Last time we discussed this subject, attention was called to the fact that the “method of doing theology” proposed by Dr. Henry Stob in the course of his criticism of the Doctrinal Committee especially, but also of Prof. Dekker, isrationalistic. This, we found, was the more striking in the light of the fact that Dr. Stob complains that the old method of doing theology is abstract and rationalistic.
Sound theology, I emphasized, is always rational, that is, reasonable. But to be rationalistic is something different. Rationalism makes human reason, the human mind,—and that is always thesinful human mind,—the court of appeal, the authority, in forming a theology and in determining whether that theology is good or bad, sound or unsound, true or false. To be rationalistic, therefore, is bad; and to call a method rationalistic is to call it by a bad name. I am sure that Dr. Stob will agree with me on that point. He certainly did not mean to say something favorable about the old method of theology when he wrote “all of us have in the past been victimized by what increasingly appears to be an abstract and rationalistic method of doing theology” (italics added). And I certainly do not intend to say something favorable about the allegedly new method of theology when I call it rationalistic. Theology must not be rationalistic, but Biblical, that is, exegetically arrived at. I would expect that Dr. Stob would agree with me on this also.
I have already pointed out that Dr. Stob’s entire method of getting rid of the question, “Did Christ die for everybody?” is rationalistic, as also that his method of simply introducing a new question, which he calls biblical, but which he does not prove to be a biblical question, is rationalistic.
Let me emphasize, however, that the question posed by Dr. Stob is in itself a perfectly good and legitimate question. In itself, it is certainly legitimate and Biblical to ask the question: what is every man who hears the preached Gospel—every such man without exception—called upon to believe? Moreover, this question can certainly be given a Biblical answer also; and it must be given a Biblical answer by responsible theology. This is not the point in dispute. What is wrong about Dr. Stob’s method is the way in which he raises this question and the context in which he raises it and the purpose for which he raises it. On these counts Dr. Stob, I contend, is guilty of rationalism.
When it comes to the answer to this question, however, Dr. Stob leaves absolutely no doubt as to the rationalism of his method.
Let me quote that answer in full, so that all may be able to follow the discussion:
What he is called upon to believe is obvious. He is called upon to believe that God loves him with a redemptive love (the same love by which the elect are effectively redeemed—the divine agape), and he is called upon to believe that Christ died for him. By what kind of faith, other than this kind of faith, can anybody be saved? And is not this faith demanded of all? Even he who does not believe, even he who because of his non-repentance and unbelief never shares in the salvation wrought by Christ, even he is called upon in the moment of Gospel proclamation to believe that he is beloved of God and that Christ paid for all his sins. What else is the good news that comes to him but this? And what besides the divinely founded and authorized “good news” is man—every man—required to believe, accept, endorse, commit himself to? And what, when one is a biblically defined Unbeliever, does one disbelieve except’ “good news”? And whom does a man reject when he rejects the Christ except the mediating, the atoning, the reconciling Christ? Whom does he reject other than precisely the Redeemer?
We are interested in the above answer, remember, from the point of view of method.
And as far as method is concerned, this answer of Dr. Stob to his own question is an example of thoroughgoing rationalism.
Notice, in the first place, that there is not the slightest attempt in the above paragraph to offer proof from the confessions. I believe that one has a right to expect such confessional proof from a Reformed man, from a man who is committed to the Reformed creeds. To a Reformed man those confessions are the systematic expression and formulation of the truths of Scripture. A Reformed man goes on the assumption that the doctrine of our confessions is the truth of Scripture until it has been demonstrated that there is conflict between Scripture and the confessions. To follow the teaching of the confessions, therefore, is a good safeguard against rationalism. And one may at least expect that a Reformed man will make an appeal to the very creeds which he believes to be the expression of the truth of the Word of God when he wants to make a pronouncement upon an important question like, “What is the gospel? What must a man who hears the preached gospel believe?” One may expect of a Reformed man that he will prove his doctrinal pronouncements by saying, “This is what our creeds teach. This is the teaching of article so-and-so.” Does Dr. Stob do this? Not with so much as a word. And the reason, I assure you, is that he cannot do this because his doctrine in this paragraph is contrary to the confessions.
Notice, in the second place, that there is in Dr. Stob’s answer not the slightest attempt to show that what he writes is the direct teaching of Scripture. An appeal to the creeds is becoming odious in our day, and by many it is considered outdated. Let that be. May not one expect that an appeal will be made to Scripture itself when answering such an important question as, “What must a man believe?” Even if I grant that Dr. Stob considers his answer to be Biblical, may I not expect that he will articulate, that he will make explicit, the Biblicalness of his answer? When a theologian says of other theologians (in this case, both the Doctrinal Committee and Prof. Dekker) that they ask the wrong questions and therefore cannot arrive at the correct answers, when he charges that they are talking in terms of non-biblical categories, when he makes the claim of reaching out for “a new and more biblically oriented method of theological understanding and construction,” (italics mine), and when then be is going to answer an important theological question,—then, I say, one may expect at least an attempt to show that the answer is indeed Biblical and that it has been reached by a more biblically oriented method of theological understanding. Yet in this entire paragraph there is not a single reference to Scripture, nor a single quotation from Holy Writ, let alone a solitary bit of exegesis! I find it impossible to believe that this method of theology lives up to its own claim of being “more biblically oriented.” On the contrary, if this bit of Stob’s theology is an example of the new theology, I find here every evidence of rationalism. Moreover, I make bold to say that what Dr. Stob here writes cannot be shown to be Scripture’s teaching.
In the third place, and positively, notice that the method followed here is not only non-confessional and non-Biblical, but that it is entirely an appeal to reason. Dr. Stob appeals to the obviousness of what a man must believe. He claims that it is “obvious” that a man is called upon to believe “that God loves him with a redemptive love” and “that Christ died for him.” Mark you well, he does not say,—and as I read him, he does not intend to say,—that this is obvious, i.e., plain, from Scripture. Nor does he even attempt to show this. It almost sounds as though he means to say: “This is self-evident. Anyone can see this.” But then, in an attempt to bolster this claim, he reasons. He asks several rhetorical questions, questions to which the answers are supposed to be plain. Then he again makes a claim that even the man who goes lost must believe that he is beloved of God and that Christ paid .for all his sins. And he follows this again-by several rhetorical questions which are supposed to support his claim. This, to me, is precisely the rationalism which Dr. Stob condemns in the old theology. It is a reasoning apart from Scripture. It is not Biblically oriented. It claims to view Biblical truth from the viewpoint of the kerygmatic situation (the preaching situation). But instead of disengaging Biblical truth from the kerygmatic situation (as Stob charges that both the committee and Prof. Dekker do), it appears to me that he disengages the kerygmatic situation from Biblical truth.
But even as rationalism, this answer of Dr. Stob is a very poor brand of rationalism. For it is guilty of a logical fallacy which no true rationalist ought to make, the fallacy of begging the question, that is, of assuming what ought to be proved.
Notice, in the first place, that when Dr. Stob criticizes both Prof. Dekker and the Doctrinal Committee, he rules out as insoluble the question, “Did Christ die for everybody?” In other words, we cannot answer this question, according to Stob. We can say neither that Christ died only for the elect nor that Christ died for all men. Hence, we must not ask such questions as, Whom does God love? and, For whom did Christ die?
Yet, in the second place, when Dr. Stob goes about answering his own question, “What is every man who hears the preached Gospel called upon to believe?” he exactly gives to that Gospel the very objective content which he says we may not give to it. And he does it by way of an assumption, by begging the question. For what, according to Dr. Stob, is every man who comes under the preaching called upon to believe? He must believe two objective facts: 1) that God loves him with a redemptive love; and, 2) that Christ died for him. These two items, then, according to Stob, constitute the preached Gospel which every man must believe. In other words, the preacher may and must say to every man: “God loves you with a redemptive love. Believe that. And Christ died for you. Believe that.” Now, certainly, Dr. Stob will agree with me that a preacher of the Gospel must not lie. He must speak the truth when he preaches the Gospel. Hence, if the preacher must say the above to every man, and if he must speak the truth and demand of every man to believe, of course, what is true,—then it follows with undeniable logic that (on Stob’s basis, not mine) it must be an objective fact, an objective state of affairs, that God loves every man and Christ died for every man.
And thus Dr. Stob is right back at the position which he originally ruled out; but he has reached that position merely through an assumption, through a begging of the question with respect to the most fundamental proposition in his entire position as stated in the paragraph quoted.
That this is Dr. Stob’s position is abundantly plain from what he writes about the man who goes lost: “even he is called upon in the moment of Gospel proclamation to believe that he is beloved of God and that Christ paid for all his sins.” And then Stob adds: “What else is the good news that comes to him but this?” It is plain from these two statements that the good news (gospel) is good news also to the reprobate, to him who “never shares in the salvation wrought by Christ,” that this good news is “this,” that he is beloved of God and that Christ paid for all his sins.
And it is no great wonder that Dr. Stob then goes on to say in his next paragraph: “It is this, I am sure, that Professor Dekker wished to say, and did in fact say, in the article he published in December of 1962.” I am constrained to say: “Yes, of course, Dr. Stob. But why go the long way around in order to express your agreement with Prof. Dekker? It would have been much simpler to express that agreement directly. And it would have been far easier to understand if you had simply stated from the outset: Prof. Dekker is right, and the Doctrinal Committee is wrong.”
Nor is either Dr. Stob’s method or the product of that method anything new. It is the same old Arminian argumentation that the foes of the Reformed Faith followed at the time of the Synod of Dordrecht. And it is the same basic Arminianism that underlies the First Point of 1924. It is this: 1. You cannot have general, or promiscuous, preaching without a gospel that is grace for all who hear it. 2. The reason for statement No. 1 is that you cannot demand (or rather: God cannot demand) faith and repentance of anyone for whom He does not provide salvation. If a man does not even have a chance to be saved, he cannot be condemned for his unbelief and impenitence. 3. And you cannot preach a gospel for all unless God actually loves all and Christ actually died for all.
The third of the above propositions was not stated in 1924. But it was implicit in 1924. And it only remained for Prof. Dekker to express it and for Dr. Stob to agree with it.
But there is nothing basically new about this theology.
Nor is there basically anything new about Dr. Stob’s method of agreeing with this theology. Perhaps the most that can be said is that his is the old rationalism dressed in a new and more deceptive garb.
At the conclusion of this series about the new theological method, permit me to tie this discussion in with our discussion of the synodical decision in the Dekker Case. It was the latter which led to our investigation of this method: for the Synod called Prof. Dekker’s statementsabstract. From our lengthy study of the origin and meaning of this term, it ought to be evident:
1) That while Synod did not define its own termabstract, nor state that they meant by it what Dr. Stob means by it, nevertheless the Synod adopted terminology employed by the liberal wing in the Christian Reformed Church, that wing which advocates a new theology and a new theological method. Again, although the termabstract was left undefined, and although very likely many delegates did not realize what they were doing when they accepted this term, nevertheless in this very term the advocates of the new theology at least succeeded in getting their foot in the ecclesiastical door.
2) That while the synodical decision sounds rather mildly condemnatory of Professor Dekker’s language or manner of expression, an analysis of both the theology and the method of the “anti-abstract” theologians shows that they are quite in agreement with Prof. Dekker’s position. Be it in a left-handed way, essentially Synod upheld Prof. Dekker. They did not condemn his doctrine. They did not even condemn his method. They expressed some mild disapproval of the way in which Dekker expressed himself. And in doing so, the Synod adopted the very terminology of those theologians who are in essential agreement with Prof. Dekker. Incidentally, perhaps this explains in part Prof. Dekker’s willingness to accept this mild condemnation. It certainly explains Dr. Stob’s satisfaction with the synodical decision. Remember his miracle? Actually, of course, Synod should have followed this “miracle” with another one: they should, according to Dr. Stob, have condemned the Doctrinal Committee for being even more abstract than Prof. Dekker. But perhaps this was too great a miracle even for Dr. Stob to expect.
3) That the deeper implications of the synodical decision are of even more importance. In this termabstract the entire, far-reaching issue of the so-called new theology is at stake. This concerns not only the specific issues of the Dekker Case, but all of Reformed theology. There seem to be some in the Christian Reformed Church who see some of the dangers of this new theology and who are very critical of what is taking place in the Netherlands, critical especially of Dr. Berkouwer, who probably may be called the father of this new theology. Perhaps these critics intend indirectly to criticize the followers of Berkouwer in their own denomination. If so, they should cease their indirectness, and should train their sights on targets nearer home. Besides, journalistic criticism is not sufficient; there must be ecclesiastical action.
On my part, however, I believe that the battle was lost in August of 1967; and I see no indication that the clock can be or will be turned back.