It is rather ironic, I think, that in the current discussion of reprobation in the Christian Reformed Church the late Herman Hoeksema and his view of predestination functions as a kind of catalyst. After all, for by far the greater part of his career Herman Hoeksema was not Christian Reformed. And the reason why he was not Christian Reformed was certainly closely connected with his view of sovereign predestination, and more specifically with his view of sovereign reprobation. Yet in the current discussion of reprobation in connection with the Boer Gravamen against the Canons of Dordrecht, both from the left and from the right there is reaction against Hoeksema’s view in the form of an attempt on the part of both to put distance between their views and that of Hoeksema. From the left—and we have grown to expect this of him—this effort is made by Dr. James Daane. But now also from the right we observe a similar phenomenon: while they seem to wish to hold on to a kind of reprobation, they do not want those on the left to impute to them Hoeksema’s view of predestination. A recent article by Dr. Fred Klooster in The Banner is an example of this (see below).
Strange, is it not?
And yet it is not so strange after all. We saw something of the same phenomenon during the 1960s in the so-called Dekker Case, concerning limited atonement versus universal atonement and particular love versus universal love. Both in writing and-in the synodical debate, as I recall, there was repeated reference to 1924 and the debate concerning common grace and the well-meant offer of salvation. From the left again it was recognized that Herman Hoeksema represented consistently the Reformed view, and the left really completely disavowed particular love, particular atonement, and—already then—sovereign reprobation. But it was almost amusing how from the right men strove, while they were struggling somehow to maintain limited atonement, to put distance between themselves and Hoeksema and to maintain the First Point of 1924. Now again, although there has not been much direct reference to the common grace controversy, there is repeated reference to Herman Hoeksema’s (alleged) views. All of this serves to point up again the crucial importance of 1924 and its doctrinal deliverances.
Meanwhile, though there is considerable paper and ink expended in a discussion of the doctrine of reprobation, thus far no one has addressed the crucial subject of Harry Boer’s complaint against the Canons, the subject of the Scriptural proof for reprobation and the exegesis of the texts cited by the Canons.
In two successive issues of The Banner (Nov. 9, pp. 9, 10; Nov. 16, pp. 16, 17) Dr. Daane presents some reflections on an earlier article by the Rev. Jelle Tuininga on “Boer and Reprobation.” As usual, Daane cannot refrain from referring to the views of Herman Hoeksema. However—also as usual—Dr. Daane misrepresents the views of Herman Hoeksema and presents instead a caricature. This is not only a very serious wrong on Daane’s part, but it also very seriously weakens his case against so-called decretal theology. Daane sets up straw men and then proceeds to take potshots at them, meanwhile imagining that he is shooting down true, Reformed, decretal theology. In so doing, Dr. Daane misleads many readers who accept as gospel truth what he writes about Hoeksema and other Reformed theologians without checking up on Daane’s accuracy. I have written about this before, both in these columns and in ourProtestant Reformed Theological Journal. This is a very serious breach of ethics on Daane’s part, and I admonish him that he ought to repent of this!
Daane claims to have an aversion for decretal theology “because ‘decretal theology’ is not the innocent term many people think it is. It does not merely indicate a theology that acknowledges and has room for God’s decree. It refers to an unacceptable theology of such a decree.” He then refers to Herman Hoeksema’s theology as follows:
To illustrate: the late Herman Hoeksema used to say “our God is an electing God.” That sounds innocent enough, for God does indeed elect. But what Hoeksema meant by that statement was that God elects—and no less reprobates—because it belongs to His very nature or essence to do so. God must elect and reprobate; His very nature requires Him to do both. What God does in electing and reprobating is dictated by His nature. Indeed, Hoeksema contended that God cannot elect to save some people unless He also reprobates others. God’s nature determines that both occur.
In this view, Hoeksema was only reflecting the view of Francis Turretin, the best-honed theologian of seventeenth-century Reformed scholasticism. Turretin heartily endorsed decretal theology. He contended that God’s decree is God. God, in Turretin’s theology, does not have a decree but He is His decree. God’s decree is what God’s essence necessarily wills; it is the volitional expression of the divine essence. Thus both the fact of the decree and the content of it (which is said to govern everything that happens) could not be other than it is. Our world is thus the best possible world, being the necessary and unavoidable determination of that divine decree that is, in the strictest sense, an essential element of God Himself.
At this point Daane accuses Louis Berkhof of teaching the same thing: “He does not explicitly say God’s decree is God’s essence, but he implicitly says the same thing when he attributes divine attributes to the decree. He says, for example, that in the strict senseGod’s eternality characterizes the divine decree.”
Now all of this is rather amazing. One begins to wonder sometimes whether Daane has ever carefully read the theologians whom he is so free to criticize, or whether he simply sucks things out of his thumb. One also begins to have increasing doubts as to Daane’s orthodoxy with respect to any aspect of God’s decree whatsoever. Is it now also wrong to attribute eternality to God’s decree? Then I submit that Daane plainly does not agree with the Reformed doctrine of election any more than with the Reformed doctrine of reprobation—just as I have suspected and maintained for a long time. And then he had better submit some more gravamina: for the Canons speak of an eternal decree and an eternal election.
But let us consider specifically his misrepresentation of Hoeksema.
1. Daane claims that “the late Herman Hoeksema used to say ‘our God is an electing God.'” I ask: when and where? That statement itself can be understood in a perfectly sound sense, of course. But Daane should not be so loose with his quotation marks. I dare say that I have heard more of Herman Hoeksema’s sermons and lectures than Daane has heard (and he did hear a few in his day). I dare say, too, that I am rather thoroughly acquainted with Herman Hoeksema’s writings. But frankly, I cannot recall the statement Daane puts in quotation marks. I heard and read such statements as, “The decree of God is the decreeing God,” or, “The counsel of God is the counseling God,”—statements made by many a Reformed theologian. But let Dr. Daane cite chapter and verse. Otherwise let him keep such statements in his pen.
2. And what about Daane’s serious contention that Hoeksema meant by the above statement and that he taught (as also allegedly Turretin did) that God’s decree belongs to His very nature or essence? The truth of the matter is that Hoeksema contradicts this very idea so often that I had no difficulty turning to hisReformed Dogmatics off-hand and finding a passage in which he contradicted it. On pages 86 and 87 (the very chapter “On The Nature Of God”) he is discussing a distinction made by theologians between the “necessary or natural knowledge of God (cognitio Dei naturalis or necessaria)” and the “free knowledge of God (cognitio Dei libera or visionis).” After discussing a further distinction ascribed to Abraham Kuyper, he writes as follows:
This distinction has its merits within certain limits, in so far, namely, as it presents the knowledge of God concerning all things outside of Himself as the result of a sovereign determination of His will. Even as the world does not necessarily and pantheistically emanate from God’s essence, so the knowledge of God’s decree is not inevitable effluence of His Self-knowledge and Self-consciousness, but the result of a sovereign determination of His mind and will. It is, therefore, scientia Zibera (free knowledge, HCH). And, on the other hand, the knowledge God has of Himself is not in the same sense determined by His will, but is spontaneously given with His essence, and is, therefore, in this sense necessaria. However, it may be well to add that in another sense the scientia necessaria or naturalis (necessary or natural knowledge, HCH) is also Zibera (free) in the highest sense of the word: for God wills to know Himself as the Triune God, and with perfect and infinite delight the Father gives life to and objectifies Himself in the Son, the Son wills to be generated by the Father, and the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. There is no other necessity in God than that which flows from His own infinitely perfect Being; and that necessity is freedom in the absolute sense of the word. God’s will and His Being are one. And, on the other hand, even though the decree of God is absolutely sovereign, and although in the abstract it may be granted that God could have determined upon an infinite number of other universes, nor did He by reason of necessity or need determine upon any world at all, yet, the world as decreed is nevertheless the full and bigbest revelation of Himself, and His decree is characterized by highest wisdom. Moreover, it must never be forgotten that the decree of God is eternal, and that decretum Dei est Deus decernens (the decree of God is the decreeing God, HCH). God is eternally a decreeing God. Although, therefore, the decree is the free determination of His mind and will, God can never be conceived without His decree; and in this sense the scientia or cognitio Zibera (free knowledge) is also necessaria, this time with a necessity that flows from the perfection of His own will.
Plainly, Hoeksema here teaches exactly the opposite of what Daane imputes to him. I don’t have the time to check up on Turretin, but I would dare guess that Daane misrepresents Turretin in the same way as he does Hoeksema. And if Daane’s grounds are the same as those which he uses to indict Berkhof, then there is certainly not a Reformed theologian of note who could not be similarly accused.
Plainly, however, soundly Reformed theology has become so utterly foreign to Dr. Daane that he cannot even fairly represent those whom he attacks. And sometimes I begin to doubt whether Daane understands his own theology.