Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

The Future of Kuyperian Answers

William Edgar


by William Edgar

It’s enough to give you vertigo. The world’s population just passed seven billion. The United States has just clocked in at a 15.03 trillion dollar public debt. Europe, beginning with the Greek sovereign debt crisis, is aflame with worry.  Globalization means few nations are spared.  What happens in Italy rocks Wall Street and the Nikkei.  Nowhere to hide.  Vertigo!

The Center for Public Justice has believed since the beginning that the biblical-theological principles enumerated in the vision of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) provide a solid design for the basic philosophy of calling and public policy. Are these principles still viable in answering today’s issues? After all, Kuyper was a product of the nineteenth century with its colonial outlook and its romantic optimism.

Three great teachings from Abraham Kuyper still command great respect, principles that would work well in the face of our vertigo. First, God’s providence over all of life means his rule extends to every realm, including population and national debt. He stressed this means more than the (legitimate) calling of the church to preach redemption. Perhaps in an overstatement, he explains that the dominating theme of Calvinism “was not, soteriologically, justification by faith, but, in the widest sense cosmologically, the sovereignty of the triune God over the whole cosmos” (Lectures on Calvinism, 79). God is directly involved in the movement toward human freedom, and needs no mediators. God’s sovereignty means taking full responsibility for the affairs of life, yet trusting that the Lord is in control.  Anticipating the contemporary pull toward the privatization of religion, Kuyper railed against “a religion confined to the closet, the cell or the church” (Ibid., 53). Today, if it appears that we are all victims of foreign crises or of the inevitable downfall of living beyond our means, we can still say that God is in control. This is not “providentialism,” the idea that the hand of God is easily detected in this movement or that. But we do not need to keep our religious views hidden. They are part of who we are and have enormous implications for cultural engagement and life in the public square.

Second, Kuyper’s vision of sphere sovereignty still has great traction. From the creation and its structures, God has planned the differentiation of institutions all along the history of the human race. Education, family, church, government, economy and labor, the arts, the sciences, all should develop with their proper independence and interrelationship. Sphere sovereignty stands over against secularism and state control, on the one hand, and ecclesiasticism, or theocracy, on the other. One of the great temptations for today is overreliance on the state to rescue us from the follies of greed. At the same time, having the church or the mosque control the laws of society, is equally dangerous.

Finally, Kuyper’s idea of common grace remains most pertinent for today. Common grace is the view that while not everyone benefits from special, or saving grace, societies and cultures do gain from God’s favor, even in a fallen world. Common grace does not deny the antithesis between the wheat and the tares. On the contrary, the reason it is common grace is because good and evil have not been finally sorted out. In the meantime we are called to participate in every area of life, knowing that God will bless. While the church must strive for doctrinal purity among its members, it should spread its teachings about life, morality, virtue, into the society at large. Christians should be free to work with non-Christians in the common endeavor to advance civilization. Politicians, for example, who share certain views should be able to work together as “co-belligerents” (Francis Schaeffer’s term) even if they do not share basic doctrinal beliefs. Common grace is one of the main remedies for the political and cultural disengagement of many Christians today.

Vertigo? No, God is firmly in control. The same Jesus Christ through whom the entire world was made is now busy reconciling all things to himself. “All things,” includes thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities, in short, all of the creation order. (Col. 1:15-20) He does so, not by destroying those social institutions, or taking us out of the world, but by redeeming them, until the day when the glory of human achievement shall be brought into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24).

--William Edgar is a Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”