We observed (in the December 1 issue) that at stake in the Dekker Case, according to Dr. Henry Stob, is a deep issue of theological method. We are interested in this matter, in part, because of the fact that the language of the Reformed Journal found its way into the Christian Reformed Synod’s decision in the Dekker Case in the charge of abstractness. But we have a deeper interest. In the first place, we are interested for purely theological reasons. Theological method is of the utmost importance, as is the method followed in any science. The method determines the product, the result, the conclusion of any scientific investigation. If the method is incorrect, then the conclusion will be incorrect. It is thus in theology also. Hence, any theologian, whether of high or low degree, whether professional or amateur, should have the utmost concern and should pay careful attention when matters of method are raised. For this reason I believe that responsible theology demands that the Reformed Journal, and particularly Dr. Stob, should devote more than a one-page editorial to this subject. The method should be explained; it should be justified on sound Biblical and confessional grounds; and its benefits and superiority should be clearly set forth. I respectfully suggest that theReformed Journal do this. Its readers are entitled to a complete explanation of an important matter of this kind. Moreover, the entire Reformed theological community should reap the benefits of this new method, if such there are. Perhaps, however, if the Reformed Journal cannot place such material, then Dr. Stob, as a member of the faculty, could prepare a detailed essay for theCalvin Theological Journal. At any rate, a full explication and justification of this new method is a must. And I believe that no one on this side of the Atlantic is more able to accomplish this task than Dr. Stob. In the second place, we are interested also because all of theology is involved in this method, and especially such basic truths as predestination, the atonement, and the preaching of the gospel. This is true both here and in the Netherlands, where this same new method has been, proposed and is being employed with devastating results.
Meanwhile, the Standard Bearer will continue to reflect on this matter on the basis of the data available.
Last time we saw that this new method is by its own admission and claim new.
This time we shall examine another characteristic,—or at least, a claimed characteristicm,—namely, that it is anti-abstract and anti-objective, in distinction from the old method and its product, which is said to be guilty of abstractness and objectivism.
First of all, I will show by means of quotation that this is indeed the claim of this method. All of these quotations are from Dr. Stob’s editorial in the Reformed Journal, May-June, 1967, pp. 5, 6. In the second paragraph he writes:
No one is here entitled to cast stones at any other; all of us have in the past been victimized by what increasingly appears to be an abstract and rationalistic method of doing theology; but we can ill afford now, when we are just beginning to reach out for a new and more biblically oriented method of theological understanding and construction, to arrest our advance by making pronouncements dictated by a purely objectivistic mode of thinking.
In his third paragraph Dr. Stob seems to equate this abstractness and objectivistic mode with Greek-philosophic thought:
New and responsible biblical studies have taught us to recognize that inherited Greek-philosophic modes of understanding are not suited to the Revelation given by the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and by the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As far as I am concerned, the above is a platitude, couched in very general terms, and stated without any explanation of what is meant or any proof that the old theology is guilty. Dr. Stob should explain and offer proof. Does he mean, perhaps, that it is wrong to apply logic and the laws of logic to Scripture? Or does he mean something else? Let him say.
The same is true of the generalities employed in the last statement of the same paragraph, where he seems to be trying to describe positively what he means by not being abstract and objectivistic. I would greatly appreciate a concrete, down-to-earth explanation of what the following statement really means. I have my own ideas; and. if they are correct, then this is not a good statement. Here is the statement:
We are beginning to understand that biblical truth is historical, kerygmatic, and existential, and that it exists and has meaning, not in static isolation, apart from the divinely addressed human situation, but only within the context of man’s response, only within the context of belief and unbelief.
I, for one, have always believed that biblical truth is historical. But I would surely like some definition of “kerygmatic” and “existential.” Let us take an example. Biblical truth is that Jesus is the Son of God. Does Dr. Stob mean that this truth exists and has meaning only within the context of man’s response of belief and unbelief? Is that not objective fact,—regardless whether it is believed or disbelieved? And if we deny this, do we not land squarely in relativism and subjectivism,— and, I fear, theologically in Arminian conditionalism? I would like an explanation.
My fears as to what this method implies in its claim of being anti-abstract increase when I read the next paragraph. And they increase not chiefly because of the mention of Dr. Daane, Dr. Pietersma, and Rev. J. De Moor, although the very mention of Daane and Pietersma is by this time sufficient to send theological shivers down my spine. But my fears as to this method increase because of Dr. Stob’s analysis of the dispute. Writes he:
It has become evident to many of us—the point has often been made by Dr. Daane and is currently being made by Dr. Pietersma and Rev. J. De Moor—that the present dispute revolves about a pseudo-problem, a problem stated in terms of non-biblical categories, and a problem, therefore, which cannot be solved by the biblical givens. Neither Professor Dekker nor the Committee is questioning the faith; both wish to honor the Scriptures and the Creeds. But both are caught in the toils of a method—the Committee, I’m afraid, much more than Professor Dekker—which prevents them from resolving their differences. Both, though in significantly different degrees, disengage biblical truth from the kerygmatic situation and, by abstracting it, inadvertently, and contrary to every intention, falsify it.
Now I will not enter here into the question whether either Professor Dekker or the Committee is questioning the faith, or whether both wish to honor Scripture and the Creeds. I will only suggest that it would be more correct to write that both say that they do not question the faith, and that both claim that they honor Scripture and the Creeds. The objective question whether what—they say or claim is true can only be answered by the >test of Scripture and the Confessions. In other words, in a doctrinal dispute you do not judge a man’s motives, and you do not judge on the basis of a man’s claims of loyalty to the Creeds. But you judge a man’s doctrine on the basis of Scripture and the Creeds; and if, then, such a man is truly loyal to Scripture and the Creeds, he will bow to such a judgment.
But the above is in parentheses.
The main point in the above-quoted paragraph concerns method. It is Dr. Stob’s claim that the dispute in the Dekker Case revolved about a false problem, that is, a problem stated incorrectly, stated in terms of the wrong categories, non-Biblical categories. Because this is the case, Dr. Stob claims, you cannot come up with the correct, that is, the Biblical answer, an answer solved on the basis of Biblical givens, Biblical data. Moreover, Dr. Stob seems to claim that the basic flaw in the method of both Dekker and the Committee is that they divorce the doctrinal question from the kerygmatic situation, that is (I take it), from the situation of the preaching, in which the preacher proclaims the gospel, and in which the listeners are confronted by the demand of faith and repentance, and in which there is always the two-fold response of faith or unbelief, obedience or disobedience.
Now, Dr. Stob does not elaborate further on this problem stated in terms of non-Biblical categories, nor does he state what he means by the latter, nor does he state how the problem should be couched in terms of Biblical categories. I am afraid that Dr. Stob is rather seeking to be rid of the problem, as I hope to point out later. I am afraid, too, that while he condemns both Dekker and the Committee for being abstract, Dr. Stob by a process of begging the question nevertheless arrives inevitably at Dekker’s doctrinal position. This also I will show later. But let us try to understand what he means here by non-Biblical categories. Let us apply what he says about a pseudo problem by stating the problem concretely. The one problem was about the love of God. The dispute between Prof. Dekker and the Committee may be stated as follows, leaving out of the picture now the fact that the Committee also wants to say that in a sense God loves all men:
Prof. Dekker: God loves all men, elect and reprobate, with a redemptive love.
The Committee: God does not love all men, but only the elect, with a redemptive love.
What are the non-Biblical categories here? As I understand Dr. Stob, he is claiming that categories such as “all men, elect and reprobate” and “the elect only” are non-Biblical categories, abstractions. I am confirmed in this by two items in the dispute: 1) There is running through the entire dispute, especially from such men as Daane and Boer and Pietersma (and Daane has long taken this position), a persistent denial of sovereign reprobation. 2) Dr. Stob himself, in the early part of the Dekker controversy, took the position that there is no sovereign reprobation when he denied that God hates any man. I can come to no other conclusion, therefore, than this, that to Dr. Stob categories like elect and reprobate are abstractions and must not be employed in questions such as: whom does God love? And: for whom did Christ die?
All this is confirmed by the next paragraph of Dr. Stob’s editorial. Here also he does not forthrightly state what his new method is; nor does he offer any proof that his method is the correct one or that the question which he condemns is indeed an un-Biblical question, or that the question which he proposes is indeed any more Biblical or any more helpful. But he furnishes an example. Here it is:
Take, for example, the question: Did Christ die for everybody? Consider that as an abstract question of fact, consider that as a scientific question concerning an objective state of affairs, and you have an insoluble question on your hands. If you answer Yes!, how is it then that not all men are saved? If you answer No!, how is it then that the crucified and risen Christ can be genuinely and unreservedly offered to all? (Stob means: how is it then that the crucified and risen Christ can be graciously and well-meaningly offered to all? This is his doctrine as a Christian Reformed officebearer. HCH) To avoid this impasse, to escape this cul-de-sac, we must descend from the cold heights of abstract “truth” and ask the biblical question: What is every man who hears the preached Gospel—every such man without exception—called upon to believe?
To the last question in the above paragraph Dr. Stob then gives his own answer in the following paragraph. We shall attend to that later. But what can we learn concerning his method from the paragraph just cited?
Notice the question, first of all. It is the basic question: For whom did Christ die His atoning death? There are sub-questions implied in it. They are: Did Christ die for everybody, for every man who ever was born and who yet shall be born? That is, did He die for both elect men and reprobate men? Or did Christ die only for some men, that is, the elect, while the reprobate are excluded from that atoning death? These, of course, were the questions at issue in the position of Prof. Dekker and in the position of the Committee.
Notice, in the second place, that my former philosophy professor speaks in this connection of an abstract question of fact and of a scientific (that is, theologically scientific) question concerning an objective state of affairs. I object here. My objection is, first of all, that questions of fact are per se not abstract. They are concrete. They are questions, concerning concrete events. My objection is, in the second place, that it is perfectly legitimate to ask scientific questions concerning an objective state of affairs in connection with the death of Christ; and to come up with scientific, that is, dogmatic and objective answers, statements of dogma, statements of objective doctrinal truth; in response to those questions concerning an objective state of affairs. Why? Because when Christ died His atoning death, that was—to use Stob’s language—an objective state of affairs. Something happened when Christ died. That was an actual historical event, a concrete, objective fact. What was that something? He made atonement. For whom? Not, surely, for Himself: He Himself had no debt of guilt to be expiated. He made atonement for others, either for all men or for some men, but for all those whom He represented on the cross. That happened, it was a concrete event, a fact! Christ in His atonement represented some men on the cross. It is also a perfectly legitimate question, therefore, to ask: whom did Christ represent on the cross? And it is also a perfectly legitimate question to ask: how did it come about that Christ represented some men in his atoning death? And it is also a perfectly legitimate question to ask: who decided who would be represented by Christ on the cross? I was not there, for I was born 1,900 years later. Abel was not there either: he was born about 4,000 years before. And yet I was there, and Abel was there,—representatively and judicially, just as really as though I had been nailed to the tree in person. How could that be? Who decided it? All these questions concern an objective state of affairs, and they must have objective answers. And I want to emphasize, too, that they must not have mere coldly dogmatic answers in the purely academic sense of the word. Theology and the faith are not to be separated. I personally musthave answers to these questions. They concern my faith, and they concern the faith and the confession of the church and of the saints. Dr. Stob’s fallacy, therefore, is that he wants to call abstract what is factual and concrete, and that he does not want objective questions and answers about what, in his language, was “an objective state of affairs.”
Notice, in the third place, how he arrives at this conclusion. He creates a dilemma. On the one hand, he says, you run stuck if you answer that Christ died for everybody: for then all men must be saved; but they are not all saved. On the other hand, he says, you run stuck if you answer that Christ died not for everybody: for then how can He be well-meaningly and graciously offered to all, which, according to Stob and 1924 He is? Granted Stob’s premises, this is indeed a dilemma. This is the dilemma, the insoluble question, created by 1924. It is a false dilemma: its false horn is the doctrine of the well-meant offer. Stob seeks to avoid this impasse, this cul-de-sac, by saying: we must not ask that kind of question. We must not inquire into any objective state of affairs. We must not be abstract and ask for objective answers to objective questions concerning concrete, objective, historical events.
I shall criticize this method further, and show that it is not the method of Scripture and the creeds. But, in conclusion for this time, let me point out that: 1) Dr. Stob appears to equate abstract andobjective. 2) On this basis and following this method, you will have absolutely no dogmatics left. Every objective statement concerning objective truths, events, facts, works of God, it seems to me, becomes illegitimate. And I detect that this is precisely what is happening in the Netherlands, particularly with respect to the doctrine of predestination, but also with respect to other doctrines, e.g., that of creation and the fall. With respect to the truth of predestination, its end is a neo-Arminianism or neo-universalism.