Daniel Strange, “Rooted and Grounded? The Legitimacy of Abraham Kuyper’s Distinction between Church as Institute and Church as Organism, and Its Usefulness in Constructing an Evangelical Public Theology,” Themelios 40, no. 3 (2015): 430-445.
In this article Strange conducts a helpful survey of Kuyper’s church as institution / church as organism distinction. Strange notes that this distinction is used by many in discussions of public theology, but Kuyper’s precise understanding is often not in view. After surveying Kuyper, Strange raises a number of concerns. First, he notes that Kuyper moves from metaphors in Ephesians that are organic and institutional to a model of the church as institutional and organic. Exegetically, he finds this move untenable. Second, Strange seems hesitant to identify as church anything that is not gathered. He seems to understand the universal church as gathered in some sense in heaven. Third, he’s concerned that Kuyper privileged the organic church over the institutional church, especially in his later writings. Interestingly, he brings in Van Til’s critique of Kuyper’s view of common grace at this point in which Van Til thinks Kuyper too influenced by Plato and Kant in an emphasis on “abstract universals” (the organic church being more of an abstract universal than the institutional church), Nonetheless, Strange is willing to accept distinctions such as “church as church, and church as Christians” (Carson), “the public ministry of the church and the church as people scattered in their various vocations” (Horton), or “church ‘gathered’ and church ‘going’” (Strange’s own proposal).
This is a helpful survey and critique. Though not convinced of the second point of the critique, I find Strange’s other concerns to be compelling. Nonetheless, I still wonder if the organic/institution language may still retain value.