Abraham Kuyper was a Dutch pastor, theologian, politician, journalist, and statesman. He lead a secession from the Hervormde Kerk, founded the Anti-Revolutionary Party, and was prime minister of the Netherlands between 1901 and 1905.
Abraham Kuyper was born in the fishing village of Maassluis, the Netherlands on October 29, 1837, where his father, the Rev. J. F. Kuyper, was pastor of the Hervormde Kerk. The elder Kuyper was neither a liberal modernist nor orthodox Reformed in his beliefs.
Kuyper was home schooled until his father took a pastorate in Leiden, where he attended gymnasium (more or less a college prep middle and high school) for six years. Upon his graduation in 1855, the enrolled at the University of Leiden, where he was surrounded by modernism. Kuyper graduated with a degree in literature in 1857 and one in philosophy in 1858.
Kuyper next entered the Leiden Divinity School to study for the pastorate, where he was again surrounded by liberal modernism. After finishing divinity school, Kuyper went to work on his doctorate. He finished his studies in May 1862 and suffered a breakdown due to overexertion. He took an eight month break to recuperate, and became a minister of the Hervormde Kerk in Beest in 1863.
Kuyper began to move from modernity to simple Reformed orthodoxy in 1866. He became opposed to the hierarchy and role of the king in the Hervormde Kerk and spoke in favor of separating church and state.
Kuyper moved to Utrecht in 1867 and was called to serve the church in Amsterdam, the most prestigious in the nation, in 1870. (It should be noted here that the Hervormde Kerk used the collegiate system, where all the congregations within a city were under the same consistory. The Amsterdam church had 140,000 members, 136 office bearers, and 28 ministers.) For the first time in years, the Reformed faith was being proclaimed in the Hervormde Kerk in Amsterdam.
Kuyper began writing for De Heraut (The Herald) in 1871, and began his own paper, De Standaard (The Standard) in 1872. Kuyper stood for parliament in 1873 but was defeated. In 1874 he was elected and began a long career in politics. However, Kuyper overextended himself again and resigned his seat to focus on regaining his mental health.
Kuyper supported equal funding for religious and public schools, an issue that led to creation of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in 1879. And in 1880 he founded the Free University in Amsterdam, a Christian university based on Reformed principles, where he was a professor of theology.
Kuyper led an exodus from the Hervormde Kerk (NHK) in 1886. The Dolerenden (grieving ones) grieved the loss of Reformed distinctives within the NHK, which no longer required office bearers to agree to the Reformed standards which has once been foundational.
Kuyper and the consistory of Amsterdam insisted that both ministers and church members subscribe to the Reformed confessions. This was appealed to Classis, and Kuyper, along with about 80 members of the Amsterdam consistory, were suspended in Dec. 1885. This was appealed to the provincial synod, which upheld the ruling in a July 1, 1886 ruling.
Refusing to accept his suspension, Kuyper preached to his followers in an auditorium on Sunday, July 11, 1886. Because of their deep sorrow at the state of the NHK, the group called itself the Doleantie (grieving ones).
The seceders called themselves Nederduitsche Gereformerde Kerken, and by 1889 the denomination had over 200 congregations, 180,000 members, and about 80 ministers.
But secession wasn't the only thing on their hearts; the Dolerenden also sought union with the churches of the Afscheiding, the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken. This union was effected in 1892, and the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland was formed. (And, as is often the case, some of the Afscheiding churches declined the union and formed their own denomination, also called the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken.)
Kuyper was reelected in 1894 and promoted extending the vote from one per homeowner (census suffrage) to one per citizen (universal suffrage). This issue divided the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) and eventually resulted in creation of the Christian-Historical Union (CHU), a party opposed to universal suffrage.
Kuyper headed the ARP until his death in 1920, and at one time the ARP formed the government with Kuyper as Prime Minister. However, after the CHU was formed in 1901, the ARP's strength was diluted. In 1905, it became the opposition party.
Again in 1912, Kuyper took a break from politics because of his health, returning in 1913. Although the Netherlands was neutral in World War I, Kuyper favored the German cause because the English had been the enemy of the Dutch during the Boer Wars (1880-81 and 1899-1902).
Kuyper died in the Hague on November 8, 1920.
Kuyper was many things: a pastor, a publisher, a philosopher, a politician, and a theologian. Often original in his thinking, it was Kuyper who espoused presumptive regeneration, the idea that we should assume the regeneration of the children of believing parents. Although this theological position has been widely discredited since Kuyper's era, it seems to be the practical position of many in the Reformed tradition.
Another important idea for Kuyper was the antithesis, a vast gulf between the fallen world and the redeemed church such that Christians should have their own political party, school system, and labor unions.
A third concept, perhaps more philosophical than theological, is "sphere sovereignty" - that each realm of life has its own rules. Thus, the laws that govern a state should not regulate religion - or vice versa. It is the job of the philosopher, scientist, and practitioner to uncover the rules that govern each sphere of life. This idea would be more fully developed by Herman Dooyeweerd.
Kuyper's strongest theological contribution was the doctrine of common grace, which teaches that God graciously restrains the power of sin in our fallen world so that this is not the worst of all possible worlds. This is by no means a saving grace, merely one that sustains the cosmos despite the fall.
As this is supposed to be a brief biography of Abraham Kuyper, I leave it to others to delve more deeply into these issues.
- Abraham Kuyper, Wikipedia
- Abraham Kuyper: Dutch Calvinist, Portraits of Faithful Saints, Herman Hanko
- Abraham Kuyper, Redeemer College
- Abraham Kuyper: A Christian Worldview, McKendree R. Langley, Orthodox Presbyterian Church
- Abraham Kuyper - Christian Cultural Activist, Gideon Strauss, The Big Picture
- The Standard Bearer, Vol. 75; No. 2; October 15, 1998. Special Abraham Kuyper issue.