Jellema Letter

Letter to the Editor



While we are in agreement with the witness which Torch and Trumpet gives for orthodox Christianity in its best form, Calvinism, we sometimes find ourselves a little uneasy about statements appearing in the magazine. The February–March issue contained a number of these. Perhaps we have misinterpreted them. But we do feel that our fellow-readers might wish to see the following questions answered.

1. H. Van Til, in his article on academic freedom, seems to accept Buckley’s idea that the Christian should accept “individualism as expressed in economics, politics and social policy” as the best philosophy in these fields. Does not Van Til know that the Anti-Revolutionary party in the Netherlands has condemned such a belief as a French Revolutionary idea that the Calvinist cannot accept? What Buckley wants taught is economic Liberalism, against which Kuyper and Groen and others fought so bitterly. Thus Kuyper protests against “the one-sidedly developed individualistic form which the French Revolution and its corresponding economic school of laissez·faire has impressed on society” (Christianity and the Class Struggle, 13). Can it be that Van Til supports Buckley’s idea that this French Revolutionary economic Liberalism be taught at Yale?

2. A. Bosscher seems to feel that Roman Catholics believe that reason can bring us to saving knowledge of God. It is a fact, however, that RC philosophers have always said that only faith can bring us to knowledge of God as Creator, the Trinity, or the Redemption. As a Calvinist, we too find much fault with RC views; but Iet us not. brother Bosscher, bear false witness against them. We recall how Calvin (and Kuyper also) emphasized that the RC Church is our ally in the struggle with modern paganism.

3. A. Bosscher says that the economist Ricardo was closely connected with the communist movement. Actually, Ricardo was an economic Liberal, and held the same type of views Buckley wants taught at Yale—government should keep hands off (Iaissez·faire) and so forth.

4. S. Harkema, in his article on common grace, draws some conclusions which arc surprising. He says the Christian must have nothing to do with “the neutral press.” Does he mean what he says; does he mean that we may not take the Grand Rapids Press or the Chicago Tribune? If he doesn’t mean what he says, just what does he mean? “May we (and should we) read Shakespeare, even though he is not a Christian?

Could these men perhaps clarify what they mean on these points?

– Dirk Jellema


Reply I


I am sorry to be one of those who has caused Dr. Jellema uneasiness by my review of Buckley’s God and Man at Yale—the Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom.’ Here is a word of explanation which, I trust, will remove any misunderstanding that may have existed. I am glad that Dr. Jellema is cautious in spite of his insinuating questions. The questions are calculated to show up my basic ignorance of the real issues and my divergence from the best Calvinistic opinion on these matters, “Does not Van Til know…?” and, “Can it be that Van Til supports Buckley’s idea that this French Revolutionary economic Liberalism be taught at Yale?” (Cf. Letter to the Editor by Dr. Dirk Jellema). The caution is expressed in the previous statement, “Van Til seems to accept Buckley’s idea that the Christian should accept ‘individualism as expressed in economics, politics and social polity,’ as the best philosophy in the field” (ibid).

But the simple fact is that the book under discussion deals with the superstitious of academic freedom, which was also the title or my review… As such Mr. Buckley was not “concerned with writing an apologia either for Christianity or for individualism. That is to say, this essay will not attempt to prove either the divinity of Christ or to defend the advantages of conducting our lives with reference to divine sanctions. Nor should I attempt to demonstrate the contemporary applicability of the principal theses or Adam Smith.

Rather, I will proceed on the assumption that Christianity and freedom are ‘good,’ without ever worrying that by so doing, I am presumptuous (Preface, XVII. God and Man at Yale). Furthermore, in a footnote to the word “good” the author explains, “In point of fact, the argument that I shall advance docs not even require that Christianity and free enterprise be ‘good,’ but merely that the educational overseers of a private university should consider them to be ‘good’…(ibid). All this was clearly stated in the first installment of my book review (See Torch and Trumpet, Dec–Jan 1954. p. 27).

And immediately following Mr. Buckley’s waiver on the material question of Christianity vs. Atheism and individualism vs. socialism, I myself also put in the following disclaimer: “Whether or not one can personally subscribe to Mr. Buckley’s construction of either Christianity or individualism is not the question here. Hilt that parents have a right under God to train their children in schools which they support and that these schools should not surreptitiously wean these children away from the faith of their fathers either theologically or economically—to me that sees incontestable” (ibid).

And at the end of the review my opinion is again expressed on the main contention of the author—viz “that the responsibility of education falls upon the shoulders o( those who pay for it that no freedom is violated when the overseers and sponsors insist that the teachers they employ shall hold and disseminate the same values” (Cf. Torch and Trumpet, Feb–March issue 1954. p. 29).

So much for the main point, and, no doubt this would be sufficient to remove the uneasiness from the mind of Dr. Jellema. It ought to be clear to every one that my approved of Mr. Buckley’s main thesis on academic freedom does not commit me necessarily to Mr. Buckley’s conception of individualism or of economics. And, what is more, Mr. Buckley definitely has not committed himself to the economic Liberalism of Adam Smith, nor did he set forth the “idea that the Christian should accept ‘individualism’ as expressed etc.” He was merely concerned to prove that the educational overseers of Yale University ought to insist that the views of those supporting Yale be taught instead of the views of certain educators under the pretext of “academic freedom,” since the latter is a fetish, a superstition that ought to be abolished or exploded.

Moreover, what ethical and logical right have we to impugn Mr. Buckley of subscribing to “this French Revolutionary economic Liberalism”? (See Dr. Jellema’s Letter). The French Revolution has one kind of individualism, Christianity has quite another concept of the individual and his relationships to God and man. Mr. Buckley, if we may assume that he believes personally in the two sets of values discussed in the book vs. atheism and collectivism, always brings the idea or individualism alongside of Christianity. The French Revolution cried: “No God, No master!” and it proclaimed man as his own sovereign. I find no such spirit in Mr. Buckley’s book and no ground for the accusation of Dr. Jellema.

Of course, Dr. Abraham Kuyper, Sr., protested vehemently and vigorously against ‘the one-sidedly developed individualistic form which the French Revolution and its corresponding economic school of laissez-faire has impressed on society’ (Quotation from Letter of Dr. Jellema). But where call one find such individualism today on land or sea? Surely, if we are cognizant of the progress in economic theory, we may not use the term “individualism” in contrast with “collectivism” as found in State Socialism of England and Russian Communism, in the same sense that Dr. A. Kuyper was using the term in his address: HET SOCIALE VRAAGSTUK en DE CHRISTELlJKE RELIGIE, which was the opening address of the Christian Social Congress held on November 9, 1891. To clarify Dr. Kuyper’s utterance as quoted by Dr. Jellema and found on page twenty eight of the originally published lecture, which I have before me, I want to cite a few more passages in which the term “individualism” is used, always with qualification. Besides, it is now sixty one years since Kuyper spoke and one cannot expect a mid.century, contemporary Yale student to have the same associations when he speaks of individualism did Dr. Kuyper. Neither would we want to equate their use of the term “Christianity.”

In the first place, in building up his idea of individualism, Kuyper tells us that the French Revolution threw out the majesty of the Lord to build up an artificial authority out of the free will of the individual (Op. Cit., p. 20. translation and italics mine, V.T.). In speaking o( the Christian religion which sought “personal human honor and social unity in an organically coherent society,” Kuyper affirms that the French Revolution distorted “that organic fabric, broke the social bonds, and finally through its atomic trifling has nothing left, but the solitary, selfish individual, defending his own independence” (ibid).

Furthermore, it is Dr. Kuyper’s contention that the French Revolution had to issue (could not but issue) in a radical social distress be· cause its rejection of the world to come must inevitably lead to materialism and the service of Mammon. Again, Dr. Kuyper refers it to the individualism which was born out of the French Revolution,” and, “the individualism born out of the denial of the existence of a God-willed communion among men, a living human organism” (pages 25 and 26 respectively, Italics and translation mine, V.T.). And also in the reference furnished by Dr. Jellema, which is found on page twenty-eight in Kuyper’s own work, the individualism is called one-sided, and on page thirty-five he refers to “Such individualism,” indicating that another kind of individualism is at least thinkable.

But, the individualistic character of the French Revolution is only one of its derived principles, not the root principle, from which the driving power is derived. That root principle, on the other hand, is the God-dishonoring cry of no God, no master, which in effect is the demand for emancipation from God and his divine creation ordinances. But out of this principle not one but two lines proceed. The first approach is one by which one arrives at the point where he breaks down the existing order of things, and leaves nothing intact but the individual with his own power of determination and imagined supremacy. But then allows the second approach by which one is tempted not only to push God and his laws aside, but also, as now, deifying oneself, as the prophet says, to sit in the place of God, and to create out of one’s own brain a new order of things. And the latter is done by Social-Democracy. But in doing so she does not in the least (so weinig) give up her individualistic point of departure. Rather, under the social structure she wishes to erect, to bon’Ow a figure of speech from the construction business in Amsterdam, the piles (palen; Note, All the large buildings in Amsterdam are constructed on a foundation consisting of piles driven into the soggy bottom) of popular sovereignty, and thus the individual will, are driven down by universal suffrage” (Op. Cit. p. 31. translation and italics mine, V.T.).

It seems to me, therefore, that Kuyper has not simply used the word “individualism” as though it were naturally connected or inevitably related to the French Revolution, but rather a certain kind or individualism has issued from the French Revolution. But, then remember, the French Revolution has spawned two God-delaying ideas or sets of ideas.

The Social Democracy of his time is, by Kuyper, also traced back to the fateful event that took place in Paris, while Dr. Schouten somewhere says that the Russian Collectivistic State is the apotheosis of the ideas that had their first expression in Paris. To say that I am supporting the French Revolution brand o( individualism over against Dr. Kuyper and the anti-Revolutionary Party is pure nonsense, but neither does Mr. Buckley defend or advocate that kind of individualism.

Reply II


The Editors of Torch and Trumpet have asked me for a brief reply to Dr. Jellema’s questions. It seems to me that Dr. Jellema’s remarks are of a rather vague nature. Moreover, the theological questions he raises are of only secondary importance to the subject matter. Incidentally, our own confession has taken care of Rome on this point. It does not matter what Roman Catholic philosophers are saying, as long as the Roman Catholic Church maintains its doctrines about Transubstantiation, Maria devotion, Analogin Entis, the person of Christ, and so on, it looks to me impossible that Roman Catholic philosophers can maintain that only “faith can bring us to knowledge of God as Creator, the Trinity, or the Redemption.”

As to Dr. Jellema’s statement about Kuyper, it seems to me that he does not understand Kuyper correctly. Groen and Kuyper always qualified their approval of Rome by saying: “as long as Rome is willing to go along with our Reformed point of view,” as it did, e.g., for a long time in The Netherlands. But at the same time Groen as well as Kuyper rightly denounced Rome as one of the main causes for the French Revolution.

With respect to Dr. Jellema’s remark about Ricardo, I would say that his opinion does not exclude what I said, as long as one keeps in mind the difference between “Utopian and scientific” socialism. This is not the place to elaborate on this issue. Engels said the following about Ricardo’s theories: “In so far as modern Socialism, of no matter what tendency otherwise it may be, proceeds from bourgeois political economy, it almost exclusively attaches itself to the theory of value of Ricardo. The two propositions which Ricardo in 1817 put ahead of his Principles; First, that the value of each commodity is only and solely determined by the quantity of labor exacted by its production; and, second, that the product of the totality of social labor is shared between the three classes of landlords (rem), capitalists (profit), and laborers (wages)—these two propositions had already in England afforded material for Socialist conclusions.” (Cf. Engels’ preface to the work by Karl Marx entitled: The Poverty of Philosophy,” Chicago, 1910).

Lassalle, who is recognized as one of the precursors or modern Socialism, wrote in one of his many letters to Karl Marx and Robertus that he round himself in thorough agreement with Ricardo’s theory of rent of land. To mention but one letter which was written to Marx himself and dated May 3, 1853, we have the following testimony: “‘Indeed consider Ricardo as our immediate father. I look upon his definition of rent of land as the most powerful communistic feat.’” (Quoted by P. A. Djepenhorst: De Eigendom, Kampen. 1933, p. 57. Translation A. B.). Dr. H. Colijn has the following to say about this matter: “Modern Socialism is in many respects a reaction to the old liberalistic school. Yet. it has also various points of similarity with this liberalism. It denies, just as Iiberalism, the sovereignty of God over created reality. It ignores the reality of sin. Neither does it recognize the organiC, historic development o[ things and the variety of the creation of God. Though it seems otherwise, it is based just as liberalism. upon an individualistic foundation. Not without reason, Schmoller therefore, could write in his Grundfragen that liberalism and socialism ‘are both children of the same mother; the older theory, the abstract individualistic natural-law doctrine of economics proposed by the physiocrats and Adam Smith to J. S. Mill and K. H. Rau, just as the somewhat younger socialistic theory of class struggle advocated by William Thompson and Karl Marx, are the fruits of the liberal. radial, natural law theory. Both of these schools proceed from an abstract human nature to construct a complete objective system of contemporary economics!’

Furthermore, whoever is acquainted with Marx’ conceptions of value also knows he was schooled by the liberal economist, Ricardo.”

The so-called dilemma individualism versus collectivism is a fiction of the modern mind, as a student of Groen and Kuyper certainly ought to know. The answer they gave to this revolutionary dilemma is embodied in the Christian school, the Anti-revolutionairy party, the Free University, and the Christian Social Action of The Netherlands. Now we are living in an era of creeping socialism, it would seem to me more logical that we [ought this phenomena, instead of opposing those who seek to stem the tide of Socialistic thinking in our country.

Cf. Saevis Tranquillus In Undis, p. 391, Amsterdam, 1934. Translation by A.B.

Reply III 


Prof. Dirk Jellema reflected also on my article “The Calvinistic Conception of Life” in the Feb–March issue of this magazine, and is asking for clarification.

Jellema puts his remark on a passage in my article which is a conclusion following out of a position on the issue “Common Grace and Antithesis.” The passage which drew his attention was most likely this: “A Christianity allowing modern literature, the neutral press, immortal writing and art to poison mind and spirit in its own circle, is committing suicide.”

I am glad to state that Jellema does not seem to have objections against the principaI stand of my article as expressed in ten theses (see Torch and Trumpet, Feb–March), as he does not attack the central issue of these theses.

Especially the theses 4 and 5 of “the antithesis” (which are printed below) are concerned about the matter touched by the remark of Prof. Jellema.

4. Out of sinful motives within natural man, underlying his cultural activity, often times forms of life have been and still are developed, which are contrary to the Divine ordinances for human life and thus for a Christian not acceptable, but forbidden.

5. Here the antithesis is visible and this antithesis is absolute with respect to every act of man. Essentially this two-fold expression of life is the absolute contraposition of the Kingdom of God and the empire of Satan. Between these two poles of life there is no neutral territory.

The basic issue from these theses have bearing upon the passage about which Dr. Jellema made his remark.

“The antithesis is absolute with respect to every act of man.” As I further developed in my article, that is because of the spiritual nature of man, which always is present behind every act of man. Essentially man praises, recognizes, honors and serves God in deeds, words and thoughts, or renders his activities to service of self or some other form of idolatry.

In consequence of the spiritual nature within man, there is a world and life-view behind his thoughts and expressions. Neutrality in the deeper sense does not exist. In that sense, in my article, I mentioned the neutral press, modern literature, etc. Thus also the Grand Rapids Press and Shakespeare were included. And I only said that these writings should not poison mind and spirit in our own circles. Christianity allowing such a thing is committing suicide. For this expression we take responsibility. For, reading Shakespeare means education, because Shakespeare propagates his world and life-view. Also many writings in magazines and the neutral press render a world and life-view, essentially opposed to the Divine ordinances for human life and relationships, and the uncritical acceptance of this non-Christian life-conception means poisoning of the Christian mind, means also suicide, because, that poison is taken consciously.

For example, where do the un-Christian ideas about marriage-practices (birth-limitation, birth-control) in our own Christian community come from? Not from our Church papers and pulpits, but from the humanistic ideas propagated in our “neutral” periodicals and papers. Without comment from the Christian life-view, this poison is not neutralized.

I would not say, a Christian may not take the Grand Rapids Press or read Shakespeare. But in practice, now, as these issues and this life-approach take a ruling position in our homes and thinking, the poison is there, we can state that in many cases.

What we should have in our Christian groups is the clarification of the Christian principles by literature that stresses the Biblical conception with regard to the whole cultural life. We need it principal comment on the humanistic, un-Christian thought-scheme, manifesting itself in nearly every field in the public area, Moreover, the whole unprincipled manifestation of human life in the public sphere, in cultural development, in social and political grouping, in press, radio, television, etc., fits completely in the coming anti-Christian concentration of power. Unprincipled life offers no resistance against the anti-Christian ideology. Can we fight an anti-Christian spirit from a “neutral” platform?