Inaugural Address delivered by Dr.lohn H. Kromminga, A.B., Th.D. in Calvin Theological Seminary, February 6, 1963.

It is, of course, a good academic custom that professors of an institution such as Calvin Theological Seminary deliver inaugural addresses. These should be considered important and demand interest, since they are expected to indicate at least some of the basic views of the professor as well as his prosciency in the discipline he is to teach. It may safely be said that the inaugural address of Dr. Kromminga was of special importance. He spoke very specifically not as a church historian (the field of his specialty), and not even as the president of a theological seminary, but as the president of a particular seminary—CALVIN THEOLOCICAL SEMINARY. In that definite capacity Dr. Kromminga expressed his views. His glance was cast forward: “I shall,” so he stated, “concentrate on the need for progress and the needs of progress” (p. 3).

It should be clear that in doing this President Kromminga did not act upon his own initiative. A task such as this has been assigned to him in the synodically approved “Rules for Presidency of Calvin Seminary” (Acts of Synod, 1955, pp. 319 –323). These Rules state that it is his duty inter alia, “In collaboration with the Faculty to keep the curriculum under constant study with an eye to its improvement,” and also that he “…shall be concerned, in consultation with the Faculty and the Board, to establish and maintain the Biblical character, the vitality, and the contemporary relevance of instruction at the Seminary.” In addition the Rules state that, “The president shall acquaint the churches with the aims, ideals, accomplishments and needs of the Seminary.” In delivering this inaugural address President Kromminga has at least in part discharged these assigned duties. Those present on the evening of the inauguration heard what they had reason to expect.


What is disturbing, however, is the apparent lack of interest in this particular address. Its content is concerned not with various phases or the technique of the administration of the Seminary, but especially with the direction in which President Kromminga proposes that Calvin Theological Seminary must mODe and develop. It goes without saying that this is exceedingly important. For that reason the general silence (or should 1 say, apathy?) after the deliverance of the address is puzzling. True, the official church publications (De Wachter and possibly The Banner also) gave reports. But when one consults the Acts of the Synod of 1963 all that the Board mentions in its Report is this: “The inauguration of Dr. John Kromminga as President of the Seminary took place on February 6, 1963” (p. 206). That’s all! However, the Board of the College and Seminary was present at the inauguration and heard the lecture. Besides, the address has been printed and is available at the Seminary office. The church has, therefore, been placed in position to become acquainted with the ideas and ideals of Dr. Kromminga and to respond in some way or another to these. Yet, as well as I know, nothing of the kind has occurred. Officially it is not even known whether the Board or Synod has labored or intends to labor with this address. For various reasons I hesitate to discuss as weighty and as “official” a matter as this. Yet its great importance prompts me to do it.


There is much in this inaugural address with which all who love the Christian Reformed Church and its Seminary and the truth for which they stand will agree spontaneously. Says President Kromminga,

“There is no task in which I would rather be busy than theological education, a challenging, glorious, supremely important task. There is no place at which I would rather pursue that task than Calvin Seminary, which is my own alma mater and has the love of my heart. There is no tradition in which I would rather stand—and without a tradition one cannot stand than the Reformed tradition. There is no foundation on which I would dare attempt theological instruction other than the foundation of the inspired and infallible Word of God” (pp. 3 and 4).

Of course, our hearts respond to such a statement with gratitude. Dr. Kromminga speaks thus for himself. But of course, he realizes, I trust, that he speaks mutatis mutandis (allowing for necessary changes) for all who are devoted to the Reformed truth. It is exactly that mutual love and devotion which encourages me to write on this subject and to review the address. I grant that Dr. Kromminga’s experience and assigned position qualify him to speak on this subject. But I know he will allow that, his alma mater being my alma mater and the church of his love being the church of my love—the church, moreover, in which I was privileged to serve some forty years—a discussion of the matters to which he addresses himself is not out of place, but wholly proper. There is an academic or, if you will, a scholarly side to the work of the ministry. Decades in this work prompts one to evaluate not simply his own training, but no less the alterations proposed in the training of those following. I assume that all ministers in the Christian Re~ formed Church are interested in this matter—at least they should be. My interest in it must, therefore, be considered natural and should be expected.

Moreover, though it should not be said that the direction in which the Seminary moves is invariably the direction in which the church will develop, yet all must agree that the influence of the Seminary upon the church is great—even very great. The church should, therefore, not only love the institution for the training of its ministers and sacrifice for it, but it should be intensely interested in its work and development. It should surprise no one that the church turns to the Seminary with loving concern and that the inaugural address of its president is openly discussed.



Now Dr. Kromminga states some good things and gives evidence of having sound and balanced views. He speaks of the weakness of Protestantism and says,

“If the Protestant cause is ailing, it is our cause that needs a dose of healing medicine. The way to express this concern is certainly not to repudiate everything that the Reformation stood for. This is much more likely to prove to be the cause than the cure of the weakness. But a finn and intelligent adherence to the heritage of the Reformation is to be communicated, in the hope that the divisions and deviations of the past may be undone, and better things may be in store for Protestantism in the future.

“Thus the lines of responsibility begin to become clear. There must be an adjustment to changed conditions, but no weak-kneed surrender to the notion that all is flux and nothing stable. The adjustment must be made on the basis of an understanding in depth of that position which is to be adjusted. Its purpose is to revitalize and reapply the position, not to repudiate it” (p. 6).

And also,

“God and our fellow man will be ill served if we believe, and teach our students to believe, that there are only problems and no answers; only shadows and no light; only existential agony and no divine word of comfort. In divine revelation and the rich heritage of the Reformed faith we have many answers, much light, and wonderful comfort to offer. The adjustment of which we speak is the precise opposite of the dissipation of this heritage. It is to understand and transmit this wealth in terms of the times in which we live” (p. 7).


As the title and the contents of the lecture indicate, President Kromminga is very much convinced that we are passing through an era of change. He seeks support for that contention by calling attention to the Roman Catholic Church and its Second Vatican Council, as well as to the movements among Protestants. He states,

“Great changes have come about also in the communions represented by the W0rId Council of Churches. I have reference not so much to the growth of a new organization as to the great background fact; the ability of men of different convictions to sit down and discuss their differences frankly with each other” (p. 9).

Of course these movements exist and are operative. However, it is possible to over-estimate their significance. At the time of this writing, for instance, it is being reported that the second session of the Vatican Council is disappointing a great many, even among the Roman Catholics themselves. Apparently it will not give what was expected. Moreover it is known that basically the imposing structure of the Ro:nan Catholic Church will not change. It will not deny itself.

Besides the fact that men of different convictions are able to discuss their differences can be interpreted in more than one way. Sincere love for the truth revealed in the Scriptures may bring this about, but then indifference towards that truth may have an identical effect outwardly.


However that be, Dr. Kromminga calls attention to the urgency of the situation. He quotes Charles Malik who must have said at the Evanston Assembly of the World Council of Churches, “I am not afraid of the atomic bomb; I am afraid of the Judgment.” The author also remarks that the missionary effort has turned only a very small percentage of the people of such lands as India, China and others to “some version of Christianity” and states, “The problem [of Christianity] is less that of strategy of conquest than that of survival. Who is able to meet a problem of such scope?” He further speaks of “new approaches to the Christian task,” and states,

“The old alliances and resources appear inadequate. Christian Europe an~ Christian America are gone Christian Asia and Africa have not yet arrived, if ever they are to come. If the contemplation of these facts is not to lead to a defeatist isolationism—and this it must not do, particularly not for those. who believe in the Lord of the Church—then adjustments must be made and be made now, to meet the new and overwhelming challenge. To seek to do this is no denial of the faith. To fail to seek this would be a most deplorable denial indeed” (p. 13).


The picture thus drawn is alarming. However, the author should not be said to be a pessimist. “There is,” so he states, “a body of revealed truth which is timeless because it comes from the Eternal and leads to eternity” (p. 14). But the Christian Reformed Church”…must realize anew…that these confessions are not mere teaching instruments or doctrinal tests, but constitute the church’s confession of her faith, to be witnessed in the world,” and also,….these creeds do not encompass aIt of the truth” (p. 15). Moreover, he states,

“Having faced the great challenge of our times, the orthodox church has a two-fold task by way of response. One may speak of that task in terms of home work versus field work; deeper roots versus broader horizons; understanding of the heritage versus communicating it; doctrinal knowledge versus missionary zeal. However the duality is put, it is important to remember both parts. It is essential to the discharge of either responsibility to be working at the other as well. It is a fact theoretically simple but often forgotten that there is no communicating the Christian heritage unless it is understood” (pp. 15, 16).


In the address President Kromminga turns to the members of the Seminary Faculty and pledges that he will sponsor discussions in regard to “the rediscovery,” as he calls it, of a number of subjects. Specific mention is made of the “rediscovery” of the church, of the laity, of the Church’s mission, of the Bible and of tradition (pp. 19–22). Besides this he states, “The Seminary faculty must also devote itself anew to supplying its share of the solid studies which orthodox theology ought to be producing.”

Of course, we laud these ideals. However, it should be remembered that the Faculty ought not to consider itself a sort of “steering committee” of the Church. It seems to me that it should strive to supply the church with academic or scholarly information upon which the chinch itself, through its instituted organs (consistory, classis, synod), can formulate its position and make its decisions. It would be good if the Faculty can render such service in unison, but it would likewise be good if individual members of the Faculty supply such service. In fact, no one, be he a member of the Faculty or not, should be excluded from favoring the church with such services.


Finally, President Kromminga turns in his lecture to the exceedingly important subject of the curriculum, the course of training of the Seminary. He is, of course, fully aware of the fact that it requires great and delicate selectivity to determine or even to change the curriculum. He makes the observation, “…that more is being written in every field than mortal man can read.” Moreover, the fields themselves are numerous. Besides, many factors influence not only the subjects selected, but also the semester hours assigned to them. One’s appreciation of the encyclopedic place of the various disciplines will likewise piny a role in the construction of the curriculum. I feel prompted to state that after some forty years in the ministry I realize with increasing intensity how important the curriculum of the Seminary is. I have reflected upon this matter and questions have occurred to me. But these cannot be put here and now. In this review I should adhere to Dr. Kromminga’s address.

However, when reading the proposals of the President on pages 22–24, the fact that he has been greatly influenced by a “REPORT OF VISITORS” of the American Association of Theological Schools, which is dated November 12–16, 1962, cannot escape one’s attention. In fact, I think, every proposal made by the President in this connection can be traced to the “REPORT OF VISITORS.” Of course, in itself there is nothing wrong with that procedure. It may even be an excellent thing to do. It all depends upon the proper answer to the question whether the suggestions of the “VISITORS” and the proposals of Dr. Kromminga are good or not.

(It would not be proper to discuss the “REPORT OF VISITORS” in this connection. Yet I cannot refrain from stating parenthetically that I am not at all impressed by the character of this “REPORT.” It mainly deals with external or organizational affairs. It strikes me as suffering from the affliction—some have called it a curse—of uniformity or conformity, allowing little influence to the unique place and task of our Seminary. It criticizes the relation of the Faculty to the Board and even of both of them to Synod. Besides, in instances it becomes picayune, evaluating, for example, the fee paid for postgraduate courses and the like—all internal affairs which ill no way affect the scholarly character of the institution. In fact, after reading the “REPORT OF VISITORS” one wonders of what advantage membership of the Association is to the Seminary.)


Dr. Kromminga states that he is “prepared to advocate” at least four changes in the curriculum.

First, “…that the seminary shall abandon its tightly prescribed pre-seminary requirements and open its doors to men who have received a solid liberal arts formation in any of the following: history, philosophy, English literature, foreign languages, psychology, education, or sociology. The tools for doing theological work must also be provided, of course” (p.22f).

Second, “…that we must increase the variety and raise the level of our instruction. Understanding rather than indoctrination must receive the emphasis…If we cannot tell the student everything he must know, we had better concentrate on developing the abilities and attitudes with which he will be able to keep on learning; and I am confident that he and we will be the richer for it.” In this connection the remark is made, “…if this cannot be done in three years of seminary training, then let us take another and more serious look at a fourth year of solid theological studies…” (p. 23).

Third, “…the need for more Bible knowledge. Perhaps the introduction of a chair of English Bible has to be considered” (p. 23).

Fourth, the President states, “The seminary needs a greater variety in the constitution of its student body…we need students from other backgrounds, from other churches, intending to enter other ministries…To this end we must adjust the curriculum and the requirements, advertise our offerings, and provide student housing” (p. 24).


It stands to reason that anyone should laud the ideal of President Kromminga to make the Seminary increasingly more useful and influential in the land. However, in which manner should we seek to attain that ideal? I submit that generally speaking and with a minimum number of concessions granted, the Seminary serves that purpose and attains that ideal best by remaining what it is intended to be –a training School for ministers in the Christian Reformed Church. This should not be ascribed to a spirit of narrow provincialism, but to the conviction that not the proposed conformity, but our distinctiveness will be more likely to draw non-Christian Reformed students to our Seminary. In addition we should realize that the academic requirements are in many cases at a minimum already. If I read the Catalog of the Seminary correctly all the six loci of the important discipline of dogmatics are covered in four semesters—3 semester hours are devoted theology proper, 4 to anthropology and Christology, 4 to soteriology and ecclesiology and 2 (two!) to eschatology. This is neither fair to the students nor to the professors. Moreover, the present curricula, that of the College and of the Seminary, are by no means the only objections non-Christian Reformed students may have to enrolling in our institution. There is no assurance that if the proposals of Dr. Kromminga were adopted enrollment by students “from the outside” would increase appreciably.

I wish President Kromminga had elaborated on his proposal to abandon the “tightly prescribed pre-seminary requirements.” As it is stated, and if adopted, I would not envy the position and the task of the Faculty in teaching men so ill prepared for theological studies. If the proposal should ever carry, then surely a four-year course would become indispensably necessary. Even with the present curricula of the College and the Seminary the introduction of a four-year Seminary course is, I feel, long past due. Besides, which other schools for professional training require as little for matriculation as the theological seminaries of our land? Surely our medical and law and engineering schools are all very exacting in their requirements for entrance. Why should theological seminaries assert such a measure of accommodation as is bound to harm these institutions as well as the churches they seek to serve?

Of course, prospective ministers must learn to reason soundly and theologically. However, I question the advisability of the change in emphasis proposed by the President. The busy minister in a charge will appreciate increasingly the indoctrination received in the Seminary. Some one has said that a year in the Seminary is equal to four years in the active ministry. 1 suppose it will be difficult to compare the relative value of the two exactly. Nevertheless the words of J. Gresham Machen are applicable in this case,

“The undergraduate student of the present day is being told that he need not take notes on what he hears in class, that the exercise of the memory is a rather childish and mechanical thing, and that what he is really in college to do is to think for himself and to unify his world. He usually makes a poor business of unifying his world. And the reason is clear. He does not succeed in unifying his world for the simple reason that he has no world to unify. He has not acquired a knowledge of a sufficient number of facts in order even to learn the method of putting facts together. He is being told to practise the business of mental digestion; but the trouble is that he has no food to digest. The modern student, contrary to what is often said, is really being starved for want of facts” (What Is Faith? pp. 16, 17).

Would it not be best to seek to indoctrinate our students and to do this in a soundly logical way? Then both objectives will be attained—facts will be accumulated and the reasoning ability of the student will become more proficient.