Friday, February 23, 2007

Calvinist Conversion Stories

Paul knocked to the ground, blinded, and healed, is a dramatic account of God’s effectual calling and sovereign grace. Over the years I’ve heard unique conversion stories, maybe not as striking, but remarkable nonetheless. One of my seminary professors told of a 19th century minister who experienced conversion from his own sermons! Not getting the details, I’ve wondered if maybe this was a conversion myth- but it is not out of the realm of possibility. Case in point: you’ve probably never heard of Pietronella Baltus. This woman refused to shake the hand of her new minister when he came to visit her. Baltus, though a layman and not a skilled theologian, realized something just wasn’t right with the preaching she heard at church. Her minister had been steeped in liberalism and rationalism. Asking her why she would not shake hands, she told him he was not preaching the Gospel, and she subsequently preached it to him. This minister took her words to heart, and credits her as being used by God in his conversion. He kept a picture of her on his desk his entire life. The minister’s name was Abraham Kuyper, one of the most influential Dutch theologians of the 19th Century.

Here a few snippets with the details:

“After completing his doctorate (his thesis was a modification of his prize-winning work on à Lasco and Calvin), he took the call to a congregation in Beesd and married Johanna Hendrika Schaay, a girl from Rotterdam. The congregation, a small village church, was composed of simple villagers, some of whom were themselves modern and worldly, but some of whom were orthodox and sincere. In an effort to get to know his parishioners, Kuyper visited each in turn. He was surprised and chagrined when one peasant girl of thirty, Pietronella Baltus, refused to shake his hand. Finally Kuyper prevailed upon her to do so, but she made it clear she would do this only because he was a fellow human being, not a brother in Christ. It is quite amazing that Kuyper had the grace and humility not only to inquire from her concerning her reasons, but also to return again and again to her home when she told him that he was preaching false doctrine and that his soul was in danger of eternal hell. It was at the feet of these humble parishioners that Kuyper was led back to Calvin and the Reformed fathers, and from them to the Scriptures, the one great fountain of the Reformed faith.” [Source: Abraham Kuyper: Dutch Calvinist]

"Describing the exact nature of his conversion is difficult, but in his four years at Beesd, Kuyper worked out his salvation "with fear and trembling" among the devout, though uneducated, people of his church. These people held fast to the faith of the reformers. One woman in particular, only a few years his senior, had a profound impact on him by articulately explaining how her beliefs differed from his and urging him to read Calvin's Institutes. The people of his church forced him to choose between "full sovereign grace," (as they put it) and the modernist thought he had still kept open for himself. Kuyper said: "Their obduracy became a blessing for my heart and the rising of the morning star for my life…I had grasped but had not yet found the Word of reconciliation" (Henderson 32). Henderson (32) notes several remarkable things about this conversion: 1) it was the people of the rural Netherlands who taught their future leader some important lessons, 2) this experience cemented his affinity for the "little people" who were to become his greatest supporters, and 3) this affinity with uneducated folk took root in Kuyper's personality, style and faith." [Source: George Saylor, Worldview & Theology, Abraham Kuyper]

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