Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) is one of the pillars of the Christian Reformed Church, but—as with another pillar, John Calvin—he is more revered than actually read. Michael Wagenman’s small book Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper might change that.
“But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29) is a question perpetually before anyone claiming to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Reformed Christians have liked to confess ‘Lord’ in response to Jesus’s question, and Wagenman makes a compelling case that our confession today would be greatly helped by Kuyper, yes, even a century after his death. Kuyper’s single-minded “goal of displaying the beauty of Jesus Christ and his relevance for life,” challenges and inspires those who seek to confess Christ as Lord in word and deed as pressure mounts in North America to push Christian faith to the private margins of life.
Wagenman, the CRC campus pastor at Western University in Ontario, is an expert on Kuyper, yet his book is not aimed at other scholars. It seeks to introduce Kuyper’s thought and legacy to new audiences and consider how his “lived theology” intersects everyday life and faith. Short, tidy chapters unfold Kuyper’s understanding of Jesus’s lordship on a host of timely topics like personal identity, church, politics, and society. Weaving biographical details into each chapter not only reveals Kuyper as a flesh-and-blood person, but it also shows how he lived out his theology in the hurly-burly of parliament, the office, and the pulpit. Each chapter ends with a brief “For Today” section that pulls Kuyper out of the Netherlands and into North America, and out of his century into ours. Here, Wagenman hints at what engaging God’s world with Kuyper might look like today. This is a helpful feature for thinking through a distinctly Christian perspective on contemporary challenges and is a real strength of this book.
Wagenman also uses Kuyper’s personal and spiritual shortcomings as opportunities for reflection. Kuyper’s workaholism and relentless ambition, for example, brought him to breakdown on several occasions, which necessitated long periods of rest. His “public life was unsustainable” concludes Wagenman, who emphasizes that kingdom work requires Sabbath rest, regular nourishment from Word and Sacrament, and Christian community—all of which were neglected by Kuyper at points in his career. Indeed, given some recent criticism of Christian ‘worldview’ thinking as being overly intellectual and too neglectful of the centrality of the church, I was pleased to hear expressed throughout Engaging the World with Abraham Kuyper that “to follow Kuyper into engaging the world with the gospel” can only happen when we ourselves are continually formed by the gospel through prayer, worship, and spiritual habits.
Churches are renewed by returning to their sources: Scripture, of course, but also those mothers and fathers of the church who have bequeathed to us a gospel vision of faithfulness and engagement. Pastors, elders, educators, and church leaders will be inspired by returning to the source of Abraham Kuyper through Wagenman’s Engaging the World; so too will students and laypeople, for whom Kuyper had such affection. Note that Engaging the World’s amazon.com and amazon.ca pages offer a short and inexpensive discussion guide to accompany the book, which will be of real value for small groups. (Lexham Press)
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