Worldview and the Academy
Kuyper's influence on Christian scholarship
5 min. read
September 21, 2015

It is an exciting time for Christian scholarship at Redeemer University College. Last summer, Redeemer hosted a conference entitled Academy Regained. Scholars representing 12 academic disciplines and 8 universities explored the power and usefulness of a reformational worldview to engage the mainstream university. Our new Centre for Christian Scholarship (see page 29) will be hosting another, larger, conference in October this year. Several Redeemer professors have become editors of journals dedicated to the cultivation of Christian scholarship, and, beyond their work in the classroom, our faculty continue to produce Christian scholarship– articles, books, and artistic productions and other activities.

In all of these things, we see the influence of the great Dutch polymath Abraham Kuyper (1837 – 1920). Academy Regained—currently a book project—is an intentionally “big tent” Kuyperain approach to scholarship; the Centre continues Kuyper’s tradition of penetrating and engaged Christian public scholarship and journalism. Indeed, the very idea of “Christian scholarship,” i.e., scholarship that reflects a Christian rather than, say, a naturalistic worldview, is a very Kuyperian idea. For all these reasons, it makes sense to reflect briefly on Kuyper’s influence at Redeemer and beyond.

Kuyper’s influence has been profound.

Kuyper’s influence has been pervasive and positive. On the most basic level, Christian scholars now take for granted Kuyper’s insight that individuals, cultures, and cultural products like scholarship, are shaped by worldviews, i.e., beliefs about ultimate reality.

Many today are also convinced of what is come to be called “principled pluralism.”Given the ubiquity and diversity of worldviews and the pluralism that it implies, Christians ought to advocate a society that allows all cultures and worldviews freedom to express and develop themselves, privately and publicly. Christian universities are an example of this idea.

There is also wide buy-in on what we might call “the Kuyperian paradox”—the affirmation of both common grace and antithesis—Kuyper’s unique approach to non-Christian insight, science and thought. Common grace teaches that non-Christian research can provide magnificent insight which Christians are free to embrace with enthusiastic gratitude. Yet Christian scholars also recognize much of this research suppresses God’s revelation and glory (Romans 1:18-23), and is therefore simultaneously fundamentally distorted. Understanding this paradox helps us to avoid the pitfalls of a disengaged pietism on the one hand, and uncritical appropriation on the other.

Finally, there is a remarkable Kuyperian ecumenism at Redeemer and other Christian universities—faculty from different denominational backgrounds all still identify themselves as Kuyperians.

Kuyper has not influenced us enough.

Still, we might make the case that we’ve fallen short of Kuyper’s vision for Christian scholarship. To illustrate the role of worldview on scholarship, Kuyper used the metaphor of a tree. The trunk of the tree represents those areas of scholarship where worldview plays a less significant role—here Christians and non-Christians can work side-by-side, measuring, observing, increasing knowledge, learning from one another. But at some point worldview differences cause the tree to divide into different branches. When Christian scholarship flourishes, the Christian “branch” will be strong, rivalling all other branches.

Instead of growing Kuyper’s branch, many Christian scholars have focused on the trunk. For decades, Christian scholars continue to rediscover the truth that scholarship does not necessarily need to be distinctive to be faithful. They’re right—it is essential that Christians contribute to mainstream research, and more and more Christians are making such contributions. However, this type of scholarship downplays the antithesis, tending not to challenge what Alvin Plantinga calls “the orthodoxy of the academy,” i.e., the naturalistic worldview that dominates the mainstream university.

But Kuyper believed that the existence of this very orthodoxy and the antithesis that it expresses “must be felt by every Christian scholar as a sharp incentive… to go back his own principles in his thinking, to renew all scientific investigation on lines of these principles, and to glut the press with the burden of his cogent studies.” Kuyper’s vision was not to teach the academic disciplines the same way as the mainstream with a little “Christian perspective” added on. Instead he believed that Christian universities exist to “renew all… investigations” along the lines of the Christian worldview. In other words, he envisioned a significant, unified, distinctively Christian intellectual alternative encompassing “every single science.” Not the work of a few Christian scholar celebrities, but a common intellectual effort in which communities of Christian scholars have learned to work and think and write in an integrally Christian way, one generation of Christian scholarly community building upon the next, until the Christian branch is recognized as an indisputable rival to the naturalistic branch.

It has been more than a century since Kuyper painted this breathtaking picture of what a Christian university should be. Yet, if we’re honest, in most academic disciplines, the “branch” of Christian scholarship is markedly underdeveloped, particularly when compared to the massive naturalistic alternative. This is why we need places like Redeemer to flourish. As Kuyper prayed, may we find “the courage, the perseverance, [and ] the energy” to “unroll the colors” of our own Christian banner, to the glory of God.

Dr. Russell Kosits is Associate Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department.

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