Germany in the WWI. What is more, Kuyper was also a brutal critic of laissez-faire capitalism and his political party had close links with labor movements.

According Bratt, the lesson to be taken from Kuyper is this: “Above all, he taught a critical method for measuring socio-political agenda that one draws from the gospel, to see if it is of God. At this writing it is clearer than ever that evangelicals need more than ever to differentiate their professed Christian allegiance, and also their supposed social conservatism, from the gods of the market and of militaristic nationalism to which this group is so perpetually beholden. That is, evangelicals as well as other Americans could use a new application of Kuyperian sphere sovereignty and holistic biblical thinking” (380-81).

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