Pre-Seminary Graduation—Class of 1980
Friday, May 23, was a red letter day for our Theological School.
On that date three more young men graduated from the Pre-seminary Department of our Theological School; and this signifies that in September, the Lord willing, they will be ready to begin the last stage of their studies in preparation for the ministry of the gospel in our Protestant Reformed Churches. The young men who received their diplomas are Everett Buiter, a son of our South Holland, Illinois congregation; Barry Gritters, a son of our Redlands, California congregation; and Kenneth Hanko, a son of our Hope, Grand Rapids congregation.
In years when there are no seminary graduates—and this year there were none—we hold a scaled down pre-seminary graduation program in the school’s Assembly Room. The seminary personnel (professors and students), the Theological School Committee, and the relatives and friends of the graduates are represented at this program. Although the audience this year was rather small, we nevertheless had an enjoyable morning; and May 23 was indeed a red letter day both for the graduates and for our school. The main item on our program was an address by Prof. R. Decker; you will find a transcript of his address elsewhere in this issue.
And so we have more fruits of the pre-seminary program which was inaugurated at our school several years ago. Although the program is limited in this respect, that we ourselves cannot teach all the required subjects but must limit ourselves to those which we deem the most important, we wish to emphasize, first of all, that our pre-sem students are required to have the equivalent of a four-year college course. In the second place, we are happy to note that some of the area colleges are willing to give our students credit toward a B.A. degree for the subjects which they take at our school; and our students are finding that with very little additional work they can obtain their college degree. Increasingly our students are taking advantage of this possibility. In the third place, as faculty we continue to see the benefits of the pre-seminary program in so far as it is taught at our own school. These benefits are both academic and spiritual. Eventually, of course, it is our churches which reap these benefits.
I cannot take leave of this subject without pointing out that these three graduates of our pre-sem department will be replaced next fall by only two new pre-sem students. The need for ministers in our churches, and thus the need for new students, continues. These students must come, in the main, out of our own churches. Let our churches continue to bear this need in mind in their prayers and in their labors with the young men in our congregations. Especially would I urge young men in our churches to consider this matter prayerfully.
The Canons and Reprobation Reinterpreted (2)
(Note! At the time this is written, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church has not yet convened; and therefore there has been no decision concerning the Boer Gravamen. If a decision is reached before our publication deadline, we will try to report it in this issue. Meanwhile, we continue with our critique of the Study Report and related items.)
Last time we called attention to the fact that the Study Report makes a two-pronged attack on the Reformed doctrine of reprobation as taught by the Canons. By means of this attack they seek to take the wind out of Dr. Boer’s sails by maintaining that he has misinterpreted the Canons in his gravamen, so that the gravamen was not really necessary. Meanwhile, the Study Report—though, mind you, it has agreed almost completely with Boer’s evaluation of the Scripture passages cited by the Canons—seeks to leave the impression of agreeing with and maintaining the Canons’ teaching concerning reprobation. Actually, however, the Report puts an interpretation on the Canons which they cannot possibly bear, which, in fact, they contradict. It is safe to say that if the Study Report’s view of reprobation had been the view of our Reformed fathers in the 17th century, there would have been no Arminian controversy and no Canons. I would also guess that if various Dutch theologians read the Study Committee’s attempted reinterpretation of the Canons, the patently wrong interpretation of the Study Report must be the laughingstock of the theologians across the sea. Dr. Boer’s criticism of Canons I/6 and Canons I/15 stands directly in the line of criticisms voiced by men like Dr. Woelderink, Dr. Berkouwer, Dr. Polman, Dr. H. Ridderbos, in the line of the Brouwer Gravamen in the Gereformeerde Kerken, and in the line of the GKN decision concerning the Brouwer Gravamen. The Study Committee would not even have had to do a great amount of research to discover this—if they did not know it. This is all well documented in Klaas Runia’s section of the Reformed Fellowship’s publication, Crisis In The Reformed Churches. Nevertheless, while leaving the impression of disagreeing with the Boer Gravamen and of agreeing with the Canons, the Study Committee is in basic agreement with Dr. Boer in that both deny the Reformed doctrine of reprobation as taught by the Canons. The difference is that the Boer Gravamen is brutally frank, while the Study Report is deviously deceitful.
One prong of the Report’s attack, we saw last time, is the changing of the decree of reprobation into the doctrine of limited election.
The other prong of the attack is the changing of sovereign reprobation into a form of conditional reprobation. To this we give our attention in this essay.
Tampering With The Translation
In another connection (see previous issue) we have already made reference to the fact that the Study Committee furnishes a new translation of Canons I/6 and I/15. The committee makes a big point of this, even mentioning the fact that they have 10 pages of footnotes concerning the translation which they are willing to furnish to the advisory committee at Synod.
Now I can only guess that these must be 10 pages of learned malarkey, if you’ll pardon the expression. For the simple fact is that the original Latin of these two articles is so plain and simple that any reasonably good student with two years of high school Latin could produce a good translation of them. In fact, I find it difficult to understand how anyone could amass ten pages of notes about the translation.
But what is worse, the Study Committee very obviously tampers with the translation. Furthermore, I can only conclude that this tampering was deliberate and that it was done to suit the purposes of the committee.
The first instance of tampering involves I/6. The committee’s translation of the first part of this article is: “It is, however, due to God’s eternal decision that some are endowed with faith by him within time, and that others are not so endowed.” The Psalter Hymnal Translation (the same as that of our Psalter) is: “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree.” Now the difference in this instance is not as serious as in the second instance (see below). Nevertheless, “is due to God’s eternal decision” is not as specific as “proceeds from God’s eternal decree.” If the committee had wanted to improve the translation they would have (in agreement with the Dutch translation, which they mention and which they acknowledge has official standing) translated by “comes forth from,” which is even clearer and stronger. For the Latin is: “Quod autem aliqui in tempore fide a Deo donantur, aliqui non donantur, id ab aeterno ipsius decreto provenit. ” And the Dutch has: “Dat God sommigen in de tjd met het geloof begiftigt, sommigen niet begiftigt, komt voort uit Zijn eeuwig besluit.” It is obvious that “is due to” leaves the matter much less sharply defined—particularly with regard to unbelief—than “comes forth from.”
The second instance, involving I/15, is far more serious. It involves a deliberate tampering with the position of certain modifiers in a key sentence of this article to suit the committee’s purposes. You will recall that a distinction was made between preterition and condemnation. Preterition, passing by, the committee is willing to ascribe to God’s good pleasure. Condemnation, according to the committee, has its cause in man’s sin and unbelief. And the committee claims that this distinction is made in I/15. Now for a long time, I must confess, I puzzled over the reason for the committee’s new translation of 1115. While I saw some changes and some reason for change, I did not realize the major reason and the major change. But upon more careful study and comparison, I began to see the light. Here is the committee’s new translation of the segment of the article in question. In it I have italicized the crucial modifiers which have been moved by the committee to the wrong position:
…those, that is, concerning whom God made the following decision: to leave them, out of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves, not to endow them with saving faith and the grace of conversion, but at long last to condemn and eternally punish them (left as they have been in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief, but also for all their other sins, in order to demonstrate his justice.
And this is the decision of Reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.
Now it is plain that the words “out of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure” in the above translation apply only to the one element of God’s decision, the element of preterition, or passing by, or leaving. The quoted words are deliberately placed by the committee as a modifier of only that one element. This suits their theory, as mentioned above.
In actual fact, however, these words do not belong in this position at all. They very plainly belong with the words, “concerning whom God made the following decision.” The clause would read, in part, as follows then: “concerning whom God, out of His entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, has made the following decision.” And then would follow the three items quoted above, including the item of “but at long last to condemn and eternally punish them….” But, you see, this would not fit the committee’s theory that only preterition is according to God’s good pleasure, while the cause of condemnation is sin and unbelief.
Is there any linguistic justification for this deliberate change by the Study Committee?
The answer is: none whatsoever! This is a deliberate, totally unjustified, intellectually dishonest tampering with the translation. No ten pages of footnotes can ever justify it!
That my contention is true is plain from:
1) The accepted English translation of both the Psalter Hymnal and the Psalter. They both have: “…whom God, out of His sovereign, most just, irreprehensible, and unchangeable good pleasure, has decreed,” etc.
2) The official Dutch rendering of the Synod of Dordrecht itself: “… welke God, naar Zijn gans vrij, rechtvaardig, onberispelijk en onveranderlijk welbehagen, besloten heft….”
3) The original Latin version of the Synod of Dordrecht: “…quos, scilicet, Deus ex liberrimo, iustissimo, irreprehensibili, et immutabili beneplacito decrevit….” Again, any reasonably capable high school Latin student can see that the whole modifying phrase in question comes before the verb decrevit and after the subject Deus, and therefore cannot possibly have the position which the committee gives it in its new translation.
But this corrupted translation is the first step in the committee’s corruption of the doctrine of reprobation. They do not want a condemnation which is rooted in God’s good pleasure. They leave the impression of holding to a preterition, or passing by, which is according to God’s good pleasure; but even this they do not want, but change into a doctrine of limited election. But it is abundantly plain that they deliberately change the condemnation aspect of reprobation into a form of conditional reprobation and, at times, into a general, indefinite, and impersonal decree of condemnation.
Further Preliminary Steps
There are two more steps in the process which the committee follows in getting rid of the doctrine of reprobation while trying to leave the impression of holding to the Canons.
The first step, as we noted last time, is taken in the Study Report’s explanation of the meaning of the wordreprobation, pp. 359, 360. Here the committee refers to the distinction between preterition and condemnation in the decree of reprobation, a distinction not mentioned in the Canons but having some theological legitimacy. However, the committee fails utterly to note that by “condemnation” is meant thedecree of condemnation. Secondly, the committee fails to note that the decree to condemn some men does not have its reason in sin and unbelief, but is rather a decree to condemn some men on account of their sin and unbelief. This difference is crucial. And it is very plain from what we have written above concerning the translation of I/15 that the committee must have been aware of this crucial difference, but did not want it. But the Study Report states the following:
In I, 15, however, the phrase “and this is the decree of reprobation” ((decretum reprobationis) refers to reprobation in its broader sense, as embracing both preterition (nonelection, or passing by) with God’s good pleasure as its cause, and damnation, with man’s sin as its cause. (pp. 359,360)
In this report, whenever there is a danger of being misunderstood, we shall make clear in which sense we are using the word reprobation. In harmony with the teaching of I,6 and 1,15, however, the committee affirms that no other cause can be found for the passing by than God’s sovereign good pleasure, whereas the cause of condemnation is man’s sin and unbelief. (P. 360)
A second step in the process is the failure of the committee to deal directly and head-on with Dr. Boer’s analysis of what the Canons teach concerning reprobation. On p. 371 they call it Dr. Boer’s “official” explanation and suggest that actually Dr. Boer criticizes various ancillary teachings which he ascribes to the Canons. This analysis of the Canons by Boer contains four elements: “a. a divine decree; b. which has been made in eternity; c. which condemns a segment of mankind to eternal death; d. and which is characterized by distinctly positive as well as negative actions on God’s part.” Now I have stated repeatedly that this is the fundamental issue in the gravamen, and that Boer correctly analyzes the doctrine of reprobation here. The choice of language would not be mine. Nor, of course, do I agree with the inferences which Boer draws from this doctrine. But his analysis is basically correct. However, the committee at no point dealsdirectly with this analysis by Boer. Meanwhile, the committee hedges and evades the issue, but nevertheless makes it plain that Boer’s analysis of the Canons is not theirs. Rather do they reinterpret the Canons to teach exactly what they do not teach. In fact, it is safe to say that if the committee’s view on the matter of reprobation had been held by the fathers of Dordt, there never would have been an Arminian controversy and never would have been any Canons.
Direct Statements Of The Study Report
The following are statements made by the Study Report concerning this subject of the condemnation- aspect of reprobation. For the most part, I need add no comments. For the most part, too, they are statements with which any Arminian would be in fundamental agreement; the most significant difference is that a genuine Arminian teaches that the only sin for which a man can be condemned and go lost is the sin of unbelief.
—p. 362: There is an eternal decree on God’s part to the effect that he who sins shall perish, unless in some way the sentence of condemnation shall be lifted from him on the basis of something which exculpates him (Article 1 of the Second Head). In Article 15 of the First Head it is apparent that this decree of condemnation is included in what is called the decree of reprobation….
—p. 364: Does Dort teach that before the existence of human beings, thus before they have done anything, God consigns some to destruction wholly apart from what they may do? Or, alternatively, does Dort teach that God decides to make some people perform the sins for which he subsequently punishes them? Worse yet, does Dort teach that God creates some people forthe purpose of consigning them to destruction? To each of these questions the answer is most emphatically, “No.”
—p. 364: So can we then say that God rejects those who reject him? Most emphatically we can. What Dort wishes to emphasize, however, is that God does not reject all who reject Him. Some who reject Him He decides nonetheless to choose as recipients for the gift of faith, and thus, for salvation….
—p. 365: In the body of the Canons it is taught that God has not created anyone for the purpose of damnation. Damnation is a response to the evil the “reprobates” do, of which God is not the cause.
—p. 373: We have seen that the Canons speak ambiguously in their reference to a decree of reprobation. In I,6 it seems clear that reprobation is simply passing by: From eternity God has decided to elect some but not all to faith. In 1,15, by contrast, what is called “reprobation” includes the sentence of condemnation: From eternity God has decided that he who sins shall perish unless his sins are atoned for and forgiven.
—p. 373: Our question now is this: Does Boer hold that there is no decision of God from eternity to grant the gift of faith to some but not to all, and is this at the bottom of his protest? Alternatively, does he hold that there is no decision of God from eternity that he who sins shall perish unless his sins are atoned for and forgiven, and is this at the bottom of his protest? (Note: I consider these questions facetious. If either of the above were the teaching of the Canons, I submit that Boer’s Gravamen would never have seen the light of day. HCH)
—p. 385: Election is the decree which bestows the gift of God’s free grace, but the “just severity of reprobation” is the result of man’s own sin, not the result of a decree of God.
—p. 396: The other aspect of the doctrine (of reprobation, HCH), understood in its broader sense, is commonly called condemnation—that is, that God condemns and punishes forever all those who remain in their sin and unbelief. Your committee not only believes that, according to Scripture, God will condemn such people; it also believes that God has decided from eternity, or, to use a biblical phrase, from before the foundation of the world, to condemn such people. The basis for that condemnation, however, is to be found solely in the persistent unbelief and sin of those so condemned.
The above quotations are only a few of many which could be made, but they will suffice to give you the flavor of the report.
What is at the root of this evident inability and unwillingness of the Study Committee to maintain and defend the Canons and to refute the Boer Gravamen?
The answer is: 1924!
Although it is mentioned almost in passing and only a couple of times, the specter of the First Point of 1924 and its “well-meant offer” looms in the background of this entire report. What was implicitly denied in 1924 is now explicitly denied, both by Dr. Boer and by the Study Committee. Neither wants the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. Again, however, if I had to choose, I would choose Boer’s position: he is forthright to the point of bluntness. The Study Committee puts on a show of adhering to the Canons, and its position is for that reason deceitful.
Christian Reformed Reactions to the Study Report on the Boer Gravamen
As noted earlier, this is written before the Christian Reformed Synod convenes, and thus before there is any decision concerning the Boer Gravamen. At this writing, however, it almost seems as though there might be but little disagreement at the Synod concerning the Study Report. Conceivably Dr. Boer and those who agree with him might disagree with the Study Report; then again, however, he might swallow his disagreement, on the basis that the Study Reportessentially agrees with his position and denies sovereign reprobation. Thus far, I have read no fundamentally negative reactions to the report.
First of all, Editor Peter De Jong (The Outlook, June, 1980, p. 9) expresses approval of the Study Report. If this is representative of the “conservative” attitude in the CRC, the cause of the doctrine of sovereign reprobation (and with it, sovereign election) is a lost cause in the CRC. Here is what Rev. De Jong writes:
…The committee points out that the Canons do not teach what Dr. Boer misrepresents them as teaching, that the doctrine of reprobation is a decree which makes God the cause of man’s unbelief and which condemns men without merit or demerit on their part. Therefore it recommends that the synod do not accede to Dr. Boer’s request to take this doctrine out of the creed or make it non-binding. The committee’s case is in general competently argued and its conclusion invites approval. (italics added)
Editor De Jong has more remarks on this subject, but the above quoted comments obviously express his basic (and favorable) evaluation.
The same issue of The Outlook, p. 24, contains a notice and summary of a pamphlet by Dr. Edwin H. Palmer, Twelve Theses On Reprobation. Proposition No. 6 of this pamphlet is very telling: “Reprobation as preterition is unconditional and as condemnation is conditional. ” (italics added) This is evidently in agreement with the position of the Study Report, therefore.
A third reaction may be found in the editorial columns of The Banner, May 30, 1980, p. 7. The author is Dr. James A. DeJong of Dordt College, but the article is placed with evident approval by Dr. De Koster, Editor of The Banner. This article is too long to quote here, but it is high in its praise of the Study Report.
Finally, we mention the fact that in “Voices,” (The Banner, June 6, 1980, pp. 24, 25) there appears a reaction from Dr. Boer. He does not comment on the contents of the Study Report, but proposes that it would be proper to submit the Study Report to the Churches for study and evaluation, and that synodical action be deferred until 1981. Who knows? Perhaps that will be the direction the Christian Reformed Synod will follow. Time will tell.
Whatever happens, however, the doctrine of sovereign reprobation is a lost cause in the CRC.