Kraemer, Hendrik (1888-1965)

Dutch Reformed lay theologian, linguist, and missiologist


After studying at the Mission House in Rotterdam from 1905 to 1909, Kraemer studied Indonesian languages at Leiden University from 1911-1912 and was awarded a Ph.D. under the supervision of the Islamic scholar Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1921). As a linguist Kraemer served the Netherlands Bible Society in Indonesia (1922-1937). Then he was appointed professor of the history and phenomenology of religion at Leiden University (1937-1947). Finally he served as the first director of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Château de Bossey, Céligny near Geneva (1948-1955). During his years at Leiden he supervised only one Ph.D. candidate, Arent Th. Van Leeuwen (1947) who later wrote Kraemer’s biography (1959).

kraemer-2In Indonesia, Kraemer was more than just a linguist. He acquired expert knowledge about Indonesian Islam, established the Higher Theological School at Jakarta (1934), and traveled widely to develop Indonesian Christianity “from mission field to independent church” (the title of his 1958 book). In 1936, he was invited to write a book in preparation for the meeting of the International Missionary Council at Tambaram (Madras) in 1938. That book, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World (1938), distinguished sharply between what he called “biblical realism” and non-Christian religious experience. His views, which reflect the work of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, evoked strong opposition in liberal circles and among Indian theologians.

After World War II Kraemer modified his views somewhat, as reflected in his books Religion and the Christian Faith (1956) and World Cultures and World Religion: The Coming Dialogue (1960). In these works he no longer used the term “biblical realism,” and new terms such as “dialogue” were introduced. However, in Why Christianity of All Religions? (1962) he made it very clear that his prewar and postwar views cannot be played off against each other.

Although Kraemer dealt with all religions, he had a special interest in Islam. After Indonesian independence his study on Islam (2 vols. 1928, 1933) was banned by the Indonesian government. His Islam as a Religious and Missionary Problem (in Dutch, 1938) was criticized by scholars of religion. However, Muslims such as Isma’il Raji alFaruqi invited Kraemer to write prefaces to their publications.

After leaving Indonesia, Kraemer involved himself in Dutch church and mission work. He contributed significantly to the revitalization of the Netherlands Reformed Church in the postwar situation. At Bossey he developed a “theology of laity,” publishing a book of that title in 1958. From 1938 to 1961 Kraemer dominated the scene in mission theology.

Jan A. B. Jongeneel, “Kraemer, Hendrik,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 374-375.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


Digital Text

Kraemer, Hendrik. The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World. New York: Harper, 1938.



_____. The Communication of the Christian Faith. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956.

_____. From Missionfield to Independent Church; Report on a Decisive Decade in the Growth of Indigenous Churches in Indonesia. With an Introductory Note by W. A. Visser”t Hooft. London: SCM Press, 1958.

_____. Why Christianity of All Religions? Translated by Hubert Hoskins. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962.

_____. World Cultures and World Religions: the Coming Dialogue. London: Lutterworth Press, 1960.


Hoedemaker, Libertus A. “Hendrik Kraemer.” In Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement, edited by Gerald H. Anderson et al. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994. Pp.508-515.

Perry, Tim S. Radical Difference: A Defence of Hendrik Kraemer”s Theology of Religions. Waterloo, Ont.: Published for the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion Corporation by Wilfrid Laurier University, 2001.

WCC’s Ecumenical Dictionary entry on interfaith dialogue provides reference to Kraemer’s mission theology.


“Hendrik Kraemer.” In Van Leeuwen, Arend Theodoor. Hendrik Kraemer: Dienaar Der Wereldkerk. Amsterdam: W. Ten Have, 1959.