What’s Happening in the Netherlands? (2)

In THE BANNER (official organ of the Christian Reform ed Church), December 15, 1967, an article appeared entitled “What’s Happening In The Netherlands?(I)” The author of this article, Dr. Louis Praasma, expresses concern because of certain theological trends and developments in the Gereformeerde Kerken. Quoting various writers, Dr. Praasma points out that there are theologians in the Netherlands whose attitudes toward Scripture, Genesis 1–3, and the Person and work of Jesus Christ are in conflict with the historic Reformed position. Specific reference is made to such men as Professor Koole of Kampen Seminary, Dr. Baarda and Professor Kuiten of the Free University in Amsterdam. The author singles out for special attention the Free University of Amsterdam, and indicates that the consistory of his church, the Christian Reformed Church of Fruitland, Ontario, has overtured Classis Hamilton “to instruct its members of the Board of Calvin College and Seminary to raise the question in the next meeting of the Board whether it is still advisable, and profitable to our churches, to commend to students of Calvin Seminary to continue their studies at the Free University of Amsterdam.” In light of all this Dr. Praamsma feels justified in asking: “What is happening to our sister church?”

Subsequent to the appearance of this article, the December 29 issue of THE BANNER carried the following announcement:

Dr. L. Praamsma has submitted four articles on “What is Happening in our Sister Church.” The first of these articles appeared in the December 15 issue of The Banner. The Publication Committee has decided not to publish the remaining three articles until the Free University and those most intimately involved have been apprised of these articles and have been given the opportunity of simultaneous reply.

Contacts with Dr. Praasma, which were initiated by the Editorial Board of TORCH AND TRUMPET, revealed that he was not in sympathy with this procedure, had asked for the articles to be returned to him, and desired to have the remaining three articles published in our magazine. Therefore, beginning with this issue, the articles will be presented under the heading; “What’s Happening in The Netherlands?”


We repeat the question: what is happening to our sister-church in the Netherlands? The seriousness of the situation can hardly be overemphasized. Fundamental convictions of the Christian faith (and not only some very special Reformed opinions) are at stake.

But Dr. Augustyn even dared to say that we cannot know anything with certainty of the fact of the resurrection of Christ· from the Bible; the only thing we know is the faith of the first church in that resurrection. In the words of Professor Ridderbos: “This is most clear in the article of Dr. Augustyn that we cannot get at any reliable historical knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus or of anything in his life and works in which he transcended the common human life, from the witness of the gospels.” And he adds: “I think this is quite something, but at any rate it is plain language.”

Why did Dr. Augustyn write this plain language? He did so in defense of one of his colleagues, Professor Baarda, who had tried (together with Professor Koole of Kampen) to popularize the new view of Scripture which seems to be prevalent in the present time in Dutch exegetical circles. This new view must be made clear to the congregation, for the spokesmen of this view are very much aware of the fact that it sounds very strange in the ears of the man-in-the-pew; and therefore a series of books is in the process of appearing under the name: Cahiers voor de Gemeente (Exercisebooks for the congregation). The first one has been written by Professor Koole of Kampen under the name: Ston) and Pact in the lkt Testament, and the second one by Professor Baarda of Amsterdam is entitled The reliability of the Gospels.

Professor Koole writes at the end of his lx>ok on the history of the fall of Jericho as it is told in Joshua 6; he states that recent excavations have demonstrated that in the time of Joshua, Jericho did not exist as a city with walls, and he doubts very much whether this result of archaeology will be rendered out of date by new discoveries. Therefore he presents the following possibility:

“That we should attach to the story of Joshua 6 a certain symbolic meaning. It should be considered, in that case, that the story of the conquest of Jericho bears a totally different character compared with the information about the conquest of other cities in Joshua 10 and 11; in these last chapters the sober, chronicle-type of report—here a long drawn-out history which seems to have been handed down from mouth to mouth. One can also consider the fact that Jericho was the first city which Israel is said to have met in its conquest and that it therefore may have the meaning of a symbol of the wonderful conquest of Canaan itself” (p. 60).

In the same vein Professor Baarda writes at the close of his book about the history of the cursed fig tree (Matt. 21:18–22).

He states that “there are stories in the gospels of a kind of legendary character, for example, that of the curse and withering of the fig tree, or much more that of the resurrection of the dead at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matt. 27:52, 53). Is it not possible that certain apocalyptic words of Jesus are dramatized in the Hying rumor [‘gerucht’] and the tales of the people?” (p. 84).

I chose these two examples of symbolizing stories of the Bible or reducing them to legends, because they show so very clearly the consequences of the new critical method of approaching Bible history.

What is the character of that method?

Koole sketches the character of the historical parts of the Old Testament in the following order: we find the first traces of history in forms of poetry (and such poetry can be inserted in the book at a later occasion; for example, the prayer of Jonah was not prayed by him in the belly of the fish, but added later to the story, p. 26); then we find the popular folktales. always with a principal figure and his opponent(s), in which details of conversation sometimes are fictitious; then we find the historical novel; and finally the chronicles and charters with their precision.

Baarda sketches the genesis of the gospels in five different phases; he assumes that a very important role has been played by the prophets in the first congregations, and he writes about them as follows (in connection with John 16:12–14): “The earthly Jesus does not yet say all things, but by the Spirit of prophecy he will speak anew by the prophets. This may mean that words have been ascribed to Jesus by the prophets (in the congregation after Easter) which never had been spoken by Jesus. It is possible to say with reference to John 16 that the congregation creates new words. But in the opinion of the prophets and of the whole congregation, it is still Jesus who continues to speak… In the reformulation of the words of Jesus, and also in the words which without any tradition are put into his mouth, the congregation experiences anew what was transmitted in the proclamation, ‘He lives’” (p.65).

The final form of the gospels was a work of the “redactors,” and Baarda says of these men: “The redactors have worked with the tradition…Several factors played their role, and they used them sometimes knowingly, sometimes completely unknowingly. At the borders of the tradition the folk-story, the rumor, sometimes the personal impression of storytellers took their part. How could the redactors have sorted all these things out?” ( pp. 75, 76). It is small wonder that Baarda finally declares: “Historical reliability as we think of it is altogether out of the question.”

It is with sadness and astonishment in our heart that we take note of all these things. How is it possible that Reformed theologians in such a manner humanize the Word of God? Professor Runia rightly concludes: “All emphasis is laid on the human side. Only after this the inspired character of the books is discussed. At least that is what Dr. Koole does. In the last chapter he says a few things about inspiration. But it is indeed only a few things! The guidance of the Spirit is not denied, of course, but its nature and extent is determined by the scientific conclusions reached by the scholar. In the case of Baarda it is even worse. He never really discusses the inspiration of the Gospels. They seem to be just human documents. Whether the Spirit has anything to do with it, is passed over in silence.”

I would like to add something to these words. I would like to stress the fact that apart from the inspiration of the Bible, the method of form-criticism is a very dubious one and that its adherents should never forget that their constructions have a very hypothetical character. We are struck by the scientific pedantry of some scholars who seem to be connected by some personal secret channels to the very varied scene of antiquity, and the sharp observation of Carl F. Henry is only too true; “Many graduate students find the current climate of conflicting exegetical claims so confusing that they are tempted to identify the ‘assured results’ of historical research with ‘what most scholars (now) think.’ The definition of history remains so much in debate that more radical students think of history only in terms of historical documents plus the imagination of historians” (Frontiers of Modern Theology. p. 50).