Dr. James Daane continually asserts, in his articles about the Dekker Case, that his chief concern is with the question of “theological method.” Perhaps this is true. In the meantime, however, he himself will certainly have to admit that he does rather far afield in attempting to make his point about method, and that me makes a good many pronouncements about the theology itself that is involved in the Dekker Case as well as about theological method. Undoubtedly this is due to the fact that theological method and theology proper are intimately related. A wrong method will invariably produce a wrong theology; by the same token, the right method will also produce a true theology.
Again I say: Daane is right, but dead wrong.
While he criticizes both the theology and the theological method of others, he himself should be above reproach both as to method and theology. He is certainly right in emphasizing the need of a correct method and approach. He is even right in some of his pronouncements about the theology of the First Point. But his own method is dead wrong, and his own theological conclusions are dead wrong.
This becomes increasingly evident in James Daane’s second article on the Dekker Case, “A Road Forty Years Long” (Reformed Journal, Nov., 1964).
One Love Of God Indeed!
Daane introduces this second article by mentioning what he calls the three chief reasons why Prof. Dekker’s position has raised questions and uncertainties in the Christian Reformed community. These are: “First; he asserts that there is but one love of God. Second, this love is said to be a redemptive love for all men, though it redeems only the elect. Third, the distinction between ‘redemptive’ and ‘redeeming’ does not, it is thought, protect his position from the charge that it violates the doctrine of limited atonement.” To the first two of these reasons Dr. Daane addresses himself in “A Road Forty Years Long.”
First of all, then, Daane treats the matter of Dekker’s insistence that there is but one love of God. What the doctor writes on this may be summarized as follows:
1. There are those who regard Dekker’s insistence on one love of God as being not Reformed and who oppose to Dekker’s doctrine the doctrine of “one saving, redemptive, electing love of God for the elect and a second, qualitatively different, i.e., non-saving, non-redemptive, non-electing love for the non-elect.” This is parallel to the “saving,” “non-saving” terminology of the Synod of 1924 with regard to God’s grace. However, there is some hesitancy in this regard for two reasons: 1) There is no creedal support for the idea of two loves of God.” 2) The late Prof. Berkhof taught that there is but one divine attribute of grace, though he was one of the fathers of 1924’s doctrine of two graces of God.
2. The doctrine of common grace, especially of the First Point, has rested uneasily in the theological mind of the Christian Reformed churches. I shall pass by Daane’s wholly inaccurate presentation of Points II and III and his divorcing of them from Point I because this question is not germane to the discussion at hand. Daane presents the First Point as follows: “They officially formulated and adopted a doctrine of two, essentially and qualitatively different graces of God, and gave this formulation at least semi-creedal force.”
3. There are, according to Daane, two reasons for the uneasiness mentioned above.
The first reason is that “Synod of 1924 adduced the well-meant offer of salvation that comes in the preaching of the gospel, not only as a mere proof, but as an instance of common grace . . . . . Yet to this day no one has been able to make clear to anyone that the well-meant offer of salvation is an instance, not of saving, but of a qualitatively different non-saving, common grace.” Daane criticizes the First Point severely on this count. Says he, among other things: “This writer at least can find no theological meaning—or even verbal meaning—in the assertion that in the offer of the saving grace of redemption in the preaching of the gospel, the reprobate, who rejects it, receives anon-saving grace.” And again, proceeding from the fact that the offer of salvation and the preaching of the gospel have to do with saving grace, he asks: “What does it mean that common grace comes through the proclaimed offer of salvation, when the proclamation speaks of saving grace and does not so much as mention a non-saving grace? What meaning can one find in the words that the non-elect hearer through the heaving of the proclamation of saving grace receives non-saving grace?”
The second reason for this uneasiness is “the almost intuitive recognition that there is but one divine attribute of grace. This recognition can scarcely be held meaningfully if one simultaneously holds that there are two essentially different graces in God.” In this connection Daane presents Berkhof as contradicting himself by maintaining that there is only one kind of grace in God and yet insisting upon an essentialdifference between common grace and special grace. Moreover, he maintains that “Since any manifestation of the grace of God (whether in Christ or in rain and sunshine) is an expression of that one attribute or character of God,” it is impermissible to speak of two graces of God that are essentially or qualitatively different. This is to render the term “grace” meaningless and to project a dualism into the being of God.
4. At this point Dr. Daane draws his conclusions concerning Prof. Dekker’s insistence upon one love of God. These are:
a. That when Dekker insists that there is but one love of God, he is in agreement with Berkhof’s teaching that there is but one grace in God. But Dekker disagrees with Berkhof and with the “semi-creedal” First Point on the matters mentioned above under “3.” Daane, incidentally, points out that the Christian Reformed Church is unique in having created this “semi-creedal doctrinal formulation” of the First Point.
b. Dekker agrees with Berkhof in another respect. Berkhof taught that the one grace of God manifests itself in different gifts and operations: the one grace effects salvation and bestows merely natural blessings,—the latter upon man in general. Dekker is said to regard the one redemptive love of God as working in different ways and degrees, with results not always identical. Hence, says Daane, “The correspondence is obvious. Berkhof here posits one grace of God, Dekker one love of God; one admits that the one love, and the other that the one grace, can have results that differ as much as salvation differs from non-salvation.”
c. “If Dekker’s insistence on one love of God for all men is open to the charge of Arminianism because this love does not have the same result and save all men, Berkhof’s insistence that the one grace of God manifests itself sometimes in salvation and sometimes only in ‘merely natural blessings,’ is open to the same charges. Indeed, Hoeksema raised this very objection against Berkhof.”
First of all, let me mention the matters on which Dr. Daane is right in this connection.
1. He is right (and Dekker is also) when he insists that there is but one love of God and one grace of God. To teach anything contrary to this would be an attack on the oneness and the simplicity of God. Anyone with a grain of Reformed sensitivity will recognize this.
2. Daane is also right when he points out the utter inconsistency, and, in fact, sheer nonsense of the First Point of 1924 when it cites the well-meant offer of salvation as proof of and an instance of a qualitatively different, non-saving, common grace.
3. He is also right, for the most part, in his evaluation of the similarities between Berkhof’s and Dekker’s teachings, especially when he writes: “. . . one admits that the one love, and the other that the one grace, can have results that differ as much as salvation differs from non-salvation.” I cannot resist adding at this juncture, however, that the utter folly of both positions (and heresy, too) would be more obvious if Daane would have used the term “damnation” instead of “non-salvation.” Think of it! God’s grace and God’s love can both have such opposite results as salvation and damnation! How can a Reformed man get such heresy through his pen? 4. While this is perhaps incidental to the present discussion, Daane is at least semi-rightwhen he states that the Christian Reformed Church gave a semi-creedal force to the doctrinal formulations of the Three Points. This has often been denied. In fact, not long ago Dr. John Kromminga denied it in theBanner. But the fact remains that in 1924-’26 this semi-creedal force was so strong that it had the force of a creed, namely, to exclude those who disagreed, so that those who would not subscribe were deposed. Nor did the supposed interpretation of 1959 change this: the Three Points remained binding, and the ex-Protestant Reformed (not “Protestant Reformed,” as Daane puts it) ministers were required to accept them. Incidentally, here is a good question: what is “semi-creedal” in distinction from “creedal” and “non-creedal”?
Nevertheless, Daane is dead wrong. And he is, sad to say, dead wrong on the fundamentals.
In the first place, he is dead wrong as to the fundamental issue. Do not be misled on this score. Daane states that the first of the chief reasons for the questions and uncertainties raised by Dekker’s position is that he asserts that there is but one love of God. Superficially considered,—and therefore it is so misleading,—this seems to be true, especially for those who disagree with Dekker but want to protect the precious Three Points. They are in a bind between their fear of denying Point I and their fear of Dekker’s rank Arminianism. And some have sought refuge, it seems, in a “two graces” or “two loves” theory. But every Reformed man knows that there is but one love of God and one grace of God. The fundamental question is: who we the objects of the one love of God? Does God love all men’? Or does God love His elect people only and hate the reprobate? This is the question before all other questions. It is before any question whether Christ died for all. It is before any question (if indeed that is a question!) about redemptive-redeeming or redemptive-but-not-redeeming. And I submit that the underlying reason for the Christian Reformed uncertainties and questions about Prof. Dekker’s position exactly concerns this fundamental question. In spite of the Three Points (and perhaps partly because of the forty years of polemics about the Three Points), there are those who sense that to say that God loves all men is rank Arminianism and who now fear the complete forfeiture of the precious Reformed heritage of God’s sovereign, particular love. And would to God they would acknowledge this and take action before it is too late!
In the second place, James Daane is dead wrong as to his analysis of the First Point and his analysis of its historical interpretation. True, this is due in part to the inconsistency of the First Point itself. For Synod of 1924, in its desperate attempt to find proof for common grace (which supposedly operates to bestow merely natural, temporal blessings) fell into the Arminian error of general grace when it adduced the well-meant offer of the gospel as proof. Everyone knows that when you speak of the preaching of the gospel and of a supposed general and well-meant offer of the gospel, you are operating not in the sphere of a so-called common, non-saving grace but in the sphere of saving grace. This point Daane indeed sees clearly. But one thing Daane does not seem to understand, namely, that, whether they would admit it or not, ever since 1924 the defenders of the First Point knew very well that when they dealt with the matter of the well-meant offer, they were no longer speaking of a so-called common grace and of natural blessings, but of saving grace and (well-meaningly offered) spiritual blessings. It was precisely this fact that made the First Point vulnerable to the charge of Arminianism. This is plain, in the first place, from the proof which Synod of 1924 offered for this part of the First Point: Canons II, 5; Canons III, IV, 8 and 9; Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; andRomans 2:4. All of these proofs have to do with the gospel, with salvation, and with spiritual blessings such as repentance, conversion, and eternal life. This is plain, in the second place, from many writings by defenders of the Three Points such as Berkhof, H.J. Kuiper, Heyns, Zwier, etc. The chief point of controversy was always the well-meant offer of salvation. Thus, for example, Berkhof spoke (in connection with Romans 2:4) of God’s intention to lead the ungodly Jews to repentance, and taught resistible grace when he added that the result did not answer to the intention. Kuiper spoke of a “gospel for all sinners.” Heyns taught the idea of two wills in God,—a will to save all and a will to save only the elect. All of the writings about the above-mentioned “proofs” of the First Point were not concerned with so-called natural blessings of common grace; they were concerned with a supposed will of God to save all men and with a gracious offer ofsalvation to all who hear the preaching. Moreover, Daane is mistaken when he writes about the Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s objection of Arminianism against Berkhof. It was not because Berkhof spoke of merely natural blessings for all men that he charged Berkhof with Arminianism; but the charge of Arminianism was registered against Berkhof in connection with the latter’s defense of the well-meant offer and his Arminian explanation of passages like Romans 2:4 andEzekiel 33:11. In brief, Hoeksema charged Berkhof with Arminianism for the same reason that he called Dekker’s doctrine rank Arminianism. The only difference between Berkhof and Dekker, between 1964 and 1924, is one of degree. In 1924 the Arminianism was more covert and confused; today it is more open and explicit. But the basic reason for the uneasiness about the First Point down the “Road Forty Years Long” was its Arminianism. Dekker, Daane, and Boer are merely forty years farther down the same road.
Finally, Daane is dead wrong as to the matter of theological method about which he claims to be chiefly concerned. Dr. Daane seems to have a good understanding of the importance of one’s method. For he writes: “A theological method is a way of thinking theologically. The way one chooses, like the road one selects to travel, determines the place where one arrives. Whenever one is not sure how he got where he is, there is value in looking back.” To this I surely say, “Amen!” But I would add: 1. Look back, Dr. Daane, (and others), and you will discover that you came from Kalamazoo, 1924. 2. Look back farther, and you will discover that you came from Gouda, 1610. 3. Your way (method) is not that of Scripture and the Reformed confessions. 4. There is value in looking back, provided you also turn back and retrace your steps when you discover you are on the wrong road.