In his prognostications as to issues to be treated by the Reformed Journal in the future Dr. Henry Stob first mentions three issues which he groups under the title which heads this editorial.
The first of these issues Dr. Stob states as follows:
There was a flurry of discussion among us a few years ago about the nature, inspiration, and authority of the Bible. Contrary to the advice of some who believed that the discussion could be profitably continued in the semi-public forum of theology, Synod adopted a report referred to its constituent churches by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod and later adopted a report of its own committee which, though excellent in many respects, left important areas of theological concern untouched. The effect of these synodical decisions has been to silence the question of the nature of Biblical inspiration and authority. Whether this effect was intended or not is for the moment irrelevant, and unimportant. What is important is that among serious and inquiring people the question is rising again, and that a calm and considered address to it, conducted with due responsibility and patience, is what is required. The inquiry and discussion would get off to a good start if it were acknowledged at the outset that while the Scriptures are the ultimate source, and provide the ultimate norm for Christian teaching, the doctrine of Scripture that prevails at any time is as subject to amendment in the light of Scripture as any other doctrine.
The reference here is to the discussion (and controversy) which came to a head at the Christian Reformed Synod of 1961, in which Dr. M. Wyngaarden challenged the orthodoxy of Dr. John Kromminga, president of Calvin Seminary. This discussion ended with Synod declaring the charges against Dr. Kromminga to be “unsubstantiated” and with Synod commending a lengthy report on infallibility, drawn up by a study committee, to the church. It is certainly true that since that time there has been virtually no further discussion of the matter. The Journal carried an article by M. Hoogland which claimed that the Report on Infallibility still allowed room for maintaining that there are inaccuracies in Scripture. But this article brought no reaction; and the Journal itself for some inexplicable reason did not offer further discussion, As to what Dr. Stob here writes, I have the following comments:
1) In the Christian Reformed context, there is no reason why there should not be further discussion. In the first place, it is not correct that the Synod of 1961 “adopted” the study committee’s report: On p. 78 of the Acts of 1961 the report is commended to the church, but nowhere is it decided to adopt the report in toto. Moreover, one of the grounds for commending it to the church was that “This report is a framework for further study of the nature of the relationship between inspiration and infallibility.” Hence, the door is open for further discussion.
2) Dr. Kromminga was cleared and justified over against Dr. Wyngaarden’s charges without making any substantial change in his position, but merely on the basis of what was really no more than a statement about his intentions in the use of the term “periphery.” In this regard also, the way is open for discussion.
3) In my opinion, the report of the study committee failed to settle the most crucial issue in the discussion, that of the possibility of historical inaccuracies in Scripture. I believe that the report was basically a compromise, designed to quiet the fears and silence the discussion. Apparently, at least, it succeeded until now in silencing the discussion. But I say again: there is no essential reason, either in the report or in the decisions of Synod, why the Journal should not break this silence.
4) If, however, as seems likely, Dr. Stob has in mind an amendment or revision of the confessional position of the Reformed churches on the doctrine of Scripture, then the proper method is not public inquiry into the subject in theological journals and patient discussion of the issues. For while it is certainly true that “thedoctrine of Scripture that prevails at any time is as subject to amendment in the light of Scripture as any other doctrine,” it must be remembered that the proper way of amendment is not that of unofficial discussion and propaganda in the churches, but the ecclesiastically orderly way of a well-grounded gravamen against any article of the Confession which is erroneous or inadequate. Unless and until that course is followed, any discussion must be conducted within the confines of “the doctrine of Scripture that prevails,” that is, the official doctrine of our confessions, and, of course, any interpretive decisions which have been made in the past.
The second basic issue mentioned by Dr. Sob is what he calls the “hermeneutical problem.” He presents it as follows:
Closely related to the previous question, and possibly reducible to it, is the hermeneutical problem. The question is, how is the Bible to be understood, how is it to be interpreted, how does one find one’s way into its meaning? Although there is no disposition among Reformed scholars to adopt the demythologizing procedures of Rudolf Bultmann, or to endorse the allegorical methods of the contemporary radicals, questions have arisen in orthodox circles as to how accounts such as those provided by the early chapters of Genesis are to be understood. There is evidence that responsible Reformed theologians in the Netherlands have moved beyond Assen, and it is difficult to see how we in this community can avoid getting involved, or would want to avoid involvement, in the current inquiry.
Dr. Stob is indeed correct when he suggests that this problem of method of interpretation is “possibly reducible” to the issue of the nature, inspiration, and authority of the Bible. The latter certainly makes all the difference, fundamentally, as far as interpretation is concerned. Hence, I would surely remove the modifier “possibly,” and maintain that interpretation and method of interpretation are inextricably bound up in the nature, inspiration, and authority of Scripture. And I would add that the perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture is also a factor here that must be reckoned with. However, I have some questions in this regard:
1) Does Dr. Stob indeed mean to say that it is a question with him, with Calvin Seminary (in part), and with the Journal, as to how the Bible is to be understood, how it is to be interpreted, how one finds one’s way into its meaning? I can hardly believe this statement as it stands. If this is true, then everything exegetical and theological is at loose ends; there is nothing settled and fixed. For how can any truth, any doctrine, any dogma be construed as long as it is still a question how one finds one’s way into the meaning of the Bible, “the ultimate norm for Christian teaching.” Then there are no “bases of unity.”
2) While Bultmann’s demythologizing procedures are rejected, nothing is said about that other not-to-be-ignored theologian, Karl Barth. How would the Journaljudge Barth’s approach to Scripture? Would it concede a sphere of positive influence to Barth in regard to this hermeneutical problem and particularly in regard to the early chapters of Genesis?
3) What does Dr. Stob mean by responsible Reformed theologians moving “beyond Assen?” Does he mean that they accept Assen and then advance from that point? Or does he perhaps mean that they are in radical disagreement with Assen, having already departed from the position of Assen and its literalism, and want to legalize their refusal to be bound by Assen’s decisions?
Finally, it seems to me that this whole issue is also inextricably bound up in the current discussions concerning evolutionism and theistic evolutionism, and that, in fact, the desire to maintain a brand of evolutionism has led to the desire to revise and liberalize the interpretation of Genesis, and that this in turn has led inevitably to the necessity of a revision of hermeneutics,—a revision which is a departure from sound principles of hermeneutics. I would caution again, however, that any discussion (or debate, which would be healthier; I find all this discussion, or dialogue, as it is called, rather sickening),—any discussion of these matters must again take place within the limits of Scripture and the confessions.
The third issue mentioned by Dr. Stob indeed concerns “the bases of unity.” He presents it as follows.
The question of the Creeds, the nature of Confession, the meaning of Subscription, and the necessity of periodical creedal revision is again in the air. Some attention has recently been paid to these matters by writers appearing in this Journal. It seems evident that the discussion must continue: There are issues here that must be brought out into the open, carefully and critically scrutinized, and then patiently resolved.
Here, I feel, Dr. Stob arrives at a most crucial issue. It seems evident that to some in the Christian Reformed Church the Formula of Subscription is too much of a straitjacket. The only real reason, however, why that Subscription is a straitjacket to some lies not in that Subscription, but in their own disagreement with the confessions to which they must subscribe. One who is in full and voluntary agreement with the confessions does not feel himself bound by the confessions as by a straitjacket. But one who finds himself in disagreement must do one or both of the following: either relax the strict requirements of the Formula of Subscription, or get the confessions themselves revised. I submit, however:
1) That it is totally improper to propagandize the churches on these matters without making, and rather than making, these matters an ecclesiastical issue.
2) That if Dr. Stob and others think that the confessions or the Formula of Subscription are in need of revision, or if they even think that such need of revision should be considered, they should bring this to the attention of the Christian Reformed Synod in the orderly way. Then, when there is a concrete ecclesiastical issue before the churches and under study by the churches, there is ample room for discussion. But until a man is willing to follow this course, he should not disturb nor propagandize the churches with discussion of the very bases of unity.
In conclusion, therefore, I would sound a warning, as follows:
1) The Reformed Journal is indeed raising issues here which concern the very bases of unity. They are open about this. But let all be alert to the fact.
2) Let the Christian Reformed Church be on the alert for the promised future discussion by the Journal. And let those who are concerned about the preservation of our Reformed heritage be prepared to take prompt and resolute action if this proves necessary. Let none be deceived into thinking that our heritage can be preserved by mere journalistic debate, or dialogue. If such complete freedom of discussion is allowed, as seems to be the fashion of the day, then finally the church will be deprived of its heritage.
3) The Standard Bearer will be watching, and will not hesitate to join the fray.