Kuitert on Faith – But What Faith?

Following is a review by Rev. Peter De Jong of Harry M. Kuitert‘s book, Th e Necessity of Faith or Without Faith You’re As Good As Dead (Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 159 pages, $2.95). Rev. De Jong is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Dutton, Mich.

This is an interesting, significant, and easily read book. The interest begins with the Translator’s Preface which he, Rev. John K. Tuinstra, introduces by denouncing the intolerance of his Christian Reformed denomination for failing to appoint a previous translator of Kuitert’s works to a teaching job at Calvin Seminary. He hopes that his translation will be read sympathetically and may promote meaningful dialogue” and enable us to “move ahead together.”

Dr. Kuitert in these six radio talk given in 1973 and 1974 sets out to show that all men need faith. He does so by dealing with the question of “what religion does and what it is good for.” He asserts “that the distance between being human, being religious, and being Christian is not so great as believers or non-believers commonly assume.” He also assures the reader that “Theology does not speak with finality, but rather makes proposals . . . .”

Is Christianity On Its Way Out? – The first talk raises the question ls Christianity on Its Way Out?” Kuitert’s answer is “No,” with the condition that it “represents religion rather than a collection of folklore or antiquities.” In this he expresses his complete opposition to Karl Barth and others who like him would put Christianity in a class by itself, “who place Christianity above religion or claim that it has made every existing religion obsolete or unreal.”

Kuitert wants to consider Christianity as “something which is within everyone’s reach,” “a reality which can be acknowledged by all, and about which everyone can dialogue” (p. 16). He finds that many people are leaving the church; and that life in it, instead of being “thoroughly enjoyable,” has become “increasingly unpleasant.” The blame for this situation he places especially on “right-wing, confessional Christianity which suffers from an obsession common to all orthodoxy; it does not dare to let go of anything from the past for fear of losing the truth.” He goes on to mention as examples of such outdated antiquities the “two-nature doctrine” about Jesus and “the truth about God according to the model that God is one being and three persons at one and the same time” (pp. 20, 21).

A second speech takes us into the questions what people mean by religion and why they engage themselves in it. The writer suggests that “religion is relatedness to another reality” (p. 25) and is a cultural and group matter. “God’s countenance is always colored by the group” (p. 28). “In his religion man gambles that his actions—the building and preservation of his world—are meaningful, and not a senseless burden. He chances piecing together a concrete answer to the question concerning the whole” (p. 34). “Man, in order to keep a firm grip on the meaningfulness of his ventures, reaches out beyond the world which he has inherited and attempts to bring order into the question concerning the whole” (p. 35). “It is we ourselves who confer meaning upon our existence.”

Christianity and Other Religions – “Are we to conclude then that Christianity is not grounded on revelation, or more precisely, on the self-revelation of God?” (p. 37). Karl Barth “defended the absolute uniqueness of Christianity, arguing that it alone is based on God’s revelation in Jesus rather than on imaginative human projections” (p. 38).

On this point Kuitert disagrees with Barth:the relationship between Christianity and other religions is not as exclusive as he depicted” (p. 39). “Barth’s thesis that non-Christian religions are merely human religion whereas Christian faith is anchored in revelation is too simplistic” (p. 40). Such a claim prevents dialogue, and Kuitert rejects it. “Christians claim that their faith rests on revelation” (p. 41). “Every religion makes this claim.” “Its truth must appear from what that religion does or can do to guide its adherents in changing their inherited world in such a way that they fare well” (p. 43).

Pursuing the discussion of Christianity further, Kuitert observes that it has much in common with other religions, being a relatively “latecomer” among them. “Even God himself is, so to speak, a latecomer to our culture” (p. 48), for while “certain scholars claim that people have inhabited the earth for perhaps one million years . . . Christians have been talking about God for only 2000 years” (p. 48).

In this changing, developing situation is there not some “criterion to test whether what purports to be Christian is genuinely Christian”? “We are no longer confident that we can construct such a criterion with which everyone can agree. That day is past” (p. 57).

“In the stories about Jesus, Christianity has its own account of origins, somewhat akin to the myths of primitive religions. But to remove any misunderstandings, let me hasten to add that they are very exceptional sui generis [of its own kind; unique] accounts of origins based on concrete historical events. These stories function in the same manner as the origin-legends of other religions: they are recited over and over again, they are tugged into all sorts of situations, they are expected to shed light on every significant decision, and they provide people with a new orientation for life. The determinative criterion of their truth is whether they actually do what they are supposed to do: namely, to give people enough life, faith and expectation to be able to live and work here in our world” (p. 62).

Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. The great expectation which he thereby aroused in the hearts of his first hearers appears to have been contradicted by his violent death. But God raised him up, they testified. And however we are to understand this, they meant to say by it at least the following: We have perceived that God has demonstrated via Jesus, who taught us to expect God’s Kingdom from out of the future that the power of his future is much stronger than the power of death” (pp. 63, 64).

The Church – Since the Christian church is not popular with the younger generation, Kuitert would next consider what should be done to change it. “The first thing we must say about the church is that its lid has got to be blown off. If all coercion ended, nothing else would have to be changed or improved . . .” (pp. 69, 70). “Away with the misleading notion that Christian faith is a ‘must’! It is not at all a ‘must’!”Nothing is a ‘must’; everything is a ‘may,” everything is voluntary” (p. 72).

“We must resolve that from this day forward we shall eliminate every trace of coercion in the church we shall no longer measure our Christianity in terms of whether or not it agrees with the Christianity of Grandpa and Grandma, or any other ancestor. In short, we arc going to thaw out the church institute in the hope that it may become more pleasant for people to belong to it. By ‘more pleasant,’ I am simply expressing the wish that people be able to relate to each other without narrow-mindedness or coercion, no matter what they mayor may not happen to believe” (pp. 75, 76).

In the present process of “secularization” in which “society progressively shakes itself loose from the dominance of church authority it would be wrong for the church of today to determine what we must think and do” (pp. 82, 83). “Even morality has learned to walk on its own, no longer requiring a church either to invent it or approve it” (p. 84).

In this situation Kuitert sees that the churches need a new policy, never allowing themselves “to be lured into the temptation of lording over people rather than serving them . . . in full agreement with the Christian tradition” (cf. Mark 10:45) (p. 85). “That faith whieh best helps us to live as humans is the faith which, for the time being, ought to be considered the true faith.” “Such a faith . . . must move mountain, to state it biblically . . . often paddling upstream, directly against the main flow of culture. Faith asks: arc all people free? Do peace and justice prevail everywhere?” “. . . not until every last man, woman and child is free will we really be able to begin to dance, play, and find true joy” (p. 89).

Morality – Regarding morality, “it is not the case that religion itself discovers the best possible behavior; but rather, religion approves and adopts what a given society or community of people considers to be the best conduct” (p. 91). “Christianity has no specific norms and values of its own . . .” (p. 92). “I shall define Christian morality simply as behavior adopted and approved by Christians” (p. 92).

“Christianity had adopted middle-class morality.”But the time has come when the answer of bourgeois morality is no longer relevant . . .” (p. 95). “Everything is different today than in the past.”. . . sexual morality is changing.” “Today sexuality has become a value with a goal of its own; not procreation, but the experience of pleasure.” “Children and young adults are no longer sexually restricted, but rather have been given more room to satisfy their curiosity with respect to the opposite sex and their own sexuality. This freedom has become an essential ingredient in mankind‘s progressive realization of its full humanity . . . . Hence, sexuality and marriage are not as rigidly bound together as in the past” (pp. 96, 97). “In the past, the institution of marriage was unalterable, whereas today a greater amount of room exists in which marriage partners may experiment in order to determine what, in their case, will constitute faithfulness” (p. 98).

“Hippiedom has quite a different morality than staunch old Reformed church-going people, and socio-critical students are quite distinct from sedate villagers. The problem is that the one group does not tolerate the pattern of conduct of the other group; each tends to remain adamant in its rejection of the other.” “Morality is what we ought to do. But the ‘ought’ is not just something dropped from heaven” (p. 99). “Morality is also constantly changing in order to fulfill its function. In fact . . . it thrives on experimentation.” “Morality is analogous to a promiscuous ‘playboy’; its approach is trial and error.” “Good—in the moral sense of the word—refers to what is good for mankind . . .” (pp. 100, 101).

The Future – Regarding the future Kuitert raises the question, “Could it be that we ourselves have invented the concepts of a hereafter and a final judgment?” “Surely we can hardly escape the conclusion that the hereafter, the final judgment, heaven, and related themes are all human projections onto the screen of the future about which we actually know nothing at all.” “We have nothing but a colossal gallery with designs of the future that humanity itself has invented piece by piece.”In Christianity we believe our projections are founded on solid ground. Our assurance comes from what we have been told about Jesus in the New Testament” (pp. 115, 116). “Christian truth is that which opens tip the future for people and grants them freedom” (p. 139).

Kuitert observes that also in the “domain of religion the process of change and transformation never ceases” (p. 142.) “There’s never an end to this process!” (p. 144). “To those who get tired of their religion all you can say is this; you had better give it up for a while and take a breather” (p. 145). “Since nobody has the last word on God, then the preservation of ecclesiastical truth by means of coercion . . . must be eliminated and replaced by dialogue” (p. 146).

“Furthermore, we should conduct dialoguewithout-coercion not only among Christians, but also between Christians and non-Christians, and between Christianity and the other major religions of the world.” “Only in this way will there be any hope for a future measure of unity among the religions of the world” (p. 148).

With such a view must one not “end up in relativism”? Kuitert thinks not. “Christianity gets its ‘plus’ from the accounts about Jesus which are recorded in the New Testament.”But we may not determine in advance what precise shape the ‘plus’ will take, or how it will reproduce itself in words, deeds, and doctrinal configurations” (p. 150). “The key is this; we will be tmly happy only after every last man on earth is happy.” “But if, wherever Christians stride, people are not untied and freed, there the Christian religion loses its credibility and proves itself to be bad religion” (pp. 152, 153).

I have quoted extensively from this little book to give the readers an idea of what Harry Kuitert, possibly the best known and very popular leader of a broad, “new theology” movement in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, has recently been saying.

A Different Kind of Religion – What Kuitert says, (the translator has done a good job of putting it into plain, idiomatic English) clearly shows that we are facing a situation very like that which J. Gresham Machen faced in 1934. He saw that within the church the Christian faith was facing not a difference of opinion about certain new Christian emphases or ideas, but a totally different kind of religion. The religion which is here being promoted is as different from historic Christianity as Christianity is from Confucianism, or as the worship of the Lord was from that of Baal.

Does such a judgment seem too harsh? Just look at the evidence for it:

Christianity has always claimed to be a unique wordrevelation of God, communicated by Him to man. Kuitert denies that Christianity is founded on any such unique revelation and insists that it is just one among many religions, all produced by men.

Christianity insists that it is such revelations oGod which the “natural man” cannot receive “for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them because they are spiritually judged” (I Cor. 2;14). Kuitert insists on a religion “which is in everyone’s reach,” “a reality which can be acknowledged by all, and about which everyone can dialogue.”

Christianity insists that it is the religion of the only true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, of Christ, the God-Man. Kuitert insists on a religion to which even these basic doctrines are useless antiques. Christianity insists that it is the revelation of  “the God that made the world and all things therein” (Acts 17:24). Kuitert will hear only of a “Christianity” which with its God is a ‘latecomer’ among the religions and cultures of the world. Christianity is the revelation of the Sovereign God who revealed His laws for men’s conduct. Kuitert would remove all “musts” from religion and morals, and leave man as the only sovereign who determines what he will think and do. Christianity is a religion which insists on distinguishing between the Spirit of God and the spirit of anti-Christ (1 John 4:1ff.). Kuitert will tolerate no such distinctions but tells us to work toward the unity of all religions.

Christianity teaches that the Lord builds a church united in faith in Him, which must separate from and exclude those who reject Him and His gospel. Kuitert, if he is going to allow for a continuing church at all, will only have one permitting “people ‘to relate to each other without narrowmindedness or coercion, no matter what they mayor may not happen to believe.’”

Christianity warns that “neither fornicators . . . nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.” The morality of the “Kingdom of God” which Kuitert envisions is that of the promiscuous “playboy” determining by experiment, by trial and error, what he or she will call good.

The Christian faith fixes our confidence on an “inheritance incorruptible” in “the Father’s house”; Kuitert will recognize only “human projections” about which we actually know nothing at all.” The Christian faith calls for an eternal separation of believers from unbelievers; Kuitert will know only universal freedom for all. We might point out more such contrasts, but these noted are enough to make it plain to all how far Kuitert’s views are from the Christian faith.

Kuitert’s Significance for us – If his views are so “far out” why should we trouble ourselves even to take notice of them? They deserve attention because Kuitert, although he has been moving faster and farther than many others, is not alone. One sees him rather as a kind of “front-runner” in a direction in which many others in Reformed circles and a large part of the churches in the U. S. as well as the Netherlands are moving. The movements to relativize our Christian faith, to engage in wider and wider ecumenical “dialog,” to disparage and minimize even basic doctrines, to “interpret” creation in terms of evolution, 10 insist that all authority must be explained only as “service,” that the notion of a morality fixed in the Ten Commandments must make way for one better adjusted to challenging community standards and more “compassionate” toward those who reject any standards, and to translate Christ’s redemption into a mere civil rights movements these all are currents running widely across the life of our churches. Do some who would say Kuitert has gone “too far” really mean only that he has gone “too fast”?

An Unchecked Movement – Furthermore, and perhaps even more significant than the common trends in the directions indicated by Kuitert, is the fact that we do not see in the life and especially the leadership of our Reformed Churches any indication of deep concern about the directions of this movement. Much less is there under consideration any serious effort to opp0se this movement and to try prayerfully, earnestly and vigorously 10 move the churches back toward authentic, biblical Christianity where they are moving away from it. In the CRC the notorious “Report No. 44” was provoked partly by overtures expressing deep concern about the direction in which Kuitert and his companions were moving and influencing the course also of our churches. That report was also prompted by the official statement of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands which wanted to move in this direction. The resulting report was a compromise which tried to please both sides and antagonize no· one. The gentle words of warning which it included against some features of the movement have even been ignored by our own last Synod in sustaining the ordination of Dr. Verhey who questioned or denied the earthquake in Matthew 28 and the serpent in Genesis 3 and in appointing Dr. Walhout who would have science correct the teachings of scripture.

If you would like to see in what direction our Christian Reformed Churches are moving, and where movement in that direction jf unchecked may bring the mover take a closer look at the writings of Dr. Kuitert. What kind of check can one envision in today’s church life to prevent the continuing shift in this direction. We cannot expect weak and compromising gestures to help, especially when they are ignored. The tactics of an Eli proved ineffective in dealing with the problems of God’s people in ancient times. When Baal worship came on in a flood. the Lord raised up an Elijah to call Israel to decision for the Lord and against Baal and to lead sons of the prophets into such forthright commitment for the Lord and against all compromise. Christ continues to call us to that kind of decision and commitment until His return.

NOTE: It is reported that this book of Kuitert and his views, together with the objections brought against them, were considered at the Synod of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands which met November 24. The Synod delayed any judgment on the matter until its commission finishes its study on the nature of Bible authority.