Dear Rev. VanBaren:
We are grateful for your kindness in publishing our letter concerning your account of “Father Groppi at Calvin College.” We also appreciated your reply, which we feel has done a great deal to clarify the differences between us. We must now observe, however, that in stating those differences you have perhaps inadvertently attributed to us a number of things which we did not say—and these we feel should be publicly clarified as well in the light of the differences between us to which you point.
As perhaps we should have recognized the first time we wrote to you, the real difference between us is the question of common grace. This became clear from your reply to our letter. You see the antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate as so absolute that you preclude giving any hearing to any of their views. Thus you state that “hearing both sides of a question” is a “very basic error.” Consistent with your view of absolute antithesis you readily equate Groppi, agnostics, and similar speakers with “the devil and his followers,” and twice you condemn us even for praying for such men and for asking God’s blessing on them. Clearly you are judging such men to be beyond the help of God’s grace—that is that they are already irrevocably followers of the devil so that there is no good in them and that we can safely judge them to be beyond hope.
We, of course, do not share your view that the antithesis is so absolute. We believe that God by his grace allows the unregenerate to continue to live and to do and say some relatively good things, including works of “civic righteousness,” even though these may be inconsistent with their ultimate God-denying presuppositions. Hence we feel that it is proper to converse seriously with those who may be unregenerate (as well as to read and study their works in the light of God’s Word) and we do not expect that everything they say will be absolutely wrong.
Since you do not share our views of common grace, you apparently found it difficult to see that both in our brief questions to Groppi and in our letter to you we could be indicating that we could approve of some but not all of what Groppi had to say. For this reason apparently you read into our statements things which we did not say. So, for example, you assumed on the basis of three questions to Groppi, none of which could have been over thirty seconds in length, that we “expressed ourselves very clearly.” You assumed for instance that when one of us said that Groppi’s tone sounded more like that of the Old Testament prophets than like to tone of Christ (when he stood silent before his enemies) in that there was much more judgment in it than compassion, that this meant that the questioner was making a “favorable comparison with the Old Testament prophets.” In fact the force of the question was to suggest that Groppi seemed to be ignoring an important aspect of the Christian message. Similarly a question that pointed out that Groppi was condoning some types of violence and condemning other violence was meant to suggest that there was some inconsistency in Groppi’s message, yet you suggest that the questioner was indicating total agreement with Groppi.
When in our letter we explained that we agreed with some things that Groppi had said (“concerning injustices and exploitations of blacks and the need for justice and an end to such exploitations”) yet that we “differed with him concerning many of the tactics and moral positions he endorsed,” you apparently had similar difficulty in accepting such statements which suggested a mixture of approval and disapproval. In your reply to our letter you therefore suggested that we had now “renounced the ‘tactics and moral judgments which Father Groppi advocated'” as though now we almost totally disagreed with everything which Groppi said, whereas on stage we had “very clearly” totally agreed with him. In fact this interpretation of what we said misrepresents our statements. We did, and still do, make a qualified and discriminating judgment of Groppi and his statements, assuming that any man may by God’s common grace say some things that are relatively good. We realize that this is not your position; but we hope also that you will realize that this is our position and that we believe it to be the Christian Reformed and the Biblical position.
We hope as well that this exchange may have been beneficial for creating better understanding among us all who share in the brotherhood of the essentials of the Reformed faith and the burdens of maintaining a distinctive Christian educational witness in an apostate age. We thank you again for giving us an opportunity to discuss with you our mutual concerns.
Samuel Greydanus, George Marsden, Richard Mouw
Dear Professors, I frankly am surprised and puzzled by this honor of receiving a second response from you. I had not expected your first letter—and now I have two! You will pardon me, but I could not help thinking that had you spent as much time and effort in answering Father Groppi when you were on stage with him in the Fine Arts Building, the outcome of that meeting might have been different.
I think your answer this time is extremely clever. You suggest that “the real difference between us is the question of common grace.” You are not, perhaps, seeking to imitate the Apostle Paul, are you? (Acts 23:6-9) You know, of course, that not only we who deny common grace, but also many who maintain this view, believe it to be wrong that a man such as Father Groppi should be granted an audience within a school maintained by the church. And I gave you Scriptural reasons why we believe this. To suggest now that the “real difference between us is the question of common grace,” is meant, I suppose, to divide the opposition. Those who would take your answer at face value, would then be forced either to support or deny my contention depending on their views on common grace. Do you believe this to be a fair way of silencing the opposition? Besides, is it proper to reduce this all to a question of one’s stand on common grace—but ignore completely the Scriptural passages to which I referred?
I want to assure you that I do not wish to attribute to you anything you did not say to Groppi. It seems to me, however, that you now elaborate upon and give a different connotation to the remarks and questions you presented to Father Groppi. Perhaps this is what you did mean—and I can not judge your heart nor your intent. However, after you asked God’s blessing upon Groppi in prayer, after you commented that his speech was one of the best sermons you ever heard (a remark you retracted in your last letter), it would be rather difficult to understand subsequent remarks to imply that Groppi was indeed “ignoring an important aspect of the Christian message,” and that “there was some inconsistency in Groppi’s message.” But lest I should inadvertently attribute to you wrong statements, I managed to track down a recording made that evening of your remarks. I am sorry that there were some points on the-recording which were obscured by applause or other interference. These resulting omissions I have indicated below with a series of dots. After re-reading your remarks and questions, I do believe I ought to apologize for stating that you “expressed yourselves very clearly.” What I ought to have stated was that all which I heard indicated to my mind only sympathy with and approval of Groppi. But I am willing to have the reader to judge. Herewith follows the transcription of your remarks:
That is about the best sermon I’ve heard in years (much applause) . . . except to say: repent. But I do have something that I think anyone who is sensitive to black history and is aware that what you said tonight has been said for 350 years by black leaders in one form or another: either by petition, they bombard the constitutional conventions about the injustices. It’s a long history present to the present day. All we quote almost to the present day . . . in Biblical terms: injustices against the law of God and the like. But my question is this: How do you change priorities? In other words, how do you change men’s hearts. . . .? The statistics we know; and this is what my students, of course, ask me too. I don’t seem to have the answer. How do you change a nation’s commitment? There are people out there, whites and blacks,—they have their fears. I think . . . who said, “The most difficult thing is for a middle class, upper middle class, to understand the problems of the lower class.” And so this explains resistance. My question will be, “This has been around for a long time. How does one, how does one change?”
I know, because of the views about black separatism, and maybe this question will bring out some things that might be of interest to your listeners, we here know what a sense of cultural identity and active separation is all about (much laughter by—G.V.B. audience). And I know that as Christians we have to look forward to a society in which man will live together and respect each other, and respect each other’s dignity, without making a great deal of simpler considerations a matter of concern. And I know you don’t want to be paternalistic and rationalistic; you don’t want to dictate and decide what is good for black people today. But, do you think that we ought to have as our goal of mankind this . . . American culture as a sort of a cult which demands a color T.V. set in every home, and all that sort of thing? And that perhaps the best (and we’ve talked a lot about tactics) tactic right now to break down that monolithic culture might be to create a sense of active cultural solidarity and to resist being incorporated into the cultural monolith?
Somebody who heard your speech tonight and your comments about the woman who goes out, of her home and committed adultery (interruption by Groppi: “I didn’t say she committed adultery.”), and the incident of the boy who confessed stealing and your advice to him—that you are advocating situation ethics. Do I hear you finally stating . . . what we find in the Old Testament prophets: people have absolute rights; cannot be denied; God-given rights; there are things that are just plain wrong; people ought not to be treated that way. . . . At what point do you appeal to the tactics of Jesus, the way He behaved at the time He cleansed the temple (and I must say this seems to be not the main tactic) you can’t find Him doing that sort of thing very often. Matter of fact, if we look at the general tone of His message, the general pattern of His ministry, it has a lot to do with things like reconciliation, passion, silent before His accusers, love—and I find your tactics to be more like those of the Old Testament prophets. I don’t find (interrupted and answered by Groppi).
I have a question about the same kind of concern . . . a fear that you may be misunderstood, and as a matter of fact, you are often misunderstood. You see people going away and saying, “Father Groppi says it fine, but he advocates violence and I don’t understand how a Christian can do that!” Now, on the other hand, I did sense you were not advocating all violence. That for one thing, that the only kinds of violence that you advocated were ones that involved destruction of property or stealing of property—not destruction of persons. And also are clearly opposed to the violence of war—so that there are some conditions under which you are saying you do advocate violence and there are some conditions under which you certainly don’t, and that . . . (interrupted and answered by Groppi).
Now I would also like to correct several erroneous statements and conclusions you present in your letter. First, I would never say that one could not pray for the repentance of Groppi, agnostics, or other such men. Icertainly would not judge such men to be beyond the help of God’s grace. I would never be willing to say that “they are already irrevocably followers of the devil” or that I would “judge them to be beyond hope.” I can not imagine how you can attribute such to my article. Did not Jesus save the thief on the cross? Surely that thief was in the same category as Groppi, agnostics—and of myself by nature. If God can save one, He can save the other too. I would not object, therefore, if you prayed for the man Groppi—asking for his conversion and repentance from an evil way. But that was not done. A blessing was asked upon the man—a man whose work is contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. To that I objected. Does not David declare, “. . . The wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth?” (Ps. 11:5). Or again, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” (Ps. 101:3). Or, “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” (Ps. 139:21-22). I ask you, do you believe that David would or could ask God’s blessing upon Father Groppi?
Secondly, I remind you that I did not write that “‘hearing both sides of a question’ is a ‘very basic error.’ ” What I did write was that your policy of allowing virtually any sort of speaker on your platform was a very basic error. To hear both sides of a question, of course, is not necessarily wrong. I gave you Scriptural reasons for my contention—reasons which you have not bothered to refute.
Thirdly, you imply that I must believe that Groppi and others like him will be absolutely wrong. You refer to the Protestant Reformed (and Calvinistic) view of an absolute antithesis. But what you write seems to indicate a lack of understanding concerning our view. I would only remind you of what I wrote in my original article, “Obviously, Father Groppi was deeply aware of the frustrations, irritations, injustices of the ghetto in Milwaukee. He spoke of the gyp merchants; of rotting tenement buildings infested by rats; of slum landlords who ignored building codes with impunity; of children who received little or fro medical and dental care. And no doubt but that most of his descriptions were accurate?.”
But now I would like to come back to the main thrust of your letter: that the “real difference between us is the question of common grace.” You place me, as I suppose you intended to do, on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, should I deny your contention that bringing men as Father Groppi to Calvin is a logical and consistent fruit of common grace—I would appear to deny the stand we have taken as Protestant Reformed Churches. On the other hand, were I to support your contention, I would likely antagonize those who hold to the view of common grace. Yet you force me to say something about this—as was clearly your intent.
First, I would say: if your contention is wrong; if the Father Groppi incident is not a logical fruit of common grace—then by all means—let us have some conservative Christian Reformed man stand forth and show this. Let him show that you are not correctly applying the view of common grace. Let him show that your view of common grace is distorted. Let him prove this soundly and conclusively from Scripture. I will be eagerly awaiting such explanation.
Secondly, if your contention is correct; if the Father Groppi incident is a logical fruit of common grace—then it is high time that members of your denominationdemanded a re-evaluation and reconsideration of the view itself. It has struck my attention, and now you forcefully remind me of this again, that the view of common grace has often been used as a ground for allowing much of that which I believe the faithful Christian must condemn. Now you do this in the Father Groppi incident; your churches did this in 1966 when it adopted at Synod a statement on “The Church and the Film Arts” which approved attendance of the “good” movies produced by the world. Common grace was used to support that decision: “This world has not returned to absolute chaos, however, for God restrains the power of sin and bestows many good gifts and talents upon man in general. These gifts are common to both the regenerate and unregenerate man. God ‘giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.’ (Acts 17:25) InActs 14:17 we are told that He fills our hearts with gladness. This is ‘a kind of favor or grace of God which He manifests toward His creatures in general.’ (Acts of Synod 1924, Article 132) It would be highly ungrateful to God to despise or reject these gifts and their results in human society. Sinful man, in his effort to be autonomous, may boast of his accomplishments and idolize his culture; but the Christian will accept whatever God has made possible with gratitude and will dedicate it to God’s glory.”¹ Now, I presume that on this same ground of common grace, The Reformed Journal presents favorable reviews of such godless trash as “M*A*S*H,”² “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,”³ and similar movies. I would suppose that on the same ground of common grace, Calvin College schedules the showing of movie films designed to “satisfy many people’s prejudices,” including the films, “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Passion of Joan of Arc,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Shame” and others.4 I suspect that on this same ground of common grace, Calvin College presents its concerts for the youth: the Byrds with Zarathustra, John Sebastian with the Don Ellis jazz band, Richie Havens, and similar “folk-rock” groups.5
I can not help but recall that many years ago the late Rev. H. Hoeksema warned exactly that all this would take place as a result of the adoption of common grace. He said, “The above mentioned ministers (H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof), who were later to find themselves deposed, turned their attention to this theory (common grace) and made a very careful study of it. Thereto they were compelled by the undeniable facts that the application of the doctrine of common grace in practical life led to an alliance of friendship and to conformity of the church with the world.”6 But at that time many scoffed and even vehemently denied that such would happen.
Yet now you insist that on this Father Groppi issue, the difference is indeed common grace. Again, I say: if this is true, it surely calls for a careful reconsideration of that basic issue of common grace. Evil fruit surely does not come from a good tree.7
I want to thank you again sincerely for the past exchange. As you suggest, it is a means of clarifying differences between us. May it be an incentive for many to consider and study the issues involved—that the essentials of the Reformed faith may indeed be taught and maintained in the church of Christ.
Very sincerely, G. VanBaren
¹ Christian Reformed Acts of Synod, 1966, page 332
² The Reformed Journal, May-June 1970, p. 18
³ The Reformed Journal, Mar. 1970, p. 21
4 Grand Rapids Press, Saturday, Oct. 3, 1970, p. 10A
5 Grand Rapids Press, Saturday, September 26, 1970, p. 10A
6 Pamphlet: “Why Protestant Reformed?”, p. 6
7 For those who are truly interested and concerned about this point which the professors introduced: common grace, I would recommend several pieces of literature which will help in giving a good understanding of the subject. This literature, written from a Protestant Reformed viewpoint, of course, studies common grace in light of Scripture. There is first the book, “The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches” by Rev. H. Hoeksema ($2.00). There is secondly the booklet, “The Triple Breach” by Rev. H. Hoeksema (free). I have had, incidentally, a number of requests that the “Father Groppi” article and subsequent exchanges be printed in pamphlet form for easy study and distribution. If there are sufficient requests to justify such printing, and if there is some promised financial backing, perhaps this can be done.