Now and then rumblings of dissatisfaction about Calvin College make themselves heard either in conversation or in public print. Sometimes the fears seem to be chiefly about an alleged socialistic tendency manifesting itself. At other times fears have been expressed about the orthodoxy of the instruction or about the Christian character of some of the student activities.
In response to these expressions of concern there seems to be an occasional flurry of excitement. Once in a while voices calling for investigation are heard. Then an article or two is written which aims to reassure the Christian Reformed constituency that basically nothing is wrong and that really Calvin College is striving to be Calvinistic. The excitement seems to die down; and all things continue as they were before.
Usually I do not concern myself much with these affairs. I do not have any direct contact with Calvin College, for one thing. Besides, although I am an alumnus of Calvin, it is not my college: I am, after all, an “outsider” who has no voice in the affairs of the Christian Reformed Church’s denominational school. Moreover, from what I hear and observe I gain the impression that a “clean-up” of the college would indeed be a Herculean task.
Recently, however, one of our students called my attention to the April 2 issue of the “Calvin College Chimes,” a paper “published weekly by the students of Calvin College by authority of the Student Council.”
When I perused this paper, I stood aghast!
I came to the conclusion that there is not only reason for concern, but more than that, reason for alarm!
This I write not only for Protestant Reformed parents who send their sons and daughters to college at Calvin, but also for the Christian Reformed constituency, who may or may not know what is going on at Calvin, but who are responsible for and who are called upon to support this denominational institution. Our Protestant Reformed parents and young people should be alert to the fact that, to put it mildly, there is much at Calvin College with which they cannot go along and much which they must not imbibe. They must be alert to the fact that our young people should attend Calvin College with an extremely critical attitude, to say the least. And the Christian Reformed constituency should be alarmed to the point that they insist upon a thorough investigation and clean-up. They should insist upon this ecclesiastically and by way of protest.
For I assure you that there is “something rotten in Denmark.”
It may be objected that the “Chimes” is a student paper and that the college cannot be judged on the basis of, nor held responsible for, what the students write. To this I. answer as follows: 1) Unless there is complete anarchy at Calvin, there is, or ought to be, faculty supervision of and a faculty advisor for the Student Council and the “Chimes.” 2) It cannot be denied that “Chimes” projects the image of Calvin College. It is Calvin students who publish it. And it is under Calvin College’s name that this publication goes forth. If the College will not be responsible for “Chimes,” then it should not allow its name to be used by “Chimes.” Besides, unless regulations have changed radically since I attended Calvin, the faculty has ample power to regulate student activities and publications if it only chooses to use this power. 3) The “Chimes” reports numerous activities of a Fine Arts Festival in this issue which are evidently carried on with faculty advice and approval.
No one who reads “Chimes” can fail to associate what is written and reported with Calvin College, therefore. And anyone who reads “Chimes” will automatically say, “This is what Calvin College produces.”
What is so rotten, you ask?
My answer is that there is absolutely nothing distinctive in the entire paper. You could substitute the name of almost any liberal private or church-controlled college for the name of Calvin College in this issue of “Chimes,” and one would never guess that this was supposed to be the publication of a truly Calvinistic, Reformed, orthodox institution.
Here is the evidence.
“THE GREAT GAP”
This is the title of an editorial by “jl” that is not only un-Reformed, but downright modernistic, liberal, and anti-Reformed. This editorial is evidently a reaction to some of Carl McIntire’s propaganda against Calvin College and against “Chimes.” But this does not change the shocking character of the statements made. I will quote at length and without comment from this editorial. Its thoroughly and radically modernistic note is so horrifying and so obvious that no comment is necessary.
McIntire was right, of course: there is a great gap. In fact, it was the point of the article that the gap should be widened. The faith of our fathers—whatever McIntire may think of it—is plainly out of date. If archaic theological methods still dominate the Seminary, that is too bad—too bad for the Seminary and too bad for the denomination.
Perhaps systematic theology was meaningful once; and perhaps it will be meaningful again some day. But now it is harmful. We Christian Reformed people are so used to thinking in terms of election and reprobation, predestination and free will, redemption, justification, providence, and all the rest that our religion has been reduced to theological fence-tending; With our thought gone sterile, strait-jacketed by remote abstractions, each with its own parcel of proof texts, our moral behavior has become legalistic and fundamentalistic. In short, to paraphrase a famous Catholic, “We’ve got to get this denomination moving again.”
But how? To begin with, chuck every theological abstraction—the entire symmetrical system—and start theologizing all over again. Biblical theology might even make religion exciting and open-ended again. Second, learn to read Scripture like any other book. Inspired it is. But might it not be only false piety that has led us to, think that its language is perfectly chosen, and its concepts unchanging? If the Old Testament picture of God shows a marked change from Genesis to Psalms to Malachi, we ought to admit that rather than trying to reconcile the variant concepts. The Bible, like any other book, not only must be, but deserves to be treated with the best historical and literary tools available. We need not be dishonest scholars in order to believe in Christ.
Third, stop heresy-hunting and jump aboard the ecumenical bandwagon. While the church dwindles. and its influence declines, we go on preserving our “orthodoxy” as if it were spiritual virginity. So Joe Roznowski thinks that he is really eating Christ when he takes Communion, does that mean we must exclude him from our Supper? So Ernst Stein thinks man has free will to choose for Christ, does that mean he may not teach in our college? Diversity does not entail incompatibility. There is no such thing as heresy. There are only Christians and non-Christians. Christians should forget antique quarrels and join the gay business of redoing theology and evangelizing the world.
Fourth, send Legalism to the hanging tree. As McIntire has himself seen, freedom is a key Biblical concept. His perverse use of freedom does not make it any less crucial, any more than all the peasant debauches in Luther’s Germany could undo the revolutionary good done by the reformer’s rediscovery that Christians can “love God and do as they please.” When one sees how Christian Reformed people multiply the Ten Commandments into thousands, proscribing everything from a glass of whiskey to a Sabbath swim, one wonders what has become of the truth that was to have made us free.
Fifth, resurrect the supernatural (or if that term is odious, the spiritual). We believe in miracles, we say, but only those that Christ and the prophets did. We say we believe in the power of love, but we tote guns from Domingo to Danang just in case love doesn’t work. Or do we, like McIntire does so often, render unto Caesar what is God’s in our violent defense-of “God, home, and country?” We say we believe the Spirit is in us, but we close the canon with Paul. Did the outpouring of God’s grace end with Paul, or are we afraid of what the Spirit might say in the twentieth century?
The gospel, when not shrunk to fit a theological strait-jacket, is as gigantic a revolutionary force as ever: its ethic of love clears away the cultural rubble of do’s and don’t’s, spoofs fear, brings peace. Christ died to free all men, Christian Reformed folk have forgotten. McIntire is indeed right, the gap is great. But not nearly as great as it should be.
I repeat: this is modernism. It is totally anti-Reformed. It is open rebellion against all that the Christian Reformed Church officially stands for. And it emanates from the very college which the Christian Reformed Church maintains. If the faculty does not approve this stuff, let them openly and publicly repudiate it. If the college authorities do not approve this, let them demand public apology, and let them suspend “Chimes.” But let the church investigate whether this young man, who speaks for the Student Council in its publication, is also perhaps giving utterance to what he is being taught in the class-room. And let the church investigate how, in the first place, this kind of rot can ever come into print in the college’s name! For the impression can never be avoided that Calvin College is judged by its students and by its student publications.
THE FINE ARTS FESTIVAL IMPORTS THE WORLD
The above editorial is not the only evidence. “Chimes” is replete with items about a coming Fine Arts Festival at the college. And outstanding among these items is the number of items which speak of various theatrical productions, theater personalities, and other worldly imports which will have a place in this Fine Arts Festival, all evidently with faculty approval and faculty advice and recommendation.
Let me briefly itemize some examples:
1) On page 1 is an article introduced as follows:
The film, The Three Faces of Eve, will be shown in the Franklin Auditorium tomorrow night at 7:30 pm, under the sponsorship of the Psychology Club.
Directed by Nunnally Johnson and released in 1957, Faces of Eve is the reenactment of a case study made by two University of Georgia psychiatrists of a multiple personality case. . . . . .
Mr. Roel Bijkerk of the Psychology Department said, “Faces of Eve is very well done.” He added, “It is very good documentary of a very spectacular case, in which we all should be interested.”
2) Page 4 contains an item about a two-act drama written by a Calvin student and produced by the students. Apart now from the whole drama-question, which is not a question at all in Calvin, here is the theme of the play (Christian indeed!): “The point of the play is that essentially reality is unknowable, and that if we are correct in some of our guesses as to what reality is, then this is mere coincidence.”
3) Page 5 contains a detailed: article, with pictures, about an Academy Award winning film to be shown, entitled, “Through a Glass Darkly.” This is nothing but a full-blown, worldly theatrical production, imported to the campus of a Reformed and Christian college.
4) On the same page is an article about a Rhythmic Choir offering a religious dance lecture. This is being imported from East Congregational Church of Grand Rapids. It will be “a lecture-demonstration of the dance as an art form.” The lecturer (whose recommendation is that she has taught modern dance at two worldly universities) will speak about “the fundamentals of art as they are exemplified in dance movements” and will “discuss the nature of expressive movement as it can be used in worship services.”
5) Page 7 speaks of a filmstrip, “Modern Art and the Gospel” which will be shown twice during this festival. This film, commented on by a member of the college art department, comes recommended as follows: “. . . reveals the conflicts and tensions of the twentieth century, not in a narrowly theological but in a broadly Christian context. . . . . .The Christian viewer can learn from this painting (one shown in the film, H.C.H.) not only that the Christian theme of peace is relevant to the twentieth century, but also that non-Christians are sensitive to the spiritual temper of the age and have much to teach Christians. The film ‘interprets the religious in us in a broadly human way,’ Mr. Boeve said, ‘without moralizing in a maudlin way.'”
6) Finally, the Fine Arts Festival imported “Mr. Arnold Moss, noted Shakespearean actor and Hollywood performer” for the instruction, I take it, of Christian students. Here is really an accomplished actor, whose recommendations in the way of theatrical accomplishments occupy several paragraphs of an article. Of course, there is not a word about his Christian character or Christian faith to recommend him. And the following tells us what sort of stuff he will feed the sons and daughters of Christian Reformed parents:
Mr. Moss’ program will be entitled “An Evening with Arnold Moss.” Featured in this program will be a reading which Moss calls “The Seven Ages of Man.” In this reading he re-enacts scenes, stories and poems that trace man’s growth from “the infant mewling and puking in his nurse’s arms,” through young manhood and maturity down to the “last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history.” The readings which range from passages of tragic grandeur to romping comedy and pure nonsense, include the writings of Shakespeare, Whitman, Lewis Carroll, Dickens, and Ring Lardner.
A word in conclusion. I do not write this because of any vindictive delight in criticizing Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church. On the contrary, my heart bleeds when I observe things of this nature being promulgated in the name of Christianity, let alone Calvinism. It is dreadful. And I repeat: parents and young people who are directly involved in education at Calvin College, as well as the entire Christian Reformed constituency which is responsible for the college, which supports it, and which is presently in the process of financing the huge expansion program at Knollcrest,—they all have reason for alarm!
And when an alarm sounds, there should be resolute action!