Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art by Abraham Kuyper
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.https://www.clpress.com/publications/wisdom-wonder