Abraham the Great and Christian scholarship

A little while ago, I introduced you to Abraham Kuyper, also known as Abraham the Great. One of the things he was passionate about was Christian scholarship. This led him to founding and leading, as rector magnificus and as professor in theology and literature, a Christian university, the Free University in Amsterdam. Why did he think this was important, and what can we, as Christian scholars, take away from this?

‘No square inch’

Kuyper’s main motivation was that as Christians, we are to display the redemptive power of God’s restored image in His people. The first calling of humanity is to rule over creation and to take care of it (Gen. 1:26, 2:15). After Christ’s resurrection, he announced: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…’ (Mat. 28:18-19). Kuyper puts these two commissions together and calls us to proclaim Christ’s lordship over all of creation, including human life and culture. Furthermore, through Christ’s death, God was redeeming the entire cosmos (Col. 1:20). This holistic view of redemption means that we should be concerned not just with the redemption of human souls, but of the entire cosmos, and to work within God’s will to bring all of the world under his lordship. Christ’s kingdom extends over all of life. This naturally links to scholarship, which at its best delights in gaining a deeper knowledge of creation, whether natural or cultural, and to develop and use it for the flourishing of human and non-human life alike.

Unity in diversity in the uni-versity

Creation is many-sided and diverse. Yet there is unity in the fact that we were all lovingly created by our heavenly Father. This unity in diversity creates interdependence. Likewise, our academic disciplines each focus on different aspects of creation, yet they are united in their pursuit of truth. This creates space for the disciplines to flourish ‘after their own kind’, yet prevents us from idolizing any single discipline, elevating it above the other disciplines or reducing other disciplines to it. Only together can they provide a complete understanding and a profound tool for cultural development of their subject matter, whether that be physics or social science. The academic institution, the university, brings these disciplines together, and as scholars we should seek the interaction and dialogue with other disciplines that the university facilitates.

The unity of all creatures in their creatureliness also leads us to affirm another of Kuyper’s themes: common grace. By the grace of God, those who are not renewed still have the ability to grasp some of God’s truth displayed in creation, and God can graciously work through anyone to enable the flourishing of parts of creation, e.g. through a scientist finding a cure for a disease.

Finally, the diversity of creation is also expressed in the different gifts and callings that we may have. If we are gifted in academic work, then God may be calling us to specifically work as a scholar. But what we do in our scholarship should not be separated from our Christian faith and obedience to God. That would mean a fragmentation of the unity of our life in Christ. Christian scholarship is therefore, according to Kuyper, a disctinct possibility, indeed our calling as Christians who find themselves in academia.

I am indebted to the series of six blogs by Dan Jesse published on the Emerging Scholars Network blog in September 2014, the first of which can be found here. Together, these blogs form a review of Richard Mouw’s book ‘Abraham Kuyper: A short and personal introduction’ (Eerdmans, 2011) and give an introduction to Kuyper’s thought and its reception.

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