Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King.
Volume 2: The Kingship of Christ in Its Operations
Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology
Edited by John Kok with Nelson D. Kloosterman
Bellingham, WA, Lexham Press 2017.
Hbk, £40.00, pp xxxvi+ 488
This volume, translated by Albert J. Gootjes, follows on from the first volume published in 2016 (see my review of that in Bishop, 2017). Govert Buijs in his introduction writes ‘So what Kuyper sets out to develop is a full-orbed “theology of every-day life,” a theology of incarnation of Christ’s kingship, ranging from politics to philanthropy, from the family to public opinion and the media, from civil society to academia, from economics to the arts’ (xviii). I would want to take issue with the phrase ‘a theology of …’ ; what Kuyper was doing is much broader— but it does give the feel for what the Pro Rege volumes are about. Of course, a Christian approach is far broader than a theological approach — a Christian approach is one developed from the sovereignty of God and thus from the notion of common grace that Kuyper is developing.
In this newly translated second volume of the Pro Rege series we catch glimpses of Kuyper’s approach to church and family in particular. This second volume is split into three parts. The first deals with ‘Christ’s kingship and his subjects’, the second ‘Christ’s kingship and his church’ and the third ‘Christ’s kingship and the family’. As Kuyper puts it this volume ‘comprise a much more extensive series of chapters that place us before practical questions regarding the calling, task, and responsibility that Christ’s kingship imposes upon us as his subjects’ (3).
In the first part, he examines the roles and responsibilities of the subjects of the the kingdom. But this is not a programme to be followed, rather it is all about grace. It is reassuring to know that ‘The kingship of Christ does not depend on us in any way’ (3). This is because ‘The foundation on which the edifice of Jesus’ kingship has been built is not the faith and devotion of his subjects, but rests in God’s good pleasure alone’ (4). Kuyper outlines several duties we have as subjects of the king. These include confessing him, witnessing to him, taking up our cross in obedience, living as pilgrims and being in a battle with Satan and his cohorts. This latter aspect is often forgotten - too often Satan is dismissed as being an irrelevance or an invention. Kuyper is clear the battle is real, it is a battle for the world:
‘As King, Christ does not fight against the world but for it. He does not work to try to bring down the human race, but to preserve it. Accordingly, the battle he fights is directed entirely against the spiritual and unholy power that has stolen the human race away from God and that seeks to raise up its own kingdom against the kingdom of Christ’ (51)
‘It is against this demonic world that all of Christ’s subjects must unite their forces. Satan alone is the real enemy to be fought, and it is in this battle against him alone that we must persist and persevere—persevere to the bitter end’ (52).
However, the battle also takes place in our own hearts.
‘To be sure, an altogether distinct set of obligations derives from membership in the visible church. Therefore, now that we have discussed our personal duties, we will go on in the second place to examine our ecclesiastical duties’ (102).
Part 1 looked at Christ’s kingship for our personal lives, in Part 2 Kuyper turns to Christ’s kingship within and through the church. Once again dispelling the notion that neo-Calvinism downgrades or minimises the institutional church. He laments the fact that Christ’s kingship has too often been spiritualised and ‘removed from the reality of the church’ (289). The church, for Kuyper, is a result of grace rather than creation:
‘The church is therefore alien to creation life. It has not come from it, but was added to it. It is an institution of a unique kind and order. It has entered the life of the nations as an institution with a unique origin’ (115).
Christ is the one who institutes, protects, sustains and governs the church. It was instituted as something new (303). Throughout this section, Kuyper is eminently practical. He stresses the need for the church overseers to be personally acquainted with each member of the congregation, if they are not, then it is very difficult for them to admonish and warn them and the congregants could easily stray.
‘More is called for than just preaching. Sermons can point to the pasture, but preaching does not and cannot tend to the various individual needs of each sheep in the flock. That kind of care can only be given through personal interaction’ (248).
Kuyper often stresses the global and the local nature of the church. He sees no place for a national church. He goes on to identify three popular views of the church: the individualistic, the independent and the covenantal. The first is what he claims is the Anabaptist position - the members are those who have made a profession of faith out of a personal choice. In this view, he maintains that the church is reduced to a club or association. In the second view, choice is not necessary, all who come are deemed members, no one is turned away and there is no restriction on baptism. The third view, that advocated by Kuyper, focuses on the covenant, this ‘model insists on the truth that the Lord’s mystical body has an organic character, and that the visible church must for that reason also rest on an organic foundation’(226). Although Kuyper’s depiction of the first two positions may be something of a caricature there is much truth in it. Only the third model comports well with the scriptures. It avoids atomism and stresses the need for church discipline.
The third part of the book Kuyper shows that he was a man of his time. His approach is rather patriarchal. With the changes that have taken place within society since Kuyper wrote it seems rather dated, particularly when both parents — through no fault of their own —have to work to be able to afford the rent or mortgage on a family home. Although Kuyper stresses the origin of the family with the creation, he takes the hierarchical nature of the family from the fall. (There is no basis for a family hierarchy pre-fall.) It may not have been unusual in Kuyper’s time for families to have servants and he discuss their role within the family. In his discussions Kuyper shows that practicality and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.
The church for Kuyper did not arise out of a creation ordinance, unlike the family:
‘The Christian family, therefore, is not a new creation. It arises from the existing order of affairs and links directly with what came into existence through creation in paradise. In the church, the adjective Christian points us indeed to an entirely new order of affairs. But as soon as you leave the church and return to ordinary life, also what is called Christian in family or in society proceeds from creation’(309).
This among other things sets the family apart from the church. The family is not to be a micro-church. The church does influence the family but the family has an ‘independent and unique life’. He is careful to note that a Christian family means more than being a morally upright good family. For a family to have the adjective Christian it means that it should be constituted and ordered as God requires it to be. As Kuyper excellently puts it:
‘For a family to be Christian, three things must be present in it through the Spirit of Christ and the result of his work. The first is the restoration of what sin and misery have corrupted. The second is the elevation of original family life to its ideal. And thirdly, in order that this blessing might not be passing but fix its roots in the family and seek to be nourished there, the family must sanctify its communion by establishing a family altar before which the entire family (that is, parents, children, and servants) kneel so as to give to God the honor and worship he is due for what he in his grace has given the family and to ask him to bless its life. Only in this way can Christ exercise his dominion as our King over the family as well’ (307).
Throughout the book, Kuyper’s main drive is for Christ’s kingship to be exercised in and through the church and family. In the third volume - yet to be published - he shows how the kingdom affects other areas of life and society, such as the state, and the spheres of art and science, but he writes, ‘the family takes precedence because every enrichment of personal life begins with the family and arises in part from the family’ (301).
This book is a great addition to the Kuyper's Collected Works in Public Theology and is worthy of close study for any who want to understand Kuyper’s approach to the kingdom, church and family.