A Calvinistic University in America

In the last issue I introduced the discussion of the movement for a Calvinistic University in America by undertaking a fairly broad analysis of the present historical situation. An attempt was made to assess elements of strength and weakness as a background for realistic thinking concerning the attainment of this goal. The particular advantage of building upon foundations already laid, and of seeking: the fulfillment of the aspirations held especially by Christian Reformed people, was emphasized. On the other hand, it was suggested that solid reasons exist for concluding that a distinctively ecclesiastical approach is far from ideal and is actually beset with serious obstacles. To the consideration or these and certain broader matters I now turn.



Needed: A Reformed Faculty

In view of the prominence given to the practical aspects of the subject, one or two practical disadvantages may be mentioned first. If the university in view is to be founded, it will be desirable and even necessary to achieve the cooperation of Reformed people, and especially of Reformed men to staff the university. If the men for a university faculty or faculties can be found, there is a considerable prospect of success. Unless the men are available or can be forthcoming, it will be unfortunate to begin.

On the question as to the men available, judgments will differ. But few will have the boldness to say that even a small faculty of university caliber is at hand or assured. And there should be agreement that our university must recruit the strongest possible faculties, regardless of ecclesiastical affiliation. If in advance one should virtually restrict the choice of faculty members to a single denomination, even If it is a denomination of the general strength of the Christian Reformed Church, there is peril that the strongest possible institution will not be erected. Could we therefore afford, even if we could confine ourselves to the practical consequences, to establish an essentially denominational university?

There is, however, the more basic question of principle, and we should be able to agree that principle must be determinative of practice. The Free University of Amsterdam, as its very name intimates, is not an ecclesiastical institution, and the principle that has guided the establishment and course of that institution, would seem to be fully as capable of application in America. The consideration, moreover, that the Calvinistic Christian School movement has been founded on the principle of free, parent-controlled management rather than that of ecclesiastical government, is evidence that this principle has been accepted and acted upon in a successful fashion in the United States.

Church or Society Control?

On the other hand, Calvin College remains under ecclesiastical control and everyone knows that this different approach is bound up with the historical fact that the College developed gradually from an institution concerned with preparatory work for theological study, as well as with the distinctively theological disciplines. From time to time there have been proposals to conform the management of Calvin College to the principle which comes to expression in the Christian School movement as a whole and in the Free University. Few will disagree that the basic reason this has not succeeded is because of seemingly insurmountable obstacles of a practical nature. Nevertheless, from time to time one hears expressions to the effect that there is no real objection in principle to ecclesiastically controlled education of the college and university level. Occasionally Kuyper or Bavinck is quoted to show that, however valid free Christian education may be, there can be no doubt that the Church, at least under special circumstances, may undertake and control Christian education on the higher levels.

Regardless of one’s present judgments on this issue, there can be no question that the issue is one of immense importance in theory and practIce, and that it will be wholesome for all concerned to evaluate the subject as clearly and fundamentally as possible. We should certainly deplore the development of a merely pragmatic attitude toward issues of this kind, for this is the worst kind of treason to Christ. A philosophy determined largely by practical ends will never bring into being a Christian university worthy of the name. Accordingly, we must seek to sift out genuine principles from principles which only appear so, and to guide our program of action by a devout concern to avoid, at any cost, a compromise with the truth.

We Need a Free University!

Though I would not be prepared to insist dogmatically that the Church under special circumstances may not undertake some rather extraordinary measures, it is my conviction that we shall be on incomparably stronger ground if we hold to the line that we must envision a free university. In evaluating this point of principle, it is essential to come to grips with the teaching of the Scriptures concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church. In my judgment, the evidence demands both that we shall not isolate the Church from the Kingdom and that we shall not simply identify the two. Though men sometimes loosely set Church and Kingdom over against each other, it is evident that the Church is comprehended in the Kingdom as a vital and central manifestation of the Kingdom of Cod. The interests of the Kingdom will be advanced only as members of Christ’s body, in obedience to Christ and through the grace of Christ, pray and work for its fullest manifestation.

On the other hand, it is a great mistake to restrict the Kingdom of God to the Church. To assign to the Church the prerogative or responsibility for discharging all of the activities which pertain to the manifestation of the rule of God among men, is to assign to the Church a more inclusive place than is warranted by the Scriptures.

Among Reformed men there has been widespread recognition of the validity of the principle of sphere-sovereignty, a principle that Abraham Kuyper asserted emphatically at the time of the establishment of the Free University. This involves the acknowledgment, among other things, of the distinction between the responsibilities of the family and the Church. But even if there remained doubt as to the ultimacy of the present formulations of the principle of sphere-sovereignty, we should be deeply concerned to avoid assigning a kind of spiritual monopoly to the institution of the Church, as the Roman Church has done. There is general agreement that the Reformed conception of the relation of Church and State, however difficult it may be to formulate it in detail in a completely satisfying way, requires us to uphold, not only the proper freedom of the Church as over against the State, but also the proper freedom of the State in its ow n sphere. Can Reformed Christians, apart from a distressing compromise with principle, fail likewise to maintain and cherish the special liberties of the family?

Safety in Church Control?

The Church has its own specific tasks to perform in connection with the proclamation of the gospel, the maintenance of ecclesiastical government and discipline, and the conduct of worship. No doubt it will necessarily also be called upon to exercise various

functions incidental to the discharge of its central tasks. But if in addition to, and alongside of, the fulfillment of the specific work which it has been established to perform, it also engages in various extraordinary tasks such as the conduct of scientific research and the training of doctors and lawyers, it would trespass beyond its proper field. h might easily become delinquent in discharging the specific mandate of Christ if it is occupied unnecessarily with other tasks. Hence, the principle that education of a comprehensive character shall be Free from church control is supported not only by a sober estimate of the specific and restricted sphere of the Church, but also by the urgent summons to insure that the Church shall not fail to be absorbed with the fulfillment of its peculiar mission in the world.

There are those who appear to hold that there is a measure of safety in church control of education which may be jeopardized if such institutions are free. If this meant only that there would not be a thriving development of the Kingdom of Cod apart from spiritual strength and alertness in the Church, we should certainly agree. But no concrete institution, a denomination no less than an educational society, is secure unless its members are devoted to the truth and arc vigilant in exposing and thwarting the enemies of the truth. A denomination may drift away from the faith and carry with it its own educational institutions, as ecclesiastical developments in this country have often demonstrated. And educational institutions may undermine the vitals of the Church. Accordingly, we must not misread and oversimplify the lessons of history. Not the Church alone, and not its members merely as individuals, will give assurance of fidelity to the Christian faith and practice. ‘This can be given only as the Church is on fire to fulfill its mission, and as individual believers are aroused to do all for the honor of the King, both within and without the Church.

A Workable Plan

Our general conclusion on church and university is therefore quite definite so far as principle is concerned. On procedure the matter is much less clear. I do not presume to advise the Christian Reformed Church as to the government of Calvin College. It is indeed difficult to conceive of a development of a Calvinistic University in the present situation which would not work in close conjunction with this College. It may perhaps prove feasible, even if Calvin College remains under church control, to work out a plan whereby it would practically serve as the undergraduate college to the university development. As to this and other possibilities, I have expressed my views somewhat more fully in an article appearing in the September issue of The Reformed Journal. My main concern here, however, is to urge that, whatever practical measures may seem wise, it would be highly advantageous to establish the university, at least so Far as graduate work is concerned, as a free institution controlled by a society of Reformed Christians.

In concentrating attention largely upon the Free University, Westminster Seminary, the Christian Reformed Church, Calvin College, and the National Union of Christian Schools, my purpose is not to slight or exclude any other institution or group. As has been emphasized, it will be essential to achieve the widest possible co-operation of Reformed men and institutions. We may not overlook any resources, especially in man power, that may be available. The discussion of the situation in concrete and specific terms has been dictated, however, by the determination to avoid vague generalities and to face as forthrightly as possible various concrete aspects of the present situation.

The Christian University Association

On the background of these evaluations, expression may be given to judgments as to the possible place of the Christian University Association in these developments. This Association has in view as its goal the establishment of a Free Reformed University “maintaining high standards of scholarship, founded upon and adhering to the Christian system of truth and way of life as set forth in the Reformed standards.” As the supreme standard the Association acknowledges the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being the “Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” The Constitution of the Association further states that “the institution shall provide training and conduct research through competent Christian scholars whose intelligent understanding of, and devotion to, the Christian faith will supply the true basis for, and the proper integration of, knowledge in the various fields of learning. Through such training and research it will endeavor to equip men and women to bring the Christian faith in all its elements and implications effectually to bear upon the whole of life and upon every sphere of human vocation.” And as a Declaration it has adopted the following formulation of principles:

“In accordance with the position set forth in the Basis and in pursuance of the design set forth in the Purpose, the Association declares as follows:

A Statement of Principles

“The standpoint of the Association is that of consistent Christian theism. The triune God and he alone is self-existent and self-sufficient. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe. Of him and through him and to him are all things. He is the source of all truth. Hence the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All true knowledge in men is based upon, and is oriented to, the revelation God has been pleased to give of his mind and will God has left the imprints of his glory upon all his works in creation and providence. But because of the fall of man and his consequent depravity, man is in need of a knowledge to enable him to glorify God as Lord and Savior which the revelation of God in nature. does not provide.

“The special and completed revelation of his mind and will, adequate to meet this need of fallen man, God has deposited in the Holy Scriptures, his infallible Word. It follows that, even though in virtue of creation in the image of God and the non-saving operations of the Holy Spirit men receive knowledge, in a certain sense, apart from the illumination derived from the Scriptures, yet in any department of reality knowledge is true in the fullest sense only if it is illumined by, and is faithful to, the Holy Scriptures, the inspired Word of truth.

“An institution of higher learning that will have as its objective the knowledge of the truth and the glory of God must insure that the principles that underlie and guide the studies in every department shall be derived from the Scriptures. Each department of the institution to be established and promoted by this Association, therefore. shall rest upon, and conduct its work in accordance with, the presuppositions of the Christian faith and shall subject its whole procedure as well as its conclusions to the scrutiny and direction of the full-orbed revelation of God in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”

The Association’s Setbacks Do Not Indicate Defeat

This Association has indeed suffered setbacks and defeats of a very discouraging nature. Our failures could be recalled, but to do so would be of doubtful utility. It may be stated, however, that among the reasons for lack of success a few years ago was the consideration that, in attempting to secure cooperation of representatives of many groups, the movement became inclusive of viewpoints irreconcilable, as other members came to see, with the distinctively Reformed position stated in the Constitution.

Nevertheless, the movement should not be entirely discounted. As noted above, it fashioned a constitution which contains basic principles that are vital to any Reformed university that may be established in the future. Moreover, though various persons who appeared to stand together at the beginning faced the unhappy experience of parting from one another because of differences of viewpoint concerning the nature and position of a university, there were several members of different denominations who continued to stand together in a fellowship of thought and high purpose which has become all the more meaningful and precious because it has weathered storms of controversy regarding various profound issues.

That the Association has survived in spite of its many disappointments can be explained only in terms of a profound sense of commitment to a divine mandate which “bids men everywhere to think His thoughts after Him, to exercise dominion over all things according to His will, and to consecrate themselves and all things unto Him.” Because of these factors there remains a possibility that the Association may yet be able to achieve its goal.

Nevertheless, if I may venture to express what appears to be the prevailing viewpoint, we are taking new account of the situation which now exists and in which a Calvinistic Christian University must be brought into existence. This particular Association is not regarded as possessing certain prior rights in the field. If the Association can be utilized toward the accomplishment of its great end, that would be gratifying. In that case, however, it is not vital that the governing board of the university or the trustees of the Association should include necessarily the present members of the Board. Nor do we regard the constitution of the Association, in spite of our zeal for its main provisions, as an instrument that needs to be perpetuated in every detail. Finally, we do not think this Association itself is indispensable. Our devout concern is that, within or without the structure of this organization, the essential ideals and principles of the Association should be maintained and should flood historical realization. To the realization of that goal we meanwhile continue to dedicate our best efforts.

General Conclusions

Finally, I desire to sum up certain broad conclusions which appear to be essential to realize the goal of establishing a Free Reformed University in America.

1. It will be necessary, first of all, in the spirit of Christian good will, to seek to secure the fullest possible c0operation of the distinctively Reformed forces in this land and even beyond Our borders. Such cooperation will be required particularly with a view to the formation of competent, discerning and faithful faculties.

2. The university movement must make it unmistakably clear that it has in view nothing short of an out-and-out Reformed institution with a clearcut educational philosophy, including the basic elements of the Purpose and Declaration of the present Association. A mere synthesis of Reformed and non-Reformed, or of Christian and pagan, perspectives will not measure up to the requirements.

3. If the university movement is to succeed. it must be able to arouse a considerable company of God’s people to support the cause because they believe in it and are persuaded that it is their cause. God’s people may well come to share the conviction that nothing short of a comprehensive system of Christian education, including of necessity instruction and research on the very highest academic level and preparing men for the learned professions and other vocations, is not a luxury, but a necessity grounded in the Christian faith.

Pray and Work!

4. Such a movement, characterized by profound commitment to the Reformed faith, and commanding the prayerful support of Calvinistic people of every vocation, can be expected to prosper only as there is a humble supplication of God for a powerful up· surge of Christian faith and life. More than human calculations and cooperation are demanded. We must pray and work, not merely that non-believers may be converted and that non-Reformed churches and men may become Reformed. Among us who are perhaps proud of our Reformed name and heritage and present progress, there must also be a profound concern for genuine spiritual revival and reformation and a new dedication of our lives and fortunes to the end that the kingship of Christ may be freshly acknowledged in word and deed.

As we turn back to God, to the Bible, to the foundational principles of our faith, we may discover, as God’s people have often in times past, that the resources available for the accomplishment of God’s will far surpass their earlier calculating estimates. In such a faith and spirit we shall not mind beginning in as small, and apparently as insignificant, a way as our principles dictate. But we shall surely be enabled to make a real beginning in dependence upon the indispensable blessing of almighty God.