Abraham Kuyper

Biographical Sketch on Abraham Kuyper

By Zachary Seals, Biola University

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“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!”

Summary of life

  • 1837 – Born as the third child and first son to the newly appointed Rev Jan Frederik Kuyper in Maassluis, near Rotterdam.
  • 1841 – His father was transferred to teach in a church in the harbor city of Middelburg where Kuyper was raised for the remainder of his childhood years. He quickly learned French and English from his mother and father in addition to his native Dutch tongue and immediately following his learning to read he developed a voracious appetite for keeping up with the newspapers.
  • 1849 – His father received the call to pastor at a church in Leiden so Kuyper moved from his primarily fishing center community to the university town where he entered the gymnasium which was to prepare him for university.
  • 1855 – At eighteen years old Kuyper enrolled at Leiden University to study “letters and theology.” His time at Leiden was both academically rigorous and spiritually damaging. As he excelled in his linguistic and historical studies he was gradually convinced of a liberal modernism which prevented him from attending church.
  • 1858 – Kuyper meets Johanna Schaay, a young girl visiting Leiden whom he would exchange many letters with until he married her the year he graduated. Johanna was quite unlike Kuyper and he would constantly urge her to live a more intellectual life as she would frequently defend her far more orthodox Christian faith.
  • 1862 – Kuyper finishes composing his original treatise comparing the works of John Calvin and the Polish Reformer Johannes A Lasco after discovering original source material that had never before been studied. His treatise, entirely composed in Latin, won the gold medal from Groningen University and launched his academic reputation.
  • 1863 – At twenty six years, he graduated with highest honors and received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Leiden University. Immediately thereafter he took up his role as pastor of a small church in the village of Beesd. The church was firmly Reformed and reacted strongly to Kuyper’s modernistic liberalism. It wasn’t until one of his parishioners, Pietronella Baltus, refused to shake his hand upon visiting her home he knew he needed to listen to his congregants carefully. Upon many days of spending time listening to this woman he became religiously Reformed.
  • 1867 – Kuyper leaves Beesd and accepts the call to teach in Utrecht where he hopes to make an influence on the Dutch State Church.
  • 1869 – After serving in Utrecht for a mere two years a number of State Church leaders develop a hatred for Kuyper’s evident Reformed Theology so they formed a movement to publish against Kuyper’s publicly outspoken theological views. Kuyper defended his views both theologically and on the importance of education retaining parental autonomy and liberty of conscience at a conference where he met Groen van Prinsterer. Groen had a huge impact on Kuyper and inspired him to begin writing De Heraut which was a semi religious, semi political weekly column.
  • 1872 – Kuyper begins publication of his political daily De Standaard
  • 1874 – Serves as elder in the Dutch reformed Congregation of Amsterdam and assumes duties as a member of the Second Chamber.
  • 1879 – Founds the Anti Revolutionary Association
  • 1880 – Founds the Free University of Amsterdam and gives inaugural address.
  • 1898 -Visits America and delivers the Stone Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton.
  • 1901 – Becomes the first Prime Minister in the parliamentary history of the Netherlands
  • 1920 – Kuyper dies due to years of failing health at The Hague.

Influence and Recognition

Influenced by:

  • Matthias de Vries, Professor of Dutch Literature at the University of Leiden. Vries was Kuyper’s favorite professor and is largely responsible for encouraging and inspiring Kuyper to achieve his academic ambition.
  • Johannes Lasco, Polish Reformer, the subject of Kuyper’s award winning treatise and the focus of a great deal of biographical research by Kuyper. Lasco influenced Kuyper’s view of ecclesiology and politics for most of his life.
  • Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, Dutch Statesman and Political Mentor of Kuyper, he argued that rule derives from divine right as found in revelation. The modern age chose instead to rationalistically derive politics from notions of popular sovereignty which led to deism and eventually atheism. This moral decline is what led to the French Revolution which embodied the very anthropological autonomy that Kuyper sought to resist in naming his party the Anti-Revolutionaries.

Influenced:

  • Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary which hosts the annual Kuiper Prize Lecture and publishes the Kuyper Center Review
  • Academics who cite Kuyper as an influence on their thought: Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Achievements:

  • Academic: Founded the Free University at Amsterdam where he served as both Chancellor and Professor of Theology.
  •  Journalist: Founded and remained the chief editor’s for almost fifty years the De Standaard which was one of the first popular daily newspapers in the Netherlands.
  • Politician: Organized the first modern Dutch political party the Anti Revolutionary Party and served as its leader for forty years including four years as Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
  • Pastoral: Founded and maintained the De Heraut which was a weekly religious journal with meditations and practical pastoral reflections.
  • Church Reformer: Led the secession from the Dutch Reformed Church and founded a new confederation of Reformed Churches which held for over one hundred years.

Kuyper’s theology

  • Theologian of Culture: The culture mandate (Gen 1:28) still applies to all humanity and so every realm of society ought to contribute in cultivating and contributing to societal progress as well as recognize it’s own limitations.
  • Sphere Sovereignty is a key concept for Kuyper which means each entity, whether artistic, educational, or political ought to recognize their God ordained purpose in society not seek to control beyond their zone. All sovereignty is God’s and thus all spheres of sovereign control in creation is derived from God’s appointed ends.
  • This is only accomplished because of God’s Common Grace which is that act by which God restraints man from their full sinful potential in order for them to prepare creation for God’s coming Kingdom.
  • Calvinism as a Life System – Kuyper saw Calvinism not merely as a certain soteriological view but rather as unique religion which has certain claims to church order political and social life, art and science, Christianity and the world, as well as the moral world order. For Kuyper then Calvinism is both all encompassing and fundamental. It is the view he both defends and uses to attack the pervasive modernism and pantheism which he thought were the most dangerous ideologies of his day.

Works:

Types: Theological Treatises, Expositions of Classical Texts, Theological Encyclopedia

Major Works:

  • Our Program: This work is essentially the fully fleshed out political platform that Kuyper ran off of in his campaign to be Prime Minister. It argues that church and state are to recognize their distinct spheres of influence while remaining engaged in the work of each other.
  • Common Grace: Here Kuyper presents his fully developed theology of culture which attempts to recognize the fallenness in creation, but more fundamentally the grace God shows all humanity which makes culture building possible.
  • Pro Rege: Living Under Christ’s Kingship – Here Kuyper lays out how he sees Christ as King over every sphere of life playing out in the battle against sin. Both in and outside of the church Christ is ruler and the evidence of his rulership is to be seen in numerous effects.

Publications:

  • Kuyper, Abraham, Jordan J. Ballor, Stephen J. Grabill, Nelson D. Kloosterman, Van Der Maas Ed M., and Richard J. Mouw. Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
  • Kuyper, Abraham, and Harry Van Dyke. Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015.
  • Kuyper, Abraham, Jordan J. Ballor, and Melvin Flikkema. Collected Works in Public Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015

Secondary Works:

  • Bratt, James D. Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013. Bratt’s work is well over 400 pages of in depth biographical detail on Kuypers life. His writing is easy to read and at times humorous making this easily the best modern biography of Kuyper to date.
  • Bratt, James D. Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader. Grand Rapids (Mich.): W.B. Eerdmans, 1998. This reader does an excellent job of giving a new reader to Kuyper the perfect taste of Kuypers multidisciplinary expertise.
  • Kuipers, Tjitze. Abraham Kuyper: An Annotated Bibliography 1857-2010. Leiden: Brill, 2011. This impressive bibliography exhaustively covers Kuyper’s many writings.

Bibliography

Bratt, James D. Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013.

Heslam, Peter S., and Abraham Kuyper. Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998.

Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., 1961.

Mouw, Richard J. Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011.

Vandenberg, Frank. Abraham Kuyper: A Biography. St. Catharines, Ont.: Paideia, 1978.

Abraham Kuyper: Calvinist Anti-Revolutionary Politician and Political Thinker. Australian Journal of Politics & History. Jun 2015, Vol. 61 Issue 2, p169-183.

 

One high 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 pays homage again to God.” 1897, at the twenty fifth anniversary of his editorship of De Standaard.

 

 

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