Abraham Kuyper’s Life of Faith

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A clock strikes 7 a. m. It’s still dark. Somewhere a mother guides her children to the end of the driveway where a bus will bring them to a Christian school. Somewhere a Christian politician, with an open Bible near at hand, prepares a speech to be delivered in parliament that day. And somewhere a senior citizen bows her head in prayer, beseeching God to bless her son’s struggling business.

Each of these people believes the Christian faith cannot be sealed inside us like grain in a farmer’s silo. Each shares with millions of others the unshakable confidence that Jesus is Lord of all creation: education, politics, and business included.

This conviction was reinvigorated by Abraham Kuyper, a great theologian, journalist, and statesman who died in 1920. Through his clear and persistent appeal to the Bible, Kuyper led a return to orthodoxy in the Netherlands, and his life’s work guides people of the Reformed faith today.

It is said that Winston Churchill used words to win a war. Listening to his speeches, one can sense his audience taking courage and strengthening their resolve to defeat the enemy. Abraham Kuyper had that same ability to inspire people through rhetoric.

In speeches, sermons, articles, and books he moved people to renewed dedication. He challenged them to resist hollowing out their Christian faith into a sort of “Sunday only” cult. He called them from the pulpit and in his many writings to acknowledge that all of life’s activities—from art to political theory, from the classroom to the science laboratory, from the farmer’s field to the factory—take place under the kingship of Jesus.

Kuyper’s own life was an illustration of his theology. At times he was a journalist, a preacher, a parliamentarian, and the leader of a government. He often met with opposition and ridicule, and caricatures of him abounded in the press of the day. One such cartoon shows him trying to obtain entrance to the consistory room in Amsterdam by hacking away at the door with an axe.

Kuyper’s life was not beyond the reach of humorous consideration. The clock ruled his life as with an iron fist. When he wrote he could predict the completion date of his books and articles with almost mathematical precision. If dinner were served a few minutes late it was, for him, a major emergency. Kuyper could, and often did, drive himself to total nervous exhaustion. Yet he was a man of honest and deep piety who found time to regularly preside at family devotions.

A Dutch poet once wrote that the present finds its origin in the past, and a Canadian scholar said “we live our lives looking in the rear view mirror.” Whether we know it or not, one of the faces we see in our Christian Reformed rear view mirror is that of Abraham Kuyper.

With both his piety and his insistence on the lordship of Jesus in all areas of life, Kuyper is the unseen companion of the mother at the bus stop. His presence is felt at many a college or university lectern and in many a parliament speech. He is, in a sense, the silent partner of businesspeople who look to God for guidance in their trade.

Abraham Kuyper is, and will hopefully remain, a nondelegated, invisible, but clearly felt member of our Christian Reformed Church.

for discussion

  1. Rev. Tuyl writes that Abraham Kuyper reinvigorated the conviction that “Jesus is Lord of all creation: education, politics, and business included.” Is this a uniquely Reformed teaching? Is it found in Scripture?
  2. What difference does/should this confession actually make in your life?
  3. Tuyl observes, “The clock ruled his life as with an iron fist… [Yet] Kuyper could, and often did, drive himself to total nervous exhaustion.” Is that behavior consistent with his confession that Jesus is Lord of all? Why or why not? Is your agenda in sync with your confession?
  4. The Christian day school movement got a significant “push” in the Christian Reformed community through Kuyper’s insistence that God’s Word addresses all of life. Do you think the CRC is right in officially endorsing and promoting Christian day schools?
  5. How does the confession that “all of life is religion” stack up to official Canadian and American policies insisting on the separation of church and state?
  6. How does being a Christian concretely affect your daily work or what you do in your retirement?
  7. Does our commitment to Jesus’ lordship over all of our lives mean that we shouldn’t watch television, sleep late on Saturday mornings, go on vacations, dance?

About the Author

Rev. Carl Tuyl is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church. He lives in Toronto.