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“A Squeezed Out Lemon Peel.” Abraham Kuyper on Modernism

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It will come as no surprise that theological modernism and Abraham Kuyper do not get on. Famously, Kuyper spoke of modernism as “a fata morgana in the Christian domain.” Kuyper gave the Fata Morgana speech at various occasions, and made the term “modernism” (modernisme) current at the time. The text was published in 1871. This article discusses Kuyper's view of theological modernism, especially the 1871 address, which is his most extensive treatment and criticism of the phenomenon. I argue that the attack on modernism was done in a modern way. The argument is more philosophy of religion-style than (oldfashioned) dogmatic theology. Actually, Kuyper compared world views and argued for the superiority of his own system of thought, which was allegedly geared to reality, whereas modernism to him represented a foul compromise with the spirit of the times, based on a superficial understanding of reality. The rhetorical power of the speech lies predominantly in the suggestion that modernism (although a necessary phase in the course of history) will go down and “we” will prevail. The speech turns on the double meaning of “real” and “realism.” Although the modernists aim to comply and hence make a compromise with the predominant “realism” of the nineteenth century, they actually bypass reality: no real God, no real prayer, no real sin, and no real church.


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