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Review: Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition

IVP Academic, 2017. 365 pp.
Many students of theology are exposed to Abraham Kuyper in an introductory systematic theology or church history class, often seen as a developer and ancillary thinker of John Calvin. He is perhaps most famously known for his bumper sticker-esque motto: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!'” However, many students do not spend considerable time studying Kuyper’s life and specific teachings. Much of this disconnect has been due to the lack of access to his writings. With massive translation projects underway in his original Dutch language, the writings of Kuyper are surfacing and becoming more accessible to non-Dutch speaking readers. Thus, Craig G. Bartholomew believes that his new text, Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction (IVP Academic, 2017), has come at the right time to expose thinkers—Reformed or not—to rediscover the wonder of Kuyper’s theology.

This book is, at its essence, a systematic theology through Kuyper’s eyes. Catholic doctrines, such as the doctrines of creation, Scripture, and the church, are explained from a Kuyperian perspective, and doctrines that Kuyper is particularly known for, such as the doctrines of sphere sovereignty, social action, and education, are given considerable space. Bartholomew draws from the Dutch Calvinist’s original writings and corresponds with Kuyper’s thinking, connecting the theologian’s history and interpretation of Scripture, and contrasts it with divergent theological systems. Ultimately, Bartholomew judiciously evaluates Kuyper’s doctrinal platforms to connect its relevance to the modern world.
Bartholomew brings the 19th century theologian to life, showing his relevance to the modern world. 
Overall, this is an enjoyable—albeit heavy—read. Students interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Reformed theology from a uniquely Kuyperian perspective would benefit greatly from reading this book. This book would also be useful for Calvinist pastors and those who are questioning their position on the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum. Bartholomew is succinct yet sufficient in his writing and presents Kuyper’s doctrine in a relatable manner. Most notably, Bartholomew argues that Kuyperian theology ought to be dusted off in our current age, an age he believes is ready to embrace Kuyper. With a society that values social action and questions the connection between church and world, this introductory primer to Kuyperian theology is set to aid us in these endeavors. Bartholomew brings the 19th century theologian to life, showing his relevance to the modern world. Perhaps this book will help us recover the heart of Kuyper’s teaching—to interact and engage with a world which God sovereignly invites us into redeeming.

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(My thanks is given to IVP for providing a complimentary review copy in exchange for an honest review.)

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