The October 1 issue of the SB carried the first part of an interview with Prof. David J. Engelsma, the magazine’s retiring editor. We conclude, below, the transcription of that recorded interview, confident that our readers will find it as profitable as did the newly appointed editors.
Prof. Dykstra: Are there any doctrines in particular that you consciously tried to develop in your editorials? If so, why those?
DJE: To my mind, in keeping with the purpose of the magazine as set up in the beginning (maintenance, development, defense, and promotion of the Reformed faith as known and confessed by the Protestant Reformed Churches), every editor of the Standard Bearer is committed to emphasize in a special way the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, particularly in the salvation of sinners; is required to emphasize and develop the doctrine of the unconditional covenant; and is required to emphasize the distinctively Reformed life that flows out of the truth of the sovereignty of God and that belongs to the doctrine of the unconditional covenant. I am referring, in general, to the antithetical life of the people of God and with particular, not special, reference to the sanctity of marriage as the symbol of the covenant as relationship between God and His people in Christ, in particular in reference to the family. Now it so happens that at the same time the society or culture in which we live forced these very issues upon us, as every pastor knows (I’m talking about marriage and the family, now). And it is also interestingly the case, and this to my mind is one of the most significant developments within the Reformed community in the past number of years, that the development of doctrine, which really amounts to apostasy in the Reformed church-world, forces those issues of the sovereignty of God and of the covenant as an unconditional bond upon us. So, the purpose that we have out of our own tradition, and the calling that comes from developments in society and in the church world, come together as far as the Standard Bearer is concerned, and as regards the doctrinal developments. I’m talking, of course, about the recent astounding spread of the denial of the justification by faith alone grounded in a conditional covenant! That is one of the most significant developments, certainly, in recent times.
But then there are also other doctrines. We are Reformed, and, to paraphrase the church fathers, nothing Reformed is foreign to us. Everything that is going on in the Reformed church world is something that we may want to address and often do address in our own way—because all of truth is of a piece. So there were matters that I didn’t have any intention of addressing when I became editor that, for one reason or another, became issues that I thought I had to address. I’m thinking now particularly of postmillennialism.
You are led (as so often in life ministers are, editors of the Standard Bearer are too) by God’s providential ordering of things—areas that otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen yourself. It makes the work interesting!
Prof. Dykstra: Perhaps you have already answered the question then: As you look back at sixteen years of editorials, what are the most significant, in your judgment?
DJE: The judgment as to what was significant is made by the readers. The judgment of the readers may be different from my judgment. But I think the most significant editorials I wrote were editorials during the time that what is now the United Reformed Churches were breaking with the Christian Reformed Church. And this, by the way, goes back to your question earlier about addressing Protestant Reformed Churches and even addressing the Protestant Reformed denomination. I was doing that when I wrote editorials about the developments that have resulted in the formation of the United Reformed Churches. I wasn’t only or even mainly addressing them, even though the editorials might have been pointed that way. But I was also attempting to give instruction and warning to the Protestant Reformed Churches. I’m referring to such editorials as “Aloof From the Alliance,” “The Date Is 1924,” and “Jelle in Wonderland.” I regard those as the most significant editorials that I wrote. There certainly was the thinking in the leadership of the United Reformed Churches that the mere fact that they rejected women in office and were breaking with the Christian Reformed Church ought to be reason for the Protestant Reformed Churches to cozy up to them and even to engage in serious ecumenical discussions with them apart from the great issues that separate the Protestant Reformed Churches from the Christian Reformed Church. And I thought it was possible that there might even be such thinking within the Protestant Reformed Churches. I regarded that as calamitous if that would be the case.
So, by those editorials, I made an effort to show people who later became the United Reformed Churches but also to give a warning to the Protestant Reformed people that a common rejection of women in office serves as absolutely no basis whatsoever for any coming together of the Protestant Reformed Churches and the Christian Reformed Church. The Roman Catholic Church also rejects women in office. That doesn’t mean a thing as far as oneness in the faith is concerned.
I took the opportunity, at the same time, to give a word to the broader Reformed community that issues that are really issues of fundamentalism vs. modernism (that is what you have in the women in office matter—sheer modernism because it is based on a rejection of the inspiration and authority of the Word of God) do not constitute a basis for the union and communion of Reformed churches. That union has to be on the basis of the three forms of unity, at the heart of which is the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Of course, time has shown that the United Reformed Churches simply carry on the denials of sovereign grace that are imbedded in the mother church.
Prof. Dykstra: Every work in the kingdom of Jesus Christ has its trials and rewards. What are some of the sorrows of these years as editor?
DJE: I can’t really speak of sorrows. I haven’t been sorrowful in the work.
I’ve been extraordinarily burdened simply because of the demand to get the editorials out and carry on the correspondence and do the other work that is connected with the Standard Bearer while at the same time I was trying to do the other work that I’m called to do (i.e., full-time work of seminary professor, RJD). And I have been disappointed that certain things that I wanted to happen didn’t happen.
But I can’t say that I’ve had any sorrows in the work. There have been sharp, bitter criticisms, and that is painful. Maybe that would be one of the sorrows of the work. And when that bitter, sharp criticism comes from within the Protestant Reformed Churches, that makes it all the more painful. But, even then, that comes with the territory. I knew that there would be that when I accepted the appointment. I was, after all, a minister for twenty-five years before I became editor. By that time, you are not a stranger to sharp criticism from within the Protestant Reformed Churches.
I haven’t been able to develop the proverbial hide like the rhinoceros. Some men say they have that—I envy them.
I’ve been disappointed, too, that some of our able men haven’t written as we wanted them to write. I would have liked that the subscription list had risen even more than it did. But, that again is in God’s hands.
Prof. Dykstra: Reflect on some of the benefits, from a spiritual point of view, of being the editor of the Standard Bearer.
DJE: My joy, my gladness, is that, by the grace of God, the Standard Bearer has continued faithfully in the course laid out for it, rightly I believe, by my predecessors. My joy is that I could participate in that way by carrying on the witness to the Reformed faith within the Protestant Reformed Churches and without—there is joy in that.
And, after the article is written, there often is a joy in writing. As far as the writing itself is concerned, after all these years I continue to find writing to be a very demanding and difficult activity—one of the most demanding and difficult activities that I know of. I’ve heard the story that the famous sports columnist for one of the New York papers a number of years ago, a man by the name of Red Smith, who was a very good writer, was asked one time about the ease or difficulty of writing. His answer was, “Writing is very easy. You just put a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter, and then sweat blood.” I can appreciate that description of writing! But after you have finished it, occasionally you will find this, that you are satisfied with what you have written and how you have written it. I believe that editors of the Standard Bearer ought to be concerned about style as well as about content. There is a joy in writing. Yes, that has been a joy for me, too.
Maybe I could add this, too, to the joys of it. There are contacts that are made with people in far-flung places. Just about all of the correspondence that was negative and critical I have published. Only if it was obscene (and there weren’t too many of those) or if the critic said, “I don’t want this published,” did I answer the criticism privately and not publish it. But besides that, there were many favorable responses and many, many questions from people who did not want the questions answered in the Standard Bearer. So there is more work involved than meets the eye. I have boxes, by this time, of correspondence—letters that I took time to answer, questions that also required study and some research. That’s a joy, that is, the contact with people, outside the Protestant Reformed Churches for the most part, but who are genuinely interested in the truth of the Christian religion. Some of the questions are not distinctively Reformed, but have to do with some aspect of the Christian faith or life. But to help people like that and to have contact with people like that—that’s refreshing. And that is joyous. So I would say that would be another aspect of the work that was gladsome.
Prof. Dykstra: You touched on this earlier, but do you have anything to add concerning the question of why you decided to decline reappointment as editor of the Standard Bearer?
DJE: My first and main reason was the conviction that—the fear that—I could stay too long in the position and lose my usefulness to the churches and to the witness and to whoever outside the Protestant Reformed Churches are listening. It is healthy that other men—men with the same commitment but different views as to what the Standard Bearer must do within the churches and without—take over.
A secondary consideration, one that wasn’t decisive—but if there needed to be any tipping of the scales it tipped the scales—was, I’d like to be relieved of the burden. I recognize it’s a privilege, I recognize that. But it’s also a burden. I’m not talking now about the time mainly. A lot of time has been expended over the last sixteen years to the wee hours of the morning and all day Saturday. I doubt that there have been many days in the last sixteen years that I have not given some thought and usually some time to the Standard Bearer. Every day. But when I say I would like to be relieved of the burden, I’m talking about the fact that it weighs on me. Not at all alone—all of the writers in the Standard Bearer share that, but still it falls on the editor in a special way. It weighs on me that the magazine has to make a clear, wise witness twice every month most of the time. After sixteen years, I’m ready to let that burden fall on somebody else’s shoulders.
I don’t know where that comes in in your questions (maybe it doesn’t), but I want to insert something of my own. That is to acknowledge, with greatest appreciation, the cooperation in the work of Don Doezema and of Judi. As far as Don is concerned, I don’t even speak of assistance, but of cooperation. The way I looked at it, and the way I look at it now in retrospect, is that Don and I simply worked together to make the magazine the very best magazine that we could make it. Again, I am not at all excluding the tremendous contributions that every writer makes. But the managing editor and the editor are in a position of leadership in the magazine. And we simply cooperated to make it the best magazine we could make it, both in content and in appearance.
And then Judi sets up the paper. As far as I am concerned, she really has been a great help because patiently she has carried my penchant for revising right up until the manuscript is going out the door to the printer. There are men (they have said this about themselves) who can write an article and after it’s written, the first edition is the final edition. I am cursed with a different mentality. I am revising steadily until the magazine flies off to the printer. And Judi’s patience is helpful. She is always willing, has always been willing, to drop this line, insert this line, correct that phraseology. That’s been very helpful.
Prof. Dykstra: Would you care to divulge some of your future plans for writing? We trust the pen will not be set down.
DJE: I’ve asked to be excused for a year from the Standard Bearer, but I hope that I will be asked to write again after a year. In the meantime, I am going to be working on a couple of books that the RFPA has asked me to write. The two or three that are on the front burner are really books on Old Testament history, continuing the project that the RFPA has begun under the title of Unfolding Covenant History. Prof. Hoeksema got as far as the book of Joshua, and I’m supposed to carry on from there. I’m finishing off, right now, a volume on Judges and Ruth.
Then I have a commentary on the Belgic Confession that I am writing out. It’s handwritten, but in my writing, there are always two stages: the first, I write it out long-hand and then type that manuscript, making revisions as I go. I also have started, by way of some articles in the Standard Bearer, a book on eschatology. If I’m asked to write in the future, I think I would like to be asked to pursue that rubric so that I can combine writing on eschatology with producing a manuscript that can be a book later on.
Prof. Dykstra: What advice do you have for the new editors?
DJE: My advice is probably superfluous because it is that you be thoroughly conversant with the purpose of the magazine from its outset and maintain that purpose as I’ve described it before and as you know well enough. Because that purpose has to do with the sovereignty of God and His covenant, that isn’t limiting but it is as comprehensive as the whole of life, the whole of God’s revelation.
Second, my advice is: “Pray for wisdom.” Pray for wisdom as editors of the Standard Bearer. I may confess that very few days have gone by that I did not specifically make that request in my own prayers. I did not want to do anything foolish, write anything foolish, that would be harmful to the churches or be harmful to our witness or be detrimental to the glory of God. Without exaggerating the place of the Standard Bearer, it certainly has an important place. And folly will be ruinous. So pray for wisdom that you may see what has to be said and know how to say it in the right way.
Thirdly, be, if not bold, courageous. I think I mentioned to the committee that was looking for a new editor, that one of the requisites of the editor of the Standard Bearer is that he (or now they) must be tough. There are pressures—sometimes pressures that are wrong. We have to be open to criticism—consider the possibility that we might be wrong, too—and listen to others. But at the same time, there comes the point at which, regardless of pressures even from one’s colleagues, he is convinced that a certain stand has to be taken, a certain stand has to be defended publicly, and he does that. That calls for a certain courage. Editors must have a certain courage. So, my advice to you is to be tough in that sense of the word.
Then, another thing that comes to mind is that you must be yourselves. It’s crippling in this work, as it is in the ministry, if a man is constantly laboring with the notion that he has to be somebody else, be like somebody else, and do it like somebody else has done it. It’s one thing to learn from our great predecessors. It’s another thing to make the demand of ourselves, which God doesn’t do, that we have to be those people. They were who they were in their time. And I’m talking now about our predecessors in the Protestant Reformed Churches, but also in the Reformed tradition. Many of those men were giants. If I had to be a minister or a professor of theology or an editor of the Standard Bearer demanding of myself to measure up to their stature, why, that would destroy me. God doesn’t demand that. They were giants, but even we dwarfs, standing on their shoulders, can sometimes see a little farther than they could see. So, be yourselves with your own style, your own insights, and then there will be life in the magazine and further development.
Prof. Gritters: On behalf of the new editors and the staff, the whole denomination as well as all our faithful readers, we thank you for sixteen years of good work. Just those few words don’t express what we feel but we are very grateful to God for you.