Why I Love (all about) Kuyper

From John Halsey Wood’s Going Dutch in the Modern Age:

Kuyper departed from Calvin and his Reformation forbears on one critical point, a deviation that imprinted his ecclesiology with a distinctively modern tint. The church had to be absolutely separated from the state. The Reformation was right to break up Rome’s worldchurch, wherein a single institution had been foisted on all Christians, but the Reformation had not gone far enough. It had stopped short at the settlement of cuius regio, eius religio, the state or societal church. “The Spirit of Christ yielded to an institution that wanted to twist the spiritual lines of humanity according to her geographical boundaries.” In practical terms, separation of church and state meant giving churches control over their own property; it meant that the state should stop subsidizing the salaries of the ministers (an ongoing reality even after the 1848 constitutional separation of church and state); and it meant that the state should relinquish its role in social welfare. Most importantly though, it meant abolishing Article 36 of the Belgic Confession. . . . Abolishing Article 36 as Kuyper proposed was the logical step in securing the doctrinal freedom of the church. (70-71)

But it also had an upside financially as Halsey Wood also explains:

Kuyper believed that the Netherlands Reformed Church (NHK) stood to benefit greatly from a shift from a state sponsored church to one arising from the voluntary participation of the members. Kuyper compared the Amsterdam congregation of the NHK with the Christian Reformed Church (CGK), the secession church of 1834. The Amsterdam congreagation of the NHK counted almost one hundred forty thousand members, while the whole CGK church totaled about one hundred thousand, which was forty thousand less than Kuyper’s own Amsterdam congregation. He estimated tha since 1834 (the year of the secession of the CGK from the NHK) his Amsterdam congregation had received almost eight million Guilders in state subsidy, yet the entire CGK had not gotten a cent. What did the NHK have to show for it? The Amsterdam congregation had fourteen buildings and twenty-seven pastors. The CGK, on the other hand, had two hundred buildings and two hundred and twenty pastors — with nothing but the free will gifts of its members! Kuyper went on for half a dozen pages with example after example of the deadening effects of state subsidy. (72)

So why is the separation of church and state with a 2k accent such a bogeyman to those who call themselves Kuyperian? Granted, Kuyper’s conception of a pluralistic society constructed along the lines of confessional or ideological pillars — Calvinists, Roman Catholics, and liberals each with their whole set of institutions, from labor unions to schools is not exactly what the United States turned out to be with its state consolidation and centralization to fight world wars and its suffocating two-party system. But what U.S. Kuyperians seem to have done is regard the U.S. as one big Christian pillar, even as they get in the tank for Christian nationalists of the GOP.

If New World Kuyperians were truly interested in a pluralistic society, one in which straights and gays lived together, 2kers and Kuyperians tolerated each other, I might be willing to tolerate the flawed rationale for Christian schools (read w-w). But what seems to have happened is that outside the confines of Netherlands’ pluralism, American Dutch Calvinists have determined that theirs is the only true Calvinism (why 2k is a threat) and have appropriated the logic of every-square-inch for national identity even while forgetting entirely the legacy of sphere sovereignty and pillarization.


5 thoughts on “Why I Love (all about) Kuyper

  1. What you call pillarization, others call particularity.

    Perhaps now is the right time for the Church to once again retreat into Catholic particularity for the sake of deeper engagement in the world. In the context of Catholic education, it has become the case that many institutions once established to pass on a Catholic worldview have bought in wholesale to secular paradigms that deconstruct the Catholic genius. Theological education, rather than an encounter with the discipline of faith seeking understanding, becomes a thin introduction to generic spiritual principles. Many Catholic schools, once established to educate the least among us, are now recognized as premier places to climb the social ladder toward success. Mission statements, except for an occasional reference to God or the Church, are seemingly taken verbatim from secular peers. Catholic identity, in the end, is not a free-floating term, reducible to a series of universal principles. Rather, it is the result of immersing oneself into a series of narratives and practices found within the Church that constitute a way of life. To maintain these narratives and practices will necessarily involve, at times, a retreat away from those other narratives and practices that compete with the Catholic worldview.

    Yet, this retreat into particularity can never become sectarian. The ecclesial vision of the Second Vatican Council is not a Church radically against the world, attempting to construct an alternative community apart from the human family. Rather, the Church must retreat into particularity precisely because it is only in the particularity of our vision of human life taken up into Christ that we have anything to offer the world to begin with. The Catholic school is a witness to the world that the disciplines of mathematics, science and engineering are not the only authentic ways of knowing something (but they are authentic ways of knowing!). The Catholic school proposes that the purpose of education is not some vision of worldly success but first and foremost the awakening of the human being to wonder and gratitude. That theological education is not a pleasant diversion from real forms of education but is instead integral to what it means to have knowledge of the world in light of the triune God’s involvement in human history. That faculty, staff and students in such a school find their deepest identity in the Eucharistic gathering, where we receive and are invited to become the self-sacrificial love of Christ for the world.

    It’s all a step back from changing the world.


  2. My culturally very conservative Old School southern pastor absolutely teed off on Kuyper in a private conversation last night — blaming him and his inches for everything from confessional presbys’ general weakness to disregard for worship and the Lord’s Day. Our blog host is not the only one singing this song.


  3. How penetrating can Kuyperianism be if it is this easy?

    It didn’t take me long to place myself in the transformational camp. Yes, of course, Christ would have us transform the culture in his name and for his glory. It took me much longer to see the potential drawbacks in Niebuhr’s approach.

    First, it turns out that nearly everyone ends up identifying with “Christ transforming culture,” no matter which tradition is their own. And why not? Who wants to be accused of being satisfied with the way things are when the world is so obviously off kilter in many ways? No one would willingly admit to parking their ultimate commitments to the side while participating in the workplace or public life. The lure of a holistic life is too strong for most of us. We want to live lives of integrity and consistency, if only for the sake of our own consciences.


  4. Turns out it‘s not so easy:

    although the hope of transformation is a heady one attractive to idealists and would-be social reformers, I myself have more recently been praying, not so much that we will be able to change the world for Christ, but that things will not get any worse than they are now. The many political illusions that have swept across the global landscape over the past two centuries have accomplished their own transformations, beginning with the French Revolution and leading up to the more recent sexual revolution. It is easy to lose heart in such a context, as evidenced in recent discussion amongst orthodox Christians of the “Benedict option” of communal withdrawal and regrouping.


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