Clasping a Viper to the Bosom (3)

Several months ago (April 1 and 15 issues) we began to write on this subject. Since our first two articles under this title appeared, there were other matters of more immediate importance which demanded our attention. Now we return to this discussion. 

Perhaps a word of re-introduction is in order. 

In originally introducing this subject, we made it plain that the “viper” to which we referred is the denial of the doctrine of sovereign predestination, especially the denial of sovereign reprobation. We called attention to the fact that it is a world-wide phenomenon that wherever the Reformed faith has been transplanted from the Netherlands to any significant degree, the doctrine of sovereign predestination has fallen upon evil times. This we called an appalling fact. We likened the embracing of this error to clasping a deadly viper to one’s bosom: it will surely be fatal to any church. In previous articles we already called attention to the fact that the Reformed community in Australasia is suffering from the sting of this deadly viper. We now turn our attention to the situation in South Africa. 

We write about this subject and call attention to the situation in other lands not out of a mere desire to criticize others, and surely not out of a kind of self-righteous desire to exalt and congratulate ourselves. No, our purpose is that we as Protestant Reformed people, as well as Reformed readers in other countries who are reached by our Standard Bearer, may know where the battle-lines are, may be warned, and may be prepared and equipped to fight for our Reformed heritage, so that it may be preserved for us and our children. As we have mentioned before, there is much concern today about the doctrine of Holy Scripture and its maintenance. This is proper, too. Yet there is little zeal to fight for the truth of sovereign predestination. And not only is the truth of sovereign predestination one of the characteristic doctrines of the Reformed faith, but I would also defend the proposition that from a certain point of view the maintenance of the truth of sovereign predestination is basic to the maintenance of the truth of Holy Scripture and its infallible inspiration, so that the latter cannot be successfully maintained and defended where the former is denied, I find historical evidence of this not only in the fact that in Reformed churches the denials of these truths have gone hand in hand, but also in the fact that Fundamentalists, who are notorious for their Arminian denial of sovereign predestination, are being compelled to tight the “battle for the Bible” all over again. Revelation, after all, is a particularistic work of God: God reveals Himself to His covenant people! And if you lose the precious truth that God reveals Himself as the covenant God to His covenant people, and not to all men, you are bound to have trouble maintaining i the doctrine of Holy Scripture, the written record of that revelation. But this is a subject all by itself, and I will not expound on it further at this time. I only wanted to stress the key importance of this truth of sovereign predestination and to underscore the fatal character of the denial of that truth. To embrace that error—and I emphasize again that the most common form of that error today is the denial of sovereign reprobation—is to clasp a deadly viper to one’s bosom.

From a correspondent-friend in South Africa we recently received some of the theological writings of a Dr. A. Konig, who is a minister and theologian of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa (N.G.K.), the largest of the three main Reformed denominations in that country. As we reported some time ago, from time to time criticism of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands has emanated. from the Reformed community in South Africa. This criticism has centered not only on the Dutch churches’ support of the World Council’s attempts to stir up revolution in Africa, but also on the modernistic trends in doctrine in the GKN. Some time ago, according to my correspondent, Dr. K. Vorster, Moderator of the N.G. K. of South Africa, spoke out against the modernistic trends in the GKN. But from the literature sent me, it appears that the South African church itself is not, free from those liberal trends. If the theology expressed in these samples is representative of what is taught at the University of, Potchefstroom and inculcated in their future ministers, then the South African Reformed community has already fallen upon evil days. 

The first sample of such bad theology which drew my attention was an article by Dr. Konig in Theologica Evangelica, the Tydskrif van die Faculteit Teologie, Universiteit van Suid-Aftika (Journal of the Faculty of Theology, University of South Africa). In an article in theAfrikaans language on The Living God, Dr. Konig tampers with the truth of God’s unchangeability by an appeal to the Scripture passages which speak of God’s repentance. The entire article reminds one of the method and approach of a man like Kuitert; and it reminded me of the article by Dr. Klaas Runia on this very subject some years ago, the article which I criticized under the title, “Topsy-Turvy Theology from Down Under.” But what particularly drew my attention in connection with the subject we are discussing was the fact that Konig criticizes the thoroughly Reformed idea of God’s “plan” and tries to draw a disjunction between the ideas of “plan” and “purpose,” as though the latter is proper while the former is not, and as though it is possible (either in the light of Scripture or logically) to speak of a purpose without a plan. Let me quote a few lines in translation: “One of the basic problems in this connection is that frequently men proceed from the idea that God drew up beforehand a detailed plan, and that all that takes place in the course of history is only a careful execution of that plan . . . . Also here, however, they proceed from a preconceived idea of what would be proper for God, and the Biblical message is then adapted to that preconceived idea. It stands to reason that a theologian proceeding from such a viewpoint will have serious problems with, among other things, sin and reprobation; but in certain instances that preconceived natura dei (nature of God) is consequentially followed through, and in the most frightening manner a sensible place is given in God’s plan to the senseless and chaotic. Of this Boettner and Hoeksema are surely of the most shocking examples, and at the same time good proof of how necessary a renewal in theology is necessary.” A footnote indicates here that Konig is referring to L. Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination and Herman Hoeksema’s De Plaats der Verwerping in de Verkondiging des Evangelies (The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel). The same footnote indicates that Konig apparently swallowed G.C. Berkouwer’s Divine Election in its criticism of Hoeksema and Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics in its criticism of Boettner. Needless to say, however, the above critical reference to the idea of God’s plan aroused not only my curiosity but also my suspicion with respect to Konig’s teachings concerning sovereign predestination, and especially reprobation. I was glad, therefore, when this first sample of Dr. Konig’s views was followed a little later by a copy of his lecture notes on Systematic Theology, Course II, Book 2, which deals with the subject of Election. In these notes my suspicions were confirmed. Dr. Konig simply throws overboard the whole Reformed doctrine of sovereign predestination, reserving his strongest attacks for sovereign reprobation, a doctrine of which he wants nothing at all. In my opinion, while his views are similar to the views which have become familiar to us from such men as Berkouwer, Daane, Runia, Boer, Woudstra, etc., in some respects he is more outspoken in his rejection of the Reformed view. 

First of all, in discussing “Election in the Old Testament,” Dr. Konig classifies as a misconception the idea that the Old Testament is a period of “the most rigid particularism.” He denies that Israel is the elected people, while the Gentiles are rejected. Along with this, he classifies as a misconception and denies that election implies rejection. He writes:

The particularistic view of the Old Testament is supported by yet another misconception, viz that election implies rejection. According to this view God as a matter of course rejects while He elects; while He elects Israel He automatically rejects the Gentiles. The whole Old Testament history can then be described as the acts of God in choosing one nation (Israel) to be his people, (due to His lack of concern for all the other nations) and the way in which He limited His blessings and special care to this His elect people: According to this presentation election becomes “favoritism”. As a result election constitutes a threat to many, for the moment “election” is mentioned, people immediately think of the logical and inevitable counterpart: rejection. And if you are not elected, what then! At least—so many think—all men are divided into two groups: the elected and the rejected. And to make matters worse, election is often presented as a great mystery about which very little is known. Nobody ever knows who are the elect and who are the rejected. 

However, it is clear beyond all doubt that these misconceptions have no roots whatsoever in the Old or in the New Testament.

It is obvious from the above that the very tone of Konig’s description is hostile and disparaging. And while we would not accept all the details of his description, nevertheless it is plain that Dr. Konig has in mind the traditional Reformed doctrine of a double predestination, with an election and reprobation which are equally sovereign. And he argues long and hard to get rid of this doctrine, and finally to confuse election and reprobation in such a way that the Reformed view can no longer be recognized in his teachings. 

(to be continued)