Hoeksema: School and Church, Part 3

Hello readers!  It has been a while since I last updated this strand.  My courses at Calvin have picked up again and I’ve had to make some priority adjustments!


In the last post I briefly made some points concerning the early history of the Calvinist day-school.  We noticed that the day-school was originally parochial, that is, the church had direct maintenance of the school.  This, however, changed with the coming of the 20th century.  I will talk briefly about what helped instigate this change.

Also, remember, this is a strand on what Hoeksema says concerning the relationship between the school and the church.  I will be diving further into his writings, but I think this preliminary discussion on the background history is important.  I will, therefore, continue to devote another post or two to this topic.


What prompted the schools to make the shift from church maintained schools to parent maintained schools?  This is an important question and one worth pursuing.

Let’s look at some data:

1889: 14 church schools out of 79 CR congregations; 1,390 Christian school pupils out of 28,732 total denominational members

This equals to…

  • 5.6 congregations/Christian school
  • 5% of the total denominational membership are Christian school pupils

1930: 63 parent schools out of 263 CR congregations; 11,391 Christian school pupils out of 76,130 total denominational members

This equals to…

  • 4.2 congregations/Christian school
  • 15% of the total denominational membership are Christian school pupils

We can see that in 40 years time, some large changes took place.  Notice the following changes:

  1. schools went from parochial to parental
  2. the number of schools increased at a greater rate than the number of congregations: the number of Christian schools increased by 350%; the number of congregations increased by 232%
  3. the Christian Reformed church membership swelled during this period: 165% increase in 40 years.

It is interesting to note that the Christian school movement gained momentum during this period, but it occurred at a time when the Christian Reformed church was gaining many new members.  Certainly, we can make the connection that as more families joined the CRC we would expect to see a growth in schools.  But we cannot attribute the growth in the school movement only to a growing church.

The data shows us that a net gain of 49 new schools emerged during this period.  In order for this demand to be there, church communities that were previously sending their children to public schools had a change of heart.  Something incentivized them to start all these new schools.  Something motivated them to abandon either the existing church schools or the public schools.  What was this incentive?

school organizational dates 3

The answer is not as simple as we may like to think.  A couple of factors, however, played a significant part.

  1. Theological factor: Rev. Klaas Kuiper’s emphasis of the covenant of grace as a motivation for parental schools Reference: Zwaanstra, Reformed Thought and Experience in a New World (Kampen: 1973) 137-149.
  2. Philosophical factor: Abraham Kuyper’s idea of Sphere Sovereignty which, among many things, removes the school from the sphere of the church and state. Reference: Van Brummelen, Telling the Next Generation (University Press: Lanham, 1986) 77-81.
  3. Practical factor: Poor conditions of original church schools; desire to retain cultural/spiritual distinctiveness as public schools became more secular Reference: Zwaanstra, 139; Van Brummelen, 73.

In summary, the Christian school movement gained new footing with the help of these factors: covenant, sphere sovereignty and practicality.  The practical factor needs no more explaining.  As I noted in the previous posts, the church schools had much to be desired and many parents were eager for a change.  It is the theological and philosophical factors that are worth investigating.  Both the covenant and sphere sovereignty had a great impact on the school.  Both these factors were promoted by men with the same last name, yet with different spellings: Rev. Klaas Kuiper and Abraham Kuyper.

There is little agreement among writers on which was the primary reason for the schools to become parental in North America.  Was it the covenant?  Was it sphere sovereignty?  Are they even mutually exclusive?

The Kuyperians claim Kuyper.  Others have laid a case for Klaas Kuiper being the “father of the Christian schools.”  I think both were prominent in advancing the Christian school movement and both deserve attention.

We will look further into this next time!

Rev. Klaas Kuiper Family

Rev. Klaas Kuiper Family

Book List: The Educational Philosophy of Herman Bavinck

The Educational Philosophy of Herman Bavinck by Cornelius Jaarsma

This is one of my more prized pieces in my library, not only because of its content, but also because of its rarity.  If you happen to come across this book, I would highly recommend purchasing it… they are hard to find!

This is one of two books in English that deal exclusively with the educational philosophy of the Dutch theologian and philosopher Herman Bavinck (1854 – 1921).  The other one is a summation piece of Bavinck written in Dutch by two gentlemen and later translated by J. Brederveld.  I’ll add that to the Book List at a later time.


Herman Bavinck

This book was written by C. Jaarsma.  It is not a translation of Bavinck; rather it is a summary of his writings on educational philosophy.  As such, there are few direct quotes from Bavinck.

Jaarsma was a prolific writer in the educational department in Calvin College.  He joined the department in 1946 after serving some time at Wheaton College’s philosophy and education departments.  It’s not surprising to me that Jaarsma chose to focus his attention on Bavinck.  Like Bavinck, Jaarsma promoted the thought that Christian education must take the whole child into view throughout the educative process.  This was an important component to Bavinck’s educational thought.  Bavinck argued education must address the personality (whole person) of the child.  Schools don’t educate brains; schools educate children.

Bavinck also argued child psychology can contribute to our understanding of the child and the learning process.  He claimed principles of education can be derived by observation, analysis and experience.  As such, the sciences (i.e., biology, psychology, physiology) are immensely helpful for constructing principles of how a teacher goes about his or her work.  For many, this was a bold stance.  Modern psychology and educational philosophy, especially during the early 20th century, was rife with humanism and evolution.  John Dewey comes to mind here.  But Bavinck was careful to affirm that modern science was not authoritative nor was it the ground in the educational process.  Bavinck had no problem utilizing some of the methods that came from modern educational psychology, but he warned against raising them to philosophy.  God’s Word alone is authoritative.  Truth is the standard by which all is measured.

This is where we can really appreciate Bavinck: he sought a philosophy of education “which finds its center… in the Absolute Personal Being [God].”  It was Bavinck who claimed the ultimate aim of education was nothing less than the forming of men of God thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Of course, Bavinck is not without his faults and this book gives us evidence of some of them.  Bavinck was a man of common grace.  As such, he was ready and willing to embrace the thinking of this world and adopt her practices.  When stealing the world’s methods, however, one has to be very careful they are not also embracing the world’s philosophies, too.  All methods are the logical conclusions of thought.  There is a connection between methodology and philosophy (…and theology) that I think is inseparable.

If you can find this book, I would suggest buying it and reading through it.  It won’t be a page turner, but it is a great resource and a necessary one if you want to understand Bavinck’s contributions to education.  This is a book that you will highlight and underline throughout.  One can’t help but be amazed at his scope of intellect.

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Book List: Roots of the Calvinist Day School Movement

The Roots of the Calvinist Day School Movement by Donald Oppewal

(Click for pdf version here)

This is another short monograph that deals with the history of the Calvinist day-school.  The author is Donald Oppewal.  Oppewal is professor emeritus of education at Calvin College.  He has written much about the history of Reformed education.  This particular work is one of his more popular ones.

Oppewal views the history of the Calvinist day-school in terms of a plant; it changes and develops in the process of its growth.  He identifies four main roots to the Calvinist day-school: 1.) Cultural roots: The Netherlands 2.) Ecclesiastical roots: The Christian Reformed Church 3.) Religious roots: The Bible  and 4.) New cultural roots: American democracy.

Viewing institutional history in organic terms (such as a plant) is convenient, especially for institutions that have experienced dramatic change as is the case with the Calvinist day-school.  The question we must ask is whether or not the plant of 150 years ago is really the same plant of today.  Or, did the plant die along time ago and a new one has since been planted.

Some of the quotes listed below are given because they represent some of the topics covered in this monograph… and hopefully they whet your appetite to read it!

The purpose of this paper is… to trace [the Calvinist day-school’s] roots and examine their theoretical bases… this understanding is important, because failure on the part of those within the system to understand wherein its theoretical bases differ from those of public education can lead to an unwitting absorption into its own practices and aims of elements that are inconsistent with its own theoretical bases.  On the other hand, failure to recognize wherein the aims and purposes of the system do or can coincide with those of public education can easily lead to fostering anticultural and separatistic values simply to maintain distinctiveness.


The parochial idea [church run school] did not die out with this official act of Synod, and the spirit of both Secessions and the spirit of Kuyperian Calvinism have existed side by side in the church.  It has recently been observed that ‘the Dutch type of Calvinist can be divided into the pro- and the anti- Kuyperian schools,’ and this is doubly true of the educational system which grew out of this tradition


‘It may be known to some but we are certain it is not generally known.  It is this, that not a few of our ministers and some of our prominent laymen would be ready at once to support a movement to make our Christian schools parochial.  Their reason is that they are worried about the future soundness of these schools.’  It is in this view of the school that the doctrine of the covenant as the theoretical justification for separate non-public schools come to be most strongly emphasized.  Those holding this view tend to call the schools ‘covenantal’ rather than either Christian or Calvinistic; and rather than seeking theoretical justification in the Kuyperian conception of sphere sovereignty, they hold that the need for the Christian school rests upon the doctrine of the covenant.   …The doctrine, however, has been very effectively used to gain support for the school movement.  Failure to send children to the Christian school has been commonly identified with failure to fulfill the covenantal vows taken by the parents at the time of the baptism of their children.

These are just some of many topics covered in this short work.  As you may readily notice, Oppewal spends a goodly amount of time addressing the relation between church and school.  Although I don’t agree with all of Oppewal’s thinking, to the discerning reader this work is quite profitable and, therefore, I recommend reading it.

Below is a book Oppewal published that contains this monograph The Roots of the Calvinist Day School Movement along with other writings of his.  I include pictures of it below.  I don’t know how widely available this book is, so the pdf version is a nice option (and its free!)


Hoeksema: School and Church, Part 2

In the previous post, I brought to our attention a lecture that Rev. Hoeksema gave in 1935 concerning the relationship between the school and church.  The name of the S.B. article that came out of this lecture is “The Place of Doctrine in the Christian School.”  I encourage you to read this article.  It can be found in the S.B. Volume 68, Issue 1.

I pointed out that in order to fully understand this article, one must have a sound grasp of the historical context of the Calvinist day-school in North America.  I continue that discussion below.

The Calvinist day-school was originally a parochial one.  The church maintained her; the church hired and fired; the church oversaw the curriculum.  It was also evident that many of these early schools were dismally poor and lacked the support of many parents.  The curricula was crude and teaching the Dutch language was of primary importance.  Read what W.H. DeLange, a Dutch school teacher, wrote in the 1870s,

“I am required to teach the children well enough so they can read and write Dutch.  They learn other subjects in the [public] schools.”    

He was the teacher at the Williams St. School (located in the same building as the original CRC theological seminary), a school under the wing of Spring St. CRC (Grand Rapids, MI).  His comment is revealing on two accounts: 1.) it was not uncommon for parents to send their children, their covenant children, to the public schools  2.) these early day-schools were focused on retaining a Dutch distinctiveness… since the Dutch language and church purity were tightly bound together.

The school was a tool which the church used to in order to help maintain orthodoxy.  H. Van Brummelen highlights this when he writes the following:

“Since for most supporters the life of the church took precedence, they expressed little interest in a balanced, well-rounded education.”

Donald Oppewal, in his very informative piece Roots of the Calvinist Day School Movement (soon to be featured in the Book List!) writes:

“Concern for purity of doctrine and suspicion of the world in general made this group conceive of education in purely religious and doctrinal terms… there was no thought for any education except that which was strictly and specifically for the perpetuation of the denomination and the Dutch heritage in which it was rooted.”

But something happened in the later 19th and early 20th centuries.  The schools changed.  Their organizational structure changed, their pupil population changed, their curricula changed, and their support changed.  A new conception of the Calvinist day-school had emerged.  The school broke away from the church and they became Free Schools.  Free from the state and free from the church.  This changed conception was fairly abrupt.  Some have argued this was simply the natural growth and maturation of the Calvinist day-school.  I disagree.  This was a fundamental change, a change that wouldn’t have happened if God hadn’t sent a man to rock the Dutch Reformed church and community.

Enter Abraham Kuyper (1837 – 1920).

Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch theologian, philosopher and statesman, espoused a different strand of Calvinism.  A Calvinism that was broad.  A Calvinism that could frame one’s entire world and life view.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his followers slammed the shores of North America carrying this Calvinism with them.  One of their first targets was the Calvinist day-school.

… more on this next time!

Hoeksema: School and Church, Part 1

In 1935, Rev. Herman Hoeksema gave a lecture concerning the Calvinist day-schools.   His topic addressed the distinctions between the purpose of the church and that of the day-school.  In this lecture, Hoeksema gave important insight into the relationship between church and school and the foundations they rest upon.  It is evident from Hoeksema’s lecture that he believed the school and the church were in different spheres with different origins, callings and purposes.  Few Protestant Reformed individuals have dealt with this relationship or articulated it in a meaningful way.  Because of this, it would do us well to read what Hoeksema had to say concerning this important topic.

Before I get into the meat of this lecture, it is important that we have some historical understanding of the Calvinist day-school in the Dutch Reformed community in North America.  This is of great importance because there was a monumental shift in the relationship between the school and church only a few short decades prior to Hoeksema giving this lecture.  For many of those in attendance that evening, the change occurred in their lifetime.  What was the change?  It was the abandonment of parochial schools in favor of Association or Society-based schools.

So let’s take a step back in time, prior to 1935.  A time when the Christian Reformed Church was in its adolescence and the doctrinal issues that led to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches weren’t even fully developed yet.  This was a time when the Dutch Reformed were new immigrants in a foreign land; when the Dutch language was considered necessary for the purity of the church.  The year is 1870 and the Christian Reformed synod has declared that every congregation should strive to establish a Christian day-school.  Reason given: the day-school was the nursery of the church.

The Christian Reformed Church, from its inception in the 1850s until about the 1890s, had a conception of the Christian school that was very different from the conception Rev. Hoeksema had in 1935.  The Calvinist day-schools of the late 1800s were parochial (church schools).  Church councils had oversight of the school.

These schools were marked by four common elements:

1.) The teachers were dismally poor.  They had no training in educational principles or practices.  One of the earliest Christian schools in Grand Rapids employed the church janitor and handyman as their teacher.  Another congregation employed a barber as their teacher.  The teachers were poorly trained and possessed little skill in practicing sound pedagogical principles.  As such, the quality of their instruction was equally poor.  A far cry from what the Calvinist day-schools are today.

2.) The curriculum was narrow.  Reading, writing and arithmetic formed the core of the curriculum.  Also, educating the children in the Dutch language was of primary importance.  The church believed that in order to maintain an pure (and isolated) church, the children must retain and use their Dutch tongue.  Reformed doctrine and the Dutch language seemed inseparable.  There was a strong emphasis on memorization and rote learning.

3.) Church doctrines were explicitly taught.  Rev. Van Raalte of the West Michigan settlement believed the Bible and the Heidelberg Catechism were suitable for textbooks in the Christian school.  As a nursery of the church, growing the students knowledge in the catechism was a natural emphasis of these Dutch Reformed parochial schools.  Also, there was little understanding or practical use for culture in the lives of these people.  As such, education that acquainted them with American culture was useless, if not condemned.

4.) Attendance was poor.  By 1886, the Christian Reformed yearbook reported that only 471 pupils were enrolled in six different Christian schools.  Five of those schools were in West Michigan.  While the church leadership promoted the Christian school, the people were often happy to use the public schools in their community.  Supplementing their public education with Sunday School was often good enough in their eyes.

To raise these schools as examples of what a Reformed school ought to strive for is evidence of gross ignorance.  I think we would be appalled if we were to walk into the Dutch Reformed school of the later 19th century.  But I digress.

These schools would soon change.  They would change for the better.  Towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, a new wave of immigration would reach the shores of the isolated Dutch in North America.  These immigrants brought new ideas with them; ideas steeped in the theology and philosophy of Abraham Kuyper.

… until next time!


Van Brummelen, H., Telling the Next Generation

Beets, H., The Christian Reformed Church

Classis Holland: Minutes 1848-1858

Kloosterman, D., Reformed Education: A glorious heritage 

Book List: Shifts in Curricular Theory for Chr. Ed.

Shifts in Curricular Theory for Christian Education by Peter P. De Boer

This is a nice, short monograph that traces the shifts in Calvinist day-school curricular theory from about the 1940s through the 1980s.  I purposefully list this book following my post on Van Brummelen’s Telling the Next Generation because this book is an ideal follow up in the area of curricular development which Van Brummelen addresses in chapter 7.

Curriculum is the “what” of education.  More specifically, it is the systematic organization of what is to be taught to the pupil.  Curriculum theory is devoted to the shaping of this curriculum according to established principles and philosophies.  De Boer highlights shifts in curricular theory found within the Christian Reformed community.  He does not examine the curriculum of schools, per se, rather, he focuses on the writings of certain professors within Christian Reformed colleges (Calvin College specifically).

DeBoer organizes this history into 3 main curricular theories: Christian Traditionalism, Christian Progressivism, and Christian Revisionism.  These three theories should not be understood as mutually exclusive of each other, rather, they tend to emphasize different aspects of education.  The Christian Traditionalist emphasizes the cultivation of the mind through a rigorous liberal arts education with a motive to prepare students for the Kingdom of God.  Christian Progressivism focused more on the development of the child and trumpets the idea that the school must be concerned with the “whole child.”  She emphasizes modern child psychology and tends to be more student-centered.  Christian Revisionism is a drastic change from the other two.  Christian Revisionism is action-orientated.  Her battle cry is “transformation.”

Even today one can find evidence of these three theories in Reformed Christian schools.  Seldom are they held in their pure form; in most cases there tends to be a mingling of the three together.  In the Christian Reformed community, however, Christian Revisionism is dominant.  In the Protestant Reformed community, forms of Christian Traditionalism and Christian Progressivism continually vie for dominance.  Thankfully, I see no inclination for a Christian Revisionist approach.

This monograph is available as a free pdf online or in booklet form.

Read it!… it won’t take long and it is worth your time!

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Hoeksema: 1916 Sermon, Final

Rev. Hoeksema made it very clear in this sermon what the character and magnitude of our children’s education must be.  Note that the word education is not defined narrowly in the context of a formal school education.  It is the total rearing of a child.

As children of God, they must be educated in the precepts of God, that is, the rule of God.  This is the character of their education.  Remember, however, this isn’t a list of laws that are to be memorized by our children.  It isn’t a pharisaical education.  Alfred Edersheim gives insight into this type of education in his book Sketches of Jewish Social Life.  He writes this:

In the days of Christ the pious Jew had no other knowledge, neither sought nor cared for any other- in fact, denounced it- than that of the law of God.  …His religion consisted of two things: knowledge of God, which by a series of inferences, one from the other, ultimately resolved itself into theology… and service, which again consisted of the proper observance of all that was prescribed by God.

No, Hoeksema is not speaking of an education which is theological.  Educating our children in the precepts of the Lord is training them to recognize and submit themselves in obedience to the Lordship of Christ.  Since the Lord is one Lord, He is the Lord over everything.  This informs the magnitude of that education.  Our children must be educated in the precepts of the Lord in every sphere of life.  Children must recognize and submit themselves to the Lordship of Christ in every sphere of life.  Last post, I wrote a little more on what that entailed.

What does this mean for the school?  Does the school, then, have to teach the precepts of the Lord in every sphere of life?  As that question is stated, the answer is No.  Deuteronomy 6:7 does not inform the curriculum of the school.  It informs the character.  Deuteronomy 6:7 does not inform the curriculum of the school, first, because Deut. 6:7 is directed at the instruction parents must give to their children.  Parents must see to it that their children are instructed in the precepts of the Lord in every sphere of life.  The parents have been given the whole pie, not the school.  They use the school in order to have their students instructed in a segment of the pie.  Secondly, for schools in North America, the curriculum is based on a Western liberal arts model.  This, therefore, in large part, informs the school on its curriculum.

The school is an institution that was created to instruct children in a particular curriculum.  The subject matter of that curriculum is well known.  In elementary grades, it consists primarily of reading, writing and math.  In the upper grades, it becomes more specialized: Biology, Algebra, Geography, American History, Grammar, etc.  The children who are instructed in a Calvinist day-school in North America will receive instruction in these areas.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, however, does inform the character of the instruction given in the school.  The character of that instruction must be one in which the pupil sees the rule of God in the curriculum!  The students must be brought to the feet of their Lord and King throughout the entire curriculum.  The curriculum is the context, the Lordship of Christ is the character.  Said differently, in the Calvinist day-school, the curriculum is the subject, the pupil is the object, and the Lordship of Christ is the center uniting the subject and object together.  This is Reformed education!

My focus on Hoeksema’s 1916 sermon has come to an end.  This certainly wasn’t a full and exhaustive overview, but neither was that my goal.  I hope my readers, however, gained a better understanding of the is sermon and what it says concerning the calvinist day-school.

Next time, I hope to look at a lecture Rev. Hoeksema gave for the Christian School Benevolent Association of the First Protestant Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, MI).  It was published in the Standard Bearer in 1935 (Volume 12, pp. 139-142).  The title of this piece is The Place of Doctrine in the Christian School.  This lecture, unlike the 1916 Sermon, has the calvinist day-school in direct focus.

Book List: Telling The Next Generation

Telling the Next Generation: Educational Developments in North American Calvinist Christian Schools by Harro W. Van Brummelen

I thought I would add this as the first book title.  This book is a must for anyone interested in gaining a large historical overview of the Calvinist day-school.  It is well researched and has great references at the end of each chapter.  This is a book I find myself turning to often, therefore, it will remain in my library for a long time.  It doesn’t get into deep details about many topics, but it provides an invaluable historical context of where the Calvinist day-school came from and the struggles she endured throughout her history.  It’s always interesting to see that the struggles of today aren’t always new, they’re just re-packaged.

I’m not sure if it is still in print.

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Hoeksema: 1916 Sermon, Part 5

In the previous posts we saw that Rev. Hoeksema articulated a clear explanation of what constituted the command in Deut. 6:7.  The command is for parents to give their children a distinct education.  The topic of this post will be to look at what comprises this distinct education.

Let’s read what Hoeksema proclaimed, “If, therefore, you ask: What, according to Scripture, must be the material in which our covenant-children are instructed?  We answer without hesitation: The precepts of the Lord our covenant-God with relation to every sphere of life.”

Notice there are two components to this answer.  These two components are not to be separated.  First, the children of believing parents must be educated in the precepts of the Lord.  Secondly, they must be educated in the precepts of the Lord as they relate to every sphere of life.

What are the precepts of the Lord?  Hoeksema addresses this.  “They simply refer to the law of the covenant God.  …these precepts are again expressed in principle in the fifth verse of our chapter, where the prophet says to this people, ‘And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”  Hoeksema shows, however, that the law of the covenant-God is not just memorizing a list of rules.  That is far from the meaning of the text.  The law is principally loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind.  Yet, this alone isn’t sufficient for our understanding.  Hoeksema, therefore, concludes, “Obedience and love are for that very reason often used interchangeably in Scripture, seeing they signify the very same thing… For this reason, it is to the obedience of God’s covenant people that the man of God refers in this text.”

Ah, that is the heart of this content.  The children of God must be taught obedience to God, obedience to God, that is, in relation to every sphere of life!  Hoeksema proclaims, “These precepts are the rule of our thinking and willing, of the life of the soul and of the body, our guide…”  Our children then, must be taught a full and comprehensive world and life view in which every fiber of their being, every formulation of their thoughts, and every motivation of their action is subjected to the will of God!  As my blog heading displays, the children of God must bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ!  

The content of their instruction, then, is the knowledge of the various spheres of life as it is subject to the obedience of Christ.  This means our covenant children must learn the rule of Christ concerning the formulation and expression of letters and numbers; Christ’s rule concerning the origins of this earth, the formulation of rock, cells, and planets.  They must learn Christ’s rule in their earthly relationships as child, father, mother, wife, husband, etc.  In truth, the child of God must learn about every sphere in life because that life is under the rule and Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Sovereign creator and sustainer of all things.  What a task!

Is it possible then to learn about the various spheres of life in disobedience to Christ?  Indeed, it is.  The unbelieving world and even the disobedient and slothful believer can learn a great amount of things, but they will never be able to come to the knowledge of truth.  II Timothy 3:7 makes this very clear when speaking about wicked men at the last days, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  Learning that only brings one to the knowledge of the lie is disobedience.

The content of our children’s instruction is vast, as vast as the universe.  Nothing can escape its bounds.  This, then, takes us back to the day-school.  What does this mean for the school?  Is the school’s curriculum as vast as the universe?  Hoeksema doesn’t speak directly about this in this sermon, but I hope to address it, nonetheless, in the upcoming post.


Hoeksema: 1916 Sermon, Part 4

Last post we looked a little bit at the relationship between the parent’s responsibility to educate their children and the use of the school.  As mentioned previously, it is a relationship that will get treated more fully in the future, D.V.

In this post, I would like to investigate the phrase “spheres of life.”   It is used eight times throughout this sermon and I certainly believe it is worthy of its own post.

By using the phrase “spheres of life”, Hoeksema is revealing something about himself.  He is revealing that he is a Dutch-Reformed Calvinist.  He is revealing that he is a Dutch-Reformed Calvinist whose life and education existed at the outset of the early 20th century.  And, finally, he is revealing that he is a Dutch-Reformed Calvinist who was influenced by the teachings of Abraham Kuyper.  All this just from the use of the short phrase “spheres of life!”

The idea of spheres came hard on the scene with Abraham Kuyper (1837 – 1920).  Kuyper articulated his concept of different spheres in life in a speech delivered on October 20, 1880 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  It was a speech that he delivered at the opening of the Free University in Amsterdam.  In this speech Kuyper developed his idea of Sphere Sovereignty.  Sphere Sovereignty is the concept that all of life is divided into various spheres.  According to Kuyper, “there are as many spheres as there are constellations in the sky” (Kuyper, 1880. p. 467).  There is the sphere of the church, the sphere of science, the sphere of the home, sphere of medicine, etc.  According to Kuyper, each sphere belongs in its own sovereign domain.  Each sphere, then, has the authority to develop and operate within itself with out being violated by the encroachment of another sphere.  For example, science must be allowed to develop in its own scholarship apart from the church, and vice-versa.  The government exists in its own sphere and must not impinge on the work of the university or the church or the home, etc.  I think you get the idea.

Kuyper doesn’t, however, confine the work of Triune God into its own sphere.  On the contrary, we “must also proclaim the Triune God as the only absolute Sovereign” (Kuyper, 1880, p. 466).  It is because God is the absolute Sovereign that Kuyper claims, “This perfect Sovereignty of the sinless Messiah at the same time directly denies and challenges all absolute Sovereignty among sinful men on earth, and does so by dividing life into separate spheres each with its own sovereignty” (Kuyper, 1880, p. 467).  Thus, Kuyper claims the basis for separate spheres on earth is because there can only be one supreme sovereign and that is Christ.

Ok, let’s get back to Hoeksema.  When Hoekseam uses the phrase “spheres of life” he is NOT revealing himself to believe in all the tenets of Kuyper’s Sphere Sovereignty.  That is an absurd conclusion to reach.  No Protestant Reformed man or woman can believe in Sphere Sovereignty in its complete package.  It does, however, reveal that he has been influenced by Kuyper.  It reveals that Hoeksema believed there were many distinct spheres in life.  And in the context of this sermon, he proclaimed from the pulpit that parents were responsible to educate their children in the “precepts of the Lord our covenant-God with relation to every sphere of life.”  This, Hoeksema claimed, comprised the material or the content of our children’s instruction.  What a vast source!

Next time, we will look more at the content of our children’s education and what this means for the school.   This will bring us (in future posts) to another work by Hoeksema on Reformed education… “The Place of Doctrine in the Christian School.”  This is a personal favorite of mine and I look forward to studying it in upcoming posts!


Kuyper, A. (1880). Sphere sovereignty In J. Bratt (Ed.),Abraham kuyper: A centennial readerGrand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.