Book Review: Abraham Kuyper By James D. Bratt

From The Catalyst Summer 2014

Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat
By James D. Bratt
Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2013

Reviewed by Joe Gunn

Would reading 450 pages of Dutch social, political, and theological debates from the late 19th and early 20th centuries help us further understand what CPJ means by “public justice?” Reading James Bratt’s book leads me to a resounding “yes!”

Abraham Kuyper was a minister and professor who co-founded a new religious denomination and a university. As editor of two newspapers over 47 years, he authored over 20,000 newspaper articles. He also wrote pamphlets and multi-volume books. Kuyper effectively advocated for public funding of religious schools and encouraged the development of Christian labour unions (both included in early manifestations of CPJ’s vision.) Elected to the Dutch Parliament (and later the Senate) this incredible man also served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901 – 1905.

Kuyper’s main contributions to the social teachings of Calvinism revolved around his vision of “worldview” (the call to Christian cultural engagement) and especially his development of the concept of “sphere sovereignty,” where the various realms of life – such as business, church, state, and family – had specific purposes and God-given integrity. Kuyper believed that “personal salvation is less an end in itself than a means to God’s larger purpose of renewing the cosmos.”

Sternly, Bratt warns us that “Abraham Kuyper was a great man, but not a nice one.” Accordingly, we are exposed to Kuyper as an “idea” more than as a “person.” That main idea is, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

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