Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

A Kuyperian Theology of Life and Work

The Reformed tradition, and I suppose the Church more broadly through the centuries as well, is home to a certain amount of diversity when it comes to thinking about how the life of the Christian intersects with their engagement in the secular world. How should Christians engage in politics or business or academia? Should a Christian politician act differently than a secular politician? And if so, in what way? Should we leave our Christian convictions at home when we step out the door in the morning, or should we take them with us into the secular world in which most of us work? For the Reformed, there are essentially two schools of thought. The first, which we might call the “Two Kingdoms” approach, essentially advocates for the Christian’s life in two kingdoms: the natural kingdom and the kingdom of God, or the Church. On this view, though the Christian is called to live consistently in both kingdoms, it seems that there is a sort of separation of life between the two in practice, for as Michael Horton, a Two Kingdoms advocate, notes, "We need not “Christianize” culture in order to appreciate it and participate in it with the gifts that God has given us as well as our non-Christian neighbors.” Admittedly, though, it’s hard to pin down exactly what “Christianizing the culture” looks like on a daily basis. Also, it’s important to note for the sake of charity that Horton, et al. are not advocating for a Christian life on Sunday coupled with a sinful, pagan life throughout the week. Rather, most supporters of a Two Kingdoms approach simply assert that it is not the Christian’s responsibility to shape culture at large. On the other hand, we have a perspective which we might call the Kuyperian approach to Christian engagement in culture. This approach probably enjoys a much more storied pedigree within the Reformed tradition, and can be characterized by the following quote from Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

As one very sympathetic to the Kuyperian perspective, not only do I find myself agreeing with Kuyper (and Calvin and the Westminster Divines before him), but also with the post-Kuyper Kuyperian tradition in Cornelius Van Til. Not only do I think the work of Kuyper, and later of Van TIl, is a better understanding of the relationship between the Christian and culture at large than other perspectives, but also that it’s infinitely more pastoral than other perspectives, for it connects the Christian in a deep and Gospel-centered way to their work.

I remember sitting in Dr. Kelly’s Social Theory class during my junior year of college, listening to a lecture on Karl Marx. She was telling us about how Marx thought that one of the tipping points which would lead to the revolution of the working class was the fact that the working class suffered from alienation, or from an inability to connect their work on the assembly line with anything deeper, which led to a much more stark form of alienation in which members of the working class were alienated even from their own “species-essence.” Now, obviously non-Kuyperian folks are not Marxists. However, I do think the Kuyperian perspective lends itself to a much more meaningful solution than any other perspective. 

For the Kuyperian, everything one does both in religious and in secular life flows from his or her identity as one who is united to Christ by faith. For the Kuyperian, there is no separation of spheres and no differentiation of kingdoms. If the Kuyperian position is the right one, then everything a person does has a missional character, whether that be changing a tire or working at a Fortune 500 corporation.* If that’s the case, it seems that all work then should be redemptive, all work should be with a view to the increasing Kingdom of God on Earth. It’s important for us to remember that the Gospel redeems not only the worker, but the work which that worker does. If Christ is shouting, “Mine!” over the tasks we perform every day in our respective vocations, Marxist alienation is impossible. Each task, then, is an act of worship rather than monotony. So, contra Horton and some other Two Kingdoms advocates, we do have a duty to “Christianize” culture, insofar as everything we do as Christians belongs to Christ. 




*We can see a fair amount of this in the Lutheran tradition, as well, despite the fact that the Lutheran tradition is historically more sympathetic to the Two Kingdoms approach. Thus, we see that the boundaries between the two perspectives are not always as crisp and clean as it sometimes seems.

**There’s much in here with which a Two Kingdoms advocate would agree. Admittedly, the issue is much more complex than is appropriate for a 700+ word blog post.

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