What is Happening in the Netherlands (III)

WE REPEAT THE QUESTION: what is happening to our sister-church in the Netherlands? Last year a most-promising theologian, Dr. H. M. Kuitert, was appointed professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University. This appointment was a public testimony. At the end of the former year Dr. Kuitert had been accused by Prof. Van Riessen, who teaches philosophy at the same university, that his teachings were not in harmony with the Scriptures. Prof. Van Riessen wrote these words concerning Kuitert’s method: “It is this method which disturbs many believers very deeply. They arc convinced that in this way the cross of Christ loses its meaning, the cross of which Paul says that it is the real point which matters; and they are right.”1 In spite of this very serious accusation Dr. Kuitert was received and, therefore, I spoke above of a public testimony. The warning of Professor Van Riessen was not heeded. After his appointment Dr. Kuitert was attacked by another colleague in the Free University. Prof. C. A. Lindeboom, grandson of the old Kampen pioneer and professor of medicine,2 Lucas Lindeboom. Tn his book Prof. Lindeboom called Prof. Kuitert a “progressive theologian”3 and, as a matter of fact, he is as progressive as progressive can be. In thc judgment of the neo-orthodox Prof. Van Niftrik “he makes a desperate effort to combine the new theology with the old orthodoxy; but the new theology gets the best of it.” Then Prof. Van Niftrik adds: “He is symptomatic of a future in the Gerefarmeerde Kerken in which more will be tolerated than in the Heroormde Kerk; if Dr. Kuitert becomes symptomatic of the Gereformeerde Kerken, woe to the members of these churches.”4 What do these words mean? They mean that an outsider and a sharp observer, one of the most eloquent defenders of Barthianism in the Netherlands, warns our sister-church against this kind of progressiveness.

How can we characterize Kuitert’s theology? In a former issue of this magazine I called it a reaction-theology,5 inspired by feelings of aversion to the “orothodox” or “classic” theology of a former period. That theology is accused of a “denial of the historical element in the notions, formulations and conceptions of the tradition of the message of salvation, in behalf of an unassailable, eternally unchangeable, universal validity.”6 This sounds rather good in the ears of the simple reader, because he might now expect a special stress on the historical reality of the message of the Bible, but he should be very much aware of what Dr. Kuitert means by “historical.” To Dr. Kuitert historical means that which is conditioned by the situation and viewed through the glasses of a certain time. Historical is not what happened in the past at a certain time and place. but what happened then and there according to the conviction of the men of that time or according to the conviction of the reporter of the events of that time. Here you find a striking analogy with the opinion of Dr. Baarda mentioned in my former article. Therefore Kuitert can say that the Biblical tradition should be subjected to the common laws of historical-critical research; “in Scripture we have the revelation of God in the form of lsrael’s knowledge of it, that means in a form which is inseparably connected with a definite cultural-historical context.”7 We must distinguish between that context and the message, between the sound-board and the sound, between the wrapping-material and the contents. Every age has its own expression of the truth, therefore the Christian truth has always a provisional character and it should always be appropriated anew and passed on. The provisional character of that which is historical applies as well to the Bible as to the way of truth in later times, so that there is no structural difference between the canon of the Old and New Testament and the work of the Holy Spirit (in handing down the tradition) in later ages; the structure of the preaching of the minister of today is the same as that of the preaching of the apostle Paul.8

Now much depends on the way in which Dr. Kuitert applies these ideas. If it was merely his intention to stress the Biblical ‘notion that we all know in part and prophecy in part, this would be to the benefit of all of us; but his application is of a much more radical character. In a report of a speech which he gave on the Kampen convocation-day of 1967 I read these words; “One cannot say that something really happened because it is in the Bible” and also; “I can agree with the idea that there was no Jericho in Joshua’s time.”9 Expressions of this kind have nothing to do with “knowing in part,” but they mean “knowing incorrectly”—which is miles away from “knowing in part.”10 It is small wonder, therefore. that in this time of rethinking concerning the formulations of Assen of 1926 Kuitert has criticized the decisions of this Synod very bluntly.11 In an essay written in 1963 he stated the following regarding Genesis 1: “The story of creation has nothing to do with a description (either revealed or not revealed) of an original situation, hut it is, if you will, a statement, or better, a confession about the God of Israel who is good in His acts.”12 An Israelite confesses that his God is good. That is all there is in Genesis 1.

Genesis 3 has the same character. Addressing a conference of high school teachers in 1966 Dr. Kuitert said: “It is impossible for us to understand contents and form of the Biblical faith in creation as historical states of affairs which once were there and now are no more. We must state this without any hesitation as far as Genesis 1 and 2 and also (consequently) Genesis 3 are concerned. These Biblical stories do not present historical data which can be corroborated by scientific or extra-scientific data. They cannot serve as a report of a creation-event and a fall in sin.” And later in the same speech he said: “We often not realize what kind of landslide the aforesaid must bring about in the dogmatic expression of our Christian faith; no historical Adam and Eve, no paradise-situation as historical beginning. no death as a functional factor in the midst of life.”

What is. then. the meaning of Genesis 1–3? Kuitert says: “The presentation of affairs in these chapters will not and cannot in the least be exact. It is, as the mythical origin of the stories demonstrate, material of interpretation, used by Israel as a “teaching-model” or “interpretation-model” for the human reality in the view of God. In the past we mistook this model quite understandably—for the reality, in more or less great naivity.” And then he adds that this word “model” has two advantages: we can continue to tell the creation-story to our children, as long as we keep in mind that it is a teaching-model; and we have gained the insight that the elements of this model have nothing to do with an historical sequence; a model does not conSider the question of historical sequence.13

I started my former article with pointing to the consequences to which the method of Koole and Baarda leads. The consequences of Kuitert’s method are that we can only read our Bible as it should be read when first we have borrowed some special glasses from some of the special men of science of our time.

1. Medetielingen van de Vereniging voor Calvinistische Wijsbegeerte, Dec. 1966.

2. In the book: Van het Reeve’s ezelgod in het oordeel van enige Gereformeerde theologen. Lindeboom Ku~tert, lind also prof. Rothuizen of Kampen of showing their appreciation of the homo-sexual writings of the Dutch author Van het Reeve, and of “not barking as good watchdogs when they heard that the name of God was defamed.” In this connection he speaks of “a national shame.”

3. o.d. p. 60.

4. The Dutch expression is: “Je moet je hart vasthouden.” In: Is de Gereformeerde wereld veranderd? 1966. p. 375.

5. Torch and Trumpet, March 1967.

6. H.M. Kuitert. De realiteit van het Christelijk geloof. 1966. p. 208.

7. o.c. p. 174.

8. o.c. pp. 166, 185, 188, 189, 196.

9. Trouw, May 13, 1967.

10. Cp. F. W. Groshcide on 1 Cor. 13:12; “Our vision is not untrue, but it is imperfect as to its degree.” (New Int. Comm. on I Cor. p. 311)

11. Interview with C. Puchinger in: Is de Gereformeerde wereld ueranderd? 1966, p. 345: “We might have been saved the whole drama if we had looked around a little bit more.” After all, Barth was known already in those days…

12. Geloof en Wetenschap, 1963, p. 122.

13. Verslag van de Canferentie over Evolutie-uraagstukken, 5 en 6 Oct., 1966, pp. 31, 34–37.

Dr. Louis Praasma is pastor of Fruitland Christian Reformed Church, Ontario.