A Look at Books

DE REALITEIT VAN HET GELOOF. H. M. Kuitert. J. H. Kok, Kampen, price f 14.50.

The author of this book is assistant professor at the Free University of Amsterdam. He received his doctor’s degree in 1962, for which he wrote his thesis on De Mensvormiheid God (“The Anthropomorphism of God”). In many respects this new study is a sequel to his dissertation. It attempts to provide a new answer to the age-old question of the inadequacy of our knowledge of God. It is written in a lively and direct style, although it is more or less hampered, so far as lucidity goes, by the fact that the philosophical question of the possibility or impossibility of knowing reality dominates the theological considerations. The sub-title is: “On the Anti-metaphysical Tendency in Present Theological Development,” the main representatives of which are, in the author’s estimation, such existential theologians as Bultmann, Ebeling, Fuchs, Van Buren and some of their Roman Catholic counterparts.

According to Dr. Kuitert the earlier period of human culture was marked by a metaphysically-structured theology. Its fundamental conviction was “that there is not only a world available to us at the foreground which we see and know, but also an invisible world at the background, and that we are able to formulate valid propositions concerning the last as well as concerning the first” (p. 22). He accuses “classical” and “orthodox” theology of “a denial of the historical element in the notions, formulations and conception of the tradition of the message of salvation, in behalf of an unassailable, eternally unchangeable universal validity” (p. 208), and also of a “lack of concern for understanding.” Meanwhile he appreciates existential theology for its awareness of the meaning of history and for its “concern for understanding” (p. 147).

AU who wish to become better acquainted with the intricacies of existential theology and its deep and sensitive understanding, as well as with a relevant internal criticism, should read this book.

As far as his own position is concerned, the author stresses the fact that tradition (in which he includes Holy Scripture) has come to us in a historical way and should be subjected to the common rules of the historico-critical method, since the witnesses of the message received that message from Jesus but, because of their human subjectivity, they wrapped it in some “wrapping-material” (Dutch: “verpakkingsmateriaal,” p. 185), and it is difficult to distinguish between “wrapping” and contents (p. 189). Every age must have its own expression of the truth, since truth always has a provisional character and thus must be appropriated and passed on anew (p. 188). Also because there is a Holy Spirit “today,” we cannot speak of timeless principles. Referring to John 16:33 Dr. Kuitert speaks of the great verification of God’s promises in the “eschaton” (the final end or consummation).

Here I could only touch on some of the main themes of the books; even a summary would require considerably more space than I have taken.

In making some critical observations, I must state in the first place that this book, in spite of some admirable qualities, seems to be inspired by a kind of “reaction-theology.” The author reacts against a certain type of theology with two unavoidable results: first, he is overly critical of the theology against which he is reacting, and secondly, he is not sufficiently critical with respect to other conceptions. Very revealing in this respect is the fact that at times he must correct even what he has written earHer. Thus he writes of “classical theology” (which he does not define sharply and sometimes seems to identify with “orthodox” theology), “With a slight exaggeration we can say of it, that religious reality meant for it that which was relevant to the metaphysical thirst of man” (p. 116). But on p. 156 he concedes that the dilemma “metaphysics or existential interpretation” is much too inaccurate, and on p. 191 he writes that it is a misrepresentation of the Reformed and Lutheran scholasticism, if this type of theology is accused of a merely intellectual conception of faith. Here one should read what follows on the expression in the Heidelberg Catechism “hold for truth.”

I would not contend that the writer in this volume is simply tilting against windmills. Yet the fact must be stressed that even in the corpus christianum of the Middle Ages his construction does not fit, as he claims on p. 212, without serious qualifications and reservations. Metaphysical thirst may have been present among the great Alexandrian church fathers, but even Origen was a very existentially living Christian. And, more seriously and to the point, what about the tradition in Dr. Kuitert’s own church? Was that really a tradition characterized by metaphysical theology?

The author should have been more critical of anti-metaphysical conceptions which he seems to accept off-hand. Thus he stresses the great discovery of Lessing, summarized in his famous phrase: “Zufallige Geschichtswahrheiten konnen der Beweis von notwendigen Vernunftswahrheiten nie werden!” (p. 26-28) Here he neglects to cast a critical look at the two terms which deserve attention: “Zufallig” and “Vernunft.”

Also in the description of the present period l find a lack of critical sense in Dr. Kuitert’s expositions. I very much doubt whether it is true that “in the world of common life of the present (modern) man causality plays an all·dominating role” (p. 12), and that the new radical theology represents the modern spirit of modern man (p. 217). It is my impression that Modernism has always claimed to be modern and up-to-date, today and in the nineteenth and in the eighteenth century, and that it is always marked by some very persistent heresies. On another page the author himself admits that this theology is designed by an elite, a small upper layer in our Western culture (p. 150).

My chief objection to the propositions of the author is that I almost complete fail to find in the book any reference to the inspiration of the Scriptures or to the necessity of regeneration. In Bavinck’s dogmatics we find two significant chapters on the “principium externum” and the “principium internum.” Although we know by now that Dr. Kuitert is not much in favor of unchanging principles, he should have devoted some special attention to the inspiration (theopneustia) of the Bible and to regeneration (palingenesia). At least he should have considered the answers given by Kuyper, Bavinck and other theologians in his own tradition to the question whether the Bible really is a totally human book among other books, to be criticized by the common historico-critical method, and likewise whether in our contact with other men, especially those of our own generation, we deal only with mutual communication which is to continue to the end-time. In respect of this I found only one limitation, where on p. 35 he speaks of a possible cessation of theological discussion because the parties do not understand each other’s motives, and only one heresy, namely, antisemitism. Nowhere did I discover a discussion of that antithesis which springs from the new birth, the main thesis of the very relevant second volume of Kuyper’s Encyclopedic or any exegesis of such pertinent texts as Galatians 1:8,9 and II John vs. 9, 10 which are exceedingly relevant.

Most of all I was disappointed to find in this book the conceptions which have been the stock-in-trade of classical modernism presented as if they were brand new: for example, Scholten on the “modernity” of Modernism and Harnack on the “historicity” of history. When I read p. 218 of this book, I put down in my notes: “Finally the Holy Spirit!” I had been reading so much on the complex nature of the human spirit and of human history, that I was very glad to read these words, “The Holy Spirit is the final secret of the Christian certainty.” What I should have liked is that this book, which speaks so much about the concept of “tradition,” would have given us a little more of the Reformed tradition.


THE WRATH OF HEAVEN. Calvin R. Schoonhoven, Eerdmans Publ. Co., Grand Rapids, Mich. pages 187, $2.45.

This is a well-written book; the thesis is clearly presented; it is argued in a lucid manner, and the end result is that the reader is fairly well convinced of the correctness of the author’s position. To aid the reader the author gives a short summary at the end of each chapter, pinpointing the main thrust of the chapter in question. The title of the book is challenging and intriguing. You ask: what is the argument about? The author makes an examination of the concept of heaven as set forth in scripture. The answer to the question is not simple but difficult because there is in the Bible no structural, didactic treatment given of it. The only way to arrive at an answer is to gather the relevant scriptural material, give an exegetical interpretation of it and then draw the conclusion. The author proves convincingly that the common view entertained about heaven among Christian people is idyllic, an idealized view which finds no countenance in scripture. His contention is that this view is patterned and oriented more to Platonic naturalistic philosophy, which rests on a controlling cosmological dualism, viz., matter and spirit; the world of the “Idea,” beauty, goodness, perfection, eternality, comprising the essence of the true world; and against that the world of matter, this time, space-world, this sensual copy of the eternal Idea. This view was reconstructed somewhat by Aristotle but basically it remained caught up in the same dualism of heaven and earth; the beyond and the here; the heavens is pure spirit, the ideal; the earth and all in proximity is perishability, materiality, elemental opposition. It is the author’s contention that the popular Christian view of heaven, the place where God dwells and where the departed believers now reside, is structured according to these philosophic and speculative ideas rather than to scriptural givens. And this view finds expression in many of the hymns we sing and the views of heaven we entertain concerning the home where the believing departed have now entered, waiting for the day of Christ’s return. Many a Christian reader will be somewhat shocked by this observation; he will find that the idyllic view of heaven he has always entertained and rather consistently dreamed about, is suddenly shattered.

Hence the problem with which the author grapples is the ambivalence of heaven, viz., an imperfect heaven, the negative aspects of heaven as presently constituted. To bolster that basic argument the author informs us that heaven is a place of wrath. The God of wrath dwells there and wrath proceeds from God, from heaven, and blazes out against all sin and abomination. Moreover the powers of evil find residence in the celestial realm as now constituted. True, by the new act, the eschatological act of God, through the crucifixion of his Son, through the mighty resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven, Satan has been robbed and defeated in his jurisdictional and accusational presence in heaven. Yet the angelic powers still operate in heaven and work evil. Moreover, to prove the ambivalence of heaven, the author points to the intense cry of the martyrs who are there under the altar and who cry: How long? viz., how long will it be before God will avenge his, and their enemies. Heaven cannot therefore be a place of pure bliss presently, for the inhabitants there have an existence in tension, a tension of anticipation for the eschatological appearing of Christ who will at his coming initiate the full felicity of the age to come, the real and ever-blessed heaven. Once more, the author contends that the total structure of this age, heaven and earth, has suffered the consequences of man’s defection, his sin and consequently the whole of this age, heaven and earth will be engulfed in catastrophic dissolution.

The scriptures quoted by the author from both OT and NT give no support to the Hellenic, Greek philosophic cosmological dualism and the consequent view of heaven. The scriptures never succumbed to it but rather steadfastly resisted it. The scriptures operate with these concepts: this age and the age to come. Heaven in the bible never “possesses final, terminal and therefore significant soteriological functions, because redemption … in their full and complete expressions are invariably dependent upon eschatology; i.e. the parousia-resurrection-judgment complex that introduces the age to come in contradistinction from this age.” p. 114. Scripture tells us that the whole cosmos, the whole universe, heaven and earth needs redemption, because of the radical penetration of sin into every part of it. Therefore the first heaven and earth have no ontological ultimacy, but is subjected to judgment.

The resolution of this problem, the ambivalence of heaven, i.e. an imperfect heaven, is the reconciling act of God in Christ, through his death on the cross and his mighty resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven. The consummation of this resolution will be at his coming again. Deliverance from the wrath of God is all implicated in the parousia-resurrection-judgment complex which will introduce the new age. Already in Christ the problem is resolved, for God has in Christ, in this great and momentous eschatological act of his death, resurrection and ascension reached down through this time-space world, this present world shattered and completely penetrated in every part by sin, and has in Christ manifested the powers of the age to come. In and through and by him the sick were healed, the deaf were made to hear, the sightless eyes made to see, the dead hearkened to his call and were made alive again. This is the very heart of the Christian’s comfort that he is found in Christ. Through God’s reconciling act in Christ God speaks from heaven only in wrath but no less now in grace.

While he speaks of the ambivalence of heaven, the author tells us in emphatic terms that there is no ambivalence in the wrath of God or in the divine being. Wrath he tells us has real, ontological existence in God; it is an essential property of God. He describes wrath of God as “God’s violent past, present and eschatological thrust against aggressive militant, threatening evil.” p. 36. Quoting Luther, he tells us that wrath is God’s strange work; whereas love is God’s proper work. He claims in this connection that love as a verb often has God as subject; but that to be angry as a verb never has God for the subject; and that in God wrath does not possess the ultimacy of love. p. 36. This view however, may be open to challenge. It is difficult to see, if wrath has real, ontological existence in God, an essential property of God, that on that basis one can rightfully claim a difference of ultimacy as to the properties of God. The author even informs us on the very next page, that God’s wrath must be for ever and ever, that it has no terminus ad quem.

I can heartily recommend the book for careful reading; it will richly repay one’s effort and time. We congratulate the author for a fine piece of work and for a worthwhile contribution.