What Gospel?

Sometimes one rubs his eyes in disbelief at things which appear nowadays in th& pages of The Banner, especially, though not exclusively, things which are from the pen of James Daane. 

The reprobation-issue seems to be bringing things to light concerning the Christian Reformed pulpit—things which we long suspected, but which were not openly admitted. It is well-known that before he ever filed his gravamen, Dr. Harry Boer openly claimed that reprobation was not preached and taught in the Christian Reformed Church and that the doctrine of reprobation inhibited also the preaching of election. Along comes the Rev. Jelle Tuininga (The Banner, Aug. 24, 1979), who seemingly opposes Boer’s gravamen and wants to keep the doctrine of reprobation in the Canons, although he does “not believe that everything the Canons say about election and reprobation is above reproach.” But he also claims that reprobation should not be preached:

Now first of all about the pulpit: Must we “preach” reprobation? Must we “preach” hell? I doubt it very much. We must preach the gospel, the good news of salvation, what the Canons call “the glad tidings concerning the Messiah.” Or, in the words of Jesus Himself, we must preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.

Luke 24:47

So we don’t “preach” hell and damnation. What we do say, along with the gospel, is that if people do not believe they will perish: the wrath of God remains on them. So the reality of reprobation and hell only serves to increase the urgency of the gospel, the only name by which men must be saved. Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men, says Paul.

II Cor. 5:11

That’s the function that mention of reprobation serves. But that’s something else than “preaching” reprobation.

As might be excepted, when James Daane reflects on “Tuininga and Reprobation” (The Banner, Nov. 16, 1979), he seizes on this, for it is grist for Daane’s mill. Writes he:

In his discussion of reprobation (8/4/79), the Rev. Jelle Tuininga makes a perceptive and necessary distinction that many Reformed people fail to make. He distinguishes between what is truly gospel and that judgment which befalls those who reject it. The former he contends can be truly preached, and the latter cannot. Tuininga asks, “Must we ‘preach’ reprobation? Must we preach hell?” His answer: “I doubt it very much. We must preach the gospel, the good news of salvation, what the Canons call ‘the glad tidings concerning the Messiah.'” Thus he recognizes that we preach that in which we summon men to put their faith and trust. He is right. Man cannot have faith and trust in reprobation.

And then Dr. Daane proceeds to capitalize on this concession of Tuininga. Although, of course, this has nothing to do with Boer’s gravamen (the issue of which is supposed to be purely exegetical), nevertheless Daane’s argument from Tuininga’s concession is a cogent one:

But if it need not be preached, why does he think reprobation should be a part of our official creed, and why does he think Dr. Harry R. Boer and I err in thinking it ought not? After all, a creed is literally what the church believes, and therefore what a church preaches. 

How can Tuininga justify the inclusion in a church’s confessional formula what he does not think needs to be preached? Ought not our Confessions reflect our preaching and our preaching our Confessions? What else are Confessions for? 

An even larger question is how can the Christian Reformed Church, especially its ministers and elders, justify the inclusion bf reprobation in its official Confessions when in fact the vast majority of lifetime members leave this world without any recollection of having ever heard a sermon on reprobation? How can one avoid the question of integrity if a church officially confessionally declares what it in fact does not preach? Or how can one justify putting a man out of the ministry for denying what he is not obliged to preach?

A cogent argument, I say, from Daane’s and the Christian Reformed Church’s point of view. 

But the fundamental premise in this argument is that reprobation and judgment do not belong to the gospel, the good news concerning salvation, concerning the promise. 

This is the first item to make one rub his eyes in disbelief. 

Do you realize, does the Christian Reformed Church realize what is being said? I’m sure Dr. Daane does. I’m sure Dr. Boer does. I don’t know about the Rev. Tuininga, for he seems to waver and halt between two opinions. But do you realize that what these men are proposing (and Daane has been doing this for a long time—he says for decades) is a totally different gospel—which is not the gospel? This becomes evident, too, by the way, in that these men increasingly speak about the Reformed view and about Reformed theology in the third person, singular, that is, in such a way that they make plain that Reformed theology is not theirtheology. They will freely admit that the views they are combating have been the views of our fathers all the way back to John Calvin himself. But they put distance between themselves and those views. 

Let us understand this. The issue is not one of blue-penciling an isolated doctrine out of the creeds. It is the issue of a gospel whose very genius is contrary to our Reformed faith and confession, contrary to the Scriptures. 

In Daane’s case this: will be plain to anyone who has read his The Freedom of God. A Reformed man simply cannot find himself in that book. But Daane presents this “other gospel” in condensed form in the same article from which I quoted above. Notice:

A careful reading of his (Tuininga’s) article shows that he sometimes believes that there are reprobates, people condemned to hell, not for sin that they have committed but because God is the kind of God who desires and determines that hell no less than heaven have its population (another of Daane’s many misrepresentations of the truth, HCH). When Tuininga thinks and writes in this way, he has no reason to think that if God is such a God, reprobation ought not be preached. But a careful reading of his article also shows that his Christian instincts rebel against that theology of reprobation in which he has been trained and he, therefore, says that he does not “think” that reprobation is something that ought to be preached because reprobation, after all, like hell, is not really a part of the gospel. 

Tuininga ought not be surprised that many will dissent from his view—and mine—that reprobation ought not be preached’ because it is an expression of judgment, not of Good News. (italics added) One ought not, however, to think ill of him for this. The membership of our churches have far too long been taught to think of’2he gospel equally in terms of election and reprobation, and in terms of a divine sovereignty that is defined as neutral (neither essentially gracious nor essentially judgmental), as an absolute power which is equally expressed in election arid reprobation. Why else did so many people object to Report 44 (On the Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority) because it asserted that Biblical revelation is redemptive revelation? The objectors would not have objected had the Report also said that Biblical revelation is non-redemptive, judgmental, equally reflective of reprobation as of election. 

And it should not escape notice that this dual way of defining the nature of Biblical revelation—and the gospel—as no less non-redemptive as redemptive, and no less a matter of reprobation as of election, stems from decretal theology. For if election and reprobation, divine redemption and divine judgment (wrath) are revelatory of a decree that is God’s essence (God’s essence as it expresses itself in God’s will), then the Bible and the gospel are indeed constituted by this duality; then the nature of Biblical revelation reflects, and the preaching of the gospel should express, this duality. A consistent decretal theologian will never suggest that reprobation ought not be preached. How can he be silent about something he believes is rooted in, and reveals the very nature of God?

Now as far as the last paragraph is concerned, of course, there is only a grain of truth in it. That grain is that a consistent decretal theologian will never suggest that reprobation ought not be preached. The reason adduced by Daane is wrong. However, I refuted that in the last issue, at least as far as Herman Hoeksema’s decretal theology is concerned. 

Nor will I argue about Report 44, which is not the origin of all these problems. Report 44 is probably more in the nature of a symptom of the underlying problem, in my opinion. Besides—and this may come as a surprise to Daane—I think it is possible to argue in a sound sense of the word (not in the sense of Report 44 and the sense of Daane) that Biblical revelation is indeed redemptive revelation. 

But that is neither here nor there. 

My concern is about the position, often reiterated by Dr. Daane, that judgment and reprobation do not belong to the gospel, the good news concerning salvation, concerning the promise. 

What about this? 

In the first place, let us remember—and I suspect that here, after all, is the root of the matter—that the gospel is never good news for the reprobate ungodly. There is no good news of God for them. There is good news only for the elect. And do not forget: the gospel has definite addressees, God’s people, His beloved elect in Christ Jesus! 

In the second place, let us remember that the criterion of the gospel is the Scriptures, and that, too, in their entirety. Where do we find the content of the gospel? In those Scriptures, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. But those Scriptures are full of judgment. I would almost say that it is impossible to open those Scriptures anywhere without discovering judgment. This can only mean, therefore, that if you insist that judgment is not part of the gospel, you must eviscerate those Scriptures! 

In the third place, both Scriptures and our confessions plainly present this element of judgment as good news, gospel. It belongs to the comfort of God’s people, the only comfort in life and death. And it is presented as reason for joy and rejoicing on the part of God’s people. Let me be specific. The Book of Revelation is full of judgments in connection with the whole scheme of the seals, the trumpets, and the vials. In it there are many passages which speak of rejoicing at the judgments of the Lord upon the enemies of His Christ and His people. Remember! Those enemies are the reprobate ungodly, Babylon, the Antichristian world! Why? The question cannot be downed, and neither can the answer. That judgment is good news! It is gospel! For whom? For Babylon? Of course not! It is good news for God’s people, His church, the Lamb’s bride! Just a couple of random examples. The first is that of the seventh trumpet, Revelation 11:15, ff.: “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth. And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament; and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.” The second example is from Revelation 18 and Revelation 19, immediately following that dreadful description of the judgment and fall of Babylon. Notice verse 20: “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.” Or look at 19:1-3: “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.” Why rejoice and sing Alleluias? Because of good news! What good news? The good news of the judgment of the great whore and the .avenging of the blood of God’s servants! 

Examples of this kind can be multiplied. 

And what about our confessions on this subject? 

Our Heidelberg Catechism finds comfort in the gospel of the coming of Christ to judge the quick and the dead, and it certainly describes that gospel as judgmental in the 52nd Answer: “That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head I look for the very same person, who before offered himself for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me, to come as judge from heaven: who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen ones to himself into heavenly joys and glory.” (italics added) 

And our Belgic Confession, Article 37, speaks the same language. We read there the following: “And therefore the consideration of this judgment is justly terrible and dreadful to the wicked and ungodly, but most desirable and comfortable to the righteous and elect: because then their full deliverance shall be perfected, and there they shall receive the fruits of their labor and trouble which they have borne. Their innocence shall be known to all, and they shall see the terrible vengeance which God shall execute on the wicked, who must cruelly persecuted, oppressed and tormented them in this world. . . . ” (italics added) 

In the fourth place, we must remember that this element of judgment belongs to the very motif of the gospel. Not only does the gospel contain elements of both judgment and salvation. Not only do judgment and salvation occur side by side in history and in the gospel. No, the judgment of the world is the salvation of the church! Zion is always redeemed through judgment. You behold it in the Flood, at the Exodus, at the Conquest of Canaan, at the Return from Babylon. You behold it centrally in the fulness of time at the Cross, and you hear the Savior cry: “Now is the judgment of the world; now is the prince of this world cast out!” And you behold it in its consummation at the end of time: the judgment of Babylon means the salvation of Jerusalem. 

To deny this is to deny the gospel. 

It is to proclaim another gospel, which is not the gospel. 

This is what the current struggle about predestination is all about.