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, February 10, 2014

Reading Bratt's Kuyper (iv)


When you think about it, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Abraham Kuyper were almost contemporaries, Hawthorne preceding Kuyper by a generation or two. Still the air they breathed was full of similar issues.

In this country, there lived a man named Emerson, who threw off every last shackle of church life to found his own free-thinking, free-wheeling New Age-ish fantasy land. We call Mr. Emerson and his gang of dreamers "transcendentalists" because they wanted to trust what was spiritually within them far more than what was empirically outside them. They were feelers, not thinkers--although they weren't idiots. They tended to trust the heart and the soul, not so much the mind. 

Many were Hawthorne's good friends. They were an especially literary group, and wanted him in their circle--Hawthorne was, after all, a literary man.  But Hawthorne didn't always trust the dreamers; perhaps unwillingly, he had too heavy of a Calvinist ancestry to deny original sin, a condition that created a healthy (maybe unhealthy) dose of skepticism. 

But he liked Emerson and the transcendental gang, or perhaps we should say he disliked disliking them. He found himself often stretched thin between impulses of his heart and testimonies from his head.  He couldn't be overly "romantic" because he really couldn't believe in the divinity of man. Just couldn't. 

Kuyper, in Europe, attended the university at a time in the shadow of the transcendentals. After the first of his conversions (by way of a novel given to him by his wife), he threw off whatever silly transcendentalism he might have carried and opted instead for a more thoughtful, reasoned existence.

Not so strangely, given his homeland birthright, he took to John Calvin's ideas as if they'd cut a path for his own mind. Calvin was an intellect not to be toyed with. I once had a prof--not a Christian believer--who told me that he believed the power of Calvin's Institutes was that they contained and explained absolutely everything anyone knew at the time. Calvin was a thinker, more a thinker than a dreamer.

Already on the cover of his book, James Bratt calls Kuyper a "modern Christian" because Kuyper was a Christian in the modern-ist sense, someone who was far less given to flights of fancy in faith, then he was honed doctrine or ideas; he was far more at home thinking than feeling. He was a "modern" because during most of his life he rolled his eyes at touchy-feelies, if that makes sense. Let's put it this way--the strength of Abraham Kuyper's contribution to faith comes by way of what he thought, not what he felt.

Hawthorne's short story "Ethan Brand" features a man so driven by thought--by pursuing the exact definition of the Unpardonable Sin--that he loses touch with his humanity and humanity itself. In his exacting search for a perfect answer, his heart turns to stone.

Hawthorne, like all of us, is often conflicted by the sometimes contrary impulses of what we'd like to do and what he has to, between passion and intellect, between the claims of our minds and our hearts. What mysteries existed between them is often the setting for Hawthorne's stories.

He died in 1864, just about the time Kuyper found an answer to his questions in the theology of John Calvin. They were not contemporaries.

But in the strife of the impulses both of them felt throughout their lives--the often contrary desires of mind and heart--they were very much contemporaries.

As are we.

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