Kuyper the Abridged: A Review

Michael Wagenman, Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper (Lexham Press, 2019)

First appeared in The Christian Courier May 27, 2019.

“There is not a thumb-breadth in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!”
         – Abraham Kuyper in his inaugural address at the dedication of the Free University. Translated from the Dutch.)

Christian Reformed campus minister at Western University in London, Ontario, Michael Wagenman, has written a wonderful, accessible introduction not just to the Dutch public intellectual and statesman Abraham Kuyper, but to a Christianity oriented to the betterment of cultural life, demonstrating that “the gospel is utterly comprehensive in its scope and application.” He examines six cultural arenas: identity, public discourse, education, church, society, and politics in light of three elements in Kuyper’s biography that are also present in North America today—cultural Christianity, Modernist theology, and—the ideal of the book—a confessional Christian faith.

Kuyper is a great inspiration for Christian scholars who seek to see their faith lived out in their discipline, a university community, and in a national culture. There are many books that can easily be recommended on his life and work, but this one offers a helpful first look at his legacy.

It proves to be a revealing analysis not just of Dutch history but of our current cultural and religious situation. I hope that university courses, church education programs, and families take advantage of this condensed and stimulating exploration of Christ and culture. It can spark a lively public theology that acknowledges Jesus is Lord, not just of one’s life, not just of the church and family, but of the whole world, in all its intrigue and messy reality.

Some Kuyperian insiders might quibble that Wagenman gives too much weight to the role of Beesd in Kuyper’s conversion, that a section on Christian schooling could be more nuanced, that Kuyper’s racism and Americanism is overlooked, and that since this is written by a Canadian (a dual citizen, really), there could be at least a few references to Canadian (and not just American) issues. I was also hoping for some application to pressing issues of consumerism, climate change, and electronic media—but it is a short book, and that’s part of its charm.

A caricature of Abraham Kuyper from 1904 entitled “Abraham the Amazing,” which was his nickname his contemporary followers gave him.

For Reformed Christians, this is an invitation to see your roots take wing—what the book series calls “lived theology.” For all Christians, especially in these times when some are tempted to retreat from a public that seems at best ambivalent about Christianity, this book is an urgent encouragement to see the kingdom of God in Christ as eminently pertinent to everything that humans do to make something of the world.

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