David Koyzis can’t help but notice that Kuyperianism didn’t work out so well:
As a young man I was shocked during a visit to Amsterdam to see the proliferation of “sex shops” and the brazenness of the city’s red light district. In the four decades since then the Netherlands has come to be known for its permissive attitude towards euthanasia, recreational drugs and, of course, sexual expression. What happened? And why did it happen so quickly, that is, within two generations of Kuyper’s death?
So what happened? Koyzis thinks that institution building got in the way of evangelism:
Kuyper’s efforts led to the establishment of a variety of explicitly Christian organizations parallel to their secular counterparts. (The painter Piet Mondrian grew up in this Gereformeerd subculture.)
As Kuyper’s heirs immigrated to North America, they brought over his penchant for establishing and maintaining Christian institutions of all sorts, including a network of Christian day schools, a Christian trade union, more than one political organization, and a network of institutions of higher education. I myself have long been committed to these efforts and have taught at one of these affiliated universities.
Nevertheless, I have found myself wondering whether Kuyper’s perhaps too peaceful coexistence with the forces of secularization in 1917 might not have been sufficient to maintain the subculture he led over the long term. Kuyper certainly wouldn’t have been pleased by his followers’ failure to evangelize, and pillarization needn’t lead to a lack of outward strategy, but historically such power-sharing agreements place a premium on reaching a least-common-denominator form of consensus and toning down differences. In a pillarized society, the distinct subcultures became adept at erecting and maintaining barriers against the other subcultures, yet the consociational arrangements they come up with have tended to be short-lived.
I am not going to enter into debates about consociations that may play to Koyzis’ strength as a political scientist, but the habitual turn of the neo-Calvinist mind to matters public and political instead of spiritual and churchly, may actually point to what went wrong. In point of fact, the institutions that Kuyper helped to found were valuable not simply for erecting a sense of Calvinist identity but most importantly for passing on the faith to another generation and keeping the existing ones in it. Whether those institutions were always necessary is one thing. But their aim I suspect was ultimately religious not temporal, that is, to propagate and maintain the faith once delivered. If all the Reformed Protestants who participated in Kuyper’s institutions had maintained the faith and if their children had remained in the church, chances are those institutions would still be vigorous and large.
But once those institutions became ends in themselves, the genie left the bottle along with subsequent generations. The issue is not evangelism vs. institutions — the old problem of the Pretty Good Awakening. It is keeping institutions on point. And the point is creating and sustaining believers who can say:
My only comfort in life and in death is I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.