|Abraham Kuyper 1837-1920|
The following is an excerpt from a lecture called "Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a Changing World", given by Herman Dooyeweerd in 1964. The translation is by Dr. J. Glenn Friesen. The full lecture is available on Glenn Friesen's site HERE.
The 1920’s were also a very turbulent time for this [Gereformeerde] circle. This was partly caused by the death of Dr. Kuyper, who may be called the spiritual father of the Calvinistic revival [Reveil]. Kuyper had awakened a part of the population who had not been viewed as belonging to the intellectual part of the nation, as the jargon of enlightened liberalism of the previous century might have called it. In general, these were people who mistrusted modern culture, and who regarded science and philosophy as dangerous. Kuyper taught them that such an attitude towards culture and science certainly was not appropriate for those who called themselves spiritual heirs of Calvin, since it implied a failure to appreciate God’s common grace. And that this clearly distinguished them from Roman Catholicism and Humanism. In many works, he had shown that Calvinism had a broader meaning than merely for church and theology. In his well-known Stone Lectures that he gave at Princeton concerning Calvinism, he showed– in a way that spoke to the people in a tremendous way–that Calvinism is an all-inclusive life- and worldview, which desires to carry out the Scriptural principle of the Reformation in every area of life. And Kuyper had developed a number of basic ideas, which would be of great importance for the reformational movement and also for the reformational philosophy that arose after his death.
In the first place, his concept of the radical antithesis between the spirit of God’s Word and the spirit of this world, the spirit of falling away. This antithesis was to be regarded as the central antithesis, which must come to be revealed in every area of life, including science. Already in Kuyper’s time, this was a view that became a true rock of offence; it went directly against the traditional scholastic teaching of two realms [of nature and grace].
In the second place, there was an idea that is most closely related to the first idea. Although Kuyper did not develop it in his great theological works, but rather in his more popular writings, it was an idea of very far-reaching importance. It is the idea that man was created by God with a religious center of life, which the Bible concisely names “the heart,” out of which are the issues of life. In Old Testament terminology, the heart must be circumcised. According to the testimony of Jesus Christ, it is from out of the heart that all sins come forth. And it is in the heart that man’s rebirth takes place, through the working of the Holy Spirit. This central Biblical vision of man had become lost in scholastic philosophy. And under scholastic influence, it was also lost in Gereformeerde theology. As in a flash, Kuyper again made evident this radical Biblical vision, and he confronted others with it. But such a flash of Biblical light concerning the center of human existence passed by unnoticed to the theology of his time. It continued to hold fast to scholasticism’s traditional dualistic image of man. And this [wrong, dualistic image] remained just as dominant in Kuyper’s own theoretical theological works.
Kuyper set out a third great idea, whose significance was not yet foreseen, in his still rudimentarily developed teaching of the distinctive laws and the mutual irreducibility of the spheres of life that he distinguished, especially of the various spheres of human society. Here he relied on a Biblical position against what he called “the blurring of the boundaries” in the prevailing culture. Kuyper forged his own terminology. He referred to his idea as “sovereignty in its own sphere”–a term that now, through frequent and not well-considered usage, has become worn-out [versleten]. But during his own time, it was a new and concise expression that gave notice of a reversal of the traditional scholastic view concerning the temporal life- and world order. But this deep purport of Kuyper’s conception of sovereignty in its own sphere was not at first perceived. Very quickly, its meaning was limited to the area of anti-revolutionary politics, where it had to accommodate itself to Groen’s Christian-historical vision of state and society. This was strongly under the influence of the German Historical School, to which the Lutheran statesman Fr. J. Stahl also belonged–someone whom Groen later very much admired. In its connection with this Christian-historical way of thinking, the [conception of] sovereignty in its own sphere, which could only be applied to societal spheres of a fundamentally different nature, was from the very beginning confused with the autonomy that for historical reasons had been granted to municipalities, provinces and water-board jurisdictions, which as parts of the state can really never have sovereignty in their own sphere. In this way, Kuyper’s great conception of sovereignty in its own sphere, which he had expressly based on the creation order, became watered down to an internally confused political slogan, in which people apparently had so little confidence that even during the time of Kuyper’s leadership, the idea was never included in the platform of the A.R. [Anti-Revolutionary] Party. And yet Kuyper’s original concept was deeply Biblically founded in the idea of the creation of all things according to their kind.
Kuyper developed a fourth important idea in his theological view of faith. Again, this idea is linked most closely with both of the first two ideas. Scholastic theology had always distinguished between natural knowledge of God, which just like other knowledge that remains within the “natural sphere,” can be obtained by the natural light of human reason alone, and supernatural divine knowledge, in which we can share only by means of special divine revelation, and which requires the supernatural gift of faith. Kuyper certainly did not dispute that true Christian faith is a gift of grace. But he did attack the scholastic view that faith plays no role in “natural knowledge.” He argued that the function of faith is created within human nature, and that it plays an essential role in all human knowledge. Therefore no science exists that can be neutral over against the faith that one proceeds from. But as long as the human heart, following the fall into sin, remains closed to God’s Word revelation, the function of faith that is created within man will acquire an apostate direction. It will direct itself to idols of all kinds. Only by means of the gracious working of God’s Spirit can it [our heart] again be re-directed to the Word revelation of the living God, a revelation that finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. In this sense, Kuyper spoke about the plus and minus directions of faith.
It was especially these four basic ideas, which I have briefly summarized here, which were to have such a fundamental significance for the Philosophy of the Law-Idea, because the originally Biblical thrust [geladenheid] of these ideas broke through the scholastic direction of ideas in Christian thought.
(Excerpted from "Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a Changing World", lecture given by Herman Dooyeweerd in 1964. Translation by Dr. J. Glenn Friesen).
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