In our March 1 issue we reported on the basis of articles in the Grand Rapids Press that the Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary cleared the three Calvin College professors (Profs. Clarence Menninga, Howard Van Till, and Davis Young) whose teachings were being investigated by the Board of Trustees. Since that time we have obtained a copy of the “Prepared Statement” released by the Board of Trustees and of the “Report of the Ad HocCommittee” appointed by the Board. From the latter it is clear that the reports in the Press were substantially correct. It is also clear that what I stated near the end of that March 1 editorial, namely, that behind all this is Report 36/44 on the Nature and Extent of the Authority of Scripture, was correct.
According to the “Prepared Statement” of the Board of Trustees, here is what the board decided:
“(1) We received the report with gratitude and gave copies to Dr. Menninga, Dr. Van Till, and Dr. Young for their study and guidance.
“(2) We declare that the writings of Dr. Menninga, Dr. Van Till, and Dr. Young fall within the limits set by our denomination’s guidelines for how to interpret the Bible. But, at the same time, the board reminds the professors of the limitations that these guidelines place upon the interpretation of the Bible.
“(3) We commend these three professors for their deep devotion to Christ and their diligence in subjecting their work to His service.
“(4) The study committee report will help us respond intelligently to the letters of criticism.”
The reference to the “denomination’s guidelines” is a reference to two sets of synodical decisions. The first set is a decision of Synod of 1972, when the report on the Nature and Extent of the Authority of Scripture was adopted (Acts, 1972, p. 69). The second is a decision of Synod of 1982 (Acts, p. 167). The latter were decisions which resulted from a flurry of overtures following the so-called Libolt case. The Ad Hoc Committee makes reference to these decisions in its report concerning Prof. Menninga, and these were the guidelines applied to the teachings of all three professors. The Ad Hoc Committee puts the question as follows:
“Does Dr. Clarence Menninga use any method of biblical interpretation which excludes or calls into question either the event character or the revelational meaning of biblical history, thus compromising the full authority of Scripture as the Word of God? (See Acts of Synod 1972, p. 69) Does he adhere to “. . . those utterances of the Confessions that affirm the historical factuality of the events recorded in Genesis 1-3? (See Acts of Synod 1982, p. 107)”
The committee and the Board clear Dr. Menninga without negative comment even though he teaches that “God used long periods of time to develop the universe to its present condition” and that “The earth may be 4 1/2 billion years old, while modern human beings may have lived on earth for only 40,000 years,” and even though he leaves open the possibility that “Maybe the dust is a figure of speech and maybe God formed Adam by enabling a more primitive mother to give birth to an offspring who possessed the image of God.”
With respect to Dr. Van Till the Ad Hoc Committee expresses concerns on two counts. First of all, they are concerned about what Dr. Van Till says about primeval history in his book, The Fourth Day. Secondly, they are concerned about what Dr. Van Till writes about human evolution. However, while Van Till is criticized for ambiguous and incomplete statements, and while he is cautioned to be clear and complete in his statements, nevertheless he also is found to be within the guidelines. Further, nothing whatsoever is said concerning Van Till’s “vehicle packaging-content” approach to biblical interpretation. The latter is at the root of his entire position with respect to Scripture and explains everything else that he says about Scripture in his book. And it is that approach to biblical interpretation which comes straight from the liberal theologians of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands.
Finally, the report concerning Dr. Young is very brief and commendatory. He, too, is within the guidelines.
The matter will now be reported to the Christian Reformed Synod, of course. And it is safe to say that the Synod will approve the findings of the Board of Trustees with little or no change.
The answer is to be found in Report 36/44, which since 1972 has been binding doctrine in the CRC. If anyone had any doubts about the evil of that report, these doubts should now be removed when the concrete application and results of that report have become evident in this case.
And this is the most serious aspect of this investigation and its results. To be sure, that evolutionism and the denial of Genesis 1-11 is approved is a very serious matter. But even more serious is the fact that the door is plainly open for the denial of the infallibility and authority of Holy Scripture on any truth whatsoever.