Abraham Kuyper as a Third-Way Thinker
Religion & Liberty Online

Abraham Kuyper as a Third-Way Thinker

The Calvinist International recently interviewed Allan Carlson, author of Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies – And Why They Disappeared

Could you tell us a bit about your view of how the Dutch polymath Abraham Kuyper influences your project?

I came across Abraham Kuyper fairly late, but was delighted to discover such a strong communitarianism within the modern Reformed/Calvinist tradition. Calvinism has too often been associated, of late, with individualism, modernism, and capitalism. Such “isms” certainly do not fit Calvin’s Geneva nor 17th Century Puritan Massachusetts. Kuyper’s warnings about “the power of capital” and the ways in which Commercialism undermines family bonds translate the authentic Calvinist socio-political heritage into modern circumstances. I also love the name of his political association: The Anti-Revolutionary Party. It drives home the point that all Christians—not just Roman Catholics—were threatened by the Jacobins of 1789.

You include Kuyper as a pro-family and third-way thinker. However, in America the Kuyperian tradition has tended to split between two extremes: a left wing and a right wing. Are there any notable writers who manage to hold together Kuyper’s own brand of Christian democracy? If so, what are their primary emphases?

I am not qualified to analyze the Kuyperian tradition in America, with any authority. Yet I would point to an American writer in the conservative Reformed tradition who ably understood the “family” and “life” questions: the late Harold O.J. Brown. A convert to Calvinism from Catholicism, “Joe” Brown was close to Francis Schaeffer, an editor at Christianity Today, and a professor of theology at several Reformed seminaries. He was instrumental in pulling American Evangelicalism back from its flirtation with abortion rights in the late 1960s/early ’70s. His book-length commentary on Pitirim Sorokin [see below], The Sensate Culture [1996], is particularly relevant.

And related to the foregoing, in what respect can Protestants appropriate the social thought of, say, Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum while remaining faithful to Protestant principles?

Perhaps my theological antennae are damaged in some way, but I find nothing in Rerum Novarum that is incompatible with important tenets of Protestantism. Neither Luther nor Calvin witnessed the Industrial Revolution or Modern Finance Capitalism. Leo XIII, in contrast, did face a “New Age.” In this encyclical, he offers a theory of history to explain the growing concentration of wealth in a few hands and the concurrent loss of autonomy and dignity among the working class. He also presents, in broad strokes, a program of reform, focused on responsible ways to restore property to workers and their families, to make them owners of homesteads and productive land. I find both his historical analysis and his proposed response to be sound.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).