James E. McColdrick
Reviewed by: Peter J. Wallace
Date posted: 04/17/2005
God's Renaissance Man: The Life and Work of Abraham Kuyper, by James E. McColdrick. Published by Evangelical Press, 2000. Paperback, 320 pages, list price $18.99. Reviewed by OP minister Peter J. Wallace.
James McGoldrick has done the church a great service by producing this theological biography. He narrates Kuyper's central role in a twenty-year attempt to reform the increasingly liberal Dutch national church, which had long permitted ministers to deny such doctrines as the resurrection of Christ,resulting in the 1886 secession (the Doleantie - or "sorrowing" - church from the National Synod. While the Kuyperian reform started within the church, it did not follow the pietistic approach of isolating the church from society. Kuyper founded a daily newspaper and a political party, as well as the Free University of Amsterdam (1880), all of which sought to inculcate a coherent Christian worldview in every area of life.
Kuyper opposed the secularist tendency of the Dutch two-party system, and helped establish a multiparty system. Recognizing that the Netherlands was not a Christian nation, he did not seek to eradicate secularism by law, but rather advocated a principled pluralism in which secularism's totalitarian grip on education and society would be removed. In 1901, Kuyper became prime minister at the head of a coalition government.
However, Kuyper's party never gained more than 20 percent of the electorate, and he was soon out of power. Still, no Reformed Christian in the United States has ever accomplished a quarter of what Kuyper achieved in the political sphere. And if confessional Reformed Christianity failed to maintain its distinctiveness in the Netherlands, at least it remained a significant cultural influence there longer than it did in the United States.
The problem in both the American and the Dutch contexts has been that politics has been defined by the city of man. When we think of "Christian political reform," we tend to think of a Christian America, or theonomy, or Kuyper's principled pluralism. We need to think more of a politics redefined by the City of God. In this respect, Augustine, rather than Kuyper or Calvin, may prove to be more useful to us. Augustine, after all, lived in a largely pagan world - only lightly warmed over by the recent conversion of the emperors to Christianity. The politics of the City of God is a politics that is grounded in word and sacrament. It is locally based, community oriented, and yet global - nay, cosmic - in its catholicity.
This is not a full biography, but but an outline of Kuyper's life with some theological analysis. There are no references to Kuyper's letters ans papers. Further, some of McGoldricks's criticisms do not seem to be sybstantiated by the quotations that he provides from Kuyper. His references to what the "Reformed" have said sometimes fail to take into account the diversity of the Reformed tradition. Nonetheless, this biography provides a much-needed introduction to Kuyper's life and work.