An Evaluation of Kuitert’s Dogmatical Views (Continued)
Christ and Creation: A Weakness In Reformed Theology?
In an earlier issue (Dec. 15) I promised to answer three questions in connection with Dr. Kuitert’s severe indictment that Reformed theology has been unable to establish a proper connection between creation and Christ, and his suggestion that this is due to the literal interpretation of the creation record. The first question I have answered; and I have demonstrated, I believe, that as far as the main line of Reformed theology is concerned his charge is not true. Moreover, I have pointed out in detail that in our Protestant Reformed theology, as it was richly developed by the late Herman Hoeksema, we have long enjoyed a beautiful and Scriptural insight into this relationship.
The second question which I promised to consider was this: if there is any failure among Reformed theologians to establish a proper connection between Christ and creation, is this due inherently to a weakness in the traditional conception of creation and of Genesis 1-3, that is, due to a literal and historical understanding of the creation record?
In answer to this question, while I maintained that Kuitert’s blanket indictment of the Christian church in general and of Reformed theology in particular is not true (and proved my contention), I nevertheless made some concessions. I conceded that Reformed theologians do not always present a view which is in all respects satisfactory and that they do not develop properly the riches of Scripture’s presentation. In the second place, I conceded that one can find some very sterile dogmatics on this score, which is content to find the significance of creation in general in the fact that it serves the revelation of God’s glory, and which makes a rather mechanical distinction between God’s work in creation and His work in redemption. I also suggested that some Reformed theologians who have a very strict and orthodox view of the Genesis record nevertheless fail properly to see the relation between Christ and creation in its full dimensions because they view Christ and His work of redemption as a kind of repair work which became necessary when sin and the devil and Adam’s fall spoiled God’s first work.
Hence, there is a weakness on this score.
However, it is an altogether different question whether this weakness is due to maintaining a literal interpretation of the creation account, as Dr. Kuitert suggests. This I deny categorically.
First of all, let me point out that Dr. Kuitert neither proved nor attempted to prove this contention. He simply made a claim. With a wave of the hand he simply dismisses all of traditional theology as inadequate, as a failure; and he attempts to place the blame on a so-called traditional view of creation. Now T would like to; sound a serious warning against this kind of thing. It seems to be the vogue in our times, not only in theology but in virtually every sphere of thought and life, to be dissatisfied with the old, to be non-conformist, to propound new and radical and upsetting ideas. This is true in the realm of theology too. Sometimes one gets the impression that these propounders of new and radical ideas take a certain delight in seeing how much they can “upset the apple cart.” Scholarship is confused with being radical; freshness and development are confused with being different. One is reminded of the Athenians in the apostle Paul’s time, who spent their time in nothing else than either to tell or to hear some new thing. The old and tried and true ideas, which have long ago met the test of Scripture and have stood the test of time, are lightly thrown out. In fact, sometimes the very fact that something is traditional is sufficient reason to condemn and reject it; and traditional views receive the blame for just about everything that is really or imaginarily wrong in church and world.
In one of the Dutch papers I recently read a reference to “learned provo’s.” In the Netherlands the Provo’s are comparable to some of the youthful rebels found in our own country in such, groups as the hippies and the yippies. They are rebellious and anti-social dissenters. In referring to the agitation by theologians from the Free University in the Dutch churches, this article states (I translate):”As—learned—Provo’s they put no stock in the ecclesiastical ‘establishment,’ and they try to gain a following for their new ideas. Of course, in order presently, supported by their adherents, to turn the ‘establishment’ about in their own spirit.” (Tot Vrijheid Geroepen, November, 1968, page 2 12) This, I think, is a rather apt description of today’s rebel theologians and their tactics and goals. And they are bold and cocky and conceited, and in only too many instances successful, usually because no one seems to have the courage to call their bluff, lay down the law to them, and then proceed to enforce it. Now I am taking this little editorial excursion to warn against this kind of thing, especially in the church and in the realm of theology. No one deserves a medal, much less a hearing, merely for being a theological radical and upstart. Theology is not an adventure, and the church should not follow new ideas just for the sake of being adventuresome. It is grossly conceited to “pooh-pooh” and to question and cast aspersions upon all that is traditional in theology,—for the very simple and obvious reason that the church in the past has enjoyed the guidance of the Spirit of truth, Who has always led the church into all the truth. He, therefore, who would be inclined to reject something of the past must tread very carefully and must be certain that he is guided by the only safe road-map in blazing new trails, that of the Scriptures. He must make very certain that he is not removing old land-marks, but that his new paths are no more than extensions of the old.
After that little excursion, let us return to the question. And then I want to point out, in the second place, that there is nothing in the so-called traditional doctrine of creation-in-six-days as such which would make it impossible to establish a connection between creation and Christ. There is nothing inherent in that doctrine which would prevent the establishment of such a connection. This is what Kuitert would have to show in order to prove his point. And indeed, if this could be proved, then even apart from any exegetical questions, this would certainly be enough to call in question any dogmatics which clung to a literal understanding of the creation record. But what could there possibly be in the so-called traditional doctrine of creation which would prohibit viewing creation in connection with Christ? Mark well, the question is not whether sometheologians have in a measure failed on this score. The question is not even whether at times theologians have been so preoccupied with defending the doctrine of creation as such that they failed to pay attention to this connection and tended to isolate the doctrine of creation and separate it from the rest of dogmatics. This may have happened upon occasion; and it is a mistake too. But it is the fault of theologians, not of their theology. My answer is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the doctrine of creation as such which lays it open to Kuitert’s indictment. There is nothing, theologically considered. And historically, as I have already pointed out, it can be readily proved that Reformed theology has seen and has even richly developed this connection.
But, in the third place, I can conceive of much more cogent reasons why in some instances theologians have failed to see and to develop the truth of this connection between Christ and creation.
First of all, I would suggest that the failure to view the whole of God’s works in the light of His sovereign counsel and purpose, and especially in connection with His purpose of election and reprobation, has something to do with the failure to see the connection between creation and Christ. I will leave out the question of supra- and infralapsarianism in this connection, although I firmly believe that infralapsarianism leaves something to be desired on this score. But the tendency to view the work of Christ as a repair work in relation to a first work of God which was spoiled and marred through sin, the tendency to view Christ and redemption as a divine second thought, or after-thought,—this tendency in its very nature eliminates the idea of an inherent connection between Christ and creation. It presupposes that if only God’s first work, in Adam, had not been spoiled, if only the so-called covenant of works had not failed, then Christ and His work of redemption would not have been necessary. And this tendency to view Christ as a divine after-thought is basically due to a failure to view the work of God, and the unity of that work, in the light of His sovereign and eternal counsel, and especially, I say again, in the light of His sovereign predestination. In other words, it is the old, old story that, election is the heart of the church and the heart of the truth. And also with regard to the doctrine of creation, if the heart-beat of election is not clearly discernible in it, you may depend on it that that doctrine will not be properly understood and maintained.
And is it not more than passing strange that exactly in the circle of this “knew theology” in the Netherlands the tendency to deny and to reformulate the doctrine of predestination is very strong also? And is it not just possible that, consciously or sub-consciously, this very denial of sovereign predestination is leading also to a dissatisfaction with the so-caged traditional view of creation, and that instead of going to the real dogmatical root of the problem, these theologians are discarding said doctrine of creation and trying to fill the void with something new? And is it not possible that the real cure for all the theological ills which are plaguing Reformed churches, is a basic and vital and vigorous return to that central truth, that heart-truth, of God’s sovereign predestination? This I, for one, consider highly likely. Perhaps it is difficult at this stage to trace any overt connection between these things. And I certainly am not saying that this connection is consciously and deliberately made. But I consider it highly likely, although it is not always easy actually to trace root-causes. I consider it likely in view of the unity of the truth. And I consider it likely in the light of the fact that history has abundantly shown the centrality of the truth of sovereign predestination and the devastating results for theology of; any departure from or de-emphasis of it. In any event, we may keep this in mind. Perhaps in the future this connection will become more clear.
The second reason for this failure to connect Christ and creation is rather closely connected with the first. It is the theory of common grace.
I do not now have in mind the well-meant offer of the First Point of 1924. This is also a very serious error, and I would never minimize its seriousness. It is principally Arminian, not Reformed.
But I refer now to the theory of common grace in the Kuyperian sense. Moreover, I do not now have in mind the fact that the common grace theory has resulted in an attempted synthesis of worldly philosophy and Reformed theology, although this also enters into the picture very really. What I have in mind is that there is atheological connection between the common grace theory as Kuyper propounded it and the failure to teach the unity of creation and the work of Christ. I am well aware that there are some who bristle at every criticism of the common-grace theory.
I am also aware that some think that Protestant Reformed theology simply makes a general whipping-post of common grace. But as I view today’s scene, I become more and more impressed with the far-reaching consequences, evil ones, of the common grace theory for all of doctrine and life. I am convinced that these consequences are much more far-reaching than the fathers of the theory ever dreamed they would be.
The importance of this theory in our present discussion I will attempt to make clear next time, the Lord willing.