Lewis B. Smedes, Translator, Nominated for Calvin Seminary

My purpose in writing these lines is, primarily, to call attention to a nomination for a teaching position at Calvin Seminary and one reason why I am convinced that it should be open to very serious question, and secondarily, in so doing. also to give somewhat of a review of a book that the nominee in question has recently translated from Dutch into English, My intention is to seek to achieve this purpose by the question-and-answer method.

Q. Who is the nominee we have in mind?

A. Dr. Lewis B. Smedes, presently serving on the faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Dr. Smedes was ordained to the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church in 1954; was the pastor of the Madison Avenue CRC from 1954–57; he served on the Calvin College Faculty from 1957–70; and has been at Fuller since 1970.

Q. For what position and by whom has Dr. Smedes been nominated?

A. The position is that of Professor of Philosophical and Moral Theology (formerly called Ethics and Apologetics), presently occupied by Dr. Henry Stob who is approaching retirement. This is the third time Dr. Smedes has been nominated for this chair by the Calvin Seminary Faculty. Twice before, the Calvin Board of Trustees rejected his nomination; hut now, on the third try, the Board has approved and is sending it to Synod for action. Although not the unanimous choice of the Faculty, Dr. Smedes is the Faculty‘s first choice. Two others nominated for this position are Rev. Philip C. Holtrop, pastor of the North Haledon (N.J.) CRC, and Dr. Theodore Minnema, a member of the Calvin College Faculty.

Q. What is the book translated by Dr. Smedes that calls for this special attention in connection willi his nomination?

A. The book is The Sexual Revolution by J. Hinzema, pastor of the Reformed Church of Lecuwarden, the Netherlands. First published in 1972 by the well-known J. H. Kok in Kampen, the English translation has just recently been placed on the market by the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Q. Why is this book of special concern to us in connection with this nomination for Calvin Seminary?

A. Obviously, because the book deals with the field of Ethics; and, more particularly, because it deals throughout with a phase of this subject (The Sexual Revolution) that should be of special concern to us in our day and age when the so-called “new morality” has become rampant.

Last month, THE OUTLOOK ran a special review on another book translated from the Dutch by Dr. Smedes: Signals from the Bible by the well-known professor at Amsterdam, Dr. Harry M. Kuitert, an  advocate of the so-called “new hermeneutics.”

Frankly, it is a matter of deep concern to me, and I believe it should be also for the CRC Synod, thaDr. Smedes is using his time and talents and energy to make material of this kind available to our American and Canadian reading public. If he would accompany this translation of The Sexual Revolution with the vigorous denunciation that it deserves, that would be understandable. But that he does not do. True, in his “Translator’s Preface” Dr. Smedes does say that “some of us, including the translator, will wish to argue with some of his interpretations both of biblical norms and cultural movements.” But what his disagreement would be, Dr. Smedes does not state.

I make bold to say—even though the views of an author are not to be imputed to his translator that it is not reassuring that the translator of this kind of material is the first choice of the majority of the Calvin Seminary Faculty to teach Ethics to our future ministers. What we so desperately need is books to counteract this so-called “new morality” in the light of Scripture, not books or the translation of such books that advocate it.

Q. What are some of the views advocated in this book by this J. Rinzema, a Reformed Church minister in the Netherlands, now made available in an English translation by Dr. Smedes?

A. Especially in the final chapter of the book, entitled “Toward a Christian Morality,” Rinzema gives his own views. Specifically, attention may be called to his views on premarital sex, divorce, abortion, pornography, and homosexuality.

Q. What does this book advocate concerning premarital sex?

A. On the basis of Scripture we have always believed (hat premarital sex of any kind is a transgression of (he seventh commandment. But now note the view that is advocated in this book, The Sexual Revolution. On page 100 we are told:

“We must face the fact that morals arc rapidly changing in this situation; sex relations between unwed but committed people are becoming acceptable in society. And we cannot indict such young people for moral lapse if they are ready to accept responsibility for each other and for whatever consequences their sexual activity brings (italics added).

“The Christian community must accept the fact that responsible behavior and authentic love may take forms different from the forms parents were taught in their day as the only right ones. In any case, engaged couples and young people, before they proceed to the bedroom, should agree that they are morally married, and that they are accepting the same responsibility for one another as a man and woman do when they marry.”

This is proposed here, mind you, as a guideline “Toward a Christian Morality”!

Q. What does this book advocate concerning divorce?

A. The CRC has long held that the only ground recognized in Scripture for divorce is adultery. Now note what is advocated in The Sexual Revolution. On page 101 we are told:

“As legal requirements for divorce are relaxed everywhere, Christian people will have to look at the positive side. Laws that make the sad procedure less painful and more just should be welcomed. Many of the older laws resulted in injustice to one of the divorced people, and if relaxation of the legal grounds makes the whole tragic business at least a bit more fair, we may be glad for small advances. There is no reason why Christians should want the law to punish people further than their marriage has punished them already. Morally, we wiII be more responsible if we are willing to admit the existence of situations in which divorce is unavoidable than if we think legalistically in terms of specific ‘grounds for divorce.’ Where a marriage has been broken beyond remedy, with or without the presence of specific grounds, the actual divorce only legally recognizes a tragic fact.”

The above is supposed to be another guideline “Toward a Christian Morality.” Anyone who wishes to know how far this kind of thinking on divorce has already infiltrated the eRe will do well to read the Report on Marriage Guidelines that was presented to the 1973 Synod. Fortunately, Synod had the good judgment not to adopt that report and to appoint a new study committee which, if at all possible, is to report to Synod 1974.

Q. What does this book advocate concerning abortion?

A. First, we should note the CRC position on abortion. Adopted at the Synod of 1972, the CRC stand includes the following:

What Synod affirm that an induced abortion is an allowable option only when the life of the prospective mother is genuinely threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy (Acts of Synod 1972, p. 64).

Now note what this book, The Sexual Revolution by J. Rinzema from the Netherlands, translated by Dr. Smedes, would have us believe. On pages 101–102 we read the following:

Few Protestant moralists have ever said that abortion is always wrong. Most of them have agreed that abortion is justified when performing it is necessary to save a mother’s life. But other reasons may also justify an abortion (italics added). If we are medically certain that the child, if allowed to be born, would be gravely malformed we may well have justification for abortion. The social and psychiatric indicators must also be considered. If the mother has no way to care for the child or if its birth would, as can best be possibly predicted, have serious psychic consequences, we may have justification for abortion. None of these indicators can be stated in general; all we can do is admit that such individual extreme cases may arise that would justify the tragic resort to abortion.”

This is supposed to be another guideline “Toward a Christian Morality.”

When the 1972 CRC took the stand on abortion, as stated above, no less than three ministerdelegates registered their negative votes. Moreover, the following protest was registered against that decision by a fourth minister-delegate: “The undersigned registers his negative vote against the decision of Synod to adopt point three [as given above] of principles re abortion and informs Synod that in good conscience before his Lord Jesus Christ he cannot abide by said principle number three” (Acts of Synod 1972, p. 64).

It will be well then for the CRC Synod 1974, in considering Dr. Smedes for an appointment to Calvin Seminary, to ascertain with complete certainty whether he subscribes to the position on abortion that was adopted by Synod two years ago or whether he is in agreement with the position advocated in the book that he has recently translated.

Q. What does this book, The Sexual Revolution, tell us about pornography?

A. That the sale and any indulgence in pornography is clearly contrary to the moral teachings of the Bible is something we have long taken for granted. But now note what The Sexual Revolution tells us on pages 103–104:

Pornography is big business. The Christian community will do better to wonder why such a large market for it exists than to waste efforts on censorship (ital. added). We must consider that older people buy more pornography than do young people; this must indicate something of the unsatisfying character of the sex life of many people who have been married for some time. Behind most purchases of pornography there must be an experience of frustration and loneliness. Surely the Christian will be moved more by the human sadness that helps create the pornography market than by his own distaste for the product. There is also the possibility that pornography will lose its appeal once it is on the open and free market for a time. It is no sin to look at pornography; but only sadness and frustration con keep people looking at it” (ital. added).

So much then for pornography. And that too is supposed to be a guideline to help us on the way “Toward a Christian Morality.” What has become of the oldfashioned idea about sin that we always believed to be clearly taught in the Bible? Please, Dr. Smedes, speak out forthrightly and unambiguously also on such a matter as this to let us know whether you endorse this or repudiate it soundly.

Q. Finally, what does 111c Sexual Revolution have to say about homoscxuality?

A. As much as the 1973 CRC Synods decision on homosexuality is to be deplored, it must be recognized as a reason for gratitude that the decision did include the following: “Homosexualism – as explicit homosexual practice—must be condemned as incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture” (Acts of Synod 1973, p. 52).

But now note what we arc being told in The Sexual Revolution. On pages 105–106 we find the following:

Referring to passages both in the Old and the New Testaments, Rinzema concludes: “One cannot locate a soft spot anywhere in the Bible for the practicing homosexual.” One might think that this would settle the matter as we have always believed. But not so.

Head on and one discovers that the writer would have us believe that “the Bible is not dealing with confirmed homosexuals” but rather with “heterosexual people who engage in homosexual acts.”

Why,” Rinzema goes on to say, “the Bible makes no distinction between heterosexual people who engage in homosexual acts and confirmed homosexual people is easily understood. The confirmed homosexual was not recognized until 1890. The Bible writers assumed that everyone was heterosexual and that in times of moral decay, some heterosexual people did some strange and unnatural things with each other” (ital. added).

So, the “Bible writers assumed” that; in other words, they did not know any better. But what about the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible writers? Didnt He know any better either? Or must we believe in a limited inspiration here and also elsewhere? In the light of such dealing with Scripture, it is not strange that this minister in the Netherlands comes to the following conclusion about homosexuals. He writes:

One obligation the community has to homosexuals is the provision of places where they can come together in the open, in safe and comfortable surroundings.” Can you imagine that! Rinzema goes on to tell us:

It is further urgent that Christian moralists develop a morality for homosexuality in consultation with homosexual people. Why should not homosexuals participate in working out the morality of homosexuality? Heterosexual people have never hesitated to develop a heterosexual morality. Homosexual people must, in partnership with others, dedicate themselves to a viable homosexual ethic.” Try to imagine what the Apostle Paul, the writer of Romans 1, would have to say to this point! And try also to imagine what the Holy Spirit who inspired Paul to write as he did would have to say!

But Rinzema is not yet finished. He goes on to say:

“In general, a homosexual morality should lay no greater burden on homosexual people than sexual morality lays on heterosexual people. In effect, this comes down to a plea for permanent relationships between unchangeable homosexuals. Just as heterosexual people go through a period in which they make various and often temporary relationships, so do homosexual people. And just as heterosexuals usually arrive at a moment when they decide to establish a permanent partnership with another person, so must this moment be allowed to homosexuals. And as there are rules for the relationships between married people, we believe that society must both create room for and find rules by which homosexual people can live together in permanent relationships” (ital. added).

Had enough? Well, except for a brief “Afterword,” that’s the end of the book.

Meanwhile, the dictum of Scripture should be coming through to us loud and clear: “But fornication, and all uncleanness . . . let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints” (Eph. 5:3).

Q. And what claim does the publisher’s blurb on the back cover make for Rinzema‘s book that Dr. Smedes has translated?

A. The claim is made that the author “affirms the traditional idea of marital fidelity, and [that] his conclusions on such related matters as homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, and divorce arc also firmly founded on traditional Christian values (Ital. added).

The Christian,” we are told further, “cannot ignore the revolution in sexual morality that pervades our society, nor should he fear it. In The Sexual Revolution, Rinzema point.s the way to a positive response, predicated on God-given norms and fixed biblical principles” (ital added).

How do they dare to say it! And why should Dr. Smedes be willing to be associated with such a venture, albeit if only as the translator of the book?

Q. And how does Dr, Smedes justify his translation of such a book as this and thereby giving further circulation to it?

A. Among other things, he says in the “Translator‘s Preface”: “Not everyone who reads him [Rinzema] will go along with all of his conclusions; some of us, including the translator, will wish to argue with some of his interpretations both of biblical norms and cultural movements. But this is the way the Christian community develops a viable ethic, through discussion and debate (ital. added ). I have translated this little book on this huge subject in the belief that it can prod American Christians, as it has European Christians, into more vigorous, wide-awake, and self-critical confrontation with the radical changes going on around us and within us” (pp. 6, 7).

Finally, these brief observations:

1. We could appreciate this effort on the part of Dr. Smedes to make the information in this book available if he would accompany it by a Scriptural and ringing denunciation of the views advocated by Rinzema. Does the majority of the Calvin Seminary Faculty that recommends Dr. Smedes as its first choice know of such a denunciation on the part of Dr. Smedes? Does the majority of the Calvin Board of Trustees that approved his nomination know of anything of the kind?

2. To say, as Dr. Smedes does, that “this is the way the Christian community develops a viable ethic, through discussion and debate” refers, I suppose, to what immediately precedes where he states that he “will wish to argue with some of his [Rinzema‘s] interpretations both of biblical norms and cultural movements.” What we miss here so sorely (both in Smedes‘ “Preface” and also in Rinzema‘s book) is the insistence on a thorough study of Scripture and a constant emphasis on “Thus saith the Lord” to develop a genuinely Christian ethic. 3. Although it is well to know Kuitert’s “new hermeneutics” and Rinzema’s “new morality” from their own writings, it is imperative that the CRC Synod make sure that these views are not to be imported from the Netherlands into Calvin Seminary. Let the CRC thoroughly probe the views of Dr. Smedes, as well as of anyone else, who may be considered for teaching positions, lest these evils should spread any further than they already have.    


The Board of Reformed Fellowship, Inc. decided to heartily endorse the proposal advanced editorially last month to sponsor a Congress of Conservatives. A committee is being appointed to plan this as a long-range project with 1976 as the target date for convening a meeting or meetings of all who are interested to attend. All the publicity and preliminaries required in planning such a congress will obviously require a good deal of thought and time if this undertaking is to be a success. The prayers of all who are interested are urgently requested for the Lord‘s sorely needed blessing to make this a positive contribution toward the development and propagation of the Reformed faith.

Reactions to our editorial plea for “polarization” vary. One subscriber (a U.S. minister) says: “Please, no more polarization; we have too much of that already.” Another (a minister in Canada) writes: “I want to cancel my subscription . . . as a pastor it grieves me to see the editor advocate the kind of polarization he advocates.” But please, don’t conclude now that this is true of all the ministers. Fortunately, there are also those who are likeminded with us.

Communications from others (in these instances, non-ministers) are indeed heartening as the following excerpts suggest:

From Illinois: “May God give you wisdom, strength, courage, health, and everything you stand in need of, together with all other ministers like yourself who are true undershepherds.” Thank you to this anonymous couple also for the $50 contribution enclosed for the Reformed Fellowship!

From Michigan: “Indeed, it was very good to have that dream, but also to publish it. I can say a hearty ‘Amen’ to it. Let’s not wait till it’s too late . . . let’s take a firm stand and get back to the solid foundation of the Bible, with those who sincerely mean what they have confessed when they became a member of our church -elder or deacon, minister or professor—and let’s stand up boldly for the truth . . . .”

From Iowa – “We read your editorial . . . ‘I Too Have a Dream.’ We are 100% behind you and think this is a splendid idea to get us conservatives together. We often hang back and dont voice our opinions or convictions . . . as we should, because we are misunderstood and labeled as trouble-makers by the more liberal clement in our churches. Only this, do you think the name ‘conservative’ is the best choice. Our young people like to be progressive, and . . . maybe you could think of a name with more challenge and meaning in it. Maybe you could have a contest for suitable names and slogans.” Any other comments or suggestions? It means much to us to hear from you.