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John the (un)Kuyperian

By April 25, 2014 3 Comments

One of my favorite classes to teach is a biblical studies course over Acts-Revelation. This spring has been one of those classes you actually don’t want to end–it has honestly been a joy to teach. For the past two months we’ve wrestled through the book of Revelation. We’ve had a good guide–Richard Baukham’s book the Theology of Revelation makes teaching the class a bit easier. Numerous times I’ve simply read what he has to say out load and it has lead to wonderful conversations. One such conversation had to do with the Kuyperian bent of the institution at which I teach. We focus on the transformation of cultural structures, encourage students to get involved in politics and economics, to take their place within educational institutions, hospital systems, engineering firms, and corporations. We use Genesis 1 and 2 to talk about creational structures and the direction of culture. We send them off with the reminder to do all things for the glory of God. I buy it for the most part, so this isn’t a critique of a Kuyperian approach to cultural engagement or higher education. It’s just that I’m not sure John the author of Revelation would buy it. In fact one student thought out loud, “I’m not sure that John would like our college very much,” to which the other students laughed in agreement.

For John the author of Revelation the political and economic structures of Rome are beast like, they are the highest form of idolatry. He emphatically criticizes churches in Asia minor for prostituting themselves with the cultural offerings of Rome. He implores them to not become luke warm, to not give in to the temptation to be part of it all. He tells them to overcome–to conquer. John calls them to be faithful unto death–better to become martyrs then to compromise with antichrist. He doesn’t leave much room for “grey”–either you’re all in our your out. Common grace? Not so much. Antithesis? And then some. 

It seems we have a few options as a Kuyperian institution. We could just pretend Revelation doesn’t exist–cut it out from the canon. Not officially of course, that might be heretical. Unofficially–we just won’t read it. We’ll leave it for the Pentecostals and dispensationalists. Or, we could try to make it fit–do some linguistic gymnastics, interpret scripture with scripture, make it say something else. This would probably mean reading chapter 21 and 22 and that’s about all. Or, we could welcome John’s Revelation as a reminder–a corrective. We could acknowledge that while all of scripture is God breathed that doesn’t mean it all agrees. Different writings have different flavors, different issues for different communities–sometimes they might even disagree. And that’s ok–scripture is big enough and flexible enough to move in different directions depending upon what’s being read. I’m not ready to throw in the Kuyperian towel, but I am grateful for the corrective that Revelation provides. Otherwise, our Kuyperian heads might get too big for our own good. And the Lord knows there’s nothing as insufferable as big-headed Kuyperians.   

Jason Lief

Jason Lief teaches Practical Theology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. He served as editor of Reformed Journal for many years and was one of the original bloggers on the RJ blog. You can find more of his writing at


  • Peter Veltman says:

    As professor John Kromminga pointed out to us in our senior polity class: " None of us has all the light." It opens us up to learning from our brothers and sisters in Christ of many varied theological perspectives. Appreciated your observation very much.
    Peter Veltman

  • James K.A. Smith says:

    FWIW, this Kuyperian engages the Book of Revelation on just this point in my Desiring the Kingdom, citing the need for an "apocalyptic" theology of culture in the Reformed tradition.

  • Tom says:

    Sounds like a good time was had by all … over the years, I've come to appreciate the Book of Revelation as political commentary. It's deeply spiritual, which makes its politics what they are – telling truth to power, the kind of power that admits no truth but its own, and sees its wealth as proof of its rightness.
    Thanks for these comments … Baukham's book looks terrific.

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