In the May issue of the Reformed Journal Dr. James Daane writes an article entitled: “Reflections on Common Grace.” We enjoyed reading this article not because we agreed with its contents, but because we believe he seriously attempts to bring into discussion the doctrine of common grace which has been virtually smothered in the Christian Reformed Churches for more than 25 years, while at the same time he diligently attempts to defend this doctrine. We have respect for one who dares to take the old skeleton out of the closet, trying to put some flesh on it, giving to it the right of existence. What’s the use of having a doctrine you don’t talk and preach about?
In our opinion, however, the writer is not a little philosophical in his reasoning. He makes sweeping statements without proof from the Scripture or the Confessions, nor from the writings of others. And he understands little of the Protestant Reformed conception of the antithesis, which he criticizes, making a serious attempt to sustain the First Point of 1924 which we have called “het puntje van het eerste punt,” an Arminian doctrine, namely that part which speaks of the gospel offered to all.
We understand that Rev. Hoeksema has been asked to write on the matter of common grace in the Torch and Trumpet, another periodical published in the Christian Reformed Churches. We were told that in that article he will also reflect on Dr. Daane’s conception. So we can be brief in our remarks.
In the opening paragraphs of his article Dr. Daane writes as follows: “Since 1924 the doctrine of common grace has sailed in peaceful waters in the Christian Reformed Churches. The counter winds that blew from the Protestant Reformed Churches were not even able to ripple the waters. Now after more than a quarter of a century the climate is beginning to change. Noises of distant thunder can be heard, and rising winds can be felt moving the waters and creating new theological currents.” Here Daane refers undoubtedly to the questionings and dissatisfactions of many of his people and not least among the clergy in his churches. We too have heard rumors that many of the ministers of the Christian Reformed Church are considering it necessary to reinvestigate the decisions of 1924. But let Dr. Daane continue.
“I have often expressed the opinion that the Rev. Herman Hoeksema in his views on this matter is prematurely right, and therefore wrong. In my judgment he will be right when history ends, but not before. Not before, because while one can think abstractly, one cannot get out of history. But if this new emphasis is right, then my judgment regarding Rev. Hoeksema is wrong, and he is getting to be more right and 1924 more wrong each passing day. Presumably the margin of difference will become so small that the continued separate existences of the two denominations will not be justifiable.”
It is rather difficult to determine just what Dr. Daane means with this paragraph. In the light of a short preceding paragraph which I have omitted, it appears that though he is aware there is a “new and strange emphasis” in his churches relative to the doctrine of common grace he himself is at a loss to determine exactly what they want. He concludes that if they are right and their conception agrees with Hoeksema then he, Daane, may be wrong. But he is quite sure, at present at least, he understands Hoeksema and that Hoeksema is wrong. Accordingly Hoeksema believes in the absolute antithesis which will be realized not in time but in eternity when light and darkness will be perfectly separated. But so long as history continues there can be no absolute antithesis. Hence Hoeksema is wrong now and the Christian Reformed Churches are right. It follows too that anyone who agrees with Hoeksema must be wrong now. But Daane is not too sure of himself, and he perceives that there is possibly a chance that the difference between the element emitting a new emphasis and the conception of Hoeksema will be so little that the two will eventually come together.
The new emphasis, according to Daane, has to do with a doctrine of the absolute antithesis. And two things he has to say about this view. “First, it deals with the antithesis in the realm of the abstract, in the realm of the non-historical….Second, this non-historical approach absolutizes the absolute antethesis.” The first puts the antithesis outside of history and declares that believers and unbelievers have nothing in common. The difference between them is absolute. While the second suggests a “dualism between the two poles of the antithesis which is so deep and permanent, that there are two worlds in endless and eternal opposition.”
Daane calls this “questionable theology.” “After all God alone can create a world, and he created but one. The devil is hardly so absolute that he can create his own world. Moreover an absolutizing of the absolute antithesis constitutes a denial of the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. This version of the antithesis is defined out of reference to Christianity, which is a very historical religion.”
Daane argues that the Bible never speaks of the antithesis in the abstract, but it knows only of an antithesis in history. “In its Old Testament form it is a conflict between the pagan nations and Israel as a people of God. Neither side wins the decisive battle in the Old Testament dispensation. But when the Seed himself comes (i.e. of —M.S.) the decisive battle is pitched, and Christ emerges as the victor….Christ’s victory is decisive. The New Testament consequently speaks of good news, of the binding of Satan, of the fact that Jesus is the Lord. Yet although decisive, Christ’s victory is not complete, for the opposition is not completely crushed. The New Testament teaches concerning the Antichrists and the Antichrist is clear evidence that the victory is not yet complete….The question, therefore, is not in the first instance whether people in the New Testament times are for or against goodness, truth, or beauty, but whether they are for or against Jesus Christ…Men in the New Testament are not confronted with mere good or mere evil in general. They are confronted with the good in the form of God who is for them in the Christ of the cross. And the question is whether men are for or against God in this form, in the form expressed by the gospel.”
“In the New Testament the gospel must be preached ‘to every creature’, and to all nations. For God is for the world. God is for the world, and for the whole and only world. Therefore the gospel must be preached to, every creature and all nations.”
“This ‘being for the world’ must be defined and understood in terms of the Cross, in terms of the general offer of salvation.” “….Thus the antithesis according to the Bible is not abstract, static, absolute, or non-historical. It is rather historical; it runs through the Cross and the general offer of the gospel, and in its New Testament form is suspended by the world’s reaction to the gospel message that God is for the world in terms of the Christ of the cross.”
Dr. Daane asks the question: “What do the Church and the world, believers and unbelievers have in common?” He answers this question by saying: “The Synod of 1924 said two things regarding this question. It taught a general or common operation of the Holy Spirit….But it also said that there is a general or common offer of the gospel. With this only am I concerned here.”
“Liberalism believes neither in the antithesis nor in the ministry of reconciliation. It therefore has no message. The absolutizers of the antithesis preach the absolute antithesis and therefore have no gospel offer. But 1924 recognizes the historical character of the antithesis. It recognizes that the antithesis passes through the cross, and 1924 therefore posits a general offer of salvation. It further declared that this general offer is well-meant. It thereby declares that God is for the world in terms of the cross and in terms of the gospel as the message of the cross.”
“The proponents of the absolute version of the antithesis—at least when they are consistent—deny that the gospel is an offer to all men. And when the gospel ceases to be an offer, it becomes a mere announcement, an announcement that things are bad for the reprobate and nothing can: be done about it, and that things are well for the elect and nothing needs be done about it. But this is not the biblical idea of gospel proclamation. In the biblical idea of proclamation man is placed in a moment of serious decision, a time of crisis and judgment. For when the gospel is properly preached it is not announced that all is well, nor that all is bad, but rather that God is for the world in the Christ of the cross in such a manner that the hearer is placed before an offer and demand….Thus when 1924 taught the general offer of salvation, it on the one hand repudiated an absolutized non-historical version of the antithesis, and on the other repudiated both the position that the gospel is not an offer, and the position which reduces gospel proclamation to mere announcement.”
Daane has more to say about the stand of his churches which we cannot quote here. But he closes his article with the following observation:
“Hoeksema insists on the absolute version of the absolute antithesis and defines it non-historically in terms of the abstract and trans-historical difference between election and reprobation. He, therefore, denies common grace and the common offer of salvation. It should be added, however, that he is far too good a theologian to give it an application that speaks of two worlds in eternal and endless opposition.”
Well I’m glad he has something to say about him anyway, even though he does not agree with his doctrine of the antithesis and his denial of common grace. But maybe someday Daane will get around to really understanding Hoeksema’s doctrine of the antithesis and throw away the miserable conception of a general offer. We hope and pray that he and his colleagues will get their eyes open and give a little less time to philosophical reasoning, and a little more to sound exegesis.