quinta-feira, 6 de março de 2014

The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship: Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper by Richard Mouw

The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship: Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper by Richard Mouw

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012 (236 pages)
This volume is a collection of thirteen articles and chapters that Richard Mouw regards as the “back story” of his more popular presentation of ideas stemming from the work of Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Calvinist theologian, journalist, and politician. The frase “in the line of” is an important indicator of the approach Mouw takes to Kuyper’s legacy; less a “party line” than a general framework of Reformed theology applied to a range of subjects. One vital dimension in this regard is that Mouw intends not only to extend Kuyper’s legacy, but also to offer important corrections of some of his ideas. This corrective move can be seen as early as the first essay, “Calvin’s Legacy for Public Theology,” which addresses not only Calvin’s complex legacy but also that of Kuyper, particularly the way in which his theory of sphere sovereignty was appropriated in support of the apartheid system in South Africa. Mouw acknowledges that while Afrikaners drew on Kuyper’s unfortunate view on race and the imprecision in his articulation of social spheres (which was taken in South Africa to include races as cultural spheres that should be separate), they failed to live up to and express the liberative dimensions of Kuyper’s thought that stem from his belief in Christ’s lordship over “every square inch” of life and the pursuit of a flourishing civil society.

Kuyper’s doctrine of sphere sovereignty receives significant attention in four chapters, and one of Mouw’s most interesting contributions to the Kuyperian conversation comes from his willingness to consider various ways to refine this well-known theory of structural and worldview pluralism. Sphere sovereignty is an idea Kuyper developed to articulate a world that is under the authority of the one true God, a God who structures the created order in such a way that various forms of social organization (church, family, business, state, education, and so forth) have their own integrity; it is also a way to carve out public space for confessional institutions such as Christian schools. Some discussions of this topic emphasize a strong distinction between sphere sovereignty and the Roman Catholic view of subsidiarity, which has a more vertical approach (one only moves up to the next level of institutions when it is necessary) in contrast to the more horizontal cast of Kuyper’s theory. Mouw argues that while it is important to place an emphasis on the integrity of spheres, at times there is a place (or even a need) for a vertical hierarchical dimension as Christians engage the various dimensions of life.
Mouw also gives attention to philosophical dimensions that stem from this line of Kuyper, such as the work of Herman Dooyeweerd. Mouw’s essay, “Modal Diversity in Dooyeweerd’s Thought,” will provide a helpful view of this philosopher’s approach to patterns of social interaction (modes) while presenting a good example of critical engagement and contemporary application.

Readers of this journal will be particularly interested in Mouw’s engagement with the work of Stephen J. Grabill in “Law, Covenant and Moral Commonalities.” The chapter expresses appreciation for the retrieval of natural law while also pointing to other ways that Reformed theologians have articulated the “commonness” that exists among all humans, regenerate or otherwise. Doctrines such as common grace and the idea of covenant are highlighted as ways in which humans can identify commonality though not in primarily cognitive ways. Mouw concludes that the natural-law tradition needs greater consideration but not exclusive attention as we consider human life together.

Following a very interesting chapter (“Creational Politics”) that sympathetically engages the Anabaptist tradition and specifically John Howard Yoder, there are several chapters in the latter half of the book that attend to the heirs of the Dutch Calvinist legacy. Klaas Schilder’s important contribution to faith and culture, splits in Calvinist denominations, the identity of genuine Christians, reflection on seminary education, the unique legacy of Dutch-American philosophical reflection, and the salvific status of infants in relation to baptism are covered; the ethnic emphasis should not dissuade any from entering these conversations and considering how the legacy of these Christians can illuminate the larger concerns of Christians everywhere. The book also contains a very helpful appendix that explains important terms and denominational identities.

While this reviewer wishes “the line of Kuyper” were familiar to most Protestants, such is not yet the case. This volume, along with Mouw’s recent introductory work to Abraham Kuyper, helpfully contributes to the aim of making this important theological legacy more prominent.
—Vincent Bacote
Wheaton College, Illinois