Abraham Kuyper is one of the most noted and well-respected Dutch theologians in all of church history. He has written much in the way of how Christians should think about culture, and how God created culture to function. Nearly a hundred years later after his death, it seems Christians are still trying to answer some of these important questions. “How should the Church live in the world?” “How should we think of and treat the culture around us?” “What is our responsibility toward our culture, if any?” These are good questions, and Kuyper, a man who thought much about politics, culture, and the church, is a man fit to give us wisdom for Christian cultural engagement. Here are nine “pillars” Kuyper outlined throughout his writings and teachings. This list of nine points is adapted and derived from Bruce Ashford’s new book, Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians.
- God’s creation is a unified diversity, an ordered but multifaceted reality.
The majesty of creation reflects this truth at every level. The solar system, a massive collection of stars and planets, is full of diverse parts and pieces, yet works in an ordered fashion. Similarly, the atom is made of sub-atmoic particles of protons, neutrons, and electrons, all working together animate the zillions of atoms that make up, say, Jupiter. The proton and electron are polar opposites, yet work together. The way God designed creation to work is simply extraordinary.
- From the moment of creation, God purposed man to enhance the good creation he had given them, thus, emphasizing their role as “culture-makers.”
As we see in Genesis 2, God tasks Adam to work and keep the garden and the creation entrusted to him. We think of “paradise” as laying on a beach, sipping a Piña Colada, without a care in the world. But, as Kuyper demonstrates, true “paradise” is seen here, where God bestows on Adam the good task of caring for creation, and having dominion over it. This was what man was created to be.
- All culture-making and cultural interaction is distorted and corrupted by sin.
Of course, we know this perfect imagery of work doesn’t last. Sin interrupts the narrative and changes the course of culture-making for humans forever. No longer is work life-giving, but now it is life-taking. The goodness of God’s design has been distorted by the sin of man. What does this have to say about God’s creation and culture itself?
- God’s creation is good and remains structurally good, even after the fall.
In a spectacular twist of events, we see that creation itself, though certainly affected by the distortion of sin, still remains a good thing. It is not as if God suddenly looked at his world below and had to contradict his “very good” feelings from Genesis 1. His creation remains structurally good.
- God graciously restrains the consequences of sin, keeping it from making the world an unlivable horror.
This is one of my favorite points here from Kuyper. Our sin is, to borrow from R.C. Sproul, “cosmic treason” before God. It is not just a mere act of disobedience, but a vile defamation of His character entirely. It could have easily (and rightly) resulted in our utter destruction and misery. Yet somehow, by God’s common grace, he allows the sun to still shine, not too hot to scorch our bodies or too distant to keep us cold. He still allows us trees with shade, still makes the Grand Canyon a sight to see, still preserves the coolness of the ocean. The reality of God’s common grace is a point that cannot be overstated, and Kuyper wrote much on this particular topic.
- In response to sin, Christ has come to redeem his imagers, restore his good creation, and establish his lordship over every sphere of culture.
Christ’s being sent into the world was not only for the redemption of humanity, but also for the restoration of creation and the establishment of his kingship. Abraham Kuyper’s most famous quote is, “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!” Kuyper fought against France’s popular sovereignty concept and sought to advocate for teaching on sphere sovereignty, that each “sphere” of life should have its own created integrity. Christ is Lord over every sphere, every square inch, and is restoring us back to our design.
- Christians are guided culturally by God’s Word and their Christian beliefs.
Oftentimes, our greatest questions about cultural and social issues are not answered explicitly in Scripture. For example, we don’t have any explicit teachings from Scripture on the best form of governmental structure. However, we use Scripture to guide all of our thinking about how we live in the world. A great place to start this is the latter half of Romans.
- As we enter the public square to work for the common cultural good, we should use reason and persuasion rather than coercion.
First, it is important to note that we should strive for the “common cultural good.” There are many ways to do that, and most political parties have wildly different ideas of the way forward in that regard. But as Christians, it’s important that we remember that all of our engagements with the culture has to come from a heart of desire to see God’s image and creation restored in the world, and this will not happen if we become coercive with others. We cannot force or threaten others into religion, but use persuasive love and reasonable meekness to reach the culture.
- Christians should leave Sunday church gatherings consciously, seeking to apply their Christian faith to their cultural activities.
“You are now entering the mission field.” Some of you have seen that posted on the inside of the doors leaving your churches. This is a Kuyperian reminder. If we are restricting the act of worship, what we’ve learned in teaching, prayer, communion, and fellowship to the church building, our culture will never receive the gospel apart from attending our church. May it never be that our culture can only find the gospel if they happen to stumble upon it. Let us make an effort to bring them the good news, consciously making the decision on Sunday morning to enter the missionary work of engaging the culture for Christ.