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It is the year 2010. We are in the middle of a period in which Islam forms the central focus for much of the world. It is possible that we stand at the door of an entirely new era of world history in which Islam will be much more dominant than it has in the immediate past centuries. Only time will tell.
For the West, this is not the first time Islam has claimed so much attention. There were the Crusades. There was the Andelusian Muslim civilization from AD 711 AD till 1492, at one time covering almost the entire Iberian peninsula. This meant the Western heartland was confronted with the Muslim challenge at its very doorstep for almost eight centuries, a force they could not afford to ignore and which became an important stimulant for Western cultural development. But then the challenge receded into the distance. Kuyper’s book on Muslim civilizations around the Mediterranean was written during another transition period, namely the time of the collapse of the Turkish Caliphate or Sultanate in 1923.
As Kuyper’s Introduction shows, this work became very popular in its country of origin, The Netherlands. This material is translated from a copious work of two massive volumes. They were expensive in a time of limited wealth. Kuyper was delighted that, in spite of general poverty and the limitations of a small Dutch-language market, the first 5000 copies sold immediately and within two months two more prints appeared. What especially enthralled him was that a young lady almost immediately prepared a Braille version of this entire two-volume set! Clearly this was a subject of major interest to the Dutch populace. A popular Dutch writer, J. W. Schulte Nordholt, wrote almost a century later, “We can learn much from this book. Though the main theme of this work is not altogether clear to me, it contains much interesting random data. A traveler around the Mediterranean today will still find much enjoyment from reading these century-old Kuyper books and is sure to appreciate them.”22Trouw, July 8, 1994.
Of course, there may have been additional reasons for the popularity of this work. Kuyper himself was a Dutch icon. Since the 1870s he had been at the centre of a battle for Christian liberation of the Dutch Calvinist masses from the tyranny of a state-church alliance that was dominated by modernist liberalism, today described as secularism. The battle was waged organizationally, spiritually, politically and in print at every major cultural front in the country. The end product was a host of Christian organizations, including a new denomination, and a new sense of power among the people he championed. They took over the government with Kuyper and, later, succeeding leaders of the movement serving off and on as Prime Ministers till this day. Until well into 2010, the Dutch Prime Minister, J. P. Balkenende, described himself as a Kuyperian.33Balkenende stated, “In case any of you should still doubt this: I am a Kuyperian in heart and soul. That is due to my upbringing, my education and the path of my career. But I am especially a Kuyperian from conviction.” J. P. Balkenende, “Speech by Prime Minister J.-P. Balkenende on the occasion of the unveiling of the statue of Abraham Kuyper in the town of Maassluis on 5 November, 2008.” Princeton Theological Seminary, Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology, The Kuyper Center Review, Vol. 1, 2010. Due to the triple influence of secularism, Barthian theology and stultifying traditionalism that requires new oxygen for rejuvenation, the resulting social structures based on religion and worldview are currently lamented by some Dutch citizens as “verzuiling.” However, the system is lauded in other quarters, including and especially foreigners, as the most effective guarantee for the freedom of all religions and worldviews.44H. ten Napel, pp. 93, 97-102.. J. Boer, 2009, pp. 82, 416.
While engaged in this whirlpool of re-organizing society, Kuyper also wrote an entire library that includes massive tomes of heavy academic and philosophic treatises as well as many volumes of meditations marked by a wholistic piety—in distinction from pietism, which is not wholistic!55J. Boer, 1979, pp. 446-449. -- and innumerable articles in the newspapers he himself established, one of which, Trouw, still exists as a daily and is now part of an international publishing conglomerate. This entire body of Kuyperiana was very popular in his day. In the course of these writings, Kuyper led his people in the development of a new worldview that was orthodox but hardly “conservative” as that term is popularly used today, and significantly different from existing Christian traditions and philosophies, even though borrowing heavily from them. It can be said that he re-arranged or re-combined existing philosophical and theological concepts into a dynamic new Christian worldview that features a heavy emphasis on this world and society without losing sight of the spiritual and eternal sides of creation.
I have introduced elements of this new school of thought in Volumes 1, 5 and 8 of my series Studies in Christian-Muslim Relations as well as some other publications.66See also the introduction to Kuyper in my Essay One in this book. For other introductions to Kuyper see my website < www.SocialTheology.com/ kuyperiana >. It goes by various names, such as Neo-Calvinism, Kuyperianism, Neo-Kuyperian even, and Reformational. Succeeding generations strove to produce a more or less full-fledged Christian philosophical system that is matched among modern orthodox Christians only by Roman Catholics.77To pre-empt criticism of this statement, I hasten to explain that Kuyper and his allies made grateful use of existing Western philosophy, but they fused these various philosophical concepts into a unique combination. It is widely sought after by Christians throughout the world today who are seeking to develop a Christian worldview that can responsibly counter secularism and Islam. Unfortunately, they are hampered by language problems, since many of the core publications exist only in Dutch, a language not widely understood. Fortunately, the movement is spawning an increasing number of English publications, to which this translation is a small contribution. I have only recently learned about the exciting and ambitious hopes of the Kuyper Center at Princeton Theological Seminary to translate all or most Kuyperiana into English.
I am offering this English translation of Kuyper’s discussion on Islam not because he was an expert on the subject nor because I agree with all his opinions, allegations or predictions. In fact, I don’t. My reason is that it is interesting for his 21st-century heirs to learn how Kuyper, the pioneer of an emerging international school of philosophy and social action, interpreted the Islamic movement of a century ago, the same movement that today is once again at the centre of the world’s attention. How did this pioneer of wholistic Christianity and assailant of an intolerant secularism a century ago interpret Islamic wholism and its resistance to secularism? I leave potential implications for today for you to ponder.
Kuyper was a reformer or, in more contemporary language, a social transformer, a radical transformer in the sense that he went to the root of things he tackled, to their radix. He was not a radical in the popular modern sense in that he sought to overthrow existing structures and replace them with others that had no basis in history, as is the tendency of liberal secularism. He constantly sought to base his claims and efforts on both the Bible, the deep historical roots of his own country, as well as on various strands of existing philosophies. But, prophetic as he was, he could hardly be expected to transform an entire society in one lifetime. He remained a child of his time and, while tackling important cultural sectors, left others in their traditional state, often embracing the popular notions of his day that may be rejected today. He is faulted for that and, sometimes, deeply resented and criticized, especially by some Christians involved in the feminist movement. Sometimes he is said to have unwittingly prepared the foundations of South African apartheid. However, I have listened to a Black South African88I regret not knowing the brother’s name. My file of the conference is incomplete and he is one of its unfortunate casualties. speaking at a Kuyper centennial celebration at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1998, who stated that he stood before this international forum of scholars precisely because he was a product of the Kuyperian liberation movement. In short, no man, woman or even movement can do it all in one generation. It is sufficient that descendants continue the transformation over succeeding generations in areas not touched by “Father Abraham.” He did lay the foundations for expanding the entire Christian horizon, worldview and range of social action, even if he did not apply it as fully as some demand today, a century later. Will expecting more of one man or movement be fair or reasonable? Kuyper had to leave some things for us to do!
Kuyper leaves us with an intriguing question. Interwoven throughout the article is the reality of Western imperialism that then as now rattles the Muslim world as well as myself. Being a politician of note, even Prime Minister of his country, as well as a pioneering liberation theologian of orthodox vintage, one would think that Kuyper might have had some sympathy for the Muslim community’s political plight and indicate at least some misgivings about Western aggression. One detects none of that in this publication, even though he was aware of Muslims’ chaving under this yoke.
My comment, I hasten to say, is not mere cheap hindsight. The ecumenical movement of the day was acutely aware of the un-Christian behaviour of the West vis a vis its colonies and did not hide its dismay.99J. Boer, 1979, pp. 103-105; 1984, p. 114. Similarly, Kuyper was painfully aware of the parallel problems caused by laissez faire capitalism in his home country and railed against them in radical terms: “The law of the animal world, dog eat dog, became the basic law for every social relationship.”1010A. Kuyper, 1950, pp. 22, 35-36, 16. J. Boer, 1979, pp. 16, 47; 1984, pp. 31, 137-138. And, yes, he did also recognize similar dynamics in colonialism and had a certain ambivalence towards it.1111J. Boer, 1979, pp. 47, 466-467, 469, 471-472. It does not appear that he ever overcame this ambivalence. However, I would argue that if the main contours of Kuyper’s predilection as a liberation theologian/politician had been allowed to work themselves out, Kuyper would have ended up on the side of Johannes Verkuyl, a Kuyperian missionary of a later generation. He was imprisoned by the Dutch for siding with the Indonesians in their struggle for independence. It was another point on which Kuyper and most of his successors did not achieve clarity.1212This ambivalence continued to characterize Kuyper’s political party for decades and kept it from developing the radical stance to which the Kuyperian perspective really should drive his heirs. This ambivalence among Kuyperians eventually drove the American Kuyperian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, retired Yale professor, to near despair. He cried it out about his church, the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC), being so proud of its Kuyperian heritage but having become so “quiescently—sometimes even oppressively—conservative.” (N. Wolterstorff, 1983, p. ix. J. Boer, 1992, pp. 187-188.) Why did that happen? How could this happen? I believe it has to do with the constituency climbing the socio-economic ladder from working class and low middle to middle, high middle and managerial class. Marx was correct about our worldviews and religions tending to follow changes in our economic conditions more than following the authority of our Holy Book, not infrequently regardless of that Holy Book. We may not consciously turn away from the Book, but our interpretation gradually and unnoticeably changes to conform to the new situation. The CRC constituency that spawned the Christian Labour Association in the USA during the 1930s, rejected all overtures made by that body during the 1990s. During the transition of its constituency from a largely labour community to one of owners and managers, it also changed from pro-union (Christian) to anti-union, including Christian, while Well, that’s a whole story in itself—and a lucid example of Marx’s thesis.
An explanatory note: There are many references throughout the article to events, persons and place names that are not immediately clear to most 21st-century readers. I considered inserting explanatory footnotes. Then I realized that almost all of them can be found on the internet and have only to be “googled.” So, for those who want all those details, I refer you to the internet. I could not find any information about some names or events on the internet, neither about their meaning nor their English spelling. Those I marked with a star (*). For those who are interested only in the general perspective Kuyper offers, the article will suffice for a starter as it stands.1313I encourage you to google the original title of this book, Om de Oude Wereldzee, for further introductions to and discussions about this work.
A cautionary note: Be it understood that translating it all does not translate into agreeing with it all.
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