The Kuyper Center Review, Volume Five: Church and Academy
Reviewed by Garrett Trott, Librarian, Corban University
Abraham Kuyper’s understanding of life was flavored by the sovereignty of God. A statement he made at the inaugural convocation of the Free University summarizes it well: “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’”1 Kuyper desired God’s reign to be evident in all areas, particularly the church and the academy. This collection of essays, reflecting the 2013 conference theme hosted by the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, strives to integrate Kuyper’s ideology into several different aspects of the church and the academy.
This collection begins with an essay by H. Russel Botman. Botman provides an intriguing picture of how Kuyper’s theology played a dual role in South Africa’s apartheid, first in the justification of it and later in its expiry. Botman takes Kuyper’s ideology and applies it to a more modern issue: globalization. He convincingly argues that the biblical concept of ethical community, which Kuyper advocated, is under attack in the modern efforts of globalization. Botman moves on to argue that many of the assumptions that underlie globalization do not align with Kuyper’s ideology. This is an intriguing essay that attempts to look at a modern issue impacting both the church and the academy through the eyes of Abraham Kuyper. The second essay by Dylan Pahman looks at F. W. J. Schelling’s impact upon Kuyper’s concept of sphere sovereignty, using art as an illustration. Unfortunately, Pahman begins this essay without any explanation or development of sphere sovereignty. While many readers are likely familiar with the concept, for those who are not, this lack of definition makes the essay difficult to follow. Pahman provides a brief comparison between and analysis of Schelling’s metaphysics and Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty. The chart, provided by Pahman on page 38, delivers an excellent summary of his comparison and analysis. In spite of its brevity, the summary and the brief analysis whet the appetite of the reader. Pahman’s essay includes an extensive bibliography providing the reader with the necessary resources to feed their interests.
How would a conversation between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Herman Bavinck assist in understanding the relationship between the church and the academy? Javier A. Garcia in the third essay addresses this question. Garcia provides an excellent summary of Bonhoeffer’s and Bavinck’s approach to these questions. In so doing, the author argues that the answer lies in a model established at the University of Cambridge where they have a department of religion serving the academy and a department of theology serving the church. This is an intriguing model which provides one way to look at Bonhoeffer and Bavinck’s concerns regarding the integration of the church and the academy.
The next paper in this collection of essays, by Marinus de Jong, touches upon the classic dichotomy of science and religion. De Jong provides an historical glimpse of this topic by looking at the dialog of Herman Bavinck and Herman Groenewegen. While this is an intriguing essay, two specific elements could strengthen it. First, due to the historical context of Bavinck and Groenewegen’s work, both of these scholars shared the presupposition that all truths lead to Christ, whether through science or theology. With this presupposition all but eliminated in the postmodern era, the overview of their argument, while intriguing, bears little fruit in modern discussion. Secondly, the brevity of this essay forces de Jong not to go into the depth that a topic like this requires. While it is a constructive essay touching a classical topic, it does not address the complexity of the issue.
Chapter 5 includes an essay by Ad de Bruijne discussing Abraham Kuyper’s ecclesiology and how it could contribute to the public responsibility of the church in various contexts. While de Bruijne’s essay touches an intriguing topic, in many respects it simply whets the appetite of an interested reader. While the author does provide a list of references that could potentially assist a reader whose hunger has been stimulated by de Bruijne’s work, the essay lacks depth. Further analysis of Kuyper’s ecclesiology and its relation to public responsibility would intrigue the reader.
In essay number six, Gijsbert van den Brink attempts to use some of Kuyper’s work to bridge one of the current issues that appears to divide the church and the academy: evolution. While this is an intriguing attempt to connect two apparent foes, van den Brink uses the term “evolution” without making a distinction between micro and macroevolution. The author does, however, use the term “Darwinism” to refer to the concept of macroevolution. However, the two terms, “Darwinism” and “evolution,” have almost become synonymous in modern speech and it would be helpful if van der Brink could begin his essay noting distinctions. While the author does provide notable evidence aligning Kuyper’s ideology with microevolution and contrasting it with Darwinism, it may have been helpful to the reader if van den Brink had developed these two terms more fully, noting the distinctions.
In the essay entitled, “A Queen without a Throne? Harnack, Schlatter, and Kuyper on Theology in the University,” Michael Bräutigam discusses how these three scholars developed their theories on how the church should interact with Christian higher education. Adolf von Harnack thought that there should be no connection between the church and Christian higher education. While Harnack suggests that Christian higher education can offer advice and assistance to the church, he argues that the teachings and needs of the church should not play a direct role in guiding higher education. Schlatter, while in partial agreement with Harnack that the needs of the church should not necessarily direct higher education, also saw an urgent need for more interaction between academia and the community. Schlatter argues that the university’s task in pursuing truth needs to bear value to the community-at-large. When this happens, Schlatter argues, God is glorified. Kuyper’s response to the integration of the Church and academia was stated in his inaugural address to Free University, in which he articulated his idea of sphere sovereignty. In the context of Christian higher education and the church, which according to Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty are two distinct spheres, each has been designed and is governed by God, and each has its own distinct responsibilities and competence. In spite of their differing views, Bräutigam notes two areas where these three agreed: first, theology belongs in the university, and second, theology plays a crucial role in the establishing the philosophical undergirding of many disciplines. Overall, this is an intriguing essay and provides great insight into the functions of Christian higher education and the church in the 21st century.
Harry Van Dyke, in chapter 8, provides an essay on Kuyper’s understanding of how history should be taught. From Kuyper’s writings, Van Dyke shows that Kuyper looked at history from a redemptive perspective. Kuyper did not attempt to narrow his pursuits to a particular era or element of history, as is common in today’s scholarly pursuits. Instead, Kuyper made an effort to look at history from an epic perspective, one that inspires action by looking at the bravery and nobility of leaders in the past. Van Dyke provides a brief, but excellent synopsis of Kuyper’s view of history.
The final essay in this work by Gordon Graham, entitled “Abraham Kuyper and the Idea of a Christian Scholar,” provides an excellent overview of one of Kuyper’s key ideologies: the definition of Christian scholarship. Graham begins by summarizing some of the approaches scholarship and Christianity have used to interact. In these models, he suggests, it is difficult to be fully ingrained in each because they tend to rest on ideas that eventually collide. Graham points to Kuyper’s comments regarding the difficulty of neutrality. While this is nothing new in the post-modern era, in Kuyper’s time this was a novel concept. Kuyper’s recognition of this enabled him to play a critical role in what is often labeled “faith and learning”: attempting to look at a discipline, from the founding philosophical components to how it is applied in the modern day, from a Christian perspective.
The nine essays in this work, each by different authors, fluctuate in their contribution to scholarship. Some essays, such as Botman’s, provide an excellent application of Kuyper’s ideology into a modern context. Other essays, such as de Bruijne’s and de Jong’s, lack depth. An average reader may be disappointed in the brevity of these essays. However, they provide just enough content to whet the appetite of the reader. Other essays, such as Bräutigam’s and Graham’s, display intriguing analysis of Kuyper’s thoughts and their interaction with scholarship. Overall, The Kuyper Center Review, Volume Five: Church and Academy is a notable collection of essays, providing a glimpse of how Kuyper might interact with contemporary issues related to the church and the academy.