Abraham Kuyper: A Personal Introduction (review)

As far as introductions to neo-Calvinism go, this is the most lucid. Prof Mouw goes beyond the standard “take every square inch” models of Neo-Calvinism and asks us to reflect on what it means to be created for many-ness.

mouw

His chapter on “Filling the Earth” is standard Kuyperian treatment, so I won’t spend much time on it here. His chapter “Celebrating Many-ness” was pure gold. Contrary to state-church claims, the church of Christ doesn’t depend on only one form and that being manifested in a national church. Indeed, we should celebrate a “multiplicity of institutions” (16). Pluriformity means “created complexity” (17). We have to be careful, though. Affirming many-ness without insisting on an integrated whole leads only to the nihilistic void of postmodernism.

This reminds the reader of James KA Smith’s suggestion that in Genesis 1-2 God “creates in plurals.”  This contrasts very nicely with the Greek chain-of-being concept where any movement away from the one is always a diminution from goodness.

Sphere Sovereignty

So what counts as a “creational sphere”? Mouw notes Kuyper wasn’t always clear. In fact, what is a sphere? Let’s call them structures where “interactions take place” and “authority is exercised” (23). Each structure has a “point” and to that point corresponds an authority-pattern (24).

Per Kuyper, Christians must form collective entities within each “sphere.” The many-ness of mediating structures, per Peter Bellah, protects from both individualism and statism. It strengthens social bonds.

The part I particularly enjoyed was the section on neo-Kuyperianism and the Holy Spirit. As a continuationist and a Kuyperian, I’ve often sensed that the two streams could merge quite fruitfully, yet I haven’t really seen how it is to be done. Mouw’s (or Kuyper’s) suggestions were interesting. The Holy Spirit is to prepare creation for God’s glorious future (88-89).

Politics

Indeed, we need a crowded, public square. Not a naked one. A pluralism under secularization but not secularism (110, Mouw quoting James Bratt). Mouw correctly notes how the term “Constantinian” has been so over-used to be useless (113). Kuyper is not a Constantinian (whatever that word means).

Reflections

I am not sure how Kuyper’s correct insights on the antithesis give him any grounds on thinking a secular government will protect the “spheres.” I agree with Kuyper that we should have a “crowded public square,” and perhaps this “crowd” will make it difficult for the government to take away our liberties. Perhaps.

All in all, an outstanding work.

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3 comments on “Abraham Kuyper: A Personal Introduction (review)

  1. cal says:

    Ok, so Kuyper argues for a manyness for ecclesiology, and then that Church life is one sphere among many that Christians position themselves in, but this is all for the purposes of a unitary Christian society. Doesn’t the larger society then replace the Church as the unity? Only Roman ecclesiology denies the existence of churches that remain in communion but represent different nations/people-groups/regions etc.

    My opinion is that Kuyper’s theory was something already engines blazing by his day in places like England and a number of German states. I think it’s bad for the Church. But then again, that’s why I’m not Kuyperian.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents,
    cal

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    • Jacob BA says:

      That’s a common criticism of Kuyper, but I look at it another way: if you deny a state-church, then you are already committed to some form of many-ness.

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      • cal says:

        The problem isn’t plurality, but the locus. Sphere sovereignty makes the society (however defined) the center in which is the gestalt of all the spheres, of which ecclesiastics is only a part. I want to say the ecclesial realm is the center, with relative disinterest in reforming the social context (even if that’s a potential consequence radiating outwards).

        But anyway, I’ll add this booklet to my list. Thanks for the informal review.

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