We want to thank Dr. Carl W. Bogue for his outstanding presentation and critique of the views of the late Dr. G.C. Berkouwer which have had a profound impact on the recent history of the Christian Reformed Church due to the fact that too many of our professors in denominational institutions have been trained at the Free University of Amsterdam where Dr. Berkouwer taught with distinction.
But Dr. Bogue, who took his doctorate at the Free University under the direct tutelage of Dr. Berkouwer, is one of Berkouwer’s challengers, and his rebuttals we have featured in The Outlook, May–October, 1996.
In the September article on Berkouwer’s view of Scripture, Dr. Bogue exposed what we regard as THE PRIMARY ERROR in the GKN of The Netherlands and its American counterpart, our own Christian Reformed Church. That error espoused by Berkouwer and echoed in his friends and students in the CRC (some of whom have already taught their entire careers in our institutions and retired) is this: The Bible’s inspiration by the Holy Spirit extends only to what the Bible INTENDS to teach, NOT to the accuracy of all the details contained in the written Biblical records.
1958 – THE HOOGLAND–KROMMINGA CASE
Our memories of this aberration of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture in the CRC go back to our seminary days in 1958. At that time seminarian Marvin Hoogland wrote several articles in the Calvin Seminary student paper, Stromata, which questioned the infallibility of Scripture. He said:
The Bible nowhere explicitly claims to be infallible…any simple identification or necessary connection of inspiration with infallibility is open to question. Simple identification of the two is really out of the question (even though the Belgic Confession does it — T&L VdH)…Is it any wonder that many look upon conservative theology as an untenable dogmatism which is fundamentally opposed to science and sound scholarship?…There is no need for us to assume at all costs that the Scriptures are “infallible.”
The late President John Kromminga of Calvin Seminary not only had approved the articles which appeared in the Stromata, but in a later article of his own entitled, “How Shall We Understand ‘Infallibility’?” (Acts of Synod, 1959, p. 569), he upheld the position of student Hoogland and offered his reinterpretation of Articles IV–VII of the Belgic Confession (Acts of Synod, 1959, p. 565–569). Dr. Kromminga was publicly challenged by one of his own professors, Dr. Martin J. Wyngaarden who brought a protest and appeal to Synod 1959 in which he states the following:
President J.H. Kromminga has taken a position on infallibility which, according to the view of this protest, is not in line with our Belgic Confession, and which does not do justice to this Creed. In view of the unique importance of his position to the School (Calvin Seroinary) and to the Church (the CRC synod cannot afford to let this question of whether or not President Kromminga is in harmony with our Confession, remain uncertain and agitate the Church for another year…
In this short article, it is not possible to go into detail regarding the views expressed by student Hoogland and President Kromminga, but it is abundantly dear from the record that what we are looking at is the same view as Berkouwer’s, that the Bible’s inspiration by the Holy Spirit extends only to its message and not to the accuracy of the details in which this message comes. (See Acts of Synod 1959, pp. 563–576 for more information.) Synod 1959 appointed a committee to study the issue, and a subsequent Synod upheld Dr. Kromminga.
THE DE BOER CASE
Another case in point was the exchange between Dr. Willis De Boer, graduate of the Free University of Amsterdam and professor of Religion and Theology at Calvin College, and the consistory of Central Avenue CRC (our church) in Holland, MI from 1970–1973. The occasion was the fact that Dr. De Boer’s permanent tenure at Calvin College was coming up to Synod 1970. Our consistory had been advised about some concerns regarding Dr. De Boer’s views regarding the infallibility of Scripture. After meeting with Dr. De Boer, the consistory was convinced of its duty to come to Synod 1970 with an overture to delay Dr. De Boer’s permanent tenure until synod could adjudicate his views. The consistory asked. Dr. De Boer if he would be willing to answer questiOns in writing and have this document forwarded to synod. To his credit, he agreed. Although the document never appeared in an Agenda to Synod (even though it was sent to the Stated Clerk’s office well in advance of the deadline date for copy for the Agenda, two different years), the synod of 1973 judged that Central Avenue CRC, Holland, MI did not have a case. (Documents available from the editors upon request.)
The concerns of the consistory of Central Avenue CRC centered on Dr. De Boer’s view of the inspiration of Scripture and his views on the first eleven chapters of Genesis. He said that the Scriptures were inspired as to what “they INTEND to teach,” but we should “not press the Scriptures for the accuracy of all the details.” Regarding Genesis, Dr. De Boer said that it taught that there was a fall, but we could not press for the accuracy of the details of the Biblical account. He could not endorse the historicity of Genesis 1–11. When asked whether Paul believed that Genesis was an historical account, Dr. De Boer answered that Paul did, but Paul was not aware of modem scientific and historiographic discoveries and developments. When asked whether Jesus believed Genesis 1–11 was an historical account (see Matthew 28:38–39 where Jesus speaks about Noah as an historical character, Noah’s story being recorded in Genesis 6–9), Dr. De Boer said the following:
Jesus used the Old Testament mainly to prove the validity of His message and of Himself. In regard to Genesis 1–11 He appears to me to be viewing the material as though it really happened and as though it were reliably reported in the Genesis documents. This does not mean that Jesus’ use of this material gives warrant for pressing for literalness and a kind of historical accuracy which is foreign to the nature of the Genesis material itself.
It is completely obvious that Dr. De Boer pitted Biblical intent against Biblical accuracy. This is not only unacceptable, but it is unReformed. To call this approach Biblical and Reformed is contrary to the Scriptures and the confessions, and it deceives the membership of the denomination. Dr. De Boer is far from alone in propagating this view of Scripture. Many leaders in the CRC espouse this same position on Scripture and have trained hundreds, even thousands of today’s and tomorrow’ s leaders in the CRC. We at least appreciate Dr. De Boer’s honesty and willingness to be open. The only reason the denomination never got to hear his position in the early what 70s is because the material of the Central Avenue consistory was deliberately withheld by the stated clerk’s office and it never saw the light of day in any of the three years it came to synod. This illustrates a serious problem in the CRC of the last thirty-eight years or more—the lack of integrity on the part of the leadership. They’ve been telling people they hold to the infallibility of the Bible, but they have not told people that they have changed the definition of infallibility. Whereas the term used to mean “without error,” they have changed it to mean that the message (intent) of the Bible is infallible but not the details. This is a serious breach of trust. For that reason conservatives in the CRC have been using the term “inerrancy” (without error) to describe the Bible and this term the “progressives” cannot accept. Instead they accuse the conservatives of being “fundamentalists” for holding to inerrancy.
In the last twenty-five years many study reports on crucial issues have come out in the CRC. Most have been a “mixed bag,” saying some orthodox things and also expressing some views driven by the unorthodox view of Scripture described in the paragraphs above. The reason for this mixed message was the makeup of the study committees involved. Synod always appointed committees composed of the conservative and “progressive” sides of the church, one side holding to an inerrant Bible (Without error in its message AND details) and the other to a Bible which is infallible in its message ONLY and NOT the details. The details which are not accurate must be determined by man. Both sides vigorously maintained they were faithful to the doctrine of inspiration (the God-breathed character of the Scriptures). But we are convinced that only a doctrine of inspiration which extends to the message and all of the details of Scripture is Biblical and Reformed (Belgic Confession, articles III–VII). The Belgic Confession contains phrases such as:
• the Old and New Testaments which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged
• we believe without any doubt all things contained in them
• we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule
THE BOOMSMA BOOK
It would be impossible in a brief article such as this, to demonstrate the mixed messages of these study reports, but a book written by the Rev. Clarence Boomsma entitled, Male and Female: One in Christ, illustrates our point quite well.
In I Timothy 2:11–15, the apostle Paul grounds his prohibition against women serving in authoritative positions in the church in the creation order (“for Adam was formed first, then Eve”), and the fall (“and Adam was not the one deceived, it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner”). Regarding this passage Boomsma says: “The apostle’s argument from Genesis 2 is without support. The two accounts of God’s creation of woman convey the complete partnership of man and woman and in no way teaches woman’s inferiority or subordination to man” (emphasis ours – T&L Vd H).
Having flatly stated that Paul was wrong, Boomsma hastens to assure readers that since we really may not question the inspiration of Scripture (mixed message), we must conclude that Paul, for cultural reasons, made these prohibitions and they must not be understood as a permanent and universal ordinance for the church of all time.
Now it is crucial to see that, even if Boomsma were right about Paul’s prohibitions being cultural and not binding for all time (which we do not accept for good reasons), nevertheless Boomsma does flatly state that the “apostle’s argument from Genesis 2 is without support in the text (of Genesis 2)” (p. 58). In other words, Paul was wrong in his understanding and application of Genesis 2. If we really believe that the inspiration of Scripture extends to the message and the details of Scripture (such as Paul’s use of Genesis 2), then what Boomsma is saying is that the Holy Spirit was wrong in II Timothy 2:13 and14!
Think about the implications such a view of inspiration has for the multitude of issues that are facing the church. Conservatives can no longer say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Conservatives and “progressives” (they do not like being called “liberals”) are no longer “on the same page” as far as Biblical inspiration is concerned, and if they stay together under one roof, there will be a true Biblical consensus on nothing. This summer’s vote on women in office clearly demonstrated which side of the “Biblical inspiration” issue the denominational leaders are on.
And that should come as no surprise. Look at how long some professors at our institutions have been teaching this “message versus details” view of Biblical inspiration—at least since 1958 when it surfaced at the top, and likely some years before. Many leaders received their training at the Free University of Amsterdam whose intellectual giant was Dr. G.C. Berkouwer.
Moving from the academic to the personal level, we just want to share two experiences to wrap up this postscript. In the late 60s we were living in Holland, MI. We attended our monthly ministers’ Inter Nos meeting one afternoon where the guest speaker, a professor from the religion department of Calvin College (not Dr. De Boer), a graduate of the Free University ofAmsterdam, spoke on the historicity of Genesis 1–11. He looked around the audience which consisted of retirees and active ministers. A bit nervously he began: “I recognize some of you as my former pastors and catechism teachers. You may be disappointed with me today. But I want you to know that I have seen the light.” He proceeded to describe the traditional Reformed view which affirmed the accuracy and historicity of all the details of the Genesis 1–11 account. But he told us that we needed new glasses. We needed to see Genesis 1–11, not as a “photograph” which shows all the details (and flaws) of a person’s visage, but as a “portrait” which is an artist’s conception of what a person looks like. If we look at Genesis 1–11 as a “photograph,” we see all the flaws and inconsistencies (errors?) of its account of creation, the fall, the flood and the scattering of the peoples across the earth. But if we look at Genesis 1–11 as a “portrait,” then there are no flaws because Genesis is just an artist’s view (Moses? the Holy Spirit?) of what happened and the details are just part of the sketch, not to be pressed for historical accuracy.
We were stunned! It was the first time we had ever heard someone in such a strategic place in the denomination, articulate publicly such a false position. (We’ve grown tougher since then.) A minister stood up after the speech and asked: “If Genesis 1–11 is a “portrait,” what is to prevent someone from calling the virgin birth and resurrection a “portrait”? The professor answered, “Nothing.”
We all sat around tables for coffee afterward, and the conversation was the normal chit-chat, until finally Laurie Vanden Heuvel blurted out in total frustration, “Does anyone want to discuss the speech of this afternoon?” SILENCE. “Is anyone going to challenge the speaker?” SILENCE. “Is this what all of you believe?” SILENCE.
The rest is history. We do not think that everyone there that afternoon bought what the speaker said. But there was no courage of conviction. And that has been a pervasive problem in the CRC for these many years of struggle. Many good people who believe the right thing, have either remained silent or apathetic while the denomination unravels; or they have defended people and institutions instead of truth.
More recently we were invited to the home of a prominent Grand Rapids businessman for dinner. Two Calvin College professors were there too—one from the science department and one from the religion department (not Dr. De Boer). In the course of the evening, Tom Vanden Heuvel was sharing the content of his sermon on marriage of the previous Sunday evening. When he referred to God’s taking of Adam’s rib and fashioning Eve from it, one of the professors interrupted: “You don’t take that literally certainly?” “Yes I do,” was the response, upon which both professors laughed uproariously. “We didn’t think any CRC ministers believed that way anymore!”
An extended discussion on Scripture ensued and needless to say, we were not “on the same page” and never will be.
Why do we tell you all this? First, to show you how long this aberration of Scripture’s inspiration and clarity and authority has been going on. Second, to show you how deep-seated and widespread this aberration is. Think of the thousands of students who have been educated along this line. Third, to show you in part, where this has come from. The bridge from Grand Rapids to Amsterdam has been well-traveled. Dr. Berkouwer has had a tremendous influence on the CRC, and he owes his change of position to Karl Barth. Again we want to thank Dr. Bogue for the splendid critique which he presented in this magazine.
Finally, with mixed feelings, we want to tell you that we are leaving the CRC. We have labored with love in six wonderful congregations: Bethel, Waupun, WI; Milwaukee, WI; Central Avenue CRC in Holland, Ml; First Chino CRC in California, First Orange City, JA; and First CRC of Byron Center, MI. Our ministry with God’s people in these places has been filled with joy. We have labored hard and long over denominational issues, often with tears and deep grief. But Synod 1996 confirmed in substantial numbers what Synod 1995 illegally did. We believe that the CRC has wandered from her moorings and is going the wrong direction. It has officially compromised the clarity and authority of the Scriptures and removed the protection of the church order for those who in good conscience must challenge the current trends.
We have joyfully answered a call from the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) to plant a solid Reformed church in the Holland-Zeeland, MI area. Certainly the PCA is not a perfect church, but there are particularly two things that have impressed us: her strong commitment to the inerrant Word of God and the confessions of the Reformed faith (The Westminster Confession and an increasing interest in the Heidelberg Catechism), and her strong commitment to reach this post-Christian culture with an aggressive and Biblically-based program for evangelism. The demographics in the Holland-Zeeland area have changed substantially since we lived there. Forty percent of the population is unchurched. Our goal is to reach out to them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We have many friends in the independent churches and in the newly federated churches of The United Reformed Churches of North America. We have many friends left in the CRC. We will continue to love and pray for all of you.
May God bless us all and grant that we may not be mere reservoirs of knowledge, but rather, channels of blessing.