Note to a Seminary Professor

Editorial Note

Can our readers stand some debate, some controversy? Can we of the Reformed community, subscribing as we do to the principle ECCLESIA REFORMATA REFORMANDA EST,1 carry on a discussion of important matters of principle without having such a discussion deteriorate into an unseemly personal affair?

We think we can carry on such a discussion on a high level. We are confident Dr. Henry Stab, professor of Apologetics at Calvin Theological Seminary, can. We are confident that our leaders can appreciate such a discussion carried on in the right spirit. In that confidence we present the accompanying article to our reader, each of whom as a believer is a prophet, a priest and a king in Christ. We present this matter because we believe there is no more important question confronting us today than just this question: What constitutes Christian higher education?

In this discussion we would ask our readers to bear in mind a few things. We hope, to begin with, that our readers will not interpret our discussion as an attack on Dr. Henry Stob’s orthodoxy. We are simply debating the merits of one piece of writing in which Dr. Stob has given what we regard as a very faulty presentation of a highly important matter.

We sincerely hope our readers will not interpret the ensuing discussion as an effort to embarrass Dr. Henry Stob. As a matter of fact we hold high respect for Dr. Stob as a writer and scholar. We gladly recognize certain writings of merit that he has produced in the past. We refer to his excellent address entitled “The Lord of God and Philosophy” appearing in THE WORO OF GOD AND THE REFORMED FAITH, proceedings of the Second Calvinistic Conference held in 1942. We also take pleasure in referring to two addresses on the antithesis given at the Christian School Convention of 1939.

However, we are persuaded that the “Note to a College Freshman” constitutes a departure from the high ground attained in these earlier writings. Hence, we are using our disagreement with the NOTE to give partial expression to what we believe to be a sounded point of view in Christian higher education.

Furthermore we sincerely hope our leaders will not construe this discussion as the eruption of a feud with THE REFORMED JOURNAL. As far as we are concerned no such situation exists. Furthermore, such considerations have nothing to do, we feel, with a discussion of this type. We are debating; matters of principle, not personalities or journals.

It is, therefore, our earnest hope that this discussion may contribute something to a better and richer understanding of that glorious spiritual heritage in which we would have all Calvin freshmen grow to a robust maturity,

If Dr. Stob should desire it, he may use whatever space in, TORCH AND TRUMPET that he may think he needs to reply, to our criticism of his NOTE.

We wish to thank Dr. Stob for granting us permission to reprint his original article. We present this article in full so that our readers can the note intelligently determine the issues in this debate.



It is with no pleasure that we take issue with you, Dr. Stob, We have deliberated this matter for some time, wondering just what might be the best way to deal with your article “Note to a College Freshman” appearing in the September issue of The Reformed Journal. The conclusion of our deliberation is this article. Since you gave open expression to your opinions in print we have decided that we should give open expression to the serious objections we have to that article. We are persuaded that we would be untrue to our calling as servants of Christ and also to our declared objectives as a Reformed Fellowship if we did not deal openly and frankly with the crucially important questions raised by your article.

Let it be said, to begin with, that we are not unaware of the limitations. of a brief article like yours. Naturally you could not elaborate your argument adequately in such a brief “note.” However, within the compass of your brief article you have said some exceedingly significant things. You have set up a line of thought that is fairly clear and definitive, even though briefly done. Also, the position you now occupy is so strategic that we are quite jealous for the accuracy of the opinions you render, especially as the prestige of your office gives added weight to your counsel to the freshman embarking on his career at Calvin College with his mind in a state of some uncertainty and naive expectation.

The Exegetical Question

There is, first of all, an exegetical question of some importance opened up by this article. It has to do with the significant phrase “the Mind of Christ.” This phrase in the precise form in which the Note uses it is found in I Corinthians 2:16. However, since the last words of the Note are an exact quotation of Philippians 2:5, it would seem that your usage of the phrase also has exegetical back.ground in Paul’s second chapter of Philippians.

In Philippians, chapter 2 Paul refers to “this mind…which was also in Christ Jesus” for a very special and restricted purpose. He uses “this mind” in order to enforce his appeal for true humility, for that “lowliness of mind” which is necessary in order that “each esteem other better than themselves.” This infinitely holy and profound Christological construction forms the perfect pattern and the powerful motivation for that .deeper imitatio Christi which is essential to the Christian mind and character at every point of life and experience. There is, we feel, no exegetical warrant in Philippians, chapter 2 for using “the Mind of Christ” as a third step in the academic process in which by some undefined retroactive effect it influences the previous steps. This is not to say that “this mind” of the second, chapter of Philippians is wholly foreign to the process of Christian higher education. The Christian personality that must be humble as Christ was truly humble is naturally very much involved at every point in the personality’s development and training. In our judgment that is quite different from the use made of the concept in the Note.

A most clear-cut statement of the antithesis forms the exegetical framework for the phrase “the Mind of Christ” in I Corinthians, chapter two. In this setting the man who has “the Mind of Christ” is sharply distinguished from “the natural man.” “The Mind of Christ” is not to be thought of as a “larger perspective…a higher, indeed, the highest, the ultimate rationality” which must somehow enrich the “more acceptable kind of mind…delineated and recommended by Plato.” The mind of Plato and “the Mind of Christ” must in the first instance be looked upon as antithetical, not complementary. This we trust to make clear in the sequel.

Then there is a further point we are constrained to make regarding use of the term: “Mind of Christ.” Does not the Note’s usage of this phrase bring one into a rather awkward and untenable position? At the beginning of your article it is stated, correctly we think, that “Mind is as different from brain as soul is from body, and it is as different from intellect as whole is from part. Mind is intellect, will and feeling fused into one. Mind is what you are on the deeper level of your being. It is the spiritual measure and size of you, the conscious center and core of you. It is You at the point where you most centrally confront the world. Mind sets your perspectives, determines your judgments, dictates your loyalties. Mind defines you.”

If “Mind” is to be so described, then how can man have “the Mind of Christ”? How can man “attain” unto it? Does not such writing call for a virtual identification of finite man with the divine Christ? Is not the essential uniqueness of the Christ of God imperiled by this type of argument?

The Main Argument

With regard to the main line of argument in the Note we wish to assert our hearty agreement with certain emphases in it. The article constitutes a sharp rebuke upon all purely utilitarian attitudes toward college training. Such a rebuke is very much in order, especially in this day when education’s sale service for so many is its contribution to one’s earning power.

Also, the strong insistence upon the necessity of broadening one’s perspectives is salutary. There is a very proper sense in which Christians can and should speak of and seek a “liberal” education. Indeed, it is the Christian’s duty to acquaint himself to the limit of his capacity with the fullness of God’s creation. And that also applies to the history of God’s creation. A smug satisfaction within the confines of a narrow “cabined self” where personal prejudices are not subjected to the opinions and aspirations of others is a state that must be regarded as an affront to the Lord of all things. We too, therefore, would have our Calvin freshman grow into a true appreciation of “the large-minded men who have created our art and science and become the teachers of our race.” We have no argument with you there.

Furthermore, we wish to express our appreciation for certain excellent things you say in the last three paragraphs of the article. A sentence like the following is particularly satisfying: “To understand ourselves, to understand the world, to truly and fundamentally understand anything at all, we must take up position neither in the individual nor in the race, neither in sophistic intelligence nor in human rationality, but in the Truth himself, which is what is meant by taking on the mind of Christ.”

Nevertheless, in spite of some of these splendid things, we are persuaded that the main structure of the argument virtually nullifies these good things. We are constrained, therefore, to present the following strictures on the Note’s main argument:

1. Just what is “the ideal mind,” “the universal, the shared, the common, the human mind,” “the broader mind of Man”? What is meant by that Mind of which it is said, “You have it potentially within you, for you are in fact more than this or that particular individual strictly as such; you are a human being, sharing with your fellows a common nature, and residing with them under an objective and universally binding law of righteousness and truth”?

The “Mind” of anyone has already been defined as his essential self, very much as the Bible uses the term “heart.” Can “Mind” so defined be regarded as a common, universal something in anything other than a purely formal sort of way—in the sense that all men have souls or hearts? But the Note is not speaking of “Mind” in this purely formal sense. It is talking about tile intrinsic character of the Mind, the content of the Mind, the product of the Mind, the set of the Mind. Are we to understand that in this sense there is a common human “Mind” shared by all people simply because they are people—shared by Moses, Pharaoh, David, Confucius, Plato, Pilate, Paul, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Descartes, Spinoza, Erasmus, Kan t, Voltaire, Darwin, Marx, Bavinck, Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein, Machen, Vishinsky, Bob Hope and the Calvin freshman? Do these and all others besides participate in a “common” Mind “under an objective and universally binding’ law of righteousness and truth”?

We are frank to say that we do not believe such a “Mind” has any more reality than the people of Aesop’s fables. If Mind were thought of after the “romanticistic” manner of idealistic philosophy, the Note’s “common” Mind might conceivably mean something. Then Mind would be some kind of sacred cow that certain people venerate apart from the dirt and the fleshly tensions of life, much as the ancient Greeks did. But the Note rejects such a notion of Mind. It rightly insists that Mind is the essential person—the person, if you please, as he stands before God.

Does regeneration make no difference in this “common” Mind? Are there not certain human beings who by God’s grace have been made “new creatures” for whom “all things are become new, and all things are of God”? God in Christ Jesus is in conscious actuality the ruling reality of a Mind or he is not. Either the Christian God is the Reality that gives meaning and direction to all else in life, or life is basically God-less and direction less, except for the presence of a false god, a God-surrogate.

When we speak thus we do not mean to say that it is the business of the college student to seek to determine in each instance whether the particular mind he is trying to unclerstand is a regenerate or an unregenerate mind. In the very nature of the case such a final determinatioll rests solely with God. However, the fact wc are now stressing does mean that it is the Christian student’s business to pursue his cultural task within the antithetic structure of history and life at all times. In this antithetic structure not all is black and white. There are also many different shades of gray, many of them very delicate indeed. The unregenerate mind is not yet a finished product. He will be that in Hell. The regenerate mind is not yet a finished product. He will be that in Heaven. In the historical process God’s common grace is “at work” permitting and enabling the minds of men to produce much that should inform and form the Mind of the Christian student. Common grace, however, does not set aside or neutralize the antithesis. In fact, it presupposes the antithesis. There can be no such thing as “grace” except there be a fundamental hostility to be removed or reduced, both in the producer and in the product. Therefore, since God by his grace (special and general or common) has revealed truth, goodness and beauty throughout history in many forms and by many minds, it is the Christian’s duty to think God’s thoughts after him in the fullest and richest sense in which this is attainable by man. Obviously this places upon the Christian a weighty obligation. “All things are yours…and ye are Christ’s.”

2. This leads us logically into our second criticism. Of what Mind is the Calvin freshman? Does he participate in a “common” human Mind without a difference? Or is his mind a covenant mind? Is the Mind of Christ for him a third level of education “to be attained,” or does he already have the Mind of Christ as the central and ever present determinant in aII his experience?

Docs not Calvin College exist for the express purpose of educating covenant minds, young people who are presumed to have the Mind of Christ? Then how can one possibly say to the Calvin freshman that the Mind of Christ is a “third” level of education? No wonder the Note has difficulty with its use of the word “attain” in speaking of the Mind of Christ in the educational process. To be sure, there is a sense in which the word “attain” is perfectly appropriate. There must always be a growth in one’s possession of the Mind of Christ, a richer understanding of that Mind in its universal sweep and glory. But that is not what the Note says, it seems to us.

By the structure of the argument as we understand it, participation in the broader “common” human Mind takes place at an “earlier” stage of education and is so far unaffected by the Mind of Christ. Then we read that the movement from the second level to the third level “does not involve abandonment of the second, but the inclusion of it within a larger perspective, a subordination or it to a higher, indeed, the highest, the ultimate rationality.”

We just do not believe such a construction is true to the facts of the Christian’s inner life. One whose heart and therefore whose thinking processes and basic commitments have been claimed by Christ in grace enters into contact with nature, life and culture at every point with his. whole being under the governance or that commitment. And this commitment to the Christ is not limited to what is sometimes called “soul salvation” in the more narrow meaning of that phrase. It is commitment to the Christ who is the Logos of all of creation as he is described with sweeping magnificence in John, chapter one. To speak of the Mind of Christ, therefore, as a third level of education for such a covenant personality is extremely faulty, and is certainly not the way in which to counsel one who enters a college doctrinally based and governed as Calvin College is based and governed. “And…ye are Christ’s.”

3. Our third criticism constitute, a frontal attack on the very structure of the argument of the Note as such. It very aptly states that “the goal of education” is “to be shaped by the Word and Spirit and the whole of God’s creation into conformity with the Mind of Christ, to be fashioned anew in the image and likeness of God.” It also states that the Mind of Christ is “the Truth himself.” Why then is the argument not constructed so that the goal of education governs and determines the process of education at every step?

The Note stales that the first task of a college student is to grow out of his narrow sophistic mind into the broader, ideal human mind. The Calvin freshman can enter into this “broader Mind of man” simply because he is a human being residing with all other human beings “under an objective and universally binding law of righteousness and truth.” Just what is meant by this “objective and universally binding law of righteousness and truth” is not clear to us. Certainly these weighty words cannot mean that men, just because they are men, will develop that common human Mind so that this “universally binding law of righteousness and truth” will in actuality govern the forming and the content or that common human Mind. There are those among men “who hold the truth in unrighteousness” and “who changed the truth of God into a lie” (see Romans, chapter one). And then we are puzzled by the consideration that this “universally binding law of righteousness and truth” can hardly be something wholly other than the Mind of Christ. But this is called a third level of education.

It seems to us that this must be rather confusing to the Calvin freshman, as it is to us. However, it is rather plainly asserted that the common human Mind is that which all men share just because they are human. By the structure of your argument the Mind of Christ is not involved in the attainment of that larger human Mind. Although we are puzzled by the reference to the “universally binding law of righteousness and truth,” it seems very clear from the whole structure of the argument that the Mind of Christ does not govern the growth of the Calvin freshman into the larger human Mind.

If the Mind of Christ, that is, “the Truth himself” is not to guide and illuminate the Calvin freshman as he enters into the larger human Mind, and if the larger human Mind is something apart from the Mind of Christ (after the man nor of the Note), then this human Mind can only be looked upon as being purely natural process and purely natural product. Then “the Truth himself” is not germane to the “universal” Mind unless he participate in this “universal” Mind along with all other minds in history. Man is regarded as thinking and living apart from that God who alone is Truth and whose glory gives meaning and light to men. The Mind of man is then only part of nature, nature in her most refined form, even more refined than the whisper of pines and the light of stars. Indeed, the Mind of man as he appears on the first two levels of such argument is to be regarded as the peak in the evolutionary process of purely natural forces. Then what one mind thinks is just as true or untrue as what another mind thinks. Then one attitude toward the universe is just as relevant and just as irrelevant as the next. It is all purely natural process anyway, all a willy-nilly adventure on the part of that one creature that somehow can ask the question “Why?” Then the Mind of man becomes what it has become for men like Russell, Stace, Krutch and the existentialist philosophers, namely, that capacity in man whereby he can discern that life is fundamentally meaningless, that truth is irrelevant, and that the honest intellect will stoically accept the despair that is man’s proper portion in such a universe.

Please do not think that we for one moment charge you with possessing such a philosophy, Dr. Stob. But we are persuaded that once you describe the Mind of man in the way that you have done, a ruthless logic must inevitably drive you to such a position. And this is what we wish to point out as plainly as we can. Once you adopt the type of thinking that marks the structure of your article, the result must be that the Mind of Christ as “the Truth” becomes irrelevant.

When you have once described the first step in the process of education as you have done, then it makes no real difference whether you speak at the third level of the Mind of Christ or of the mind of an amoeba. The Mind of Christ has meaning only in a theistic universe. The Mind of Christ has meaning only in a philosophy of education in which “the Truth himself” illuminates every contact with the universe, whether that contact be with mountain, flower, star or human mind. If we do not insist on this, the absoluteness of “the Truth himself” is betrayed. Then the best you can do is to force a marriage between the Mind of Christ and the pagan mind, as the Roman Catholic Church has done. But we do not believe this is true Christianity. Thomism is not Calvinism. Calvinism would have the Mind of Christ permeate everything in life and learning at every point. That your article with its three-level structure of education does not do, we are persuaded. That is why we simply must take exception to it.

Reduced to its simplest terms your argument, it seems to us, amounts to stating that Christian education means the adding of courses in Bible and chapel exercises to the regular courses which we have in common with all minds bent on getting an education. Have we (and you too) not always taken special pains to point out that such is not Christian education?

4. Our fourth point is hardly to be called a criticism. It is rather in the nature of a concluding observation. Is this type of construction necessary in order that the alert and interested mind may develop a genuine appreciation for “the large-minded men who have created our art and science and become the teachers of our race”? Must we set up a notion like your “universal shared…common…human mind” so that “the Platos, the Goethes, the Shakespeares, the Michelangelos, and the Beethovens” may have a bona fide hearing before an appreciative student of culture?

We are quite certain that this type of argument is not necessary to make genuine cultural appreciation and growth possible. In fact, we are quite sure that this type of argument must in the end destroy the possibility of culture in any sense that is meaningful to the Christian Mind. Then one develops a relativism in which the line between culture and barbarism disappears, just as it did for so many modern intellectuals as currently observable in their dismal failure to appraise Communism correctly. When one sets up an argument which describes the student’s entrance into a “common” human Mind as a distinct step in the educational process quite previous to and apart from the Mind. of Christ which is “the Truth himself,” he thereby states that God is so far non-essential to our experience in God’s universe and its history. If God in Christ is non-essential at any point of our experience, he is non-essential to all of it, as we have tried to show above.

Must we not insist that “the Platos, the Goethes, the Shakespeares, the Michelangelos, and the Beethovens” have something to tell us that should form our minds just because of the Mind of Christ who is “the Truth himself”? In other words, to enter into the true meaning of the Mind (or better still, the minds) of men, one needs the Mind of Christ to begin with. The Mind of Christ should be the presupposition of the educational process and not a third step in that process. And must we not also declare that in a God-created and God-directed world the Mind of Christ must be recognized as the very presupposition of culture? Apart from the Mind of Christ neither culture nor education in culture is a possibility. In Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

In conclusion we wish to state once more, Dr. Stob, that our article is prompted by no personal animus of any kind. We have wrestled long and thoughtfully over the preparation of it. Our earnest prayer is that this effort of ours may be instrumental in gain ing very needful elucidation of highly important issues among us. Soli deo gloria.

The Editorial Committee of the Reformed Fellowship,


Note to a College Freshman...


You have come to college and you have brought a Mind with you. Notice that I said Mind, and not Brain or Intellect. Mind is as different from brain as soul is from body, and it is as different from intellect as whole is from part. Mind is intellect, will, and feeling fused into one. Mind is what you are all the deeper level of your being. It is the spiritual measure and size of you, the conscious center and core of you. It is You at the point where you most centrally confront the world. Mind sets your perspectives, determines your judgments, dictates your loyalties. It defines you.

The mind that is in you as you enter college is the product of many historical forces and influences. Not all of these, when they played on you, were under direction and control. Yet many of them operated with your consent and under your active governance. This means that you have been an agent in the making of the mind you have. For its present set and temper you must, in consequence, accept due responsibility. And you must accept the same responsibility for its future form and texture.

It is, I suppose, because you realize this that you have come to college. You have come, I like to believe, because you want deliberately to expose your mind to the liberalizing and formative influences that a college is meant to generate and release. You want, with the assistance of others, to shape your mind after the best and most enduring pattern that exists. And you want to know the size and contours of that pattern. You want to know the character and dimensions of the ideal mind.

I must say that for the attainment of your purpose you could not have come to a better place than college. It is the business of a college to acquaint you with the ideal mind and to shape you into its likeness. It is the business, that is, of a good college, a liberal arts college, a Christian college. If you have enrolled in one of that sort you have set your foot on the way to your goal. What progress you make will depend, of course, on how well you travel.

The first thing you will be asked to do is to abandon whatever you have retained of the sophistic mind.

The sophistic mind is the mind that is no broader or deeper than the individual self. It is the mind of sheer subjectivity. The Sophists of ancient Greece believed this to be the only kind of mind a man could desire or achieve. They thought of man as a mere particular. In consequence the mind they sought to cultivate was one able to express no more than the provincialisms, the idiosyncracies, the incommunicable and unshared tastes of the isolated selL Insulated against all contact with other selves, confined within the narrow limits of the private individual, utterly without range and scope, this wizened and constricted mind was barren, its only knowledge being information about its own petty and passing moods.

The ancient Sophists have long since died, but their spirit lives on in raw and undisciplined persons. It comes to expression whenever a man sets up his private opinion as the standard of truth or allows whim and impulse to determine action. It is found in every man who thinks of his particular self as the center of the world and who regards his own opinions as the measure of the real.

If this mind, or any part of it, is in you, it must be extirpated. It must be replaced by that broader mind which lifts you out of your privacy and identifies you with mankind.

This more acceptable kind of mind was in ancient times delineated and recommended by Plato, the arch opponent of the Sophists. It has since been celebrated by every humanist who succeeded him. The mind I am speaking of is the universal, the shared, the common, the human mind. You have it potentially within you, for you are in fact more than this or that particular individual strictly as such; you are a human being, sharing with your fellows a common nature, and residing with them under an objective and universally binding law of righteousness and truth.

In consequence your cultural and formative task consists, in part at least, in transcending the merely particular and attaining the universal. Being what you are you are obliged to negate the individuality defined as ultimate in order from the vantage point of a more inclusive humanity to rediscover it as relative. You must leave behind the subjectivity of your narrow self and reach out for the broader mind of Man. It is the purpose of a liberal, that is a liberalizing, education to form this mind in you, to enlarge the cramped perspective of your cabined self, and make you kin to the large-minded men who have created our art and science and become the teachers of our race. With this mind in you, you can enter appreciatively into the thought and labor of the Platos, the Goethes, the Shakespeares, the Michelangelos, and the Beethovens of our rich cultural tradition, and attain ill some measure to the dignity and freedom of disciplined man.

But there is a higher level of education still, and another Mind to be attained.

It is not your mind in its sheer particularity that you want. You want your own mind indeed, but only as it somehow shares in the common human mind. But also, it is not merely the mind of Man you want. It, too, must be transcended if you are to achieve your ultimate range and scope. You must attain the Mind of Christ.

Just as the movement from the first mind to the second was not a mere negation of the first, but an enrichment and enlargement of it (a finding of it through losing it), so the movement from the second to the third does not involve the abandonment of the second, but the inclusion of it within a larger perspective, a subordination of it to a higher, indeed, the highest, the ultimate rationality. To be truly educated, to I.:e completely liberated, to be wholly enlightened, is to share in Christ the thoughts of God and thus to transcend the relativity not only of the subjective but also of the merely human. To understand ourselves, to understand the world, to truly and fundamentally understand anything at all, we must take up position neither in the individual nor in the race, neither in sophistic intelligence nor in human rationality, but in the Truth himself, which is what is meant by taking on the mind of Christ.

It is with difficulty that a person shakes off the confining chains of his own discrete individuality. Also it is only after years of discipline and training that he sustains over any considerable period of time that objectivity and universality which is the mark of the educated man. It is even more difficult to attain the mind of Christ. Indeed, strictly speaking, one cannot attain to it at all. It is in the first instance a miracle and a gift, and only secondarily an achievement and possession. But without it no man is educated, just as without it no man is saved.

Here, then, is the goal of education: to be shaped by the Word and Spirit and the whole of God’s creation into conformity with the Mind of Christ, to be fashioned anew in the image and likeness of God. Unless this goal is reached nothing is reached but failure, and nothing lies ahead but judgment. Let then this Mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.

*Reprinted from The Reformed Journal, September, 1952, by permission of the author.