TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life. This excerpt is adapted from Scholarship: Two Convocation Addresses on University Life by Abraham Kuyper. Translated by Harry Van Dyke. Copyright © 2014. Used by permission of Christian’s Library Press.
The following excerpt comes from Abraham Kuyper’s 1889 convocation speech in Amsterdam at the Free University, which he called an “Opposition School” because of its commitment to seek out a divine purpose of scholarship for human culture as a viable alternative to the reigning paradigms of the day. Throughout his speech, he uses the term wetenschap—an inclusive term in Dutch that includes the arts and humanities as well as the natural and social sciences. Depending on the context, this translation renders the term as science, scholarship, knowledge, or learning.
There are three wonderful things about scholarship: it brings to light the hidden glory of God; it gives you joy in the act of digging up the gold that lies hidden in creation; and it grants you the honor of raising the level and well-being of human life. So whatever made you think that you can become a scholar merely by studying and cramming for exams? No, I tell you, even if you had stuffed your brain full of facts and theories and had passed every examination summa cum laude, you will still be no more than a hewer of wood and a drawer of water in this elite corps of scholars if you had not entered that world of God’s thoughts with all your heart and all your mind. . . .
Every man of learning should be fired with a zeal to battle against the darkness and for the light. The glow of gas lay hidden for centuries in the dark coal mine, but not until that coal was dug from the mine and processed by human art did it reveal its luster. Similarly, it is your high calling to wrest the light of God’s splendor from the recesses of creation, not in order to seek honor for yourself, but honor for your God.
Mark of the Eternal
To be sure, God has caused light to rise in our darkness also along avenues other than science. His is not the cruelty of our age that allowed generation after generation to wander in darkness until at last in this 19th century the lights could go on—and then only for the aristocracy of the intellect.
God is gracious and compassionate, and by means of his revelation and the founding of his church he had from the beginning ignited a glow that faith imbibed and that enriched an Abraham and a Moses far beyond what any 19th-century learning is capable of—rich in their heart, rich in their soul, rich in their more tender sensations that bear the mark of the eternal. And scholars, far from being able to do without their faith, must begin by being rich in that faith if they are ever to feel their heart stir with the holy impulse that drives them to engage in true scholarship.
Investigate the Logos
Still, scholarship is something all its own—not something higher, but a work of our minds whereby the minds travel along other paths. Even if there were no salvation for sinners and if God’s wrath plunged us all into eternal perdition, even then our race would not be absolved the obligation to investigate the Logos that God has hidden in his creation and to bring it to light. God must not be robbed of this honor.
Science is bound to religious belief only to the extent that an unbelieving man of science causes science’s beehive, as much as depends on him, to degenerate into a wasp’s nest. He does this unintentionally, simply because he cannot act otherwise, in order to rob God of that Logos and pass it for a product of its own thoughts. That defines the school of science in this century, which wants to be something outside of God, apart from God, in opposition to God, and to seek its glory in ridiculing the Christian faith.
But even this derailed science brings gain, for what it correctly observes is observed and what it properly investigates is investigated. Nevertheless it contains a dangerous element by wandering off into materialistic science or else by setting its hypotheses in opposition to the thesis of God’s revelation. Either way, it deviates from its sacred calling to be God’s minister, God’s priest in his holy temple.
Endure in Brokenness
The suggestion that men of faith for this reason would have to flee from the world of science can only be maintained by the unscientific person. For that would amount to forsaking one’s duty, abandoning science to unholy secularization, and personally forfeiting the influence that men of faith must exercise on the thinking of our generation.
Instead, given this state of affairs, it is imperative—and this will give you a clue as to why the Free University was founded—that a warmer, bolder interest in learning should awaken among God’s people, in order to get science back on its God-given track and to refute the lie that faith hates science.