Archive Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Simon Kennedy

Kuyper on the narrowing of Reformed thought

In the preface to his three-volume Common Grace, Abraham Kuyper writes of the deflation of Reformed thought since the seventeenth century. His historical analysis might be debatable, but there is something prescient about his critique for our own day. The quote is from the new Lexham Press/Acton Institute translation of volume one of De Gemene Gratie (1902).

What had begun earlier with breadth and vastness withered into narrow-minded, truly byzantine investigation, the kind of inspection that lacks even the resilience to go back to the root of the Reformed idea. With their narrowness, people were simply repristinating their well-worn polemic against Arminianism, hardly noticing any of the new challenges that have arisen. In this way the connection with the past was lost, and people became isolated from the ethos of their own time. This explains why there has been hardly any influence on the present era. People have quarantined themselves within their own circle, positioning themselves beyond the reach of the forces driving cultural life. All the while, the barrenness of hairsplitting within our own ranks has awakened a reaction within their hearts. In various quarters the opposition toward all such intellectualistic biblical learnedness could no longer be averted, and resulted in disjoining what, in the sixteenth century, had been unified.1

There is something of warning sounded for ourselves here. Kuyper identifies some characteristics of the Reformed world which continue to this day. His own solution is to dig deeper and more broadly. That does, it seems to me, sound like a sensible way to begin addressing the problem.


  1. Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World: volume 1: The Historical Section, eds. Jordan J. Ballor and Stephen J. Grabill, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman and Ed M. van der Maas, (Lexham Press: 2016) p. xxxvi

By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.