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By Jan H. Boer
Miracles, spiritual healing, demons and angels – these and related topics are once again high on the Christian agenda. I say “once again,” for in the days of the Bible and during many centuries of Christian history these were topics of utmost concern to people of all continents, of all cultures and of most religions, including the Christian religion. It is only the last couple of centuries that the very reality of these practices and forces has been challenged, particularly in the Western world.
Though I welcome their return on the agenda, that does not mean I fully endorse the way these items have returned or the theology that supports this return. That theology is often too narrow in its scope to the point of frivolity. In the Nigerian context, its easy acceptance by Christians of all stripes, regardless of their denominations, can be explained partially because these concerns are so deeply Biblical and partially because they are so similar to major concerns in our traditional religion.
I offer you a translation of a discussion on these subjects originally written by Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper (1837-1920) was a pastor, theologian in the Reformed or Calvinist tradition, a Christian philosopher, Christian politician, Christian educator in The Netherlands. He even served as Prime Minister of his country. His stimulation led to the establishment of a Christian educational system, a full-fledged university, a Christian political party, a Christian press and led to the formation of a truly pluralistic state, in distinction from a secular one, that created structural and institutional room for all major persuasions in the country. He was also a prolific writer. Furthermore, he was a progenitor of liberation theology. It was one of his conscious aims to free the common people of his country from oppression by the government, the state church and other forces. That battle he won. He placed such an imprint on his country that more than 70 years after his death, one cannot understand his country without reference to Kuyper.
I offer you this translation because of what he writes about miracles, healing, demons and how he relates all of these to science. It is not everyday that a successful politician and social crusader writes about subjects today largely associated with the charismatic movement. Too often discussion on these subjects are far removed from the social, economic, political and scientific developments in which they take place. Too often this discussion is narrowed down and has so little relationship to other aspects of life that much of it seems trivial. In contrast to this situation, Kuyper’s discussion is WHOLISTIC. That is, he places these concerns in a very broad framework and relates them to many other aspects of culture. It is this wholistic approach that renders his affirmation of these phenomena so unique. He frees these concerns from the realm of the trivial and puts them squarely in the middle of history, science and other cultural developments.
The book in which this material is found is a three-volume work entitled Pro Rege. The entire 3-volume work represents a wholistic exposition of the Kingdom of Christ and covers wide areas of cultural life in The Netherlands in particular and in Western Europe in general. Students of Kuyper and students struggling with the integration of the Christian faith and life often refer to this work of Kuyper. However, in keeping with the long-standing Western skepticism with respect to the world of spirits and powers, I do not know of a single reference to this part of Pro Rege on the part of researchers.
Underlying this wholistic emphasis is the Cultural Mandate of Gen. 1:26-28, the very first command in the Bible, the command to rule and develop this world. Kuyper’s interest in the world has its basis on this Mandate. It is this mandate that prevents him from separating the spiritual and material into distinct compartments. It leads him to explore the relationship between scientific and spiritual affairs. Science and other cultural activities derive their importance from the God-given mandate to rule and develop creation. Sin has incapacitated the human race from doing so adequately, but Christ and His Sprit have liberated the human spirit from the idolatry of nature and thus freed mankind to fulfill its mandate.11 For a brief English-language discussion of the Cultural Mandate, see J.H. Boer, Missionary Messengers of Liberation in a Colonial Context: A Case Study of the Sudan United Mission (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1979), pp. 491ff. J.H. Boer, Missions: Heralds of Capitalism or Christ? (Ibadan: Daystar Press, 1984), pp. 138, 150-152, 155, 159-160. J.H. Boer, Wholistic Health Care of, for and by the People (Lagos and Jos: Christian Health Association of Nigeria 1989), pp. 25-26.
An additional but related reason for offering you this translation is that English-speaking Evangelical Christians are trying to find alternatives to their social irrelevance of the last century, an alternative that remains true to the basics of the Gospel. For this reason, interest in Kuyperiana is increasing amongst them, for he seems to offer a kind of model to a wider Christian approach to the world—but language is a barrier. Hence, when I informed some of my friends on the staff of Fuller School of World Missions in Pasadena, California, about this project, they enthusiastically encouraged me to proceed and make this material more widely accessible.
Kuyper’s works are, of course, marked by the time and culture in which he lived, though because of his prophetic spirit, he was y no means bound by them. He writes that it is difficult to understand the fear that people of earlier or other contemporary cultures have for nature. Yes, difficult for someone of his time and culture, but not for Africans. He struggles against the Western idea of a universe closed to spiritual influences and forces. That was necessary in his context but hardly for Africans who are deeply and experientially aware of the reality of the world of spirits. He refers to developments in the arts, but ignores African art since he knew nothing about it.
In spite of these alien elements, Kuyper’s struggle is very relevant for us in Nigeria, for most Christian missionaries came from the West and were afflicted with typical Western blindness with respect to much of the spiritual world. Their blindness is part of the inheritance of many mission churches in the country and it has rendered much of the established church powerless over against the world of the spirits and helpless over against many kinds of sickness. The upsurge of charismatic churches is a reaction to that powerlessness inherited from Western missionaries. Kuyper challenged that blindness and powerlessness at the home front not only, but also explains it. His discussion goes far in helping us understand that weakness in the missionary movement, even though his focus was on his own culture rather than the cultures that were targets of missionary activity in his day. Charles Kraft’s book Christianity With Power22 Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 1989. represents a more recent treatment of the same missionary weakness, a very fine treatment, but lacking the comprehensive view of the work of the Holy Spirit in cultures affirmed by Kuyper.
This translated segment of Pro Rege betrays a degree of cultural optimism along with a high view of Western culture, both of which constitute a second foreign element. To some degree, Kuyper shared this optimism and appreciation with his contemporary Europeans. He was deeply appreciative of science and technology and had great expectations from them. He could hardly be expected to have foreseen the problems we recognize today with respect to these modern phenomena. He was also impressed by the deep impact the Christian faith had made on Western culture and by the relative superiority this faith had given Europe. Yet, Kuyper was more critical of the undercurrents of his own culture than most of his contemporaries. In fact, Pro Rege was written to counteract much of that culture’s tendencies. Those familiar with the body of Kuyperiana know how deeply aware he was of the shortcomings, not to speak of decadence, of his culture, especially in the spiritual-philosophical realm. He was among the foremost opponents of the colonial rape of many Southern peoples.33 For an English-language summary of Kuyper’s view on colonialism, see J.H. Boer, Missionary Messengers of Liberation in a Colonial Context: A Case Study of the Sudan United Mission, pp, 47, 469-472. Also J.H. Boer, Missions: Heralds of Capitalism or Christ? Pp. 137-139. For a similar summary of his views of Western culture, see also Boer, 1979, pp. 11, 16-17, 466-467 and Boer, 1984, p. 31.
Kuyper had many unusual ideas about miracles and the demonic world. He was not afraid to go against the grain of popular opinion of his day on these subjects. The traditional Christian view was that miracles and so-called “faith healing” belong to the distant Christian past. They were neither necessary anymore nor possible. Kuyper rejected this opinion and strongly affirmed their continued relevance today and their possibility. Miracles, according to Kuyper are still possible, and so is faith healing.
Probably the most novel aspect of Kuyper’s view of miracles is that he regards them as belonging to human nature. If it were not for the fall into sin, the power to perform miracles would be common to all of us. When Christ performed miracles, He did so not as the Son of God, but as the Son of Man, as the representative of the restored human race.
Another intriguing aspect of Kuyper’s view on miracles is his emphasis on the fact the power to perform miracles has been retained by various practitioners of traditional and Muslim religions. While today’s Christians tend to deny followers of those other religions that power and often relate it to the world of tricks and deceit, Kuyper points to the Egyptian wise men of Moses’ days as well as to the plain and undeniable reports of such powers brought to his attention by returned missionaries. It is time modern Christians once again acknowledge these powers. Kuyper’s explanation for this phenomenon is deeply satisfactory and can help us come to grips with them.
We must be careful not to jump to premature conclusions. While various Christian communities are known to reject medical science in favour of so-called “faith healing,” in line with the Cultural Mandate, Kuyper holds science in high regard and thinks of it in terms of the “greater works” of John 14:12. He strongly rejects any dichotomy or incompatibility between medical science and faith healing, while he condemns those who resort exclusively to faith healing. Medical science, along with science in general, is a great gift from God through Christ. Science is thus not something secular that has nothing to do with Christ or religion.44 For a further discussion on this subject, see Boer, Wholistic Health Care of, for and by the People, pp. 10-12. But while Kuyper has high regard for the Christian origin of science, he also realizes that science is often practiced in a secular or ungodly spirit. I will leave it up to you, the reader, to discover how Kuyper explains this apparent contradiction.
Kuyper repeatedly insists on the reality of the demonic world. He rejects all Western attempts at reasoning that world out of existence on basis of pseudo-scientific arguments. He insists that the central thrust of Christ’s ministry on earth was to defeat the demonic. To rationalize that world out of existence is not only unrealistic, but it also takes the heart out of Christ’s work.
I have personally met Nigerian Muslim Malams who, after their conversion to Christ, insisted on having practiced all kinds of demonic powers on various victims. Only today did I hear the testimony of a young man consciously devoted by his parents to the demonic world from his childhood on into adulthood. He told me of the wicked and awesome powers he possessed during that stage in his life. Through a dramatic conversion experience he escaped from the clutches of demonic powers. To maintain that kind of emphasis in a secular culture took a great deal of courage for a man of Kuyper’s standing.
The Nigerian church has long suffered from a missionary heritage of dichotomy of spirit and material. We tend to divide life into water-tight religious and non-religious compartments, into spiritual and non-spiritual affairs. This dualistic division has long prevented Christians in Nigeria from entering politics. The Western church is often rightly accused of having reduced the Gospel to mere spiritual dimensions and of thereby having trivialized, marginalized it in society. Kuyper represents that part of the Reformed tradition that formed an exception to this Western tradition; he strongly rejected any such compartmentalization. You will find him a strong advocate of integration of life and religion, one keenly aware of the interplay of the spiritual and the material. These cannot and should not be compartmentalized; they belong together. Because of this integration of the spiritual and material, Kuyper became a great reformer in both church and society.
Finally, it must be acknowledged that, while Kuyper was an original thinker and a powerful writer, he did not allow himself the time to write carefully or to edit. From a technical point of view, his writings suffer from certain defects. Frequent repetition and poor organization mar his style. When it comes to writing, he himself is an example of the instinctive approach he describes in these pages. Dutch readers may notice that I have made occasional attempts to correct these problems where they went out of hand.
I doubt that it is necessary to emphasize that I am not prepared to defend all Kuyper’s statements or claims. Nevertheless, I offer this translation to you in the firm conviction that its perspective can serve us as a corrective in the area of spirits and healing not only, but also help us get rid of our dualisms and the subsequent “Christian” trivialities in our lives.
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