Abraham Kuyper was born on 29th October, 1837 to the family of Reverend and Mrs J. F. Kuyper. Home-schooled in his early years, he went on to study at Leyden University, the oldest and most prestigious university in the Netherlands. After completing his studies in theology, he was ordained as a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, the same denomination as his father. This was a church, however, which had lost the orthodox foundation upon which it had been established during the Protestant Reformation. Thus Kuyper grew up in a spiritually sterile and deficient atmosphere.
It was not until his first pastorate in the fishing village of Beesd that he encountered a warm, vibrant and scriptural Christianity through the lives of his members. It was through their influence that he himself came to a saving faith in Jesus and gradually came to adopt a biblical and gospel-centred worldview.
During the years that followed, he pastored a number of churches; edited a daily newspaper; led a section of his original church to form a new denomination strongly committed to biblical truth; founded a new university that was independent of both state and church control; and helped found a political party that would seek to transform Dutch society on Christian principles without resorting to revolution.
Kuyper’s influence was great in his country, but perhaps it has even been greater outside it. For through his numerous writings (only a few of which have been translated into English), he sought to demonstrate the integrity and comprehensiveness of the Christian worldview. And his ‘Christianity’ was not a feeble contentless faith like we tend to find today, but a robust, vibrant, and spiritual religion rooted in the scriptures. His passion and commitment was to a truly ‘Christian’ worldview which was firmly grounded in the truth of the majesty and sovereignty of God over all things.
Kuyper died in 1920. He had lived and served as a pastor, journalist, writer, theologian, and even prime minister. Yet his influence lives on through his writings, the most common of which is the collection of lectures he gave during his visit to the United States in 1898, later published as Lectures on Calvinism.
Kuyper developed the concept of sphere sovereignty as a reflection of his Christian outlook on society. He affirmed the sovereignty of God over the whole universe. Following from this original sovereignty, He taught that God has established separate spheres within human society which possess a limited sovereignty: Church, State and Society (which encompasses all other human groupings, communities or organizations). Each of these is under God’s direct rule and no sphere is to lord it over the others.
For example, the realm of education or schools is not under the state, therefore the state cannot control the education of children. This is outside its sphere. It is a responsibility of the parents (the sphere of Society). Also, businesses are not under the control of either the state or the institutional church. Rather, they are independent sub-units under the sphere of society. Kuyper’s notion wards of the two dangers of Ecclesiasticism (placing social life under the jurisdiction and control of the organized church – the structure of Western society during earlier centuries) and Statism (the domination of social life by the government – the prevailing tendency of our own day). By placing the different spheres alongside each other, and all of them under God’s direct oversight, he restores freedom to the individual and order to society. Thus we have a social theory or structure that leads to neither chaotic license nor totalitarian control.
The Christian Worldview
Like many Christians before him, Kuyper believed Christianity to be all-encompassing. It influences and gives direction to every area of life and society – religion, science, business, the family, education, etc. His understanding of the world was a direct result of his Reformed/Calvinistic theology, which places the majesty of God at the centre of all human thinking. This theology joyfully proclaims the glory and sovereign rule of God in all facets of divine history, whether it is Creation, Providence or Redemption. Thus, for Kuyper, all of life is to be lived Coram Deo (as in the presence of God). As he famously declared at his 1880 inaugural lecture at the Free University of Amsterdam:
“Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”