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two Dooyeweerd in Context Calvinism, Modernity, and Pluralism I noted in chapter 1 that Kuyper formulated the idea of sphere sovereignty in the context of a concrete political struggle for religious pluralism in the nineteenth-century Netherlands. Understanding what this struggle represented is important for appreciating the sense in which his pluralistic theory of society, and that of his intellectual successor, Dooyeweerd , could be both Calvinist and, in an important if qualified sense, modern. Kuyper was the leading figure in a significant resurgence of Dutch Calvinism in the second half of the nineteenth century.1 A prolific theologian and influential church leader, he was also active through much of his life as a journalist, scholar, political activist, party leader, and ultimately prime minister (1901–1905). He was also the prime mover in the founding of the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) of Amsterdam in 1880. The year before, he established the Calvinist-inspired Antirevolutionary Party (ARP), so named to indicate its repudiation of militantly secular French revolutionary liberalism rather than its hostility to progressive social reform . Kuyper regarded Calvinism not only as a theological doctrine or ecclesial movement but also, like Catholicism, as a cultural force rooted in a distinctive and comprehensive vision capable of illuminating and guiding every aspect of thought and life. His theology of culture elaborates this central theme.2 Its starting point was the classic Calvinist conviction that God had appointed human beings as his representatives on earth and commissioned them to serve him in all aspects of their indi20 Dooyeweerd in Context 21 vidual and corporate lives. Humankind is placed within an ordered, dynamically unfolding creation governed by a coherent framework of laws, conformity with which will lead to human fulfillment. The “scholastic” separation of life into natural and supernatural realms undermines the integrality of man’s religious situation, Kuyper asserts. God’s grace redeems the natural realm and restores it to its original created purpose, and hence there is no need for the institutional church to function as the privileged intermediary through which grace elevates nature. The institutional church is indispensable as the community in which true faith is nurtured, but the effects of grace permeate natural life directly through the obedient action of ordinary believers in family life, business, education , or politics, without being directly administered or sanctioned by the church.3 Accordingly, associations founded by Kuyperian neo-­ Calvinists rejected at the outset the practice familiar among many Catholic associations of the time whereby ecclesial authorities directly guided or even controlled associational policy. Thus, for example, the Free University was to be free from control not only by the state but also by the church. Kuyper’s goal has been described as the “rechristianization” of Dutch culture,4 but the term risks misconstruing his actual objectives. Insofar as he worked tirelessly to restore Christian influence in Dutch public life, he sought to move toward this goal not by claiming a privileged political­ status for the church or its confessions, as had his early Calvinist and Puritan forebears, but rather by instituting a constitutional and legal framework that recognized the equal rights of all existing confessional or ideological groups—Calvinist, Catholic, Liberal, Socialist—to participate in the shaping of public life. He represents a decisive shift, as Skillen puts it, from an early Calvinist notion of a “covenant of grace,” in which right religion was a condition of political power, to a principled endorsement of “equitable public pluralism,” a constitutional model accommodating all these ideological groups without officially disfavoring or disadvantaging any of them.5 Kuyper can be credited as a major contributor to the emergence of a modernized, religiously and culturally plural consociational democracy in the Netherlands.6 Working in a strategic political alliance with his Catholic co-belligerents in a campaign for recognition from an unsympathetic political establishment dominated by Enlightenment liberalism, 22 h e r m a n d o o y e w e e r d Kuyper struggled to resist the confinements of what many orthodox Christians experienced as a secularizing Liberal hegemony over public life, first in education and then in journalism, politics, the trade union movement, the academy, broadcasting, and other cultural sectors.7 The political party he founded served in governing coalitions during much of the twentieth century, supplying several prime ministers,­ including, as noted, Kuyper himself for a brief—and not wholly­ successful—period. Kuyper not only pioneered the institutionalization of equitable public pluralism but also campaigned—fitfully and not always consistently—for the democratization of...


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