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Prime minister. Pastor. National church leader. Founder of a major university. Member of Parliament. Father. Developer of the idea that we now call “worldview.”
Abraham Kuyper, the nineteenth-century Dutchman for all seasons, seems to have had his hands full. But somehow he also found time to be a journalist, founding a daily newspaper and writing regular commentary.
Like so many of his activities, Kuyper’s calling as a journalist grew out of a passion to apply the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life. God put a vision for a Christian worldview on his heart, and he carried that vision into the church, political activism, and education. Journalism was just a natural outgrowth of that passion.
Kuyper’s journalistic endeavors started with his appointment as associate editor of The Herald, a weekly that covered religious and political issues. He followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Groen Van Prinsterer (1801–1876), the founder of the Anti-Revolutionary Party and a leading Christian thinker in Holland in the generation before Kuyper.
A year after joining The Herald, Kuyper became the editor-in-chief. The newspaper’s motto expressed the Anti-Revolutionary Party’s aspirations this way: “For a Free Church and a Free School in a Free Land.” Modern Americans might be forgiven for thinking he was calling for a bunch of free lunches, at government expense, but what Kuyper actually wanted was freedom from a humanistic or liberal government-supported monopoly on churches or schools. His political party advocated more parental control over education through what might be called vouchers today.
Journalism was a vital tool for explaining and promoting these views, week by week, in Kuyper’s various careers in politics, the church, and education. In an era before radio and television, political parties in Holland, and most of Europe, depended on daily newspapers to articulate their views. The challenge was not only to offer opinion, but also to provide news and information to attract readers. Kuyper and his political party started The Standard as their daily newspaper, with Kuyper as editor. He also continued as editor-in-chief of The Herald, with its more religious emphasis.
For American pastors, Kuyper’s combined duties might seem confusing. Can a pastor be an editor of a political party newspaper? Can an editor be a pastor? How can a pastor mix church and politics? But Kuyper was reading such Bible passages as Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.” Through journalism, Kuyper wanted to take every thought captive for Christ, not only in the church but also in government and all other areas of life.
Kuyper wrote editorials and columns for the newspaper, arguing against theological liberalism and any idea of theological neutrality in political matters.
Though he wrote plenty, Kuyper did not take up all the duties normally associated with the title of editor, at least in American newspapers. He was simultaneously building up a growing political party, writing theology texts, and serving as a pastor, then leaving the pastorate to win a seat in Parliament. At one time he came to the point of exhaustion and had to take several months off, learning that he had to balance his passion with rest.
Eventually, his Anti-Revolutionary Party would become a dominant force in Holland, and he served as prime minister from 1901 to 1905. In Dutch history, he stands as an important political figure on a par with one of America’s more influential presidents, such as Grover Cleveland, Dwight D. Eisenhower, or Ronald Reagan, but with a distinct Christian evangelical emphasis.
Journalistically, Kuyper might be compared to an influential editor of a major news magazine, perhaps Henry Luce, the founder of Time and Life magazines. Luce had significant political influence in establishing a national anti-communist consensus in the United States through his magazines after World War II. Likewise, the influence of The Standard stretched well beyond its five thousand subscribers, as Kuyper articulated a Christian world-view for a nation whose strong Christian Reformed heritage was being diminished by Enlightenment and other modernist influences in the nineteenth century.
His approach to journalism was European, which perhaps makes it hard for Americans to grasp. He saw no need to strive for what U.S. journalists call either impartiality or objectivity. He did not try to offer any balance in news coverage of competing political parties. He laid his opinions out for readers, seeing journalism as a means of encouraging others to adopt his views. He understood the importance of a mixture of news and viewpoint, but his primary purpose as a journalist was what might be called confessional advocacy of a Reformed world-view. “My Standard has never been for me anything except a horse which I rode in order the sooner to reach the end of my journey, and in that destination lay the objective of my life,” he said.
Some journalists are carrying on parts of Kuyper’s heritage today. Echoes of Kuyper’s journalism can be seen among believers who are penetrating daily newspapers, especially on editorial pages. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, with his clear protest against secular humanism, offers a Christian standard in more than five hundred daily newspapers that carry his column. Cartoonists such as Wayne Stayskal (Tampa Tribune) and Gary Varvel (Indianapolis Star) offer a similar worldview in their cartoons, used in a number of daily newspapers on a syndicated basis, with a touch of humor so their opponents can laugh even as they disagree. Out of Washington, D.C., several believers are able to offer a Christian worldview on some issues, through media outlets that do not confess Christ. Fox television news star Fred Barnes, who also writes for the Weekly Standard, is one example.
The lessons Americans can learn from Kuyper may not lie so much in the specifics of his theology, his journalistic strategies, or even his political views, which are set in a nineteenth-century Dutch political context. He is for us an example of a valiant attempt to apply Christ’s kingship to all areas of life, looking to Scripture for guidance and direction. In the United States, many Christian leaders have tried to provide political and social commentary, usually through magazines or newsletters. But often the tendency is to offer more information about the ministry and less about how the average believer should be like the children of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32, who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do.
Kuyper’s life shows us that journalism is too important to leave in the hands of professional, full-time journalists. Journalism is a calling for all Christians, including pastors, to articulate a Scripture-based perspective on all the issues of the day and show the practical application of His Word to all areas of life.