Foundations: No.79 Autumn 2020

Abraham Kuyper: Cultural Transformer

Abraham Kuyper was a theologian, statesman, journalist, church reformer, church historian, church pastor, founder of a Christian university and a Christian political party, and one-time prime minister of the Netherlands. He was a Reformed Christian whose writings have shaped a movement known as neo-Calvinism. Yet he is little known in the UK. In this article, I examine several key themes that shaped Kuyper’s approach to theology, culture and society. These include the sovereignty of God, the cultural mandate, the role of worldviews, common grace, the antithesis, and sphere sovereignty. These themes provided the theoretical framework for Kuyper’s neo-Calvinism. I look at how they shaped his approach to church, politics, education, art and mission.

I. Introduction

In 1975, D. M. Lloyd-Jones said in his address to the Westminster Conference:

…the Christian is not only to be concerned about personal salvation. It is his duty to have a complete view of life as taught in the Scriptures… As far as the Christian is concerned – and that is what we are interested in now – we are not to be concerned only about personal salvation; we must have a world view. All of us who have ever read Kuyper, and others, have been teaching this for many long years.[1]

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Dutch theologian and statesman and yet, despite the endorsement of Lloyd-Jones, his works have been largely unread in Britain. This is strange because he founded a Christian university, the Free University in Amsterdam (now called the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), was the editor of a daily and a weekly newspaper, he wrote over 2000 books and articles.[2] His main works, in English, include The Principles of Sacred Theology (1968), The Work of the Holy Spirit (1946), the 1898 Stone Lectures: Lectures on Calvinism (1931), Common Grace (2016, 2019, 2020) and Pro Rege (2016, 2017, 2019). In Lectures on Calvinism, he developed the idea of Calvinism as a Weltanschauung, a whole “world-and-life-view”; his Calvinism was not a narrow five-point doctrine.

Kuyper also founded a Christian political party, the Anti-Revolutionary Party and became the Dutch Prime Minister (1901-1905).

Fortunately, thanks to the Kuyper Translation project, many of Kuyper’s works are being translated from Dutch into English. Although over one hundred years old, these writings provide a theoretical basis for a world-and-life-affirming approach to the public square, one rooted in the Christian faith. It is fitting then, that in 2020, the centenary year of Kuyper’s death we look at the contours of his approach.[3]

Kuyper was born in Maassluis in the nineteenth century and died in The Hague in the twentieth century, but his impact and legacy stretch well into the twenty-first.[4] In his day Kuyper sought to awake Christians from “a pietistic slumber”[5] and today his work and writings are helping many to appreciate the fullness of God’s good creation.

Kuyper famously declared:

no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and 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!”[6]

No area of life is exempt from the claims of the risen Christ. Kuyper not only preached this vision but lived it. He was a multifaceted and multitalented character – even his enemies recognised he was a man of many heads! He was born in a liberal Calvinist home, studied at a modernist university and became a church pastor, before he experienced an evangelical conversion. He edited two newspapers, the weekly De Heraut and, the daily De Standaard. He shaped a new Christian political party, the Anti-Revolutionary Party, became a politician and founded a new church denomination – much of the time also working as a church pastor. He was active in the advancement of Christian schools and education and founded a Christian university. He was a theologian – he was the first professor of theology at the Free University – and wrote an important work on the Holy Spirit. He was also the Prime Minister of the Netherlands for a short time (1901-1905). He certainly took seriously his “square inch” approach. It is not surprising that, in 1898, B. B. Warfield, said of him, “Dr Kuyper is probably to-day the most considerable figure in both political and ecclesiastical Holland.”[7]

In an age of individualism and narcissism, Kuyper’s transformative message stands in sharp prophetic contrast. The neo-Calvinism of Kuyper provides a clear biblical framework for applying Christianity to all areas of life. Many contemporary theologians are looking for a social theology, yet Kuyper marked out one and implemented it over a century ago. As one biographer writes: “… although Kuyper never preached the social gospel, he did frequently accentuate the social implications of the gospel”.[8]

Several key themes shaped Kuyper’s approach to culture. These include the sovereignty of God, the cultural mandate, the role of worldviews, common grace, the antithesis and sphere sovereignty. These themes provided the theoretical framework for Kuyper’s neo-Calvinism.

II. Key Kuyperian themes

1. The sovereignty of God

If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit. The non-Christian world has not been handed over to Satan, nor surrendered to fallen humanity, nor consigned to fate. God’s sovereignty is great and all-dominating in the life of that unbaptized world as well. Therefore Christ’s church on earth and God’s child cannot simply retreat from this life. If the believer’s God is at work in this world, then in this world the believer’s hand must take hold of the plow, and the name of the Lord must be glorified in that activity as well.[9]

These words from the Preface to Common Grace sum up Kuyper’s position. His approach begins and ends with the sovereignty of God. If God is sovereign, then cultural development is essential: retreating from God’s world is not an option.

2. The cultural mandate

The term cultural mandate was coined by Klaas Schilder (1890-1952).[10] Kuyper’s square inch quote, as cited above, is an embodiment of the cultural mandate given in Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:15. This subduing, ruling, tilling and keeping is a mandate for the development of culture, for the unfolding of the potentialities within the God-given good creation. It is about expressing the kingdom of Christ in all areas of life; no area is exempt. It implies that although the creation is good, it needs to be developed and opened up; as Al Wolters put it: “…the Bible begins with a garden and ends with a city”.[11]

3. The antithesis

Antithesis means opposition. In the nineteenth-century Hegel had already utilised the term, however, in Kuyperian thought it took on a different connotation. It marked a difference between those who held to a Christian starting point and those who did not; the difference was in worldview. There is a noetic antithesis between those who start with the knowledge of God and those who do not.

This is, in part, one reason Kuyper advocates the establishment of specifically Christian institutions. A Christian political party or a Christian school will have different starting-points from a party or school based on, for example, naturalistic lines. The foundations will be different and so the out-workings will also be different. Commitment to Christ cannot be accommodated or harmonised with naturalism or any other non-Christian philosophy. There is a cosmic battle between light and darkness, between the kingdom of God and the dominion of Satan. There is a marked contrast between belief and unbelief. This notion of antithesis is integral to the idea of rival worldviews. Rivalry is not the only relation between different worldviews: cooperation, emulation and mutual correction will also take place. It should also be appreciated that Kuyper would grant the same freedom to establish distinct schools, political parties or labour unions to those who adopt rival worldviews in a country. This is in fact what happened in the Netherlands.

For Kuyper, however, the antithesis also means that there are two kinds of people (regenerate and unregenerate) and thus two kinds of “science” (i.e. scholarship) with different starting points. He uses the terms abnormalist and normalist to show the key difference. The conflict is not between faith and science, but between opposing scientific systems, each based on their own faith.[12] The difference stems from the view one has of sin and how radical was the fall into sin. Kuyper was, of course, an abnormalist:

… if the cosmos in its present condition is abnormal, then a disturbance has taken place in the past, and only a regenerating power can warrant it the final attainment of its goal.[13]

Abnormal or normal then refers to the state of creation and to the extent of the fall. The normalist denies the noetic effects of sin. Thus, if the creation is viewed as normal, then reason may have a higher place than for the abnormalist. For Kuyper, “reason is incomplete with respect to convincing others”.[14] Hence the rather low value he placed on apologetics. The issue is to know to what extent the fall has affected reason and the rest of creation. For Kuyper, there was an “abyss” between the two kinds of people and the two kinds of science that could not be crossed without God’s revelation; this leaves reason helpless. Any attempt at unifying the two “systems” denies the power and reality of rebirth (palingenesis).

4. Sphere sovereignty

What role does the State have in raising children? Should the State mandate if a baby should be fed on demand or every few hours? Should the State interfere with the running of household finances? Then what about education? Or business? Or the church? It is these and similar questions that Kuyper’s notion of sphere sovereignty addresses.

All things are subject to the sovereignty of God. This conviction led Kuyper, following Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876),[15] to develop his sphere sovereignty. He maintained that there are different independent spheres within creation but God is sovereign over them all. These spheres should remain independent in their own sphere. No one sphere should encroach on another. The State should not then stipulate how the family should be run.

FIGURE 1. A representation of (a) State sovereignty and (b) Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty.


Diagram A            


Diagram B

This notion provided, for example, a corrective to statism, which maintains that the State, by making laws and regulations, is in control over most areas of life (see figure 1a). Sphere sovereignty starts from the sovereignty of God (see figure 1b) rather than the State or any other created entity or institution. The State is then sovereign in a certain sphere; its regulation of other spheres is limited to the juridical ambit and it should not be regarded as a sort of “container” of all the other social spheres and institutions.

In his 1880 inaugural address to the Free University, Kuyper outlined his idea of sphere sovereignty.[16] This provided the justification, for example, for different types of schools and universities reflecting the different worldviews already present in society. The Free University Kuyper founded was to be a free, Christian university – free from State and even church control.

Sphere sovereignty maintains that God is sovereign. He has established laws or norms for areas of society such as the family, the church and so on. Within their own sphere, these institutions are thus sovereign under God’s laws and norms for that aspect of life. No one institution should dominate or dictate to another and there is no hierarchy of institutions. The development and flourishing of every institution or area of life is an outworking of the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28-29.

There are some unresolved issues with sphere sovereignty including the question of knowing who decides what the spheres are and what are the boundaries. Kuyper never really defines these issues; he contends that they are organic – i.e. unfolding in their richness according to creational norms as, for example, a plant grows and develops – each sphere has its own principles or goals. Perhaps he deliberately keeps his theory of sphere sovereignty slightly ambiguous.

5. Common grace

One major theme that has been closely associated with Kuyper is common grace. Henry Van Til described Kuyper as the “theologian of common grace”.[17] Common grace is bestowed on all, Christians and non-Christians.

On this topic, Kuyper wrote a series of articles, over a six-year period, for De Heraut. These were subsequently published in three volumes as De Gemeene Gratie in 1902, 1903 and 1904. A major project is under way to translate these works into English.[18] Kuyper begins his foreword to the first volume with this provocative statement: “The Reformed paradigm has suffered no damage greater than its deficient development of the doctrine of common grace.”[19] He then goes on to lament its lack of doctrinal development in Calvinism after 1650.

For Kuyper, common grace is “deduced directly from the sovereignty of God” and is the “root and conviction for all Reformed people”.[20] He thinks that resuscitating the doctrine of common grace helps the believer “take hold of the plow”[21] rather than retreat from the world. Common grace provides the foundation for engagement with the world, thus avoiding spiritual and ecclesiastical isolation and thereby helping believers exercise stewardship.

Kuyper distinguished between particular grace – sometimes called saving grace – and common grace. The first abolishes and undoes the consequences of sin completely for the saved; the second does not cause conversion but extends to the whole of humankind. For Kuyper there is a close relationship between the two and separation “must be vigorously opposed”.[22] He uses the illustration of two intertwined branches of a tree with the same root system. The root system is Christ, the first-born of all creation. Kuyper’s position on special and common grace is Christological; he writes: “… there is… no doubt whatever that common grace and special grace come most intimately connected from their origin, and this connection lies in Christ”.[23] Special grace, he argues, “assumes common grace”.[24] Common grace is only an emanation of special grace and all its fruit flows into special grace. Common grace must have a formative impact on special grace and vice versa. In Common Grace Volume 1 he writes of the interrelationship of particular and common grace: “… the glory of common grace would never have sparkled in its springtime if particular grace had not brought it fully into bloom”;[25] “… particular grace already presupposes common grace”;[26] and without common grace any functioning of particular grace would be unthinkable.[27]

Common grace means that the creation ordinances of dominion and stewardship over creation, given in the cultural mandate before the fall, are not abolished after the fall.[28]

Common grace has a twofold effect: on the one hand, it curbs the effects of sin and restrains the deeds of fallen humanity; on the other, it upholds the ordinances of creation and provides the basis for Christian cultural involvement; common grace provides the foundation for culture. The cultural mandate to develop and fill the earth has not been rescinded after the fall into sin. Therefore, cultural withdrawal is not an option for Christians.

It is also important to state what common grace does not imply. It is not saving grace. It is not a denial of total depravity or of limited atonement – Kuyper was an advocate of both.[29] It does not blur the distinction (antithesis) between the regenerate and the unregenerate, between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between the church and the world. It does not mean that all things are permissible. Common grace does not nullify the antithesis – they are both important aspects of Kuyper’s thought. Though how he holds them together is open to debate.[30] It is important to notice that, for Kuyper, common grace and the antithesis should be kept together. Neither is common grace only associated with the church: “… common grace has operated for ages in China and India without there being any church of Christ in those countries”.[31]

Incidentally, Kuyper never claimed originality in his development of the doctrine of common grace; rather he described himself as a copyist of Calvin. Kuyper only aimed at making explicit what was implicit in Calvin.[32]

6. Christianity as a Weltanschauung (creation, fall and redemption)

When Kuyper first introduced Christians to the notion of worldview in his 1888 Lectures on Calvinism it was a fresh, innovative and radical notion.[33] Kuyper first identified the Christian worldview in terms of the narrative embedded within creation, fall and redemption. Variants of such a schema have become much more influential in recent decades among evangelicals, such as that formulated by Stott, though not necessarily because of Kuyper’s influence. As the Dutch Christian philosopher, Dooyeweerd, puts it:

[Kuyper] lifted Calvinism, the most radically biblical movement within the Protestant Reformation, out of the narrow sphere of dogmatic theology where it had languished during centuries of inner decline. He raised it to the level of an all-encompassing worldview.[34]

I will now turn to examine some key topics that Kuyper addressed, to see how he utilised these themes of common grace, sphere sovereignty and so forth.

III. Some key topics

1. Church: institute and organism

Kuyper was a pastor in a church, led a reform of the Dutch Reformed Church and wrote his doctorate on Calvin’s and à Lasco’s views of the church. He had a deep concern for the church; as he said, the “church question dominates every other issue”.[35] In a sense, Kuyper turned from studying church history to making it. His distinction between the church as an institution and church as organism is an important insight.

Kuyper places a strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers. For the church to be truly an institution and organism, the role of the institutional leaders must be to equip the church as organism to be able to do the works of service in the marketplace, in the classroom, in business, in politics, in the laboratory and so forth.

He uses several metaphors to illustrate the distinction between church as an organism and church as institute. The church as an organism is a body and it grows; as an institute it is a house and is built. It is from the organism of church that the institution is born. In essence, the institution is the church organisation with its sacraments, its ministers and so forth; the organism is the church in the world, Christians at work in society, the body of Christ, strengthened and served by the church as institute. The church as institute does not run schools, universities, coffee shops or trade unions; that is the role of the church as organism. For Kuyper, therefore, the church has to do not only with Sunday services or missions but is a nation, busy reforming all facets of life and culture.

2. Politics

Kuyper was not only the founder of a Christian political party, the Anti-Revolutionary Party, he also became the prime minister (PM) of the Netherlands. He once remarked, “politicophobia is not Calvinistic, is not Christian, is not ethical”.[36]

Kuyper distinguished between two types of Christian principles when he was PM: theological and political. The theological principles were related to salvation, whereas political principles concerned norms for public affairs. It was this latter principle, he maintained, was his concern as PM.[37] Kuyper as PM would be the statesman, not the theologian. He was committed to democratic pluralism and social reform, based on Christian principles.

His goals as a PM were educational reform, to retard the influence of drunkenness and indecency on society, and to deal with the impact of the industrial revolution on workers. Unfortunately, several pressing issues confronted Kuyper, including the Russian-Japanese war and the railroad strike. These left little time for him to press through with his social reforms.

The railroad strike of 1903 proved to be a severe test for Kuyper’s government. The strike almost brought the country to a halt. Kuyper was forced to take measures such as the foundation of a railway brigade, the setting up of a committee to investigate the status and claims of the railway workers and penalties for the dereliction of duty.

However, one of Kuyper’s major achievements during his time as PM was the Higher Education Act. In 1904 the act was passed in the Second Chamber, but rejected by the First Chamber.[38] Kuyper took the controversial, but legitimate, step of dissolving the First Chamber and thus there were new elections. Both chambers subsequently passed the bill and it became law in 1905. The law meant that the Free, and other non-State universities, could award degrees and was on the same footing as the public universities.

Several themes were important for Kuyper in his politics – the antithesis and the failure of both individualism and collectivism. He was neither a radical nor a conservative – he rejected the notion of popular sovereignty.

Kuyper held to an Augustinian view of the State and government, in that it was a post-fall necessity rather than a pre-fall institution. “God has instituted magistrates, by reason of sin”, he wrote in his Lectures on Calvinism. Several Kuyperian political scholars such as James Skillen and David Koyzis take issue with Kuyper on this.[39] Where they agree with Kuyper is that the State has a God-given vocation and task. In terms of sphere sovereignty, the State has the task of mediating between the spheres ensuring that no one sphere encroaches on another, and of maintaining internal justice. In Kuyper’s words, the State

… possesses the three-fold right and duty: 1. Whenever different spheres clash, to compel mutual regard for the boundary-lines of each; 2. To defend individuals and the weak ones, in those spheres, against the abuse of power of the rest; and 3. To coerce all together to bear personal and financial burdens for the maintenance of the natural unity of the State.[40]

3. Education

Education was a critical matter for Kuyper. Education, for him, exemplified his view of the role of the State, sphere sovereignty and the need for institutional pluralism within society. Schools were important as they provided the means of imparting a particular worldview. Kuyper maintained that the so-called “neutral” schools were a myth. Neutrality was a mirage. The school struggle, as it became known in the Netherlands, lasted several decades. It was the fight for parents, and not the State, to control the education of their children: “The school should belong, not to the church, not to the State, but to parents!”[41]

The ARP’s policy, primarily developed by Kuyper, was that “the government should not be operating schools as a rule but only by way of exception”.[42] Kuyper soon realised that the struggle was to require political change. His first political speech in the Dutch Second Chamber was on the State control of education, this was in 1874.

Kuyper argued, convincingly, that the private schools meant that the State saved a great deal of money because the State had fewer schools to fund. His arguments or reasons for private education are scattered through his newly translated anthology On Education. These include (in no particular order):

  • The harmony between home and school will be much stronger than in a State school.
  • They produce results at least as good as the State schools – without the State schools’ “Kantian deism” and “doctrine of moral autonomy”.[43]
  • Child rearing, and thus education, is the role of the parents and not the State – it should be an issue of parental choice.
  • It is an issue of equality; he observes, “There must be equality in the country, both for those who hold to the Christian and for those who hold to the modernist worldview”.[44]
  • Education is not neutral; state education flattens and demeans religious faith. He wrote, “There is no neutral education that is not governed by a spirit of its own. And precisely that spirit of the religiously neutral school militates against every positive faith”.[45] As all teachers and educationalists operate from a set of theoretical and pre-theoretical frameworks, neutrality is impossible.
  • The need for diversity in education to represent the different cultural and religious worldviews within the Netherlands.

State education and the arguments for it are, Kuyper insists, a product of moral autonomy, and thus a rejection of the sovereignty of God; it was a deification of the State, and (although he does not put in in these terms) it involved State indoctrination. He agreed with his mentor Groen van Prinsterer’s polemical remark that government schools are “the privileged school of a specific religious sect”.[46]

4. Art

Kuyper was not an artist and yet he included a lecture on Calvinism and art in his Lectures on Calvinism delivered at Princeton at the invitation of B. B. Warfield.[47] Art may have seemed to be a strange choice of topic, particularly as many regarded Calvinism as being indifferent or even hostile to the arts. Yet this was the reason that Kuyper chose this topic. If Calvinism was an all-embracing worldview, if Jesus’ lordship was to extend to all of life, as Kuyper maintained, then that had implications for all areas of life, art included.

In his lectures he begins by answering the question: Why didn’t Calvinism develop an art style? He draws on two unlikely sources, the German philosophers Hegel (1770-1831) and Eduard Von Hartmann (1842-1906). They contended that higher forms of religion were able to develop independently of art, as art was unable to express the essence of religion. Kuyper had argued that the highest form of religion was Calvinism. Such an approach was supported by Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty: religion and art should be free from interference from each other.

Calvinism thus had advanced the arts, not by building cathedrals, palaces or amphitheatres; rather it released art from the church’s influence and authority. Previously, art and music could only flourish as far as it could serve the church. Calvinism unfastened the ecclesiastical chains that hindered the development of art.

He stresses that art is not merely a human fabrication; in his The Work of the Holy Spirit he states emphatically: “Art is not man’s [sic] invention, but God’s creation”.[48] In Pro Rege, Volume 3[49] he develops the notion that art is a gift of God that shows itself in an ability, which portrays beauty and can be enjoyed by all.

Art as a creation reveals the importance it should have in a fully developed Christian worldview. It is not a mere luxury – it is integral to the creation and to what it means to be a human created in the image of the creative God. Kuyper’s view is that art is no fringe on the garment; it is an integral part of the kingdom of God.

5. Mission

Mission is not a term that is usually associated with Kuyper. Nonetheless, Kuyper did write on mission and missions so it is worth examining his approach.[50] In Pro Rege, Volume 2 he distinguishes between witnessing and confession: “The first personal duty that you owe your King is to confess him; the second duty, which automatically follows from it, is to be a witness to him.”[51]

Witnessing includes, but is more than, confession. Confession is standing up for Christ, but witnessing is an attempt to try and win others for Christ. Many, he notes, confess Christ but often fail to witness. This suggests, Kuyper asserts, that for them, religion is a personal, private matter, so they think there is no need for them to witness. Each Christian, however, has a responsibility not to remain silent for his King: “Nothing can ever excuse you of your duty to witness for your King.”[52] He makes an important – and sobering – point: “Every human being that lives is a missionary… missionary of Christ or missionary of the Satan.”[53] We are all missionaries; the issue is what message are we giving?

One time he lectured on mission in 1890 he outlined several theses as they relate to mission. The first group of eight dealt with dogmatic propositions which focus on determining the relation between missions and the Trinity. His first thesis reads:

All mission activity originates from the sovereignty of God; is based on the creation of human beings in the image of God; is necessitated by sin; and is grounded in the confession that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.[54]

As with most subjects, Kuyper begins with the sovereignty of God and with creation, fall and redemption; it is also Christological; it is also Trinitarian. Mission is thus a command, not an option. We are called to mission because we are God’s representatives; we are his image-bearers.

The ultimate missionary is God’s son. All mission pales into insignificance compared with his mission. The incarnation is the first stage of his mission; the church is to be the means of exercise of his mission to the world today.

Kuyper, it seems, was ahead of his time; he saw the need for cultural sensitivity and contextualisation in overseas mission and for church planting:

Missions among heathens and Muslims, when preaching law and gospel, should acknowledge the peculiarities of the people and their environment and leave complete freedom for confessing Christ, so that when these people are ready to form their own churches these local peculiarities and forms are preserved.[55]

He was also concerned that missionaries should be trained properly. He suggests that they should have a “superior education”: “We have to send our best people to the mission field”.[56] Kuyper sees the church as the instrument God has chosen and uses for mission, not missionary organisations: “The burden and the justification for missions rest with the local church”.[57] Missionaries should be the responsibility of the sending church. The aim of the missionary should be to become a pastor to those who have become Christians under his ministry; the sender church should be responsible financially until the mission church can support itself.

As Kuyper puts it:

In summary, missions delivers a command, is directed to the fallen image bearer of God and is based on the confession that the operation of the Spirit is bound to the Word.[58]

6. Apartheid

One black spot on Kuyper’s theology is its relationship to South African apartheid. It was Kuyper’s pamphlet “Uniformity, the curse of modern life” (1869)[59] which, it is claimed, served as the basis for the “apartheid Bible”.[60]

In “Uniformity” Kuyper expounds the problem of (false) uniformity, he describes it as “a dubious feature – I dare say, the curse – of modern life”. He begins with the reasons he sees it as a curse and then discusses how Christians can fight it, particularly in regarding church and State.

His opening thesis seems to undermine his argument: “… unity is the goal of all the ways of God”. What Kuyper is proposing is a unity without uniformity; uniformity is a counterfeit of unity:

In God’s plan vital unity develops by internal strength precisely from the diversity of nations and races; but sin, by a reckless levelling and the elimination of diversity, seeks a false, deceptive unity, the uniformity of death.[61]

He sees this as heading towards the death of nationalism and patriotism. This levelling he sees as being counter to the ordinances of God. This unity he sees as the oneness of one body, every member has a part and is of equal importance. It is this that the architects of apartheid seem to have overlooked in Kuyper. As Kuyper stresses: “The wall of separation has been demolished by Christ, the lines of distinction have not been abolished”[62] (emphasis in the original). The former is as important as the latter – apartheid stressed the latter (the lines of distinction) and ignored the former (separation demolished). Apartheid is a misrepresentation of what Kuyper intended. It is difficult to see how a right reading of Kuyper’s vision could result in the separation and discrimination that characterised apartheid.

Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty led to the pillarisation of society in the Netherlands. The pillarisation there was according to worldview, not skin colour. In the South African context “sphere sovereignty” was used to endorse and provide a theological basis for apartheid. This, however, was a misrepresentation of Kuyper’s view. Kuyper never saw folk or nation as one of the spheres – this was a clear misappropriation and misapplication of Kuyper’s approach. Not that this misappropriation was done deliberately, but it was probably more a case of confirmation bias. Kuyper was read and interpreted in ways that confirm pre-existing ideas and prejudices regarding separation; those aspects that contradicted the view were ignored or suppressed.

III. Conclusion

This overview of key themes and topics in Kuyper has inevitably been too brief. Mention could also have been made of his views on church order, church reform, societal pluralism, ethics[63], women, presumptive regeneration, science, scholarship, suffrage, the Holy Spirit, angels, scripture, his founding of the Free University and so on – or his journalism and meditation writings (he wrote over 2000) – he addressed all these subjects and more in his copious works. What it indicates is that Kuyper was a polymath who also put his ideas into practice and transformed the educational, political and cultural landscape of the Netherlands. Not that Kuyper was perfect, far from it. He was a workaholic; he did not suffer fools gladly and, unfortunately, he usually regarded as fools those that did not agree with him! He was tenacious but often thought himself to be indispensable and could be pompous, dogmatic and over-bearing. But as the Dutch historian George Harinck observes:

The reason that Kuyper today is still of more interest than other Christian social thinkers is that he not only had some interesting thoughts but that he made them work, as well. He was not just a social thinker, but, more than any other Dutchman, he changed Dutch society.[64]

He did so from a distinctively Christian position.


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