We express heartfelt thanks today to Prof. David J. Engelsma for his sixteen years of faithful labor as editor in chief of the Standard Bearer. When in 1988 he acceded to the request of the SB staff to replace Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema as editor, Rev. Engelsma was the minister of a large and busy congregation in South Holland, Illinois. The daunting task of editor became even more difficult than he envisioned it, as he received the appointment to the seminary in the same year. Consequently, in the first few years as editor, he was engaged also in preparing seminary courses and obtaining an advanced degree in theology.
We readers would know nothing of that heavy load—not, at least, from the quality of the editorials. Prof. Engelsma brought something of a new style to the editorials of the SB. I hesitate to say that they were better, because the SB has had outstanding editors from the beginning. There was, however, something compelling about them. His articles were deliberately Reformed, and even unashamedly Protestant Reformed. At the same time, they were crafted with the kind of painstaking care that drove home the point of the editorial. In his interview printed in this and a subsequent issue, Prof. Engelsma divulges the reasons for his deliberate care in writing. You can read that for yourself.
We readers benefited from the thorough research, the careful dissection of the issues, and the biblical and confessional guideposts that the editorials erected. Above all, we benefited from the bold and incisive leadership in the confusion of doctrinal controversy and in the face of moral perversion. There was never an uncertain sound.
The editorials were not only Reformed, they were pertinent, and they were consistently well written. That combination changed the manner in which I read the Standard Bearer. After 1988, when I received the SB in the mail, rather than immediately turning the magazine over to read the news, as was my wont, I turned eagerly to the editorials. I think I was not alone. The editorials were imaginative and bold. Who can forget the apt quotation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice “Curiouser and curiouser!”—in the analysis of a printed report of uninformed, critical conjectures on the PRC (Feb. 15, 1995)? Or the biting, “There may even be some footnotes,” in response to an alleged lack of scholarship in the SB editorials evidenced (supposedly) by a lack of footnotes. Or the sharp irony in the description of Protestant Reformed folk on the farm with their cows, chanting “TULIP” and letting the world pass them by, in reply to a strange description of the PRC as rural, isolationist, obsessed, and deformed for their continued rejection of common grace (Oct. 15, 1989).
Even the titles drew one in. How could you not turn first to “Pulling the Plug on the Flood,” or, “Jesus the Son of Nathan,” or, “Jewish Dreams”?
The bold character of the editorials is illustrated in the refutation of 1994?—the book that claimed to prove (by mathematical calculations on the data of the Bible) that Christ’s return would occur in September of 1994. Having exposed the exegetical errors of the book, and having established the correct teaching of the Bible on the second coming of Christ, Engelsma drove his point home with a “genuine prophecy … based on God’s own Word.” He confidently affirmed, “As a Reformed believer and minister of the Word … (i)n the name of Jesus Christ, I declare with absolute certainty that Jesus will not come and the world will not end in 1994” (Jan. 1, 1993).
Such outspoken courage drew some harsh criticism, but the point was emphatically made. Besides, September of 1994 came and went, thus fulfilling Engelsma’s scripturally grounded prophecy.
The editorials of the last sixteen years hit the mark. For that reason, they drew attention. Articles that exposed the errors of Christian Reconstructionism elicited from one of its well-known defenders the bold challenge, “Let’s have a debate!” (May 15, 1999). But when Engelsma agreed to it, the challenger declined to participate (Sept. 1, 1999). His reasons rang hollow.
“The Sad Case of Bert Zandstra” (Nov. 1, 1997), got someone’s attention. This riveting editorial lamented the tolerance of divorce and remarriage by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”), as reported in their own paper, De Reformatie. Subsequently, the SB was dropped from their mailing list, and not another copy of De Reformatie could be obtained. Requests for a subscription were never answered.
When Dr. Richard Mouw treated the PRC with respect in his book promoting common grace (He shines in All That’s Fair), the twelve SB editorials in refutation dealt with Dr. Mouw in kind. Dr. Mouw noticed, and agreed to a PRC sponsored debate with Prof. Engelsma, to the profit of the well over 2,000 attendees.
The editorials instructed on the Reformed faith. Space fails me to recount the editorials that gave a solid defense of Amillennialism, as well as a defense of God’s unconditional covenant of grace over against the conditional covenant; emphatic warnings against divorce and remarriage; and instruction on a variety of subjects including worship, the biblical position of women, the kingdom, and much more. A rereading of them yields rich spiritual benefits.
The letters printed reveal the profit from the tireless labors of Prof. Engelsma. One finds in them rebukes, criticism, appreciation, requests for more explanation, excoriation, and, yes, some praise too (when he would print those). Some unprinted ones threatened. Nonetheless, never could the writers complain, “We don’t know where you stand.” Nor could they make the charge stick that the editorials were unreformed, i.e., contrary to the confessions. The truth was clearly expressed, and it was Reformed.
We thank God for the sixteen years that Prof. David J. Engelsma was editor in chief of the Standard Bearer. We thank God for the evident gifts given to him; for the diligent and hardworking character of the man; for his willingness to spend himself for the task.
But above all, we thank God for keeping you, Prof. Engelsma, a faithful herald of the truth. As editors, we will profit from your labors. As readers, we already have.