Here’s a nice little coincidence. This morning, driving back from Baton Rouge, I listened to the Mars Hill Audio Journal interview with historian James Bratt, about his new biography, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. Kuyper (1837-1920) was a major Dutch Calvinist theologian and giant in the political life of the Netherlands. Listening to the interview, I was fascinated by Bratt’s discussion of Kuyper’s theological and political views. It made me notice that I keep hearing Kuyper’s name and thought invoked by the most thoughtful Protestants I know when it comes to commenting on public life. Who is this Abraham Kuyper, and what might he have to say to us in 21st century America? In his review of Bratt’s Kuyper bio, Jonathan Chaplin gives a short take. Excerpt:
Parity, not privilege. Hardly a barnstorming election campaign slogan, but, in a nutshell, the strategic goal of Abraham Kuyper’s vision of “pluralism.” Christians should not seek a position of political or legal privilege in the public squares of their religiously and culturally diverse nations, but one of parity. The aim is to enjoy equal rights alongside other “confessional communities” within a constitutional democracy marked by wide freedom of expression, fair representation, and a diversity of voices. Thus, at the height of the Dutch nineteenth-century struggle for equal treatment for Christian schools, Kuyper asserted that “our unremitting goal should be to demandjustice for all, justice for every life-expression.”
No more than that, but also no less. For the goal wasn’t just procedural—to propose fair rules of the democratic game. It was prophetic. James Bratt opens Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat, with this judgment: “perhaps Kuyper’s greatest significance for our own religiously and culturally fractured world is the way he proposed for religious believers to bring the full weight of their convictions into public life while fully respecting the rights of others in a pluralistic society under a constitutional government.” Kuyper’s life, as vividly narrated in Bratt’s outstanding biography, exemplifies the attempt to bring “the full weight of his convictions” to bear in public life while simultaneously promoting the conditions for others to do the same.
Christians, and not only those in the Reformed tradition, owe a great debt to Kuyper for laying out what was probably the most compelling defence of pluralism in the nineteenth-century, anywhere. Other Christians, then and later, offered parallel defences, of course. What Kuyper uniquely offered, however, was a rare lesson in how to realize three goals simultaneously: the nesting of a commitment to pluralism within a comprehensive social and political theory grounded in biblical Christianity; the launching of a successful political movement to implement that commitment in the teeth of a powerful secularizing Liberal establishment; and the utilizing of the platform thereby created to establish common ground with his opponents and to contribute to the common good of his nation. However harshly we assess Kuyper’s failings—and Bratt shows they were many—that was a stunning achievement.
I’ll be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Monday, giving a talk at Cornerstone University. I’ll be meeting the Calvin College Reformed theologian James K.A. Smith while I’m in town; I can’t wait to ask him about Kuyper’s relevance to our time, I thought. And then, at the end of the interview, Mars Hill host Ken Myers identified James Bratt as a professor at, yes, Calvin College! Nice.
Just now, the following e-mail flopped over the transom:
Volume 120 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal featured an interview with James Bratt, of Calvin College, on his new biography of Abraham Kuyper. Since Dr. Bratt was such a stimulating guest, we decided to make a longer version of that conversation available as a free download. To listen to or download the audio, click here (if you haven’t registered for a free user account on our site yet, you’ll need to do that before accessing the audio).
Dr. Bratt provides a fascinating account of the life and work of Abraham Kuyper; focusing not only on his theological and cultural vision but on the historical and personal events in Kuyper’s life that helped shape that vision.
We hope you enjoy the discussion and will share it with others.
Please, do yourself a favor, and click there. Register for a free account, download the Bratt interview and listen to it. Not only was it stimulating in itself, it gives you a very good idea of the kind and quality of work that’s in every issue of the Journal.