Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
President-emeritus of Calvin Theological Seminary James A. De Jong has written an interesting account of the life and work of influential Christian Reformed minister Henry J. Kuiper. Because of the prominence of “HJK,” the book affords as well a fascinating look at the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) during the years of Kuiper’s ministry, from 1904, when Kuiper entered what would now be considered seminary, until hi s death in 1962.
For most of his ministerial career, Kuiper was a leading, powerful churchman. He was deeply involved in the ouster of Ralph Janssen from Calvin Seminary in 1922. De Jong makes plain that Janssen was known to hold and teach higher-critical (that is, unbelieving) views of the Old Testament as early as 1906. Kuiper also played a leading role in the deposition of Rev. Henry Danhof and Rev. George Ophoff by CRC Classis Grand Rapids West in January 1925. In the deposing of the two ministers and their consistories, and in the refusal by the classis to examine B.J. Danhof for ordination to the ministry (since at that time Danhof opposed the doctrine of common grace), “H.J. Kuiper’s hand on the tiller had guided the outcome” (58). Thus Henry J. Kuiper became part of the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches, which formed as the result of these depositions and Herman Hoeksema’s deposition by Classis Grand Rapids East of the CRC.
Kuiper defended and promoted the doctrine of common grace adopted by the CRC Synod of 1924 by preaching and then publishing three sermons on the subject entitled, “The Three Points of Common Grace.” In connection with his account of Kuiper’s involvement in the controversy over common grace, and elsewhere in the book, author De Jong recognizes Herman Hoeksema with respect. One of the effects of the struggle over common grace was a CRC synodical warning against worldliness and worldly amusements. Kuiper was a member of the committee that drew up the statement, if he was not the author.
Another significant denominational project spearheaded by Kuiper was the introduction of hymns into the songbook of the CRC, the Psalter Hymnal, published in 1934.
It was especially as editor of the official CRC magazine, the Banner, that Kuiper gave leadership to the CRC. Kuiper held this influential position, and prosecuted it vigorously, for twenty-seven years, from 1929-1956. De Jong examines the nature and topics of Kuiper’s editorship. His editorials were wide-ranging, from labor unions to spirituality. De Jong observes that the membership of the CRC paid “HJK” good heed. Kuiper formed the mind of the CRC as no single person has done since.
One cause that was dear to Kuiper’s heart was the Christian schools. Kuiper was instrumental in the founding of several Christian schools, including Chicago Christian High, Grand Rapids Christian High, and Reformed Bible Institute (now, Kuyper College). The account of Kuiper’s involvement in the founding of Grand Rapids Christian High School contains a sentence that causes a pang in the heart not only of the Protestant Reformed reader but also of all who love the unity of Christ’s church in her Reformed manifestation.
At the first graduation [of Grand Rapids Christian High School], in the spring of 1923, board president H.J. Kuiper presided. He gave the welcome and offered the invocation; Louis Berkof delivered the commencement address; and fellow board member and vice president, the Reverend Herman Hoeksema of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, closed in prayer (95).
Kuiper zealously promoted the schools in the editorial column of the Banner. His first editorial was on Christian education. This occasioned a long and sharp exchange with the Rev. John Vander Mey. Vander Mey defended the public schools. He did so, intriguingly, on the ground of common grace. De Jong summarizes Vander Mey’s argument: “By God’s common grace, many fine things happen in many public schools” (101). Kuiper, himself a defender of common grace, was forced to ward off Vander Mey’s argument by accusing Vander Mey of “an unbalanced overemphasis on common grace” (99). Ironically, Vander Mey was the CRC minister who had been a thorn in the side of Hoeksema at Eastern Avenue CRC in the common grace controversy.
Those who live in the vicinity of Chicago will read with special interest the history of Kuiper’s pastorate of Second Englewood, Chicago from 1913 to 1919 and the account of Kuiper’s editorial involvement in the “Wezeman Case” in 1936.
Henry J. Kuiper was a “conservative” in the CRC. Especially toward the end of his ministry, he did battle with the up-and-coming “progressives/liberals” in the beloved denomination he had long led. The battle was definitely pitched in 1951 by the creation of two, opposing magazines within the CRC: the Reformed Journal and the Torch and Trumpet. Kuiper’s joining the editorial committee of the Torch and Trumpet in 1957, immediately after retiring from the Banner, was clear evidence that he saw danger threatening the CRC, unmistakable indication where in his judgment the danger lay, and a strong signal that he intended to fight.
What the danger to the CRC really was, and still is (although Kuiper would not have acknowledged it, any more than does author De Jong), James De Jong nevertheless suggests in a significant footnote: “Denominational dynamics from 1880 through 1980 [in the CRC] can be understood essentially in terms of the interplay and application of these two ideas.” “These two ideas” are the antithesis and common grace (230). De Jong thinks that the two ideas are harmonious and that the threat to the CRC is a failure to “balance” them. But he acknowledges that from the later years of Kuiper’s ministry to the present the antithesis has been losing out in the CRC. The scales of the balance are tilting steadily to the side of common grace. “Religious leaders continued to remind it [the CRC], though with increasingly less force and clarity, that the religious antithesis placed it fundamentally at odds with ‘the world'” (250; emphasis added by the reviewer).
This well-written and well-researched study of one of the CRC’s leading ministers is a worthy addition to “The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America.”
From the back cover flap: “Michael Horton (PhD, University of Coventry and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California….”
The title and cover art (da Vinci’s The Last Supperwith Christ whitened out) summarize well the allegations Michael Horton makes against today’s “Christian” churches. Running with such zeal for zeal, seeker and Emergent churches, he claims, are “well on their way” to foregoing Christ, choosing rather to embrace themselves in a self-help movement. He sees that the focus becomes us and our activity (politics, abortion, gay marriage, global warming), not God and His work in Christ. We go to church to learn what we can do for ourselves (become a better person) and for the world (reduce poverty or fight disease), rather than what Christ has done for us (died for the salvation of believers). Thus we make God and Jesus “supporting cast” in our own show. God exists for us, not us for God; restated, God is a means to our joy rather than the end for Whom we exist.
One might paraphrase his accusations as the church’s stepping off Jacob’s ladder to reach heaven, and climbing instead Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to self-actualization. This narcissistic and pragmatic church should hardly, Horton claims, be called “Christian.” After all, if being a “Christian” is simply a lifestyle, many Buddhists are better “Christians”!
Though I commend the book in general, I offer first this critique:
First: Dr. Horton scribes nearly 250 loosely-organized pages to elaborate, reiterate, provide examples, and reiterate more an allegation that could be synopsized in one paragraph. While I recognize the verbiage of this review is more austere than the doctor’s, does it take a loquacious book to diagnose this problem? It seems that the author is trying tenaciously to be quoted.
Second: Though many might consider Horton’s claims ‘scalding,’ I closed the book somewhat disappointed that (and curious why) he did not label this sin of selfishness as “idolatry.” I wonder, too, why narcissism (obsession with and love of self) was not described as a deviation from Matthew 22:37‘s positive summary of the law to love God and the neighbor.
Third: Though the last chapter is titled “A Call to the Resistance,” the author dwells on reiterating and accentuating the problems and the need to avoid them. A few sentences dabble in a proposed positive response. The reader might close the book wondering whether it was written in a spirit of disappointment or a spirit of true joy in Christ.
I applaud other aspects of the book:
First: In response to my own critique, I offer that it might take a well-publicized, likely-controversial book to get the attention this problem deserves. Also, even Paul recognized the need to be negative when severe problems infiltrated the church (“O foolish Galatians…”3:1).
Second: I believe that Horton has accurately diagnosed a debilitating and pervasive disease in 21st-century Christendom. He, like the first few verses of Romans 10, criticizes a ‘zeal without knowledge’ and ‘ignorance of God’s righteousness.’ The reader would likely recognize this disease in names like Osteen, Robertson, Finney, Willow Creek, and their own local seeker churches. Pastors are becoming life coaches, not ambassadors of Christ. Are we aware how many are falling prey to Arminianism, (semi-) Pelagianism, and Gnosticism in their narcissistic and pragmatic trends? It knocks on our doors, brothers and sisters. Is it in our midst?
‘Our response to this problem’ was not precisely addressed in the book. How would I hope we as Reformed Christians respond? In four ways:
1. We would recognize that selfishness is the opposite of loving God and the neighbor, is the root of all sins, and runs rampant in each of us totally-depraved sinners.
2. We would be humbled that, in spite of this trend in neighboring churches, God, in His undeserved grace, has blessed our denomination with Christ-centered worship and preaching.
3. We would pray for God’s grace to have joy in Christ-centered worship and preaching (not evaluating a service based on ‘what I got out of it’), and pray for God’s grace in our response to individuals or denominations that drift away from this.
4. Our prayers would be more than thanks for what God does for us and requests for God’s blessing on Christians. “Hallowed,” “praised,” “blessed” be God’sname!
May God in Christ be praised!
Pride is an ugly thing. It comes first in the list of things God hates—things that are an abomination to him (Prov. 6:16-17). How quick we are to label others as proud, and how slow we are to examine our own actions to see what they reveal, and our own hearts to see what is hidden there. “The very definition of pride is thinking better of ourselves than we really are. It is not surprising, then, that proud people do not usually see their pride. For this reason, it is vitally important that we spend time regularly searching out the pride in our hearts.”
Wayne Mack wrote Humility the Forgotten Virtue to help us “attempt to understand pride and humility from a biblical perspective and to help us diminish the destructive pride factor and to increase the true humility factor in our lives.” He took on this task with a ‘four-D approach’: “by giving a biblical definition of what pride and humility are… how pride and humilitydisplay themselves ,…(and) how t rue humility can bedeveloped and destructive pride can be diminished in our lives.”
Mack explains the differences between the proud person and the humble one: “Self is at the center of everything in the mind of the proud person. He is his own master, and everything and everyone else exists to please him and serve his needs. As a result, he takes the throne in his own heart and, in reality, worships himself. Not only that, but he demands that everyone else worship him as well. The humble person…has a servant’s mindset. He desires to worship, love, and serve God at all times, and he demonstrates this mind-set by loving and serving other people. (He is) acutely aware of God’s supreme right to rule over all… (and puts himself) entirely under God’s authority.”
The author’s ‘four D’ approach is worked out in the following chapters: “The Importance of Humility”—thedefinition of pride and humility; “Humility toward God,” “Portrait of Humility toward Man,” “Completed Portrait of Humility,” and “The Folly of Pride”—the display of pride and humility; “Yes, but How?” and “More on How”— how humility can be developed and pridediminished.
After each chapter there is a section of “Application/Discussion Exercises” with questions covering the material in the chapter, scripture passages to study, and thought questions for readers to examine themselves. At the close of the book there is a list of over 100 biblical passages on pride and humility, and a complete index of hundreds of passages from 42 books of the Bible, which the author used in the text itself, or suggested the reader look up.
“Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, pride is as natural and common to us as breathing, whereas humility is a supernatural and uncommon virtue…. There will never come a time in our lives, as long as we are in this world, when we can relax and think that we have completely conquered our propensity to be proud. The biblical commands instructing us to humble ourselves are in the present tense, meaning that obeying them is an ongoing process from which we can never take a vacation.”
“How foolish it is for us to become proud of ourselves when, apart from Christ, there is nothing good in us…. Only through the work of the Spirit in our hearts are we able to see our desperate need for God…. If Christ, who was perfect, voluntarily humbled Himself before His creatures, how much more should we gladly humble ourselves before others?”
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (I Pet. 5:6.)Humility the Forgotten Virtue can help believers look to God’s Word in order to put off the many forms of pride and live in godly humility.