Life With R.B.

Very early in my marriage to Marietta, daughter of the Rev. and Mrs. R. B. Kuiper, my younger brother, then about sixteen, enjoyed a brief period of close association with R. B. Kuiper. Afterward my brother said, “How can I be related to him too?” He found his contact with this very interesting and dynamic person so enjoyable that he wished to tighten and perpetuate the relationship somehow.

R. B., as he was generally known, was that kind of man. The many who heard him preach knew him to be a very live individual. Those who had personal association with him knew him to be one who could articulate his thoughts with utter clarity and exactness, a delightful conversationalist who sprinkled his comments with sparkling humor.

In view of R.B.’s richly endowed personality with his remarkable record of service in the Kingdom of God, it is altogether fitting that something of a personal nature be written about him, provided such writing be neither unduly laudatory or sentimental. Such commentary would have encountered his deep distate. Many will be able to reflect on his personality from their own particular vantage point of personal and professional  contact with him. Since in God’s providence I sustained a unique relationship to him as son-in-law, I can draw from many years of close association certain facts, experiences and impressions that may serve to illuminate the character and service of this unusually effective servant of the Lord.

A mark of greatness

The first observation 1 should like to make is in the form of a personal tribute, one which perhaps only I can make, in view of my personal and professional situation in relation to R.B. He had a strong personality, an exceptionally strong one; there is no doubt about that. But, through all the years I have known him intimately he never used that strong personality to squelch mine. I never had the feeling, even in a small measure, that he was trying to wedge my life or my interests into any sort of mold congenial to him. He left me with the comfortable feeling that he simply wished me to be myself, even though he undoubtedly saw weaknesses he might have liked to correct. If he had a word of advice to offer, he would approach me (or us) in some such way as this: “I know people don’t like to take advice, least of all mine. But I have a little to give you, and you can do with it what you think best.” Then he would offer his advice with absolutely no strings attached. Usually the advice was followed, as it was almost always judged to be usable advice. Perhaps it should always have been followed. But, if it was not followed, this had not the slightest effect on our personal relationship.

Another indication of this willingness to live and let live was his reaction on the few occasions when I differed with him on some point in debate on the floor of the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I got the distinct impression that he rather enjoyed this independence on my part. For if an)thing characterized him it was just such independence. He always did his own thinking, and he liked to see others do the same.

Disciplined thinking and speech

Yes, R.B. liked to see others do their own thinking, but with this proviso -that such thinking carry some degree of validity. He utterly detested sloppy thinking and sloppy speech. It is obvious that years of dose association with him involved a wholesome discipline of thought and speech. Poorly conceived and expressed opinions were quick to be challenged, especially if such opinions carried a hint of cocksureness. I am grateful for the discipline that these years with R.B. have brought. He was a precisionist in speech. One just did not hear inaccurate speech from his lips, though on occasion he might choose to lapse into a bit of slang. He had very little patience with careless speech on the part of the educated. On one occasion he and I both attended a meeting where a man presented his rather controversial views. The man made a number of rather obvious mistakes in English. R.B.’s grumbling comment to me afterward was this: “That man can’t even talk straight.” I got the distinct impression that he was disposed to add, “How then can he think straight?”

R.B.’s basic thinking was, of course, unashamedly and frankly of a certain kind. He was totally committed to the tcaching of the Bible, the Word of God, the Word of absolute truth. He was, therefore, a Calvinist, from the top of his head to his toes, and he never retreated one step from a forthright advocacy of that grand system of belief, it being his firm and unrelenting conviction that this is the teaching of the Word of God, the Bible. I recall a remark I once heard from the lips of one who had a large responsibility in the work of the now defunct League of Evangelical Students. This man was discussing what speakers should be obtained for a scheduled meeting of the League, and in this connection remarked that R.B. could always be relied on to give a sound and good speech; he just never failed to come through. Through the years anyone who cared to challenge him within the context of this basic Calvinistic commitment soon learned he had met a strong, highly articulate and uncompromising champion of the faith. I was always impressed with the fund of biblical, confessional and theological knowledge he had at his command to buttress any position he took on a point in theology or in the whole business of the church. Up to almost the day of his death he was consulted by many on all sorts of problems in the church and in theology. In his love for the faith and its effective articulation in the church he was a realist. He knew the church has always had and always would have a battle on its hands to maintain the integrity of the faith and of the church. He therefore preferred to use the word militant as applied to the church, and he had very little patience with high-sounding substitutes for that term.

In the humorous vein

There was another side to this man’s fascinating personality, a side that so many enjoyed in the stories or jokes he told or in the fun he could have with his family or friends. He played games with enthusiasm and skill, and he played to win. He was always quick to see the funny side of things. Some of the most hilarious times one could have in his company were those in which he told of the escapades he and his five brothers were involved in as they grew up in Grand Haven and Chicago. He told his stories and jokes masterfully. His wit sparkled bright and sharp, bright and sharp like the mischievous twinkle in his eye. He had a considerable fund of stories which he used either as sermon illustrations or for occasions in which more humOr was in order. Some of these stories the members of the family heard many times, of course. But we always enjoyed them, for he told them with unabated relish and zest.

His humor had a sharp intellectual quality. He did not care for the nonsense brand of humor, like the so-called moron jokes of a few years back. He was amused at the “knock, knock” game of a decade or so ago, but it was not the sort of thing he really enjoyed. His humor as a toastmaster was of the kind that would cause a seminary professor almost to fall off his chair with laughter. At the same time the point of his jokes or illustrations was always so clear that the average listener got the full impact of it.

I should like to share with the readers of this magazine some of the humor that I found highly amusing in the more intimate association with RB. and otherwise. A statement he made with regard to his experience as president of Calvin College comes to mind. He said that he often wished someone would leave a cabbage on the chapel platform, for this would give him a chance to say, “It seems that some student has lost his head.” He regretted he never got the opportunity to use this bit of humor. So do I.

One evening during our courtship days he had been doing something he enjoyed, spending a little time in the kitchen helping Mrs. Kuiper. They had been stuffing a chicken in preparation for Sunday dinner. As he was retiring for the night he said to us. “I hope the house doesn’t burn down tonight.” At that time I didn’t know him well enough yet to guess what he might conceivably have in mind with a remark like that. He added, “Because if it does we won’t have any chicken tomorrow.”

When we had our first child and he by that fact had his first grandchild, life with R.B. became increasingly interesting and exciting. Both he and Mrs. Kuiper found great joy in the coming of the grandchild, as they did also in the birth of each of their six grandchildren. Grandfather R.B’s reaction was such that at a seminary gathering at that time I raised the question whether the Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary was wavering on the doctrine of original sin. He took the sally in good humor. This child was born at a time when the careful parent sterilized in hot water just about everything the little one might touch. One day we were talking in RB:s presence about the possibility of getting a puppy for the child in due time. He said, “You can’t have a puppy for that child.” “Why not?” we asked with one voice. “You would have to boil it ten minutes first,” he replied.

If he felt he had to, he could use humor with devastating effect. On one occasion he had been introduced by a student with an opening remark to the effect that R B. Kuiper is a hard man to get ahead of. Then he went on to say this: “One day a man who had heard Professor Kuiper speak said that the professor was a fluent speaker. Being a student of the Hebrew language, I tried to find the exact meaning of the word fluent by finding its root. I found this root in the dictionary in the word flue, which means ‘a passage for hot air.’” When R. B. got up to speak he graciously acknowledged the introduction he had received and then added this: “The other day a friend of mine heard Mr. W….(the introducer) speak. My friend said that Mr. W…reminded him very much of me, but that Mr. W….was more fluent than I am.” The introducer was correct—R.B. was a hard man to get ahead of.

R.B. detested long-windedness and pomposity in speakers. On one occasion a master of ceremonies gave him an exceptionally long-winded introduction, taking valuable time that should have been left for the speaker. R.B. began his speech by telling this story. An Iowa farmer had taken his city friend to see his hogs at feeding time. The farmer threw out to the hogs the usual amount of ears of corn. The city friend observed that it would take the hogs much less time to eat if the corn were not on the cob. The farmer answered, “What’s time to a hog?”

The story-teller

As already mentioned, R. B. had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of stories to tell—to tell for purposes of entertainment or for more serious intents as illustrations in sermons and speeches. These stories never left the hearers wondering just what the point might be. The point was always clear as crystal, and the illustration therefore most telling. I have already heard a minister ask him, “R.B., where do you get all those good stories?” The answer for the most part was one that R.B. himself could hardly give, namely, out of his own highly imaginative mind.

The many who heard him speak and preach can testify to the effectiveness of R.B. as a story-teller. Not so well known, of course, was his knack for telling stories to the grandchildren.—This was always a delight to observe. He would no ·sooner appear at our door and One of the children would pull at his sleeve and draw him to the davenport for a story. And he always obliged, no matter how busy he was. And what stories they were -told usually in high animation and with great sound effects. Often they were familiar Bible stories, such as Peter walking on the water or Peter’s escape from prison. Many times the stories were his own highly imaginative productions. The children were always enthralled, sometimes so much so that the vividly told stories weren’t the best preparation for sleep. Sometimes the stories were funny. On one occasion as a story-telling session was in progress in the living room I heard great sound effects as an elephant yelled very loud, “Ouch! Ouch!” The elephant’s mate asked, “What’s the matter?” “Plenty,” said the first elephant; “a mouse stepped on my toe.”

These are just a few glimpses of the many facets of this vivid and richly endowed personality. It was this fine instrument that God used to render long and exceptionally effective service in his Kingdom. What I have written here will soon disappear from human view. I have only sought to illuminate from my own particular vantage point some facets of this remarkable instrument that served so long to leave the Church and Kingdom of Christ with what I trust will be a solid and enduring legacy. The Church and Kingdom on earth will be the poorer if this is not the case.

None knew Professor Kuiper so intimately and happily as his family, whose memories will be a sweet source of strength for many years. We of Reformed Fellowship Inc. are deeply grateful to the Rev. Edward Heerema, son-in-law of the late professor, for his willingness to provide us with some of the memories which he cherishes.