Flashback • One movie too many
Champion of Calvinistic higher education denounced for liberal views
by Richard Harms, Archivist

Barend "Barney" KuiperAn eloquent, early voice calling for the creation of Calvin College came from Barend K. Kuiper, instructor of history and sociology. In 1903 Kuiper, known familiarly as B. K. or Barney, published a pamphlet, “The Proposed Calvinistic College in Grand Rapids,” in which he pointed to the value of higher education in general and to the absolute need for distinctively Calvinistic higher education in the United States. The Christian Reformed Church, he argued, needed an institution to both prepare its own students for ministry and to engage society as a Calvinistic witness.

Kuiper, born in the Netherlands, was the eldest of seven children of Rev. Klaas and Maaike Kuiper, who had emigrated to the United States in 1890. Having completed three years of study at the University of Chicago in 1900, Kuiper was appointed to teach at what would later become Calvin College. Beginning in 1903, Kuiper spent four years studying in Europe, earning a doctorandus in theology from the Free University in Amsterdam. He returned to teach at Calvin, often brilliantly, but could also be late for class or unprepared.

Outside of the classroom, Kuiper urged those in the Christian Reformed denomination to speak and write in English, since continued use of Dutch isolated the church from society. Kuiper also supported the views of Rev. Johannes Groen, who advocated women’s suffrage despite the denomination’s objection to allowing women to vote. As a result of these opinions, Kuiper was viewed suspiciously by those convinced that the denomination could maintain its integrity only by remaining separate from society.

In 1918 Kuiper submitted his resignation, citing very low pay and an arduous work load. A number of attempts were made to dissuade him, including a promise to address his complaints. He refused to withdraw the resignation. He then became the religion editor for Eerdmans-Sevensma, a local book publisher, and, curiously, given his views on language, also served as editor of the denomination’s Dutch-language periodical, De Wachter. The next year, he published the first of his three major books, De Groote Oorlog (The Great War). As editor, he became part of the acrimonious debate in the church over the reappointment of Ralph Janssen to the seminary. Kuiper supported Janssen, who ultimately was not reappointed. In 1922 Kuiper resigned his two editorships and subsequently was appointed to serve as an unordained minister in the Englewood Christian Reformed Church in New Jersey.

When the seminary reorganized its faculty in 1926, Kuiper was appointed to teach historical theology. Given his previous stances, critics who were opposed to his appointment began looking for reasons not to reappoint him two years later. They found such reasons when Kuiper was seen entering the Wealthy Street Theater; at the time the denomination was formulating an official position against card-playing, dancing and movie-attending — collectively known as worldly amusements. Although Kuiper initially explained that he had entered the theater so that he could adjust his dentures outside of public view, he later admitted that he had attended movies after his appointment to the seminary. The same synod that in 1928 denounced worldly amusements also refused to reappoint Kuiper. After 1928, Kuiper held a variety of jobs and published two books, Martin Luther: The Formative Years (1933) and The Church in History (1951), but the champion of Calvinistic higher learning never taught again.