The Standard Bearer has from time to time reflected on some of the theological trends in the Netherlands in the Gereformeerde Kerken because of the influential position which these churches occupy in the Reformed community as a whole and particularly because of the influence which Dutch theologians have exercised upon theological developments in this country, especially in the Christian Reformed Churches. From time to time disturbing reports have come from the Netherlands, reports which have been connected with names of leaders such as Dr. Berkouwer, Dr. Kuitert, Dr. Polman, as well as names like Koole and Baarda. Besides, the last General Synod of theGereformeerde Kerken recanted the decision in the Geelkerken Case (Assen, 1926), in effect opening the door officially to various erring views with respect to the first chapters of Genesis; Moreover, it is a well-known fact that at least some of the so-called liberal wing of the Christian Reformed Church in this country are in sympathy with some of the new trends in the Netherlands, and particularly in sympathy with the theological method and views of Dr. Berkouwer.
It was of no little interest, therefore, that Dr. H.M. Kuitert came to our shores and was given the opportunity to air some of his views. Moreover, these views of Dr. Kuitert received considerable attention and created no small stir when they were expressed, even to the extent that the Grand Rapids Press carried a report of an interview with Dr. Kuitert. I was especially interested in what this Dutch professor had to say about the first chapters of Genesis and about the inspiration and authority of Scripture, some of the most significant subjects under discussion at present in the Reformed community; Dr. Kuitert had been invited to speak three times at the Christian Reformed Ministers Institute, and two of these lectures were originally slated to be on the above subjects. He had been scheduled to deliver a lecture on “The First Chapters of Genesis and the Authority of the Bible,” and another lecture on “A New Approach to Creation and Evolution.” The subject of his third lecture was announced as “Changing Morality in a Changing World.” For some unannounced reason, Dr. Kuitert did not follow this plan, but devoted only one lecture to the subject of the First Chapters of Genesis, Creation and Evolution, and the Authority of Scripture. As far as I have been able to ascertain, this lecture will not appear in print; however, I was allowed to attend this lecture and am able to report from rather extensive notes which I took, so that I do not have to rely on the rather brief account which appeared in the Grand Rapids Press.
Who Is Dr. Kuitert?
Dr. Kuitert is one of the younger theologians in the Netherlands, a product of the Free University, and now a member of the theological faculty at the Free University of Amsterdam. He is professor of Ethics and of Systematic Theology. According to a recent news item in Christianity Today, Dr. G.C. Berkouwer, professor of dogmatics at the Free University, is going into semi-retirement; and Dr. Kuitert will be his successor in that position.
This means that Dr. Kuitert occupies a very influential position. He has many a Dutch student of theology under his instruction. But more than this, he also is able to influence students from this country, particularly graduates of Calvin Seminary, who go to the Free University for graduate work. And even apart from this, the very prestige of his position enables a man like Kuitert to be a “voice of authority” in matters theological within theGereformeerde Kerken.
Undoubtedly, therefore, Dr. Kuitert is a force to be reckoned with in the Reformed community. And if attention was given to some of his views heretofore, one may certainly expect that more attention will be paid to him in the future. Already one of his books, originally written in Dutch, has made its appearance in an English translation. This is his “The Reality of Faith,” which I hope to review in a later issue of theStandard Bearer.
To this information it ought to be added that the name and views of Kuitert are very closely related to the name of Dr. Berkouwer. I believe it is fair to say that Dr. Kuitert ties himself to Berkouwer’s apron strings. During the lecture which I heard he spoke very glowingly of Berkouwer’s theology, and especially of the latter’s most recent work on Holy Scripture. On the other hand, Dr. Berkouwer by his views on Holy Scripture not only does not condemn the views of men like Dr. Kuitert, but he also actually creates room for their views, supposedly under the banner of a Reformed doctrine of Scripture; Perhaps it may even be said that Kuitert is not only a disciple of Dr. Berkouwer, but even a protégé of him. At any rate, this relationship is also important, for the simple reason that Dr. Kuitert, by tying himself in with Dr. Berkouwer, capitalizes on the latter’s fame and standing as a theologian, whether intentionally or unintentionally. And for the very reason that Dr. Berkouwer is a force to be reckoned with in the area of Reformed theology, Dr. Kuitert is also such a force.
Before I enter upon my personal report of the lecture which I attended, let me conclude this part of my editorial with a few quotations from the newspaper account to which I referred earlier.
He’s considered controversial when he comes to this country, but Dr. Harry M. Kuitert . . . doesn’t believe he is controversial in the hearts of many Christian Reformed ministers who attended that denomination’s annual ministers’ institute last week.
He believes it is his views on what he calls the “Genesis issue” that has created the stir.
“I don’t think that Adam and Eve ever lived,” he said. “It was the way the Bible writers wrote. They used them as teaching models to discuss creation. Why do I start this whole fuss? Because I believe the Bible is not ‘Adam and Eve,’ but ‘Who is Christ’ and what Christianity is.”
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?
“Some of our orthodox forefathers believed God put fossils and things on earth as a joke.”
In the first (of his three lectures, the one on creation and Genesis, HCH), Dr. Kuitert said the first books of the Bible were written by men who wrote in their surroundings and in words and style of language no longer used.
The above items are sufficient, I am sure, to cause more than a few raised eyebrows. They reveal, too, that Dr. Kuitert does not fall short when it comes to being outspoken in expressing his views; in fact, Kuitert’s frankness was the one thing I could appreciate about his lecture. Yet this brief newspaper account hardly furnishes a realistic picture of the extremely radical position which Dr. Kuitert takes.
An Account of Dr. Kuitert’s Lecture on The Genesis Question
As I mentioned, I took rather extensive notes on Dr. Kuitert’s 45minute speech on this subject. And while I am not able to make many direct quotations, I nevertheless feel competent to give a rather accurate account of the main points of his address. Dr. Kuitert, understandably, did not speak very good English, and it was sometimes difficult to grasp some of his words; but I feel certain that I am not misrepresenting him in what follows.
In his introductory remarks, first of all, Dr. Kuitert pleaded to be accepted as believing Scripture. He asked his audience not to start by calling him bad names, but to work with him (to work critically, if they would), but to work with him. Right here, in my opinion, is the critical point in the entire lecture. For in his views about Genesis and the so-called creation-evolution issue and the authority of Scripture, Dr. Kuitert does not present anything basically new. What is new about his and similar views is the fact that they are being presented in the Reformed community and in what is supposed to have been (until now) one of the strongholds of the Reformed faith, and that they are being presented as being quite consistent with a Reformed doctrine of Holy Scripture. Kuitert wants to be accepted as believing Holy Scripture. This, of course, is the crux of the matter. And I must insist not only that Dr. Kuitert’s views are in clear conflict with Scripture, but also that Kuitert made absolutely no attempt in the course of his lecture to proceed exegetically and to show that his views are founded upon Scripture itself. In other words,—and I shall return to this point later,—Kuitert’s basic approach is wrong. He starts out from a different view of Scripture and its authority; and having a different starting-point, he is bound to reach different conclusions. Worse yet, however, this appeal to be accepted as believing Scripture is insidious. For while it sounds innocent and sincere, it must be remembered that Kuitert means “Scripture as I understand its inspiration and authority.” But as I said, I will return to this point’ later in my account and critique. I mention it now as a fundamental and crucial point, one which must constantly be kept in mind and one by which we must not be deceived. This, by the way, is the only point in the lecture where I considered Dr. Kuitert to be less than frank. Otherwise he was frank to the point of being spine-chilling.
After his introductory remarks, Prof. Kuitert said that in the course of his lecture he would treat three main subjects, namely: 1) The Exegesis of the First Chapters of Genesis; 2) The Implications of His View for the Doctrine of Scripture; and, 3) The Implications for Dogmatics. Admittedly, this was too much territory to cover in the course of a 45-minute lecture. The advantage of this method of treatment was, of course, that Dr. Kuitert furnished his audience with the main thrust of his views, so that those who heard him went away with a rather clear idea of the sweep and the radical character of those views. Nevertheless I cannot refrain from the remark that, in my opinion, the very attempt to cover all this territory in one 45-minute lecture was far from scholarly. I certainly would not even attempt to cover so much territory in a popular lecture. Each of Kuitert’s sub-topics would by itself furnish more than enough material for one lecture. But certainly for a ministers’ institute one would expect a more thorough and theologically scientific treatment of subjects of this kind. Even from this point of view, therefore, I was disappointed and could hardly acclaim this lecture as of university caliber.
As to the exegesis of the Genesis story, Dr. Kuitert began by flatly stating that the Genesis account must not be read as the story of “how it happened.” The old, traditional view of Genesis, according to him, must be discarded. And what reason did he furnish for this statement? One would expect exegetical reasons, Scriptural reasons, or at least the semblance of an attempt to furnish exegetical reasons for such a. bold statement. Such, at least,—whether one agreed with the attempted exegesis or not,—would have been scholarly. It would have been worthy of a theological professor from the famous Free University. But such attempted exegetical reasons were not forthcoming; What did we get instead? In effect, the argument (a purely rationalistic one, and a poor one at that) that this view is “old hat”: it must be discarded simply because it is an idea which came down to us from the 17th and 18th centuries. Besides, the argument was advanced that this traditional view does not take into account the matter of where the Genesis story came from. It does not take into account the fact that inspiration involves a using of man in his historical context. Inspiration, according to Kuitert, does not mean that the Genesis story simply “dropped out of the blue,” so to speak. It involves using man in his historical context. The Genesis story had its origin in various accounts of the origin of things which were current in Israel’s cultural community. There were current among the various nations many such accounts which are parallel to the account of Genesis 1-3; and Israel simply assimilated these stories of other nations and put them into the framework which we find in Genesis, a framework suited to and in harmony with their worship and acknowledgement of Jehovah. Israel annexed these accounts of the other nations for Jaweh. They filtered it and refashioned it. They demythologized the myths. And thus they made these myths suitable for a profession of faith for their God, Jehovah. There are, therefore, no journalistic reports in Genesis, no accounts of howthings happened, no historical data concerning creation and the fall. And Kuitert maintained that with his view he was not doing violence to Scripture, but the very opposite: he was truly honoring Scripture. On the contrary, he claimed, that the old, traditional view of Genesis does violence to Scripture.
Again, however, it must be noted that no exegetical grounds for this view were furnished. There was no attempt at exegetical proof. It became very plain that Dr. Kuitert simply proceeded from the fundamental viewpoint of the higher critic; from a viewpoint which is not at all new in the world of theology, but which is being introduced into the Reformed community in a somewhat new form and under the guise of being a legitimate, Reformed view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.
At this point there were also very definite overtones of Dr. Berkouwer in Kuitert’s lecture. For the claim was made that we must read the Genesis story as proclamation, rather than as a journalistic account containing historical data. And what is this so-called proclamation? This, in brief: that creation is good; that we are the guilty ones; that man was meant to be God’s representative, God’s image-bearer; that God does not give up on man even if he is a sinner. This is the proclamation, the kerugma, the gospel. This is all that can be distilled out of this Genesis story which is otherwise nothing but a synthesis, of myths of other nations in Israel’s cultural community.
I must break off my account at this point, and continue this discussion in the next issue, D.V. Already the reader may obtain somewhat of an idea of the radical departures involved in Dr. Kuitert’s views, however. Nor does it require much discernment to detect that there is absolutely nothing Scriptural about this view. Any similarity between Kuitert’s view and the Genesis-account lies only in the use of some of the words and terms of Scripture, into which, however, Kuitert pours a different content. When he speaks of creation, of guilt and of sin, etc., he does not mean what Scripture and our confessions mean by these terms. They are not, for one things, historical facts: for Genesis does not give us an account of how things happened. And if this be true, then we do not even have an account that things happened. And, finally, it requires little discernment to detect that Kuitert has absolutely no Scriptural and exegetical ground either for rejecting what he called the traditional view, or for maintaining his own view.
Next time, the Lord willing, I will point out, among other things, how Kuitert’s view is destructive of all the Reformed doctrine and how Dr. Kuitert claims that all of Reformed dogmatics must be revamped.