Readers of my publications listed under Boeriana will notice a certain perspective common to all of it. In most cases it is there as background. In some cases it is more explicitly spelled out as in:
- Christians and Mobilization;
- Caught in the Middle, Chapter 15;
- Missionary Messengers...., pp. 484ff
- Missions: Heralds...., Ch. 9.
- Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations, Vol. 1, "Introduction"," pp. 16-24
Vol. 5, all of Part 2
Vol. 8, all of Part 2
- See Point 6 below.
This perspective is known to its adherents by various names, the most common ones being "Kuyperianism," "Reformational," and "Neo-Calvinist." It stands in the Calvinist tradition, but is a further development of it pioneered by a movement in The Netherlands that centers on a man called ABRAHAM KUYPER (1837-1920).
In the paragraphs below I reproduce what some leading Christians in North America have said or written about Kuyper.
A. James E. McGoldrick
In his English-language book on Kuyper, Abraham Kuyper: God's Renaissance Man, (Evangelical Press, 2000), author James E. McGoldrick introduces him as follows:
While common people have always been the backbone and mainstay of the church, exceptional leaders such as Augustine of Hippo..., John Wycliffe, Martin Luther and John Calvin have appeared at crucial times to serve their undistinguished brothers and sisters in the faith. Such a champion... appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century when Abraham Kuyper became the dynamic leader of Protestants in the Netherlands.
Kuyper was a person of massive intelligence, immense learning, terrific energy and zealous faith. He... received great adulation from...the working and lower middle classes, many of whom struggled to survive economically and few of whom could afford a higher education. Throughout his long career as a pastor, journalist, educator and political leader, Kuyper maintained close contact with the common people and communicated with them effectively, even though he was far above them in intellect and formal learning (pp. 7-8).
Goldrick's list of heroes is hardly exhaustive and should certainly have included Thomas Aquinas, but the position he ascribes to Kuyper is clear. He may not be as well-known in English-speaking culture, but that is because of language problems, not because he does not deserve to be there.
B. Charles Colson
Colson was a powerful White House personality who was involved in Nixon's Watergate and landed in prison. His prison experience led him to become a Christian and he now is a major national spokesman in the US for the Christian community with his radio programme Breakpoint and his Prison Fellowship campaign. He is a popular speaker. I have witnessed him waving Kuyper's Stone Lectures, delivered at Princeton University over a century ago, before his audiences as containing the seed perspective needed for the healing of America. In the Introduction to Colson's A Dangerous Grace we read,
"The great Dutch Calvinist Abraham Kuyper said the battle facing Christians today is between comprehensive life systems--in which principle must bear witness against principle, worldview against worldview, spirit against spirit."
This is the burden of Colson's writings: to develop a bibilically-grounded worldview. The name Kuyper occurs throughout his books. The development of a Biblical worldview was/is a major concern in both Kuyper's writings (Kuyperiana) and my own (Boeriana).
C. Robert Butler
Robert Butler is an Afro-American who sought for a perspective or platform from which to launch a ministry in the inner city. After a long search he settled on the Kuyperian perspective. He explained, "I found the Kuyperian model to be exactly what I was looking for." (Calvin Mosaic, Spring 2000).
D. Richard Lovelace
A much-published American authority on revivals and spirituality. In a recent lecture on Kuyper, he pleaded that Christians should pray for 500 Kuypers with his intellect and Spirit-filled mind.
E. H. Evan Runner
This Irish-German American philosopher who died in March, 2002, wrote the following some decades ago: "After nineteen centuries of history the Church is here for the first time in possession of a worked-out theoretical accounting of the world of culture and of the Christian's relation to it."
F. Dr. Joel Carpenter
Joel Carpenter, formerly of Pew Foundation and now at Calvin College, has outlined the way this school of thought is influencing Christian higher education throughout North America and producing leading scholars. It is a perspective as wide as life itself and world affirming. As Carpenter put it:
Kuyper's solution to the problem of competing worldviews in his native Netherlands was to embrace pluralism and to emphasize the value-laden, commitment-driven nature of knowledge. He reasoned that people quite naturally formed communities of the like-minded that shared a singular view of reality, a distinctive pattern for living and a socio-political agenda. A just society would recognize this social, intellectual and religious pluralism and encourage the various communities to negotiate the common good.
Likewise, Kuyper insisted, one's knowledge of the world was inevitably coloured and shaped by one's prior commitments-most fundamentally, religious commitments-concerning the nature of reality. Knowing was never value-free; science could not be completely objective. Scientific naturalism thus had no claim to a privileged position over against other worldviews.
Kuyper was not calling for the fragmentation of public life, however. Given God's common grace, he argued, there would be much overlap in human's efforts to understand nature and humanity, and thus opportunities for conversation, debate and negotiation, both in learning and politics. Yet the social-intellectual and religious differences that drove outlooks and agendas were real, and they should not be forced into unitary national establishments, whether religious, intellectual or political. Various communities of faith and values could play public roles, yet not feel compelled to choose between domination, accommodation or withdrawal. They would have the social and intellectual space to work out their particular convictions, but would retain the right to put their ideas into play on an equal basis.
G. John Vriend
The late John Vriend--he died suddenly in February, 2002--was a professional translator of Dutch literature that came out of the Kuyperian movement. He told me that he was getting enough letters of inquiry from all over the world that he came to the tentative conclusion that the real Kuyper century was not the 20th but the 21st. Well, the world could do worse.
H. Gerald Vanderzande
For close to 50 years Gerald Vanderzande, Toronto, has worked for social justice under the auspices of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ). He did this very deliberately from a Kuyperian perspective. In 2001, he was awarded with the Order of Canada by the Governor General of Canada. See CPJ website www.cpj.ca.
I. John H. Boer (myself)
In the list of Boeriana, there are two titles directly related to Kuyper:
- You Can Do Greater Things than Christ (78 pages)
Available on the Companion CD
- "The Role of the Holy Spirit in Social Development According to
Abraham Kuyper: 29 Propositions." (6 pages)
Plans are to place it on the Companion CD
In addition to the above, in the "Introduction" to Vol. 1 of my Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations, I summarize a number of key Kuyperian ideas that are pertinent in any Christian-Muslim dialogue. Quite apart from their utility in Christian-Muslim dialogue, I reproduce them here as my further contribution to the dissemination of the Kuyperian perspective.
- Kuyper developed his perspective in response to 19th-century secular liberalism in The Netherlands that had become oppressive and intolerant. Kuyper countered it with a type of thorough-going pluralism that would allow full scope to all groupings in society to blossom on their own terms, even the secularism that he considered demonic. This was starkly different from secularism that denied others the freedom to define themselves and sought to force them to live by its definition. Specifically, secularism invariably seeks to force religion into a straightjacket of private spirituality and individualism that restricts its expression to a so-called sphere of religion, that is, church or mosque. It seeks to reduce the scope of religion to the sphere of the subjective, while it regards secular knowledge as objective and neutral and exclusively suitable for the public square. Kuyper's form of pluralism would allow for the unfettered development of all religions or worldviews--note the plural--on their own terms, not as defined by secularism, though including secularism.
- Kuyper posited the primacy of the religious impulse in human life.
The human race is, first of all, a religious race, a race of believers. This
is in contrast to Rationalism, which emphasizes the rational as the centre
piece of human life. Everything is based on objective, neutral reason.
Reason is the neutral platform on which all people can meet and reason with
each other. It is not a matter of "religion within the bounds of reason," as
Kant would have it, but, rather, of "reason within the bounds of religion,"
as Wolterstorff of Yale put it so aptly in the title of his book.
Marxism, another strong contender for human loyalty, emphasizes the economic aspect as foundational and sees all culture evolving on basis of economic interests. Empirically, Marxism is probably closer to the facts than is rationalism. There is a close affinity between the influence of economic and religious factors. There is a strong mutual influence on each other. One can argue that there is even a kind of confluence of Kuyper and Marx here, for when people give priority to their economic interests, that interest has in fact become the centre of their religion and life, a new idol. Their religious life imperceptibly changes to accommodate their economic status. I have seen it happen in my own denomination.
Kuyperianism focuses on religion as the basis of all human life, with religion seen as the point of ultimate loyalty and value in the lives of individuals and communities. . All the other aspects are shaped by the basic categories of the dominant religion, faith, beliefs or worldview in a given society. Of course religion and the other aspects mutually influence each other, but when all is said and done, the foundation of it all is the religious or, if you prefer, faith or worldview.
Among other things, this means that there is no neutral zone in life like politics, economic or science, where we can all meet as neutral, rational people. Though Nigerian Christians sometimes seek a solution to the Christian-Muslim controversy in that direction, it is a lost cause, for all these cultural areas rest on that often hidden foundation of worldview, faith or religion. Kuyperian Christians share this insight with Muslims. They have, apparently, come to it independent from each other. Unfortunately, many Christians have been misguided into a dualistic scheme that separates religion from these other areas. The implications of this dualism will become clear as we proceed.
- Religion is not only the basis of a life, but it is also comprehensive or wholistic in nature. Again, this is an insight that Kuyperians share with Muslims. Both traditions emphasize that religion is a way of life, not merely a slice of life or a sector that belongs to the realm of church and mosque. Both Kuyperians and Muslims produce books and articles exploring the relationship between economics, politics, and other cultural aspects to their religion and regard the latter as basic to it all. Both reject secularism because it seeks to compartmentalize religion and restrict it to a small area of life, to the personal and private. It squeezes religion into a narrow mold that does not fit its genius. Again, unfortunately, Nigerian Christians have by and large inherited a secular definition of their religion, an inheritance that has deprived them of more relevant tools in their relationship with Muslims.
- Bare facts are inaccessible to us. We all see facts through the grid of our worldview or faith, never as they are in themselves. We always observe through the colour of our lens. This explains why people with different lenses often interpret the same events in opposite ways as if they are looking at different realities. During colonialism, missionaries and nationalists in Nigeria interpreted colonialism in opposite ways as I have shown in my 1979 publication. In this book, too, it will become very plain that Christians and Muslims interpret the religious situation in Nigeria in opposite ways. Though the objective reality may be the same for all, their worldviews drive them into opposite interpretations of the "facts." It is an objective of this book to aid both parties to look through the other's lens, if not to come to full agreement, at least to reach some degree of mutual understanding.
- The human race is appointed as God's vice-gerent or, as Muslims tend to call it, God's khalifat. Humanity represents God in this world and is expected to develop it. Christians know this command as the "cultural mandate." Most varieties of Christianity have unfortunately downplayed this Biblical teaching and separated this cultural mandate from the great commission, a separation that has also encouraged the trivialization of their religion. In fact, though almost all Christians know about the commission, few are aware of the mandate. In Kuyperian thought this mandate is as crucial as it is in Islam.
- Kuyperianism recognizes along with Islam an antithesis between the
Christian or Muslim religion and all other worldviews. There is a basic
foundational difference between these religions and competing worldviews that
drive them into different directions and account for the different national
and regional cultures of this world. This is an antithesis between the
Spirit of God and all other spirits. Both religions are keenly aware of this
antithesis. Both are also aware of the fact that this antithesis can run
right through the heart of so-called true believers, for all experience this
battle of the spirits in their own lives when, for example, serious
inconsistencies occur between their official religion or worldview and their
However, Kuyperianism also recognizes common grace, a term referring to the Spirit of God working in and shaping truth even in philosophies and religions that reject Christianity. The basic antithesis between them remains active deep down in the foundation, but it is relativized at the surface level due to the fact that the Spirit of God reveals important truths to all religions and cultures. Because of this common grace, Kuyperianism gratefully recognizes many aspects of truths in other worldviews or faiths and is thus ready to cooperate with them. That is also the reason I appreciate so much of Islam. The current mode in Islam, certainly among Fundamentalists, is to emphasize the antithesis at the expense of common grace considerations. The result is a strong rejection of any truth in other religions and a militant affirmation of "Islam alone." It has led to a high degree of intolerance. No doubt, this current rejection on the part of Islam is that they have woken up from their colonial and secular slumber and are angry that they have been subjected to such humiliation. In the current atmosphere of anger and re-assertion, there is little room for anything but antithesis.
- Evangelicals and Charismatics are very much steeped in individualism and concentrate on individuals, while their Liberal and Ecumenical counterparts have tended to be more concerned with communities and structures. The Kuyperian tradition will have none of these one-sided perspectives and gives both their due, individuals and communities, people and structures. The tradition has created structures in various cultural sectors that were to be guided by basic Christian perspectives. Christian newspapers, universities and colleges, labour unions, housing co-operatives, political parties have all been part of the history. The reason for these was the insight that all of these organizations are expressions of different worldviews, faiths, sets of beliefs and values. When the underlying worldview is secular, this does not render them neutral but makes them pursue their goals along secular lines that excludes many Christians principles. Today, Muslims, especially the Fundamentalist variety, are deeply aware of the difference between Islam and secular worldviews as they undergird the various social structures. Hence, like Kuyperians, they are in the process of establishing all kinds of alternative Muslim structures and write extensively about the differences they expect these to make for them.
- The Kuyperian tradition has a strong emphasis on pluralism. It was born, remember, during a time when 19th-century secular Liberalism sought to force all people in The Netherlands into one spiritual or worldview mode, namely that of secularism. The quote from Carpenter summarizes the perspective sufficiently for my purposes at this point. Muslims have always claimed tolerance as their hallmark, but today they are not known by others for it. The Kuyperian version may help both Christians and Muslims to develop a genuine sense of pluralism in Nigeria, for it is a form that allows each community to remain true to itself. It is a threat to domination of one group over another; it is a friendly tool to those who really wish for constructive co-existence.
- A major motivation for much of the above was Kuyper's concern for the
poor. His was not merely an abstract philosophical or academic concern.
The vision was surely marked by such abstractions, but underneath it all lay
his passion for the poor and the oppressed. This is one aspect that has
largely gotten lost in the subsequent Kuyperian movement. As the
constituency moved up the economic and political ladder, the passion for the
poor largely gave way for more middle class concerns. In North America most
adherents of Kuyperianism are found in academic and ecclesiastical
institutions where the philosophical and theological aspects claim the major
attention. Though Kuyper formed, among other institutions, a Christian
labour union in order to empower the poor, today Christian labour unions have
rough sledding among most North American Kuyperians. When I personally took
up the challenge of empowering nurse aids and other hands-on caregivers to
Michigan's elderly by attempting to organize them under the umbrella of the
Christian Labour Association, I met a solid front of stonewalling in the
Christian Reformed Church, the major heir to Kuyperianism in North America.
The focus of interest is now on correct ideas more than on passion for the
poor. After all, the homes for the aged are owned by members of this
constituency and organizing their employees is now seen as a threat to their
economic interest. Every ideology, even the best, is subject to tinkering
and emasculation when the economic status of its adherents has changed
upward. Not only is Carpenter's quote above useful as a summary of major
Kuyperian thoughts, it is also illustrative of this changed focus in that it
avoids any reference to Kuyper's passion for the poor. I am not suggesting
that Kuyperians are the only Christians with this passion. Of course not!
However, in his own day, Kuyper was definitely ahead of most of his fellow
contemporary Christian leaders in providing structures that were effective in
overcoming poverty in the long run. His was not the individualistic
ameliorative soup kitchen approach; he dealt with the structures needed to
overcome the problem itself.
I introduce Kuyperianism into the Nigerian discussion because it gives Nigerian Christians an alternative to the secular perspective they have inherited from missionaries who were not always aware of the issues or their implications. It is also a perspective that is increasingly recognized internationally and sought after for its positive potentials for a Christian approach to the world and other religions on a global scale. This perspective is hereby offered as a more legitimate interpretation of the Christian gospel that simultaneously is one both Christians and Muslims should be able to live, work and dialogue with. It could become the basis for more fruitful relations between the two faiths. It would enable Christians to withdraw the red flag of secularism they are constantly waving before Islam and that evokes so much negative passion in the Muslim heart over the last century that it has sprouted today's terrorism. May our political leaders become more conscious of the role their secularism has played in creating an atmosphere of terrorism, while they are challenged to check out this Kuyperian perspective in their efforts to find a solution beyond their counter-terrorism. American and Canadian authorities especially will do themselves a favour when they contact Center for Public Justice (Washington DC) and Citizens for Public Justice (Toronto--www.cpj.ca).