God’s Renaissance Man: The Life and Work of Abraham Kuyper, by James Edward McGoldrick. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000. Pp. 320. $18.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
Professor McGoldrick’s recent biography of Abraham Kuyper is a welcome addition to the body of such works in English. There are only two other major studies of Kuyper’s life and work in English, Frank Vanden Berg’s Abraham Kuyper and Louis Praamsma’s Let Christ be King: Reflections on the Life and Times of Abraham Kuyper. McGoldrick’s book builds on these two works, although it is a freshstudy of Kuyper from the sources. Both of the other works on Kuyper are out-of-print.
McGoldrick is thorough. He traces Kuyper’s interesting life. He follows the Dutchman’s career, in the ministry, as a journalist, and in government. He surveys the whole of Kuyper’s theological and political thought.
The author has read widely both in Kuyper’s own works and in the secondary literature. I was delighted to find several quotations of Frederick Nymeyer, an intriguing acquaintance during my South Holland, Illinois days. The numerous references to Kuyper’s writings and to other sources appear as notes at the end of the book. This is helpful to the scholar.
The book, however, is a popular work. It is directed to the layman. The writing is clear. The critique particularly of Kuyper’s theology is not deep. The chapters are short.
There are fascinating details, for example, that Kuyper kept a picture of Pietje Baltus on his desk. Baltus was the peasant woman in Kuyper’s first congregation who was instrumental in his conversion. Baltus had told the learned Dr. Kuyper, “You do not give us the true bread of life.”
There are also good, helpful quotations of Kuyper accompanied by solid analysis on the part of McGoldrick. McGoldrick calls attention to Kuyper’s criticism of ceremonial worship with its stress on symbolism.
[Kuyper] complained that people who want symbolism for their religion desire short sermons and elaborate sensual ceremonies and music. They want to “enjoy fully the mystical titillations of a delightful religious feeling,” but they do not aspire to know God as he has revealed himself in Scripture…. In Kuyper’s view, the Protestant Reformation was a powerful protest against symbolic, ceremonial religion. The Reformed churches “stressed understanding of the revelation and its personal application to the soul. They denied absolutely the necessity of connecting the Infinite with the finite by symbols.” Protestant churches published the Bible in vernacular languages and distributed it widely, and they proclaimed their dogmas in clear statements of faith. “Standing before the dilemma of feeling or faith, they chose for faith,” and for revelation over symbolism (pp. 98, 99; the citations of Kuyper are from his The Antithesis between Symbolism and Revelation).
Anyone who has read the magazine Reformed Worship knows how necessary Kuyper’s warning is today in Reformed churches. Obsession with human symbolism is driving divine revelation out of public worship.
McGoldrick is right in his judgment that Kuyper rejected that defense of the faith known as evidentialism. Kuyper’s criticism of every effort to prove divine truth by human reason is conclusive: “If human reason were ever able to demonstrate the divine [truth], then reason would stand superior to the divine [revelation], and thus, eo ipso, the divine character of the divine Word would be destroyed” (p. 102; the citation of Kuyper is from his Principles of Sacred Theology). One of the best parts, indeed one of the few good parts, in Kuyper’s “Stone Lectures” at Princeton Seminary was his criticism of evidentialist apologetics. It is humorous that Kuyper delivered himself of this criticism in the face of B. B. Warfield, the outstanding advocate of evidentialist apologetics in his day or any other.
On the issue of supralap-sarianism and infralapsarianism, however, McGoldrick is seriously confused. He supposes that infralapsarianism, in contrast to supralapsarianism, teaches a universal love and grace of God: “John Calvin taught infralapsarianism. He held that God loves the entire human race, and common grace is an expression of his love, even to the non-elect” (p. 231).
Infralapsarianism has as little to do with a universal grace of God as does supralapsarianism. Infra-lapsarianism is a view of the place of predestination in the divine decrees. As much as does supralap-sarianism, infralapsarianism teaches God’s eternal election of some in love and God’s eternal reprobation of others in hatred. As a sound doctrine of predestination, infralap-sarianism, like supralapsarianism, exactly denies a love of God for all and affirms divine hatred for some. What infralapsarianism is can easily be learned by every Reformed Christian from a reading of the Canons of Dordt. One will scour the Canons in vain for the least hint of universal love and grace.
Critical of Kuyper in other respects, McGoldrick displays the same uncritical acceptance of Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace that characterizes most Reformed theologians. The corruption that common grace has worked wherever it has been promoted, including Kuyper’s own Free University of Amsterdam and the churches Kuyper founded, is conveniently attributed to the abuse of the doctrine.
McGoldrick’s criticism of Kuyper’s theory of presupposed regeneration is unfair and unconvincing. He does not do justice to Kuyper’s own presentation of his views on infant baptism and presupposed regeneration. In the sections in which McGoldrick treats Kuyper’s doctrine, there is no reference to Kuyper’s careful, lengthy explanation of Question and Answer 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism in his commentary on the Catechism, E Voto. McGoldrick relies heavily on critics of Kuyper’s doctrine of the Reformed view of covenant children who themselves espouse the miserable doctrine of presupposed unregeneration, a doctrine far worse than Kuyper’s teaching of presupposed regeneration.
And is it really praise of a Reformed thinker, indeed a theologian, to call him, in the title of his biography no less, a “Renaissance man”?