Winds of Change

Karl Barth diabolized contemporary theology with his meretricious distinction between “Historic” and “Geschichte”; many theologians today have renounced their faith in the infallibility of the Bible through accepting Barth’s seductive allegorizing of Biblical events, such as Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection. Bultmann’s demythologizing of the Scriptures has been equally pernicious.

In “Rudolf Bultmann: A Call to Arms?” (The Reformed Journal, Sept. 1963), Bastian Van Elderen nicely understates the flagrancy of Bultmann’s Christ denying heresy: “Bultmann’s extreme position certainly leaves much to be desired in its reduction of Jesus of Nazareth to a mere man….Essentially Bultmann’s position is anthropocentric—he sets up modern man’s understanding of himself and the world as authoritative, rather than God and His Word….Nevertheless, Bultmann’s approach must be evaluated as both a contribution and a challenge to Biblical hermeneutics.”1

Such commendation of neo-orthodox paganism has become fashionable. It seems that orthodox theologians are not worth quoting anymore; only those who deny Christ’s deity can afford us valuable insights into theological truth. One cannot repress the text: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…for…what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (II Corinthians l6:14–15)

Applying Bultmann’s naturalistic Sitz-im-Leben theory to “Biblical” archaeology, Van Elderen has moved in the last few years toward increasing agreement with the “contribution” of his mentor. The Sitz-im-Leben idea maintains that the Biblical writers were limited in knowledge by their cultural and historical situations, and that some of their consequent, inevitable misinterpretations of reality and that some of their naive misconceptions have been perpetuated in the Bible. With this low view of the inspired writers, of course, Van Elderen can hardly defend the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures. Nor is it in explicable that, as a result, young men in their classical examinations should ask brightly: “Do you want a theological or a scientific answer?” A young Christian Reformed minister said to me a few summers ago: “Of course, you know the Bible’s not infallible, Merle. Words crumble….”

John Timmer and William La Fleur, Christian Re· formed missionaries to Japan, preluded greater onslaughts with an adept karate slash entitled “The Geographical Creeds,” in which they argue that “Creeds…simply cannot be protected against the rough handling of cultural relativity.”2 And as presaged, their demand for the right to formulate unique creeds for the Orient burgeoned into a more flamboyant growth, which has recently fruited in their “Second Isaiah and the Copyright Law.”3 The multiple authorship of Isaiah is the proposition that they adopt—a long-refuted, higher-critical foe of the Church. And now our missionaries come before us excitedly dragging the mouldering corpse that they have exhumed.

In their communal essay, Timmer and La Fleur observe that “Those writings which are referred to as Second Isaiah are very probably the contribution of one or more of these disciples of the Exilic or Post-exilic periods.”4 Their projected thesis, however, is this: We must abandon our conservative view of Biblical authorship because to do so is “consonant to a large extent with the modern and Western value placed upon individual creativity.”5 A most compelling argument! Perhaps we should abandon charity also because atheistic humanitarians practice it.

Another assault on Scripture comes from Peter Berkhout’s “The Bible of Nature,”6 in which he urges us to accept the philosophy of theistic evolution (the deifying adjective is merely a transitional sop to pacify Christians who believe in God as Creator). Berkhout fails to see that evolutionism is a comprehensive philosophy, spreading its cancer of empiricism into history, anthropology, morals and theology. Here are some of Berkhout’s inducements to reject Creationism: “It was stated at the last American Scientific Affiliation convention that it is impossible to obtain a Ph.D. in science if one flatly denies evolution. The great majority of students and professors at even Christian colleges accept it.”7 Here at Dordt College alone are several men with Ph.D:s in the sciences who flatly denied and continue to deny evolution: moreover, many Ph.D.’s in the natural sciences who teach at secular universities dare, nonetheless, to denounce evolution as an unproved, unprovable, unscientific assumption.

“Whether we like it or not,” Berkhout emphasizes in conclusion, “we will have to put the old wine, the truth of Scripture, into new skins. Our young people are clamoring for it…You cannot suppress truth forever.”8 Irrefutable logic: when young people clamor, we must start a frantic search for attractive vessels, for faddish forms like Are You Running With Me Jesus? (real cool-cat, un phony prayers by Malcolm Boyd). Some young people are clamoring for the right to premarital sexual experimentation; shall we stop trying to suppress that natural “truth”?

But not only should we merge with the secular scientific world, we should also scurry rapturously into the engulfing embrace of ecumenicism. In “The World Council Under Review,”9 Lewis Smedes obviously favors union with the W.C.C, because, he says, there must be made a “division between secularism and plain Christianity.”10 Does Smedes know what the “plain Christianity” of the W.C.C. means? It means social, economic, and political ideals, not the Gospel message to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Savior; it means consorting with many denominations that sanction avowed humanists, agnostics, and atheists in their memberships; it means being joined with men who smirk indecently at the Virgin Birth, who grimace with loathing at the blood Atonement, who guffaw with derision at the historical, bodily Resurrection of our Lord Jesus. This is the “plain” Christianity that we are to accept and oppose to secularism. What conceivable form of secularism could be more heinous than the blasphemies countenanced within the World Council of Churches?

Says Smedes: “The W.C.C. has to be evaluated as the only really ecumenical movement in our world, and in the light of that fact it must be evaluated as the best answer available to our Lord’s undeniable demand for unity among his people and his flock.”11 (italics mine) Smedes’ approbation is plain. But God save us from going to the devil to find our unity.

Karl Barth concocts his own unity with the doctrine that all men are ultimately saved—a teaching so appealing, so magnetically mesmerizing, that even some Christian Reformed theologians cannot resist its amorphous but alluring amiability. What a temptation to approach as nearly as possible to a repudiation of the “few-are-chosen” texts of Scripture. Isn’t it unconscionably embarrassing to tell a good-Joe, middle· class, college-bred, new-car, new-home American that he is a sinner? Much easier and more personable to enthuse, “God loves you, pal! Christ died for you!” as if you had a personal copy of God’s unrevealed will.

Harold Dekker stumbled—in part, through mission concern—into a philosophical-theological thicket by affirming God’s love as infinite, to the detriment of his righteousness, justice, and holiness. In his efforts to extricate himself with honor, Professor Dekker penned himself even more uncomfortably in the undergrowth of almost-Arminian obscurity: God loves all men redemptively and distributively-head for head, as he reiterated to the Doctrinal Committee in their several meetings. “What then keeps Christ’s atonement from being universal?” he was asked. Persistently refusing to define the Atonement, yet driven by the desire to justify his contention, he was forced by the indefensibility of his position to state what no Reformed Christian C’1n maintain, Dekker’s desperate qualifications notwithstanding: “The atonement as such has no effficacy.”12

Even though the “Report of the Doctrinal Committee” expressed “substantially the Reformed tradition in the areas discussed”13—admirably focused as the Report was on Christ’s atonement and the nature of God’s love—it was returned to the Committee for revision (Synod docilely following Henry Stob’s expeditious instruction that appeared, almost concomitantly with the Agenda, in the May-June issue of R. J.)” and disposed of on the basis of niggling technicalities: some readers couldn’t remember all the arguments—wanted to have them all repeated in the summary recommendations; some members had failed to do their homework—were confused, presumably, because one needs at least a year to review his Reformed doctrine and to study a 70-page report; some felt that the Committee should have dealt with all “related problems”: that is, they should have produced a new Reformed dogmatics, resolving the Scriptural paradoxes that have exercised the Church since its inception; it was also suggested that since the Reformed theologians quoted in the Report had done their writing before our enlightened mid-twentieth century, that, therefore, the Committee should be required to gather a nosegay of fresh theological unfoldings from today’s more sagacious theorizers.

Everyone who has experienced Synodical workings acknowledges that the contingent, who chorus: “Theology is a science!” and “Make way for free inquiry!”, successfully effected procedural delay by gaining postponement. For ill another year a new flock of theologically befuddled young men (for Dekker, of course, continues to propound his views, unimpeded by any interim ecclesiastical restriction) will be boosted aboard the bandwagon of the detractors. Also in that year, a few more old laymen who have studied, understood, and professed the Biblically-grounded Confessions of the Church will die.



James Daane can put it more pungently than I: “The winds of change are and have been blowing through the Christian Reformed churches…[the] old leadership is now dead, or largely muted in retirement.” And Daane adds to this prophecy, which, to me-having struggled with Daane’s pseudo-philosophic theologizing and having emerged gasping from the miasma—sounds ominous: “We are caught in, and are part of, the movement of our time. We have changed much; we are changing much; and we shall change much.”15

And James Daane will make good his forecast if conservative Christians continue to tremble and sulk in apathetic helplessness. For behind James Daane and Harold Dekker are Lewis Smedes purveying his incipient universalism: “Hell is possible,” “the very real possibility of hell” and “Should it turn out to be so [that hell will be empty], we shall be as glad as Karl Barth will probably be”16 (italics mine); and Harry Boer, who adroitly presents his allegations against the doctrine of reprobation “in the form of a report”17; and another of our theological professors, who announces: “What is at stake in the case of Professor Dekker is, among other things, the freedom of theological inquiry…The faith is one thing; theology is another…; theology is a scientific endeavor into which not all people can be drawn.”18

Convince us laymen of that, Dr. Stob -the elders and deacons and husbands and wives and youth of our Christian Reformed Church -convince us that we can no longer chew the meat of the Word for ourselves, and our Church falls that clay to the spirit of liberalism and the anti-christ. When the common people are persuaded that they are unable to think clearly and speak boldly of the doctrines that they profess, when they are no longer ready to give to men a reason for the hope that is in them, then ecclesiastical chaos is here.

But “the winds of change” are also beginning to blow the other way. Scores of Christian Reformed consistories are meeting to discuss the doctrines that they cherish as based securely on God’s Word; all the old leaders are not dead, and young conservative leaders are rising to contend for the inerrancy of the Scriptures and for fidelity to the Confessions that have edified the Body of Christ these many centuries. Father in Heaven, keep us faithful to Thee, loving Thee above all and our fellows as ourselves. Preserve us from irresolution when Thy honor is threatened; strengthen us to overcome fear and to scorn compromise with those who impugn Thy sovereignty and disdain Thy Son. And may we, as sons of the King, speak prophetically in defense of that faith which Thou hast given us. May we seek our unity not in the divisive speculations of men, but in the clear teachings of Thine infallible Word; may we together joy in Thy truth. For our Savior’s praise we ask it. So let it be.

1. The Reformed Journal, September 1963, pp. 18–19.

2. The Reformed Journal, February 1966, p. 14.

3. The Reformed Journal, July-August 1966.

4. Ibid., p. 11.

5. Ibid.

6. The Reformed Journal, July-August 1966.

7. Ibid., p. 22.

8. Ibid.

9. The Reformed Journal, July-August 1966.

10. Ibid., p. 6.

11. Ibid., p. 7.

12. Acts of Synod 1966, “Report of the Doctrinal Committee,” p. 446 (from Dekker’s Letter to the Committee, Nov. 17, 1965).

13. Ibid., testimony of the Advisory Committee, p. 69.

14. The Reformed Journal, May-June 1966, “Synod, the Committee, and Professor Dekker,” p. 5.

15. The Reformed Journal, July-August 1966, “The Pella Synod of 1966,” p. 6.

16. The Reformed Journal, October 1966, “How Now, Brown” p. 3.

17. The Reformed Journal, March 1965, “The Doctrine of Reprobation and the Preaching of the Gospel,” and The Reformed Journal, April 1965, “Reprobation in Modern Reformed Theologians.”

18. The Reformed Journal, May-June 1966, “Synod, the Committee, and Professor Dekker,” p. 5.

Those who have advocated change in the Christian Reformed Church ask at times for dialogue. That Merle Meeter, professor at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa, has kept up with the writings in recent years and now attempts to show their interrelatedness is evident from these pages. He challenges all the readers to reflect carefully on what is involved in distinguishing sharply “theology” and “faith.”