Nothing New Under the Sun

(an appraisal of recent trends in Dutch Theology) Note: This article 6rst appeared in slightly different form in Calvinist Contact, March 15, 1968. An English translation was prepared for TORCH AND TRUMPET by Mr. H. Vander Laan of Fenwick, Ontario and Mr. W. Suk of St. Catharines, Ontario.

“Is there anything of which it may be said: See this is new? It has existed long ago in times past.” Ecclesiastes 1:10 (Berkeley Version)

These days all kinds of ideas come to us from across the ocean. It all sounds brand-new and not a few are excited about it.

Some say: Now we know that the Bible never meant to say that the tree in Paradise was a real tree, or the snake a real snake.1

Actually all of Genesis 1–11 must be read as a vision or a myth.2 In any case it is not real history.2

The conquest of Jericho has symbolical meaning, because it is recorded in much more detail than the capture of other cities. Certainly “something of great importance” happened there, but we may never know what actually took place. However, we know for sure that the walls came tumbling down long before that event: Jericho had been in ruins for over 500 years when the Israelites came marching in . . . 4

Our ideas about the New Testament must also be up-dated. In it we find “words of Jesus” which Jesus never spoke himself.5 In the Gospels he has a splendour which he never really possessed during his lifetime.6

Some miracles, like the withering of the figtree, are of a legendary nature.7 This legendary material is even clearer in the dead-coming-out-of-the-tombs at the time of Christ’s death.8

In a listing of “facts” we find mentioned the fact that Jesus was the son of Joseph. But the Virgin Birth is not fact in its historical sense.9

The early church never has been able to produce witnesses of the Resurrection of Christ. But later “the apocryphal stories” develop this theme.10

In former years such statements were taboo in the “Gereformeerde Kerken” and we read them with amazement and wonder.

However, these spokesmen go at great length to assure that this is something new. They are willing to make public appearances in the Netherlands, Grand Rapids, Toronto and other places to show us that their school of thought is based on modern research11 and that it is impossible to give the simplistic answer of former years.12

Things have changed and if you do not want to be old-fashioned, you have to show at least a perceptive attitude. Have an open mind, appreciate the struggle these men are involved in. New times call for new insights.

And now we ask: To what extent is all this new?

I propose we consult Dr. Abraham Kuyper.

He is the man who had a profound in8uence in the shaping of the thought-patterns of former Reformed generations. He also was recognized by friend and foe as a man of great scientific knowledge.

Dr. Kuyper, please tell us how shocking these thoughts are to you. Did you hear such things in your age?

Kuyper speaks

Ah, my esteemed brethren, THAT WHICH IS, HAS BEEN BEFORE.

I myself have experienced the immersion into the (un)reliabilily of biblical material.

When I was a student at the famous University of Leyden, Professor Scholten revealed to us in superb oratory his rationalistic approach to Reformed Dogmatics.

And Professor Rauwenhof expounded the brilliant New Testament legends, full of deep meaning and mysterious symbolism. We saw how they had grown in the fertile soil of an enthusiastic, but primitive church.

During one of his lectures he courageously exclaimed that in this scientific age it was impossible for him to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. At that moment the entire student body exploded in a spontaneous applause . . . and I, Bram Kuyper, joined in.

This was so different to what we had been used to. We adored the widening horizons and disdained the outmoded faith of the orthodox “School of Night.”

All of a sudden it had dawned on us that progressive technology and recent archaeological discoveries had made it ridiculous for us to accept everything from the Bible at face value. Rev. Busken Huet dared to preach his famous sermon on the “legend” of the resurrection of the young man from Nain, placing all emphasis on the significant message of this story for all times and ages.13 How we were enjoying the ripened fruits of Immanuel Kant’s rationalistic philosophy. Already in 1793 this enlightened philosopher published a book entitled: “Religion within the limits of Human Reason.

However, by the grace of God, I arrived at deeper insights! One of the main reasons was the differing of opinions from year to year.

One of my professors wrote in 1858 that the Gospel of John was very reliable, because the persons mentioned in it impressed him as having been real people. But in 1861 the professor lectured that to his disappointment also the Gospel of John had proven to be unreliable, because the persons did not impress him anymore as historical entities.14

And so everybody felt free to invent his own norm and to mark scripture passages accordingly. The result was a babylonian confusion on the Bible.

Then I decided to rely on the lasting Authority of God, rather than attempting to stand on the quicksand of man’s ideas.15

This made it also impossible for me to go along with the view on scripture as advocated by the ethicalirenical brethren.

They were the ones who tried to pour the age-old familiar biblical terms into new molds. They went along with much of the higher criticism of their day, but at the same time they assured everyone that they stood for the infallibility of God’s Word.16 They were truly born-again, pious men; but they were so impressed by the findings of science that even a dear brother-in-Christ as Gunning, felt moved to write a treatise on “Faith and Criticism.” In it he admitted the mythological and unhistorical character of certain Bible texts.17 In this they followed the pious Schleiermacher, who wanted to “mediate” between scientific thinking and congregational beliefs.18

When I turned my back on the doubts of our days, I simply asked this question: What are the claims of the Bible itself. It claims to give a trustworthy historical account. Say YES or NO to these claims: that is a decision of FAITH.

This ideal I wanted to be worked out by the Free University. Scientific thinking captive by the Word. Do not mystify students with the Fata Morgana of modernism, but confront them in each Faculty with the implications of that Authoritative Word.19

A time like this

Kuyper spoke about his time. Anyone can check the accuracy of these statements by studying the indicated source material. Maybe he spoke for a time like this.

This does not imply Kuyper’s infallibility, but we are interested in the principal stand he took. By it he restored to honor the downtrodden “Nightschool” of orthodoxy. The congregation was liberated from the oppressive yoke of the clergy-who-knew-it-all. He never regretted to have joined these simple people who bowed humbly at the call of the Word of their Sovereign Father.20

But, does it make sense to compare Kuyper’s time with ours? In his time people felt “enlightened” already at the invention of the train, the telegraph and Darwin’s Evolution Theory.

But how small this all was when compared with the exciting age we live in! The age of space-travel and heart transplants! What did Kuyper know about Existentialism or Calvin about Nihilism? Admittedly, not much!

However, in principle the problems of today are the same as those encountered by Enoch, the Preacher, the Reformers or Kuyper.

For according to one law all of life develops and–basically—only two answers are possible.

In Enoch’s days there was also enormous progress. Instead of having to use a hatchet made of stone, Lamech was threatening his neighbors with an iron one. And in Jubal’s variety store one could now buy a piece of wood to imitate the sound of birds. They were excited about their flutes! What did they need God for now? The religion of old Adam was hopelessly outdated.

Tn the early church we find the same tendencies in Arianism; and during Calvin’s days we hear about the audacious Carlstadt, Servet. In Kuyper’s days it was Kuenen, one of the most radical of all Old Testament critics.21 They all had one thing in common: their faith of “yesterday” was not relevant anymore “today.”

The confession of the churches down through the ages has been either that of Enoch or she accommodated her stand and sanctioned the unholy marriage of Reason and Faith.22 The off-spring of such a marriage cannot be but de-formed.

Theology on the Leash of Philosophy

A new philosophy is Existentialism, where Man occupies a central place. Man has come of age. And whatever moves outside the sphere of his existence, cannot be verified. Existentialism, in essence, is Rationalism overhauled.

Professor Bultmann of Germany now has tried to apply this new approach to Scripture by the washing of the Bible in the de-mythologizing process. The key to these gymnastics is: metaphysics—that which falls outside the scope of the visible world—cannot be proven.

The miracles of the Bible and—as of old—the Resurrection of Christ are therefore not “facts.” These myths have of course great kerygmatic value, but what is left after this process is a MINI-BIBLE. Depending on the latest style, your Bible may one day be more mini than the next.

And like in former years, German theology blew over to the Netherlands.

Thus we come to understand that Professor Kuitert writes a book which in its English translation is (correctly) announced as; “his conclusion attempts to combine (italics mine) the best elements of both metaphysically oriented theology and existentialism.”23

This is the old and well-known mediation: mix divine truth and human theories together, stir well, and you will not sound too old-fashioned, neither too modernistic. The recipe of ecclecticism.

Thus you should be ready to admit that the message of Easter “cannot be verified” historically.24

From this background we now understand Baarda’s expression that Jesus’ death is a fact, but the Resurrection proclamation (kerugma)!25 How this Bultmann-spirit was haunting the Gereformeerde Synod of Lunteren (1967) is shown by the fact that although the “non-literal” interpretation of the Paradise story was tolerated, it was stated that it was nevertheless “history.” It all depends how “massive” history is, explained one delegate after Synod. For the one this is more substantial than for another. Thus they could make a combined statement, while filling it with different contents.

The great difficulty with this procedure is always that Paul accepted “the story of Adam” as fact (Romans 5). And the New Testament is not very ambiguous in stating “that by faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were compassed about seven days” (Hebrews 11:30). To the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews this was as real as the “being sawn asunder and slain with the sword” of his days (Hebrews 11:37).

The problem for these up-to-date theologians is that nobody doubts the fact that the Gospels pretend that all words ascribed to Jesus, were spoken by him indeed. And then there is that annoying chapter of Paul, where he goes at great length to call up many witnesses of the Resurrection anyway (I Cor. 15). When Baarda states that “not the Crucified has been raised”26 the Spirit of Pentecost continues to confess that “the Christ whom you crucified God has raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10). In II Peter 1:16 we read: “we have not followed cunningly devised fables (Greek: mythos) when we made known unto you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

History repeats itself: hearing these neo-Reformed views one cannot help but be reminded of the ethical theology of Kuyper’s time.

To them Kuyper’s description of the ethical school can be applied in detail: “Pious people who in their evangelical faith surely stand for the free grace of the atoning Blood—but who in their views on Scripture dance to the music of modern theology.”27 They also try to combine “faith and criticism.” They also “accept a process of evolution, reducing the story of the fall to a fairy tale.” The ethical-irenical brethren spoke also of a “maturing” of the convictions of the church, until it was recorded in the New Testament.·· Ethical theology also saw Israel’s religion grow up on the same root of pagan religions, till this found its synthesis in Jesus’ system.29 30 Also today “the orientalist and graecus” must teach the congregation what to believe.31 Also today we witness in the Gereformeerde Churches “an exaggerated emphasis on introductory studies” and professors write complete workbooks that show the (sometimes doubtful) background of the Bible. explained in simple terms for the enlightenment of the congregation (“Cahiers voor de gemeente”).

Yet every critic does not neglect to add a last chapter for these simple congregation members, admonishing them to stick to the infallibility of God’s Word. Baarda exhorts them that—even though we cannot say anymore: facts are facts–we yet can rely on this Jesus for time and eternity.32

With Kuyper we have to say that this is too farfetched.33 The uncertainty of the salvation-stories and the certainty of salvation itself is a contradiction in terms.34 And what we see is that these books do not foster faith in the “unlearned people,” but that it increases doubt. Is this perhaps the “false science” Kuyper saw looming ahead?35

Choose ye today

The choice is up to you: Will Reason or God have the final word? Will we adjust our theology to the latest hemline of philosophical style; or do we base it on God’s unchangeable revelation? This is a principal choice. How far you go in one or the other direction is of secondary importance.

Just listen to Kuitert. He describes the present situation in the Netherlands as follows: “How for may we or must we go along with these changes? Theologian B disturbs group A because of his new theological statements, but he in turn is frightened by theologian C who wants to change even more ideas.”36 In this connection we should point out that Koole37 and Kuitert38 both want to retain as fact the resurrection of Christ, whereas Baarda places it in his list of kerugma only,39 while C. Augustijn is considered to be more radical than Baarda. It all depends how far you like to go, or feel that you “have” to go. It depends on whether a story makes a trustworthy impression on you, whether certain archaeological findings are decisive in your opinion, which “sources” you accept: oh, the fabric of your mini-bible depends on so many things.

In nnal analysis it depends on your choice: between a Christ, shaped out of historical reconstruction, or: a Christ, as painted before your eyes by Holy Writ.40

How do we want to fit in, in the rhythm of Church History?

In so many denominations, it is sad to note how it started out with a staunch biblical faith, slowly reduced to a revised faith. At a certain stage, as faith in the Bible weakens and faith in science grows, then they discover that their faith is out-moded, then “their eyes are opened” to see how far they are behind. That feeling comes only to those who bow their knee to Baal Human Bra in. And, reasoning from his viewpoint, Dr. Buskes rightly argues that the Gereformeerde Churches were rather late in having their eyes opened.41 He saw this already back in 1926, together with the enlightened Dr. Geelkerken. REVISIONISM we find in the church of the first centuries; it crept into the German-Lutheran church, the Dutch Calvinistic State Church. We can witness also that some Presbyterian churches in the United States and Canada have not escaped this Demon, which Calvin battled so courageously in Geneva.

Just as Revisionism in Russia means a weakening of the undiluted revolutionary ideas of false Messiah Karl Marx, so Revisionism in the Church is a weakening of the undiluted Gospel facts of the true Messiah Jesus Christ.

Are you getting tired?

The swinging of the pendulum can make onc so despondent. Is it not utterly discouraging to note that the issues of Kuyper’s days are facing us again today? They also knock at the doors of our denomination. Yes, all things were so tiring even in the past ( Ecclesiastes 1:8).

At great cost we are building Christian churches, Christian schools, Christian organizations! But what will be the attitude one or two generations from now? Are we not caught up in a vicious circle? ( Ecclesiastes 1:6).

What God asks from you, O man, is nothing but to take your stand in the situation as it faces you today. You play your part now, that is your responsibility.

Those Bible statements are so dependable: Truly, truly, I say unto you: There is nothing new under the run…

Rev. L.T. Schalkwyk is Pastor of Riverside Christian Reformed Church, Wellandport, Ontario.

1. Cf. article Dr. A. Kruyswyk, Centraal Weekblad, October 7, 1967. Also: Dr. P. G. Kunst in Amsterdams Kerkblad, September 29, 1967.

2. Th. Delleman Begin en Nieuw Begin, pp. 11, 12.

3. Dr. J. L. Kooie, Verhaal en Feit in het Oude Testament, paragraph 51.

4. Ibid, p. 60.

5. T. Baarda, De Betrouwbaarheid van de Evangelien, p. 64.

6. Ibid, p. 52.

7. Ibid, P. 84.

8. Ibid, p. 84.

9. Ibid, p. 47.

10. Ibid, p. 51; Vide C. Augustijn, “Om de historische Jezus,” Gereformeerd Weekblad, June 16, 1967.

11. Baarda, op. cit., 63.

12. Baarda, op. cit., p. 86.

13. J. C. Rullmann, De Strijd voor Kerkherstel, pp. 134, 135.

14. Dr. A. Kuyper, Fata Morgana, pp. 44, 73.

15. Vide: Kuyper, Het Modernisme een Fata Morgana op christelijk gebied, 1871; Kuyper, De Hedendaagsche Schriftkritiek in haar hedenkelijke strekking voor de gemeente des Levenden Gods 1881; A. Kuyper, Confidentie,1873.

16. Kuyper, Schriftkritiek, p. 22.

17. Kuyper, Confidentie, p. 11.

18. Kuyper, Schriftkritiek, p. 24.

19. Kuyper, Kuyper: Band aan het Woord, Hoe is Eene Universiteit aan het Woord van God te binden? 1899, p . 37.

20. Kuyper, Schriftkritiek, p. 16.

21. Ibid, p. 53.

22. Vide Genesis 6:2.

23. Eerdmans’ Spring Catalogue, 1968, p. 4.

24. Baarda, op. cit., p. 51.

25. Ibid, pp. 47, 50.

26. Ibid, p. 51.

27. Kuyper, Schriftkritiek, p. 22.

28. Ibid, p. 33.

29. Ibid, p. 34.

30. Vide Delleman, op. cit., p. 13.

31. Kuyper, Schriftkritiek, p. 42.

32. Baarda, op. cit., p. 86.

33. Kuyper, Schriftkritiek, p. 36.

34. Ibid, p. 57.

35. Kuyper, Tweeerlei Vaderland, 1887 pp. 37, 39.

36. Dr. H. M. Kuitert, De realiteit van het geloof, p. 216.

37. Ibid, pp. 44, 54.

38. Ibid, p. 179.

39. Ibid, pp. 47, 68.

40. Kuyper, Schriftkritiek, p. 61, 63.

41. Dr. J. J. Buskes, Hervormd Nederland, September 30, 1967.