I just finished reading Kuyper’s masterpiece, Principles of Sacred Theology. Of all the theological encyclopedias that I own, this one is by far the best, for Kuyper recognizes the fact that theology is truly an organism, not a compartmentalized series of specializations. Kuyper also recognized the importance of doing theology in the context of the church and in service to the church. Look at some of these quotations, which desperately need to be heeded today.
Without this sense of service (to the church and to the Holy Spirit, LK) all study becomes subjectivistic, unhistorical, and arrogant, while, on the contrary, the placing of oneself at the service of the truth, i.e. in this instance of the Holy Ghost, banishes all pride, curbs the desire to be interesting by exhibiting new discoveries, feeds the desire of theological fellowship, and thereby sharpens that historic sense which impels the theologian to join himself to that great work of the Holy Spirit effected in past ages, which at most he may help advance a few paces (p. 586).
No man is a theologian in a scientific sense unless he is also a partaker of personal enlightenment (Kuyper means regeneration here, LK) and spiritual experience. For, unless this is the case, his starting-point is wanting, and he has no contact with the principium of theology (Kuyper means Scripture as principium, LK). Neither can the theologian stand outside the church relation, and thus outside of personal union with the churchly confession, for then he finds himself outside the historic process (p. 590).
The theologian should not undervalue the confession of his Church, as if in it a mere opinion presented itself to him over against which, with equal if not with better right, he might place his opinion (emphasis original, p. 591).
A company charged with the public water-works may change the direction of some part of a river-bed by cutting off some needless bend or obstructive turn, but this does not render the company the original creator of the river who causes its waters to flow. In the same way, the scientific theologian may exert a corrective power here and there upon the confessional life of the Church, but this does not constitute him the man who sets this life in motion (p. 591).
It is not lawful, therefore, for him simply to slight this confessional life of the Church in order, while drifting on his own oars, to construct in his own way a new system of knowledge of God. He who undertakes to do this is bound in the end to see his labor stricken with unfruitfulness, or he destroys the churchly life, whose welfare his study ought to further (p. 592).
To be able, however, to accomplish this task, scientific theology must be entirely free in her movement. This, of course, does not imply license. Every study is bound by the nature of its object, and subjected to the laws that govern the activity of our consciousness. But this is so far from a limitation of its liberty, that its very liberty consists in being bound to these laws. The railway train is free, so long as the rails hold its wheels in their embrace. But it becomes unfree, works itself in the ground, and cannot go on as soon as the wheels jump the track (pp. 593-594).
Here is a parting question for my readers: how many theologians do you know that need to heed Kuyper’s words? I can think of dozens without even half trying.