An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Our Program by Abraham Kuyper - a review

Our Program
A Christian Political Manifesto
Abraham Kuyper
Collected Works in Public Theology
Translated and edited by Harry van Dyke
Bellingham WA: Lexham Press/ Acton Insitute
ISBN 978-1-57-799655-2
hbk; xviii+ 410pp; £34.81

The Antirevolutionary Party (ARP), the first national political party in the Netherlands, was founded on 3 April 1879. Kuyper was its chief architect and leader. He took the movement started by Guillaume Groen Van Prinsterer (1801-1876) and formed it into a political party. Kuyper wrote a series of commentaries on the ARP’s political programme, and these were published as an Ons program [Our Programme] in March 1879 (1879.04 in Kuipers, 2011). Our Program is the English translation of Ons program; it is the latest product from the Kuyper Translation Project. It provides fascinating reading and insight into what a Christian political programme looked like. Harry Van Dyke does an excellent job as a translator. (My interview with Harry Van Dyke is here.)

As Kuyper points out the ARP had another name: ‘Christian-Historical’. The name ARP indicated what they opposed, and the Christian-historical approach was what they promoted. The revolution mentioned in ARP is the French Revolution. The ARP was against the principles that were behind the French Revolution, namely the attempt to place humanity and reason over and above God. The name indicates that the party was a ‘militant party, unhappy with the status quo and ready to critique it, fight it, and change it’. Kuyper preferred the term ARP to Christian-historical, as ARP was more ‘energetic and compelling’ (p. 4). 

Kuyper steers a political course between a Calvinistic utopia, which he recognises is untenable, and a political arrangement for ‘a pure, unmixed Calvinistic nation’ (p. 377). Kuyper didn’t intend for a theocracy, unlike the theonomists in the United States who (mis)appropriated some of Kuyper’s ideas. Kuyper recognises that what is presented here is a ‘rough and very cursory and unfinished sketch of our view of the state’ (p. 377). Nevertheless, this programme was still used by the ARP (with modification in 1916, 1934 and 1961) into the early sixties.

The scope of the topics is impressive: from church and state to overseas development. We have 22 chapters that are a commentary on 21 articles (Article 4 is split into two parts in chapters 4 and 5)

1. The movement 
2. Authority 
3. The ordinances of God 
4. Government 
5. No secular state
6.’By the grace of God’
7. The forms of government 
8. The constitution 
9. Popular influence 
10. Budget refusal 
11. Decentralisation 
12. States and councils 
13. Education 
14. The justice system 
15. Public decency 
16. Public hygiene 
17. Finance 
18. National defence 
19. Overseas possessions 
20. The social question 
21. Church and state 
22. Party policy

 The first part focuses on God, as one might expect from a Christian political party manifesto. God is the source of authority for the movement and that authority comes through his ordinances - all else is delegated through the notion of sphere sovereignty. The ‘source of authority does not reside in the law or the will of the people but in God’ (p. 16 - Article 2); sovereignty ‘flows over all creation, not just in the political field but in every domain’ (p. 20). It starts with God and flows from him to all of creation. God is no gloss over a secular political philosophy – he is integral in all the positions taken by Kuyper in this programme. 
For Kuyper then the role of government is to determine the law of the land and to uphold that law. The laws that the government makes can only be done on the basis that justice already exists. Justice is an ordinance of God and not the whim of the people or of rulers. As Kuyper makes clear: 
… sound and comprehensive knowledge of those principles can only be attained by studying God’s Word and researching God’s ordinances (p. 30). 
The state exists so that communal life can exist; the state is not an end in itself. This communal life is only a foretaste of that which will be revealed in the kingdom of God. As the title of chapter 5 states there is no secular state. The state cannot exist without God and so a secular state is a contradiction. There is no private/ public divide in Kuyper’s thought. Government is a servant of God and as such Kuyper maintains it should: 
allow unrestricted freedom for (1) the gospel’s influence; (2) the people’s spiritual formation; (3) the manner in which people choose to worship; and (4) people’s conscience’. … government is duty-bound to (1) maintain law and order; (2) honor the oath; and (3) dedicate one day a week to God. (p. 57-58) 
It is important to remember that Kuyper was writing this when the Netherlands was a “Christian nation” and atheism was the exception. The situation is very different today. Today, in most western countries, Christianity is the exception. But what is clear here is that Kuyper does not want a theocracy or a government that eliminates all other opposing views; instead, space is created for opposing religions and worldviews.

Inevitably, this is a document of its time. Some of the Sunday restrictions and alcohol control seem very dated. Vaccinations he thinks should be limited – compulsory cowpox vaccination should be ‘out of the question’ (p. 248) – as it means that government is overstepping its bounds: ‘the government should keep its hands off or bodies’.

 Surprising to those who are not aware of Kuyper’s views is the discussion of church and state. He likes the separation of church and state and sees it in a three-fold way: political unity is not coupled to church unity; each have ‘a unique zone in life where each functions as a minister of God’ (p. 354); and there should be a bilateral relationship. But what is clear in the programme is that the form of government is ‘relatively immaterial’ although Kuyper prefers a constitutional monarchy, however, God is the real ruler.

This is not a document that could be adopted wholesale as the manifesto of a contemporary political party; the programme is too historically and geographically bound for that, nevertheless, what it does do is show how political principles arise from faith in God. Politics and faith were intertwined for Kuyper. As with politics so too with education and scholarship: scholarship as politics is to be performed under the sovereignty of God. Both require the realisation that they are creaturely and cultural callings but are contaminated by sin and both require the direct revelation of God through his divine ordinances. 

Review adapted from Bishop, S., 2015. "More Kuyperania". Koers — Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, 80(3). 
Available at: http:// koers.80.3.2240

1 comment:

Mark Roques said...

Thanks Steve for your very helpful review of this book
by Kuyper. Kuyper's confessional and structural pluralism is
a very fruitful way of doing politics but nobody in England
has ever heard of it which is a great shame.