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Impressions of Singapore (3)

When I face the question in this third installment on this subject what are my impressions of the group of young saints which has been gathered under the preaching and instruction of our missionary in singapore, the group known as the GLTS, a veritable flood of memories comes back to me; andthe impressions crowding my mind vie for expression. That was the situation last July when we were privileged to have fellowship with the saints there. And though I had thought that perhaps this would change somewhat, so that a few main impressions would stay with me and in a rather orderly fashion, this has really not changed. Hence, I will try to present a few of these impressions in a more or less random fashion, rather than in any order of priority. 

Certainly, one inescapable impression I received was that of a tremendous dedication, enthusiasm, and interest on the part of these young converts to the Christian faith. The faith of the gospel of Jesus Christ has become the most important, the central, item in their life. This is evident in many ways. It is evident from the seemingly insatiable appetite for the Word of God and for instruction and discussion centered on the truth both in their numerous meetings, on the Lord’s day and during the week, and in private and personal contacts. It is evident from their willingness to come from various quarters of the city in spite of distance and inconvenience of travel and to return home often late at night. It is evident from their many efforts in various ways to labor for the spread of the gospel and to share their new found faith with others. It is evident from their careful attention to the preaching of the Word and to instruction by means of lectures and in various classes. It is evident from their testing of things by the standard of the Scriptures and from their intelligent questions concerning the truth. 

And let me stress the fact that they are not merely interested in the Christian faith in a kind of vague and general sense, but in the Reformed faith as we know and preach and teach it. Before we left Grand Rapids last June, the Rev. den Hartog had written me in behalf of the GLTS to invite me to deliver a series of three lectures on the general subject, “The Reformation and the Five Points of Calvinism.” He stressed in his letter the fact that this idea had originated not with him but with the young people of the GLTS. Frankly, I was rather flabbergasted at the choice of subject. But when we arrived in Singapore, I learned that the meetings were to be held on three successive evenings, that they had obtained the use of the Life Church for these lectures, and that they had expended much effort in publicizing the meetings. So on the three successive hot and humid evenings (It’s always that way in Singapore—the kind of weather in which we would not knowingly schedule special week-night meetings.) we had gatherings of approximately 200—with the audience growing each evening rather than declining. The evening programs were well organized and capably chaired by brother Ong Keng Ho. A book stall was set up outside the church building, and Reformed literature was made available. After the conclusion of the formal meetings—and I lectured each time for a good hour—the evening was informally prolonged in and near the auditorium to a two or two-and-a-half hour evening. Visitors had to be approached. There were questions to ask. There were informal groups engaged in conversation. Sometimes it seemed well-nigh impossible to bring the evening to a close and to go back to the pastor’s apartment. That took care of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings. On one of those evenings Pastor den Hartog could not even be present, due to the fact that he was starting a class for new converts in the Pacific Mansion apartment complex. On another evening he still had a pastoral call to make after the lecture. 

But on Saturday afternoon there had to be another gathering. Can you imagine Saturday afternoon meetings here at home? This time the occasion was a question hour at the GLTS meeting place. I should say: a question two hours! For we simply had to end the meeting after a couple hours, finished or not. And there was a goodly number of young people present, too! 

Sunday is simply unspeakably busy, from 8:30 in the morning until late in the evening. My only duty on the Sunday we spent in Singapore was to substitute in the pulpit for Pastor den Hartog. But the pastor simply seems to go from one class to another meeting all day long, with hardly time for a bite to eat and no time for his family. While there is no opportunity for an evening service at the kampong meeting place, there is a tape ministry at two locations (one of them the pastor’s apartment) which goes on informally into the advanced evening hours. But again I want to stress that there is a vital interest in the Reformed faith and a marked receptivity for Reformed-Protestant Reformed-preaching of the Word. While I was warned at my lectures to make things as simple as possible and to explain theological terms carefully—for the sake of visitors rather than for the sake of the GLTS—I found on Sunday that I could preach the Word to the young people of the GLTS for the most part just as I would preach at home. And in the tape ministry on Sunday evenings, too, it is tapes from our home churches that are used: for example, we heard Professor Decker onPsalm 73:24

This, I trust, will help to give you somewhat of a picture of the situation there. To me it was thrilling, and a cause of deep gratitude to our God. 

Another impression I received was that there is a real striving on the part of these young saints to walk in sanctification of life. Admittedly, of course, there was not a long time for me to observe this. But we did have considerable contact and conversation with a considerable number of the young people themselves, so that we had no little opportunity to observe their conduct, to learn something from them about their lives, and to observe their peculiar problems and attitudes. Besides, in our conversations with the den Hartogs we also had much opportunity to hear from them about these same matters. And what we observed and heard was gratifying in this regard. Singapore is, of course, a large, highly civilized, and thoroughly worldly city, with all the attendant problems and temptations of life in any large metropolis. Besides, of course, there is the additional complication that it is not even in any remotely nominal sense a Christian environment in which you live in such a city as Singapore. These young people go to school and work and live, in other words, in a thoroughly worldly environment with, as I said, the added problem of the various manifestations of heathendom and its idols and superstitions. Especially the latter, you must remember, are very real. And the young people themselves have not only been called out of the darkness of heathendom, but to no little degree in their homes and in their daily life are still confronted by outright hostility from heathen families and acquaintances and daily contacts. But they take their Christian calling seriously, stand up for what they believe, and strive to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. In this regard they are also very supportive of one another, both in their individual contacts and relationships and in their weekly prayer meetings. (to be continued)

The GKN on the Nature of the Authority of Scripture

Thus far in our treatment of this significant Report/ Decision of the Dutch churches, in which, in our opinion, the entire doctrine of the authority of Scripture is sacrificed on the altar of a new/old liberal theology, so that the whole foundation of our Reformed confession of faith is undermined and destroyed, we have devoted our attention to the crucial introductory chapter. We have seen especially two things. In the first place, the very approach, of the Report is dead wrong. It is the approach of philosophy and rationalism, rather than the approach of Scripture and the confessions. It turns to philosophy and current philosophical thought, considers various conceptions of “truth” which have been held, sets forth that today the current conception of “truth” is the so-called relational view, and then applies this to Scripture and to revelation and inspiration. In the second place, we have seen how this so-called relational view of truth is nothing but a new form of subjectivism and relativism, and how, when this is applied to the ideas of Scripture, revelation, and inspiration, it results in a complete destruction of all that the Reformed faith has ever stood for with respect to the doctrine of Scripture. 

Now we could continue with this first chapter of the Report, and detailedly enter into the remainder of it. But this would really shed no new light and would probably serve at the same time to weary and confuse the reader. 

We therefore turn next to the second and third chapters of the Report/Decision. 

Chapters 2 and 3 of the Report are closely related and both are more or less historical in nature. Chapter 2 furnishes an over-view of the history and development of higher criticism. But it does not refer to it as higher criticism, but rather to “Historical-Critical Investigation (or: Research) of the Bible.” Without going into detail about the contents of this chapter, let me point out that on the whole this chapter does present a rather accurate and factual account of the development of Bible-criticism and the various kinds, or schools, of criticism which have arisen over the centuries, taking the reader up to the Form-Historical criticism of Bultmann. And while I do not have any criticism of the historical accuracy of this chapter, this does not mean I have no criticism of it whatsoever. About that later. 

The third chapter offers a study of “The Developments of the Views of Scripture in the History of the GKN.” As might be expected, in the first place, this chapter devotes a great deal of attention to the views of Dr. Abraham Kuyper and Dr. Herman Bavinck and to their “organic” conception of the inspiration of the Scripture. It does not, however, set forth in any detail this organic view. It does indeed acknowledge that both Kuyper and Bavinck were opposed both to a so-called “mechanical” view of inspiration and to modernistic historical and literary criticism of Scripture. The chapter then takes us briefly and, to my mind, rather inaccurately, through the history of the Geelkerken Case and the Synod of Assen, 1926. It points out that earlier in this century there was a whole school of exegetes who stood in the tradition of Kuyper’s and Bavinck’s organic conception, mentioning such names as G. Ch. Aalders, F.W. Grosheide, J. Ridderbos, and S. Greijdanus. It even makes mention of the fact that the “earlier” Berkouwer belonged to this school of thought with respect to Scripture. And, by the way, it is true that Dr. Berkouwer at one time defended the traditional Reformed position and that he spoke emphatically of the isolation of the Reformed view of Scripture. Then the Report makes mention of the fact that in the period after 1950 the tide turned, and a new school of exegetes arose. It mentions by name in this connection such men as N. H. Ridderbos, R. Schippers, J.L. Koole, and H. N. Ridderbos. The chapter claims—to my mind, inaccurately—that these men in all respects continued in the tradition of their predecessors. But, so the chapter, at the same time they began to inquire anew into the significance of the human mediation through which God gave us His Word, and they wanted to profit from certain insights and results of historical-critical research. There was interest especially in the various literary genres, for which there was little eye at the time of Assen- 1926. Strangely enough, at this point the chapter mentions what I would call only some of the milder representatives of this new school of exegetes. The chapter goes on to characterize this new school in the mildest possible manner, in my opinion, never bringing to the fore some of the more radical views which have been put forth in recent years. In characterizing this new generation of exegetes, the chapter claims that they certainly did not want to break with the preceding generation. But in explaining the Scriptures they less exclusively emphasized their historicity and more explicitly inquired into the purpose of a certain text or section. It is claimed, too, that they wanted to maintain the authority and reliability of Scripture, but no longer would plead for infallibility in the sense of inerrancy. 

This brings us down to the present day. And the theologians and exegetes of today are characterized in a most sympathetic and mild fashion. Yet I must say that when this characterization is read with a little discernment, it becomes very plain that their approach to Scripture and its exposition is plainly in harmony with the so-called relational view of the truth. And, by the way, to him who knows anything about modern theological trends, there are plainly here strong overtones of Barthian and existentialist views and methods. But read for yourself, and compare with what I wrote earlier as to the so-called relational view of the truth. Here is a significant section of description concerning the current approach to Scripture on the part of theologians and exegetes in the GKN (I translate): “Previously… the concern was especially about the coming into existence (ontstaan) of Scripture…. At present the concern, however, is in the first instance about the understanding (verstaan. There is a play on words here in Dutch between ontstaanand verstaan; and in the Dutch version the syllablesont and ver– are emphasized.) of the Scripture, and the question concerning the right explanation is attacked not so much from the origin of Scripture in the past as indeed from the working of Scripture in the present.The interpretation of the Bible is never to be loosed from the application of the biblical message in our own life and world. Only he genuinely understands a text who perceives how it speaks to him in his own situation. That understanding does not appear to be simple when one takes seriously the weight of modern-day problems. What has the Bible to say about life and death, riches and poverty, conflicts and relations? We only need to mention the words abortion, euthanasia, atomic weapons, pacifism, liberationaction, environmental protection, homosexuality, and everyone grasps what is meant….” 

I will not enter into a detailed criticism of these two chapters. We wish to get to a summary and treatment of the main chapter of this Report. I will only offer a summary criticism, as follows: 

1. The Report in these two chapters is tendentious, slanted. It puts the critics of Scripture and the modern-day exegetes in the best possible light. It puts Kuyper and Bavinck and their organic view in as unfavorable a light as possible. It makes abundant use of the “dirty” word “fundamentalism.” And while it does not outright call Kuyper and Bavinck fundamentalists—in fact, denies it—it might just as well have done so. In fact, it does not even call the disciples of Kuyper and Bavinck fundamentalists. It only dares to say that they were not “full-blooded” fundamentalists; in other words, half-blooded fundies. 

2. At no point in these chapters does the Report offer a word of good, sound, Scriptural, Reformed criticism of critical approaches to Scripture either outside or within the GKN. This is not honest and proper historical reviewing. If a historical review is to be fruitful, it must furnish evaluations; and these evaluations must be soundly founded. It must expose false trends, so that the churches may be warned. 

The meat of the Report, however, is in Chapter 4. And let me assure you: that will be a shocker!

Editor’s Notes

The Lost Is Found! We are happy to report that the 1000 unbound copies of Prof. Hanko’s Mysteries Of The Kingdom have been found by our binder. They did not go through the shredder after all! This means that this book will be available much sooner than anticipated, as soon as we can prevail on the bindery to finish the task.

New Publications Planned. At a recent meeting of the Publications Committee a large number of future publications were approved, some of which we hope to complete this year if at all possible. I cannot furnish the whole list here, and at this writing I do not know which will come from the press first. Watch for future notices.

Write Me With Ideas. During the first part of June we will be holding our annual Standard Bearer Staff meeting. As always, ideas and suggestions for the improvement of our magazine are welcome. If you have such suggestions, please write me promptly. I cannot promise that all ideas submitted will be adopted; they will receive consideration, and, if the Staff deems them worthy, will be implemented.