A “New” Approach to the Interpretation of Scripture (III)

In addition to the criticism stated in my first and second articles the following critical remarks may be made.

1. If there were any doubt concerning the unreformed trend of Dr. Kuitert’s theology and suggested “new” approach to the understanding of Scripture, this doubt would be removed already with the tribute he pays in such glowing terms to the theology of bishop Robinson. The fact that Dr. Kuitert can praise the bishop’s book “Honest to God” for having “created such a sense of liberation, particularly for numerous Orthodox Protestant Christians” proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Dr. Kuitert’s conception of Orthodoxy is fundamentally different from that of Scripture and the Reformed confessions. For the bishop’s book is one blatant distortion of the Christian faith, which has filled the hearts of all truly Orthodox Protestant Christians with a holy indignation. Or, Kuitert’s “Orthodox Protestant Christians” cannot possibly be ORTHODOX, and the liberation they have felt must have been a liberation from truly orthodox doctrines, which were a burden to their unorthodox souls. When Dr. Kuitert adds that this sense of liberation concerns particularly the way in which Dr. Robinson would permit the Christian to use today’s language, this statement cannot change the above criticism a whit. For a theologian of Dr. Kuitert’s format is quite aware of the fact that bishop Robinson does not simply mean that the old truth should LINGUISTICALLY be proclaimed in today’s language (no Christian would deny that!). No, what the bishop tried to do, and wants the Church to do, is: fashion the truth itself to the taste of modern man, so that the Gospel, which according to Paul is “not after man” (Gal. 1:11 ERV) becomes a Gospel after man.

2. It is clear from all Dr. Kuitert’s statements that he rejects the historical reliability of Scripture. and that his suggested “new” approach implies this rejection. Where Dr. Kuitert’s method would lead us as it has already led himself is evidenced by the following facts which Prof. Dr. H. Van Riessen, professor of Calvinistic Philosophy at the Free University has severely criticised in the “Mededelingen” (Information) of the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy, March 1967. from which what follows under a and b has been taken.

a. In an article entitled “De Goede Schepping” (The Good Creation), published in 1963 as part of a symposium “Geloof en Wetenschap” (Faith and Science), Dr. Kuitert states that the Creation Record of Genesis finds its source in the (pagan) myths of Israel’s Babylonian-Assyrian neighbours. Without these myths “the biblical faith in Creation could not have come into existence” (is niet te denken). Israel bent and reshaped these myths till finally a story ensued ““suited to the God in Whom Israel believed.” “This Israelite Creation narrative has nothing to do with the description of an original state (“oertoestand”). ‘Ihe sequence of Creation and Fall as given in the narrative is of no importance” and the trustworthy core (real matter!) of Genesis 1 and 2 is roughly that “the God of the covenant with Israel is the God who created the world.” This means that if Dr. Kuitert were right we could as well replace nearly two chapters of Genesis by the first verse: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” The rest is for the greater part “wrapping material”!

b. In 1967 an address, given by Dr. Kuitert, was published in “Report on the Conference on Evolution problems.” Here Dr. Kuitert writes that according to him the Adam and Eve of Genesis never existed, nor has there been a Paradise state.

All this implies, of course, that other Biblical references to an historic Adam and Eve and a historical Fall including the speaking serpent, must be regarded as negligible “wrapping material,” such as for instance Paul’s statements in Rom. 5:12ff., 1 Cor. 11:8; I Cor. 15:22,45; II Cor. 11:3; I Tim. 2:13, 14 and Eph. 5:31. But if Paul was mistaken here by taking Genesis 1–3 literally, how can we be sure that he was not mistaken in many other doctrines?

c. In “Gereformeerd Weekblad” (Reformed Weekly) of 12 and 19 May, 1967, Prof. dr. H. Ridderbos severely criticizes the attacks by Doctorandus Baarda on the authenticity of certain sayings of Jesus and on the reliability of several historical narratives in the Gospels. According to Prof. Ridderbos Mr. Baarda’s booklet was publicly praised in the newspaper “Trouw” by Dr. Kuitert, who expressed his agreement with the contents.

It is clear from Dr. Kuitert’s book, also in the light of a, b and e, that his “new” approach to the understanding of Scripture means the practical denial of the Bible’s inspiration and infallibility, whatever lip service he might be prepared to pay to these doctrines.

3. As regards Dr. Kuitert’s suggestion to let scientific Theology find out for the Church what is the real matter of God’s revelation all through Scripture: Woe unto the Church if she ever accepts this. If the Church stops to believe that the Bible from cover to cover is the inspired and therefore in all respects (the historical narratives included) the fully reliable, inerrant Word of God, then no Theology, however scientific, can be of any help to her to get at the truth of God. For Theology is HUMAN work and therefore, like all sciences, fallible. The history of Theology speaks of endless controversies even on the basis of an infallible Bible and of numerous “new” approaches which after a while had to be set aside as obsolete and leading to a dead end.

Take Dr. Kuitert’s denial of the historicity of Paradise etc., or Mr. Baarda’s denials of some important sayings of Jesus and historical events in the Gospels. Are these denials based on FACTS, discovered by a scientific Theology? Not in the least. Many other Reformed theologians and philosophers, who are not a hair less competent than Dr. Kuitert and Mr. Baarda, deny that there is any reason for such denials. Even if a majority of Reformed theologians would reach similar conclusions, it would say nothing. The majority has often been wrong, sometimes the whole Church with all her theologians, as the Reformation proves. One man, standing four-square on the Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God is right, even if all other theologians believe that the Bible is not reliable. The yoke of scientific Theology as Dr. Kuitert wants to impose it upon us is a hard yoke. Those who take it upon them become entangled in endless doubts and cause the Church to lose all certainties. Only a Theology which in childlike faith starts from an inspired and therefore inerrant Bible can be of help to the Church of God.

4. We may be thankful that Dr. Kuitert still believes in the Jesus of Scripture. It is obvious, however, that with his “new” approach he is busy sawing off the very branch on which as a believer he is sitting. If scientific Theology may discard certain sayings of Jesus as well as Paul’s statements which show that he accepted Paradise, Adam, Eve, the Fall and the serpent as historical realities, then we can never be certain that Jesus really is as the Gospels picture Him, nor that Paul’s teachings concerning the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection are more than just his personal opinions, to which we are not bound. History has shown that as soon as the plenary inspiration of Scripture and its full historical reliability arc denied, the one error leads to the other and that in the end the Christ of the Scriptures, the true Christ who alone can save us, vanishes out of sight.

May the Lord have mercy on the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, with men like Dr. Kllitert and Mr. Baarda among those that instruct the greater part of their future ministers. And may He prevent our Churches, beginning with their ministers and the professors and students of our College, from ever accepting Dr. Kuitert’s theories. It would mean the end of our Churches as truly REFORMED Churches.

Dr. J. Schep is emeritus Professor of the Geelong Theological Seminary, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.