AN EVALUATION OF KUITERT’S DOGMATICAL VIEWS (cont.)
Last time I offered a few observations about the third, dogmatical part of Dr. Kuitert’s lecture from a formal point of view. We are now ready to consider this same section, of his lecture materially, and to evaluate the contents of the dogmatical implications which he himself drew from his presentation of Genesis 1-3 and creation.
In this connection I will begin with his severe indictment that the traditional view of creation has been historically unable to connect creation and Christ, and. specifically that the Christian church has never known what to do with passages such as Colossians 1:15, ff., which speaks of Christ as “the image of the invisible God the firstborn of every creature,” and of the fact that “all things were created by him and for him,” and that “he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Dr. Kuitert seems to take an almost iconoclastic delight in sweeping to the side so-called traditional dogmatics and in pointing out alleged weaknesses and inabilities of traditional views, in order then to offer 5 his own views as a kind of panacea for all these ills. If one listens to Kuitert, he gradually gets the idea that the Christian church in the past, including our Reformed fathers, had a very sterile dogmatics and really did not know very much, not even about such fundamental items as creation and the fall and redemption. In fact, if you consider that when you begin to talk about doing away with the whole historical scheme of creation-fall-redemption, you are getting down into the “meat” of dogmatics, getting down to the essentials of the gospel, one almost gets the impression that Kuitert thinks that the church in the past never knew what the truth was. This is true of the point now under consideration also. For, you understand, Kuitert’s indictment about a failure to connect creation and Christ and a failure to understand passages likeColossians 1:15-19 was aimed at the traditional view of Genesis and at the traditional creation-fall-redemption scheme. His point is that because the church in the past has held to the traditional view of Genesis and to the creation-fall-redemption theme, therefore the church has been unable to see the connection between creation and Christ and has been unable properly to explain such a beautiful passage as Colossians 1:15-19.
Now frankly I am rather unimpressed, and that for more than one reason. For one thing, it would certainly take more than one-third of a 45-minute lecture to convince me of these big claims. Perhaps this is the style of the Free University today. And perhaps in our times, when there is upheaval and clamor for change, clamor for the new, everywhere, it is rather easy to appeal to those who desire the new, also in the area of the Reformed faith. But I, for one, am rather inclined to be skeptical and to keep in mind the rule that “all change is not improvement.” It is one thing to make big claims; it is quite another to substantiate them. And as far as I am concerned, not only did Kuitert fail completely to furnish any proof for his bold claims, but it was also rather foolhardy even to broach such far-reaching items in the span of a brief lecture. And it seems to me that anyone who has his dogmatical feet planted firmly on solid ground will not very easily be swept off his feet by this kind of thing.
Nevertheless, I am willing to examine these claims of Dr. Kuitert. And then there is more than one item to be examined. In the first place, there is the question whether his claim as such is true, namely, that the Christian church in general and Reformed dogmatics in particular has failed to connect creation and Christ and has failed to come up with a satisfactory explanation of passages which point to such a connection, such as Colossians 1:15-19. In the second place, there is the question whether, if there is any failure to establish a proper connection between Christ and creation, this is due inherently to a weakness in the traditional conception of creation and of Genesis 1-3. That is, is it due to a literal and historical understanding of the creation record? And then, of course, there is the question, in the third place, whether Dr. Kuitert contributes anything of significance to fill this alleged basic lack, as he claims. To these questions we shall address ourselves at this time.
My answer to the first question, in the main, is No. Dr. Kuitert’s claim is not correct. In this connection, I wish to point to the following.
In the first place, as far as the general principle is concerned, Reformed theology has certainly recognized a relation between Christ and creation, between redemption and creation, between the new heavens and the new earth and the fast heavens and the first earth. One would, of course, expect this too. It would certainly be an amazing thing if such an important facet of the truth would never have been discovered by the church until the brilliant theological lights of the twentieth century came upon the scene. It may indeed be true that some theologians have not been explicit on this subject, and have not explained this relationship in an entirely satisfactory manner. It may also be true that Reformed theology has, as a whole, not succeeded in unfolding the full riches of the creation-Christ relationship in the past. But the general principle of such a relationship is certainly held.
This is true, first of all, of our confessions. Think, for example, of the fact that our Heidelberg Catechism teaches that it was exactly “the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” Who “of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence,” (Lord’s Day IX). Now Kuitert may object that there is no explanation and development of this truth in our Catechism; and this is entirely true. But the fact remains that the Catechism here posits a relation between creation and Christ. Mark well: the Catechism does not merely speak of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and creation. But it speaks specifically of creation by the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is true that Ursinus himself did not further develop this idea, or even that he did not fully comprehend its significance. Nevertheless, you have here the seed, the principle, of Scripture’s Christ-creation relationship. Principally, the Catechism here gives expression to the same idea that you find inColossians 1. The same is true of the Belgic Confession. In Article X reference is made to one of the passages which Kuitert mentioned in his lecture. It ought to be noted that this article is not speaking merely about the Second Person of the Trinity as such, but about the truth that Jesus Christ is true and eternal God. And again, I readily concede that our Confession does not develop this idea further. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it recognizes a Christ-creation relationship by virtue of the very fact that it mentions this. For you read in this article: “And the apostle saith, that God made the worlds by his Son; likewise, that God created all things by Jesus Christ.”
In the second place, if you turn to the works of various Reformed dogmaticians, you will indeed discover that they recognize such a relationship in various ways. They recognize, for example, that the first creation is the stage upon which God’s work of salvation is realized. They recognize in the first Adam a type of the second. They recognize the fact that Adam was not destined to be the last of God’s works and that the highest perfection was not reached in him. They recognize that the end of all things (of the things which had their beginning in the first creation) is reached in the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. One can find all kinds of indications of this in the writings of men like Dr. A. Kuyper and Dr. H. Bavinck. Again, it may be true that they did not present a view which was in all respects satisfactory and that they not develop properly the riches of Scripture’s presentation; I would certainly be among the first to concede this. But this is again quite different than the severe indictment that they did not recognize any connection. I will go a step farther. I will concede that you can find Reformed theologians whose dogmatics is very sterile on this score. They are apparently content, to a large extent, to find the significance of creation in the fact that it serves the revelation of God’s glory and that it reveals God’s omnipotence. Apparently they make a mechanical distinction between God’s work in creation and His work in redemption, even as there has been a tendency to identify the work of creation with the First Person of the Trinity and the work of redemption with the Second Person in a mechanical way. You will also find indications among some Reformed theologians that they view Christ and His work of redemption as a repair work which became necessary when sin and the devil and Adam’s fall spoiled God’s first work. Moreover, these are often men who have a very orthodox and strict view of the Genesis record. L. Berkhof and Charles Hodge are certainly not free of blame on this score, for example. But Kuitert’s blanket indictment of the Christian church and of Reformed theology is simply not true. When I first heard it, I thought it was a preposterous claim. All the theologians of the past would have had to be theological ignoramuses if they had not recognized such a simple truth at all. And when, for safety’s sake, I began to check up on what various theologians have said in this connection, my doubts about Kuitert’s claim were confirmed.
In the third place, I would call your attention to the fact that if Kuitert has consulted all of Reformed theology, he ought to know that the late Herman Hoeksema repeatedly and most beautifully explained this relation between Christ and creation. In fact, this idea runs as a golden thread through all of his theology. And he certainly was one theologian who insisted upon a strictly literal interpretation of the creation record. In the next issue I will quote at length to demonstrate the truth of this contention.