culture

How to Engage Culture Like Abraham Kuyper

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Abraham Kuyper lived in the Netherlands in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was a pastor, a journalist, a newspaper founder, a professor, a university founder, a parliament member and a prime minister. From these many vantage points, Kuyper sought to work out the implications of the gospel. Both his writings and his life story show us a Christian who not only critiqued culture but made culture.

Abraham Kuyper (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Kuyper is known for his teachings about Christianity and culture. Here are nine points that summarize some of his most important teachings:

  1. God’s creation is good and remains structurally good, even after the fall. This point is significant for a discussion of culture because cultural realities are creational. They stem from God’s created humans interacting with this created order.
  1. God’s creation is a unified diversity, an ordered but multifaceted reality. In particular, God designed the world to have diverse cultural “spheres,” such as family life, art, science, church, and business. Each sphere is unique and has God-given principles upon which it is founded. Christians must locate those principles and conform their cultural activities to them.
  1. When God told the first couple to have dominion and to work and keep the garden, he was telling to enhance the good creation he had given them, to bring out its hidden potentials. He was telling them to be culture-makers.
  1. In the aftermath of the first couple’s sin, all culture-making and cultural interaction is distorted and corrupted by sin.
  1. However, God graciously restrained sin and its consequences, keeping it from making the world an unlivable horror. In other words, he enabled people to continue their social and cultural lives.
  1. In response to sin, God sent his Son to redeem his imagers and restore his good creation. He has given his Son all authority in heaven and on Earth. Christ is Lord over all creation and therefore Lord over every sphere of culture. We should bring our cultural activity under submission to his lordship.
  1. Christians must draw upon God’s word and upon their Christian beliefs to guide them in their cultural projects.
  1. As we enter the public square to work for the common cultural good, we should use reason and persuasion rather than coercion.
  1. When Christians leave the gathering of their churches on Sunday morning, they should do so consciously, seeking to apply their Christian faith to their cultural activities.

I agree with Kuyper’s teachings, and each of these nine points serves as a lesson for us today. But in addition to those points summarizing his teaching, here are a few additional lessons gleaned from his life:

  1. Kuyper was a savvy and insightful commentator on the culture of his day, knowing his context well enough that he could identify where it was misdirected and corrupted and need to be redirected toward Christ. He was a skilled interpreter of Scripture, but also a skilled interpreter of his culture.
  1. Kuyper was not only a cultural commentator; he was a culture-maker. He founded a university, a church, a political party, and a newspaper and wrote numerous books and articles.
  1. Kuyper serves as an example of how we should seek to allow Christ his lordship in every aspect of our lives.
Kuyper was not only a cultural commentator; he was a culture-maker.

Although Kuyper was an extraordinarily talented person whose life is, in some ways, out of reach for most people, he still serves as an example of the way in which we should try to honor Christ in everything we do and say. For example, we might not have the opportunity to found a university, but we can shape our children’s education toward Christ. Similarly, we might never be the leader of our country, but we can vote and interact politically in a way that honors Christ.

In what ways do Kuyper’s insights on cultural engagement challenge you in your everyday activities?

This post is a modified excerpt of Dr. Ashford’s new book, Every Square InchLearn More>>

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  • culture
  • public square
Bruce Ashford

Bruce Riley Ashford is the author or co-author of six books, including 'The Gospel of Our King' (Baker, 2019), 'Letters to an American Christian' (B&H, 2018), 'One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics' (B&H, 2015), and 'Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians' (Lexham, 2015).

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