by Clayton B. Cooke
Abraham Kuyper is widely known in neo-Calvinist circles for his many public roles, and his pioneering public theology. In his most prominent post as a public figure, he served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901-1905. However, what is perhaps less commonly known is that Kuyper composed a collection of intimate meditations, To Be Near Unto God, during this same period. The juxtaposition of Kuyper’s most influential public role and the most comprehensive account of his practice of piety is not an aberration or coincidence. No matter what his public activity was, whether as a theologian, journalist, university founder, or politician, Kuyper always retreated to be alone with his God.
This historical reality begs the question: was there a relationship between Kuyper’s public activity and his practice of personal piety? And more generally, is there a link between Christian public life and Christian spirituality? Concerning the former, Kuyper developed a robust public theology, which argued biblically that it was a Christian’s responsibility to cultivate and engage culture. With regard to the latter, Kuyper emphasized the importance of mystical nearness to God, and he published weekly devotions for nearly a half-century. Current neo-Calvinist scholars have written much about Kuyper’s public theology and its implications for Christian engagement in culture. However, there has been minimal examination of his devotional writings and the relationship between these writings and his call to cultural discipleship.
As a result, the central focus of this paper will be on the profound connection between Christian personal piety and the call to cultural transformation. In order to assay this relationship, this paper will analyze (1) the historical account of Kuyper’s practice of personal piety, (2) the inattention of neo-Calvinist scholars to this dimension of his Christian life and theology, (3) the content of Kuyper’s devotional writings, and (4) the implications for neo-Calvinism and public theology. This analysis will conclude that the neo-Calvinist aim for cultural transformation finds its ultimate meaning when it is the result of Christ’s work in the individual heart of the believer, which is in harmony with Abraham Kuyper’s life and writings.
THE PERSONAL PIETY OF ABRAHAM KUYPER
Abraham Kuyper’s Views on Piety
Abraham Kuyper recognized that there were great risks in encouraging a mystical form of spirituality. He knew how easy it was for mysticism to develop into an unhealthy practice, and admitted that in its very essence, mysticism was hermitic and aimed at avoiding worldly activities. Naturally, this threatened Kuyper’s world-engaging, all-encompassing worldview known as “Neo-Calvinism.” Nevertheless, Kuyper fervently emphasized the necessity of mystical spirituality in the Christian life. In his view, faithful cultural discipleship was impossible without mystical nearness to God, for “a Christianity that neglects the mystic element grows frigid and congeals.” Kuyper was critical of those who had allowed this “congealing” to occur. He felt that few people sought to cultivate the inner life by taking time to sit alone in prayer, contemplation, and the reading of Scripture. As a result, he believed that Christian cultural discipleship was often spurious, “mechanical,” and sapped of spirit. In order to properly and obediently “fill the earth,” Kuyper believed that a unio mystica, or mystical union with Christ, was required and could not be ignored for even a moment.
Historical Perspective on Abraham Kuyper’s Piety
Kuyper’s unio mystica with Christ illustrates that in addition to his public life, Kuyper’s private life was also critically important to his faith, theology, and overall influence in the Netherlands. Presently, Kuyper is best known for authoring the theological work, Lectures on Calvinism, but he also wrote and published more than 2,000 devotionals. Indeed, many aspects of Kuyper’s life were dedicated to experiencing God while engaging with the world. Yet at the same time, Kuyper participated in multiple practices that aimed at encountering God in relative isolation from the world. While the former is emphasized in most scholarly and academic publications dealing with Kuyperian thought, the latter is often not. Kuyper repeats throughout his meditations that he spent time in seclusion with God for the purpose of communing with him. These morning and evening devotions formed a routine from which Kuyper never deviated. Even during the final days of his life when he could no longer read or write, Kuyper insisted that family and friends read his written devotions aloud to him. In addition, Kuyper spent two hours every day walking in solitude. He walked the same route each day, and he seldom asked anyone to accompany him. These daily customs demonstrate that in addition to a dynamic public life, Kuyper nurtured a vigorous private and internal life.
The nature of Kuyper’s private relationship with God is most lucidly portrayed in his meditations, which were printed in the Dutch religious newspaper, De Heraut (The Herald). During Kuyper’s lifetime, De Heraut was read widely in the Netherlands. Thus, Kuyper had a prominent role in shaping Dutch religious thought while he was editor of this newspaper, from 1871-1920.* He was so inextricably linked to this publicationthat when Dutch citizens thought of De Heraut, they thought of Kuyper as well. For nearly fifty years, Kuyper composed a meditation for this newspaper each week. Even when he became Prime Minister of the Netherlands, he never stopped publishing weekly devotions in De Heraut. He relinquished all of his other public roles during this time, but he never abandoned writing meditations. It’s as if these devotions were the one thing Kuyper could not give up.
By inviting people to get a glimpse of his internal life in his De Heraut meditations, Kuyper established an influence that went far beyond his doctrinal ideas and public roles. Not everyone could grasp the fine points of Kuyper’s theology, or all of the details of his public speeches, but even the most basic of thinkers could connect with his heartfelt meditations. For this reason, translator John Hendrik De Vries averred that Kuyper impacted, and thus mobilized, commoners in Dutch society very effectively. In De Vries’ opinion, it was Kuyper’s mystical experience with God, and not his theological or public views, that garnered such strong support among the Netherlands’ plebeian population. Consequently, his theological teachings such as common grace, antithesis, and sphere sovereignty played secondary roles to Kuyper’s devotions in rallying people to faithful cultural discipleship. For his readers, Kuyper was the paragon of intimacy with God, and through this intimacy Kuyper authenticated, legitimized, and invigorated his public policy and theology.
Abraham Kuyper’s Piety from the Standpoint of His Contemporaries
In present neo-Calvinist circles, Abraham Kuyper is primarily recognized for his public theology. However, during his lifetime Kuyper was most widely known and respected because of his personal relationship with God. At his funeral in 1920, Kuyper was remembered for his mysticism above all else. Kuyper’s close friend, Alexander Willem Frederik Idenburg, was with him during his final days and spoke at his funeral. He said of Kuyper:
This tenderness in the depths of his soul was a great love, which in the first place went out toward God, the God of his life. How his eyes could sparkle and his words glow when he talked confidentially about the experiences of his life and the way the Lord had guided him! It was that love which made him witness, even on his deathbed, that God was his refuge and his strength, a very present help in trouble…He revealed that tenderness of his soul most clearly in his meditations. How deeply he experienced the blessedness of “being near to God.” 
For Idenburg, Kuyper’s piety was the focal point of his tribute to his beloved friend. In much the same way, the residing pastor at Kuyper’s funeral, V. Hepp, offered encomiums that touted Kuyper’s multifaceted talents, but most of all he stressed that Kuyper was one of the great mystics in the history of the Christian church. Idenburg and Hepp’s remarks illustrate that Kuyper impacted people far beyond the realms of politics, education, journalism, and theology. He wielded an influence that pierced people’s hearts and penetrated the deepest places of their souls. Kuyper’s public roles were neither disregarded nor ignored during his lifetime. However, his contemporaries believed that his greatest legacy was not his impact upon society, but rather his personal faith. For those who knew him, it was agreed that Kuyper’s piety was the most influential characteristic and behavior of his life.
In addition to Idenburg and Hepp, translator John Hendrik De Vries provides a unique perspective on Abraham Kuyper’s spiritual life. As the English translator for Kuyper’s devotions, De Vries spent more time analyzing Kuyper’s meditations than perhaps any other person. After innumerable hours of translating, De Vries concluded that Kuyper truly lived the mystical life. Kuyper fascinated De Vries because he was willing to openly bare his soul, despite his public stature. Kuyper was a household name in the Netherlands, yet he expressed the details of his own failures and struggles for all to see. Kuyper also intrigued De Vries because of his ability to articulate intimacy with God from every life circumstance. When his wife died of sickness in 1899, Kuyper meditated on the subject of death in Asleep in Jesus. Moreover, when reflecting upon his family, Kuyper wrote a series of devotionals from the point of view of the home life, entitled When Thou Sittest in Thy House. Although these titles only represent a few examples of Kuyper’s multifarious meditations, he found intimacy with God in a wide range of situations.
A final reason why De Vries found Kuyper so remarkable was because of his versatility as a person. While this trait is regularly highlighted in present Kuyperian discussions, De Vries offered a slightly different perspective on Kuyper’s versatility than is typically considered today. De Vries was not only impressed that Kuyper was an erudite theologian, the founder of a university, a successful politician, and a flourishing newspaper editor, but he was also enamored by the fact that a man who accomplished all of these feats could maintain a “childlike simplicity of faith, mystical insight and sweetness of soul.” De Vries substantiated this claim by quoting a reviewer of Kuyper’s works who stated, “Kuyper’s meditations disprove the idea that a profound theologian cannot be a warm-hearted Christian.” For De Vries and essentially all of Kuyper’s contemporaries, while the public Kuyper was impressive, the private Kuyper was extraordinary.
NEO-CALVINISM’S SUPPRESSION OF ABRAHAM
KUYPER’S DEVOTIONAL LIFE
Although Kuyper wrote devotionals his entire life, his practice of, and emphasis on, spirituality has largely been ignored. Kuyper’s contemporaries valued his piety more than any of his other qualities, yet many of his successors have failed to acknowledge his attention to personal spirituality, and its critical role in his call to cultural discipleship. This lack of emphasis on spirituality has pervaded Neo-Calvinist circles since Kuyper’s death, so much so that the difference between Kuyper’s influence during his lifetime and after his lifetime is striking. The one characteristic that Kuyper was most identified with during his life, personal piety, has been the least recognized since his death.
Neo-Calvinism’s Rejection of North American Pietism and Revivalism
In the early 20th century, Kuyper’s North American followers developed arguments against Pietism* in an attempt to distinguish themselves from Evangelicals. Emigrant Dutch Calvinists felt that pietists maintained too many otherworldly beliefs, and therefore did not properly encourage worldly activity. By the 1920’s, these beliefs spread throughout the North American Neo-Calvinist populace as publications such as the Christian Journal began inveighing against “excessive pietism.” The practices and consequences of Pietism became identified as the problem with Evangelicalism. B.K. Kuiper, a prominent American Dutch Calvinist in the early 20th century, went so far as to blame Pietism for Christian “cultural apathy.” He and other Neo-Calvinists felt that it had led to isolationism, a false hope in perfection, the repression of the intellect, a diminishing of God’s creation, and an unhealthy emphasis on individuality. In their minds, this conflicted with the Kuyperian call to cultural engagement, and as a result Neo-Calvinists moved away from Christian Pietism as a whole.
For Kuyper’s North American heirs, as they broke from Evangelicalism, they also questioned the legitimacy of Revivalism. They disputed the narrowness of Revivalist emphases on the individual soul and “feeling” as vital components of the Christian experience. Since the soul and emotion were essential components of Kuyper’s devotional life, Neo-Calvinists tended to view Kuyper’s meditations with caution. When Kuyper’s successors looked to him as a model, they did not describe him as the “spiritual counselor and guide” that so many of his contemporaries looked to for inspiration. Instead, they saw Abraham Kuyper as someone who logically and faithfully argued for a broader Christian worldview, and a more cosmic-minded God. Ultimately, Kuyper’s followers discovered in his theological writings a God whose intentions extended beyond the limited nature of Revivalism’s priorities on individual salvation and the soul’s relationship to God. These individuals latched on to Kuyper’s notions that God’s purposes touched every square inch of creation. Through his elect God would bring creation to its glorious end. Kuyper’s heirs were right to point out these beliefs, but by excluding piety and its foundational role in cultural discipleship, they became narrow themselves. When Kuyper’s followers contended that God’s cosmic purposes outweighed and conflicted with the parochial perspective of Revivalism, they repressed many significant aspects of Kuyper’s Christian belief. As a result, in their rejection of both North American Revivalism and the pietistic impulses of Evangelicalism, Neo-Calvinists were unable to hold personal spirituality and cultural discipleship together.
The Scholarly Neglect of Abraham Kuyper’s Call to Personal Piety
In their scholarship Neo-Calvinists have failed to do justice to Abraham Kuyper’s piety, by essentially ignoring his devotional life altogether. For example, as a professor and later as a president of Calvin College for nearly four decades, Louis Berkhof had a prominent role in shaping the life and thought of Neo-Calvinists. Although Berkhof was a proficient systematic theologian, he did not write about or encourage the same type of heartfelt spirituality as did Abraham Kuyper. For Berkhof, the Bible was primarily a rational case for orthodoxy, while for Kuyper it was a spiritual, life-giving “fountain of living water.” Instead of the “hand, head, and heart” religion of Kuyper, Christian belief for Berkhof turned into rational and propositional knowledge. This type of theological construct viewed mysticism and feeling with extreme suspicion. Over time, Neo-Calvinists started to question whether impassioned spirituality threatened Christian faith in general. This was not Kuyper’s concern. Although he admitted the potential hazards of piety, he did not feel that it endangered Christian faith. Instead, he believed that the absence of a mystical “union with Christ” most jeopardized Christianity.
Berkhof was not the only Kuyperian intellectual heir to ignore piety and its foundational role in the call to faithful cultural discipleship. This suppression has become widespread, as few Kuyperian scholars have taken seriously his devotional themes and their implications for Neo-Calvinist public theology. For example, it can be argued that under Neo-Calvinist scholars such as Herman Dooyeweerd, Dirk Hendrik and Theodoor Vollenhoven, Kuyperianism shifted away from an emphasis on piety, and became a solidified philosophical system. In this philosophical system, scholars suppressed the spiritual and relational significance of living before the face of God.
In many present settings and texts, Neo-Calvinists have followed Berkhof, Dooyeweerd, and Vollenhoven by ignoring Kuyper’s mystical form of spirituality. None of the English scholarly works published since Kuyper’s death have taken an in-depth look at Kuyper’s spirituality, and its implications on his public theology. In his article, What is to Be Done…Toward a Neocalvinist Agenda?, Al Wolters offers an indicting critique of Neo-Calvinists for their silence concerning piety. He writes:
Generally speaking, neocalvinists are more noted for their intellectual ability and culture-transforming zeal than for their personal godliness or their living relationship with Jesus Christ…[T]he neocalvinist polemic against pietistic otherworldliness can have the unfortunate effect of throwing out the godly baby with the pietistic bathwater.
Wolters insists that in their determination to promote a culturally active Christianity, and to warn against the dangers of pietism, Neo-Calvinists have effectively silenced Kuyper’s devotional life. James Schaap, in the introduction to his “adaptations” of Kuyper’s To Be Near Unto God, provides key clues as to why Kuyper’s followers have de-emphasized his piety. He asserts that the Abraham Kuyper of To Be Near Unto God is “risky” and makes his modern followers “anxious.” Furthermore, he contends that Kuyper’s mysticism is often “embarrassing” to his disciples. According to Schaap, Kuyper’s heirs have downplayed his devotional life because it endangers his public theology. Mysticism and otherworldliness seemingly put the cultural mandate at risk. As a result, Kuyper’s intellectual followers have concealed his spirituality, and without this cannot hold personal piety and cultural discipleship together.
ANALYSIS OF ABRAHAM KUYPER’S DEVOTIONS
In Kuyper’s devotions, he reveals a side of himself that is often difficult to discern from his other, better known writings. His devotions are intimate, tender, and have one driving purpose: “[I]t is good for me to be near unto God.” “To Be Near Unto God” is Kuyper’s signature devotional theme. His anthology of 110 devotions, which bears this title, is the apotheosis of all his meditations. With each scripture passage that Kuyper contemplates, relational nearness to God is always his primary motivation.
When composing his meditations, Kuyper generally focuses on one topic for an extended period of time. Similarly themed devotions have been published into books, typically ranging anywhere from 50-100 meditations per volume. The following analysis will focus on a selection of these books, specifically those that have been translated into English. In these devotions, Kuyper seeks to “open the eyes of as many as possible to the need of making communion with, knowledge of, and love for, God more than ever before [their] daily concern.” The structure of Kuyper’s meditations, in combination with his emphasis on five recurring characteristics, supports this overall objective. According to these characteristics, the 1) devotions are mystical in nature, 2) otherworldly in focus, 3) emphasize many worldly ideas, 4) navigate how to balance heavenly and earthly concerns, and 5) underscore that Jesus is the Lamb of God.
Structure of Abraham Kuyper’s Devotions
Each of Kuyper’s devotions typically ranges from 1,200-1,800 words. They are constructed for both the educated and uneducated, and are formatted for the inclusion in newspaper publications. Given these parameters, Kuyper’s devotions generally utilize a basic, straightforward structure. They include a single lesson or observation about one’s relationship to God, a selected text from Scripture, and everyday imagery to clarify theological ideas. These three elements constitute the basic organizing principles behind Kuyper’s devotions.
Since Kuyper’s devotions are designed to fit within the confines of a newspaper column, he is limited on how much he can express in a single meditation. For this reason, Kuyper chooses to expound upon only one core idea in each of his writings. This structural norm provides Kuyper’s devotions with precision and intelligibility. Thus, he never leaves his audience wondering what he is trying to communicate. Kuyper’s meditation, “Your Body a Temple of the Holy Ghost,” is a representative model of how he limits himself to one central lesson in his devotions. Just as the title suggests, Kuyper uses his 1,500 words to communicate that the human body is the temple the Holy Spirit. He never veers from this idea. He does not strive to portray intimacy with Christ as an overly intellectual or complex affair. His goal is clarity, and this is supported by his commitment to a singular idea in each devotion.
Scripture serves as the underpinning of each devotion that Kuyper authors. In his meditation, “God’s Word our Guide,” Kuyper asseverates that Scripture must not only be the starting point of piety, but it must guide the entire process of piety as well. Scripture is therefore like a compass, and since Kuyper is extremely suspicious of his own desires and proclivities, he allows Scripture to dictate how he constructs his meditations. He gives a clear picture of how Scripture drives this process when he states:
Do you know what I myself usually do when I am preparing to write a sermon or meditation? I start by forming and idea of what Scripture tells us in the text I have in mind. When I see that idea sharply, I listen to the voices in my own heart that protest against it. Then I wrestle with those voices until I have silenced them, before the Word of God.
Kuyper’s point is that spirituality must be rooted in the Word of God. For this reason, he quotes many biblical passages throughout his devotions. However, there is usually one central verse that serves as the title and theme of each meditation. This verse, often cited near the middle of the text, is arguably the climax of Kuyper’s devotions. Kuyper does not use the Bible as a wooden formula, nor does he allow it dampen the emotional intensity of his meditations. Kuyper uses the Bible as a relational tool that provides structure by highlighting the central theme and climax of his devotions.
The final essential structural element in Kuyper’s meditations is his use of descriptive, and metaphorical images. These images are not abstract or complicated; they are simple, everyday illustrations that all readers can relate to and picture in their minds. Kuyper draws on simple metaphors as a structural tool, in order to illuminate the driving point of his devotions. In some writings, he scatters various metaphorical images throughout. Yet in other writings, he employs a single metaphor at the beginning of his meditation, and then weaves this image into the basic framework of the devotion. For example, in “Thou Renewest the Face of the Earth,” Kuyper utilizes the winter and summer seasons in order to convey his central devotional theme. Winter and summer metaphorically represent the internal and external lives of Christians. Winter represents a time when individuals must stay inside because of the weather, and Kuyper equates this to the belief that Christians must sometimes “stay indoors” and focus on the internal life. At the same time, summer represents a time when individuals are drawn outside because of pleasant weather, and Kuyper compares this to the Christian need to “get outside” and engage in culture. Kuyper contends that Christians must strike a perfect balance between the internal and external life, and he finds that the winter and summer seasons are a perfect metaphor for articulating this balance. Through these types of metaphorical images, Kuyper expresses important theological truths that relate to the ordinary experience of every person.
The Mystical Nature of Abraham Kuyper’s Devotions
Of the five themes that recur throughout Kuyper’s devotions, the most prominent is his emphasis on mystical nearness to God. Kuyper’s devotions are not didactic, exegetical, or even intentionally theological. Rather, they aim at an “experience” of the soul in relationship to God. In his exploration of this “experience” of the soul, Kuyper touches on many important traits of Christian mysticism. The first key attribute hinges on the idea of “mystical union” and what this union entails. For Kuyper, mystical union takes place between the human soul, whom the Holy Spirit enters, and Christ, whom the soul enters. Kuyper conveys this idea in his meditation, “I in Them and Thou in Me.” In this meditation he expounds upon the recurring theme of how two disparate entities, Creator and creature, relate to one another. In Kuyper’s opinion, Creator and creature ultimately relate by coalescing. Christians actually “become partakers of the Divine nature” although they possess no part of this Divine nature. In this process something mystical happens; an unbreakable bond of love develops between the Eternal and the finite. The mystery of Divine/human love is the experience that Kuyper seeks in his meditations. In his own words, “The mystical union must have laid the tie of love forever between Christ and your soul.” This mystical “tie of love” is the foundation from which Kuyper effusively and unabashedly expresses his relationship to God.
Yet, there is something hidden about this “tie” as well. Kuyper repeatedly refers to Christian mysticism as one’s “hidden walk with God.” His routines of morning and evening devotions and solitary walks aim at private fellowship with Christ. Although Kuyper acknowledges the biblical call to cultural discipleship, he also recognizes that public life can easily distract a person from deep communion with Christ. Thus, Kuyper believes that part of his life must be dedicated to mystically encountering God in isolation. This isolation is fundamental to his mysticism because he realizes that the deepest level of intimacy with the Divine happens only in “hidden” moments.
In his mystical “hidden” walk with Christ, Kuyper discovers that he is a child of God in a distinct and personal way. When encountering God as an individual, Kuyper develops a relationship with Him that lacks reserve. In his devotion entitled, “I Love,” Kuyper expresses his love for God with gushing, emotional declarations. He proclaims, “[Y]es, this now is love, and therefore in ecstasy [the soul] exclaims: ‘I love! I love! I love!’” These ebullient expressions are common throughout Kuyper’s devotions and they demonstrate his passionate relationship with Christ. This relationship is predicated upon personal nearness to God, which involves a mystical encounter between the Eternal and finite. For this reason, one reviewer aptly summarized the genre of Kuyper’s devotional columns as “melodies of holy mysticism.” Kuyper was never ashamed of his mysticism. Instead, he put his private mystical experience with God out in public for all to see.
Although Kuyper’s devotions are highly mystical, he never divorces his mysticism from the Word of God. He realizes the potential risks of deviating from Scripture and allowing the Divine/human interaction to be shaped by human fickleness. As a result, throughout his meditations he weds Scripture with mysticism, the former always shaping the latter. If this tie is severed, Kuyper rejects mysticism altogether. More than any other book in the Bible, Kuyper finds that the Psalms best aid him in articulating his mystical relationship with God. As a result, Kuyper bases many of his mediations on the Psalms. He finds that the Psalms are inimitable in their conveyance of the deepest longings, sufferings, and hopes of the human heart. In his own words, “The deepest question that governs our Christian life is that which touches our personal fellowship with God. And in the Book of Psalms…you see how the inmost longings ever and again go out after this divine fellowship.” For Kuyper, the Psalms are not merely the proper theological tool upon which to base his devotions. They also allow him to mystically draw near to the Divine by helping him articulate his innermost thoughts and feelings.
Abraham Kuyper’s Otherworldly Focus in His Meditations
In Kuyper’s meditations, his mysticism engenders a distinct otherworldly focus. While he does not ignore Christian responsibility in the world, Kuyper spends most of his time contemplating the heavenly. His devotions are evidence that his Neo-Calvinist framework includes time to sit alone and contemplate the otherworldliness of God. Though at times Kuyper’s devotional otherworldliness appears to conflict with his other Neo-Calvinist convictions, these writings demonstrate Kuyper’s ability to hold these various theological convictions together.
Kuyper’s theology and mysticism often seem discordant. In his meditations, Kuyper defines “the world” slightly differently than he does in his theological writings. For example, in his meditations Kuyper states, “The way of the world…is therefore fatal” and, “He came into…this heap of refuse which we call the world, into the ruins of human life.” These devotional reflections do not provide the distinctions that Kuyper presents in his theological writings, where he nuances his definition of the world to mean “that which is sinful in it.” In his devotions, Kuyper rarely makes this same distinction. In these writings the world not only encompasses the sinful forces that struggle against God, but the entire physical realm as well. This means that along with Satan, sin, and death that war against God, the natural, visible, and material domains contend against God too. Kuyper’s devotional definition of the “world” inevitably means that part of faithful discipleship will entail striving against this world. This seems diametrically opposed to Kuyper’s frequent expressions in his works such as Lectures on Calvinism. Kuyper maintains in Lectures on Calvinism that a “Calvinist cannot shut himself up in his church and abandon the world.” At the same time, in his meditations he states, “[T]he cross…seems to sever your connections with the world, does it not?” Though these seem like antithetical statements, Kuyper simultaneously believes both.
In Kuyper’s devotional writings, his notion of severing ties with the world leads him to contemplate the otherworldliness of God. Although he grasps the biblical mandate to “fill the earth” with God-glorifying culture, he nevertheless avows in his devotions that Christians must prioritize the eternal over the worldly. Ultimately, Kuyper acknowledges that eternal life must take precedence over cultural transformation. In addition, he recognizes that a public form of spirituality based on Coram Deo* is somehow incomplete. Living Coram Deo in all spheres of human interaction does not encompass Kuyper’s entire spiritual life. A vital element of his piety also entails retreating to the “Father-house” above and fellowshipping with the Divine in his own space. In highlighting the significance of this practice, Kuyper stresses that nearness of God, per Coram Deo, needs to be balanced by the distance of God who is disparate from his creation. Part of prayer then is praying to the Father who is in heaven, and through this process the otherworldly takes its place in Kuyper’s earthly life.
In Kuyper’s devotional writings, it becomes evident that communing with the otherworldly God is imperative to properly engaging in everyday, worldly life. In his meditation, “Walks Among Those Who Stand Before God,” Kuyper underlines the necessity of moving between the eternal and finite realms. He maintains that part of the Christian life entails escaping from the burdens of daily life and drawing near to the throne of God in heaven. Only when time is spent in this heavenly cogitation can one aptly “return to his life-task here below.” Thus, reflection upon God’s otherworldliness does not become an excuse to avoid the world altogether, but rather it reminds Kuyper of cultural discipleship’s true meaning. Authentic discipleship means knowing the Divine in such an intimate way that the Eternal invades the temporal, making “heaven…real even upon this earth.”
World Engagement in Abraham Kuyper’s Meditations
While the majority of Kuyper’s devotional themes would seem to lead him to a life of monasticism, this type of withdrawn, insulated lifestyle is never his goal. The content of Kuyper’s meditations make clear that he does not plan to perpetually remain in heavenly contemplation. In order for nearness to God to be a complete experience, mysticism must somehow come to bear on Kuyper’s earthly life. In short, mysticism “must become reality.” This statement elucidates how Kuyper holds seemingly paradoxical otherworldly and worldly emphases together in one belief system. Although Kuyper’s mysticism and public life require a certain level of separation, there is not such a severance that his otherworldliness cannot be applied to his everyday life as well. Thus, there is both continuity and discontinuity between Kuyper’s mysticism and public life.
Even in his devotions, Kuyper is clear that the Creator still concerns Himself with His creation, and therefore mystical union with this Creator must pertain to Kuyper’s earthly experience. For all of his devotional emphasis on spirituality, in the end Kuyper declares, “Spirituality must not be confused with unreality.” Spirituality for Kuyper is a real, tangible experience, and not completely independent of worldly life. Though his purpose in his meditations is mystical nearness to God, Kuyper’s strivings for inner transformation always have implications for the external and visible world.
In his devotional writings, Kuyper explores how the “Father-house” above comes to bear upon the earthly domain primarily through the principle of Coram Deo. Although he maintains the Creator/creature distinction and emphasizes that God resides in heaven, he also underscores the fact that all of creation stands before the face of God. Thus, by means of Coram Deo, the Invisible God draws near to the visible world, extirpating the distance between the Divine and human. This has drastic consequences for Kuyper’s spiritual life. Union with God is no longer just an otherworldly endeavor, nor is it restrained to the afterlife, but it is to be experienced in the world, by way of the Divine face.
In his meditation entitled, “Seek My Face,” Kuyper reflects upon why the face of God is imperative when speaking of the Divine/human encounter. He asserts that the face is the most relationally intimate location on the human body, and thus he emphasizes the face of God when speaking of how God draws near to humanity. Kuyper states, “We reveal ourselves in the highest sense by speaking face to face, and so our walk with God could not be illustrated otherwise, than by the privilege of being permitted to meet God face to face.” The principle of Coram Deo becomes the avenue through which Eternal and finite literally do meet face-to-face.
By uniting the otherworldly and worldly realms, Coram Deo adds an element to Kuyper’s devotional life that extends far beyond typical monasticism. Although Kuyper seeks to live before the face of God in all areas of life, it is evident that Coram Deo never develops into an excuse to ignore meeting face-to-face with God in solitude. Kuyper’s devotions illustrate that just as Coram Deo is relevant in public life, it is also applicable behind closed doors. In Kuyper’s view, Coram Deo is necessarily a public and private experience.
Balancing Otherworldly and Worldly Concerns
Abraham Kuyper recognizes that Christians must learn to incorporate both the otherworldly and worldly realms into their lives. A person does not live in one reality to the exclusion of the other. Instead, union with Christ requires living in both realms concurrently. Likewise, Kuyper does not think that earthly life is entirely dissimilar from heavenly contemplation. His goal is not to “vaporize [himself] into the spiritual,” but rather to discover the true meaning of worldly spirituality. As a result, the task of faithful discipleship encompasses learning how to live in the otherworldly and worldly spheres at the same time. Kuyper expresses this idea in his meditation, “Mine Eyes are Ever Toward the Lord:”
This now brings you to a life in two phases. On one side a life toward what is without, and on the other side a life toward what is within. Though at first these two are strange to one another, gradually there is a mutual approach until they mingle themselves and permeate each other through and through.
The essence of Kuyper’s argument is that the inner and outer lives must invade and imbue one another. He concludes that in order for this to happen, a person must attain perfect balance between the two.
Kuyper claims throughout his meditations that one of his primary goals is to strive toward equilibrium between the otherworldly and worldly domains. He desires to be “[s]trong in this world, and at the same time inspired and charmed by the world which [is] to come.” Kuyper confesses the difficulty of this task. He admits that most Christians lean too heavily to one side or the other. He contests that although many Christians do noble deeds in society, they remain ignorant of the “age to come.” At the same time, Kuyper also acknowledges that many people only incorporate the “coming age” into their spiritual lives and thus omit the significance of the present age. What may surprise many of Kuyper’s followers is that while he seeks a perfect balance between the Eternal and finite, he feels that if a person has to err on one side or the other, it is better to err on the side of mysticism.
Kuyper cogently portrays this idea in his meditation, “Mary of Bethany.” In this devotion, Kuyper reflects on the Luke 10:38-42 pericope that describes Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s home. Kuyper describes Mary as a mystical woman concerned predominantly with the internal life, and Martha as a devout woman committed to deeds of service. He asserts that both women have behaved properly and that both actions are necessary. Moreover, Kuyper maintains that Christians cannot survive without internal and external acts of faith. If either of these acts is missing, the Christian life is only fractional. Yet Kuyper recognizes that fundamentally, what concerns Christ most is whether one intimately knows Him. He avers, “And it is worth commenting upon that Mary appealed to Jesus more strongly than did Martha.” Kuyper endeavors to balance both Mary and Martha’s tendencies in his own life. Yet in the end, Kuyper deems Mary’s mystical tendencies as being most important.
Abraham Kuyper’s Devotional Emphasis on Jesus as the Lamb of God
When Kuyper references Jesus in his theological writings and public speeches, he most commonly speaks of Him as the “ascending Christ.” Kuyper views Christ as the King who stands above the French Revolution and its claims of humanism. Moreover, Christ is the King who rules immediately over all spheres of human interaction and who triumphs over Satan. In his book about Abraham Kuyper, Let Christ Be King, L. Praamsma highlights how in his public roles, Kuyper stresses that Jesus is the exalted King who sits at the right hand of God. Although Kuyper may accentuate that Christ is King in his theological publications and speeches, in his devotions, Kuyper encounters and emphasizes a different side of Jesus as well. He sees and refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” This imagery evokes the characteristics of suffering and sacrifice attributed to Christ.
Much of the tenderness and passion in Kuyper’s devotional writings come from his reflections on the suffering Christ. In his meditations, Kuyper falls to his knees and views “Christ the King” as “Jesus the sacrificing Lamb.” In this moment, kneeling before his self-emptying Savior, Kuyper finds equal footing with his audience. He is no longer the unattainable Prime Minister or learned theologian; he too is a broken sinner, bowing down before his suffering Savior. Kuyper’s experience of Jesus as Lamb primarily comes by way of the cross. Kuyper composed fifty meditations on the Passion of Christ. At the rate of writing one devotional per week, Kuyper would have spent nearly an entire year ruminating on Jesus’ death. The cross is a place of tremendous emotion for Kuyper. It is not simply a place of theological significance, but it is also a place of “sentiment.” This sentiment is clearly evident in his meditation, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!,” when Kuyper declares:
He [a person of Christian faith] trembles every time he catches that crucify Him, crucify Him! as an echo in his ear, even in his soul, and can not resist the impulse, as often as he lives that terrible hour of the past over again, with an ever fresh offering of love to make his approach to his Savior.
These remarks challenge the notion that Kuyper maintains a one-dimensional view of Christ. Granted, Kuyper mainly emphasizes that “Christ is King” in his public theology. Yet he focuses on Jesus as the “Lamb of God” in his private meditations, indicating that he knows multiple sides of Jesus.
In Kuyper’s devotional focus on Jesus as the Lamb of God he argues that true Christian faith involves suffering and death to self. He believes that hardship is inescapable for the person who truly seeks Christ. This is evident when he asserts, “Life is at best a struggle” and “Never can we escape the cross.” Kuyper is honest in his meditations about his own personal “struggles” and “crosses.” He admits that grief over his wife’s death motivated him to write, Asleep in Jesus. In addition, in His Decease at Jerusalem: Meditations on the Passion and Death of our Lord, Kuyper describes his anxiety as “awful” and “of hellish origin” in a meditation entitled, “Afflicted.” These afflictions always lead him to the cross of Christ. Kuyper communes most intimately with Christ at the cross because he sees that Christ was also afflicted. At Christ’s cross, Kuyper discovers that the proper path of discipleship entails such a deep connection to the death of Christ that he “seem[s] to be hanging from the Cross in his stead.” In order to know Jesus the Lamb, Kuyper affirms in his meditations that he must suffer for Christ in his own life.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PERSONAL PIETY AND
The primary purpose of this examination of Abraham Kuyper’s devotions and modern neo-Calvinist scholars’ lack of attention to these devotions is not merely to encourage people to pay more attention to Kuyper’s spirituality. While this is certainly needed, a simple affirmation of Kuyper’s personal piety does not address the relationship between piety and the cultural mandate that he so clearly relied on. Thus, the chief goal of this analysis is to illustrate and argue that there is a profound connection between mystical nearness to God and the call to cultural discipleship. In order to develop this argument, it is essential to examine 1) the impact of the piety/cultural discipleship link in Abraham Kuyper’s personal life, 2) the importance of this link in Kuyper’s theology, and 3) the significance of this relationship for neo-Calvinism as a whole. These three points will illustrate that like two sides of a coin, personal piety and cultural impact are two necessary expressions of a holistic and unified neo-Calvinist worldview.
Impact of the Piety/Cultural Discipleship Link in Abraham Kuyper’s Life
When examining the relationship life between being a mystic and making a cultural impact in Kuyper’s life, one cannot ignore his parallel roles as a politician, theologian, university founder, journalist, and also mystic. In Kuyper’s view, there is an unbreakable bond between these public and private roles because he sees no “chasm between…inward-looking spirituality and life all around.” He believes that his mystical relationship with Christ correlates to all of his cultural responsibilities. As a result, the mystical encounter that occurs during his private meditations does not threaten the mandate to “fill the earth,” but instead provides the framework for how Kuyper should go about this “filling.” As his inner life shapes his outer life, consequently Kuyper feels it is imperative “not merely to labor in the visible, but also in the invisible.” When neo-Calvinists divorce Kuyper’s “visible” and “invisible” practices, they overlook the link between piety and cultural discipleship, thus only offering a partial picture of his life and influence. In order to properly understand Kuyper’s life within his proposed life-system, his followers must acknowledge that his discipline of secluded fellowship with Christ directly relates to his public activities.
For Kuyper, this relationship serves to authenticate his call to cultural discipleship. Although he upholds the biblical and intellectual accuracy of his public theology, he is wary of a disconnected intellectualism. Kuyper warns that intellectualism devoid of personal piety turns his public theology into “beautifully shaped, finely cornered and dazzlingly transparent ice-crystals.” When this intellectual “freezing” seeps into neo-Calvinism, he feels that cultural engagement loses its authenticity. Kuyper’s public theology can be argued, defended, and worked out to the finest detail, but unless his theological framework is connected to a deep form of personal spirituality, it becomes desiccated and fake. Thus, authentic cultural discipleship occurs only when it is the result of what Christ is doing in the individual life of the believer.
The public life of an individual must also authenticate one’s private nearness to God. In other words, it is not enough to affirm that personal spirituality must come to bear on cultural activity, because cultural activity must also come to bear on personal spirituality. The essence of Kuyper’s argument is that both piety and cultural discipleship are insufficient when forced to stand on their own. For this reason Kuyper professes, “And therefore the mystic has something to learn form the zealot, and the zealot from the mystic. Only from the impulse of both can soul-satisfying harmony flourish.” This is why Kuyper’s mysticism need not threaten his call to cultural discipleship; only when the cultural mandate informs and counterbalances piety does piety find its proper expression, meaning, and validity. Thus, neo-Calvinists need to learn from Kuyper not only to encourage personal intimacy with Christ, but also to emphasize proper intimacy with Christ that is authenticated by cultural discipleship. Then, personal piety and cultural activity become “mutually authenticating,” with each guiding and substantiating the other. This “mutual authentication” is one of the most basic links between Kuyper’s piety and cultural activity. It forces one to constantly oscillate between Kuyper’s meditations and his public theology, viewing what he did in his public life through the lens of his devotional life, and vice versa.
Importance of the Piety/Cultural Discipleship Link For Abraham Kuyper’s Theological Principles
Piety not only influences Abraham Kuyper’s personal life, but also his entire public theology. When neo-Calvinists ignore Kuyper’s spirituality and meditations, they fail to accurately and fully comprehend his theological principles. After all, personal intimacy with God is the foundation and springboard from which Kuyper’s theological beliefs take shape. Kuyper underscores this connection when he asseverates:
Thanks to this work of God in the heart, the persuasion that the whole of a man’s life is to be lived as in the Divine Presence has become the fundamental thought of Calvinism. By this decisive idea, or rather by this mighty fact, it has allowed itself to be controlled in every department of its entire domain. It is from this mother-thought that the all-embracing life system of Calvinism sprang.
Kuyper is insisting that the constitutional idea for the emergence of neo-Calvinism is personal nearness to God. Consequently, teachings such as a Coram Deo, sphere sovereignty, common grace, and antithesis, do not form a hard-lined philosophical scheme, but instead provide a theological framework for cultural discipleship guided by individual communion with Christ. It is only when these theological principles are held in conjunction with intimacy with Christ that they attain full meaning.
A basic tenet of Kuyper’s neo-Calvinist life-system is that all of creation stands before the face of God, i.e. Coram Deo. This characteristic of Kuyper’s theological framework is often confined to a rigid principle for entering public life. However, Kuyper’s life-system must be distinguished from a set of hardened laws, because his concept of Coram Deo is inherently relational and personal.  In fact, his life-system is directly dependent on orientation to the face of God, as there is no substitution even in his theology for living Coram Deo. Neo-Calvinists are correct to contend that no part of the cosmos stands outside God’s rule or his concern. Kuyper reinforces this interpretation when he says, “[T]here 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!’” Yet neo-Calvinists should also affirm that just as every segment of society stands before the face of God, so too does every individual. Unless Christians nurture an individual life that is Coram Deo, they cannot “properly participate in the spheres that stand Coram Deo.” Hence, a proper understanding and application of Coram Deo holds individual piety and public life together.
Sphere Sovereignty, Common Grace, and Antithesis
Through personal Coram Deo, Christians are given the responsibility of discerning how to apply the principles of sphere sovereignty, common grace, and antithesis. In reality, proper application of these theological teachings is not a straightforward process. This is why discernment is such an inherent part of their practical implementation. For example, in his explication of sphere sovereignty in Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper emphasizes that each societal institution has the God-given right to self-rule its particular sphere of influence. Thus, the “University exercises scientific dominion; the Academy of fine arts is possessed of art power, the guild exercises art power; the trades-union rules over labor,” and so on. In order to seek the proper operation of the various societal institutions and ensure that they do not overstep their boundaries or fail to fulfill their purpose, discernment Coram Deo is essential. For example if the free market oversteps its bounds and infringes upon the function of the art guild by making art solely profit driven, then Christians must be able to properly determine where these infractions occur. Or if the family does not fulfill its God-designed purposes, Christians must be able to discern where and why this “sphere shrinkage” occurs. In Kuyper’s view, what underlies and guides this discernment process is a faithfulness to publicly and privately coming before the face of God. For only in these very relational encounters with the Divine does a person receive Godly guidance.
Discernment, grounded in and directed by mystical nearness to God, is also indispensable to Kuyper’s theological concepts of common grace and antithesis. There is a fundamental tension between these two ideas, and Christians must be able to discern in the midst of this tension what is in line with God’s purposes, and what opposes them. This responsibility is far from obvious, because common grace and antithesis do not divide along “Christian” and “non-Christian” lines. God’s grace extends beyond the walls of the church as “common grace,” and rebellion against God affects all of society (including the church), as “antithesis.” As a result, distinguishing common grace and antithesis becomes a discerning enterprise. Kuyper likens this to a process of investigation. He asserts:
We are sorely in need of a reminder that there is only one guiding principle for all Christian activity, for every choice and action in the life of a Christian. That guiding principle asks: What is the will of God concerning this?
Kuyper, in looking for that which is in harmony with the will of God and that which opposes it, holds everything up to the light of Christ to determine whether it points towards God’s will or against it. This means that Christians must be able to determine when non-Christians or secular society corrects their wrongs through God’s common grace. Likewise, Christians must be able to discern when Satan’s wicked schemes invade the church. This process of discernment is not directed by a rigid philosophical system, but a tender and mystical relationship with the Divine. It is only through this relationship that common grace and antithesis can be properly identified.
It is essential then that neo-Calvinists rediscover the devotional writings of Abraham Kuyper, and examine how his mystical piety relates to his theological concepts. In concerning themselves with cultural development, they should realize that Kuyper’s theological principles are not the source of cultural transformation themselves. When neo-Calvinists deem mystical intimacy with God as either irrelevant or as threatening to their worldview, their theological convictions for cultural engagement may become “tinkling cymbals.” Moreover, without personal nearness to God, neo-Calvinists as individuals may become “tinkling cymbals,” as they lose their connection to the One who enables cultural transformation. This is why personal piety is critical to neo-Calvinism as it moves forward.
Significance of the Piety/Cultural Discipleship Link for Neo-Calvinism
As neo-Calvinists turn to the future, it will be beneficial to recall that the primary feature of their life-system is its cosmic and comprehensive scope that touches every “department” of human life. While this includes realms of society such as business, politics, and art, it also entails the closed space of one’s personal bedroom, where he/she retreats to be alone with the Divine. God’s nearness not only reaches into every square inch of society, but also into the depths of the human heart. Christians are therefore called to intimacy with the Christ in both these places. When people are obedient to this call, neo-Calvinism extends to every relationship in human life just as Kuyper avows.
Kuyper advances this idea in Lectures on Calvinism, when he expounds upon the three relationships that comprise Calvinism as a life-system: “(1) our relation to God, (2) our relation to man, and (3) our relation to the world.” In order for Calvinism to truly address “every department” of human life, it must hold together all three relationships. Yet in recent times, neo-Calvinists have slighted the first relationship, humanity’s “relation to God.” When they fail to account for the full implications of this relationship, those who follow “in the line of Kuyper” actually constrict the life-system they diligently strive to make holistic. Thus in looking forward, it is critical for neo-Calvinists to reclaim Kuyper’s principle of personal “relation to God,” which he affirms must be the “starting point” of the entire neo-Calvinist worldview. In doing this, the neo-Calvinist goal of cultural transformation will be transformed itself, as it becomes dynamic, properly oriented, sustainable, and ultimately defined by what Christ does in the heart of the individual believer.
A Dynamic Life System
Mysticism makes the Kuyperian worldview dynamic. It literally breathes life into this life-system. Kuyper’s demonstrates this idea in his own life. One of his chief public aims was to “stir” Dutch Christians from “passive isolation,” so that they could combat the worldview of Modernity. In order to do this, Kuyper had to stimulate believers out of secluded inaction in order that they might create culture around Christian convictions instead of Modernity’s humanistic* convictions. What made Kuyper’s call to public action dynamic was the fact that it was accompanied by his tender meditations, a fact confirmed by his contemporaries. This dynamism caused Kuyper’s life-system to take hold in the minds and hearts of his fellow citizens, as he was able to connect his system to the life of God himself.
Kuyper thus offers an important corrective for neo-Calvinists today. Just as he connected most deeply with his readers while on his knees in prayer, neo-Calvinism can develop a more robust understanding of the call to cultural discipleship by incorporating piety as a necessary tool for engaging the world. By acknowledging that the call to cultivate the earth must be a natural expression of secluded prayer, neo-Calvinists too will instill life back into their life-system. Then, for instance, the call to be a businessperson or musician will not emerge out of a vapid philosophical system, but rather a dynamic relationship with the Divine. This does not mean that the philosophical system is negated, but only that it is engendered, vivified, and properly oriented by personal nearness to God.
A Properly Oriented Life-System
When the dynamism of one’s “relation to God” comes into contact with the cultural mandate, the call to cultural discipleship becomes properly oriented. Neo-Calvinists frequently point to the importance of creation and its “development” in their theology. Without personal spirituality supporting these efforts, neo-Calvinists risk not being able to properlydevelop the earth. For Kuyper, this proper development involves correct orientation, which must be derived from intimacy and imitation of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God,. If ignored, Kuyper’s call to cultural discipleship may be interpreted as a mandate to triumphal domination of the spheres. On the other hand, when viewed alongside his devotions, Kuyper’s call to develop the earth begins to be characterized by death to self, taking up one’s cross, and following “Christ crucified.” It is paramount that neo-Calvinists investigate the relationship between Jesus the sacrificial Lamb and Christ the King, and in turn what this relationship means for faithful cultural cultivation.
In addition, Kuyper’s devotional emphasis on the eternal and otherworldly realms is pivotal to the proper development of creation. He acknowledges that the call to cultural discipleship inevitably tempts Christians to distrust, disregard, or even disdain mysticism. This is why he warns his devotional readers to “be on guard” against the lie that the cultural mandate encompasses the entire calling of the Christian. Eternal life must always take precedence over the cultural mandate, while at the same time not interfering with or abating it. In Kuyper’s view, the Christian eschatological hope of the new heaven and new earth should not draw people further away from the world and into an insular form of existence. It should inspire people to approach cultural cultivation with even more earnestness. Kuyper cogently makes this point when he avers, “Only he who reckons with an eternal life knows the real value of this earthly life.” His point is that the meditation upon the eternal properly orients Christian believers in the call to cultural discipleship.
This is where neo-Calvinists must distinguish Kuyper’s view of heavenly contemplation from a narrow perspective that only focuses on a future life of individual salvation. While Kuyper affirms the importance of the eternal with regard to personal salvation, he also emphasizes its significance in light of the present call to properly create culture. As a result, Kuyper is not drawn away from the world by his mysticism; rather he is actually pushed further into the world. It follows, then, that dwelling in the Father-house above becomes an activity that gives Kuyper an eternal outlook, which places infinite value on earthly life and all earthly activities. As neo-Calvinists move forward, they can have confidence that even in his devotions, Kuyper’s otherworldly focus never abrogates the biblical mandate to develop and cultivate creation. It actually makes this call dynamic through proper orientation, which in turn makes cultural discipleship sustainable.
A Sustainable Life-System
When neo-Calvinism loses its otherworldly dimension that comes through personal nearness to God, the cultural mandate loses its ability to endure. This is because the “Christian life cannot be sustained by activism alone.” In his meditation, “Walks Among Those Who Stand Before God,” Kuyper confesses that there is a certain level of “heaviness” that accompanies public engagement in the world. If this heaviness is not counterbalanced, it will distort and make the cultural mandate too substantial to bear. For this reason, Kuyper insists that Christians consistently “escape earthly heaviness, and…have walks among the angels before God’s Throne, that strengthened by this access to God’s Throne, [they] may return to [their] life-task here below.” Kuyper is saying that “escape” from the world, and into an otherworldly and eternal place, is foundational to being able to enter the world in any form of sustainable way. He contends that the only way to achieve this “escape” is through the practice of personally drawing near to the Divine. After all, “claiming all those square inches for the kingdom of Jesus Christ can leave one breathless.” In order for neo-Calvinists to recover their “breath” and engage in culture in an endurable way, the relationship between personal piety and cultural discipleship must be maintained.
Christ’s Work in the Heart of the Believer
Dynamism, the proper development of creation and sustainability culminate with one central idea: unless cultural discipleship is the result of Jesus’ work in the individual life of the believer, then the goal of cultural transformation loses its purpose. This is the paramount concept in the relationship between cultural cultivation and personal piety. Kuyper admits that this is a risky idea. He acknowledges that it is easier to live a life of unbalance, where either personal piety or cultural engagement is emphasized more than the other. Yet he also realizes that this is an inherently dependent relationship. The purpose of cultural discipleship is contingent upon an individual relationship with Christ. The challenge for neo-Calvinists today is to emphasize this Divine/human mystical union as much as they do cultural engagement. In doing so, they will have to discern how to take this mystical relationship with God into public space as the basis from which to transform culture. This risk is worth taking, as evidenced by Kuyper’s own life.
In his biographical introduction to Kuyper’s meditations, To Be Near Unto God, John Hendrik De Vries admits that he is fascinated by Kuyper’s “phenomenal power.” The power he speaks of refers to Kuyper’s public accomplishments, which he calls “almost superhuman.” He then asks, “What [is] the secret of this almost superhuman power?” De Vries directly links Kuyper’s public influence to “the more deeply spiritual undercurrent in his life,” i.e. Christ’s work in Kuyper’s heart. It is crucial for neo-Calvinists to cultivate this same type of private spirituality, as this is the “undercurrent” for the call to cultivate culture. Ultimately, in order for neo-Calvinists to take on the cultural mandate with utmost seriousness, they will have to recognize that the call to culturally develop God’s creation is “significant only when it is the result of Jesus’ work in [the] heart.”
Although Kuyperian scholarship has been a central focus of criticism in this paper, it has impacted culture nonetheless. In fact, is has shaped culture within its own sphere of influence, as highlighted by Alan Wolfe in his article, “The Opening of the Evangelical Mind.” In this article, Wolfe asserts that neo-Calvinists are primarily responsible for this “opening” of mind, making Evangelical scholarship first-rate and reputable. While the “University” has certainly been impacted by neo-Calvinist academics for the better, there is a vision of cultural transformation that stretches far beyond this current impact if personal spirituality is allowed to connect to neo-Calvinist scholarship.
Beyond the relatively small world of neo-Calvinism, the more comprehensive vision of transformation that is cast when personal piety links to the cultural mandate is one that extends to the wider Evangelical world. In order to reach this world, more than the current minority of neo-Calvinist scholars will have to become known for the ability connect their personal spirituality with the call to “fill the earth” with culture. When this connection takes place, neo-Calvinists in the academy will find common ground with a greater range of Evangelical scholars and Evangelicals in general. It is this type of “breaking in” to the wider Evangelical world that is the more all-embracing vision of cultural transformation for neo-Calvinist academics.
The best place to start for neo-Calvinist scholars concerning this process is Abraham Kuyper himself, more specifically his devotions. This is because Abraham Kuyper exemplified the profound link between personal piety and the call to cultural discipleship through his own life and daily practices. His legacy therefore extends far beyond his public positions and theological publications. In light of his myriad of devotions, Kuyper’s legacy also includes his role as a mystic. Concerning this mysticism, it did not diminish his public activity or his public theology; rather, it strengthened it. Kuyper’s aim was not to become privately devotional in order to become less publicly involved, but to consistently retreat from his worldly responsibilities so that he could become even more publicly engaged.
As neo-Calvinists look to the future, it is imperative that they reclaim Kuyper’s mysticism as part of their comprehensive worldview. This does not mean that they have to accept every aspect of Kuyper’s devotional theology. The dualism and negative view of the material world in his meditations does at times directly contradict his nuanced theological concepts. This seeming paradox is worthy of investigation and debate. However, what the reclamation of Kuyper’s mysticism does mean for neo-Calvinism is that personal nearness to God must somehow connect to its public theology. This connection is fundamental to fulfilling the cultural mandate and thereby, transforming culture.
Perhaps Kuyper’s most poignant illustration of this connection between mysticism and the cultural mandate comes in his meditation entitled, “My Solitary One.” In this devotion, he paints a picture in the minds of his readers by using the Old Testament tabernacle as a metaphor for the human soul. He asserts that the soul has three parts: an outer courtyard, a holy place, and a holy of holies. Only God can enter the holy of holies, “where in utter solitude the soul abides.” For neo-Calvinists, the call to cultural discipleship ultimately depends on what happens in the holy of holies, between God and the individual heart of the believer. When they come to this realization, in all of their cultural responsibilities they will echo Kuyper by affirming, “For everything hinges on that nearness, on that feeling, ‘it is good for me to be near unto God.’”
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Wolters, Al. Comment: Equipping and Connecting the Next Generation of Christian
Leaders. “What is to Be Done…Toward a Neocalvinist Agenda?” October 14, 2005.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Until Justice and Peace Embrace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
 Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1931), ii.
 George Harinck. “Re: Devotional Dates,” email message to author, July 30, 2009.
 Kuyper, Abraham. Near Unto God: Daily Meditations Adapted for Contemporary Christians. Adapted by James C. Schaap. (Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications, 1997), 8.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 53, 171.
 Vanden Berg, Frank. Abraham Kuyper. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 48.
 Kuyper, Abraham. Asleep in Jesus, Translated by John Hendrik De Vries. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1929), 6.
 Praamsma, L. Let Christ Be King: Reflections on the Life and Times of Abraham Kuyper. (Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 1985), 121.
 McIntire, C.T. The Legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd: Reflections on Critical Philosophy in the Christian Tradition. (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1985), 4.
Critics of Abraham Kuyper referred to his world-engaging life-system as “Neo-Calvinism.” Kuyper accepted this designation.
See Also: Heslam Peter. Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1998), 87.
 Mouw, Richard. Christian Scholars Review 23 no. 2“Creational Politics: Some Calvinist Amendments,” (1993), 181-193.
The term cultural discipleship from Mouw’s article will be used throughout this paper to describe faithful obedience to the Genesis 1:28 mandate to “fill the earth.”
 Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1931), 189.
See Also: Kuyper, Abraham. Asleep in Jesus. Translated by John Hendrik De Vries. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1929), 61., Kuyper, Abraham. The Work of the Holy Spirit. Translated by Henri De Vries. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 23, 322.
 Kuyper, Abraham. To Be Near Unto God. Translated by John Hendrik De Vries. (Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College Publishing, 2005), 317.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 169-170.
 Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 325-327.
 Bratt, James D. Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 15.
 Kuyper, Abraham. The Standard Bearer: A Reformed Semi-Monthly Magazine. “On the Day of His Birth.” Volume 80, Number 15. (Grandville, MI), May 1, 2004., 357.
See Also: Kuyper, Abraham. Asleep in Jesus, 7.
Kuyper, Abraham. In the Shadow of Death: Meditations for the Sick-Room and at the Death Bed. Translated by John Hendrik De Vries. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1929), 19.
Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 474.
 Vanden Berg, Frank. Abraham Kuyper. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 303.
 Vanden Berg, 199-201.
 Heslam, 2.
 Vanden Berg, 86, 125.
* Kuyper continued as editor-in-chief of De Heraut and published weekly mediations until the final six weeks of his life, when he was no longer physically able to complete these tasks.
 Vanden Berg, 123.
 Vanden Berg, 48.
See Also: Praamsma, 146.
 Vanden Berg, 179, 182.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 16.
 Heslam, 50.
 Praamsma, 146.
 Kuyper, Abraham. Keep They Solemn Feasts. Translated by John Hendrik De Vries. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1928), Preface.
 Vanden Berg, 205.
 Kuyper, Keep They Solemn Feasts, Preface.
 Kuyper, Abraham. The Practice of Godliness. Translated and Edited by Marian M. Schooland. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977), 5.
* Pietism needs to be distinguished from piety. Pietism refers to a strand of Christianity that emphasized a particular set of beliefs, while piety is the practice of intimacy with and obedience to God.
 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, 133.
 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, 99.
 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, 99-100.
 Heslam, 50.
 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, 133.
 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, 135.
 Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 59.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 189.
 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, 134.
 Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 322.
 Richard Mouw. “Re: A Couple of Directed Study Questions,” email message to author, August 17, 2009.
 Wolters, Al. Comment: Equipping and Connecting the Next Generation of Christian Leaders. “What is to Be Done…Toward a Neocalvinist Agenda?” October 14, 2005. http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/282/
Accessed September 2, 2009.
 Kuyper, Abraham. Near Unto God: Daily Meditations Adapted for Contemporary Christians. Adapted by James C. Schaap. (Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications, 1997), 11.
 Ibid, 12.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 23.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 13.
 Vanden Berg, 260.
 This includes Asleep in Jesus, Christianity Today: A Presbyterian Journal Devoted to Stating, Defending, and Furthering the Gospel in the Modern World,* The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Messages for Good Friday and Easter, His Decease at Jerusalem: Meditations on the Passion and Death of Our Lord, In the Shadow of Death: Meditations for the Sick-Room and at the Death-Bed, Keep Thy Solemn Feasts, The Practice of Godliness, The Standard Bearer: A Reformed-Semi-Monthly Magazine,**To Be Near Unto God, and Women of the New Testament.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 230.
 Vanden Berg, 179.
See Also: MeGoldrick, James. Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man. (Auburn, MA: Evangelical Press, 2000), 12.
 Kuyper, Abraham. Christianity Today: A Presbyterian Journal Devoted to Stating, Defending, and Furthering the Gospel in the Modern World. Volume 8, No. 2. “Your Body a Temple of the Holy Ghost,” 38-39.
 Kuyper, Abraham. The Practice of Godliness, 98-99.
 Praamsma, 108.
 Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 58-59.
 Kuyper, Abraham. The Standard Bearer: A Reformed Semi-Monthly Magazine. “Thou Renewest the Face of the Earth.” (Reprinted from When Thou Sittest in Thine House) Volume 80, Number 7. (Grandville, MI) January 1, 2004, 162-163.
 Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 334.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 524-528.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 86, 194, 354, 427.
 Kuyper, In the Shadow of Death: Meditations for the Sick-Room and at the Death Bed, 19.
 Vanden Berg, 201.
 Kuyper, The Standard Bearer: A Reformed Semi-Monthly Magazine. “On the Day of His Birth,” 357.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 22.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 220.
 Vanden Berg, 124.
 Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 326-327.
 Kuyper, Abraham. The Work of the Holy Spirit, 326-327.
 Lugo, Luis E. Religion, Pluralism, and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 128.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 8-9.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 38.
 Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Meditations for Good Friday and Easter. Translated by Henry Zylstra. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960), 21.
 Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Meditations for Good Friday and Easter, 37.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 30.
 Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem: Meditations on the Passion and Death of our Lord. Translated by John Hendrik De Vries. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1928), 143.
Kuyper asserts, “This world is not your Father-house. Your native land is above. And if you truly are God’s child, you can not do other wise than clash with that world.”
See Also: Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Meditations for Good Friday and Easter, 129.
Kuyper affirms, “The Scripture always affirms that the conflict of life is the conflict between the world and heaven.”
 Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Meditations for Good Friday and Easter, 13.
 Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Meditations for Good Friday and Easter, 45.
Kuyper avers, “Things visible militate against God…There is mortal conflict between the visible things of the world and the invisible quality of Jesus’ soul.”
See Also: Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 178.
Kuyper states, “[S]pirit and matter, god and the world, stand over against one another, so that the distinction between the two must never be lost sight of, because then willingly or otherwise, we are irresistibly drawn into Panetheism.”
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 130.
Kuyper affirms, “With God everything material falls away, but what remains is the utterance of the spiritual, the rich, full expression of the essential.”
 Kuyper, Abraham. The Standard Bearer: A Reformed Semi-Monthly Magazine. “Sheep in the Midst of Wolves.” Volume 83, Number 5 (Grandville, MI), December 1, 2006, 114.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 73.
 Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Meditations for Good Friday and Easter, 22.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 335.
* Coram Deo means that all of creation stands “before the face of God.” See: Lectures on Calvinism, 53.
 Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem, 143.
Throughout his devotions, Kuyper repeatedly uses this phrase, “Father-house.” This term refers to heaven or God’s temple, a place Kuyper believes it is necessary to reflect upon in meditation.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 41.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 60.
 Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Meditations for Good Friday and Easter, 129.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 354.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 102.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 142.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 11-12.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 73-75.
 Kuyper, Christianity Today: A Presbyterian Journal Devoted to Stating, Defending, and Furthering the Gospel in the Modern World. “The Firstborn From the Dead.” Translated by John Hendrik De Vries. Volume 6, Number 11. April, 1936, 251.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 430.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 200-204.
See Also: Kuyper, Abraham. Near Unto God: Daily Meditations Adapted from Contemporary Christians. Adapted by James C. Schaap. (Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications: Eerdmans, 1997), 11.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 204.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 200-201.
 Kuyper, Abraham. Women of the New Testament: Thirty Meditations. Translated by Henry Aylstra. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1933), 40-42.
 Bratt, James. Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 119.
By focusing primarily on the ascending Christ in his theological publications and speeches, Kuyper combated the ideas of Modernity that denied the deity of Christ.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 11.
See Also: Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, 2.
 Praamsma, 149-155.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 27-28.
 Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem: Meditations on the Passion and Death of our Lord, Forward.
 Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem, 131.
 Kuyper, The Practice of Godliness, 29.
 Kuyper, The Practice of Godliness, 15.
 Kuyper, The Practice of Godliness, 90.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, vii.
 Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem: Meditations on the Passion and Death of our Lord, 99.
 Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Meditations for Good Friday and Easter, 24.
 Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem: Meditations on the Passion and Death of our Lord, 143.
 Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, 172.
 Kuyper, Keep Thy Solemn Feasts. Translated by John Hendrik De Vries. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1928), 307.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 305.
Kuyper states, “He who only strives after a book-knowledge of God, can not enter into this, and will never be able to brook this vigorous word of Jesus.”
See Also: Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 281.
Kuyper criticizes when “book-learning” supplants true piety.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 15.
See Also: Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 207.
Kuyper avers, “Bare intellectual knowledge of God, which is not applied by the will to our life, is a frozen ice-crust under which the stream has run dry.”
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 6.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 541.
 Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Until Justice and Peace Embrace. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 156-157.
Wolterstorff contends that “work and worship are mutually authenticating,” and I have appropriated this idea to the relationship between piety and cultural discipleship
 Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism, 26.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 53, 69.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 73-75.
 Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, 488.
 Richard Mouw. Directed Study Meeting, Pasadena, CA, May 27, 2009.
 Mouw, Richard. The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2007. “Culture, Church and Civil Society: Kuyper for a New Century,” 48.
Accessed September 6, 2009.
See Also: Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 6.
 Richard Mouw. Directed Study Meeting, Pasadena, CA, April 13, 2009.
Dr. Mouw often stresses the critical role of discernment in the Christian call to cultural discipleship.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 96.
 Richard Mouw, “Christ and Culture”, Class Lecture, May 20, 2009, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.
 Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem: Meditations on the Passion and Death of Our Lord, 52.
See Also: Kuyper, Keep Thy Solemn Feasts, 307.
 Richard Mouw, “Abraham Kuyper”, Class Lecture, May 20, 2009, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.
See Also: Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, 15-16, 165, Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 121-126.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 125.
 Kuyper, The Practice of Godliness, 17.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 8.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 8.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 171.
 Kuyper, The Standard Bearer: A Reformed Semi-Monthly Magazine. “Thou Renewest the Face of the Earth,” 163.
See Also: Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 399, Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 20.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 19.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 171.
 Mouw, Richard. The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2007. “Culture, Church and Civil Society: Kuyper for a New Century,” 48.
Accessed September 10, 2009.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 20.
 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, 16.
* The term “humanistic” refers to Protagoras’ idea of “homo-mensura,” or man the measure. This is the idea that humans beings are the “measure of all truth, meaning and value.”
Richard Mouw, “Christian Worldview and Contemporary Challenges” Class Lecture, 2000, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.
 Van Til, Henry. The Calvinist Concept of Culture. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), xiii.
 Brat, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, 82.
 Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, 176.
 Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ, 56.
Kuyper states, “Die his death with Him who reaped life for you from the agony which engulfed Him. Fathom the fullest significance of the truth that only through death can communion with Jesus’ death be found.”
 Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem, 131, 133-138, 139-143, 183.
See Also: Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ, 43, 52-56.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 187.
 Kuyper, Keep Thy Solemn Feasts, 307.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 130.
See Also: Wolters, Comment: Equipping and Connecting the Next Generation of Christian Leaders. “What is to Be Done…Toward a Neocalvinist Agenda?” October 14, 2005. http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/282/
Accessed: September 9, 2009
 Kuyper, Christianity and the Class Struggle. Translated by Dirk Jellema. (Grand Rapids, MI: Piet Hein Publishers, 1950), 56-59.
 Kuyper, Near Unto God: Daily Meditations: Adapted for Contemporary Christians. Adapted by James C. Schaap, 7-8
See Also: Richard Mouw. Directed Study Meeting, Pasadena, CA, May 27, 2009.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 60.
 Kuyper, Near Unto God: Daily Meditations: Adapted for Contemporary Christians. Adapted by James Schaap, 7-8.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 8.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 7.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 8.
 Kuyper, Asleep in Jesus, 6.
 Wolfe, Alan. The Atlantic Online. “The Opening of the Evangelical Mind.” October, 2000.
Accessed September 16, 2009.
 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 96.
 Wolters, Al. Comment: Equipping and Connecting the Next Generation of Christian Leaders. “What is to Be Done…Toward a Neocalvinist Agenda?” October 14, 2005. http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/282/
Accessed September 16, 2009.
 Praamsma, 146.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 430-431.
 Kuyper, Keep Thy Solemn Feasts, 169.
See Also: Kuyper, His Decease at Jerusalem, 96, 143. Kuyper, The Death and Resurrection of Christ: Messages for Good Friday and Easter, 22, 45, 129, 139. Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 130, 178, 533. Kuyper, The Practice of Godliness, 13.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 80.
 Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God, 23.
Clayton B. Cooke received a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is co-executive director of School of Love where he seeks to major on the majors.