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Bachman Back to Kuyper?

By January 6, 2012 No Comments

Bachman Back to Kuyper?

Now that Michelle Bachman has dropped her campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, perhaps we can put to rest—again—a genealogy used to explain her political faith. Bachman, it is said (for instance, in Ryan Lizza’s profile of her in the August 15, 2011 New Yorker), came to Christian political consciousness after watching Francis Schaffer’s film series, “How Should We Then Live?” Schaffer, in turn, (not Lizza here, but others more interested in such things ) was transformed from being just another theological fundamentalist into a holistic Christian thinker with particular interests in culture and politics after coming into contact with Hans Rookmaker, professor of art at the Free University in Amsterdam. Rookmaker was a student of Herman Dooyeweerd, the philosopher-in-chief at the Free, and Dooyeweerd was a follower of Abraham Kuyper, founder of the Netherlands’ Antirevolutionary Party, expounder of its political program, and eventually prime minister of the country. Bachman shows, therefore, what Kuyper can come to.

Well, yes, I suppose—if we truncate the reading list at every point. Kuyper wrote hundreds of books and pamphlets and thousands of articles on the whole span of religion and contemporary life. Dooyeweerd hunkered down into philosophy, where he did right well. Rookmaker wrote books and lectured about aesthetics and art history. Schaffer, reports his biographer Barry Hankins, read few books at all beside the Bible, favoring magazines instead. And Bachman watched his movies.

In pushing his own political movement, Kuyper was afraid of the very mistakes that the American Christian Right has proven only too willing to fall into over the past generation—and today. First of all, Kuyper ridiculed what would become “theonomy.” “No Calvinist ever,” he insisted in 1887, not having had the pleasure of reading Rousas Rushdoony, “has come up with the nonsensical notion of making the penal law of Israel the law of the land.” Kuyper had said the same already in 1873, before his party was even organized: any proposal which “simply wishes to duplicate the situation of Israel, taking Holy Scripture as a complete code of Christian law for the state, would be,” he said, “the epitome of absurdity.”

Kuyper was also worried about ignorance, whether it was blithe invocations of Scripture as political principle (cf. George W. Bush on Jesus as his favorite political philosopher) or parading amateurism as a qualification for office. What “God in his love made known in his Word, also for our political life,” said Kuyper, does not get down to the level of detail, where for matters legislative the devil, or the divine, indeed dwells. Further, human societies so vary in character and circumstances are so fluctuating that anyone who would practice Christian politics faces stout entry qualifications. Kuyper’s comparative emphasis was revealing here: any Christian aspiring to high office should have “a thorough knowledge of the nations and a fundamental knowledge of God’s Word.”  

Of course, Scriptural knowledge and passion for a deep-diving, comprehensive biblical ethic have been little evident among America’s current purveyors of “Christian” politics. Instead, we see a love of missiles: spermatic missiles in the name of family values, explosive missiles in the name of national defense, budget-busting missiles in attacks on tax revenue. That the third is needed for the costly implications of the first and second is a point of logic that also has escaped notice. I guess if logic rates low, we can understand the links of Bachman to Kuyper. Otherwise, not.


James Bratt

James Bratt is professor of history emeritus at Calvin College, specializing in American religious history and especially the connections between religion and politics. Starting in Fall 2016 he took a break from blogging on The Twelve to teach in China and on the Semester at Sea, which venues afforded him some welcome distance from the USA’s descent into its current mortal illness. But now he’s back in the States, looking for hope. His most recent book (which he edited and completed for the late John Woolverton) is  “A Christian and a Democrat”: Religion in the Life and Leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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