Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition

Are you Dutch, Reformed, or Christian?  If so, then you will want to get your hands on Craig G. Bartholomew’s new book, Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction. This book is a primer on the theology of Abraham Kuyper and those who followed in his footsteps. In many ways, Abraham Kuyper is the father of Dutch Reformed theology. He lived from 1837 to 1920 and had an influence that was both deep and wide. He not only was a theologian, but he was also the founder of a newspaper, a university, and a political party. He was even the Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905.

Bartholomew is Professor of Philosophy and Religion & Theology at Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada. He has spent his career writing from within the Kuyperian point of view, which makes him more than capable to write an extensive overview of the tradition.

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I grew up in Southwest Ontario, Canada and I was surrounded by people of a Dutch heritage. Many of them went to the local Christian Reformed Church (Which was founded by Dutch Immigrants). There was a Christian elementary school in the area that was founded by the Christian Reformed Church and a number of my friends had gone there for their education. What I didn’t know was why the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) was so Dutch and so interested in education. At that age, I didn’t even know to ask why. However, over the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to spend time studying some of the history and theology of the CRC and have found out just how influential Abraham Kuyper was on the CRC’s view of almost everything.

Given the amount of writing that both Kuyper and his contemporaries wrote, it can be difficult to know where to start when studying their theology. However, this has changed thanks to Bartholomew’s new book. In Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction, Bartholomew addresses broad topics such as education, the church, politics, and philosophy, but he also narrows in on some of the key aspects of Kuyper’s thought such as his view of creation and redemption, sphere sovereignty, and Kuyper’s conversion experience. He seeks to place Kuyper in his historical context and let the reader get to know Kuyper for who he was. The reader may or may not like Kuyper and those that followed in the Kuyperian tradition, but they will have an accurate overview of what he thought and how it impacted the tradition.

My favorite chapter was chapter 5, Sphere Sovereignty: Kuyper’s Philosophy of Society. I had not heard of Kuyper’s “sphere sovereignty” before and it was especially enlightening. Bartholomew says, “Sphere sovereignty allows one to approach society and cultural engagement with nuance and so avoid the sort of blunders in this area that dog Christian engagement with culture.” (158) Kuyper understood the world to be divided into different spheres, such as the family sphere, political sphere, church sphere, etc. He argues that these spheres are meant to overlap at points, but each need to be lived out without fear of the other spheres interjecting themselves into the other. For example, the church sphere must be able to do what it sees fit without fear of the state sphere prohibiting the church from doing it. This doesn’t mean that the church and state can’t work together on a given task, but they must do so voluntarily.

Overall, this is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it if your are looking to better understand Reformed theology from the Dutch Kuyperian perspective.

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