Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art
by Abraham Kuyper
Christian’s Library Press. Grand Rapids, Mich. 188 pages
reviewed by Christine Chakoian
Long before “secular” was used to describe Euro-American culture, Abraham Kuyper addressed the challenges facing Christians in such a world. Writing a century ago, the Reformed theologian, university founder and prime minister of the Netherlands was committed to faith’s intersection with the public world. For the first time, an English translation provides us a glimpse of his prescient mind in “Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art.”
Kuyper’s organizing principle is “common grace” which preserves signs of the creative spirit of God in spite of sin: “What is being revealed here is nothing other than the operation of common grace, which has preserved some remnant of paradise and enriches our life, even life affected by sin.” Though we may see “as in a mirror, dimly” (I Cor. 13:12), nevertheless, the Creator’s fingerprints of truth and beauty are discoverable by the human mind. There is no arena of human experience exempt: Kuyper’s editorials total over 1,700 pages. This small selection explores science and art through the lens of grace.
Even a century ago, developments in both fields threatened Christian sensibilities. The German scientific school had promoted as superior those truths that could be materially observed. Christians frequently experienced this as dismissive: “the mocking tone with which people of science almost systematically speak about the revelation of Scripture and about the things that for us are holy” led many to “view science as a hostile power that should sooner be combated than cultivated.” Yet Kuyper cautions Christians not to dismiss science. Rather, he encourages us to see the discoveries of natural science as an act of piety: “God’s honor requires the human spirit to probe the entire complexity of what has been created, in order to discover God’s majesty and wisdom and to express those in human thoughts with human language.”
Kuyper also highlights the limits of science. To force “soft” sciences such as philosophy into measurable units is folly, for the farther from physical matter, the more arbitrary and subjective the measures used. Without faith, the material is exalted over the spiritual.
Similarly, by Kuyper’s time the realm of art posed significant challenges to Christian faith. Thanks to Calvin, it was understood that art had no place in the church, lest sensuality prove idolatrous. Now common art was also degraded by the flagrant sensuality of art, artists’ “Bohemian” lifestyle and the arbitrary monetization of art’s value. Yet once again, Kuyper cautions against condemning that which bears the fingerprint of God: “common grace has spared much paradise beauty and preserved it from loss, and continues to supply us along our life’s way with such a rich treasure of beautiful things … .” To dismiss art whole-cloth is to disregard an ennobling gift of God.
Modern, and now post-modern, life poses significant challenges to the intentional Christian. One can be tempted to retreat from the world. Yet Kuyper offers us a “still more excellent way” (I Cor. 12:31): to engage the world through the lens of faith, looking for the presence of God in all things — God’s presence preserved by common grace.
CHRISTINE CHAKOIAN is pastor of First Church, Lake Forest, Ill.