An Open Letter to the Faculty of Calvin Seminary

I read carefully the letter you sent me by way of The Banner of December 4, 1970. In the same issue I read Dr. De Koster’s evaluation and his suggestions as to our proper reactions. J am in almost complete disagreement with Dr. De Koster. As Dr. De Koster has done, I will give my evaluation.

In the little that I have read about the differences between your critics and you, the issues were that someone was teaching contrary to Scripture or the confessions, never about confidence or lack of it. You have thought it unnecessary and unwise to respond to such particular criticisms. This failure to address yourselves to the issues, I believe, is the source of the lack of confidence about which you complain.

As I see it, you insist on speaking about personalities, first of all about yourselves. Twelve persons, whose signatures appear, you say, are innocent “deny and repudiate the charges.” In that same stroke of denial and repudiation, of necessity, you infer that there are other persons, whose names we may only guess at, who have created a situation, a frame-up for false charges to your personal damage, the damage of a bad reputation. This way you do it. After making some general statements about your concern, your sadness, your acknowledgement of frailty and sin, your seeking of forgiveness and correction, your welcoming of instruction and admonition, your distress and sorrow in misrepresentation, your commitment, your acceptance of the Scriptures. your endorsement of the confessions, your resolve to be faithful, your pursuit to interpret the Gospel to and for our modern world, and your willingness to submit to any responsible inquiry—after you have said these things and more—you “deny and repudiate those charges and insinuations which call into question our dedication to the Lord and our commitment to Scripture and the confessions.” When you say “charges which undermine the confidence of our people in the Seminary” you are saying the same as when you would say that there are certain persons undermining the confidence of our people in the Seminary, by making false charges. You are speaking of the actions of certain people, not of something abstract, apart from personalities. Whom are you addressing the letter to? To us, about them, and about yourselves.

When you teach, preach, and write in public you ought to be immediately and fully responsible for what you say, and you ought to be challenged in public. Paul withstood Peter to his face. The Bereans, characterized as being more noble because they investigated the truth of Paul’s words, would probably have challenged him if they had found his teachings false. The exhortations of Paul in his letters presuppose that there was dialogue, a rightly criticizing, and a rightly trying of the spirits, in the early meetings of the “called out.”

On the other hand, you should he seeking out these people, who, you say, are making false charges and are damaging your reputation. Dr. De Koster says you speak in love. 1 don’t see a great deal of love in these your doings—your charging others with making false charges while you are not facing the issues, your insinuations of a frame-up to undermine confidence in you, and your confusing the issues.

It ought to be evident to you that lack of confidence cannot be an issue or point of difference. Even as peace of mind (which you never get by seeking it) is a result of how you live and order your life, so confidence or lack of it is a result of what you have done and how you have met the issues. In a sense you can speak of lack of confidence as an issue, if you think of it as a situation which distresses people, and you think of how important confidence is in good relations. So Clem Morgello in Newsweek of December 14, 1970 quotes one man as saying that the loss of public confidence is the gut issue of the day. But Morgella docs not fail to show that lack of confidence is a result. He quotes another man as saying that we’re suffering from our mistakes. Confidence is not something we can make decisions about. It is the result of having made decisions about other things and having acted in accord with them.

The decisions are made about the things that make for confidence or lack of confidence. What makes a customer’s confidence in a merchant? Is it not what the merchant has done in the past? What makes the merchant’s confidence in his customer?

Not the customer’s own asseveration that he is honest, but the customer’s reliability in the past. There is hope for a poor credit risk to build lip confidence; but be sure that it will take time and a lot of open honest dealing and facing of the issues.

You equate criticism with injury. To me what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18 is quite another thing from the immediate and full responsibility you ought to have toward the “called out,” toward the world, for that matter. I believe it is your Christian calling to enlighten, and to defend what you say in public. Over some hundreds of years these things have been confused and the clergy have built up a system of procedure which almost guarantees them immunity from criticism. It is much easier to speak or write to captive audiences. I believe that this system, that we are victims of, is not conducive to having truth prevail and to quality preaching and teaching. And it surely always tends to lack of confidence. The best men have not hid behind this immunity, and just naturally, is a result, have enjoyed the confidence of their people. This immunity has come to a crisis in our times, particularly now in the letter you wrote us.

You should have been giving us leadership in doing away with this evil of clerical immunity. You arc now using it as a cave to hide from proper responsibility and criticism in the issues that you have created by your teaching, preaching, or writing. A step forward? Or possibly, another step forward? as Dr. De Koster suggests.

I plead with you then to go back to immediate and full responsibility for what you say, and what you teach future ministers. You will reap the natural fruits. That’s what I believe the present situation demands. If you start facing the issues today there may be a restoration of your tranquility.

Yours for the building up of the church of Jesus Christ,

Highland, Indiana


My appreciation is expressed to the editor for the opportunity to reply to Mr. Van Til’s letter. I will not attempt a point-by-point reply, but will single out what I take to be the main contentions of the letter.

First, Mr. Van Til thinks that the faculty’s Open Letter points an accusing anger at certain unnamed parties. He finds this unjustified, evasive, and offensive. I am sorry that the faculty’s letter is so understood. and cannot agree that this is a valid understanding of it. We have not singled out any individuals for charges or counter-charges. We are not undermining anyone’s reputation. The situation is simply that we have become aware in various ways rumors and suspicions leading to a lack of confidence in ourselves. It is precisely the absence of concrete charges which makes these difficult to cope with. In our letter we arc saying to every church member: “If anyone tells you that we are not dedicated to the Lord or committed to the Scriptures and the Confessions, don’t believe him. It isn’t true.”

Secondly, Mr. Van Til disagrees with our emphasis on confidence or the lack of it. The issue, he says, is that someone is teaching contrary to Scripture or the Confessions. When we teach, preach, or write, we ought to be immediately responsible for what we say and willing to face public challenge.

I quite agree, and so do we all, as to that responsibility. There are two levels of responsibility. We accept both. The first is the level of differences of theological viewpoint or interpretation. This calls for public discussion in order to arrive at clarity. The second is the level of doctrinal orthodoxy. This calls for responsible iniquity through the church assemblies. The first may indeed lead to the second, but the two are distinct from each other. Neither of these has been avoided by any member of the faculty.

If there is something about our teaching, preaching, or writing which is open to the theological criticism, we are willing to enter into discussion and debate on it. Our record is, I think, clear on this score.

If there is anything about our activities which appears to be a violation of our subscription to the Confessions, we are ready to submit to ecclesiastical inquiry. Our record on this score is clear also, and we have reaffirmed this readiness in our Open Letter. We are called by consistories, who have supervision over our doctrine and conduct. We are further governed by a Board of Trustees, representative of all the Classes and responsible to Synod. This is less like a cave to hide in than like a showcase for all to view. There is no immunity for us to hide behind.

We do not seek immunity from public debate on theological issues. We do not seek immunity from tests of our doctrinal soundness. We do crave immunity from irresponsible rumor-mongering. It is a disappointment to me that any Christian should take this ill of us or fail to respond immediately that he will grant it.

If anyone has evidence that we have not been willing to take responsibility for our teaching, preaching, or writing, he would do the whole community a service by producing it. Until that takes place, everyone, myself included, has the right to assume that the evidence does not exist.

Let me ask Mr. Van Til whether he has never heard of a merchant whose business was ruined because of false whispers about his merchandise. Or is he totally unacquainted with the power of the sly question which falls short of making charges? This is the foe we find hard to fight. We don’t think this is really fair. More profoundly, we are quite convinced that this is not the way the Church of Christ is to be edified.