Previous article in this series: February 1, 2012, p. 197.
Last installment we introduced to our readers the bookReformed Thought: Selected Writings of William Young. As stated, due to Young’s reference to Hoeksema’s covenant view in his severe criticism of Abraham Kuyper’s covenant view (in particular Kuyper’s doctrine of presupposed regeneration) and then essentially identifying Hoeksema’s view with that of Kuyper, we are constrained to respond, be it briefly, to Dr. Young’s assessment of and allegations against Hoeksema’s (and our own PRC’s) view.
We use the word “allegations” purposely.
In his paper Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism(ch. 3 of Young’s selected writings), Young charges Kuyper’s covenantal view with being neo-Calvinistic and with being a form of Hyper-Covenantism, which evil, alleges Young, Kuyper was guilty of introducing into Dutch Reformed covenantal thinking.
This is no small matter, because, according to Young, the inevitable outcome of such a covenant view has been the death of experimental religion and of heartfelt Christian piety in those churches infected by this view. Young points to what took place in the past century in the GKN (Gereformeerde Kerk Nederlands—’Kuyper’s’ church) and even in the CRC as proof. According to Young, it was the adopting of Kuyper’s covenantal perspective even more than his inflated common grace error that contributed to this spiritual deadness. In accordance with this covenant view, children are simply assumed to be elect and saved, with the grievous result that mere intellectual agreement with church doctrines has been allowed to stand as an evidence of true faith, rather than parents and elders insisting upon evidence of deeper convictions of the heart, that is, true faith.
All of this is of more than mere academic interest to us.
As pointed out last time, not only does Young place Hoeksema and his covenantal view in the same camp as Kuyper, but in a footnote in another paper (Chapter 10 of the book) Young charges Hoeksema with being numbered with those who “…,i>have carried Hyper-Covenantism to an extreme not to be ascribed to their mentor [Kuyper]” (fn 3, p. 207).
Why Hoeksema and his view should be placed in the “Hyper” covenantal category we will state in just a moment.
But first we simply point out that, in our judgment, it will do no good to answer Young’s allegation against Hoeksema (and the PRC with him) by reiterating for the ‘umteenth’ time that we do not subscribe to Kuyper’s presupposed regeneration view. Of that denial Young, well read and scholar that he is, surely is well aware.
Young, like many others, would simply respond, “You folk may differ with Kuyper on various details of the covenant, but in essence your view is the same.”
And what is that similar essence?
This: that we with Hoeksema maintain that children of believers, received as covenant seed, are to be viewed, dealt with, and addressed from earliest years as being spiritually alive rather than as numbered with the ungodly and the dead.
And this puts one in the camp of Hyper-Covenantism.
Because this view stands in stark contrast to the ‘old Princeton’ Presbyterian view (the mainline historic Presbyterian view) as described by Archibald Alexander (1772-1851):
The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured…. Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul at any period of its existence in this world, yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences: and not many in early childhood (p. 38).
There you have it—”The education of children [of believers] should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state [that is, spiritually dead, needing a conversion experience in their teens or later—KK].”
To deny that we are to deal with the seed of the covenant as if they are numbered with the spiritually dead, as if they were no different than the children of pagans, is, according to Young, to make oneself guilty of Hyper-Covenantism.
Interestingly enough, old Alexander does acknowledge that some of our children may be renewed “before the exercise of reason commences,” that is, from infancy. Not many, but some…perhaps: a necessary concession to cover the indisputable gospel evidence of John the Baptist having Christ’s Spirit and life from his mother’s womb, and an attempt to circumvent its broader covenantal application for the New Testament church and believers.
Zacharias and Elisabeth certainly did not proceed in their education of little John from the perspective that their covenant seed was spiritually dead and might not properly address God as his Father in heaven or be taught from his mother’s arms to express sorrow for sins and lay hold on assurance of forgiveness based on the blood of the lamb.
And do not forget it was this John who introduced the rite of baptism in preparation of the New Testament age and for believers being baptized into Jesus as the promised Christ of the kingdom of God now being manifest.
And it was John who was a Nazarite from his mother’s womb, which truth with its application to how John was to live was taught him from little on, which calling has spiritual significance for the children of believers in the New Testament age. Can this be denied?
And yet we are to believe that what God did for and in John as seed of the covenant by His Holy Spirit at the time of the introduction of the New Testament kingdom and age has no real application to the New Testament age and its families, that is, to the kingdom age, when the Holy Spirit was poured out in His fullness and in an even greater measure than in the Old Testament age?
We find such exegesis of the gospel passage incredible, to say the least. It has more in common with the Anabaptist view than with what should be considered Reformed.
But that is another matter.
What we find striking is Alexander’s statement that believers are to view their children as unregenerate “until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured[emphasis ours—KK.”
In which case they should be sedulously (with special diligence) nurtured??
Which of our children should be nurtured with special diligence and affection? Only certain of our children? And even with these, this “sedulous” perspective is to be taken only when we detect (we think) some special evidence of piety in them rather than, more than, the others?
“Sedulous” is not the word that comes to mind.
This is the “true to Calvin” view?
If it is, I for one disagree with Calvin on this matter wholeheartedly and say so publicly without any hesitancy whatsoever.
But there is no evidence this was Calvin’s view, though it may well be, and has been, the view of various theologians of Calvinistic and Presbyterian vintage who can trace their roots back to Calvin when it comes to other fundamental doctrines of grace and ecclesiology, men such as old Archibald Alexander, and the divines such as the Hodges, Thornwell, Dabney, Warfield, and so on.
And of various Dutch divines as well, of whom W. Ã Brakel is representative.
But what Calvin’s doctrinal perspective was is not the fundamental question.
The fundamental question is, what is the apostolic and scriptural perspective?
Special, diligent nurturing of some at a certain stage? And the rest consigned to a category of being spiritually unrenewed, devoid of the Spirit, and dead?
This is how we are to understand Paul in Ephesians 6:4 and his admonition to fathers to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? The real focused nurturing is to be directed to a special few? To those whom we think may be the Isaacs of the bunch (we dare not use the label “flock”) and not the Ishmaels? Or with special regard to our more pious Josephs, rather than his eleven brothers with their less attractive, more difficult characters?
And we know what that led to in Jacob’s family!
Actually, what Alexander (and Young with him) says here about wholehearted nurturing being selective (not something incumbent upon us for all of our children, in fact, not even permitted, but something that must wait until some noteworthy piety shows itself in certain children), logically is absolutely consistent with his (and Young’s) premise, namely, that children of believers are spiritually dead and to be viewed as such. One cannot nurture death. To nurture something presupposes something, namely, there is a life, be it ever so fragile, and it requires nurturing exactly because it is young and tender and needs this special attention and care.
No life? What’s to nurture? One best wait until what one judges to be genuine spiritual life at last appears, brushing all the rest aside as so much childish pretense.
Remember, the Hannahs of the New Testamentreceive precious few, if any, Samuels who have priestly hearts from little on. So implies Young and his view.
Or did Samuel need to be converted later in life also?
But this is Young’s perspective, the practical consequences of his and the “old Princeton,” historic Presbyterian view.
According to Young, for believing parents to view and raise (nurture!) their children as having spiritual life is a most unspiritual perspective and can only lead to dire spiritual consequences, as the following quote makes crystal clear.
If so-called covenant children are to be regarded as regenerate, then there is no need to tell them, “Ye must be born again.” Indeed, it would appear that there was no need for these words to be addressed to Nicodemus. A sharp theoretical cleavage may be drawn between regeneration and conversion, but in practice the child will be regarded as already converted, or as being gradually and imperceptibly converted. The practice of the Christian school and catechetical training will be determined by this view, and will terminate in the expectation that the young adult will automatically make confession of faith and go to the Lord’s Table. A system for breeding Pharisees, whose cry is “We are Abraham’s children,” could hardly be better calculated. (p. 52)
That’s quite a concluding statement.
And now the reader may better understand why we stated in the last issue that Young’s statements concerning Hoeksema and his covenantal view made us bristle a bit.
If few covenantal systems are better designed for “breeding Pharisees” than Kuyper and his Hyper-Covenantism, and Hoeksema is even more extreme in his covenantal view than Kuyper, what does one have to conclude about Hoeksema’s and the PRC’s view?
Alright, more than a bit.
One can also understand why, upon reflection, we have decided to devote at least one more SB article to Young’s assessment of Hoeksema’s covenantal view and Young’s insistence that believers are to view and deal with their children as numbered with the spiritually dead.
We intend to bring some Scripture to bear on this issue.
And something must be said about what Calvin says and does not say.
And there is the name of Bavinck that must be brought into the picture, which Young does. But he does not want to say the same severe things about Bavinck and his covenant view that he does about Hoeksema.
As a certain Alice once said, this becomes “curiouser and curiouser” the longer one looks and reflects.
It is here that a certain dishonesty shows itself, unintentional though it might be.
And we fear not just with respect to Dr. Young.
What present day covenantal theologians will say about Hoeksema with asperity they cannot bring themselves to say about Bavinck and his covenantal view.
Why is that?
Is this honesty?
Is this fair?
I probably shouldn’t have, but when Bavinck’sDogmatiek came out in English, it made me smile like that proverbial Cheshire cat.
Now all could read what the esteemed Bavinck’s covenant view was.
Similar to Kuyper’s, but not the same.
Nor is Hoeksema’s.
More next time.