Abraham Kuyper (1837 – 1920) was an energetic multitasking Dutchman. He was a pastor, theologian, journalist, and politician. He founded a newspaper, a university, a political party, and a denomination. During his long career, which extended from the 1860s until he died in 1920, he regularly wrote articles for his newspaper, taught theology at the university he founded (Free University of Amsterdam), and led his political party as a Member of Parliament and eventually as the Prime Minister.
As a young man, Kuyper earned his doctorate in theology at the University of Leiden. While there, he was influenced by liberal theology, but in his first pastorate he underwent a transformation, partially because of a pious woman in his church who boycotted his liberal sermons. As a result, he became an evangelical Calvinist who wrote hundreds of meditations about the need for believers to turn away from the demands of active life and spend private time with the Lord.
Nevertheless, Kuyper was not content with a faith that dealt only with personal spirituality. He believed our faith should touch every area of life. Though he wrote on numerous subjects, his greatest contribution is likely summarized in the manifesto he issued at Free University’s inaugural convocation: “There 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!’”
The biblical basis for this belief is primarily the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1:28 in which God told Adam and Eve not just to “be fruitful and multiply,” which is a call to reproduction, but to “fill the earth.” God went on to command them to “have dominion” or “rule” over the garden and all that is in it. That is, they were to introduce something new into the garden. A major implication of this is that God’s people are to be responsible for the processes and products of human culture.
Later God gave His chosen people, the Jews, “instructions not only about how to worship, but also about farming, family life, politics, economics, the fashioning of beautiful things, their relationships with other tribes and nations – in short God choose Israel as a means of putting on display some of his original intentions for cultural processes and products. Once again (despite the Fall) there would be people on the earth who would direct their lives towards his glory, ‘filling the earth’ and ‘having dominion’ in ways that pleased the Creator.”
Kuyper was not a proponent of “theonomy”, i.e., that all nations are to be governed by God and in accordance with the civil laws of the Old Testament, but he did believe that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17) and “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:23). “Whatever” extends to every area of life – philosophy, science, anthropology, economics, law, politics, business, education, art, social order, etc. – not just theology and the spiritual life.
Kuyper strongly objected to the view of the Middle Ages that the Church should govern everything – state, art, economics, family, science, etc. Likewise, he strongly objected to the secularist view that the Church should be kept separate from everything. Rather his view is that God’s rule extends directly over all of our lives, summarized by his “not one square inch” manifesto.
This means that followers of the King should be doing “kingdom work” wherever they are – whether farmers or businessmen, artists or housewives. This implies not only praying and witnessing in their jobs and pastimes, but seeing even the small details of their lives for His glory.
Kuyper coined the term “sphere sovereignty.” This means that every cultural sphere has its own place in God’s plan for the creation, and each is directly under the divine rule, though not under Church rule, as the Church of the Middle Ages held. A Kuyperian scholar expressed it this way, “Each sphere has its own identity, its own unique task, its own God-given prerogatives. On each, God has conferred its own peculiar right of existence and reason for existence.”
All Christians do not agree with Kuyper’s view of sphere sovereignty, and few of us are as gifted multitaskers like Kuyper. However, we should all agree with him that a Christian worldview must touch every area of life. Thus, “when we leave church each Sunday, we should have marching orders for service in the Kingdom.”
I have devoted the last forty years of my life and ministry to making disciples of Jesus Christ. For me, that has meant introducing people to Jesus, as well as helping them learn to trust and obey Him. Most of my teaching has been focused on the narrow area of their personal relationship with Christ, with the exception of some biblical teaching on subjects like family, finances, and government.
At this point in my ministry, however, I’m reflecting on how I can encourage Christ-followers to develop a Christian worldview that touches their job, their pastimes, indeed every area of their lives. This is what a Christian university should be doing, but I don’t think this is sufficient. Many believers who have attended Christian schools and have been exposed to this concept seem to be dichotomizing their lives between secular and sacred after graduation.
I believe we should be teaching, preaching, and stimulating discussion in our churches on this important subject. Possibly we should encourage believers who are engaged in similar professions to meet occasionally as a group to pray, study the Bible, and discuss how a God-centered worldview should influence their particular Kingdom calling.
P.S. For further reading on a closely related subject, I would suggest the summer 2012 issue of EFCA Today, entitled “Fitted for Work: Celebrating the Power of Vocational Calling.” You can find it at http://www.efcatoday.org/