Kuitert in the United States (1)

Professor Dr. H. M. Kuitert spent the first two weeks of June in Grand Rapids and the Toronto-Hamilton area lecturing theology to sizeable audiences. Tuesday through Thursday of June 4–6 he lectured to more than three hundred Christian Reformed ministers at the Fine Arts Center on the Knollcrest campus of Calvin College. While presenting three lectures at this annual Ministers Institute. he also accepted the invitation of the Dutch Immigrant Society to speak on the subject “Zijn de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland veranderd?”

The professor was invited to come to the Toronto-Hamilton area during the second week of June. He spoke for the Christian Reformed ministers in Toronto; he delivered a public lecture in the filled-to-capacity Immanuel Christian Reformed Church of Hamilton; and he addressed Calvin alumni and other students in Toronto.

As professor of apologetics, dogmatics. and ethics in the faculty of theology at the Free University of Amstcrdam. Dr. Kuitert is an eminent lecturer. His youthful appearance, his ready wit, his beaming smile. and his pleasing personality influence his audience. His language is forthright and candid; no listener can say that he failed to grasp the meaning of Kuitert’s lectures. His composure is beyond reproach, for in the midst of fierce critique he never lost control of himself or the situation. He is a gentleman and a scholar.

Kuitert has become known chiefly because of his publications. In the academic world his doctoral dissertation has been in such demand that “De mensvormigheid Gods” is in print again. Also his work “De Realiteit van het Geloof,” published in the Netherlands, has been translated and printed on this side of the ocean.

Yet it stands to reason that not everyone who heard Kuitert speak during the first two weeks of june has read these scholarly books. The people who came to hear professor Kuitert had heard about him because of his views on theological matters which deviate somewhat from those traditionally expressed in Reformed circles. Many of the listeners had come to ascertain that what they had heard by way of the grape vine was true indeed. They came because of the opportunity to hear what Dr. Kuitert had to say on subjects such as Scripture, infallibility, authority, inspiration, the first chapters of Genesis, evolution and creation, and the changing morality in a changing world.

What did Dr. Kuitert say about these topics? First, much of what he said may be prefaced by the adjective “new.” He is constantly seeking new answers to old questions. He asserts that much work remains to be done, for the field of the “new” theology is uncharted. At times he admits that he knows all the stock answers to a given question but that he is still searching for a new approach to answering the question.

And second, for Kuitert everything is changing: the world and society, the Church and theology. For example, old grandfather does not feel at home anymore in this fast changing world of jet air travel and six-lane super highways. He lives in a world of the twenties. But life moves on and man adapts himself to the changes which take place. Likewise the Church has changed considerably in the last fifty years; and with the Church her theology has been subject to change. Today, the Church of 1968 cannot meaningfully expound theology which is outdated and belongs to a bygone age. The Church of 1968 must find new ways of explaining the Bible if its message is to be relevant in the world of today. And if the Church fails to see this task, Christians will become unprofitable servants of the Lord. According to Dr. Kuitert, Christians must let the old interpretations of Scripture go and must be willing to adopt new ones which are appropriate to the time in which we live. We become a useless Church if we do not adopt new ways of interpreting the Bible. In this world of trouble and tension people need new courage to live. The Church can give this courage provided that the message proclaimed is understandable in current terminology.

The speaker professed that in this world of change God’s Word does not change. Of course not, for if this were true then God Himself would have to change. And that is impossible. God does not change; we change. And we approach the Bible differently because of this change.

Therefore, in our scientific age, in which our knowledge of geology and biology advances rapidly, the Christian may not say to the scientist: “Go, and be warm.” He must listen to the scientist, and then as an informed Christian he must read his Bible anew. Now he approaches Scripture in another frame of mind.

Kuitert begins to ask the question whether the first chapters of Genesis present historical facts and data. He has his doubts because it may not at all have been the intention of the writer of these chapters to record that which actually happened at the dawn of human history. What we find in the first chapters of Genesis is not factual history, but material which serves as a teaching model. Hence, says Dr. Kuitert, we cannot believe in a historical Adam and Eve, in Paradise, and in a state of no death before the fall. In fact, the traditional dogmatical pattern of creation, fall, and redemption is not a historical pattern when we accept the first chapters of Genesis as a teaching model.

These ideas, admits Kuitert, are far reaching. And these ideas touch the certainty of the Christian’s faith. But, so reasons the professor, what is the certainty of faith? On what is that certainty based? Says he, surely not on a wrong theory. On what does the certainty of your faith rest? Kuitert answers by quoting a line from one of the Dutch psalms: “Ik heb het zelf uit Zijnen mond gehoord.”

The Christian’s certainty of faith is not based on the theory of infallibility of Scripture. We must stop saying that the Bible is infallible. Of course, we confess the inspiration of Scripture, says Kuitert, but we confess the inspiration only after we have heard the Word.

In a following article, I wish to go into further detail to scrutinize these assertions closely and to examine and determine whether they can stand the test of Reformed theology.

For the moment I maintain that the above-mentioned views on Genesis do not come forth out of the book of Genesis. This book is a book which presents the history of creation, the history of Adam and Eve and their children, the history of Noah and his sons, and the history of the patriarchs. To say that the first chapters of Genesis are not historical is doing injustice to the purpose of this book. Views on Genesis, expounded by Dr. Kuitert, do not find their origin in Scripture itself.

Also, questioners in his audiences found it difficult to accept these views. They seriously questioned his so-called new views on evolution and creation and in effect said: not this way, professor Kuitert.

We may look upon the Church as an army on the march and see Dr. Kuitert as a surveyor who plots the road which the army must travel. Yet the soldiers hearing the voice of the surveyor calling “come this way, man” vehemently shake their heads and say “not so, for now our feet are standing on solid ground; the road ahead of us leading in your direction ends in a swamp.”

(To be continued)

These articles are being reprinted with the permission of Calvinist Contact.

Dr. Simon Kistemaker is Professor of Bible at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.