The following is an updated version of an interview conducted with Steve Bishop at All of Life Redeemed in 2019.
Could you start by saying something about yourself? Who you are, what you do and where you have come from?
I am an American citizen living in the Netherlands. My parents hail from Puerto Rico, a US possession in the Caribbean. That’s where my name comes from! My father being a career naval officer, I was born in Annapolis MD and raised in Virginia Beach VA. Following in his footsteps, I attended the US Naval Academy for two years, but being an undisciplined lout, I resigned and went to Virginia Tech, where I pursued a degree in forestry. During that period I converted to Christianity, which turned my life upside down, or rather, right side up. From that point I have been gripped with the conviction that the kingdom of God involves every area of life, and that my calling is to explore that and do my best to work it out theoretically. For this reason I was drawn early on to Neocalvinism, and still retain the basic conviction that Christ’s kingdom extends over every area of life, as well as the basic concept of an antithesis that cuts right through culture and thinking. But I have adopted Hoedemaker’s version of these rather than Kuyper’s.
How did WordBridge Publishing come about?
I moved to the Netherlands in 1990 in pursuit of a Dutch lady with whom I have been married for lo these 31 years. One of the things that attracted me to her and her country was the theological inheritance they have. I had been reading Dutch theologians in translation, but wanted to master the language. Mission accomplished, I became a professional translator of business and financial news. Later I branched out to undertake my own projects, involving economics, law, and theology. WordBridge is the result of that. I was dissatisfied with the limited (i.e., zero) opportunities provided by existing publishers, and having already learned the ropes of book publishing, I started my own publishing firm, precisely to bring those translations onto the market.
What sort of books are you interested in publishing?
The three areas of inquiry that I think are most important are precisely the three that get short shrift in formal education: economics, law, and theology. For me, these are the core disciplines. I wish to publish in these three areas, and furthermore, to generate a synergistic interaction between the three, because they are interrelated. They all three have to do with balancing accounts. Economics revolves around accounting for credit and debt; law, around accounting for crime/tort and redress thereof; and theology, accounting for guilt and atonement. All of these have the same root.
Do you think the emergence of electronic books will dent the market for paperback books? Will we still have paper books in twenty years time?
Actually I don’t think so, except perhaps in the realm of mass-market paperbacks. In my own publishing experience, hardcopy outsells ebook format at a ratio of perhaps 10-to-1, if not more. I think in future people will use them both in tandem, especially for any kind of rigorous scientific work, as each has its advantages and disadvantages.
One of the most recent of your publications is Article 36 by P.J. Hoedemaker. What was your aim and purpose in translating and publishing this book?
As I said, I became engrossed in Dutch theological writing that was available in translation. Once I learned the language, however, I discovered other material that had not been translated. My wife was the one who first introduced me to this other stream. In America we know of Abraham Kuyper, he represents Dutch Reformed theology. But in the Netherlands Kuyper represents but one variation in the Dutch Reformed theme. The other major variant was provided by the national church, and the names were Hoedemaker, Noordmans, Van Ruler. Article 36 perhaps best represents this other school of thought. It takes on Kuyper’s church/state model head on, and vouches for another approach, more in line with historical Reformed thought, that of the Christian state and the publicly-recognized church, both of which Kuyper cast aside.
Could you give some of the background to the book, for those who know little of Dutch Reformed history? For example, what is article 36? and who was Hoedemaker?
Article 36 of the Belgic Confession argues that the civil magistrate should promote the true religion and “remove and prevent” idolatry and false religion. Kuyper argued that this meant that the Belgic Confession, and Calvin and the Reformed fathers generally, carried on the Roman Catholic inquisition. Hoedemaker debunks this criticism and shows that the Reformers argued in favor of freedom of conscience, but also required that the true religion be recognized by the state, as guideline for and restriction on state power.
Hoedemaker himself has an interesting history, being born into a separatist family and having spent his teenage years in America. But he finally found his calling, not as a separatist or an advocate for a “free church in a free state,” as one might expect from his background, but as an advocate for the national church – “all the church and all the people,” as he put it. In his view, a national church organized along Presbyterian/conciliar lines provides a bulwark and foundation for the nation as a whole, beyond party politics, which drives people apart. Much of contemporary political conflict and culture war could be avoided if there were a national church which was grounded on Scripture and a solid confession of faith, such as the Netherlands had had and could have again, coupled with a constitution in which the Christian religion is acknowledged as the source of law. The people were certainly not opposed to it; it was the elites that time and time again worked against this ideal.
What were the key disagreements between Kuyper and Hoedemaker?
Kuyper advocated disestablishment, a neutral state, and Christians acting in the political sphere to realize Christian values (an extension of his doctrine of church-as-organism). Hoedemaker saw this as folly. It would lead to a secular state, rampant unbelief in public institutions; it would isolate Christians, push them into a ghetto, and eventually lead to the Christian subpopulation being subsumed into the secularized majority.
Who do you think was right Kuyper or Hoedemaker?
I thought Hoedemaker was right even before I’d ever heard of him. It bothered me about Kuyper that he advocated the disestablishment of Christianity in public life, as is evident from his Lectures on Calvinism. Hoedemaker’s arguments, along with others like Van Ruler’s, are to me unanswerable. And after having translated Article 36, I think Hoedemaker ably dismantles Kuyper’s argument.
Why is this book important for today?
This can all seem like a hopeless tilting at windmills, but in fact the perspective Hoedemaker brings offers the only way out of the current impasse. We got on this track by embracing the neutral state. This has led to the silencing of the church – of the truth – and the triumph of opinion riding on power, exactly as Hoedemaker predicted. If Christians can recover a vision of the church as a unified body taking a public stand for the truth, then the state and the culture and the social order can be restored. But it will take Christians turning away from structural individualism and toward structural corporate life and action as the visible body of Christ to make this a reality.
Where can potential readers get hold of the book?
The book itself is available at all online bookstores. In North America, the WordBridge webstore is available as well. Check the website for more information: www.wordbridge.net.
What other projects are in the pipeline for Wordbridge?
As a companion volume to Article 36, the other of Hoedemaker’s major books is being published as we speak. This would be Reformed Ecclesiology in an Age of Denominationalism. This book basically picks up where Article 36 leaves off, exploring the possibility of restoring the church to its role in public life. Furthermore, another book on ecclesiology has been published, in which Adolph Harnack and Josef Bohatec take on Rudolph Sohm’s influential concept of the church. The former line up with the Reformed, while the latter is Lutheran. I have also published a 20th-anniversary edition of my first book, A Common Law: The Law of Nations and Western Civilization. This book is especially timely now, in view of the controversy surrounding Brexit. It outlines the conflict within Western civilization between the common-law and civil-law orientations, the Anglo-American orbit reflecting common law, Continental Europe reflecting civil law. It is this conflict which with Brexit is surfacing again.
What do you like to do for fun?
I translate books. However, even that can get boring. So then, I also play guitar, play tennis, go sailing whenever I can and enjoy watching American sports over the internet thanks to web services that archive these events so you can watch them whenever you want. Having grown up in the 60s and 70s, I love pop and rock music from back then, but I also love classical music and can have some jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, here and there as well. And I really do love studying the Bible along the lines of the great themes: covenant, kingdom of God, baptism.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished An Eye for an Eye by Anthony Trollope, which does not end well for the protagonists. Trollope has a penchant for bad endings, more so than most Victorian writers, and his books are wonderfully refreshing when compared with the expressions of cultural decline which modern fiction presents. I’m also reading Theocratie of Ideologie (Theocracy or Ideology) by Dr. W. Aalders, which was published in 1977. It is perhaps the best presentation of Groen van Prinsterer’s thought, and the most trenchant critique of modern culture available. Sadly, it is only available in Dutch, as the heirs of Aalders’ estate have refused to allow the translation of his work.
If you were on a desert island what two luxuries would you take with you?
Assuming electricity (solar panels)?, probably my e-reader full of select PDFs, and my laptop. I’d have to have something to write with, right?