Letters to the Editor….”On the Stepchildren of the Reformation”


Although I am well aware of it that it is not considered good form to oHer to reply to a review of one’s books I feel that an exception should be made in the case of Rev. Peter de Jong’s “BOOK REVIEW…” of my The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. It is not a book review in the ordinary sense (you print it by itself and far removed from your “A Look at Books” which is your book review section). Permit me a few words in reply therefore.

Perhaps I may be permitted to say how my book came to be. Many years ago I was asked to serve on a Committee of Synod to serve with advice as to what to do with Article 36 of the Belgic Confession. Said committee asked me to ascertain the historic matrix out of which this article, that was festering as a foreign body in the tissues of the Reformed Churches, had come. I soon discovered that said Article 36 had the Anabaptists in mind. So I determined to know what kind of ogres these people had been. I had felt ever since my student days that Article 36 was not a “sport” in the thinking of the 16th century but was symptomatic of the whole edifice of thought; I therefore welcomed the opportunity to have a good hard look.

In the course of this study I read (and thereupon translated for publication ) the entire theology of Menno Simons, every word he is known to have written (published in 1956 at Scottdale, Pennsylvania). I also read what Menno’s colleagues had written, plus the Wiedertaufer Akten which were coming into print, one hefty tome after the other. These I also read, every word I could lay my hands on.

At the end of these studies two things stood out in my mind; one was that these Anabaptists were not, as I had been taught, simply the product of 1517 but were definitely related to the medieval “heretics” whom I had learned to know somewhat as a result of the year’s work done in Holland and Belgium under the terms of a Fulbright Research Grant in 1950. The other was that these Anabaptists were not what I had been taught, neither as to their persons nOr as to their theology. Concerning them I had an experience very similar to that of Caspar Olevianus, co-author of the Heidelberg Catechism, who, like the rest of the people in his camp, had thought of the Anabaptists as people who should have their heads knocked off, but who, after he had met them face to face began to think more kindly of them. (The Oberrat of the city of Heidelberg testified before the court, in 1598, that he “weisz sich sonst wohl zu erinnern das D. Olvianus der meinung gewesen, inen die kopf herunder schlagen zu lassen; ist aber uf den creuzenachischen hofgerigt einer andern und miltern meinung worden.”)

I submit that no man can go to the “creuzenachischen hofgerigt” (or to its modem equivalent, the sources) without being obliged to do a right-about-face similar to the one to which the father of the Heidelberg Catechism confessed.

Must I now assume that my critic has not been to Kreuzenach? (He does not so much as once in his lengthy criticism of my book set foot on that terrain on which, and on which exclusively, the issue between him and me must be sewed). Or must I assume that he has been to Kreuzenach but does not like that which is on exhibit there? If so then this can only be because there is a bias in his mind, the thing of which he accuses me, with variations.

That kind of bias I have met before. Permit me to relate an instance. In 1953 I wrote an article, published in The Reformed Journal, entitled “Biblical Christianity and Cultural Compositism.” In it I put forward the thesis that the New Testament envisions, to the end of this dispensation, the phenomenon of a composite culture. This did not sit right with certain people in The Netherlands, where they are often referred to as die andere roomsen (those other Catholics, because their philosophy of the relation between Christianity and culture is like unto that of the Catholics). Several meetings were held to offset what I had written, an article was prepared for publication (subsequently printed, in four long installments, in their paper, Patrimonium). In the course of this attack upon my piece it was written: “We must point out with emphasis that any proof from Scripture becomes extremely dangerous if historical development is lost sight of ….What is really the value of recourse to texts in the New Testament? Does Verduin not know that in the as yet diversified culture of those times the situation was altogether different from our own, that moreover a different task was laid away for those early Christians—the Church had yet to explode as it were….” I do not mind saying that this sounds to me like pretty flagrant heresy. Such behavior speaks of a deep-seated bias, a commitment of soul, for which men have been known to go through fire and water.

It is bias, this bias, that causes my critic to dislike my book. He does not like to hear it said that ‘1t is implied in the New Testament vision that Christianity is not a culture-creating thing but a culture-influencing one the rather….New Testament ideology does not seek to make the not-yet-believer culturally sterile, nor the disbeliever…it is satisfied to add the Christians’ voice to that of the cultural ensemble.” This passage (which de Jong copies over inaccurately, as is also the case with the quotation on the first line of his final page, where the error is quite serious) occurs early in my book, on the fourth page of its first chapter; I venture to say that when Mr. de Jong had read that far he already knew that he was not going to like my book.

I welcome the appearance of de Jong’s article. I welcome it because its appearance indicates that that school of thought which operates with an erroneous notion of the mode d’integration of Christianity and culture is now on the defensive. I am not surprised to find brother de Jong trying desperately to make Minister typical of Anabaptism as such, even though he has to fly in the face of such experts in the field as Arnold Toynbee (who speaks of Munster as “a caricature of the movement”) and George Peabody Gooch ( who asserts that “The tragedy of Munster drew attention to a phase of the movement that was far from typical of its real nature”). It serves Rev. de Jong’s “case” better to have it his way; just as it serves his lawyer’s brief’ better to stick with the writers who wrote “35 years earlier”; just as it is easier on his bias to remain away from Kreuzenach. I am surprised that he does not pick up the cudgels for a reaffirmation of Article 36 as it originally stood.

Thanking you for the space given,


Dear Mr. Editor,

Thanks for the opportunity to reply briefly to Rev. L. Verduin’s letter. Citing the amount of research embodied in his book, he concludes that I must be ignorant or stubbornly biased to find fault with it Should not the recognition I repeatedly gave to the amount of that research compel me, and every reader, to accept his conclusions as valid? By no means. When the study, selection, interpretation and presentation of this mass of material are consistently directed toward “making a case” for only one side of a controversial issue, it should be obvious to any careful reader that such a procedure cannot lead to the fair, measured judgments essential to sound history.

I have not read all of the material Verduin has on Anabaptism. Very few people have. But let any reader read a bit in this field, in old writers, new writers and especially sources. He will soon find, as I have, that the reformers were not the bigoted scoundrels and the Anabaptists the untarnished saints which Verduin makes them out to be. Even a little study of their respective church orders and disciplinary practices, for example, soon leads to the discovery that the Anabaptists in the Netherlands with their subjectivistic and individualistic emphasis, their relatively weak theologies, their lack of a well-defined church order and especially the tendencies toward extremely harsh and arbitrary discipline on the part of some of their leaders, split into numerous small groups which often excommunicated one another and made life miserable for such more moderate leaders as Menno Simons. To that story the development of the Reformed Churches formed a contrast that is nothing less than startling. Why does Verduin. the expert on the life of and labors of Menno Simons, tell us nothing of all this? Obviously such facts would spoil the symmetry of his picture.

Lack of space forbids me to call attention to the number of points at which even his short letter misrepresents my review. These will be obvious to the reader who cares to compare the two. His letter illustrates the writer’s inclination to dramatic over-simplification, “I am surprised that he does not pick up the cudgels for a re.affirmation of Article 36 as it originally stood!” This I believe is a fundamental fault of his book. More than anything else, it perhaps prevents his decades of study from producing the great book one would wish for. In his book Verduin urges, as he admits in his Postscript. “Let these Stepchildren play the role of hero.” Thus he assigned to their Reformed opponents the role of rogue. To the extent that one does this he is no longer writing history but drama or fiction.

PETER DE JONG Smithers. B.C.