Without question, Abraham Kuyper is one of the most prolific and influential Reformed theologians of the past 200 years. And this new project by the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society will prove to be a tremendous blessing to the church. My impression is that Kuyper is widely quoted but rarely read. However, this project should put an end to that.
Not only is the translation excellent, but the layout of the books makes it a pleasure to read. I was expecting it to be dense and heavy going but to my great delight discovered that the opposite was actually the case. The margins are wide for jotting down thoughts, and the quality of the publishing is excellent. This is a resource which truly does justice to Kuyper’s prodigious literary output.
After reading the first volume in the series, Pro Rege: Living Under Christ’s Kingship (Lexham Press, 2016) I am eager to purchase the entire twelve-volume set. This will be no mean feat as each book costs approximately $80 and is up to 500 pages in length. Kuyper’s writings, however, are really good. They are what Clifford Anderson describes in his introduction as ‘devotional theology’ – somewhere between Spurgeon and Calvin.
Political Theology or Public Theologian?
Anderson also makes the perceptive observation that while Kuyper “develops a political theology with a significant role for the state”, it is more helpful to see him as a ‘public theologian’. As Anderson explains:
Whereas political theologians typically consider the relation between individuals and the state (with perhaps the church as among the few mediating institutions), a public theologian explores the rich fabric of society that flourishes within (and often beyond) the state.
This is where Kuyper excels, producing a beautiful blend of Biblical insight, cultural engagement and personal conviction. Kuyper shows how the Kingship of Jesus relates to the whole of the Christian life in a way that is both practical as well as theological.
The temptation is to read too quickly and not take the time to inwardly digest all that Kuyper is saying. This is because Kuyper communicates with an elegance, power and conciseness that makes him a pleasure to read. While some might desire the academic precision of Kuyper’s contemporary, Herman Bavinck, the strength of Pro Rege is that is written not for the academy but the person on the street.
Jesus: Prophet, Priest and King
Each chapter is about eight pages long, and reads more like an extended article. What’s more, there is a beautiful thematic and logical flow between each of them. But the most significant aspect of all is Kuyper’s desire to exalt and glorify Christ as King and not just as Prophet and Priest. Kuyper argues that Reformed evangelicals in particular are guilty of neglecting this third aspect in favour of the other two.
This goes beyond the mere personal lordship of Jesus in an individual believer’s life. Kuyper develops in Pro Rege (which literally translated means, ‘For the King’) a holistic vision regarding what it means for the Lord Jesus Christ to have been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:19). As such, it’s impossible to come away from Kuyper’s writing without a deeper appreciation and devotion as to what this means.
The great benefit of reading authors from other historical time periods is that they are able to expose our spiritual blind spots. For example, Kuyper repeatedly talks about not only the activity of the Devil and his antichrist, but of the angelic heavenly beings whom the LORD has appointed to minister to the people of God.
Then there are times where almost as an aside, Kuyper expertly summarises five major elements in the book of Revelation regarding end times:
- The book outlines a process of growing intensity. Kuyper writes, “Similar events return again and again, but every time they return, the same struggle manifests itself with increasing ferocity. The outpouring of God’s wrath begins with normal phenomena like the rise of wars, dreadful pestilence, and terrible famine. But with every wave of history the destruction becomes more and more drastic”.
- The struggle is not just spiritual but has “also comes with violence; and not only the world of man, but also that of nature—that is, in the firmament and on earth—are taken up in this struggle”.
- The apostate (unbelievers) “are continually given the opportunity to repent and worship God”.
- Throughout the book a decidedly anti-Christian power becomes increasingly manifest. As Kuyper explains, “It organises itself more and more powerfully. It establishes its anti-Christian kingdom over against the kingdom of Christ. Within its kingdom, it also imitates Christ’s kingdom. It works through kings and false prophets, and finally impresses its sign upon all its followers…”
- Even though all of these terrible events and judgments are played out on earth, they ultimately have a spiritual origin. The truth is that there is a battle which is being waged in the heavenly realms.
Giants vs Pygmies
Peter Jensen, the former Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, wrote that it is better to slay one giant then defeat a hundred pygmies. The context of his statement was expending the effort to understand and critique the thought of a spiritual heavyweight, rather than superficially digesting the musings of a plethora of pushovers. The writings of Abraham Kuyper display a gravity and timelessness that deserve careful reading. Indeed, there is rich theological reward to be gained by committing oneself to such a task.
Kuyper is obviously not perfect. It’s also one of the reasons why Christ Jesus said that we should call no man on earth ‘teacher’ (Matthew 23:9). But he is one of the giants whom God has given to help equip His people for works of service. Kuyper’s reputation though, is justly deserved. And as such, I believe that every Christian should have at least one of Kuyper’s works on his shelf. Or even better still, make the investment of having benefited from all twelve.
– Mark Powell