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.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Review of Christian Worldview by Bavinck

Christian Worldview
Herman Bavinck
Translators and Editors: Gray Sutanto, James Eglinton, and Cory Brock
ISBN 9781433563195
Hbk, 144pp,

The term worldview was first introduced to the Christian world by Abraham Kuyper, who drew upon the insights of James Orr. Unfortunately, the term has become abused, overused and misused.

This book by Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Kuyper’s successor as professor of theology at the Free University, is a welcome addition to the worldview literature, particularly as it was written well before the term had fallen into a theoretical trap. This then is not a summary of Christian thinking and theology as much Christian worldview material seems to be today - for some then the title may cloud the content. What it is is an apologetic for an organic Christian perspective rooted in a creator God, against the arid, one-dimensional worldviews around at the turn of the nineteenth century.

The editors’ introduction serves the volume well and places Bavinck’s work in its historical and philosophical milieu.

Likewise, in his introduction, Bavinck places his work in context. He writes at a time when science and technology were expected to make religion superfluous (p. 25), yet there was an increase in interest in new religions, in a ‘this -worldly’ ‘world religion’ (p. 26).
Bavinck identifies three key questions, which he goes on to examine in the subsequent chapters.

There are:
What is the relation between thinking and being;
between being and becoming;
and between becoming and acting.

It is only Christianity, Bavinck argues, that preserves the harmony between them and ‘reveals a wisdom that reconciles the human being with a God and, through this, with itself, with the world and with life’. (p. 29).

1. Thinking and being

In the first chapter Bavinck examines epistemological concerns and the relation between subject and object. Even though Bavinck was professor of theology he shows here his awareness of philosophy. Philosophers are discussed rather than theologians.
Here he discusses nominalism, idealism and voluntarism, and shows how they fail to articulate a coherent view. He emphasises that it is only Christianity that can adequately describe things as they are. He goes further:

‘No matter how we look at it, the concept of truth and science - if we think consistently and without prejudice - brings us to Christianity.’ (p. 45).

2. Being and becoming

In the second chapter, once again Bavinck places different philosophical and scientific perspectives alongside Christianity and shows them to be defective. In particular, here he focuses on the mechanical worldview. He makes the interesting observation that

‘Those who have abandoned the mechanical worldview as untenable continue to honour it secretly as the scientific ideal.’ (p. 69)

He sees Christianity as an organic worldview - something that a Kuyper also maintained. For which Kuyper was occasionally criticised as being reliant on idealism, however, the critics seem to miss that it is also a biblical metaphor (cf John 15 and the vine). For Bavinck:

‘According to the this organic worldview, the world is in no sense one-dimensional; rather it contains a fullness of being, a rich exchange of phenomena, a rich multiplicity of creations.’ (p. 71-72).

The mechanistic worldview, unlike the organic worldview, fails to explain development. The mechanistic worldview fails ultimately because it has no answers to the origin and development of life:

‘It is only provided by the Christian confession that God is the Creator and that his glory is the goal of all things. Everything is subservient to this. Everything is directed to it.’ (p. 83)

3. Becoming and acting

In the final chapter, the issues that Bavinck addresses is one of freedom and ethics. He points out that:

‘This objective reality of logical, ethical, and aesthetic norms points back to a world order that can have its origins and existence only in God almighty.’ (p. 106)

And goes on to maintain

‘If the logical, ethical, and aesthetic norms deserve absolute validity; if truth, goodness, and beauty are goods worth more than all the treasures of this world, then they cannot thank the human—for whom law was made—for their origins.’ (p. 108)

Christianity thus provides the only coherent and consistent framework for life. The other perspectives Bavinck ably shows are incoherent and cannot account for the diversity of creation, among other things. This is hardly surprising as they deny or ignore the Creator that created the creation.

This book is a very welcome addition to the rapidly expanding corpus of Bavinck in English.

My thanks to Crossway for the review copy in exchange for a fair review.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Interview with Harry Van Dyke

Harry van Dyke is one of the translator/ editors of the recently published On Education by Abraham Kuyper -- the latest volume in the Abraham Kuper Collected Works in Public Theology series from Lexham Press.

I caught up with Harry and asked him questions about Kuyper and On Education.

Melvin Flikkema, the general editor of the series claimed: “We are conducting this project because Kuyper is hugely important for the 21st Century." What is it that makes Kuyper so important for today? 

 Ever since the Chicago Declaration, Evangelical Christians in the USA have for several decades now looked for ways to make a genuinely Christian contribution to public life in their country. Kuyper gives them an inspiring example of a creative, robust, and intellectually responsible response, a century ago, to creeping secularism in some key institutions in his country (church and theology, politics, journalism, elementary and higher education). They like to read about his trailblazing efforts to create room for his fellow confessors at the policy table in his country, by means of what came to be called confessional multiformity and institutionalized worldview pluralism. The only aspect some America readers question is Kuyper’s support of monarchy and his advocacy of sweeping social legislation.

 Education was obviously close to Kuyper's heart - why then do you think he didn't include a lecture on Calvinism and education in his Stone Lectures? 

Much of Kuyper’s involvement with the education question required his concentrating on the financial inequality of the Dutch school system which favoured the “religionless” government schools and left alternative schools heavily underfunded, He may have felt that setting forth the intricacies of the Dutch school struggle might distract from the main purpose of the Stone Lectures, namely the portrayal of Calvinism as a full-blown match for modern humanism.

 It is regrettable that as a result of this more narrow focus, Kuyper’s attention to the intrinsic challenges of Christian education---pedagogy, anthropology, psychology---was largely passed over. He wrote much about family life and child-rearing, and seems to have assumed that a school which required the involvement of the Christian parents would automatically be a Christian school, and that if the teacher was a Christian he would teach Christianly. For these reasons, it was important to include the short appendix in the Education volume that dealt with a critical aspect of pedagogy.

 If he had, what might have been the key ideas he would have addressed? 

As he briefly wrote in a variety of publications and later explained in Parliament as Prime Minister, he would probably have set forth:

That no education can be religiously neutral.
That no government should support one type of school and ignore all other types.
That Christian schooling demands the involvement of at least four partners: the church (is the faith correctly presented), the government (are pupils introduced to a proper curriculum needed for taking part in national life), parents (does the school help them in keeping their baptismal vows of training the child in the fear of the Lord), and teachers (are they properly trained in sound teaching methods). 

Kuyper obviously had much to say on education and schools, as this volume testifies. How did you decide what work of Kuyper's to include in this volume? 

A committee of five, headed by Wendy Naylor, made several conference calls to discuss which pieces to include, which to omit, and which to consider one more time. (Naylor wrote her doctoral dissertation on Kuyper and education.)

Were there any pieces that didn't make it in that you thought could have been included? 

The speech entitled “Sphere-sovereignty” with which Kuyper opened the Free University in 1880. 

What did Kuyper mean when he wrote: 'Education by its very nature is not a political but a social issue'?

 The Dutch school system in the 1800s was very much tailored to the stratification in social classes. Primary schools served especially the children of the lower classes, those who would after six years (sometimes less than that) move on to a job to add to the family income. The public secondary school was established in the 1850s and called the Hoogere Burgerschool (school for the upper-middle class) and emphasized besides the humanities, the sciences and commercial subjects. Universities were for the elite who were presumed to have prepared their children for entering the professions by having them taught either in the few Latin schools and gymnasia or at home by tutors.

Now then, the lower classes could get free education at the government schools, but if they chose to send their offspring to non-government (separate, confessional, Christian, Protestant, parochial) schools they would have to pay tuition fees. Such fees could actually be quite low if, as often happened, that school was supported by a (usually non-conformist) church or by a philanthropist. But even low fees were a financial hardship for the lower classes because of their low wages in a competitive free-enterprise system. Kuyper fought his whole life for solving the ‘social question’ by means of labour laws, guaranteed living wages, unemployment and disability insurance, pension schemes, etc.

 Why then did Kuyper use political means to achieve his aims regarding education? 

Power in parliament would plead with government -- and ultimately force it -- to enact wide-ranging social legislation to alleviate the plight of the working classes, coupled with reform of the national education system that would give parity status to non-government schools and so alleviate the unfair financial burden of its supporters.

Can you briefly explain the background to the school struggle at the time in the Netherlands? 

Briefly: The ruling elite was enamoured with the rationalist philosophy born in the Age of Enlightenment. They worked hard to remain master of national education in order to raise the next generation in “right thinking”. They regarded supporters of non-government schools as light-shy obscurantists who still held to an outdated theology.

 How influential was Groen van Prinsterer on Kuyper's approach to Christian schools and education? 

The two first met at an annual meeting of Christian school supporters. Kuyper had read Groen and agreed with his opposition to the “religionless” government school. As early as 1840, when the authorities regularly hindered the establishment of non-government schools by withholding permits, Groen as a member of a constitutional convention had raised his voice with these words: “Parents who are convinced that the instruction in the existing [government] schools is non-Christian, must not . . . be prevented from providing their children with the kind of education they believe they can justify before God. That coercion, to put it bluntly, is intolerable and ought to stop.” Kuyper would repeatedly harp on the theme that the schools' struggle was also one for freedom of conscience, which he styled “a Netherlandic value par excellence”.

 What do you think are Kuyper's strengths? 

Intellectual prowess, broad knowledge and universal interests, tenacity. He was a skilful journalist, an inspiring orator, a fighter of rare organizational talent.

    ... what were his weaknesses? 

Vanity, pomposity. At times I suspect him of being a poseur. Queen Wilhelmina responded to him the way Queen Victoria seems to have reacted to Gladstone (don’t preach at me!). He also (like Martin Luther King, Jr.) had a growing sense---these leaders always do, don’t they---of being indispensable to the Cause, underestimating or overshadowing gifted people around them. A fair assessment is found in Michael R. Wagenman, Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper (Lexham Press, 2019).

What do you make of the claims of some Reformed theologians that Kuyper advocated a two-kingdoms approach? 

A woeful misconstrual. In the words of S.U. Zuidema: it ignores the import of his theology and the entire thrust of his life and career. People need to read his multi-volume Pro Rege. Admittedly, however, there are in Kuyper some formulations and ambiguous concepts that might lead one to read him that way. Zuidema has offered a most thorough-going analysis of this problem in an article in which he crossed swords with Van Ruler and J. Ridderbos, entitled “Common Grace and Christian Action in Abraham Kuyper,” in his collected essays Communication and Confrontation (Assen/Kampen: Van Gorcum/Kok, 1972), 52−105.
[Also available in Steve Bishop and John Kok (eds) On Kuyper. Dordt College Press, 2013.]

Friday, 4 October 2019

#Kuyperania 2018

My Kuyperania 2018 - a review of the books/ articles written on or about Kuyper has been published in Koers

It includes reviews of the following

Kuyper , A 2018. Honey From the Rock: Daily Devotions From Young Kuyper Bellingham, WA, Lexham Press 2018
Bräutigam, M. 2018. Protestant European politics yesterday and today: The example of Adolf Schlatter, Adolf Stoecker and Abraham Kuyper. European Journal of Theology, 27(1): 43-54.
Brummel, N.C. 2018. Dutch Reformed Theologians: Explorations in Prominent Theologians and their Central ideas. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (ISBN 978-1982037925).
Charles, J.D. 2018. The Kuyperian Option: Cultural Engagement & Natural Law Ecumenism. Touchstone May/ June: 22-28.
Dagley, L., Greeson, D. and Ng, M. 2018. Review of five of the recent translations in the Kuyper Translation Project. Themelios, 43(1): 147-150.
Henderson, R. 2018. Review of The Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction, by Craig G. Bartholomew. Philosophia Reformata, 83(2). Available at:
Himes, B.M. 2018. For a Better Worldliness: Abraham Kuyper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Discipleship for the Common Good. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.
Kaemingk, M. 2018 Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Ma, L. 2018. Review of The Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction, by Craig G. Bartholomew. Calvin Theological Journal, 53(1): 190-192.
O’Donovan, O. 2018. Every square inch - Review of Pro Rege. First Things (November) Available at:
Pahman, D. 2018. Toward a Kuyperian Ethic of Public Life. Journal of Reformed Theology, 12(4). Available at:
Park, J.-E. 2018. Driven by God: Active Justification and Definitive Sanctification in the Soteriology of Bavinck, Comrie, Witsius, and Kuyper. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Gmbh & Co.
Pass, B.R. 2018. Review of On the Church. Calvin Theological Journal, 53(1): 200-202.
Seerveld, C. 2018. WANTED: Vegetarian Kuyperians with Artistic Underwear. Pro Rege, 46(3): 24 - 28. Available at:
Wagenman, M. 2018. Review of: Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction by Craig Bartholomew. Themelios, 43(1): 160-161.