In the April issue of The Reformed Journal Dr. Henry Stob of Calvin Seminary presents his reply to our “Note to a Seminary Professor” appearing in the February number of Torch and Trumpet. Dr. Stob’s reply is entitled “Towards Better Understanding.”
Needless to say we have read Dr. Stob’s reply with a great deal of interest in the hope that the problems we raised would be resolved. Dr. Stob has written with the literary craftsmanship that usually characterizes his productions. In our judgment there is much in this new piece of writing that is highly commendable and acceptable. We appreciate the greater precision of this production.
Whether Dr. Stob’s reply leads “Towards Better Understanding” is debatable, if by “better understanding” we mean full or nearly full agreement. As a matter of fact there are aspects of this latest expression in our debate that add force to the criticisms we were constrained to make upon Dr. Stob’s original Note. We feel, therefore, that although we have no desire to prolong this debate, we must make the following observations on Dr. Stob’s reply.
1. In the first place we are compelled to correct a false impression that could be suggested by two sentences in Dr. Stob’s latest article in this discussion. The two sentences in question are: “Of this you could have reassured yourself had you undertaken to make inquiry of me.” And later: “This is what I would have told you had you asked me about its meaning.”
If these statements are taken to mean that Dr. Stob was not asked regarding certain specific points of detail in his original Note, the sentences quoted above can stand without challenge. If, however, they suggest to the reader that no effort was made by the undersigned to see Dr. Stob before publication of our “Note to a Seminary Professor,” the impression gained from these sentences would be at variance with the facts. In the April issue of our magazine reference was made to two visits with Dr. Stob by one of the undersigned. Subsequently the entire editorial committee spent two hours with Dr. Stob in the presence of two other men. After each one of these contacts with Dr. Stob the undersigned weighed the question carefully, “Shall we publish or shall we refrain?” In each instance the committee decided that nothing that had been said really clarified the central issues in this discussion and hence we should proceed with publication.
A further observation is in order here. Although conversation can be of much value as men seek to arrive at solutions to problems and issues, we are of the opinion that the written word is far more precise and definitive than the spoken word in a discussion of basic issues. We are inclined to feel that crucial questions of principle are rarely settled in an atmosphere filled with the strong fragrancies of good fellowship. Basic issues must finally be handled by men who labor long in a quiet retreat wrestling to gain a proper perspective on the issues involved and hammering out their convictions in carefully tailored prose that may at least in some measure deal with the central issues without prejudice of influences that may he personally desirable but are really quite extraneous.
2. Of considerable significance in Dr. Stob’s reply is his confession of educational faith. We shall not comment on this generally excellent pronouncement except for one or two observations. We have made quite clear in our “Note to a Seminary Professor” and its accompanying editorial comment that we did not question Dr. Stob’s orthodoxy and that we did not charge him with holding the philosophical opinions which to us seemed to be the logical outcome of the type of thinking that formed the structure and content of his original “Note to a College Freshman.” The thrust of our Note to Dr. Stob was simply that in our judgment the piece of writing to which we took exception was “a very faulty presentation of a highly important matter.” We assumed that both Dr. Stob and we would subscribe to a Calvinistic credo in education. It was for us a question of the proper articulation of those basic beliefs.
Now, however, that Dr. Stob has given us these twelve articles of his educational faith, we must make this further comment. He states that “it was squarely upon the basis formed by these (the twelve articles) that the Note was laid.” We cannot help wondering what is wrong. If something as unsatisfactory as Dr. Stob’s original Note can he squarely based on such an educational creed, one of two things must be wrong.
Either the words “squarely” and “basis” need more careful evaluation in this particular setting, or the creed given by Dr. Stab is at best ambiguous and at worst faulty at certain critical but in obvious points. Possibly the principles so effectively stated by Dr. Stob are not in every significant detail “endorsed by Reformed people everywhere,” as Dr. Stob asserts.
In this discussion it is to be carefully noted that Dr. Stob stands by his original Note without qualification. To him it is a perfectly sound articulation of a Christian educational creed.
3. Of central importance in Dr. Stob’s answer, is bis distinction between “mind” and “heart.” We are quick to say that some distinction between these two is necessary. They are not to be identified. But are they as far apart as Dr. Stob says they are?
It should be punctually observed that Dr. Stob says certain things about the mind in the first article that are almost identical with certain things he says about the heart in the second article. Tn the first article Dr. Stob says of the mind: “Mind sets your perspectives, determines your judgments, dictates your loyalties. It defines you.” In his latest article Dr. Stob says of the heart: “It determines…our choice and decisions.” To say the least, this is puzzling to us.
In the biblio-theological framework in which the Calvinist lives and thinks a distinction of the type Dr. Stob is seeking to set up between heart and mind must meet two organically inter-related requirements. Such a distinction (1) must be consistent with itself and (2) must above all be consistent with Holy Scripture. Except for the obvious slip referred to in the previous paragraph Dr. Stab’s distinction does appear to be made in a consistent and coherent fashion.
The important question is in order whether Dr. Stob’s construction of the distinction between heart and mind is in accord with the teaching of Scripture. Let us look at some of the biblical evidence briefly.
Dr. Stob argues that the heart is to be regarded as functioning on “a transcendental level of our existence.” In other words, it is to be thought of as being beyond (below – “deepest,” Stob) the bounds or our actual living, our day by day and moment by moment experience. To be sure, we recognize that Dr.Stob is wrestling with a most intricate problem. But we must ask, for example, of what sense is the admonition in Proverbs 4:23 – “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”–If we should follow Dr. Stob’s line of reasoning we would have to say that here is a pointless admonition, an admonition which man simply cannot apply to his experience, [or the heart is too deep to be affected by human thought and action. It should he noted that this admonition appears in a typical con text in the book of Proverbs, a context in which there is admonition upon admonition which man is called upon to heed and to apply to his life.
It also seems to us that the distinction as made by Dr. Stob would run into difficulty in I Corinthians, chapters one and two (especially chapter two, verses nine to sixteen). Similar difficulty must be encountered if we apply Dr. Stob’s distinction to expressions like the “understanding heart” (Prov. 8:5) , and the “thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). And how can the distinction as made by Dr. Stob hold where the Bible speaks of man’s believing specific elements of truth “in” and “with” his heart (Rom. 10:9–10)?
Hence, it seems to us that Dr. Stob is pressing a distinction, which has to be made in some form, beyond the bounds of the Bible’s teaching on the heart and beyond the bounds of the actualities of Bible-governed experience. The distinction between heart and mind as Dr. Stob seeks to make it does not come off, in our judgment. We feel it cannot be used to justify the logic of the original “Note.”
4. Making use of the distinction between heart and mind as he construes it, Dr. Stab seeks to justify, so it seems to us, a construction to which we took vigorous exception in our “Note to a Seminary Professor,” namely, Dr. Stob’s notion of “the ideal mind…the universal, the shared, the common, the human mind.”
“There is,” says Dr. Stob in his latest article, “an unqualified and absolute antithesis between the regenerate and unregenerate heart; they are related as life to death, as white to black. There is not an absolute antithesis between the Christian and the non-Christian ‘mind’…The unregenerate heart, because of common grace, does not come to full expression in the unbeliever’s mind. The regenerate heart, because of sin, does not come to full expression in the Christian’s mind.”
In the right context this line of argument would not be without some measure of validity. But when we put Dr. Stob’s two writings in this discussion together we feel that this line of reasoning is open to serious question. Because of common grace operating· in the unregenerate mind and because of the residual effects of sin operating in the regenerate mind, we have the unregenerate mind and the regenerate mind coming· together in “the ideal…the universal, the shared, the common, the human mind.” It is this distinctionless synthesis which is not to be abandoned, Dr. Stob says to the college freshman, but is rather to he included “within the larger perspective,” subordinated “to a higher, indeed, the highest, the ultimate rationality.” This means “taking on the mind of Christ,” according to Dr. Stob.
By now it is perfectly apparent how Dr. Stob could say to the college freshman that “this more acceptable kind of mind was…delineated and recommended by Plato…(and) celebrated by every humanist who succeeded him.” (In the original Note Dr. Stob speaks of Plato as having “delineated and recommended” the “more acceptable mind,” the “ideal mind” which must “shape you into its likeness,” the mind which is not to be abandoned in attaining the mind of Christ. In his reply Dr. Stob asserts that he “doesn’t mean that we must have Plato’s mind,” but rather that we “must adopt Plato’s suggestion that the narrow mind of the Sophists ‘be replaced by that broader mind…’”.) Since the antithesis is in the heart, all we have to work with in the man-to-man world of culture and learning is simply mind, or “Mind” with a capital letter, as in Dr. Stob’s original Note. And in the process of education this “ideal…universal…shared…common…human mind,” shared by Augustine and Pelagius, Bavinck and Nietzsche alike, is to be included “within a larger perspective,” subordinated “to a higher, indeed, the highest, the ultimate rationality.” This means “taking on the mind of Christ,” says Dr. Stob. This then we are to regard as truly Christian thinking.
We simply cannot be satisfied with this type of construction! To us it seems like an effort to synthesize Christianity with a humanistic mode of thinking. In our opinion such thinking empties the antithesis of all meaningful content and determinative significance for our conscious experience and cultural endeavor. Such thinking greatly enfeebles the thrust of Romans 8:7, where we read that “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” In our judgment this type of reasoning carries disastrous implications for distinctively Christian action in philosophy, education, or any other line of human, cultural activity. Our criticism at this vital heart of the matter has not been answered, we must regretfully declare. As a matter of fact, we feel the pertinence of our criticism has been made the more evident.
In his reply Dr. Stob indicates that he was obviously writing only to Christian students in his original Note. This was pre-supposed we are informed, and therefore his Note should not have been criticized to the effect that the student entering Calvin is a product of covenant training and hence cannot be spoken of as attaining the mind of Christ, he already has it.
In answer, we would like to make one observation. If this all-important pre-supposition was inherent in Dr. Stob’s original Note, there should have been some evidence of it. To us there was and is no evidence of it. The Note spoke of attaining the mind of Christ. How could it then be already there? It may very well be possible that Dr. Stob had such a presupposition in mind as he wrote. But we are dealing with his Note as an objective piece of writing. And in our mind Dr. Stob’s Note lacked the specific character, the distinctively Christian substance throughout that it should have had if the presupposition he now claims for it lay at its very base.
As we herewith present what we wish to regard as our concluding contribution to this discussion we would like to assert once more that our only interest in heralding these issues has been and is principal. Now that we have stated our case we are satisfied to leave it with the fair judgment of our readers, believing a majority of them will strive to evaluate this discussion objectively, and in the light of God’s Word.
With regard to Dr. Stob’s infelicitous reference to the trigger-happy sentry we would like to comment that Dr. Stob is just as aware as we are of the fact that the history of American Protestantism records more casualties resulting from a lack of vigilance than from too much vigilance.
Our prayer is that God may use these feeble but sincere efforts of ours to clarify and strengthen the allegiance of his church to those holy principles that give her life and make her “pillar and ground of the truth” in a world where man walks in darkness except the Spirit of that truth illumine his way.
THE EDITORIAL COMMIlTEE