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Abraham Kuyper and John Calvin: Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism compared

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Dordt College

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  1. Introduction
  2. The close relationship between Christianity and social improvement
  3. The three ways in which Christ spoke about the social problems
  4. Failure of the church to accomplish its mission
  5. Context and comparisons
  6. Cultural activities and influences
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

On November 9, 1891, the Dutch pastor and statesman Abraham Kuyper spoke to the first Christian Social Congress in the Netherlands on a profound and continually relevant subject?poverty. The address was peculiarly relevant to that time, even past-due, as Kuyper himself announced in his opening remarks. The squalor in which much of the population of modern nations lived had become a glaring problem . It could not be ignored and responses were numerous and varied. Among these responses were a large number that claimed to be specifically Christian in origin and idea . As a leading Christian statesman?and one, as we shall see, who was already known for advocating the universal application of a religious view of life?Kuyper felt that the Dutch Christians were addressing the issue none too soon; moreover, it was becoming a vital matter for the reputation and purity of Christianity itself, as Socialism, a movement designed chiefly to deal with this social problem of poverty, began to claim that it was the Christian response.

Kuyper agreed that there was substance in this claim, that although Socialism's method of dealing with poverty was not the Christian one, it could not be denied that Christ has demonstrated in his own life, and in his commission through revelation in the New Testament, a fundamental responsibility toward the suffering of the poor . In fact, Kuyper said, ?we should feel ashamed that the voice of conscience has not spoken more loudly within us before now, or at least that it did not stir us to earlier action.?

[...] It has been argued that Kuyper was a romantic?that is to say, he possessed an epic view of himself (which does not discount the Christian humility that one sees in his life), a theatrical flair in public life, an embattled and stark outlook on the various forces and movements he interacted with, and a deep commitment to individuality, personality, and the ?sovereignty of genius?[x]. He was an ambitious and farsighted man, who laid claim by vigor and audacity to much of the success he achieved. [...]

[...] To understand him, one must understand Calvinism (as he knew it). But the Calvinism one must understand in Kuyper is considerably different than the Calvinism one may find in Geneva in the fifteen hundreds in the mind, heart and life of founder John Calvin himself. Although both Kuyper and John Calvin held to many identical central ideas, both were prolific writers and both were earthquakes to their respective political situations, still they exhibit important differences as men, in their theology, and in their social activity. [...]

[...] But this did not serve to establish universal justice and fair economic distribution, primarily because, Kuyper claimed, the church lost its way in some sense by growing too fast, and conforming to the ways of the world rather than causing the world to conform to its ways.[viii] Partially because of the failure of the church to accomplish its mission, according to Kuyper, the world tried to deal with the social problem in another way?a way apotheosized in the French revolution. [...]

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