Richard Mouw describes his brief book as an alluring first step for the mildly curious reader who wants the lowdown on the Kuyperian hubbub in American public theology but who does not yet have the motivation to tread through a scholarly tome on Kuyper’s thought (p. vii). Hence the brevity: the chapters average merely 4–6 pages in length.
The book is organized into two parts. In the first, Mouw concisely introduces the basic concepts of Kuyper’s public theology such as the cultural mandate, pluralism, sphere sovereignty, religious antithesis, the church-state relationship, and common grace. Herein he achieves the book’s underling goal reasonably well. Nevertheless, given this same goal, it is curious that neither a bibliography nor any sort of orientation to Kuyper’s corpus or the “growing body of excellent and detailed scholarly commentary on Kuyper’s views” is included (p. vii). Thus those who become intrigued by this introductory step and desire to dig deeper will have to look elsewhere for a further introduction to Kuyper’s thought.
In the second part—the “Kuyperian Aggiornamento—Mouw suggests a slew of revisions for contemporary American “neo-Kuyperianism.” This part is somewhat at odds with both the brevity of part one and the underlying goal of the book; for, by juxtaposing a very short introduction with an Americanized update of Kuyper’s public theology, the curious newcomers for whom the book is written are placed in a curious position: either they are expected to determine the validity of Mouw’s suggested updates upon the basis of a very short survey of Kuyper’s public theology, or they are to assume that an introduction to American “neo-Kuyperianism” is better than an introduction to Kuyper’s thought itself. Furthermore, since new topics such as Islam are introduced in part two, it is not immediately apparent how Mouw’s correctives correspond with his survey of Kuyper’s views in part one.
For these reasons, some readers might find this introduction a bit too short and too personal. Nevertheless, if it is kept in mind that this book is intended to be only a first step into Kuyper’s public theology and that it is written explicitly from an American “neo-Kuyperian” perspective, its value and usefulness as a prod for further engagement with Kuyper’s public theology can be appreciated on its own terms.
Published as Laurence R. O’Donnell III, review of Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Richard J. Mouw, Calvin Theological Journal 47, no. 1 (2012): 162–63.
- View Rich Mouw’s books at Westminster Bookstore.