Some months ago there appeared in The Banner an “Open Letter to the Christian Reformed Church” undersigned by the Faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary and its several members. Apparently this letter was motivated by concern about the image of Calvin Seminary among the Christian Reformed constituency. It alleges that “For some time now writings and rumors circulating in the church have called into question our united commitment to the Scriptures and our common loyalty to the confessional standards of our church.” And it states, further, that “increasing concern and sadness” about “the distrust, suspicion, and anxiety these writings and rumors have created” have moved them to “speak out” in this open letter.
Positively, the Seminary Faculty in this letter attempts to reassure the Christian Reformed Church that they “accept the inspired Scriptures as the infallible rule of faith and practice” and that they “endorse the Confessions to which we have in all honesty affixed our signatures.”
Negatively, they “deny and repudiate those charges and insinuations which call into question our dedication to the Lord and our commitment to Scripture and the Confessions—charges which undermine the confidence of our people in the Seminary.”
Now it is not my purpose in this editorial to call attention to the fact that this letter itself and the very fact that the Faculty apparently felt the necessity of it might be considered as face-value evidence not only of a confidence-gap and a credibility-gap, but also as evidence of reason for it. Nor do I intend to call attention to the fact that a good many items from the rather recent past might be mentioned as reasons—and not mere rumors and insinuations—for this confidence-gap. Nor will I deal at length with the fact that this confidence-gap undoubtedly extends not only to the Seminary but to the Synod which is responsible for the Seminary. I need only mention in this connection, for example, the fact that there never was any proper doctrinal resolution with respect to Professor Harold Dekker’s rank Arminianism,.’ and that the Synod is responsible for this.
What I want to emphasize, however, is the fact that a mere open letter of this kind will not be sufficient to close the confidence-gap and the credibility-gap for the discerning observer and reader. Not only is there more than one item from the past which cries out to be set straight; but also all the loud declarations of faithfulness to Scripture and the Confessions and the solemn repudiation of “charges and insinuations which call into question our dedication to the Lord and our commitment to Scripture and the Confessions”—all these will never serve to restore confidence and credibility unless the actions and expressions of the Faculty and its several members are in harmony with these assertions of faithfulness. In other words, actions speak louder than words. And it would seem to this observer, in view of certain very real past events and in view of certain current writings and expressions, that one must be either ignorant or gullible or careless in order to have his confidence restored merely by such an open letter as the Faculty published.
Of this I was recently reminded, first of all, when inCalvin College Chimes I read a report of the meeting of the Board of Trustees. It was reported that at this meeting the Seminary Faculty presented a nomination for the department of Ethics, with the expectation that the Board of Trustees would approve said nomination and submit it to the coming Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, of course. It was reported, further, that the nominees of the Faculty were Dr. Theodore Minnema, of the College, and Dr. Lewis B. Smedes, formerly of the College and now of Fuller Theological Seminary. Moreover, it was reported, though not explained, that the Board of Trustees declined to present a nomination to Synod. And there was, finally, an intimation that the President of the Seminary, Dr. John Kromminga, was dismayed at this failure on the part of the Board of Trustees.
Now it is not my purpose to enter into any possible reasons for this difference of opinion between the Trustees and the Faculty, nor to speak of the comparative merits of the two nominees.
But it struck me that here is a concrete example of the reasons for the confidence- and credibility-gap which apparently troubles the Faculty. The very fact that the Faculty can place the name of Dr. Lewis Smedes in nomination for the Chair of Ethics at the Seminary is not calculated to inspire confidence, much less to restore confidence, in the loyalties of the Faculty on the part of the discerning observer and reader. The fact that the Faculty could even nominate Dr. Smedes is no recommendation of the Faculty’s loyalty to Scripture and the Confessions.
First of all, in general, there is the fact that Dr. Smedes has long been associated with The Reformed Journal, and is, in fact, an editor of that magazine. This in itself is sufficient to indict Smedes as a liberal, and also to indict the Faculty for nominating him. In the second place, specifically The Standard Bearer has in the past called attention more than once to errant views of which Dr. Smedes has given expression.
But, in the third place, not long after the abovementioned report of the meeting of Board of Trustees appeared in Calvin College Chimes (and I believe the matter of this nomination was not reported elsewhere) Dr. Smedes broke out in print in The Reformed Journal (February, 1971) with an article entitled “A Modest Proposal To Reform The World.” Now even that very title should raise grave doubts in the mind of a Reformed man. Yet one could let this pass if a bad title were followed by a good article. But the article itself certainly would cause one to wonder how a Faculty which asserts its loyalty to Scripture and the Confessions could nominate a man who can give expression to such thoroughly un-Reformed inanities as those which appear in the said article of Dr. Smedes. Not only does one look in vain for a single distinctively Reformed note in the entire article (one hardly expects this from The Reformed Journal any longer); but it is also a fact that the article can, charitably speaking, hardly be called evangelical.
Here is just one example—and the article is replete with such expressions:
“(2) Preach Christ as the Reclaimer of Man’s Lost Humanity. Some people have given up on humanity in the name of Christ. Others have given up on Christ in the name of humanity. In the past, the two rejections have usually complemented each other and often the one has arisen in reaction to the other. Herein lies the ironic tragedy of our secular time. The way out must be that Christ is the Restorer of authentic humanity to man. Cliche? Sloganeering? Not if we take hold of it and follow it to its roots. (No, then it is modernistic jargon or gobbledygook. HCH)
“Jesus Christ came with no other purpose than to make men truly human again. He is the gospel’s answer to the question that underlies every cultural crisis: how are we to find man’s humanity in the midst of the dehumanizing of man by political, technological, and natural forces? The goal of redemption is the restoration of humanity; the work of the Spirit is humanization. Not a humanistic gospel, to be sure, but a humanizing gospel surely. The world does not need a message about a Savior who will do no more than turn us all into uptight, all-white, middle-class, comfortable champions of the law, order, and proper religion. What the world needs is the gospel of One who can restore men to total and authentic humanity—no more, no less, no other.”
Notice, please, Dr. Smedes’ emphatic and exclusive characterization of the gospel: “. . . no more, no less, no other.”
I submit that there is no similarity between Smedes’ Christ and Smedes’ gospel as here set forth and the gospel of salvation from sin and death by grace only, according to the Reformed faith.
I submit, secondly, that the Reformed allegiance of a faculty which can nominate a man from whose pen such modernistic tripe flows is—to put it mildly—suspect. Open letters cannot cover this up.
The recent question posed by Editor De Koster in The Banner may well be directed to the Faculty, I think: “WHAT FOR?”