Even if you’re unfamiliar with the works of Abraham Kuyper, you might recognize his most famous quote: “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!’”
For Kuyper, this deep awareness of God’s sovereignty had vast implications for daily life. Throughout his writings, he wrestled with how to reconcile the sovereign presence of God in this beautifully created world while witnessing the fallenness and brokenness of the present. The modern church still struggles to navigate this tension between the spiritual life and the secular world. That’s why, despite being a century old, Kuyper’s theology of everyday life is still relevant today.
Re-creating public life
This public theology can be summarized in this brief statement: “Be present where God is present.” If God is present in all arenas of life, then Christians too should be present there. And just like God isn’t passively present in the world, Christians should not be passive either.
But active engagement in the world has its own dangers if we aren’t obedient to Christ’s authority as King. Govert Buijs writes in the introduction to Pro Rege, volume 2, “Obeying Christ’s kingship in public life and society, does not imply a call to ‘Christianize’ it, as if society should be reformed into a kind of church at large, an extensive religious community.”
Buijs goes on to describe the orientation of our engagement in society:
For Kuyper, Christians active in public life should not strive to Christianize public life but to bring it into line with its creational intentions, to re-create it. They will not work toward the heavenly future but remain faithful to this creational world, to restore ordinary life, nothing more than that. Christ’s kingship is in heaven, and it is on earth, in this creation, working toward a restoration of creation. In short, it is a vision of what we perhaps today would call (using the Hebrew word) shalom. If our political, economic, military, educational, scientific, or artistic practices violate this, if they are oppressive to human beings and their talents, then our practices should be reformed.
This means that obedience to Christ the King means joining with him in his mission to restore his creation. It means transforming society from the inside. It means turning oppression into freedom, injustice into justice, hatred into love.
With such a vast and exceedingly important restorative mission, it’s no wonder why the church has struggled with this tension between the spiritual life and the secular world. To be critically engaged in the present requires an understanding of the brokenness of the world but also how Christ can be brought to bear on a specific situation.
This is where the age of Kuyper’s works may fail us. While he discusses a wide variety of topics, ranging from politics and economics to education and the arts, all of these discussions are grounded in his era, around the turn of the 19th century. If you’re looking for more timely and applicable resources, we recommend the recently published three-volume set on Christian cultural engagement—Every Square Inch, Every Waking Hour, and Every Good Thing. At the intersection of faith, culture, work, and economics, these three books equip Christians to faithfully engage with the world and glorify God in all they do in a modern context.