An Evaluation of Kuitert’s Dogmatical Views
In this section of my evaluation of the ideas set forth in Dr. Kuitert’s lecture before the Christian Reformed Ministers’ Institute last June I am concerned with the third division of his lecture, in which he spoke of the domatical implications of his view of Genesis 1-3. Since it is a few months ago that I presented a report of Kuitert’s lecture, I will briefly remind the reader of thesubstance of this section of the professor’s speech. For the details the reader may refer to the September 1 issue, pages 462, 463. Briefly, I reported that the following main points were made by Dr. Kuitert:
1) There must be a revamping of all of dogmatics. The professor made bold to state that his views involved entirely new insights and. far-reaching implications for dogmatics, a complete re-orientation.
2) We must do away with the historical order of creation, the fall, and redemption in our dogmatics.
3) Theology must “face the facts, face the data.” It must confront the historical and scientific data. It “cannot talk the fossils out of existence.”
4) What Dr. Kuitert repeatedly called “traditional” theology has been unable to supply a satisfactory explanation of the relation between. creation and Christ, as set forth, for example, in Colossians 1:15, ff.
5) Positively, Dr. Kuitert presented the idea that Genesis 1-3 must be used as a “teaching model.” I shall refer to some of the details of this later. But 1 must emphasize two things: a) That whatever of a positive nature Dr. Kuitert presented as a substitute for the traditional view, it was indeed radically different. b) That Kuitert dealt only in very vague generalities and admitted that there were many problems left with regard to the development of the dogmatical implications of his view, concluding by speaking grandiosely of a panorama unfolding and of life becoming meaningful under his view.
Let us look at this part of Dr. Kuitert’s address, first of all, from a formal point of view. In this connection there are several observations to be made.
In the first place, it should be noted that Kuitert was busy with dogmatics long before he reached this part of his address. In fact, this was so obvious to the observant listener that it could be predicted that the last section of the professor’s speech would indeed be radical. I say this especially from the point of view of the fact that Kuitert was delving into dogmatics, and that too, at its very basis, when he talked about the doctrine of Scripture. It is, after all, one’s view of Scripture which is determinative for all of his dogmatics. Dr. Kuitert’s address was a clear example of this, and it should be a warning to all that once you begin to tamper with the Scriptures you will inevitably “go off the deep end” in all of dogmatics.
In the second place, it must be admitted that, up to a point, Dr. Kuitert was frank to the point of being blunt. He certainly was far from attempting to hide his ideas and the far-reaching implications of his views. He made it plain that he has little use for what he calls the “traditional view.” And he made it plain that he will not attempt to fit his views into the traditional scheme of things in dogmatics. There must be re-orientation, and such a re-orientation that it changes the whole structure of dogmatics. He gives a new content to the term “creation,” a new content to the term “sin,” and necessarily a new content to the terms “Christ” and “redemption.” And one always has to have a certain respect for someone who is open and frank about his views and lets it be known where he stands, even as one is always inclined to despise and distrust the person who is sneaky and less than frank. For the same reason, I would say that in a sense Dr. Kuitert is a less dangerous foe than he might be if he were less open and frank. At least, thus it ought to be. No soundly Reformed man should have any difficulty with Kuitert’s views as he presented them in his lecture; he should without any hesitation and without any qualms whatsoever reject them out-of-hand. For the same reason, by the way, I believe it was altogether wrong for Reformed people to invite Dr. Kuitert here and provide him with a forum to give expression to his views and make propaganda for those views. It may be argued that this did not constitute an endorsement of his views, which is true. But this is not the point. It was well-known, even before Dr. Kuitert came here, that his views were radically divergent; in plain language, Kuitert is a heretic. And it is morally wrong to give a heretic a forum; let heretics find their own forum. Along this same line, I want to remark that the great problem in the Reformed community does not lie in the fact that Kuitert’s views are not obviously wrong, nor in the fact that no Reformed man should have to take five minutes to decide that they are wrong. The great problem lies in the fact that there are so few Reformed men who are willing to take an unequivocal Reformed stand and to fight. The great problem lies in the fact that also the Reformed community has been smitten by such a spirit of so-called tolerance that they will engage in so-called dialogue with any enemy of the faith and will allow the church to be “dialogued” to death.
In this connection, let it be noted that I said only that Kuitert was frank “up to a point.” But that point is the crucial one. In the ultimate sense Dr. Kuitert is, after all, less than frank. When I listened to him last June, one of the questions which continually arose in my soul was this: what is this man doing in the Reformed church and in the Free University of Amsterdam? In my opinion, if Dr. Kuitert were totally frank, he would openly say farewell to the Reformed faith, to the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, and to the Free University. This would be wrong, of course; but it would be honest and frank. For I am convinced that Dr. Kuitert’s dogmatical views as he presented them in his lecture and as I understood them have nothing in common with our Reformed faith as set forth in our confessions. Kuitert has no Reformed view of Scripture; he has no Reformed view of creation; he has no Reformed view of sin; and, necessarily, he has no Reformed view of Christ and of redemption. You call this a serious indictment? I fully recognize the fact; but, no less, I am fully convinced of it. And I am thoroughly convinced that it needs saying and that there is far too much fear of being critical today. I suppose that there are those who will accuse me of lacking in love when I make such an indictment too; and my reply to that is there is no genuine love of the brethren or of the neighbor outside of the truth as it is in Jesus and apart from the love of the truth. Those who love the Reformed faith and the Reformed church will be willing to “call a spade a spade” when it comes to heresy. And God pity the denomination which will not do so!
This brings mew to my third formal observation. Dr. Kuitert spoke of the implications of his views for “dogmatics.” He should have changed this, or he should have added a fourth point to his lecture. He should have spoken about the implications of his views for the confessions. It is, of course, always legitimate to discuss extra-confessional subjects, that is, subjects on which the confessions do not speak directly. And it is always both legitimate and commendable to strive for the development and enrichment of dogmatics within the framework of the confessions. But the fact of the matter is, in the first place, that Kuitert’s lecture was marked by a complete ignoring of the confessions. There was no attempt to work from the confessions nor to make plain that he was working within the framework of the confessions. But secondly, and still worse, when Kuitert was speaking of the implications of his views for dogmatics he was in fact (whether he and his audience recognized and admitted this or not) speaking of the implications for the confessions. And, to put it very pointedly, those implications were that he contradicted the confessions. I submit that this is not an inference on my part, but a very plain fact. I refer to Kuitert’s statement that we must abandon the historical scheme of creation-fall-redemption. It is precisely this historical scheme which belongs to the very fabric of our Reformed creeds. One certainly does not have to read the Heidelberg Catechism any farther than Lord’s Day VII in order to see that this is true of the Catechism. In the Netherland Confession of Faith you discover this same idea within the scope of four articles, Articles 14-17. The same scheme you will discover in the Canons. It is on the very surface in Canons I, Articles 1-4; and it appears very clearly again in Canons III, IV, Articles 1-6. Now I suppose the retort to this would be that we have to distinguish between the framework of the confessions and the substance of the confessions; this is quite the fashion today in the same theological circles where all these liberal ideas are arising. But I submit that the creation-fall-redemption theme in our confessions is so thoroughly a part of the substance of our confessions that if you remove it, you destroy the confessions. And therefore, I say once more: Dr. Kuitert was not merely discussing dogmatics (where, after all, you have a goodly measure of liberty); but he was actually discussing the contents of the confessions in such a way that he was militating against them. And the latter no Reformed man has the right to do under the terms of the Formula of Subscription. If you analyze Kuitert’s speech, what he was actually proposing was a revamping, a re-orientation, of the confessions, not merely of dogmatics. If any man wants to do that, he must follow the course of filing gravamina against the confessions, not the course of public propaganda for his divergent views.
My final observation, from a formal point of view, is that Dr. Kuitert engages, in my opinion, in some rather reckless theologizing. Perhaps this kind of stuff is supposed to be scholarly; I fail completely to see it. Even apart from the right or wrong of Kuitert’s views, and even apart from the question whether he is in harmony with our confessions, it seems to me that one would think a hundred or a thousand times before proposing anything as radical as what Kuitert proposed. After all, it is the duty of a theologian, and this duty belongs to the very method of dogmatics, to take into account what has been produced in the history of dogma. No, this does not mean that the dogmatician must be a hide-bound traditionalist. Nor does it mean that he must follow the ecclesiastical method of dogmatics, the traditional Roman Catholic method. But it does mean that he very seriously takes into account the past. It does mean that he will certainly give it long and hard thought before he decides to go against the stream of the entire past. It does mean that he will have what is sometimes called a “sense of history.” Why? The fundamental reason is that the church in the past has also had the Spirit to guide her into all the truth. For this reason it is a tremendously serious thing to decide that all through the past the church has been so wrong that now all of dogmatics needs revamping and re-orientation. Moreover, he who proposes such a thing is duty bound to have some pretty solid and well-tested reasons for it. And, besides, he had better have something pretty worthwhile to put in the place of what he wants to throw out. And I consider Kuitert to be wanting on all three counts. Kuitert is a theological radical. It seems to me that no theologian worthy of the name would attempt to propose what Kuitert proposed in the space of one-third of a forty-five minute speech. If he had no more time than that, he should have kept hands off such a weighty subject. Moreover, Kuitert presented no solid or even weighty reasons from Scripture, from the confessions, or from the history of dogma in support of his views and proposals. And, above all, he had a woefully poor substitute for the dogmatical views which he wanted to discard. It was weakly presented. It was vague. It was admittedly undeveloped and problematical. For my part,—I say again, apart from any other considerations of right or wrong, of confessional or non-confessional,—if I were given the choice of the traditional view or of Kuitert’s so-called teaching model and the meager content he presented in his speech, then, please, give me the rich heritage of the traditional view.
The material worth of Kuitert’s dogmatical views we will consider next time, D.V.