Poverty and Christianity

Kuyper addresses the causes of poverty; balancing both the individual and structural causes, which come to a head due to error and sin.

It is shameful for fathers and mothers to let their children grow up naturally without improving on nature through the art of education. It is nothing but primitive barbarism whenever human society, without higher supervision, is left to the course of nature. Thus, the art of statecraft, here taken in the higher sense, intervenes so that out of society a community may develop, and that the community, both in itself and in its relation to the material world, may be ennobled.

If, in the course of history, men did not fall into error, if egoism and crime did not interfere, then the development of human society would always follow its course peacefully, moving forward without interruption to a completely happy condition. Unfortunately, the situation is not so promising. True, a certain instinct has guided every culture to the recognition of a few indispensable bases for all human society. In this respect, geniuses and heroic figures have from ancient times had many a fortunate intuition. But as soon as it came to the need for a more elaborate regulation of this complete phenomenon that we call human society, action after action was misdirected, as much by those who established social customs as by those who acted with magisterial power.

Human Error and Sin

In both instances the series of misdirected action had two invariable causes: error and sin. Error insofar as there was ignorance about the essence of man and his social attributes as well as about the laws that govern human association and the production, distribution, and use of material goods. Sin insofar as greed and lust for power (expressed either through force or through vicious custom and unjust law) disturbed or checked the healthy growth of human society, sometimes cultivating a very cancerous development for centuries. In time, both error and sin joined forces to enthrone false principles that violated human nature. Out of these false principles, systems were built that varnished over injustice stamped as normal that which actually stood opposed to the requirements for life.

This article is excerpted from James W. Skillen’s translation:

Kuyper, Abraham. The Problem of Poverty. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 2011.

For Further Discussion:

Understanding Poverty the Christian Way on The Reformed Conservative 


The Reformed Conservative aims to reunite gentlemanly virtues with scholarly conversation. Standing in the great Reformed and conservative heritage of thinkers like Edmund Burke and Abraham Kuyper, we humbly seek to inject civility into an informed conversation, one article at a time, bringing clarity out of chaos.

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