To Be or Not To Be Reformed Whither the Christian Reformed Church? by R.B. KUIPER.
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids 6, Michigan 1959. 192 pages. Price $2.95
This book had to be written. Perhaps it should have been written sooner; certainly not any later. The author, Professor Emeritus of Practical ‘Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and President Emeritus of Calvin Seminary, is by no means retired. Those of us who know him do not expect him to re tire so long as he has reasonably good health. And we pray that such health may he given him for some years to come. His vigorous pen repeatedly has made us indebted to him. Among his publications are such titles as, While the Bridegroom Tarries, As to Being Reformed, and more recently, The Glorious Body of Christ.
The volume under review, published a few weeks ago, was written in commemoration of the birth of John Calvin, the 450th anniversary. As we have come to expect from this esteemed author, preacher and theologian, this latest book exhibits vital thinking on important issues, issues which the church to which it is primarily addressed cannot afford to ignore. The subtitle—Whither the Christian Reformed Church—implies concern about that church. This does not mean that tile author is pessimistic about its future. One can he concerned and still he fairly optimistic. Some people may look at that subtitle and quickly infer from it that the book is censorious. It isn’t that at all. Professor Kuiper is alarmed about trends in our church, as undoubtedly more of us ought to be, but, unlike some of us, he is not disposed to cry, as did the mariners in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “We split, we split, we split!”
How could he utter such a cry when he lauds the Christian Reformed Church for its orthodoxy? What docs he mean by its orthodoxy? He means that the church in which he was reared and ordained “regards the Bible as the supernaturally inspired self-revelation of God” (p. 24), that “it adheres to that interpretation of the Bible at which the historic Christian church has arrived under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth” (p. 25), that “it adheres to the Reformed faith” (p. 27), that “throughout the first hundred years of its existence it has remained remarkably well balanced in its theology” (p. 31).
What, then, was the purpose Professor Kuiper had in mind when he wrote this book, especially in view of the question he asks in its subtitle? The purpose, as he states it in the preface, Is to address a plea to the Christian Reformed Church “that it continue Reformed” (p. 7). Again, on page 117 we read, “Its purpose is to warn the Christian Reformed Church against threatening perversions of the historic Reformed faith and to remind it of certain troths to which It must cling tenaciously if it would continue as a Reformed church.” He thinks that the Reformed character of the church for which he has a warm love is being threatened and that currently there are specific perils that beset it. Assured that the strength of this church lies not in separatism but in its distinctiveness, he is particularly concerned with the possible fading away of that distinctiveness, what Abraham Kuyper called “de verflauwing der grenzen.” Professor Kuiper goes so far as to say that there are members of the Christian Reformed Church who think that their church can wen afford to become somewhat less Reformed. These are the folks who entertain the notion that the Reformed faith is a mere addition to the Christian faith (cf. p. 84).
In proceeding to substantiate this observation Professor Kuiper follows a method in which his material is presented radially, a feature that makes his book all the more informative. For example, on page 38 he begins a discussion of the church emerging from its hundred years of isolation. This provides him with the opportunity to warn us about the dearth of doctrinal discernment and the need to be alert for contemporaneous heterodoxy, a matter to which he refers again on page 115. He specifies some of the theological errors of our day that are “truly alluring” (p. 40), the old liberalism that is by no means dead; the dialectical theology, known as Barthianism, which presents “a most attractive front” (p. 41); the universalism represented by Nels F. S. Ferre; the theological school that receives some of its inspiration from Bishop Anders Nygren of Sweden. This is one of the most valuable sections in the book.
Professor Kuiper is fearless in specifying the dangers that threaten our church. There will be those who will disagree sharply with him, some may become angry, but even they will not fail to be impressed by his forthrightness. As James Russell Lowell might have said of him too, “He gets inside our guard with the home thrust of a forthright word”. He avers that “our people manifest less interest in doctrine than they did three or four decades ago” (p. 44), that during our recent centennial celebration we were altogether too diffident with respect to the doctrinal issues which gave rise to the founding of our church in 1857, that the book reviews appearing in our periodicals are, from a doctrinal standpoint, “shallow” (p. 45). He warns us that “there is but a step between indifference to doctrine and theological liberalism” (p. 46).
Gratitude is expressed that our church has been kept faithful in upholding. both in theory and in practice, the doctrine of the covenant of grace throughout tile first century of our existence as a denomination. “At this point the distinctiveness of the Christian Reformed Church stands out with great clarity and its glory shines forth with great brilliance” (p. 67). The author also takes grateful note of our outstanding progress in evangelism, but with this lie adds: “Our zeal for evangelism is not nearly as warm as it ought to be” (p. 77)…“By and large we do not witness for our Lord as we should” (p. 81). This latter he regards as “an outstanding weakness of the Christian Reformed people.”
In his chapter on The Church and Its Schools Professor Kuiper voices the conviction of us nil when he says: “The Christian Reformed Church is deeply indebted to its schools, most of all to its seminary, for its continuing orthodoxy” (p. 92). How many of us will go along with with him in what follows? “If Calvin Seminary is to serve the Christian Reformed Church as it should, it will have to put more emphasis on learning than it has done in the past”…“Perhaps the mast urgent need of Calvin Seminary is that it come to grips with contemporaneous thought”…“If Calvin College is to serve tile Christian Reformed Church well, it will have to put more emphasis all piety than it is doing today”…“The supervision now exercised by the Christian Reformed Church over its college does not excel In effectiveness. The interviews to which the Board of Trustees is want to subject prospective teachers are not as a rule thorough” (pp. 92, 93, 98). These observations, in the opinion of the reviewer, deserve the attention of every member of our church. The reviewer, however, should like to make one remark about the author’s reference to piety at Calvin College. Granted that our schools should impart learning and instill and encourage piety, we must keep in mind that our students are pretty much what they are because of the homes and the churches from which they come. That there should be elevating influences at work in the lecture rooms and on the campus of our college goes without saying. That these influences should never be regarded as being beyond improvement is perhaps a fact with which our college administration and faculty would be the first to concur. But in the long run a college cannot rise very far above the spiritual level of its supporting constituency.
How have we been handling the doctrine of common grace? The author is not averse to facing that question. He writes: “The danger is most real that we of the Christian Reformed Church will so abuse the doctrine of common grace as to dilute the Scriptural teaching of the antithesis of the church and the world, the regenerate and the unregenerate, and in consequence will become conformed to the world”…“It cannot be denied that the danger of conformity to the world is far greater than is the danger of flight from the world” (p. 112).
In a well-written chapter on The Church and Ecumenism we are given the author’s views respecting the issue of united theological education in Nigeria. This is somewhat of a burning issue with us at present. A committee appointed by the Synod of 1958 is studying the matter. Professor Kuiper reminds us that we arc being asked to participate in the establishment and maintenance of a school for united theological education instead of a Reformed seminary. This means that we shall be co-responsible for the entire program of the proposed school. The question that disturbs many of us here is, Just how “united” will this education be, if the other teachers in that school are loyal to their convictions as we naturally expect them to be? “Self-contradictory theological education”, writes the author, “cannot be expected to produce ministers with strong theological convictions—least of all on a mission field” (p. 178). In this connection it might be wise for all parties concerned with this issue to give some attention to an address made at our 1958 Synod by the Reverend Bassam Madany in which he declared thai the Moslem world has no greater need than the distinctively Reformed presentation of the Gospel. Mr. Madany is a native of the Middle East. He knows the Moslem mind and the problems of Christian Missions in the Moslem world. To the reviewer it appears that Mr. Madany’s observations have considerable bearing on the matter of theological education in Nigeria where the menace of Mohammedanism is a growing one.
By all means read this book. Our Men’s Societies could have a most profitable sea· son next year with this volume as the basis for free, open-hearted discussion. This would not be a substitute for Bible study, for the fact is that Professor Kuiper’s book is for of Bible study. Sunday evening after-church groups will find here much to elevate their conversations. Its great appeal is for Reformed distinctiveness in a contemporaneous Reformed witness. Read this book to become convinced again of the dangers of Arminianism. Read it to be reassured that the genius of the Reformed faith is its God-centeredness. And read it, too, to appreciate afresh the precious heritage of the Christian Reformed Church.
The General Epistle Of James by R. V. G. TASKER
A commentary. Tyndale series. Eerdmans 1957. $2.00
In his introduction Prof. Tasker argues at length about the probable date of the epistle. His conclusion Is that James was not written as early as many commentators have stated. The evidence points in the direction of a rather late appearance. In his opinion James wanted to combat early perversions of the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith. This would explain the text: “You see that man is not justified by faith only.”
Alexander Ross, in his recent commentary on James, has argued for an early date. He comes to this conclusion by stating among other things that no mention is made at all concerning the famous apostolic council in Jerusalem, over which James presided. Ross maintains that no satisfactory answer has been given to this objection by those who favor a later date.
To this reviewer it would seem, weighing all the arguments both commentators present, that Mr. Ross is the more convincing in his presentation of the data involved.
Otherwise this book is heartily recommended to interested theologians, whether amateur or professional. All the problems surrounding the epistle of James are dealt with satisfactorily. No conflict is apparent in the epistle with tho Pauline letters, a thesis admirably defended by the author.
The print is sharp and clear, but the Bible itself will have to be kept open alolngside the commentary as no textual citations are included. It is worth mentioning that the sober exegesis of the famous passage in 5:15 is stunning in its simplicity. Says the author simply: “All prayer is subject to: ‘Thy wiII be done.’ That limitation also holds for our text.”
A fine piece of work and identical in appearance to the Tyndale commentary on Thessalonians. It is worth having.
Leer En Leven by J. G. FEENSTRA
Eenvoudig dogmatitch leesboek. 316 page •. Kok, Kampen 1956 Fl. 9.75
This is another book by the well-known author of Onze Geloofsbelijdenis. The sub. title explains more precisely the contents of the book. It is meant for the amateur theologian who wants to acquaint himself with all the loci of dogmatics. without being stopped short by all sorts of technical terms.
In the nature of the case, much of the ground covered in this book can also be found in the author’s on the Belgic Confession. Nevertheless, it makes for refreshing reading. Not for one moment does the author yield to the temptation to set forth the data in a matter of fact manner. On the contrary, an urgent undertone Is plainly audible all through the book: whatever is written or read must be our personal conviction and commitment, not a scientific treatise “an sich.”
The book should find a place in the libraries of those Young People’s Societies whose members are able to read Dutch. It will make good reading for all who want to know more about the systematic presentation of Scriptural truth. The writer’s clear presentation of the covenant of grace, predestination, the states of the Mediator, and other important dogmas will enrich the life of the reader.
Our Young People’s Societies would be benefited if such a book would be available in the English language. The style is up to date and, we would almost say, existential, in the good sense of the term.
Evangelisch Commando II by Rev. H. Vollenhoven
Kok, Kampen. 1957.
Since tho last war the problem of evangelism, particularly among the unchurched youth, has been brought sharply into focus. This author has written two volumes, dedicated to Christian youth, telling them about the command of Christ to be active soldiers in the army of Christ for the purpose of winning their young neighbors. In the first volume the territory was staked out; in this volume the actual battle has begun. In six chapters, entitled: reconnaissance, approach, confrontation, group formation, concentration, and spiritually prepared, we are given an idea of the warfare at hand.
Rev. Vollonhoven deals at length with the point of contact and concludes that there Is no point of contact IN man, hut only outside of him, for example, in general revelation. God has not left himself without a witness and man ought to conclude from that witness that God exists. Yet, seeing God’s power in nature manifested, man does not want to see him and thus is guilty of willful suppression. Yet, this is the only legitimate point of contact as it is based not upon man, but upon God’s revelation.
Tile book is interesting reading, as it shows once more that the adolescent youth in the Netherlands is not nearly as church· minded as is often supposed. In many ways, however, the author raises various questions which are left unanswered. It is quite clear there is a command to seek our non-Christian neighbor: just how to do that is another matter. All sorts of contacts are to be made with these youngsters and careful advice is given against overdoing when speaking to them about the eternal values, but we get very little if any advice about asking them to come along to church. That, it seems to us, is like telling the poor man about a wonderful restaurant, without taking him there and buying him a square meal.
Augustinus Over De Staat by Dr. A. Sizoo
J.H. Kok, Kampen 1947
Levende Woorden Van Augustinus
Collected by Prof. Dr. A. Sizoo, J.H. Kok 1954
The above titles are but a few of the recently published works in which the very words of the Bishop of Hippo are reproduced or his significance for our day is attested. Dr. Sizoo has simply translated and edited the core of Augustine’s doctrine concerning the State, which includes his disquisition on war and peace, and furnished it with a most enlightening introduction, in the first volume. The second title, which constitutes a little volume of sermon excerpts, is beautiful in every detail, a joy to every book-lover, and gives one a fine insight into the practical, though sometimes too allegorical, method of the church father. For those who still enjoy reading the language of the fathers this literature is of the greatest value!
Mensbeschouwing En Maatschappelijk Werk by Prof. Dr. G. Brillenburg Wurth
Uitg. van J.H. Kok Kampen 1957
This interesting booklet grew from a lecture which the author gave at a conference for Reformed Social Work in the Netherlands. It has been dedicated to “De Nijenburgh,” the institute of the Gereformeerde Kerken for the training of social workers.
It is not only that these facts might open our eyes to see what more could be done on the field of social work in and by the Christian Reformed Church, which warrants a review of this booklet in our publication. The content itself is of great importance to us.
In the Netherlands the question has been raised why social work should be done by different groups, churches and organization. Is Dot social work merely a technique to teach people how to help themselves? Among us the question would be formulated in this way: does social work not belong to the sphere of common grace? Therefore there Is a certain relation· ship between the problem in the Nether· lands and in the new world, but with this difference, that there the problem is raised from the outside, here from within our own circle.
If you read this book of Prof. Wurth two things will strike you forcibly: first that the author knows so much about socIal work; second, that he maintains that all social work is determined by one’s philosophy about man.
Again and again Prof. Wurth stresses the fact that we must learn from those who do not share our Calvinistic life and world view. They certainly possess elements of truth.
On the other hand, however, we are told again and again that all theories which are not based upon the Word of God, interpreted according to our Confession, fail and why they must fail.
This booklet indeed is written In the spirit of Dr. H. Bavinck, for it gives the opponents ample opportunity to clarify their position. Dr. Wurth discusses the issue in a very friendly manner; nevertheless he does not give in as far as principles are concerned.
He discusses in the main the psychoanalytical and the phenomenological approach, which are dominant in the field today.
I am glad with the latest production of this very productive scholar—not only because we can learn from it how to deal with the common grace issue, but mainly because it is a good and safe guide for ministers and all others who must deal daily with people, and who face the problem: What is man? Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.
Christelijke Encyclopedia I
Edited by Dr. F.W. Grosheide and Dr. G.P. Van Itterzon. Publ. by J.H. Kok, Kampen, 1956.
Once a person is joined to Christ in the way of faith he wants to view life in the light of the Savior and his revelation. The editors and many contributors to this encyclopedia seethe total human adventure in this way. The whole of created existence as to origin, meaning, purpose, and destiny is viewed in the light of God’s Word. The work concentrates on such subjects as religion, the “geisteswissenschaften,” and a myriad of social problems. In more technical areas, such as nuclear physics, the treatment is restricted to what the editors term “kemproblemen.”
We wish to commend the author on their work. Obviously each article bears the traces of its original author, and not every man has equal ability. On the whole the articles are factual, brief, lucid, and geared to a specifically Christian point of view. Most of the articles can serve either as a valuable introduction for fur the r study or as a concise summary of main points of interest. Those of our readers who can read the Dutch language will find this volume. and the others still to come, a valuable addition to their bookshelf.
There is, however, one regrettable feature. Many of the articles in this first volume are geared too narrowly to the small country of Holland. It is true that the editors intend this work for Dutch Protestantism, but this does not mean that the contributing authors should concentrate their source materials on Dutch and German sources. With such limitations they are depriving their Dutch readers of much valuable material. A few examples will indicate this serious limitation.
The article entitled “anthropologie” contains no mention of the views of Reinhold Niebuhr or of William Temple, Both these men have made significant additions to the field of anthropology and the many Dutch readers which this work deserves are the poorer for not knowing of these contributions. The same is true for the article on apologetics. Neither C. Van Til nor E. Carnell are mentioned and both these men are doing much for the worldwide fellowship of Evangelicals. Curiously enough, this same continental myopia plays its own debilitating role in the article on “bejaarden,” where the whole development of geriatrics in the American medical world is not even mentioned. The same failing can be discovered in the article on labor.
These limitations of vision prejudice the value of the work both for readers in this country and for those in the Netherlands. Perhaps the cap· able editors of this valuable set might pay closer attention to this matter in succeeding volumes and future editions. This work deserves another edition and we hope that many who still read Dutch will use this Christian Encyclopedia.
Alexander C. DeJong