The Most Influential Man About Whom You Have Never Heard. #AbrahamKuyper

The Social Vision of Abraham Kuyper

Insights from a lecture given by Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College at Acton University 2017.

Abraham Kuyper (b. 1837 in Holland) is one of the most influential practical theologians of all time.

A parish pastor who ran for congress (Tweede Kamer), transformed Dutch society, and ended up prime minister, Kuyper (pronounced, BTW, COW-puhr, not KY-phur) enlisted almost superhuman dynamic energy to create space for Christians and others to thrive alongside one another.

He’s really only well-known in the Netherlands and in circles worldwide made up of enthusiastic Reformed/Gereformeerde/Hervormde theologians.

He was a progressive, “modern” theologian and pastor as a young man, who underwent twin conversions:

  1. Ethical. Became more humble and teachable.
  2. Confessional. Kuyper started attending prayer meetings of church members who were staying away from his “revisionist” sermons and discovered something of true substance there. He ended up aligning himself with the “kleine luyden” (the marginalized, less-socially-important people, many of whom could not vote). He ended up seeing himself as their leader and champion.

He eventually stepped away from vocational church life to run for congress, finding himself in the “Anti-revolutionary Party.” They were fighting against the secularist/laicist aftermath of the French Revolution (100 years prior).

You might say: “Why fight against something that happened 100 years ago?” Well, a Chinese historian was asked recently what he thought of the French Revolution. His answer (in 2015): It’s too early to tell (!).

Kuyper landed a seat in the Tweede Kamer (lower house), and began re-making the country. His writing output was beyond prodigious. He wrote daily and weekly columns for De Standaard and De Heraut. Much like Martin Luther, he used waterfalls of the printed word to bathe his nation in new ways of thinking. It led to several nervous breakdowns.

A parishioner, early on in his career, asked Kuyper: “Why can’t I send my child to a school with the bible?” This “School met de Bijbel” idea never left him; subconsciously, he turned it into brick and mortar, opening the Free University of Amsterdam (Conservative Christian) in 1880, and fighting for radical school choice for all (not just the rich) throughout his life, culminating in the 1917 educational pluralism law in the Netherlands, which has produced thriving primary schools of all ideologies to this day, all on an equal playing field, and at a cost of about half per student of what American taxpayers pay.

SPHERE SOVEREIGNTY

This will be the topic of another post, but AK developed sophisticated thinking around what he called sphere sovereignty. At the risk of over-simplifying, family, government, and church should stay out of each other’s business. The rules vary from sphere to sphere and one sphere doesn’t tell the other sphere what to do–thus it is fundamentally anti-totalitarian. Kuyper’s concepts around this idea had a huge effect on the large “Christian Democrat” political parties in Europe, and in a way, led to the welfare state which developed after WW2.

There are two kinds of Kuyper fans, in the 21st Century, and yes, they sometimes wear Kuyper T-shirts:

  1. Common Grace fans.
  2. Antithesis fans.
COMMON GRACE

A major theme in AK’s thinking, common grace is available to everyone. Dutch: gratie (rhymes with “Yahtzee”). Because God rules over all creation and all humankind, he gives them grace to live in his world and carry out their calling. God shows all men favor by holding their sin in check so that they are able to live together in society and so that His church can live and grow in the world (a quote from Charles Terpstra).

AK had practical reasons for creating the common grace canvas on which to paint his public engagement in politics. It gave him backing for working with all kinds of groups, Christian and secular, since everyone has access to gratie. He needed allies in order to form a coalition government and get some of his ideas passed into law.

Kuyper’s famous quote, “There is not one square centimeter of creation where God does not say: That’s mine!” reflects his understanding of common grace.

ANTITHESIS

Regenerated Christians, on the other hand, are recipients of special saving grace. Kuyper: genade. This sets them apart from all the rest of the human race. All facts can only be seen from two perspectives: regenerated and secular. This antithesis means, that although we share common grace, the regenerated Christian acts differently in the world than a secular person.

As Bacote summed it up: Go ahead and get out in the world, but remember who you are (a child of God) when you get there. We Christians will come to different conclusions about everything.

CONCLUSION

Kuyper never wanted a theocracy, because regenerated Christians will always be in the minority. But we are not to separate out into monasteries. Like Jesus and Paul, we are to engage the culture.

Special grace (genade) creates regenerated Christians who engage the culture with a different worldview, and engage others with our common grace to move God’s will forward in the world.

Also, AK was down on slavery, pro-women, had a huge effect on Dutch education, and set Dutch verzuiling (sovereignty n one’s own circle) in motion. He said some very racist things, was a workaholic, never groomed a successor, and wasn’t fully aware of how overbearing he was.

But he also is among the most creative Christian leaders of all time in describing how best to be “in the world but not of the world,” and far from being an ivory tower theologian, he walked his talk and set out to transform his nation.

 

 

How Statism Keeps Poor Countries Poor

 

Acton University Talk by Stephen L.S. Smith of Hope College.

STATISM is an economic system (also called State Capitalism) which allows a private sector but in which many key industries are owned/controlled by the government.

It lies somewhere between communism and European-style social democracy on the economic spectrum.

Smith says we need a “field guide” since most statism is invisible to the casual observer.
So he took us to THAILAND via a slide show.
  • Banks: Easy to use, modern banking all over the place.
  • You need to buy a SIM card for your phone from “AIS.”
  • Transportation (air and rail) is top notch.
  • You have to leave Thailand (flying to the US) at 4am (because of the time change/dateline), and you stay in a Novotel by the airport for a few hours of sleep first.
But in fact….
  • The bank I used (TMB), upon some research is the Thai Military Bank. The army runs it. At a loss. The Siam Commercial bank is owned by the ministry of finance.
  • AIS (SIM card) is subcontracted from the Thai government to the Singapore (!) government, which sells the chip to you.
  • Both the state owned railways and airlines (each) lose over $1 million a day. Many new airliners are mothballed (over capacity). Unused capital (see the new ghost cities of China) is typical in a statist system.
  • The Novotel is owned by the government and just operated by Novotel.
So what?
  • Statism is the default system in the Global South. There are exceptions, but this seems to be the rule.
  • It is almost invisible at the street level, but has major consequences.
  • The government not only issues currency, but controls the flow of it–limiting investment which would compete with state businesses.
  • Very little revenue is left over (because government firms lose so much money) to lend to medium and small businesses. This leads to a growing black market with lots of informal street vendors. They don’t pay taxes which compounds the cycle; with a downward drag on the society.
  • Common in statist societies is weak rule of law and questionable property rights.
  • Insiders and elites benefit, which opens up patronage politics.
  • The highly educated urbanites benefit from statism because of the need for them running these bureaucratic businesses, which put a premium on education and connections.
  • Neglect of core state functions (governments are limited in capacity and spend their time running industries) such as rule of law, civil justice, non-corrupt police, property rights, basic education, and rural infrastructure.
  • State banking skews prices and and natural interest levels. Interest rates are set at a below-market level, discouraging saving. Most people want to save short term and pay off loans long term (People want fast access to their savings). Setting interest rates at an artificially low level creates tension in this natural supply/demand situation.
  • Lending is directed to favored insiders with big projects.
  • Capital is wasted (ghost cities of China where no one lives) because natural market forces are not the primary driving force of construction. State-owned firms serve political ends first.

  • Developing countries have more frequent bank failures, even with the “security” of state ownership.
  • Some countries have it way worse than Thailand. Pakistan and Egypt may be the worst. The Petrobas scandal in Brazil brought down the government.

 

Hamilton and Jefferson–Beyond the Musical

 

No one can get tickets to the Hamilton musical, but we can get the book and learn how their relationship affects us…

Each was a colossus whose footsteps color our daily lives…

Lecture by John Pinheiro from Aquinas College given at #Acton2017.

 

We can look at Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson through two lenses:
  • Lived Experience. How their lives and upbringing affected their philosophy.
  • Philosophy and Principle. Whom they were reading and by whom they were influenced.
LIVED EXPERIENCE

JEFFERSON: Born into a planter aristocracy. Mother’s family (the Randolphs) were stratospherically rich and remained his main patrons throughout his career. Father was an educated aristocrat.

Jefferson had a solid classical education and even spoke 8 or 9 Native American languages. In 1775 he was one of the wealthiest men in America and had 200 slaves.

HAMILTON: Very broken home in the Caribbean. Worked hard as a clerk and got a scholarship to King’s (Columbia) in NYC. John Adams called him the “bastard brat.” Saw the bad side of people and slavery. Felt that we needed order and control to curb this.

PHILOSOPHY and INFLUENCERS

JEFFERSON: The French Enlightenment. People naturally good unless corrupted by commerce. Yeoman farmers are the key to freedom because they don’t have employers. Thus, have a small and weak central government and an agrarian paradise. Disperse the population westward. Emmerich de Vattel’s The Law of Nations influenced Jefferson–how sovereign states can participate in a union. Jefferson always used plural verbs and pronouns with “United States.” The Physiocrats (France) also influenced Jefferson. They stressed agriculture and coined the term “laissez-faire.” Land is the source of all wealth.

HAMILTON: The Scots Enlightenment. Especially Adam Smith. Looked not to France, but rather the British Empire. Always accused of being a royalist. Capital and division of labor, not land, are the source of wealth. Bernard Mandeville wrote the Fable of the Bees, which influenced Hamilton. Where do you look for a financial model? London! Protective tariffs. Centralized bank. Financed national debt a good thing. Hard work and ambition, not inheritance, is the path to power and wealth.

Conclusion

Jefferson and Hamilton continue to be the twin pillars of American social, political and economic thought. Jefferson’s party won most of the elections for the next couple of generations. His expansionist/agrarian vision led to the purchase of Louisiana. Enhanced by Jackson and Polk who steamrolled the country to the Pacific with “Manifest Destiny.” Homesteading and the checker boarding the Midwest USA are monuments to this thinking.

Hamilton won the economic battle however, with New York being a second London in terms of global finance, and the industrial north beat the agrarian south in the Civil War. Lincoln was a Hamiltonian and used his principles to further unite and solidify central authority.

Both believed that a virtuous society is necessary to maintain a republic.

 

How Far Does Religious Freedom Go?

 

According to the First Amendment, do we Americans have the right to freedom of worship? Or something more: freedom of conscience and freedom to ACT upon that conscience…..

Sam Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, kicked off the 2017 Acton University with a plenary talk about religious freedom and truth.

Some of his main points:

  • The agenda of secularists is to soften freedom of religion into “freedom of worship.” In other words, you can praise God behind closed doors of the church, but don’t bring this into public life. Full freedom of religion is:
    • Liberty to search for and teach the full truth
    • Liberty to act according to this truth
  • “Power corrupts and power point corrupts absolutely.” Thus, no power point. But hey, he only had one day notice as the main speaker was not able to be here because of weather delays.
  • Religion/Truth/Freedom is being replaced with Caesar/Lies/Slavery
  • “Progressive theologians who read way too much Karl Rahner….”
  • In 2016, 96,000 Christians were killed (!) for their faith. One every six minutes. We must remind people of this persecution, which for whatever reason is not covered by the mainstream media.
  • Secularists are trying to marginalize and stigmatize our teaching.
  • Why should we accept that happiness = hedonism? Why should we accept a dictatorship of relativism?
  • Be careful when you take government funds. It comes with a leash. Tell Pharaoh to keep his money.
  • We must always remember that there is such a thing as truth and religious liberty without a search for truth is not helpful. Religious freedom means liberty to search for the truth free of coercion from the government in any direction.
  • Without freedom from government in searching for truth, we cannot have free assent. Without free assent we cannot have true faith.
  • Martyrdom (not always deadly–sometimes just social) must become a real option again.

My thoughts:

  • Gregg seems to be good at playing a “Home Game.” I would be interested in hearing his “Away Game” when he’s not among like-minded people.
  • “Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian.” I beg to differ. Jefferson was the biggest proponent of Natural Law on earth at the time, and a great admirer of Aquinas. Of course, he was not a conservative Evangelical. but he insisted on grounding our natural rights in the “Creator” as he penned the Declaration. If you aren’t conflicted about Jefferson, you aren’t paying attention. Was he a Christian? Yes and no.
  • “Muslims, Jews and Christians have a different concept of God.” Yes and no. Sure their view of God is different but there is only one God; only one God of Abraham, and many Christians waffle on this monotheism. Not sure if Gregg is waffling or not. There’s only one mailbox with “God” on it. One Creator, one creation. False gods? How does that square with one God? Do the false gods exist? Sure, our VIEW of God varies. But I don’t believe that God is all that impressed with our constructs, which theologians tend to glorify.

 

Bob Dylan Driven by Melville and Homer?

Bob Dylan has been driven by serious literature? Really?

As an American literature fan, I was thrilled by his recap of Melville’s Moby Dick. As a classics and “dead language” nut, his overview of the trials of Odysseus brought me to tears. As an anti-imperialism activist, his raw look at All Quiet on the Western Front gave me depth insight into Dylan’s lyrics.

The polar opposite of a brainless celebrity.

Well done, Mr. Dylan, well done.

“Listen to the songs….however songs are listened to these days…”

NATO Expands…Again

 

Great.
Just great.

We continue to gobble up former East Bloc nations; incorporating them into NATO.

Montenegro (with the double-eagle flag) is as of yesterday the newest member of the Western military alliance which was formed after World War 2 to contain the expansionist Soviet Union.

Used to be part of Stalinist/Communist Yugoslavia under strongman ruler Tito.

Go back to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Before that, Western Europe was protected by NATO and the Americans, and Eastern Europe was occupied by the Soviet Union and organized into the Warsaw Pact. These two forces faced off along what Churchill called “The Iron Curtain.”

When Germany was reunified, we promised Russia that in return for their allowing the new Germany (both East and West) to be a part of NATO, we would not expand the alliance to former Warsaw Pact nations, because that would remove the buffer on which Russia relies, geopolitically, for security. Unlike the US, they don’t have oceans on both sides and have been brutally invaded twice (Napoleon and Hitler) costing millions of Russian lives.

Well, we lied.

Now virtually all the former communist nations (Russia’s buffer states) have come into the American military orbit.

So foolish.

Russia and the US could be the best of allies. We both want the same things:

-To curtail Islamic extremism.

-To explore space together (we are the “space superpowers”)

-To keep our vast nuclear arsenals from getting into the wrong hands.

-For free trade giving us access to each other’s resources.

For whatever reason, insecure nations (like the US) don’t seem to be able to function without an enemy. A bogeyman.

And for that matter, NATO is clearly obsolete. Since about 1990 when the Soviet Union (the whole point of NATO) disintegrated.

“But we need NATO to fight terror together.”

Nope. Our mutual NATO interventionism in the Middle East has given us ZERO results in several decades of military meddling. In fact, you can make an argument that 9-11 would never had happened without the NATO led crusade to topple Saddam Hussein, which ticked off many Saudis, who manned the planes which destroyed the world trade center.

NATO is just an excuse for our military industrial complex to sell more weapons to more countries–and make the world less safe by doing so.

And, the scary thing is that the mission statement of NATO is “An attack on one member is an attack on all.” Are you really wiling to commit our nation to war over….Montenegro….or Latvia?