Liberal Trends in the Netherlands Influence US

Following is the address delivered by Rev. Leonard T. Schalkwyk at the annual meeting of the Reformed Fellowship in September 1971. Rev. Schalkwyk is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of St. Thomas, Ontario.

The assignment given to me has two aspects: the first part of the title brings us to The Netherlands, the second part to the United States and Canada.

How about the development of liberal trends in The Netherlands? Ever since Professor H. M. Kuitert spoke at the Ministers’ Conference at Grand Rapids in 1968, it became known that some Reformed Theologians at the Free University have difficulty accepting the historicity of Genesis 1-3. At that time no one would have guessed that what Kuitert propounded at the Ministers’ Conference in 1968, would be part of a report recommended to the Christian Reformed Synod 1971! (p. 485/6 Acts of Synod 1971.) That is how fast things go.

But let us first remain in The Netherlands and ask: What are Kuitert’s ideas now? Did he go on the way of doubt or did it stop at Genesis 31 To investigate this, let us turn to his latest publication Anders Gezegd (Een Verzomeling Theologische Opstellen voor de Welwillende Lezer; Published 1970 by J. H. Kok, Kampen, The Netherlands).

This is a collection of his recent articles and speeches and can thus serve us best in seeking to know his scholarly mind.

Creation, Sin and Death – Dr. Kuitert’s view on Genesis 1–3 are well known: this is a model, borrowed from Babylonian-Assyrian creation myths.

Anyone who still doubts whether Kuitert really denies that Genesis 1–3 is supernatural revelation, can be convinced by the following statements: “Israel did not worship Jahweh from the beginning; only during its stay in Canaan it has learned to confess Jahweh as Creator. At that time it was confronted with the Babylonian-Assyrian creation myths and Israel has adopted them from the neighboring nations” (p. 18).

“Israel has re-edited these stories, so it became a story [therefore a story only] that fitted Israel’s God” (p.25). Now, however, Kuitert has proceeded from attacking the historical form to an attack on the contents of this Paradise story, as the origin of creation and sin (pp. 141–150).

Kuitert came to do this, because certain biologists say that “death is necessary for the progress of life and that we cannot imagine a situation of life where death is absent” (p. 34).

Genesis clearly states that death was a result of the fall of man (Gen. 2:17): “in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (cf. also Gen. 3:19). This is often repeated in the Bible, in such texts as Romans 5:12, “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin” (cf. Rom. 6:23; I Cor. 15:45).

Yet Kuitert now says that death was already in Creation before the fall of man: “death belongs to man’s nature just as birth is part of his existence” (p. 159). “A biologist cannot accept a sentence as: there was a time that death was not” (p. 143).

The Bible states that at the beginning creation was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). But Kuitert states that it was not so good: “Tradition has interpreted Genesis 1:31 as if there was a time that sorrow, suffering, and death were not known” (p. 12). “A good creation as the original state of mankind is not a scientific idea” (p. 32). “Death is not bad in itself, but performs a good function in the evolutionary process” (p. 55). Kuitert does not agree with “a Paradise idyl that is so characteristic for pictures in a children’s bible” (p. 15). You see, evolution tells us that it cannot have been so. How then can we accept such a bible story?

Kuitert seems to have an almost worshipful attitude toward Science (pp. 48, 143). Orthodox Reformed Theology has taught that one must look at Science through the eyes of Scripture. Kuitert looks at the Bible through the eyes of so called mental science. Even as the doctrine of death has to be changed, so the doctrine of sin needs correction also (p. 142). Sin for Kuitert is “regression” (p. 59). It is: going against the principle of evolution, the progress of humanity. Salvation then is the task of the Christian to promote the progress of this evolutionary creation process (p. 61).

It also means that the book of Revelation now needs a re-interpretation. It does not tell us of a new world beyond time, as Paradise regained. It tells us of this world, as developed by man, the end of a long process from the imperfect state of “creation.” And if we are made for this life, it means that death is the end, nothing beyond.

And if that is so, the Resurrection of Jesus has to be re-interpreted.

And likewise, the work of Jesus has to be changed in its meaning. In it He showed how we can attain the full humanity in the future, He was the perfect man, as man will be at the end of the long evolutionary process (p. 60).

Blood Atonement? – There are also other leaders of the new theology both at the Free University of Amsterdam and at the Theological Seminary in Kampen.

A prominent new theology minister is Dr. Herman Wiersinga. He recently received his doctoral degree from the Free University on a thesis about the atonement. His promoter was Dr. G. Berkouwer. Wiersinga shows how we can re-interpret the doctrine of the atonement. Wiersinga’s book is called: De Verzoening in de Theologische Discussie (The Atonement in Theological Discussion) (Kok, Kampen, 1971).

Some quotes from this book may reveal its revolutionary character (italics are ours). These are literal quotes from the English summary. Wiersinga says on page 204: “The second chapter establishes that the atonement has been interpreted many times as a ‘satisfaction’ for the wrath of God. Christ then carried this wrath and therefore placated it. However . . . nowhere in the New Testament is it stated expressis verbis that Jesus carried the wrath of God or placated it in his suffering and death. Several passages, which could possibly contain allusions to such a satisfaction for wrath, appear on second thought not to be the vehicle of such a representation. And so the conclusion is, that one should not speak of the suffering and death of Christ as a placating action.”

Page 205 reads: “Neither in the Old, nor in the New Testament is there any question of a punishing justice (justitia distributiva, vindicativa or retributiva) any more than of a justice of God which functions as a norm and as such demands punishment, or satisfaction.” The question: “Does God’s justice demand satisfaction?” is therefore answered negatively.

We are told: “One cannot deduce from the New Testament, that God wanted the crucifixion as such; or that it had to be out of a godly necessity. More recent alternatives show some practicable ways and . . . offer useful suggestions towards an ‘alternative’ doctrine of atonement (‘alternative’ in the meaning of a doctrine of atonement—without—satisfaction).”

It is indeed sad that such a dissertation could be at the Free University for a doctoral degree. A wave of indignation has arisen in The Netherlands church about this. But nothing has been done so far, the “dialogue” goes on and discipline is not envisioned.

Let us be humble enough to be taught by Philip (the deacon ) who explained the work of Jesus from the famous substitutionary passage of the Old Testament, to which the Holy Spirit himself had made the eunuch tum:

“Surely he has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows . . .
He was wounded for our transgressions.
He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter . . .”

Let us determine not to know anything else than what the Holy Spirit taught Paul: “that Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3).

New Morality – In 1968 Kuitert held a lecture at the Free University refresher course for ministers. His topic was “Scripture Proof Texts on Ethical Questions.”

It is most interesting to note how the model-theory has far-reaching implications also for moral life (p. 85–87). Take for instance the phenomenon of homosexuality: no one can doubt that homosexuality is condemned outright in Romans as a heinous sin.

Also other texts about this can be quoted from Old and New Testament.

Does this mean that in our age that question is settled for Christians? By no means, says Kuitert, for these texts are a model only, show us how God-believers in their time applied their faith to their circumstances (“Beispiel,” p. 85). Now circumstances are different, so we may have to take a different approach than these Bible people did. So here we see, how the model theory of Genesis 1–3 now is applied to ethical texts on matters of ethics.

The whole Bible has lost its infallible-authority character as the Word of God and has become just an account of how God-believing people groped for applying their faith to daily life.

This model theory also means that one is not to bring up anyone text of Scripture to solve such a question as abortion or birth control.

The historical distance (pp. 78–82) is too great and the Bible is too time-conditioned to get any direct solution from it for a concrete situation.

Kuitert refutes situation-ethics, but admits that only general principles (like “to love” and “to serve”) can be deduced from the Bible. As to how the place of women in society, war, pre-marital sex have to be viewed now, the Bible gives no answer.

Kuitert concludes “that there is no direct connection line between the historically conditioned social world of the Bible and our world and that therefore we cannot apply ethical proof texts to the situation we are in” (p. 80).

“Redemptive Events”– Kuitert draws the conclusion that because of its historically conditioned character, one can use the Bible only for its “redemptive events.”

At the 1971 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church the Committee on Biblical Authority proposed that Synod speak of “the historical reality of redemptive events as recorded in Scripture” (p. 304 Agenda 1971). (Italics ours.)

The following was also recommended for adoption: “(d) Synod warns against use of the historical-critical method which . . . calls into question the redemptive events of biblical history . . . (Italics ours).

Some amazed delegates asked why only those redemptive events of the Bible were mentioned. Why not all events of the whole Bible? Kuitert’s answer to that question would be: The reason is: because the literalness of other events in the Bible is not so dependable (e.g., Genesis 1–11).

But this is a wrong view of Scripture, because all events are redemptive events in the sense that it is God at work for the salvation of the world, both in Old and New Testament. It is wrong to speak, as one delegate did at the 1971 Synod, of “what is negotiable and what is not negotiable in the Bible.” History proves that any church that starts to “negotiate” with the devil, has already lost the battle.

From doubt about Genesis 1–3, Kuitert now has proceeded to deny Old and New Testament miracles, he says that we know nothing of the life hereafter, and now the Theology has proceeded to attack the blood atonement of the cross.

Bible Faith – There have been people who have said: “Why make so much fuss about Report 36? (the Authority of the Bible). It deals only with Chapters Genesis 1–11.” Let us not fool ourselves, it deals with the whole Bible [as revised this is Report 44 in the 1972 Agenda, Ed.]

When the Gereformeerde Kerken had decided that “the hermeneutical question” of Genesis 1–3 was left to the freedom of the churches, a prime promoter, Dr. A. Kruyswyk, wrote an article in the daily Christian newspaper Trouw on “Het Hek Van de Dam?” He contended that some said that now everything would be allowed, but he “relieved the fears and brought rest” by saying that it was only about Genesis 1–3.

History has proved that the fears of Bible believers were not unfounded. The seriousness of the situation was underrated. We are now in the same situation, at the crossroads.

Beware, for if this seemingly innocent bug is officially admitted, it will eat your whole Bible, systematic theology and ethics included. No subject will be exempt from its devouring appetite.

When Timothy was in Ephesus he was startled to sec that some leaders of the church, Hymenaeus and Philetus, swerved from the truth and taught that the resurrection is past already; for they said: “your body is not important, so God will not raise your body. Our scientific Greek thinking has discovered that only your soul is important, and let us adapt Paul’s Gospel accordingly. Let us not stick to the old-fashioned ideas of old Paul, Timothy.”

But young Timothy refused their overture. To his amazement however, several church members accepted this new teaching and other people started to waver and were upset (II Tim. 2:17–19). Timothy was worried and distressed.

Then Paul wrote that he should not worry. Paul was not upset that some of his former converts were accepting heresy. He was sad about it, but not upset. He knew that the Lord will keep His own. Paul wrote (II Tim. 2:19) “Yet God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: The Lord knows those who arc His.”

Let us see our task clearly in these days. It is not only to oppose the doubters, it is foremost to help the people of God who want to hold fast to His sure foundation.

Let us help them, let us help each other, in humble submission to God’s Holy and inerrant Word.