Monday, January 4, 2016

Kuyperian Principled Pluralism: A Case for Fair Treatment of Christian Views in Changing Times

The January 2016, CCS Newsletter cover article provided a brief introduction to a term used by Abraham Kuyper more than a hundred years ago: “Principled Pluralism.” This post is provided for those who do not read our CCS Newsletter or for those who wish to read further on the topic by way of the links within and related posts here at "To Begin With." As we enter into an election year with escalating rhetoric on all sides, it may be wise for Christians (called to impact their culture) to consider the merits of this approach to civil discourse.

Abraham Kuyper was a renowned 19th century theologian who later served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1901 to 1905). He was a relentless advocate of K-12 Christian education who made an enduring case for publicly funded faith-based schools. One hundred years later, his efforts still serve as a model for school of choice and the value of parochial schools.

Though a devout Christian himself with no desire to water down the singular call of the Gospel of Christ, he fully understood that his biblical worldview could not be politically imposed upon the world, but he also believed that the absolute separation of church and state is neither healthy nor necessary in a pluralistic constitutional republic. Kuiper knew it was not the role of government to impose or inhibit religion as part of a nation’s identity.


With that in mind, Kuiper used the two words “principled pluralism” together like a blacksmith’s tongs to forge a common sense approach to governance in a setting where religious and secular worldviews were often at odds. His approach was not ecumenical (i.e."all roads lead to God so lets just get along"), but even as he served as Prime Minister, he understood that he could extend no more protection to his own deeply held religious beliefs than to those he considered erroneous.

It is important to remember that respecting another person’s right to hold an opinion does not require agreeing with it. Likewise, respecting that there are huge differences in world religions does not require believers to be blind or mute for the "common good." It is alright to agree to disagree agreeably, True pluralism does not require an "I'm okay; you're okay" pretense; nor does it mandate the silence of opposing views in the public square. 

The current one-sided activism playing out on many college campuses, however, seems to stem from a sense of entitlement and victimhood amid demands for “safe space” from “microaggressions” while chanting about which group matters more than the other. This drama of distinction unfolds in a culture otherwise eager to neutralize all differences by redefining terms (e.g. gender, conception, life, citizenship, marriage, etc.).

Ironically, in the name of “tolerance,” dissenting voices are quashed by supposedly open minds. Dare to disagree with the latest change in public opinion and you may be called a fascist, sexist, bigot, homophobe, transphobe,.. fill-in-the-blank-ophobe. [As if disagreeing with something equates fearing it. By that test, non-Christians could be called Christophobes.] The list of epithets hurled in the name of tolerance is surprisingly long. 

Public policy driven by outcry rather than principle can lead to “might makes right” and the misguided  notion of  “majority rules,” both of which our founding fathers protected against as they drafted the U.S. Constitution. From experience, the founders knew that laws based upon pendulum swings of power rather than on an enduring set of principles ultimately lead to various forms of tyranny.

As we have seen this past year, pluralism without principle leads to selective tolerance from a growing secular majority at the cost of fair treatment for those who hold opposing convictions or beliefs.

"Perhaps Kuyper's greatest significance for our own religiously and culturally fractured world is the way he proposed for religious believers to bring the full weight of their convictions into public life while fully respecting the rights of others in a pluralistic society under a constitutional government." [Jim Bratt, Kuyper biographer and professor at Calvin College]


Parity not privilege is a general paraphrase of the Golden Rule. Rather than imposing change on others against their will (e.g. through executive orders, Sharia Law, SCOTUS, or caliphates), the Golden Rule would suggest to “Govern when you are in control as you wish to be governed when you are not.” As we begin an election year, this seems like a reasonable expectation to have for elected or appointed officials.

This is the heart of Kuyperian Principled Pluralism as I understand it, and It it will help us set a useful tone for CCS students “to bring the full weight of their convictions into public life.”

Because of the limited space of the January Newsletter, I have provided some related links on this subject below. 

Tom Kapanka

Click here for an article on Kuyperian pluralism from the Cardus publication Comment.

Click here for the context of the following quotation by David Koyzis:

"In [Kuyper's] own life, he exemplified the effort to live out the lordship of Christ in every area of endeavor, including politics.

Of course, politics in the real world is a matter of trying peacefully to conciliate diversity, as the late British political scientist, Sir Bernard Crick, aptly expressed it. It requires the tolerance of “different truths,” or, more accurately, different claims to the truth. How then can Christians, whose scriptures so frequently ring with the phrase, “thus says the Lord,” be expected to live with unbelievers who deny God’s sovereignty to begin with? How can we live out an all-encompassing commitment to God’s kingdom in such a diverse society and polity? Would not Kuyper and his followers be compelled to work for the establishment of some sort of theocracy? ...

But this was not Kuyper’s approach. During his political career, Kuyper worked, not to turn the Netherlands into a godly commonwealth, but more modestly to secure a place in the public square for his Reformed Christian (Gereformeerd) supporters in the face of the secularizing ideologies spawned by the French Revolution....

In North America, ... Kuyper’s legacy amongst evangelical Christians... comes not a moment too soon. In many respects our North American polities are increasingly taking on the divided character of European countries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, albeit without (yet) a comparable level of political instability....."

Click here to read of the legal case involving InterVarsity Christian Fellowship groups on public college campuses being accused or "religious discrimination" for requiring organizational officers to be Christians.

The following discussion aired after the first drafts of this article were written. It does not mention Kuiper or principled pluralism, but it does touch upon our discussion:



Click here  (or read post below) to see an ironic lack of parity in an email exchange about a state-approved workshop instructing Michigan K-12 teacher to include lessons on "Islam The Straight Path" in their classrooms.

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