Abraham Kuyper: Conversion
Over the next couple of months I will write a weekly post on the life and thought of Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper is perhaps best known for his articulation of the concept of Common Grace, which he appropriated in the development of a robust Christian worldview. His famous Stone Lectures at Princeton developed this worldview approach to Christianity and culture, later compiled in his most well-known book Lectures on Calvinism. However, there was much more to Kuyper than his Stone Lectures. Kuyper was a profound thinker, extraordinary statesman and educator, and a pious disciple and pastor. I hope you will find these posts illuminating and moving.
As supralapsarian of the finest sort, Abraham Kuyper would have no doubt considered himself predestined for both natural and spiritual birth, before the creation of the world. Kuyper could not and did not trace his creation or his election to his winsomeness or worthiness, but entirely to the sovereign, free and gracious will of God. Thus, it was on October 29, 1837 that God gave the gift of life to Abraham (affectionately called ‘Bram’) and the joy of parenthood to Jan Frederick and Heinrette Kuyper. Bram was the first of three children given to the Kuypers. Although the theological beliefs of Jan Kuyper are not clear, we do know that he devoted his life to the pastorate within the Dutch Reformed Church at three different locations: Maasluis, Middelburg, and Leiden.
To be sure, Abraham was influenced by his father’s vocation as a pastor, attending church regularly while growing up; however once he reached the University of Leiden Kuyper embraced modernism’s skepticism of Orthodox faith and scoffed at belief in the supernatural. While at Leiden, Kuyper developed a significant relationship with Professor De Vries, who encouraged him to enter an essay contest that required a treatise comparing the ecclesiology of Johannes A Lasco and John Calvin. Kuyper won first place and, ironically, developed a strong disdain for Calvin’s theology during his research. However it was during his search for a Lasco’s works that Kuyper was struck with a profound sense of the providence of God. It so happened that a Lasco’s works were extremely rare, virtually non-existent. After searching all of the libraries of the Netherlands and the eminent libraries of Europe to no avail, Kuyper was ready to capitulate. As a last resort, he chose to follow a lead given him by Professor De Vries. Through an unexpected and unusual turn of events, the works of a Lasco were discovered in a private collection, in the Netherlands! Years later he recalled the event: “…the impression made on my heart by this almost incredible experience was so deep and abiding that whenever I recall the seeking love of my God, I go back continually… to the memory of that marvelous providence of the Lasciana.”
In 1863 Abraham Kuyper received a Doctorate of Theology from Leiden and in the following summer he married Johanna Schaay. He took his first church at Gelderland of Beese, where his preaching was faced with opposition. Although Kuyper was welcomed by the parishioners, his half-baked orthodoxy was not palatable. One woman in particular, Pietje Baltus, challenged his faith, doctrine and preaching by saying, “You do not give us the true bread of life.” Instead of repudiating Pietje with Modernist arguments, Kuyper began to discuss matters of theology with her. Pietje’s strong reformation faith soon began to win Kuyper over. At her suggestion, he read through Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion. It was during this time that Kuyper embraced Christ as his Saviour, God as his Father, and the Church as his Mother. Struck by Calvin’s elegant and piercing words regarding the Church and other matters, Kuyper would take an opportunity to pursue reform in urban Utrecht, where he was invited to pastor the national church (Dutch Reformed Church) in 1867. During his time in Utrecht, Kuyper faced increasing opposition, but not without support. Groen Van Prinsterer, both an ecclesiastical and political reformer, joined forces with Kuyper as they advocated a return to the doctrines of grace accompanied by social and political reform. In 1870 Kuyper was called to pastor in Amsterdam, where together with Prinsterer he formed the Anti-Revolutionary Party, a Christian political movement, led by Kuyper. By procuring a newspaper called de Heraut (The Herald), Kuyper was able educate and address the Church and state on a host of social and political issues, foremost of which was education.