First Reactions to a Recent Lecture

There has not been time for a complete evaluation of the speech by Dr. George Stob as reported by the Rev. Joseph Hill (see p. 5). In this article we can state only some of our first reactions. More will be said later.

Our first impression is that though Dr. Stob’s lecture rates high in surface plausibility and as propaganda it can hardly be called a serious and worthwhile discussion of the issue involved. A good example of the advertisement—like extremism which marks the lecture is the remarks about Marvin Hoogland, who started the present controversy by his Stromata article on “Infallibility Questioned.” He is declared to be “a careful student of theology, a theologian. He was as old as Calvin was when the latter wrote the famous treatise De Clementia.” We do not deny that Marvin Hoogland is a bright student but to speak of him as a theologian and to suggest a comparison with Calvin when the brother had not been in the Seminary three months at the time he wrote said article simply shows how easy it is to let our personal sympathies carry us to queer extremes.

Dr. Stob’s lecture, we said. does not deserve to be called a serious and worthwhile discussion of Scripture inspiration—unless Rev. Hill’s report is altogether inadequate. We find no real exegesis of any Bible passage, no worthy discussion of II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:21. In regard to the former we are told that the words: “Every Scripture is inspired of God” do not mean that God breathed every word of Scripture! But that is precisely what Paul is saying about “pasa graphee” which means literally “all scripture”, Surely, this passage deserves more careful consideration than is given it here.

It is significant that in his interpretation of II Timothy 3:16 brother Stob parts company with those among us who admit that, according to this passage, every word of Scripture is God-breathed but who seek to harmonize this with their view that there may be historical and other errors in the Bible by saying that God was willing to include such errors in his inspired Word since they concerned only peripheral matters, minor details. But George Stob denies that such details were God-breathed. He rejects the doctrine of plenary (full) inspiration by denying that God breathed every word of Scripture.

But note how inconsistent the speaker was in his reply to one of the questions asked him: “If it is true that there are real errors, discrepancies, inaccuracies in the Bible and this comes to be acknowledged by Reformed. Christians, will it not be necessary to re-define and perhaps eliminate such terms as plenary inspiration, verbal inspiration, infallibility, and the like?” Frankness, intellectual honesty should have prompted an affirmative answer. But Dr. Stob stated that such terms need not be dropped from our theological vocabulary but may continue to be used. Yet in the body of his lecture the speaker had definitely opposed the idea of plenary inspiration and verbal inspiration. Would he, then, justify the dishonest tactics of many modernists who put new and improper meanings into old terms to quiet possible suspicions while undermining orthodox teachings?

Dr. Stob takes issue with those who hold to plenary (full) inspiration on the ground that they approach Scripture with a preconceived theory of inspiration instead of letting the Bible speak for itself. Our contention is that Dr. Stob is guilty of the very thing of which he accuses us. He ignores the fact which all Reformed theologians emphasize that there is a doctrine of Scripture in Scripture itself, found in both the Old and the New Testament. It teaches that the Word written is, as Calvin puts it, the very mouth of God, that all Scripture and all of Scripture is God-breathed, that it cannot be broken. To all of this the speaker paid little or no attention. He comes to the Bible with “the theological postulate” that when there are seeming contradictions in the Bible, these contradictions are not apparent but real. He would have nothing of attempts to harmonize such apparent discrepancies. As we see it, this is not a believing approach to the Bible. It is not even a scientific approach. For a true scientist will not ignore what the object of his study or investigation teaches about itself. He will not reject its self-testimony until he has absolute proof that this testimony is unreliable.

Further, Dr. Stob is not in line with Reformed tradition in quoting writers to support his views. He fails to quote a single Reformed dogmatician and the only Reformed theologian to whom he does appeal is misrepresented. The witnesses he summons are James Orr, Matthew Henry, and Everett Harrison. Ref 0 r m e d authors, such as Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, Hodge, Warfield, Berkhof, Murray are passed by. The reason is simply that all of these oppose Dr. Stob’s view of inspiration. We have read the Berkouwer article to which he refers. It contends simply that the human factor in the composition of Scripture should not be ignored. Berkouwer is careful not to say that there are faults or errors in the Bible because of that human factor. As to the quotation from Herman Ridderbos, it fails to support Dr. Stob’s contention. We agree with the statement in When the Time is Fully Come that “the Gospels are very imperfect books of history.” The purpose of the Gospels was not to give us a history of the life of Jesus but primarily to tell us about the establishment of the kingdom of God through the incarnation and the ministry of Jesus Christ. Ridderbos writes as follows:

“The Gospels are very imperfect books of history. It is not possible to acquire a real insight into the historical succession of all recorded events. The Synoptic Gospels do not give us au exact account of place and time for all the occurrences in Galilee. The sequence of the words and deeds in the Gospel of Matthew is in many cases very different from that in Mark and Luke. We do not receive any information as to the duration of the appearance of the Lord in Galilee…The scope of the Evangelists differs widely from that of the common writers of history. They do not claim to give an accurate and continuous report of the history of Jesus, but to show in what way the Kingdom of God had come in him. For their purpose it was not important to give an exact account of all the journeys that Jesus made, nor to make known on precisely what occasions Jesus spoke all his words.”

We disagree with none of these sentiments. Neither do Warfield, Murray, Young, Stonehouse or any of the defenders of the full inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. Yet Ridderbos is the only Reformed writer in whose published works Dr. Stob tries to find confirmation for his low view of inspiration.

In a later issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET a reply will be given to the contentions of James Orr, Matthew Henry, and Everett Harrison as quoted in Dr. Stob’s lecture. But: it is well to remember that though these writers are of the conservative, evangelical type (vague and hazy designations indeed!) they are not in the Reformed line or tradition.

Finally, there is a special reason why we deeply regret the fact that Dr. Stob accepted the invitation of the Chicago Calvin Alumni to present his views on inspiration. (We were informed that the invitation was first given to Dr. Henry Stob of Calvin Seminary who declined it.)

It is our conviction that any minister or professor of the Christian Reformed Church who either publicly or privately defends the view of inspiration set forth in the Chicago lecture violates his ordination vows.

Yes, we believe in what our Reformed fathers called the “libertas prophetandi”, that is, the right of expressing one’s convictions on doctrinal matters in so far as the exercise of this right involves no denial of teachings specifically taught in our creeds, or doctrinal standards. However, the Formula of Subscription which an our professors, ministers, elders, and deacons are required to sign forbids the propagation in any form of views that conflict with these standards. In fact, it requires the solemn promise diligently to teach and faithfully to defend all the doctrines taught therein and the rejection of “all errors that militate against this doctrine.”

Further, every signer of said Formula (See Psalter Hymnal [old], p. 70) also promises that if he at any time should entertain doubts about the soundness of the aforesaid doctrines, he “will neither publicly nor privately propose, teach, or defend the same either by preaching or writing, until” he has “first revealed such sentiments to the Consistory, Classis, or Synod, that the same may be there examined, being ready always cheerfully to submit to the judgment of the Consistory, Classis, or Synod, under the penalty in case of refusal, of being by that very act suspended from our office.”

It is our firm conviction, expressed without the slightest ill will toward the brother concerned, whom we admire as one of our very able ministers, that in denying that every word of the Scripture is the inspired Word of God, Dr. George Stob has violated his oath of office as given in the Formula of Subscription. Anyone who denies the full inspiration of the Bible contradicts the plain teaching of our Belgic Confession on this paint. We do not admit that there is room for a difference of opinion on what our Confession teaches on Scriptural inspiration. The pronouncements of articles III to VII are so plain, unequivocal, and emphatic that only one interpretation is possible, namely, that “Scripture in its whole extent, in all it’s parts, and in all its words, is the infallible and inerrant Word of God.” That is the interpretation given by the Ecumenical Reformed Synod of South Africa (Acts, 1959, 2 B.1, “e”), adopted by our Synod of 1959, and accepted by Seminary President, Dr. J0hn H. Kromminga even though he held to a different interpretation before Synod met.

A comparison of the sentiments of Dr. George Stab, as expressed in this recent Chicago lecture, with the pronouncements of our Belgic Confession, can only serve to highlight the fundamental conflict between the former and the latter. Article IV declares that “nothing can be alleged against” the books of the Old and the New Testament. Article V teaches that “all these books are to be received for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith” while the statement that follows proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that everything contained in those books is for the regulation and confirmation of our faith; for we read: “believing without any doubt all things contained in them.” One cannot say in all honesty that he subscribes to that statement if he holds that there are mistakes, discrepancies, errors in the Bible. If words have any meaning at all, this article teaches that every single word of the Bible is the Word of God.

Again, we read in Article VII that “it is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God,” and that therefore “it does evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.” Again, in the last part of this same article the church declares that we “reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule” of the holy Scriptures.

In view of all this, the only honorable and lawful course for anyone who does not accept the full inspiration of the Scriptures, as set forth in the Belgic Confession, and defined by the Synod of 1959, is to follow the instruction of the Formula of Subscription by presenting to Synod his gravamen against the Reformed doctrine of inspiration and meanwhile refraining from “publicly or privately proposing, teaching, or defending” a contrary position.

This, we, office-bearers in the Christian Reformed Church, have solemnly promised to do. The Head of the Church will hold us to that promise. The Church, too, is in duty bound to hold us to it.