Review of "Henry J. Kuiper, Shaping the Christian Reformed Church, 1907-1962."

Henry J. Kuiper, Shaping the Christian Reformed Church, 1907-1962, James A. DeJong, Eerdmans, 2007, 270 pp.

One should first note that the subtitled years, 1907-1962, are just those years Henry J. Kuiper was involved in “shaping the Christian Reformed Church.” His full years are 1885 to 1962.

I read this book among others in a quest to understand the drastic shift in theology in the Christian Reformed Church in the mid-20th century. While the last book I read, Summonining Up Remembrances by Henry Stob, provides an example of the type of theology the CRC became in the second half of the century, this book on Henry J. Kuiper provides an example of what the CRC theology was in the first half of the century. But while the contrast is evident to this reader, I found little comment in the present book on the drastic changes toward liberalism and neo-orthodoxy in the CRC in Kuiper’s later years.

One of Kuiper’s major theological drives was to crusade against “worldliness,” including dancing, card playing, and theatre and movie attendance.  But, having supported the CRC’s position on “common grace,” (including the idea that Christians should transform culture through cooperating with it) the Protestant Reformed churchmen today might point out Kuiper’s view inevitably led to a far deeper worldliness in the CRC.

Kuiper lived through a period where the “americanization” of the church was a major issue. In this reader’s understanding, he came to fairly good conclusions on how to proceed. Kuiper had no issues with the church transitioning from Dutch to English language services, and he welcome Reformed hymns to be added to the Psalter. His support of Christian schooling at both the high school level (where he helped start a number of schools in Grand Rapids) and at the college level (where he helped start the Reformed Bible Institute, today Kuyper College) are admirable.

Kuiper should best be remembered for his long stint as editor of The Banner which he helped grow the circulation of, and through which his views helped shape the mind of the CRC. But he should also be remembered for his role in The New Christian Hymnal and in supporting uniformity in worship in the CRC.

DeJong makes an error on page 60 when he calls R. B. Kuiper [no relation to H. J] the “President of Westminster Theological Seminary.” To my knowledge, there was no president at WTS until Edmund Clowney decades later. Rather, R. B. was a only a professor at WTS.

Some things I found interesting:
1. Kuiper’s pastor growing up was J. H. Vos, the father of Geerhardus Vos.
2. I learned of CRC minister Harry Bultema who was deposed in 1919 for promoting dispensational premillennialism.
3. Kuiper was an ardent anti-socialist, but favored controls on capitalism.
4. Kuiper was for a time the pastor of a young Harry Jellema.
5. Families were admonished as “oncers” if they attended church only once and not twice on Sundays.
6. Rousas J. Rushdoony wrote articles for Torch and Trumpet starting in 1958.
7. I most certainly agree with Kuiper’s opposition to retirement. DeJong writes that Kuiper “bluntly opposed retiring to Florida to wile away winter days at shuffleboard and evenings visiting with similarly disengaged but misguided believers over board games.”(p. 124)

The book itself was well-written and well-researched. I would have preferred a more chronological approach, rather than the repetition of some things as DeJong went more topic-by-topic in Kuiper’s life, sometimes circling back many years in doing so. DeJong is honest in pointing out both Kuiper’s achievements and his flaws. Overall, this was a fairly solid book.