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Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art Paperback – November 10, 2011
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Abraham Kuyper was a profound theologian, an encyclopedic thinker, and a deeply spiritual man who believed that it is the believer's task 'to know God in all his works.' In a day when secular science is seeking to establish hegemony over all knowing, and when postmodern art is threatening to bring an end to art, Kuyper's solid, Biblical insights can help to restore perspective and sanity to these two critical areas of human life. --Chuck Colson, Founder of Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview
The appearance of this treatise in English translation is for me the beginning of a large dream come true. Kuyper's writings on common grace are much needed 'for such a time as this', and Wisdom & Wonder is a marvelous foretaste of more that is to come! --Richard J. Mouw, President and Professor of Christian Philosophy of Fuller Theological Seminary
About the Author
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) is a significant figure in the history of the Netherlands and modern Protestant theology. A prolific intellectual, he founded a political party and a university, and served as the prime minister of Holland from 1901 to 1905. His enduring passion was to develop a theology for the general public and was seen in his extensive elaboration of the doctrine of common grace.
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This new translation by Nelson Kloosterman is a wonderful addition to the existing works of Kuyper's already in English translation. Vincent Bacote guides us through the political and social ramifications of Kuyper's theology in a short but insightful introduction. Seeking to understanding Kuyper and common grace, Bacote writes, "Common grace is God's restraint of the full effects of sin after the Fall, preservation and maintenance of the created order, and distribution of talents to human beings" (26). While modern people might still make sharp distinctions between science and art, Kuyper brought together both fields under the domain of scientific investigation. This new translation is a great joy for many, including myself, because we need Abraham Kuyper to help elucidate a vision of cultural engagement and theological maturity that is neither `Club Christianity' nor dominated by a secular worldview. How does Abraham Kuyper engage the cultural capital of his time while remaining true to the faith he held so dear?
In his first section on Wisdom, Kuyper makes a claim regarding humanity made in the image of God that is more than just a recognition that we belong to God's race. He writes, "If this is so, then it follows automatically that in relation to the image of God, no single human being bears this feature of God in its fullness, but that all talent and all genius together comprise the capacity for incorporating within itself this fullness of the thought of God" (43). Rather than keep the discussion of the image of God and humans to a description of attributes (communicable and incommunicable), Kuyper reveals that there is a harmonious functionality to the rich talent and aptitude of human nature. No one human being comprises an ultimate slice of the talents and skills engendered by being made in the image of God. Furthermore, for science, it "arises from the fruit of the thinking, imagining, and reflecting of successive generations in the course of centuries, and by means of the cooperation of everyone" (43). As scientific discoveries permeate across centuries, the fruit of investigation reveals the myriad number of people working as individuals for the goal of truth that builds up the entire human race. Yet, the goal of wisdom from scientific work was not a an alien unchartered pathway, but "that God himself developed his own divine plan for this construction, created the geniuses and talents for implementing that plan, and directed the labor of everyone and made them fruitful..." (46). God was the one who called science into being and provided the material and social means for its advancement as an independent reality.
Kuyper in his chapter on education draws out the implications between unbelieving science and the science done by believing Christians (101). He rightly indicates that the study of such secular subjects is not evil in of themselves, but `the wrong use non-Christians perspectives have made of such study' (100). The perceptiveness that Kuyper brings to the table about education is very important. He makes mention of the true goal of education that is `an edifice of the whole of science built on a Christian foundation' (101). I encountered a kind of repudiation of belief and evangelical antagonism in college, coming from a believing background. Yet, this kind of antagonism pushed me to further study, engaging fellowship with other believers, and connection to a healthy church. Yet, I think for some their faith is lost in the midst of power struggles, professor's ridicule, and no one to turn to for help. I disagree at a point with Kuyper's assessment that `With escalating determination, unbelieving science substitutes a completely atheistic worldview for ours,' because in today's world the universities are replete with postmodern philosophies that are entirely confused about their ability to rightfully speak truth about a given subject. Atheism might be part of the problem but it is not the only issue at stake. Even in this point, the realization occurs that most lecterns are not filled with unbelieving educators but educators from every swath of belief from postmodern to virulently hostile to faith matters.
The last few chapters on wonder, creativity and worship are essential to Kuyper's development of an avenue to display God's glory. Kuyper writes, "Song and music must speak to the human heart in the fullness of worship in a way that impels you to worship" (167). There is an indispensable link between the quality of the one offering song and the direction the praise is to go. The reason for this is that God deserves the best musical expression we have to offer because of who he is, not necessarily because our skills are to be to be seen by others. Another point that Kuyper makes that is worth mentioning is the relationship between `our personal spiritual life and our artistic life' (175). There is a strong emotional bond that develops as we attach ourselves to music, enough to a certain extent to cast us away control and balance. If everything is align itself with a desire to enjoy art, then art becomes an idol that dulls our sense of the creativity of God in the face of art. What is clear in these chapters is Kuyper's sensitivity to the directional intent of art and music. Not content with absorbing art or music for its own sake, Kuyper pushes his readers to see both the illuminative and destructive intent of art.
On a critical note, Vincent Bacote mentions in the introduction that `Kuyper regarded Africans as far behind other civilized groups' and hinted at a kind of racial prejudice that counter his own arguments for common grace and multiformity. We see this on pg. 97 where Kuyper writes, "Superstition cannot survive where the light of science shines." Rather than just throwing down the gauntlet of full force judgment, I think this point in Kuyper's thought brings out that sin even reaches those most cultured and educated and blinds them to their own thoughts.
This book was a wonderful read! Enlightening, challenging and nothing less than deeply insightful, Kuyper captures the reader with the world God has made and the intricate connection between all areas of thought through a Christian worldview. I heartily recommend this book!!
Thanks to Christian's Library Press for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for review.
Last fall, a friend of my husband's recommended that he read Abraham Kuyper's book on Common Grace. So, I was excited to come across a new translation from Christian's Library Press titled Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art. Kuyper's book De Gemene Gratie was actually a large three volume work. There aren't any full translations of Kuyper's book into English, but the Acton Institute (which published this book) has embarked upon a project to fully translate this book. Wisdom and Wonder is the first selection from this project--it is two sections that were mistakenly omitted from the first edition of De Gemene Gratie and were added to a later edition.
Abraham Kuyper lived from 1837-1920. He founded a university and political party in the Netherlands. He also served as prime minister of that country for four years from 1901-1905. He believed strongly in the role and responsibility of Christians to be involved in the culture they live in.
Kuyper saw common Grace ..."(as) God's preserving work in the created order." Pg. 25 Interestingly, "Common grace is God's restraint of the full effects of sin after the Fall, preservation and maintenance of the created order, and distribution of talents to human beings." pg. 26 in the Introduction.
I believe it is very important to engage with the culture we live in--to not run away from science and art. Kuyper operated from a view of science that is different than our culture holds today. "Kuyper understood science in a broad sense to refer to something belonging to creation, something God made, to which the Creator assigned a unique calling." Pg. 20 Science came into being because of God, in Kuyper's view. How different that is than how we view it today! It is very easy to become cynical today and feel that what we do makes no difference in this world. But, we have to guard against cynicism. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and for many that means being called to public service, the study of science, or the arts. We can glorify God in these occupations and in all our involvement in political and cultural domains. The goal of the translator and editors of this book is that it would whet people's appetites to care and engage with our culture.
So, I have to stop here and make a confession. I understood the Introduction and am so glad that I read it. I began reading Part One on Science, but stopped. It is too dense for me. My husband, though, read most of the book. My husband would say it isn't to dense for me--that I just need to work harder to understand it. I know he sincerely believes that I could process the writing in this book. But, God gives each of us different gifts and capabilities. I am thankful that when he reads a book like this one it makes a lot of sense to him and he retains the information. The problem for me is that in the midst of juggling all of my responsibilities to my family I don't have enough space, peace, and quiet to focus long enough to process this book and the deep theological and philosophical underpinnings and outworkings of the concept of common grace. This book is very dense, because Kuyper was a deep thinker who had a lot of valuable thoughts to share.
If you are interested in Kuyper's ideas and want to learn more, I'd suggest you read a preview of the book on Amazon. I do think this book is more readable than a lot of theology books I've tried.
I am glad the Acton Institute cares about our culture and is actively seeking to promote the ideas that will give people ammunition to fight the growing cynicism of our culture towards helping others and engaging with the political and cultural realms of where they live. If you would like to learn more about the Acton Institute, please google the institute. Christian's Library Press is the publishing arm of this organization.
Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Christian's Library Press.
Kuyper reads the Bible literally, in particular the Garden of Eden and mankind's fall, and ponders some provoking issues about what the Fall meant for the development of science and art. His writing, while dated and in many places relevant only to the most conservative Christian, is intelligent and opinionated, and the translation is elegant. It's a pleasure to read.
Kuyper sees Adam's fall from grace as a major setback in both science and art, and the beginning of human attempts to recapture the beauty of both. Never can we approach what we once shared in paradise, nor can we begin to imagine the beauty of the world to come, but God has been gracious in awarding us at least a little glimpse of the beauty of his creation, through the avenues of science and art.
Both can be misused, of course. It requires a proper Christian outlook to remain on track, lest we fall into the dangers of Darwinian thinking or (shudder) nude modeling. Certainly the charm of this book is its antiquated quaintness, while simultaneously uncovering Kuyper as a profound theologian. The translation is superb, a perfect tone for the discussion.
Whether you are a conservative seeking comfort in old time religion or a historian of post-enlightenment Christianity, this book is a gem.