For Christians wishing to rise above the circumambient imbecility of American public discourse in order to make a constructive contribution to American politics and public life, Abraham Kuyper is an especially helpful guide (especially if his framework of thought is complemented and enhanced by the contributions of other public theologians such as Lesslie Newbigin and Martin Luther King, Jr.).
I regularly refer to Kuyper in my classes, talks, and opinion pieces, so it is not unusual for people to ask which books to read to gain an understanding of Kuyper’s thought. In light of the regularity of those inquiries, I put together a list of twelve resources I recommend. I will describe each book and then rank its level of difficulty on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most difficult. Level 1 is the category for a book you could give to any friend or family member. Level 5 is the category for a book that might be required in a PhD seminar.
- Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (ed. James Bratt). This book is the best primary-source introduction to Kuyper’s framework of thought. Published in 1998, editor James Bratt selected 16 of Kuyper’s key essays or speeches, and provided them in English translation for the first time. Through this book, the reader is briefly introduced to some of Kuyper’s most important statements about society, culture, politics, and education, as well as Kuyper’s conversion narrative, his critique of Modernism, and his classic speech on “sphere sovereignty.” Level 3.
- Lectures on Calvinism. Whereas the Centennial Reader provides a broad perspective of Kuyper’s thought, Lectures on Calvinism provides a more in-depth perspective on Kuyper’s philosophy of society, “sphere sovereignty.” This book is the English translation of the Stone Foundation Lectures delivered at Princeton University in 1898. B. B. Warfield oversaw the translation project, going so far as to reject the first (flawed) translation and commission a new cadre of translators. This book can be paired with Peter Heslam’s Creating a Christian Worldview, which is a detailed commentary on Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism. Level 3.
- Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (12 vols.). Regretfully, the only exposure Americans have had to Kuyper’s theology is through his Lectures on Calvinism or perhaps through second-hand caricatures offered by critics. Thankfully, Lexham Press is publishing 12 volumes of Kuyper’s public theology, including Common Grace, Pro Rege (my personal favorite), Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto (another of my favorites), On Charity and Justice, On Islam, On the Church, On Business and Economics, and On Education. Five of the volumes are available, with the others scheduled to be completed over the next couple of years. Level 2-4 (depending on the volume).
- Richard Mouw, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction. This book is, ahem, a short and personal introduction to Abraham Kuyper’s life and thought, and is the most accessible secondary-source introduction to Kuyper’s thought. Level 2.
- James Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. This scholarly (but accessible) biography elucidates Kuyper’s thought within the context of his life and ministry. Bratt draws upon many Dutch-language sources, including Kuyper’s voluminous correspondence, his speeches, and many of his books and lectures that are as-yet untranslated into English. Level 4.
- Craig Bartholomew, Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction. This is the first systematic English-language introduction to the Kuyperian tradition, drawing heavily upon Kuyper himself but also upon Herman Bavinck, J. H. Bavinck, Groen van Prinsterer, Herman Dooyeweerd, and other intellectuals and leaders associated with Kuyperian thought. Bartholomew himself is a world-class intellectual, and as a result of his interaction with the Kuyperian tradition, the reader is offered a rich and challenging volume. Level 3.
- Luis Lugo, ed. Religion, Pluralism, and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century. In this edited volume, a number of Kuyperian thinkers mine Kuyper’s legacy in order to “put it to work” in the twenty-first century. Topics include pluralism, justice, democracy, and globalization. Level 4.
- John Bolt, A Free Church, A Holy Nation: Abraham Kuyper’s American Public Theology. This book draws upon Kuyper’s thought to provide a model for Christians who wish to be engaged in politics and public life. He addresses economics and wealth, pluralism and theocracy, evangelicals and Roman Catholics, Walter Rauschenbusch and Jonathan Edwards, and Alexis Tocqueville and Lord Acton. Level 4.
Public Theology and Political Science in the Kuyperian Tradition
- Richard Mouw and Sanders Griffioen, Pluralisms and Horizons: An Essay in Christian Public Philosophy. In this fine little book, two Christian political philosophers work from within a Kuyperian framework of thought to address the problem of Christian faithfulness in a plural society. Level 3.5.
- James Skillen, The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction. Skillen is a political scientist and the former director of the Center for Public Justice. Operating with a basically Kuyperian framework, he argues for a “principled pluralist” view of politics and public life. Level 3.
- David Koyzis, Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies. Koyzis is one of the world’s premier Christian political scientists, and this book’s critique of modern political ideologies displays the fecundity of Kuyperian thought for 21st century politics and public life. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Level 3.5.
- James K. A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology. This book is not yet published, but I’ve read the rough draft. Smith works from within the Kuyperian tradition, but also draws heavily upon Augustine and O’Donovan in this thoughtful and provocative book. Level 3.5.