I appreciate the good people at Lexham Press sending a copy of this new volume for review (without any expectations for the tone or the outcome of that review). And for also sending this work (which of course is the precursor of the new volume and its presupposition).
Dutch politician and historian Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution is a foundational work addressing the inherent tension between the church and secular society. Writing at the onset of modernity in Western culture, Groen saw with amazing clarity the dire implications of abandoning God’s created order for human life in society. Groen’s work served as an inspiration for many contemporary theologians, and he had a profound impact on Abraham Kuyper’s famous public theology.
In Challenging the Spirit of Modernity, Harry Van Dyke places this seminal work into historical context, revealing how this vital contribution still speaks into the fractured relationship between religion and society. A deeper understanding of the roots of modern secularism and Groen’s strong, faithful response to it gives us a better grasp of the same conflict today.
Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution is a foundational work addressing the inherent tension between religion and modernity. As a historian and politician, Groen was intimately familiar with the growing divide between secular culture and the church in his time. Rather than embrace this division, these lectures, originally published in 1847, argue for a renewed interaction between the two spheres. Groen’s work served as an inspiration for many contemporary theologians, and as a mentor to Abraham Kuyper, he had a profound impact on Kuyper’s famous public theology.
Harry Van Dyke, the original translator, reintroduces this vital contribution to our understanding of the relationship between religion and society.
The primary source titled ‘Unbelief and Revolution’ is here published in a very fine English translation and it includes a thorough introduction and a very important contextualization of van Pristerer’s timely and abidingly relevant work. In his book, v.P. describes the history of western Europe from the French Revolution through 1845 and the rise of secularism. It is a work which sees the secularization of the West as the downfall of the West. Unbelief and revolution (in the sense of a turning away from institutions like the Christian Church) go hand in hand. They belong to one another and they feed upon one another. v.P.’s views are succinctly stated in the 13th lecture, where he writes of the years 1789-1794 that they…
… show us the depth of our depravity. They show us what becomes of a man when a portion of Christian truth, its origin and essence denied, is made serviceable to a false principle: the poisonous seed of error, sown in the well prepared soil, multiplies tenfold and, with circumstances co-operating, bears fruit a hundredfold.
V.P.’s volume, then, strives to show the ultimate danger of Modernity. History has borne him out.
The second volume of the two here under examination is a detailed study of v.P.’s ‘Unbelief and Revolution’. It was written by the translator of v.P.’s volume and accordingly was undertaken by a person superbly qualified to understand the sense, aims, and achievements of v.P.’s book.
Herein readers are introduced to the historical period of v.P.’s work and provided a brief biography of the theologian. Further, the sources and audience of the work are described, along with the style, argument, and editions of the work.
Next, van Dyke compares the first and second editions and various translations of the volume. And finally, in chapter 13, the controversial issues which the volume addresses.
The second volume also provides a bibliography, an index of names, an index of subjects, and an index of Scripture references.
Van Dyke’s style is informative and engaging and the information he provides is excellent and accurate. His ability to tell the story of a man, his era, and his work is peerless.
Historical theology matters, and these two volumes are excellent examples of the sources and examination of sources necessary for historical theology to be undertaken and explained.
But most importantly, there are political and cultural ramifications intertwined here as well. It’s one thing to observe history from afar as though one were a mere disinterested observer. V.P.’s entire aim is to summon Christians to the examination of history so as to effect changes they deem necessary. Not in order to ‘bring about a theocracy, but in order to recognize the connection between religion, authority, and freedom’ (as the prefatory note has it).
These two works belong together on the shelves of those interested in theology, and those interested in politics. And it especially belongs on the shelves of those who are concerned about the theology of politics.