Eerdmans recently published James D. Bratt’s biography of Abraham Kuyper. Dr. Bratt is a professor in the history department at Calvin College and teaches as an adjunct professor of church history at CTS. I recently sat down with Dr. Bratt to discuss the book.
Kerux: What do you think it is about Kuyper that makes him so relevant for today?
Bratt: Well, from a theological background, you have the “Young, Restless, Reformed”—the real macho, hard-edged group. What attracts those guys, Kuyper has: he is an uncompromising predestinarian; he’s a supralapsarian; divine-decree theology—he’s all over it. However, he has a much richer, more biblical, more logical fulfillment of that predestinarian logic, and also a channeling of political activism out beyond the two or three hot-button issues into a whole systematic political program, and thirdly the positive engagement with culture: how do you think and act consistently as a Christian with the entire culture?
Kerux: How did you begin to negotiate his prolific output when putting together the biography?
Bratt: The method I picked up in graduate school was to pick up [a person’s] occasional addresses to a popular audience. That’s where I began. Then, there has been a proliferation of Kuyper studies in the Netherlands. These Dutch historians are consummate micro-historians; they just dig the bajeebers out of particular turfs. So I worked off those secondary sources to get the context. Then I read through maybe five of these big two- or three-volume systematic things. These were almost always originally newspaper articles collected together at the end of a multi-year series. That was my way of respecting his work as a journalist. So I tried to get a legitimate cross-section of his works.
Kerux: How did you approach this book not just as a historian but also as a writer?
Bratt: That’s a real challenge. The best advice I got all along, and maybe in my entire career in retrospect, came from my friend and colleague in CAS [Communication Arts & Sciences], Bill Romanowski. Bill said to me, “Think like a screen writer.” Where this book sings is where I could work like a screen writer. This is very difficult to do in intellectual history per se. Good intellectual history has a drama in it, a contention of ideas or succession of ideas.
Kerux: Can you think of anything about Kuyper that really surprised you or struck you as you worked on this book?
Bratt: I always sensed before that this guy was very current, but just the way he kept up with political, cultural, and scientific developments and so forth—the discipline and the volume and the brightness—this guy is just wicked smart, and could absorb incredible amounts of information, process it, and kick it back out in a way that an eighth-grade-educated person could understand. That’s a highly unusual double gift.
Kerux: What are your hopes for this book?
Bratt: I think it’s this: that we don’t follow necessarily what Kuyper said, but we take what he did as a challenge for us. In resurrecting people and moments from the past, we are not endorsing them wholesale, but we are saying: this is too precious a thing to forget, we have to have this among our own other observations as we go forward. Kuyper is too rich and rare a resource not to avail ourselves of. He deserves to be in the pantheon of examples from the past that we’re bouncing off of—not the only one, but one of them.
By: Daniel J. DeVries