We are now ready to evaluate and criticize the views of Dr. Kuitert as set forth in his lecture on the so-called “Genesis-question.”
Before proceeding with this evaluation, however, I want to call attention to one or two connected items. In the first place, since I began to write on this subject in the August 1 issue, the July-August issue of Torch and Trumpet has appeared. It also devotes a great amount of attention to this Kuitert issue. Possibly I will refer to this again; at the moment, however, I refer to it only to mention that what I read in Torch and Trumpetconfirms the accuracy of my personal notes and report of Dr. Kuitert’s lecture. In the second place, the July issue of the Reflector, published by the American Reformed Church (Liberated) also makes reference to Dr. Kuitert. This little mimeographed paper contains a complete transcription in English of a lecture given by Dr. Kuitert in the First (Bates St.) Christian Reformed Church under the sponsorship of the Dutch Immigrant Society on the subject “Changes Among the Reformed.” Also to this lecture I shall probably refer later. I mention it now for two reasons. The first is that it is very helpful in understanding Dr. Kuitert’s entire outlook. He wants change: change in theology and change in the entire world-and life view of the Reformed. And at least one very strong element of Kuitert’s outlook is that he bids farewell to the whole idea of the antithesis. All of which leads me to think that somewhere in this entire picture there is involved to no little degree the influence of the common grace theory,—even though the latter receives no mention. The second is that the Reflector quotes Dr. Kuitert as saying: “Dr. Berkouwer believes the same thing as I do but he doesn’t dare to say it as frankly as I do.” This tends to confirm what I wrote about “very definite overtones of Dr. Berkouwer in Kuitert’s lecture.” It also confirms and justifies my severe criticism of Dr. Berkouwer’s “Holy Scripture,” Vol. 1, in the Prot. Ret Theological Journal.
But now let us turn to an evaluation of Kuitert’s ideas. In this evaluation I shall follow the order of Dr. Kuitert’s lecture.
Evaluation of Kuitert’s View of Genesis
A careful analysis of Dr. Kuitert’s lecture leads one to the conclusion that the basic issue, the matter that underlies all that he said, is not this Genesis-question, but rather his view of Scripture. And while the Genesis-question is indeed important, it should be noted that the deeper, underlying issue of the doctrine of Holy Scripture is far more important because it concerns the foundation of the entire structure of the truth. This became very clear, too, when Dr. Kuitert reached the third division of his lecture and spoke about the dogmatical implications of his view. All of this makes it a bit difficult, however, to begin our evaluation where Kuitert began his lecture and to do so without touching upon that basic issue of the doctrine of Scripture. The reader will have to bear with me in this respect. At the same time, this order of treatment will serve, however, to underscore and clarify my later criticism of his doctrine of Scripture. As I wrote earlier, Dr. Kuitert himself says that he wants to be accepted as believing Holy Scripture. Without making any judgment about his personal faith and salvation (that, after all, is not within the purview of a dogmatical discussion), we must nevertheless face the question whether Kuitert’s views, are consistent with a belief of Holy Scripture.
How, then, must we evaluate Dr. Kuitert’s views with respect to Genesis?
First of all, we should not overlook the important fact that Dr. Kuitert does not hold to the doctrine of creation, but to the doctrine of evolution. There is a danger that this is overlooked. For one thing, Kuitert himself did not pay much direct attention to this subject in the course of his lecture; and he certainly did not discuss this issue directly. If I remember correctly, he used the term “evolution” only once in the course of his lecture. Moreover, he is quoted in the Grand Rapids Press as holding that creation can take the form of evolution: “Why is it dishonoring God because we say creation takes the shape of evolution?” Besides, he concentrated almost entirely in this part of his lecture on his cunningly devised story of how the Genesis narrative originated and how it served as a confession of Israel’s Jehovah-faith and as a teaching model. Nevertheless, it is a fact that Dr. Kuitert does not hold to the doctrine of creation. He is an evolutionist.
Notice that I do not say that he is a so-called theistic evolutionist. There may indeed be many evolutionists who claim to believe in God and to hold that God controlled the processes of evolution. Or they may claim, as Kuitert was quoted as saying, that “creation takes the shape of evolution.” But this is a myth. It is utterly inconsistent. It is a contradiction in terms. Creation is not evolution, and evolution is not creation. Believing Christians should once and for all understand this and insist that the lines be drawn clearly and in an either-or manner. They should not be fooled by those who like to use the term “creation” and then to pour a different content, an evolutionistic content, into that term, That is like using the term “white” to describe the concept “black,’.’ or the term “milk” to describe the concept “poison,” or the term “automobile” to describe the concept “wall,” or, if you will, the term “sin” to describe the concept “grace.”
You complain that this is rather blunt and radical?
I deny it. I insist that this is indeed the issue. And I insist that this becomes very clear when you analyze Kuitert’s teachings. According to Kuitert, Adam and Eve never lived. According to Kuitert, the paradise narrative is not an historical account, which means it isfiction, pure and simple. Carry that principle a bit farther, and I insist that this is my logical right. Genesis also says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the same Genesis in the same context which also teaches us that God created Adam and Eve. The same Kuitert who denies that Adam and Eve ever existed although Genesis says that they did must also apply the same rule to the same Genesis which teaches that God created the heavens and the earth. In fact, this line may legitimately be drawn,—must, in fact, be drawn, according to every rule of exegesis,—with respect to all the details of Genesis 1 and the six days of creation. What is the conclusion? You can put it in two words: NO CREATION.
Did this become clear in any other ways from Dr. Kuitert’s remarks? Yes, in the first place, it is very striking to me that when Dr. Kuitert made the point that we must read the Genesis story as proclamation, kerugma, rather than as a journalistic account containing historical data, he did not even include the truth of God’s creative work in this so-called “proclamation.” According to my notes, this proclamation is: that creation is good; that we are the guilty ones; that man was meant to be God’s representative, God’s image bearer; and that God does not give up on man even if he is a sinner. Notice that the truth that God created the heavens and the earth is conspicuous by its absence from this “proclamation.” Now let us understand clearly the implications of this. It means nothing less than that you can believe the gospel (this is, after all, the meaning of “proclamation”) without believing that God created the heavens and the earth and all that they contain.
Did it become still more clear from Dr. Kuitert’s lecture? Yes, for my second piece of evidence in this regard I refer you to the third part of his lecture, concerning the dogmatical implications of his view. According to Kuitert, we must abandon the historical scheme of creation, the fall, redemption. We see at this point how completely divergent Kuitert’s view is. Essentially, it has nothing in common with our Reformed faith. Whence is this? Of what is it the fruit? It is the fruit of Kuitert’s view of Genesis. He denies creation. Because he denies creation, he must deny the fall as an historical fact. Because he denies the fall, he denies sin. And because he denies sin, he must necessarily deny redemption and grace. O, I know: he uses the terms. But this is the insidious part of it. And remember, that just as Kuitert does not mean creation when he speaks of creation, so he does not mean what we mean, and, more importantly, what the Bible means, when he speaks of sin and of redemption.
Finally, on this point, we must remember that this entire dispute comes down to the question of Scripture. If Kuitert wants to teach that “creation takes the shape of evolution,” then he must show us from Scripture and by clear and unassailable exegesis of Scripture that this teaching has in it all the authority, of Scripture’s “Thus saith the Lord!” Then, and then only, will I believe it; and then we must all believe it. But with this “Thus saith the Lord” Kuitert does not come. Both according to his lecture and according to the reported interview in the Grand Rapids Press, Kuitert comes with “Thus saith science.” I quote: “On the matter of creation he said, We should listen to the scientists. Why is it dishonoring God because we say creation takes the shape of evolution? What about the fossils and earth layers?'” I will return to this later; but I am afraid, dreadfully afraid, that Kuitert has no Bible left. To him the Bible is only the personal opinion and the personal interpretation of the human authors of the Bible.
This brings me to my second main point of criticism, namely: Dr. Kuitert offered absolutely no Scriptural and no exegetical proof for his theories at any point, but instead rested his entire case on so-called science. I have already referred to this briefly at various points in my report of his lecture. Let me point this out in detail:
1) Dr. Kuitert stated flatly that we must discard the traditional view (the literal interpretation) of Genesis. What was the reason? Did he furnish a Scripturally grounded and well-reasoned exegetical foundation for this radical claim? Not at all. He criticized this view as being from the 17th and 18th centuries. Even this is not true, of course; the literal interpretation is much, much older than this. But my point is that this is not a proper argument. It is not a Scriptural argument.
2) He stated that the Genesis account had its origin in various accounts of the origin of things which were current among the heathen nations of that time. Now I will believe this the moment that anyone furnishes me with indisputable proof that it is true. I cannot accept any man’s cunningly devised theory. And to me,—and thus it ought to be for any theologian worthy of the name; yea, for any believer,—indisputable proof means proof with the infinite weight of authority of “Thus saith the Lord.” Scriptural proof, exegetical proof, is what we need. Kuitert did not furnish it. In fact, he did not even attempt to furnish proof of any kind for this claim. He merely made a claim.
3) The same is true of all that Kuitert said about inspiration and about the manner of inspiration and about Genesis being a teaching model and not a journalistic account. Not only did the doctor not explain his radical theories in very much detail; not only is he guilty of presenting a caricature of the Reformed view of inspiration when he suggested that some hold that it means a “dropping out of the blue;” but he is also guilty of the cardinal error which no theologian ought ever to commit. He failed completely to back up his theories with Scripture and with exegesis.
4) What is Kuitert’s starting-point, and what is his method? His starting point is not Scripture, butscience. We must listen to the scientists. You cannot talk the fossils out of existence. What about the earth layers? The reader must understand that I am not denying that we may ask about fossils and earth layers, etc., etc. This is not the point. Dr. Kuitert is not reasoning from fossils, earth layers, and whatever else may be mentioned in this connection. He is reasoning from certain scientists’ interpretations of fossils and earth layers. Some scientists have concluded from these things that the universe is millions and billions of years old and that it is the product of a process of evolution. Kuitert begins here. Then he comes into conflict with the testimony of Scripture in Genesis. And he attempts to avoid this conflict by accommodating the testimony of Scripture to the views of science, or rather, scientism. This is a very common ploy of theologians who bow before the idol of scientism. But it is a most fundamental error of method. It is the reverse of what it ought to be. The rule ought to be: first Scripture, and all other things in the light of Scripture. Kuitert’s rule is obviously: first science’s claims, and Scripture in the light of those claims. Let me emphasize this: even if I had no answer to the claims of scientism and could reach no satisfactory explanation of such things as fossils and earth layers, I and every believer must hold to what Scripture says and not be tempted to accommodate Scripture to what the scientists claim; and we must do this even if the whole world calls us fools!
But here again, the basic question is Kuitert’s view of Scripture. The fundamental question is: whence is Scripture? And the real point in this question concerns the much talked about “human factor” or “human element” in the Bible. This we will discuss later.
My third point of criticism is that though there is much talk about the new theology and the new hermeneutics in this connection, there is basically nothing new in Kuitert’s presentation, but it is merely an old theory with a few new twists. In the first place, the basic issue concerning the historical reality of the things described in Genesis was in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands once upon a time settled in the Dr. Geelkerken case by Assen, 1926, with its “sensuously perceptible” formula. The trouble is that certain theologians in the Netherlands agitated long enough that the Synod of Lunteren abandoned the position of Assen. Some, Editor Haverkamp of De Wachteramong them, may try to comfort themselves that Lunteren nevertheless maintained the position of the Belgic Confession on Scripture; but this is totally unrealistic. It is realistic to say that it was exactly the agitation of men like Kuitert which led to the cancellation of Assen’s formula. It is realistic to say that Lunteren officially opened the door for theories like those of Kuitert. It is realistic to say that the current opinion in the Netherlands is and will be that views like those of Kuitert are legitimately within the confines of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture as set forth in our Confession of Faith, Articles 4 and 5, properly interpreted. In the second place, in the broader context of the history of dogma what Kuitert presents is not essentially new, but old. Both his view of Genesis and his theory of Scripture’s being a synthesis of heathen myths are old. They are theories which, especially under the influence of German rationalism, were introduced into the churches centuries ago. The churches have fought this battle before. But the enemy does not give up. He gives the lie a slightly new garb and perhaps a more palatable format, especially by the device of speaking of “proclamation;” and thus he has succeeded in bringing the fortress of the Reformed faith into dire jeopardy. What has happened? Instead of heeding the injunction of Hebrews 6:1 to leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and to go unto perfection, the Reformed churches today are busy questioning and undermining the very first principles of the faith, the a-b-c’s of Christian doctrine.
Be not deceived! Even if it becomes necessary to stand as a very small but faithful minority, let us not be swept along by this swelling tide of false doctrine. Let us stand on the intolerant truth!