Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Father Abraham


I'm not my father's clone. None of us are xerox copies. 

That probably doesn't need to be said. Still, there are Yosemite-level echoes of my father's life--his character, his way of doing things--within my personality and my very will. I don't look like him, I towered over him, in fact; and although we got along well, we weren't best buds. Still, he's in me, irrefutably. And I'm okay with that because he was a good, good man. Lord knows I could have done worse. Honestly, I think he'd say the same thing about his boy, with a bit of a wary eye.  

We are, in some ways, echoes of the noises that once could be heard all around. I had two prominent great-grandfathers, a quick-talking, reckless and even feckless implement salesman who spent too much of his life with a drink in his hand and women other than his wife in his eye, a man who, reportedly, was the life of the party and thereby made life miserable for his wife and kids.  

On the other side stood another great-grandfather, this one an absent-minded professor of theology--church history--who, his obit claims, was hardly a stellar preacher but could wind a yarn with the best of 'em. These two great-grandpas shared two identities, they were both Dutch and they were both Reformed; but within that narrow slice of ethno-religious American life, they could not have been more different.

What I'm saying is my DNA has a good shot of both.

Henry Ford did a ton of things right, but he was dead wrong about history--it's not bunk at all. It's marvelously telling, and I'm really loving James Bratt's new biography of the Dutch theologian and Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper, whose character and vision still enlivens the way scholars in the Christian world see their tasks. "Worldview"--everybody uses the term these days, but it belongs to Abraham Kuyper, whose famous "square inch" rule-of-thumb is something Bratt himself now says needs to be mothballed if for no other reason than tired overuse.

We're composites of histories, of course, even though many of us don't care. If you do, and you've got Dutch Reformed blood especially, you'll probably like the Kuyper bio, which is subtitled Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat, because you'll find yourself in the story.

I'm in it, in a thousand ways, even though my entire family was here, in America, significantly before Kuyper rose to prominence and power. I'm in it, in a thousand ways, even though my own great-grandfather, the seminary prof, was scared to death of the man's theology and once co-wrote a book titled Old Calvinism and New Calvinism, a study meant to thwart the wildly off-based influence of a man named Abraham Kuyper. 

Why on earth does Dordt College have such an odd name? The reason I've always given was because of the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). That's only half the truth.  The other half is that Kuyper almost singlehandedly determined that the Synod of Dordt's foundational work would be the gold standard for those churches he led in a split from the State Church of the Netherlands. He determined that what some Reformed still call "The Three Forms of Unity" would be the very foundation of orthodoxy. One of those forms?--The Canons of Dordt. Hence, Dordt College.

It took me most of my life to discover discover that, even though I strove in the institution's vineyards for forty years--and that's almost biblical.

I could go on and on. For me, reading Bratt's bio is like finding myself, a curriculum we're blessed with throughout our lives, I guess. We are free agents, after a fashion; but the courses of our lives and our eternity (listen to the Calvinist!) are not always out own. 

I've got Professor Hemkes in me, the writer who never trusted Abraham Kuyper. I don't doubt that he looks down at this great-grandson of his and shakes his head because try as he might, as he did fervently in his life, that great-grandson became exactly what he didn't want followers of our Lord to become, a Kuyperian.

So are we predestined? Are we little more than the sum of our histories? Was Calvin right about election? If I knew everything there is to know about you, could I predict which new sweater you're looking at on Amazon is the one you'll choose? To what extent are we our own?

Is our whole existence pre-determined?

Go ahead, talk among yourselves.  

There are many good reasons to read Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat.  He remains quite startlingly influential among academics especially in American evangelical circles.  

All I know is I'm really enjoying finding myself and my own story in the life and times of a man who never once lived in America, a burly Dutchman who didn't always go to church, despite being a preacher himself, a man named Abraham Kuyper.

3 comments:

David said...

I'm reading right now too Jim. It is the work of a very good historian. I am learning just as much about the context of Kuyper as about Kuyper himself.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, James, you summed it up better -- this Kuyper cling -- than what many of us can say, or even think, about these things "Reformed." TY

Anonymous said...

James, wake up! why in the world do you want to continue the sad confusion of election (predetination; salvation by God's grace alone,Thank you,Jesus!)and predetermninism (e.g., that God ordained before the earth's foundations were laid that it would take me so long to respond to your confusion). God may well be looking over your shoulder to see how you will name tomorrow's beast(Genesis 2:19), but you can't do s__t to add to your secure place as child of God.
JohnK