Thus I would characterize Dr. James Daane’s theologizings about the First Point of 1924 and the Dekker Case.
For Daane attacks the First Point boldly, so boldly that one would almost caution him to be careful, lest he make himself the object of the kind of ecclesiastical discipline which acted so swiftly and efficiently in 1924 against Danhof, Hoeksema, Ophoff, and their consistories. For the Three Points are binding dogmas in the Christian Reformed Church today as well as then; and Daane is bound by them as well as every other officebearer is bound by them. Nevertheless, Daane does not hesitate to criticize the First Point very severely. In fact, in his entire consideration of the Dekker case he proceeds from a critical position over against the First Point.
In this Dr. Daane is certainly right.
Nevertheless, he is dead wrong.
For in all his criticism of the First Point of 1924 Mr. Daane accepts the fundamental thesis of the First Point, that of a grace of God to all men, including the reprobate. Still more: while Daane seems to criticize the position of the First Point with respect to the general, well-meant offer of the gospel, and while he is certainly correct in pointing out the inconsistency of the First Point, he nevertheless is only making explicitwhat has always been implicit in that First Point, namely, its Arminianism. In this he is dead wrong.
An examination of Dr. Daane’s theologizings will show this to be correct.
Let us begin that examination with Daane’s first article, “From 1924 to 1964,” (Reformed Journal, October, 1964). In this article he begins by explaining that he is “prompted to enter the discussion because the Synod decided to extend the area of theological investigation far beyond the limited area covered by the ‘Dekker case.'” In passing, I may remark that Daane is correct in this assertion, even as I pointed out last fall that Synod had no concrete case before it, but simply decided to make a general, or sweeping, investigation of the doctrine of limited atonement. In fact, to this day there is, in the ecclesiastical sense of the word, no “Dekker Case.” The term is a misnomer, though it is a convenient one.
The doctor then goes on to make another introductory statement: “It may be said that in the area of our present interest and concern the prevailing theology of the Christian Reformed churches defines the attitude of God toward each man by reference to his election or his reprobation.” To this supposedly prevailing theology Daane attributes the challenging of Professor Dekker’s assertion that God has a redemptive love for the reprobate. This is only an unproved assertion on Daane’s part, of course. For, in the first place, it remains to be seen (perhaps when the committee on the Dekker Case makes its report?) what will be the prevailing theology of the Christian Reformed churches. In the second place, this certainly was not the prevailing theology of the Christian Reformed churches in the Three Points of 1924: a grace of God to all men, including the reprobate (whether a saving or a non-saving grace), just exactly does not define the attitude of God toward each man by reference to his election or his reprobation, but ignores, or rather contradicts, the latter. And therefore, in the third place, it would be much more to the point to say that the prevailing theology of the Christian Reformed churches is a common grace theology, the theology of the Three Points of 1924. For Dekker (and also Daane) this theology of the Three Points has been the starting-point. For the critics of Dekker this theology of the Three Points has supposedly been their stronghold of defense, but it has actually constituted a stumbling-block in all their efforts to attack Dekker. Daane and Dekker are both aware of this; and Daane capitalizes on it even more than Dekker.
Daane immediately disproves the above-quoted assertion by referring partially (he does not quote the First Point either correctly or in full) to the First Point. He writes:
“In 1924 the Christian Reformed churches faced a similar question, namely, Does the grace of God extend to all men, or to the elect only? The Synod of 1924 answered this question by declaring that there is ‘a saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen unto eternal life,’ i.e., to the elect, and that there is ‘also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to all His creatures (Point I),’ i.e., also to the reprobate.”
Now as Daane presents the First Point in the above paragraph, it might appear as though the Christian Reformed Church attempted in 1924 to declare two doctrines in that First Point, namely, a saving grace to the elect and also a certain favor or grace of God which includes the reprobate. And then it might appear at least in part that the “prevailing theology of the Christian Reformed churches defines the attitude of God toward each man by reference to his election or his reprobation.” But Daane neither quotes correctly and in full nor does he reason correctly from the First Point. This is a fundamental error in the very beginning of Daane’s series of articles.
Let me explain.
There is but one main proposition in the First Point of 1924; there are not two, as Daane presents it. Synod did not declare that there is a saving grace to the elect and that there is another grace to the reprobate. Synod intended to declare and did declare that there is a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is plain from a full quotation of the First Point:
“Relative to the first point, which concerns the favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general and not only towards the elect, synod declares it to be established according to Scripture and the Confession that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III, IV, 8 and 9, which deal with the general offer of the Gospel, while it also appears from the citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology that our Reformed writers from the past favored this view.”
I call your attention to the following in this connection:
1. This First Point was and has been to the present day the expression of “the prevailing theology” of the Christian Reformed Church. It was so prevailing in 1924 that those who opposed it were cast out; and it was so prevailing in recent years, 1959 and thereafter, that the Christian Reformed Church refused to set it aside and make it non-binding.
2. This First Point does not positively set forth two propositions, but it sets forth the proposition of a common grace shown to all men, including the reprobate, “apart from (italics mine, H.C.H.) the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life.”
3. That while indeed the First Point makes mention of the elect and even attempts to maintain the idea of a special grace for the elect, nevertheless the main thesis of the First Point of 1924 is just exactly the opposite of what Daane makes it. It exactly does notdefine God’s attitude in terms of election and reprobation. It ignores election and reprobation in its main proposition. It declares something about God’s attitude apart from His saving grace to the elect. And apart from and in spite of any definition in terms of election and reprobation, the First Point defines God’s attitude in terms of generality, not in terms of distinction. This is plain to anyone who can read, also to Daane. The First Point (surely an expression of the “prevailing theology” of the Christian Reformed Church) “concerns the favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general and not only towards the elect.”
4. All this is complicated by the reference to “the general offer of the Gospel,” to which Synod appealed as proof for a common non-saving grace. Daane does not make mention of this here, but refers to it later. It is essential, however, for a correct understanding of the First Point and for the history from 1924 to 1964 that this be kept in mind. That “puntje van het Eerste Punt,” the real sticker, the sharp point of the First Point, was of its essence, even though it came up only in the supposed proof of it. This was true not only doctrinally, but also historically, as is plain from all the polemical writings on the subject from our side and from the Christian Reformed side. Why? Because the Gospel and the general offer of the Gospel deals with saving grace, not non-saving grace. Here the door was opened for Arminianism.
I realize that I am running ahead as far as my criticism of Daane is concerned. But I want to set the record straight. The situation is such, historically, that 1964 (Dekker) is simply the logical and inevitable development of 1924 (The First Point). It represents no essential advance, but a mere making explicit of what was implicit in the First Point. A general favor of God, undifferentiated by election and reprobation, was expressed in the First Point. From this to a general love of God represents no essential advance. Moreover, a general and saving (not non-saving) favor of God was,—to an extent, perhaps, unwittingly,—set forth in the First Point, albeit somewhat vaguely and implicitly. From this to a general and “redemptive” love of God also represents no essential advance. Some clarification? Yes, there is. A bolder and more open expression? Indeed. But essentially speaking, Daane and Dekker are faithful and consistent sons of 1924.
And all of this was pointed out long ago in our Protestant Reformed witness. I quote from “The Protestant Reformed Churches in America,” Part II, pp. 319-321:
“5. Which form of the Common Grace theory did the Christian Reformed Churches. adopt by this first declaration, the Kuyperian or the Arminian?
“Virtually both; for, it is evident that, although they intended to adopt the Kuyperian theory only, they became confused when they attempted to support their view by the Confession of the Reformed Churches, and unwittingly they lapsed into the Arminian presentation of common grace.
“6. How could you prove this?
“This is evident, first of all, from the declaration itself. For, when it declares, that ‘apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general,’ it purposes to express the Kuyperian view that God is gracious to all men in common, elect and reprobate, godly and ungodly, when He bestows on them the things of this present life, such as rain and sunshine, life and health, wealth and possessions, gifts and talents. All the good things of this present time are, according to this view, a manifestation of God’s gracious attitude to all men.
“But the declaration lapses into the Arminian conception that the saving grace of God is intended for all men individually, when it speaks of ‘the general offer of the Gospel’ as a manifestation of the grace of God to all the hearers without distinction. For, it is evident, that the Gospel deals with saving grace.
“The former theory we may designate by the term ‘common grace,’ for its speaks of a grace, not saving, that is common to the godly and the ungodly, the elect and the reprobate. The latter view is better expressed by the term ‘general grace,’ for, it speaks of the grace of God, saving, that is intended for all men individually.
“Both these views are clearly implied in the first point.
“7. From what else is it plain that the first point teaches both common grace and general grace?
“From the passages that are quoted from the Confessions and from the Holy Scriptures in support of the first point. For, the first five texts quoted above (Ps. 145:9; Matt. 5:44, 45: Luke 6:35, 36; Acts 14:16, 17; I Tim. 4:10 are intended to prove the Kuyperian view of common grace. But the last three texts (Rom. 2:4; Ezek. 33:11; Ezek. 18:23), as well as the passages quoted from the Confessions do not deal with common grace that is not saving, but with general grace that is saving as far as God’s intention is concerned.”
In the light of all this, I say once more: 1964 represents no essential advance over 1924. It is characterized by the same fatal disease, though in a more advanced and virulent form.
(to be continued)