The various Christian Reformed attempts to deal with Dr. Harry Boer’s Gravamen against Articles 6 and 15 of the First Head of the Canons of Dordrecht remind me of a pussycat confronted by a bowl of steaming hot milk. Such a pussy approaches the bowl ok milk from this angle and that, only to find that, no matter what the angle, the milk is too hot to drink. Thus it seems to be with Boer’s gravamen. Of all those whom I have heard or read on the subject thus far, no one has dealt head on with the substance of it. They approach it from this angle and that, but they never deal with the main point of the gravamen, namely, the exegetical one. That milk seems to be too hot!
On this score, Dr. Boer is right. He is wrong, dead wrong, in his doctrine, as well as in many related claims which he makes. But he is altogether right in his claim that the substance of his gravamen is exegetical. Boer claims that the Scripture passages adduced by the Canons in support of the doctrine of reprobation do not prove what the Canons claim that they prove. Secondly, Boer claims that he has exegeted the Scripture passages in question, and that he has demonstrated exegetically that he is correct in his claim, so that it is indeed true that the Canons do not produce any “express testimony” of Scripture in support of the Reformed doctrine of reprobation.
In a lengthy reply in “Voices” (The Banner, Nov. 2, 1979) to two articles by the Rev. Lambertus Mulder. Boer makes this plain once more. After criticizing Mulder’s articles on more than one count, Boer writes as follows:
The third reason (why Boer will not enter further into Mulder’s discussion of election, HCH) warrants a separate paragraph or two. The issue at stake is the contents of the gravamen against reprobation. The Canons of Dort teach “that decree of election and reprobation revealed in the Word of God” (I/6). Similarly, the Canons. teach in I/15 that it is the express testimony of sacred Scripture that not all, but some only, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree, whom God . . . has decreed to leave in the common misery.. . . and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion. . . .” The gravamen denies that Scripture teaches a decree of reprobation as above described. It presents an exegesis of all Scripture passages cited by Dort in support of its teaching, and finds them wholly wanting. The issue is: Is this finding correct or is it not correct? .The issue is an exegetical one pertaining to the nine or ten passages in the New Testament. If the synod should judge the exegesis of these verses to be invalid, then the gravamen will by that fact have lost its case. If the exegesis is judged to be valid, then the doctrine of reprobation should be declared to be no longer binding on the conscience of the church, in particular on the conscience of its office bearers.
This is a wholly accurate statement of the central issue of the Boer Gravamen. I do not think that Dr. Boer himself wholly sticks to this central issue even in his gravamen? probably because of his strong animosity against the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. And, certainly, Boer’s critics have thus far failed to face up to this central issue. No one has dealt with Boer’s exegesis of the texts cited by the Canons, and no one has produced a counter-exegesis of those passages.
It would seem that eventually—unless the Christian Reformed Synod can still find a way to avoid treating the Boer Gravamen in 1980—that central issue, so accurately stated by Boer, will have to be faced. It is certainly to be hoped that the Study Committee will face this exegetical issue in its coming report and that said committee will plainly state its agreement or disagreement with Boer on exegetical grounds. That should at least clear the air and should, to the degree that it does clear the air, prove salutary for all concerned.
And why should this exegetical issue not be faced?
It is, after all, not such a hot issue; and Boer’s critics need not approach the matter like pussycats approaching a bowl of hot milk. On the one hand, it is not difficult to shoot holes in Dr. Boer’s alleged exegesis of the Scripture passages concerned. And, on the other hand, it is not difficult to produce the plain and simple Scriptural meaning of the texts cited by the Canons, the same meaning that the theologians and delegates gathered at. Dordrecht in 1618-19 discovered. I dare say that any capable senior seminarian should be able to refute Dr. Boer’s exegesis and to produce the correct interpretation.
But someone in the Christian Reformed Church had better tackle the task. Otherwise Dr. Boer will win his case by default, and justly so.
It will indeed prove interesting to see what the Study Committee produces when its report is published.