The Erring Views of Dr. H.M. Kuitert (2)

An Account of Dr. Kuitert’s Lecture on the Genesis Question (continued) 

In the August issue I reported briefly about Dr. Kuitert’s view of the proper exegesis of Genesis l-3. 

The second division of his lecture dealt with the implications of Kuitert’s view for the doctrine of Scripture, and about this I now report.

Again, however, I must interject the remark that Kuitert’s treatment of this subject was anything but scholarly, even apart from the fact that it was anything but Scriptural and Reformed. One would, even from the point of view of formal scholarship, expect better things from the famous Free University. This should be evident on the very surface. For who would dream of dealing with such an important subject as the doctrine of Scripture and its authority in connection with the entire Genesis-question in the short space of one-third of a 45-minute lecture, and then, too, would attempt to present and support a radically divergent view, besides? I cannot refrain from suggesting that the very attempt was rather foolhardy. 

At the same time, Dr. Kuitert succeeded in making known his fundamental approach to Scripture and his attitude toward what he termed the traditional view of Scripture. He also illustrated the boldness with which these new theologians are setting forth their position. They seem to feel secure in their position, to have the confidence that they can get away with what they say without penalty. 

What were Kuitert’s claims in this connection? 

In the first place, he claimed that his alleged exegesis (I say “alleged” because it was no exegesis at all) of Genesis takes the “human element” in Scripture into account. In the second place, in close connection with this, he claimed that he did not want to abandon the authority of Scripture, but only a certain conception of that authority, namely, what he called the traditional conception of that authority. In the third place, he made it plain that he wants to adopt in toto the view of Dr. Berkouwer on Holy Scripture. He had high praise for Berkouwer’s recent volumes on Scripture and especially for Berkouwer’s views on perspicuity, recommending Berkouwer to all and claiming that these were the best volumes Berkouwer has yet written. Along these lines, he made several remarks which, while they point to the fundamental course which Kuitert wants to follow, nevertheless were far too brief and scant to constitute a treatment of the doctrine of Scripture or even of the implications of Kuitert’s view of Genesis for the doctrine of Scripture. One really would have to study Berkouwer in order to understand at all fully Kuitert’s view of Scripture. But let me mention a few items. In the first place, he was extremely critical of what he called the traditional view of Scripture. But in his criticism he never defined the so-called traditional view. He did give indications that what he was criticizing was not the traditional view, but a caricature of it. Thus, for example, he mentioned that inspiration does not mean that something drops out of the blue. Not only is this suggestion a caricature of the traditional view, but it is a crude and irreverent one. I know of no traditional view which represents inspiration as something dropping out of the blue. I do know of an inspiration according to which holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. And I do know of “all Scripture” being “God-breathed” or “given by inspiration of God.” In this same connection Kuitert accused the traditional view of not doing justice to the human factor in Scripture, and he claimed that orthodoxy has always wanted to keep that human factor as small as possible. They had to acknowledge that human factor, but they wanted to keep it small. They did not know what to do with the human factor. In contrast, Kuitert’s presentation of Genesis does justice to this human factor, he claims. Further, Kuitert charged the traditional conception with a wrong view of the authority of Scripture, with a conception of authority which is in conflict with the real authority of Scripture. He accuses the traditional view of always wanting to derive certainty from Scripture, with holding that the Bible must give faith its foundation. He maintained that we must break through this certainty structure. Christ, he said, is the ground of faith. What must be emphasized is the content of the Bible, not its inspiredness apart from the content. He emphasized again and again, both in his lecture and in his replies to questions, his opposition to the idea of a formal authority of Scripture. In reply to one critical question as to perspicuity in connection with his presentation of Genesis, he gave no answer, but in glowing terms recommended Berkouwer. In response to another question, he boldly stated that Moses did not write Genesis. In fact, he scoffed at the very idea that anyone would believe this today. Again, in response to another question, he made the bold statement that there is no guarantee that the Bible is the Word of God. In response to a question whether Acts 1 must be read in the same way as Genesis 1, he said that the whole Bible must not be read figuratively. There are some figurative parts, some folk stories (a la Koole), and some historical parts (as Acts 1); but even this is not historical in the ordinary sense. 

All of these remarks must be understood in the context of the fact that Kuitert adopts Berkouwer’s view of Scripture and will speak of authority not in any objective sense, but only in connection with the correlativity of faith and the message of the gospel. Ultimately this is subjectivism. And it is this subjectivism which allows a man like Kuitert to make of Genesis what his imagination leads him to make of it, and to go picking and choosing through Scripture what he will believe and what he will not believe. It is principally the subjectivism of the higher critic, who exalts the authority of his own mind and reason above the authority of God and His Word. The insidious part of it is that Kuitert presents all these ideas as a supposedly Reformed theologian. And the ironic part is that he charges the so-called traditional view with harboring residues of rationalistic tendencies. It reminds one very graphically of what the apostle Paul writes about having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof, II Timothy 3:5

But I must continue my report before engaging in further criticism. It was especially in the third main division of his lecture that the radical character of Kuitert’s erring views came to the fore. Here it became evident that what Kuitert aims at is the destruction of all that has ever been Reformed in dogmatics. He aims at a complete revamping of dogmatics. Moreover, he is completely frank about this; he makes absolutely no effort to hide it. 

First of all, he very bluntly stated that his view involved entirely new insights and far-reaching implications for dogmatics over against the traditional view. By the traditional view Kuitert means the creation-fall-redemption scheme. This, according to Kuitert, we must get rid of. There must be a complete re-orientation of dogmatics. Dogmatics has been built up on a creation-fall-redemption scheme; but today we know that this was not a historical pattern. There was no such thing as a paradise situation. Mark what this means! There was no creation as Genesis describes it. There was no garden. There were no trees. There was no Adam and no Eve. There was no Satan and no serpent. There was no temptation and no fall. There was no God Who came and rescued Adam and Eve from the depth of their fall and made known to them the promise of Genesis 3:15. All this is not a matter of history; and the account of Genesis is not a report of what happened and how it happened. These are the implications of Kuitert’s statement. There was something. Something happened; But it is anyone’s guess what it was that happened. Your guess, in fact, is as good as Kuitert’s. 

It was at this juncture, in the second place, that “the cat came out of the bag” as far as Kuitert’s view of Scripture and his motivation and starting-point are concerned. For he stated that theology must “face the facts, face the data.” It must confront the historical and scientific data. “You cannot talk the fossils out of existence,” he said. It is perfectly obvious, therefore, that it is this alleged scientific and historical data which constitutes Kuitert’s authority over against the authority of Scripture, and which moves him not only to revamp all of dogmatics but also to “exegete” Genesis 1-3 in such a way that it fits in with this alleged historical and scientific data. 

In the third place, although chronologically this came a little later in his speech, Kuitert accuses what he calls traditional dogmatics of being unable to connect creation and Christ. He made reference to the fact that Barth in his dogmatics ties creation and Christ together; but he made the very bold claim that the Christian church never knew what to do with passages like Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1:15ff. For the benefit of the reader, let me quote the passages in question. InEphesians 1:9, 10 we read: “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” But especially did Kuitert refer several times to Colossians 1:15-19: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.” Kuitert made reference to the fact that some have explained Colossians 1 as referring simply to the Second Person of the Trinity as such, while Paul was evidently speaking of the role of Christ in creation. But he emphatically insisted that the Christian church, our Reformed fathers included, never knew what to do with passages like these and that they failed to connect Christ and creation. And, of course, the obvious implication was that this was due to the fact that they held the traditional view of Genesis and the traditional creation-fall-redemption scheme in dogmatics. 

I will not comment on this point now, but will return to it in my criticism later. 

Finally, if you ask whether Dr. Kuitert attempted to furnish anything positive concerning the dogmatical implications of his view, the answer is that he did, but that he was very vague as to any details. He maintained that the creation story of Genesis is interpretive. It is a “teaching model.” We must unravel it from the historical. If we want to use the model ofGenesis 1-3 today, we must not use it as an account of how things happened. Nor must we speak with Barth of “saga:” We must see it as a teaching model. How can this model be used? Can the creation story be told as the story of development of evolution (here for the first time he used the term “evolution”)? Yes; we can apply it as follows. First of all, we must learn to see the whole of our history as the course of God’s action. God the Creator is not something of the past, but He has to do with the present and the future. Secondly, sin is the negative, the “contra.” It is regression, reversion to what we ought not to be. Note, by the way, that this is the language of evolutionism. In the question period Kuitert was very vague and evasive when he was asked from what position we have first progressed if sin is reversion and regression. Thirdly, Christ nullifies that regression. He deflects what interferes with history. He completes the development. He is the measure of creation as history, as progress. A cross of Christ is necessary, according to Kuitert, but he was very vague on this and did not offer any clear explanation of the place of the cross in his view. During the question period he conceded that terms like “expiation” and “propitiation” must not be left out because they are Biblical terms. He claimed to believe these terms too. But he did not explain what place they had in his view, and he quickly added that they were not the only words about Christ in the Bible. 

Dr. Kuitert summed up this part of his speech by stating that there are many problems left with regard to the development of the dogmatical implications of his view. And he concluded by speaking in vague generalities of a panorama unfolding and of life becoming meaningful under this view. 

Thus, briefly, Dr. Kuitert presented his views. As I said before, I have prepared this account only from my own notes, taken hastily during the lecture. In the nature of the case, I was unable to write down all the details, especially since Dr. Kuitert spoke rather rapidly and because his English was very difficult to catch sometimes. Nevertheless, I am certain that I have presented the thrust of his remarks accurately. 

A critical evaluation of this address and related matters will follow.