In his series of articles in the Reformed Journal, beginning in October, 1964, Dr. James Daane defends the theology of Prof. Harold Dekker which maintains that God loves all men redemptively and that Christ died for all men. And when I characterize Mr. Daane’s position as being “dead wrong,” I refer, in the first place, to his adherence to Dekker’s two propositions. From the point of view of Scripture and the Reformed creeds, Dr. Daane’s defense of Dekker’s theology is dead wrong, that is, totally un-Reformed.
However, Daane follows a course of “theologizing” (I call it philosophizing) in this defense of Dekker which takes its starting-point in 1924 and especially in the First Point. And if one concedes that Daane’s basic approach is correct, then one will have to concede that Daane’s position, and also Dekker’s, is correct. This is the reason why the Christian Reformed Church, if it is consistent, will ultimately have to put its stamp of approval on Prof. Dekker’s theology of general love and universal atonement. For when all is said and done, the position of Daane, and also of Dekker, is nothing less and nothing more than the basic position of 1924, namely, that the grace of God is for all men. Daane is dead wrong because 1924 was dead wrong, and because Daane’s theology was actually conceived and born in 1924.
But Daane is also right.
He is correct, first of all, from a Christian Reformed viewpoint, as I have pointed out above. His basic position is “dyed-in-the-wool” Christian Reformed.
In the second place, Daane is more right than those in the Christian Reformed Church who, over against Dekker, hold what may be called the traditional common grace position of 1924 (such as Prof. R.B. Kuiper). And Daane is right in his criticism of the First Point. He is so correct that if some of his criticisms were lifted out of context, one would almost come to the conclusion that they came from a Protestant Reformed pen.
Why is this?
The answer lies in the fact that Dr. Daane capitalizes on the inconsistencies of 1924 and on the inconsistencies of the past defenders of the common grace theory of the First Point. He does so very cogently and with compelling logic. And this is possible, of course, because in the First Point the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 attempted the impossible, namely, to run their ecclesiastical train on two theological tracks. In other words, Dr. Daane capitalizes on the inherent inconsistencies which always plague a “double-track theology.” Thus, Daane criticizes the First Point and its traditional defenders for maintaining that there are two qualitatively different graces of God: special and common, saving and non-saving. And he is correct in his position that there is but one grace of God and one love of God. Thus he also criticizes the First Point in regard to the “well-meant offer of the gospel” and a non-saving grace of God. Again, his criticism is cogent,—in so far as he points out the utter inconsistency of the First Point.
Hence, Dr. Daane is right.
Nonetheless, he is dead wrong. For having successfully pointed out the inconsistencies of the double track theology of 1924, he ends by maintaining that God’s grace (and love) is general, for all men; and he follows through by maintaining universal atonement. In other words, he ends by choosing the wrong, the Arminian, track. In this he is dead wrong. But the fact remains that his wrongness is essentially the wrongness of the First Point. It is the inevitable wrongness that is the consequence of double-track theology. No train can run on two divergent tracks. No theology can be devoted to two divergent principles, Reformed and Arminian. Practically speaking, it is possible for a time to say “both . . . . and,” as the Christian Reformed Church has weakly attempted to do since 1924. Inevitably, however, the time comes when the church must face the intolerant “either . . . or” of the truth. And it appears that the Christian Reformed Church is fast arriving at that final, that decisive, moment.
Let us now continue to investigate how Daane is helping to bring the Christian Reformed Church to that moment.
In his introductory article on the subject, entitled “From 1924 to 1964,” Daane next calls attention to part of the decision of 1959, taken to pave the way for the return of the ex-Protestant Reformed people of the De Wolf group to the Christian Reformed Church. He writes as follows:
“When some, in 1959, had misgivings ‘that the general statement the favorable attitude of God to mankind in general and not only to the elect might be interpreted as being a generalization of grace,’ the Synod declared that ‘the declaration of 1924 definitely states that the grace shown to the elect is saving grace and must be distinguished from a certain favor or gracewhich is not saving.’ To make clear that the grace shown the elect is qualitatively different from that shown the non-elect, the 1959 synod in its ‘official interpretive statement concerning the Three Points (of 1924)’ continued: ‘The doctrine of irresistible grace would indeed be jeopardized, if we held that the grace shown the elect is the same as that shown to creatures in general. We would then be guilty of the error of the Arminians who teach that all men enjoy the same grace’ (Acts of Synod, 1959).”
At this point Mr. Daane makes no comments on the above. At the risk of running ahead somewhat in our comments, we should note the following:
1) This statement of 1959 must be viewed in the light of the “misgivings” referred to. It was part of an attempt to pave the way, so to speak, for the return of the DeWolf group. As such, it represents a rather vague attempt to ride the other theological track, that of particular grace (or, perhaps, to straddle the tracks?).
2) The statement of 1959 is not really interpretive at all, but a mere assertion, and that too, without any proof or explanation, due to the fact that it is dealing with an obvious contradiction. How otherwise can one understand “the favorable attitude of God to mankind in general and not only to the elect” than as a generalization of grace? One need have no misgivings that it “might be interpreted” as such. That needs no interpretation; it is plain as the sun in the heavens. And no amount of so-called “interpretive statements” can change this. Any doctrine of a general grace of God, whether saving or non-saving, is obviously a generalization of grace. This again gives Daane his opening for his basic proposition of a grace of God for all men.
3) However, this same interpretive statement gives Daane another opening by asserting that the grace shown to God’s creatures in general (all men) is not the same as His grace to the elect. Here Daane gets an opening for his criticism of the idea of two qualitatively different graces.
4) Finally, we may note that the statement of 1959 by implication condemns Daane as Arminian. For Daane teaches only one grace of God, but he wants that grace of God general. And 1959 says of this idea: “We would then be guilty of the error of the Arminians who teach that all men enjoy the same grace.”
Dr. Daane concludes the main thrust of his first article by making this statement: “Today, forty years later, Professor Dekker is extending the theology of 1924, asserting that God loves all men.” He also calls this an historic advance, possibly Dekker’s greatest theological contribution. In this connection Daane takes note also of Dekker’s teaching that God’s love for all men is redemptive and of his doctrine of universal atonement. He then emphasizes the “complexity” of the matter and ends with the statement: “I am sure that the committee (synodical study committee, H.C.H.) and the churches as a whole will find it at least as difficult to relate the love of God for all men to the atoning work of the Cross as to relate common grace to the general offer of the gospel.”
On this the following comments:
) It should be noted that Daane is here already committed to the basic principle of 1924. He writes with approval of Dekker’s tremendous contribution and historic advance. But it is noteworthy that he calls Dekker’s theology an extension of the theology of 1924. Now an extension is obviously not something new and different, but a further expression of that of which it is an extension. Hence, Dekker’s doctrine that God loves all men is nothing but a further, more advanced, perhaps bolder statement of the main proposition of 1924 that God’s grace is for all men. The main difference is that Dekker speaks of God’s love while 1924 speaks of God’s grace. There is no essential difference. Daane is right . . . . . but dead wrong,—as wrong as 1924 was.
2) It is to be questioned how much of an advance Dekker represents. Dr. Daane claims that until recently there were very few sermons preached in Christian Reformed circles on John 3:16, and that “In spite of 1924, it was widely held to be impermissible to assert that God loves all men.” Perhaps this is true; I cannot disprove it. I do know, however, in the first place, that 1924 certainly gave license for the kind of preaching of which Daane writes here. I know also that there has been considerable Christian Reformed writing in defense of the general, well-meant offer of salvation, writing which, though perhaps not as open as that of Dekker, did not differ essentially. And I know too that there is no essential difference between the preaching of the late Rev. H.J. Kuiper and the statements of Dekker. For soon after 1924 the former could say: “The gospel we preach is a gospel for sinners—for all sinners.” What is the difference,—except in degree?
3) Daane speaks of the complexity of the matter. But all Daane’s subsequent writings make one thing abundantly clear. This complexity is not due to Scripture and the confessions: in them the truth is very clear and very simple. All the complexity is caused by the First Point of 1924 and by Daane’s own theological meanderings, which have their starting point in 1924. In a way, I do not blame Dr. Daane very much: he is only revealing himself as a consistent son of the Christian Reformed Church,—although he could, through his contacts with our Protestant Reformed witness, know better. But Daane (and anyone else) must surely find the Dekker Case a very complex matter when it is viewed in the light of the First Point and when at the same time the attempt is made to view it in the light of Scripture and the confessions. That indeed complicates things; in fact, it is enough to make one see-double. But after all, double-track theology is a rather complicated thing; and running a train on two divergent tracks gets to be impossibly complex.
On the other hand, the truth is simple!