THE RETURN TO COLLEGE
The college to which I returned in September 1946 was quite unlike the one I had left in June 1943. The student body had grown in number from 385 to 1245, and the size of the faculty had increased from twenty-three to forty-five. Professors Rooks and Nieuwdorp were no longer teaching, but Professors Johannes Broene, A. E. Broene, and Jacob Vanden Bosch, although past or approaching the age of retirement, had been retained and continued to teach full time. At their side stood the remaining core of veteran teachers; but these were outnumbered by the newcomers who had been recruited to meet the demands of the burgeoning enrollment. A few of my friends from student days had come to join ranks with Henry Zylstra and myself, among them John Timmerman, Bill Spoelhof, and John Daling. In addition, the roster of new staff members exhibited such familiar faces as those of John Bratt, Harold Dekker, Bernard Fridsma, Martin Karsten, Gertrude Slingerland, Earl Strikwerda, John Tuls, Catherine Van Opynen, and Henry Van Til. These many accessions noticeably changed the shape and temper of the school. That the college to which I had come as a novice teacher in 1939 had entered a new era came forcibly to mind when I considered that I would now also be associated in teaching with men and women who had sat as students in my philosophy classes only a few years earlier. Among these were Donald Bouma, John Bult, Gordon Buter, Kay Hager, John Huizenga, and Lewis Smedes, all of whom were giving instruction in one or another department of the college.
The male students outnumbered the women, 778 to 467. Many of the men were veterans who, subsidized by the GI Bill, were either making their first acquaintance with college life or returning to finish a course of study that had been interrupted by the war. Although the more gifted of these men were attracted to the liberal arts, a considerable number chose to enroll in professional courses, a tendency that was said to prevail in schools throughout the land. In general, the level of student talent, initiative, and industry rose appreciably with the accession of those who had grown to maturity in the service of their country; the staff could not but be impressed with the many who addressed their studies with disciplined attention, critical acumen, and sober judgment.
How to house the students adequately was among the many problems facing the administration. The women occupied the campus dormitory as well as the recently purchased residences on Franklin Street, but no college facilities were available for the men. Many of them eventually found lodgings in private homes, in the search for which they were ably assisted by the college office. To house the others, the administration leased eight rooms in the decaying Alexander Public School, furnished the rooms with army bunks and other service equipment, and sent the residents off to eat in the dormitory dining room, which, together with its kitchen, had been enlarged to accommodate the overflow. The seventy inhabitants of “Alexander Hall” were supervised by Prof. and Mrs. A. E. Broene, who graciously took up residence with the hapless male students lodged in that drab locale.
If housing was a problem, so was the issue of classroom space. In the days before the war, when rooms were plentiful, each department in the college tended to appropriate its own space. Since most departments were staffed by only one person, almost every professor met his students in a room that had become virtually his own by dint of regular and exclusive use. So it was when I first came aboard in 1939: the second floor room in which I habitually lectured was recognized as the place where students of philosophy gathered, and it was seldom, or never, used by anyone but myself. That had now changed. Not only were the various departmental classes scattered throughout the building, and not only were the available classrooms generally filled to capacity; there were simply not enough rooms to go around. Consequently, classes were held not only in the morning, as heretofore, but also in the afternoon and evening, and not only in the administration building but also in the library and in the seminary building.
The chapel also had become too small. Because it could not seat the entire student body, only half the number of those enrolled were required to attend chapel services on any given day. It was in this adventitious way that the age-old rule regarding chapel attendance began to be relaxed.
There was no way to increase the central office space, but the furniture was rearranged, and two new clerk-secretaries were employed to address the increased work. President Schultze was for the first time given a secretary of his own to help ease his burdens; and a newly appointed field representative, Mr. Samuel Van Til, was placed at his side and charged with securing funds for building expansion.
Because arrangements could not be made in time, the academic year 1946-1947 began a week later than usual. On September 12, 1946, President Schultze delivered the convocation address in the First Protestant Reformed Church, then located on the corner of Franklin Street and Fuller Avenue. I began my fifth year of teaching and entered on the eighth year of my tenure. Although most departments in the college now enjoyed the luxury of having multiple personnel, I was still the sole occupant of the chair of philosophy and responsible for all the offerings in my department. I did, however, receive some assistance: John Daling had been appointed to assist Johannes Broene in psychology, and he was also able to take over my classes in logic that year. But that left me with six different areas to cover, and with the usual fifteen hours of classwork to perform. In the fall semester I taught introduction to philosophy in three sections to 118 students; medieval philosophy to a class of 27 students; and ethics to a group of 8 seniors. With the opening of school, I also resumed sponsorship of the lapsed Plato Club, which that year was chaired by John Steensma and included in its membership John Medendorp, Ed Walhout, Clarence Flietstra, John De Kruyter, Z. Koster, and F. Blum. I also took a seat on the faculty’s Educational Policy Committee, where I served with Radius, Monsma, Van Zyl, De Vries, and Zylstra, as well as with Dean Ryskamp and Registrar Dekker, who acted as advisors.
Hilda and I were still members of the Dennis Avenue Church in the fall of 1946; but we lived a considerable distance from the church and lacked the transportation needed to get to it. It was thus with some interest that we heard of a movement to establish a new Christian Reformed congregation on the southeast end of town. A group of people drawn largely from the Fuller Avenue, Neland Avenue, and Sherman Street congregations had secured classical approval for the founding of the proposed new church, and on October 18, 1946, a meeting to establish it was held in the college chapel. Hilda and I attended the organizational meeting and with Ellen became charter members of the new congregation, which upon its inception became known as the Calvin Christian Reformed Church. It held Sunday services in the college chapel and was served by guest preachers until Rev. Clarence Boomsma became its first pastor in January 1948. Its choice of name, its campus location, and its tendency to attract student worshipers, created resentment in some circles; so, to correct any misunderstanding, the trustees of the college found it necessary to declare in a public statement that the church had no official connection with the college.
The Board of Trustees met in February 1947 under the chairmanship of Rev. Gerrit Hoeksema. The Board revealed that it was operating the school that year on a budget of $248,000 and was charging non-Christian Reformed students $200 a year for tuition. The board also made several new appointments to the staff; but what was especially gratifying to me was its decisions to elevate me to the rank of full professor with life tenure. With this increase in status and security came a raise in salary: I was now to earn $3000 a year, this in addition to the medical and retirement benefits that had been put in place earlier.
The spring semester was now in progress, and during it I taught ancient philosophy in three sections to 127 students; modern philosophy to a class of 21 students; and metaphysics to a group of 7 in a senior seminar. During that semester President Schultze was often ill and on a few occasions hospitalized. Other things were happening as well. A sorrowing denomination mourned the death of Prof. Dietrich Kromminga; Harold Dekker announced that he was laying down his assistantship in speech to become pastor of a church in Englewood, New Jersey; Jim Bosscher and Jay Van Andel, owners of a local flight training school, petitioned the faculty to introduce a course in aeronautics but received a negative response; and the cornerstone of the old theological school, now dismantled to make room for an addition to the Christian high school, was offered to Calvin and accepted. The North Street Church of Zeeland at long last abandoned its remaining Dutch worship service just as Calvin’s Board of Trustees decided that a reading knowledge of Dutch would be required for entrance into the seminary.
Before the school year ended, I engaged in a series of discussions and negotiations on an issue that impinged significantly on my department in the college. With the enrollment growing as it was, it seemed prudent to be on the lookout for an additional teacher in philosophy. It did not initially occur to me to look in the direction of Indiana University, but as the year progressed, there were several indications that Prof. Jellema would welcome an invitation to return to the college he had left in 1935. Several of his friends in and out of the faculty now began to plead his case; happy to join the chorus, I encouraged the administration to open a dialogue with the prospective candidate. Those of us in the know were aware, however, that Jellema did not enjoy the favor of every element in the community. There were those who retained a memory of his alleged humanistic tendencies and his supposed bent toward Anglo-Hegelianism. Although I shared with those people a concern for a philosophy consonant with biblical verities, and although I was aware of Jellema’s earlier inclination toward a brand of Christian Idealism, I did not doubt that at bottom his views were shaped by Reformed principles and that his strong desire was to bring all thought in subjection to Christ.
Therefore, I asked President Schultze to invite Jellema for an interview. Early in January 1947, Jellema appeared on campus and was engaged by the president and me in a long and satisfying conversation. The executive committee of the board met on January 24, and at one of its sessions Schultze announced that Jellema’s name had been considered for a reappointment in philosophy, and informed the committee: “Dr. H. Stob and I have interviewed Jellema and found nothing objectionable.”
A disposition on the part of the executive committee to submit Jellema’s name to the board for consideration was strengthened on April 10, 1947, when board president Gerrit Hoeksema informed the committee that he had had a two-hour conference with Dr. Jellema and felt that “we should put forth efforts to bring him back to our college.” The committee thereupon expressed itself as “favorably inclined to an appointment of Dr. Jellema” and recommended that the board “interview him with a possible appointment to the department of Philosophy in mind.”
Meanwhile, I was in periodic touch with Jellema but also in almost daily contact with persons on and off the campus who were not happy with the ongoing course of events and who did not leave me in ignorance of their sentiments. With the imminent board meeting in view, I dispatched a long letter to Jellema on May 2, 1947. This, in part, is what I wrote:
You may recall our having inquired of each other the last time we met what kind of statement or pronouncement from yourself would be required to satisfy those who entertain doubts as to the wisdom of inviting you back to Calvin. . . . Word of your being considered for appointment is now going the rounds in Grand Rapids, and questions are being raised. I don’t hear all of them, but many are put directly to me. The most significant of these concern your philosophical position. I invariably answer these in the light of the eminently satisfactory interview President Schultze and I had with you some time ago, but to some specific questions I can give only a general answer and to others none at all. You would therefore help me (and all your friends who are ready to sponsor your appointment on a level above that of mere emotional partisanship) if you would set down on paper your views on the issues in dispute before you left Calvin for Indiana. . . . You can do this in a letter to me, or, if you prefer, to President Schultze. I can assure you that much will be gained by your so doing. . . . If the right words are spoken, they will pave a clear road to Calvin, enrich us immeasurably with your presence, reconcile all past differences, and close a thoroughly unpleasant and regrettable history.
Jellema did compose a statement of the kind I requested, and it was considered by the board when it met on May 7. It is a curious fact that the faculty as such had not been consulted in the matter of the proposed appointment up to that point. The issue was first aired at a faculty meeting on May 5, 1947; an item in the minutes of that meeting reads as follows: “The President informs the faculty that pressure brought to bear in and out of Calvin for the reappointment of Dr. H. Jellema in Philosophy has resulted in tentative plans and interviews by a faculty committee and by the chairman of the Executive Committee. He raises the question whether the faculty considers it wise to back the eventual appointment of Dr. Jellema. After a free exchange of opinion the following motion prevails: The faculty favors the appointment of Dr. Jellema for a position in philosophy, 20 yes’s, 4 no’s, 5 abstentions.”
When the Board of Trustees met on May 7, 1947, a motion prevailed to interview Dr. Jellema and to invite Dr. Clarence Bouma and myself to sit in on the interview. Because Prof. Volbeda, the seminary president, had addressed to the board a faculty document bearing on the question of Dr. Jellema’s appointment, the board decided that he and President Schultze should conduct the interview. The interview took place in my presence on May 8, and on the evening of that day, after considerable discussion, Dr. Jellema was appointed a full professor by a unanimous vote, and for an indefinite period. I believe that Jellema accepted the appointment soon after that, for on June 3 he met with the executive committee and asked, among other things, what his position would be in the philosophy department. When told by the committee that “he and Dr. H. Stob would be coordinate . . . he was well satisfied.” It had been ten years since I had been appointed to replace Harry Jellema, and the eight-year period in which I had been the sole occupant of Calvin’s philosophy chair had now come to an end. Jellema and I would henceforth man the department in tandem and share the teaching load in ways commensurate with our talents and predilections.
It was soon after the May board meetings had adjourned that Prof. Kromminga died. Thus the executive committee had to prepare a nomination from which a successor could be chosen. Among those nominated was my good friend, cousin, and classmate George Stob. George had served as chaplain during the war, was now pursuing graduate work at Princeton Theological Seminary, and possessed in ample measure the qualifications needed to fill the chair that was vacant. As it turned out, he was promptly elected at Synod as the seminary’s new professor of church history and given a year to complete his studies at Princeton. His deserved election to this new office pleased me greatly, and I awaited his arrival on campus in the fall of 1948 with eager anticipation. Another of my friends was also honored by Synod: the denomination’s radio ministry, the Back to God Hour, had for some years featured a variety of preachers, but it was now deemed expedient to have the broadcast speak with one voice, and Synod elected Peter Eldersveld as the church’s official radio minister. Peter served the church with distinction until his voice was stilled by his untimely death.
The Synod of 1947 adopted a number of resolutions affecting the theological school. It endorsed a modified form of the summer field work program recently put in place by the seminary faculty; it authorized the establishment of a chair of missions, and encouraged the Board of Trustees to do whatever it could to qualify the seminary to grant a Th.D. degree; it also laid aside the gravamen submitted by Prof. Kromminga as no longer relevant, with the result that premillenialism became a matter of no existential concern. Congregational life received attention when a committee was appointed to address the issue of woman suffrage in congregational meetings; and family life was much affected when Synod decreed that an informed Christian who had remarried after an “unbiblical” divorce cannot be a member of the church unless he manifest repentance by returning to the former spouse or by ceasing to live with the present one. Life in society was eased when Synod refused to rule that membership in the AFL or the CIO is incompatible with membership in the church or with eligibility to church office.
During the course of that academic year a number of notable events took place on the world stage. In 1947, India achieved her independence; however, it came at no small cost: the split between Hindus and Muslims erupted into bloody conflict, and the uprising by the Sikhs in the Punjab resulted in the death of thousands. The Near East became the focus of attention when in 1947 the United Nations decided to subdivide British-mandated Palestine and provide a home for the Jewish diaspora. The cold war between the Soviet Union and the Western world was now in progress, and a wave of anti-communist sentiment swept through the American populace. On May 12, 1947, President Truman enunciated the Truman Doctrine, which committed the nation to the containment of Soviet aggression, and at home he launched a massive “loyalty” program, in accordance with which the Attorney General drew up a long list of supposedly “disloyal” organizations. Eager to join in the battle against the communist cells alleged to be nestled in the Washington establishment was a vociferous zealot from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy, a Republican who had won a seat in the United States Senate in the November 1946 election. In June 1947 the Taft-Hartley act placed controls on big labor, and in July details of the Marshall Plan to spur European postwar recovery were worked out at a conference in Paris.
Teaching six different courses in philosophy to 308 students immediately upon returning from three years of military service had exacted its toll, and I could have profited from a long summer’s recess, but no respite was afforded. I was drawn into the college’s summer school program, and for six weeks in June and early July I taught medieval philosophy to a class of eight students. I was called upon to preach as well, and on ten successive summer Sundays I conducted worship services in area churches. In August 1947 my review of E. E. Taylor’s Does God Exist? appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal. It was a summer with little time for leisure and relaxation, and I provided Hilda with no release from child care or from the performance of monotonous household chores.
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The academic year 1947-1948 was ushered in with the usual convocation exercise. When the school doors opened in September 1947, there were 45 members on the faculty; eight additional staff members served as departmental assistants; and still engaged in teaching despite their advanced age and long tenure were the seasoned veterans Johannes Broene, A. E. Broene, and Jacob Vanden Bosch. New to the faculty were James De Jonge, Lester De Koster, Thedford Dirkse, Cornelius Jaarsma, and, in a sense, Harry Jellema. Among the newly appointed assistants were Henry Bengelink, Harold Geerdes, Helen Van Laar, Ann De Boer, Ruth Vande Kieft, and John Vanden Berg, the last three of whom had at one time or another been students in my classes. Assisting the president that year was Rev. Arnold Brink, who as educational secretary occupied himself with public relations.
The student enrollment in September stood at 1,394, an increase of 150 over the previous year. The Board of Trustees was operating both college and seminary on a budget of $308,000 and was charging non-Christian Reformed students $250 a year for tuition. Although the women still occupied the school’s only dormitory, the men’s “Alexander Hall” had been abandoned for want of applicants. The space crunch was slightly eased when 7,500 square feet of additional classroom and laboratory space became available through the acquisition of a portable building supplied by the War Assets Administration. The Osterink Construction Company had been engaged to begin building a three-story science building on campus in spring 1948 at a cost of $818,000; and to provide for future expansion, the college bought a seven-and-a-half acre tract of land from the nearby Clarke Home for $75,000. The money to defray these expenses was drawn from the $1.5 million expansion fund established through the efforts of the Messrs. Hendrikse and Van Til. During the course of that year, the college turned a portion of the Clarke acreage into a student parking lot, thus freeing the streets of the cars that had long been a source of annoyance to the neighbors.
Harry Jellema’s presence in the department resulted in a reduction of my teaching load from fifteen to twelve hours a week and enabled me to reduce the number of semester courses I would teach from four to three. Classes, however, remained large, and I was burdened with an inordinate number of exercises, tests, and papers to examine and appraise. In the fall semester of that academic year I taught introduction to philosophy in two sections to 67 students; medieval philosophy to 38 students; and logic to 34 students. I also published a review of Cornelius Van Til’s Common Grace in the Calvin Forum, and on three occasions I preached in churches in Michigan and Illinois. I remained a member of the education policy committee until it was reconstituted on June 1, 1948, and also joined Hoekstra, Monsma, De Vries, Spoelhof, and Van Opynen on the discipline committee. Making up the Plato Club that year was a group of intelligent and congenial fellows with whom I found it a pleasure to work. Attending our monthly meetings in pursuit of philosophical learning were Ed Bierma, Calvin Bulthuis, Carl Danielson, George Harper, Jake Hekman, Walter Lagerwey, John Malestein, Harvey Smit, Len Vander Linde, Jack Van Dyken, Bastiaan Van Elderen, Paul Van Lonkhuyzen, and Ed Walhout. With such students in attendance, there was no lack of cerebral activity.
Just after the school year began, Clarence Boomsma preached in Calvin Church on a classical assignment. He lodged with us that weekend, and, having heard the two good sermons that he delivered, I predicted not only that he would be put on nomination but also that he would be called to be our pastor. I wagered a chicken dinner on the soundness of my judgment and clairvoyance, and I put Clarence in my debt when in October 1947 the consistory issued him a call. I was very pleased when Clarence decided to leave Imlay City and come to Grand Rapids in January to take up his duties as the first minister of Calvin Church.
It was in that same month of October that one of the most distinguished members of the Christian Reformed Church passed from the scene. Rev. Henry Beets had been the first editor of The Banner, the church’s director of missions and editor of The Missionary Monthly, the author of several books, and for forty years the stated clerk of the denomination. On October 29, 1947, he went to meet the Lord whom he had served with faithfulness and rare distinction.
A Sunday in October was set aside to commemorate the establishment of the Van Raalte colony in what is now Holland, Michigan. Not only did our churches celebrate the centennial, but the University of Michigan remembered the pioneer settlers by hosting an earlier convocation at which the Dutch ambassador and Senator Arthur Vanden Berg addressed the celebrative gathering. To further mark the centennial, Dr. Albert Hyma published his Van Raalte and Prof. Arnold Mulder his Americans from Holland.
Before the first semester ended and the calendar year 1947 came to a close, the faculty adopted a proposal to name department and division chairmen; the Back to God Hour began to use the school’s facilities for its Sunday radio broadcasts; Prof. Swets conducted the college chorus and orchestra in the twenty-fifth annual rendition of Handel’s Messiah; the issue of junior colleges began to be discussed within the faculty; the Calvin Church consistory sought to purchase a half acre of the land the college had acquired from the Clarke estate; the denomination returned some its missionaries to the recently re-opened Chinese mainland; and Dr. John Van Bruggen was named general secretary of the National Union of Christian Schools, succeeding Mark Fakkema, who had become educational director of the schools connected with the National Association of Evangelicals. In England a young actor by the name of Alex Guinness was being hailed as a rising star; and in a royal wedding, Princess Elizabeth, the heir to the British throne, was married to Prince Philip Mountbatten.
When the second semester began in January of 1948, I went back to fifteen hours of teaching, the large enrollment requiring that I cover my three disciplines in multiple sections. I taught logic that spring in two sections to 90 students, ancient philosophy in two sections to 83 students, and metaphysics in a seminar to eleven students. Before the semester ended, I had also preached on eight different occasions in various local churches. On January 4, Clarence Boomsma was installed as the minister of Calvin Church. Sometime in March, Hilda announced, to our mutual gratification, that she was again pregnant.
What occupied a considerable amount of my time during that semester was the counseling I did with a number of gifted veterans who, imbued with the spirit of Calvinism, were concerned to have the church move out of its malaise and give vital and relevant expression to its genius and rich inheritance. The members of the “Youth and Calvinism Group” (as it was called) prepared papers on secularity, amusements, politics, science, literature, education, and preaching, and I was asked to examine and appraise them. The several papers produced by Lew Smedes, Dirk Jellema, Paul Van Lonkhuyzen, Clif Orlebeke, George Harper, Rod Jellema, and Len Vander Linde were published in the fall of 1948 by the group’s secretary, Cal Bulthuis, and in the pamphlet that contained them I wrote a preface in which, among other things, I said:
When young men still at school address themselves to so large an issue as Calvinism and The World, and point their remarks directly at their elders, they run the risk of receiving nothing but censure for their pains. A critical reader of the following essays will indeed find things to censure. The issue is not in every essay equally well- defined; the argumentation is not always faultless; and one could wish that the acerbity of certain passages was either tempered or removed. It would be a pity, however, if these and other faults should turn the reader away. This is a Report. It is a straightforward account of what Calvinism means actually and ideally, not only to the few young men who here express themselves, but also the many more for whom they are the spokesmen. . . . But the book is not only a Report; it is also a Confession. The writers of these essays are committed to Calvinism. They may not completely understand it, but they apprehend that it possesses them in a way that leaves them with no alternative either within or without the Christian church. . . .
The book, however, is not only a Report and a Confession. It is also a Criticism and a Plea. It calls for light. It wants Calvinists not only to define the elemental issues of life, but to disclose them as they lie in the folds of contemporary forms. It wants to see displayed what it believes to be Calvinism’s relevancy to the existential situation. . . . It calls for a positive, vital, articulated Calvinism, and it challenges us to respond.
I don’t recall what effect the pamphlet had on its readers, but the several authors were themselves enriched by the efforts they put forth, and all of them grew to be distinguished advocates of the cause they sponsored in their student years.
The Board of Trustees met in February 1948 and again in May, and would alter custom by meeting regularly thereafter during those two months of the year. The seminary had hitherto held joint commencement exercises with the college, but it was now authorized to hold separate exercises annually. To encourage scholarship and research, the board introduced a program of sabbatical leaves. It granted Clarence Bouma a year’s leave, beginning in February 1949, to provide him an opportunity to write a book on ethics. The board also noted that in response to pressures from outside, the consistory of Calvin Church had withdrawn its bid to purchase a part of the newly acquired college lands; it adopted a plan to add laymen to its membership; it authorized the seminary faculty to grant the Th.D. degree to accredited theological candidates; and it reiterated its stand on disputed moral issues by ordering the inclusion in the college handbook of the following rule: “All cases of misdemeanor and offensive conduct in the matter of theater attendance, card playing, and dancing (which are regarded as forms of worldliness) will be disciplined to the extent of expulsion from Calvin College.”
The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in June 1948 and from a slate of three candidates elected Harry Boer to the newly created chair of missions at the seminary. Harry was at the time a novice missionary in Nigeria, and to give him time to complete his initial assignment and afford him an opportunity for advanced study, Synod permitted him to postpone his appearance at the school until the fall of 1951. Synod endorsed the board’s plan to introduce nine laymen into its membership, and among the persons appointed to fill the posts was my good friend John Hamersma, a distinguished lawyer with a large practice in New Jersey. I was delighted with the action, and Hilda and I would in subsequent years regularly play host to John and Helen when they came to Grand Rapids to attend board meetings. Synod also discouraged Mark Fakkema’s school association from invading the territory of John Van Bruggen’s National Union; appointed a committee to consider whether the church should continue membership in the National Association of Evangelicals; and appointed another committee to consider what attitude should be adopted toward those in the church who were advocating the establishment of junior colleges. To my regret, Synod refused to send a representative to the International Council of Christian Churches, which would convene in Amsterdam on August 12, 1948, and give birth there to a new World Council.
By the end of the school year 1947-1948, George Stob had returned to Grand Rapids from Princeton and had begun to prepare the lectures he would deliver at the seminary in the fall. Before settling down, he delivered the commencement address at the college, at which there was no academic procession because the requisite robes had not arrived in time. I myself was not set free by the closing exercises, for summer school would be again in session, and from June 17 to July 29 I was engaged in teaching. During that six-week period I taught a three-hour course in medieval philosophy to nine students and a three-hour course in logic to six students; for my efforts I was paid the sum of $390. I preached with a certain regularity and in the course of the summer conducted worship services on eleven successive Sundays. Meanwhile, Hilda was giving public evidence of her pregnancy and maintaining withal a large measure of good health. We looked forward with eager anticipation to the birth of another child before the calendar year should end.
During the first three quarters of 1948, a number of events occurred that significantly reshaped the face of the world. The state of Israel came into being on May 15, when the British mandate in Palestine expired, but its existence was threatened when five united Arab forces launched an attack on it. That it survived this attack and routed its enemies gave proof of its long-term viability. In Europe, communist forces went on the offensive: Czechoslovakia became a Soviet satellite when indigenous communists seized control of the government, and the Russians themselves menaced the West when they choked off land and water routes to internationalized Berlin. The Allies responded with the “Berlin Airlift,” in which fliers, especially Americans, supplied the city with virtually all the provisions it needed. The world lost one of its most prominent figures when Mahatma Ghandi died in India at the hand of an assassin. At home, Congress authorized the “Voice of America” radio broadcast; the government took the lead in establishing the Organization of American States; and the House Committee on Un-American activities began its investigation into the affairs of Alger Hiss.
The sports pages reported the death of Babe Ruth at age 53, the winning of the triple racing crown by Citation, and the winning of the decathlon by the seventeen-year-old Bob Mathias at the London Olympic games.
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The academic year 1948-1949 was inaugurated in September 1948 with the usual convocation exercises. The teaching staff that year consisted of fifty-one full-time instructors and seven part-time assistants. New to the staff were Melvin Berghuis, Clarence Boersma, and John De Beer; pressed into service for yet another year were Prof. Vanden Bosch, the two Broenes, and even Prof. Nieuwdorp. Harry Jellema and I constituted the philosophy department, but Harry had been made divisional chairman, and this normally entailed a departmental chairmanship as well. In this instance, however, it did not: a supervisory chair made little sense in a two-man department, and it also would contravene the parity established by the board. Harry would later assume the chairmanship, and had that happened at this time, I would have gladly acquiesced in the appointment. He was, after all, my former teacher, my senior by fifteen years in age, and the possessor of a more than parochial reputation. But for the present we acted in tandem. Since neither of us was an administrator, we addressed our affairs on the run and settled them with a gesture.
The student body continued to grow, and course enrollments kept pace with the burgeoning population. The registered students now numbered 1,466, the men outnumbering the women, 973 to 493. Of the students enrolled, a disproportionate number crowded into my classrooms. In the fall semester I taught introduction to philosophy in two sections to 100 students, logic in two sections to 62 students, and medieval philosophy to a class of 51 students. I continued to serve, meanwhile, on the faculty’s discipline committee. I again sponsored the Plato Club and was happy to see included in its membership such intelligent and inquiring young men as Clif Orlebeke, Steve Vander Weele, Robert Otten, George Harper, Walter Lagerwey, Bas Van Elderen, Gordon Spykman, Cal Bulthuis, Len Vander Linde, Henry Stevens, John Morren, Nelson Vander Zee, and Harvey Smit. That semester and subsequent ones were made more pleasant by the presence of George Stob, who had assumed the chair of church history in the seminary at the beginning of that academic year. George had settled with Joan in a house on Baldwin Street, and we frequently met for sociability, informal chatter, and occasional theological discussions. We reinstated in this way the close fellowship we had once enjoyed, and which Henry Zylstra and I regularly exercised. Clarence Boomsma had now also been added to this pair of intimate friends. Clarence came to our house often, and our meetings were made no less prolonged and fruitful by the fact that Clarence was a bachelor and unencumbered by family.
Before the first semester ended and the year 1948 came to a close, a number of events transpired that affected our private and communal lives. The Calvin community was saddened in mid-term when Ted Dirkse, one of our colleagues, lost his wife in childbirth and also the twin infants that she bore. A sentiment of a different kind took hold when on December 2, 1948, the cornerstone of the new science building was laid in the presence of a festive crowd. That year’s political campaigns attracted the attention of the citizenry: Thomas E. Dewey was running against the incumbent President Truman, and the pundits predicted a Republican victory; but Truman took to the rails during the summer and fall and prevailed in the November election, much to the embarrassment of the Chicago Tribune, which on election night had bannered a Dewey victory. In other contests, Gerald R. Ford succeeded Bartel Jonkman as the congressman from Michigan’s fifth district, and Lyndon B. Johnson was sent to the United States Senate by his constituents in Texas. By the end of the year, about ten thousand Dutch immigrants had arrived in Canada. Christian Reformed emissaries came to the assistance of these people with pastoral and financial aid, and many of them were drawn into our ecclesiastical fellowship. The war years were recalled when on December 23, 1948, General Hideki Tojo, Japan’s wartime prime minister, and six others, were executed for war crimes.
In September 1948, I preached at Calvin Church and also in Holland and in Byron Center. In October, I published in the Calvin Forum a review of Herman Dooyeweerd’s Transcendental Problems of Philosophical Thought. And at a congregational meeting held on November 29, I was, with others, elected to the office of elder in Calvin Church. World events and routine personal engagements paled into relative insignificance, however, when Hilda’s pregnancy was brought to term in early December with the birth of a bouncing baby boy. On December 9, 1948, the Lord presented us with a dear son whom we named Henry Richard; he was delivered in Butterworth Hospital by Dr. Leon Bosch and weighed eight pounds and thirteen ounces. Although labor was intensive, Hilda, at age 39, suffered no complications, and when three-year-old Ellen and I came to bring our precious pair home a few days later our thankfulness and joy knew no bounds. “Dick,” as we called our ruddy and cheerful little boy, was gently treated by Ellen, and the sunshine he brought into our home gave us ample cause to praise the covenant-keeping God who bestowed this gift on us.
The Board of Trustees met in February 1949, and John Hamersma came in to attend his first meeting. He and Helen spent a few days with us, and John and I stayed up late in our nightly review of the actions taken by the board. I learned that the plans for an enlarged library had been approved; that the construction of a Calvin commons was high on the board’s agenda; that the board rejected a faculty proposal to sell a parcel of college land to Calvin Church; and that it elevated Henry Zylstra to the rank of full professor.
The second semester saw the number of faculty members increased by the addition in January of Enno Wolthuis, my college classmate. My philosophy classes were again overcrowded and, besides preparing lectures, I had to cope with masses of student papers, tests, and exercises. During the second semester I taught logic in two sections to 105 students, ancient philosophy in two sections to 86 students, and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas to a class of 14 students.
I was installed as elder in Calvin Church on January 1, 1949, and was elected in February as an elder delegate to Synod by Classis Grand Rapids East. I addressed the seminary community at the March Dies Natalis banquet on the subject of a “Living Theology,” was invited in April to become a member of the Board of Trustees of the Christian University Association of America, published in the May issue of the Calvin Forum a note on “John Calvin as Philosopher,” and before the semester ended preached on six occasions in various churches. I had meanwhile become interested in local politics, had attended a May rally held in Fulton Park to protest against the perceived corruption that marred the administration of Grand Rapids Mayor Welsh, and assisted in the formation of a temporary organization called “Citizens Action.” We persuaded Julius Amberg to assume the presidency of the organization, and I was appointed to the board and made one of its vice presidents. We circulated petitions and gathered the signatures of 27,000 citizens calling for the resignation of Welsh and the breakup of the Welsh-McKay machine. The mayor rejected the recall petition, challenged it in the courts, was finally rebuffed by the supreme court of Michigan, and in mid-July went into sullen retirement. I remained with Citizens Action for several more years, but abandoned it after the 1954 elections when I felt that it had outlived its usefulness.
Prof. William Hendriksen of the seminary was not happy with some of the things I said in my Dies Natalis speech. When he wrote me a letter expressing his concerns, I sent him a reply, the contents of which I here record because it expresses my thinking at the time, and because it marks the first of the several skirmishes I later had with various correspondents in the church. I said, in part:
I wished to declare that, in orienting his theological reflections to life and practice, the student should make no concessions to the activistic, functional, pragmatic mind of the day. This one does, in my opinion, when one studies theology as a mere means to a specific practical end, with half an eye on next Sunday’s sermon, or on the imminent Board examination. One studies it best when one regards it as a system of truths that is valid independently of its functional efficacy, when one approaches it as a system of meanings that is worthy in its own right of being understood. . . . In theological studies ‘useful’ information should never be accepted as a substitute for disciplined judgment. The student should so conduct his studies that he is not only informed by a mass of data, but also formed and transformed by critical reflection and inner appropriation. A mind cannot be formed by consulting compendia, digests, and surveys, but only by wrestling in earnest with the classical literature, by being insinuated in and disciplined by an established tradition. . . . You did not like another reference I made. I had contended, and still maintain, that a living theology should address itself to the contemporary mind and respond to contemporary challenges. The theologian should take note of the present state of theological learning on the theory that the Spirit of God is still active in the church and that his presence is not limited to our segment of it. This means that we should ponder what others have to say, lest some part or aspect of the full truth be lost to us. . . .
In saying these and other things I was concerned to warn the student against thinking himself educated when he had merely succeeded in fixing an outline or a scheme in his head, and had failed to attend to what was being thought and said in communities other than his own. I supposed that in so saying I was aiding and abetting the Seminary faculty in its educational efforts, and I should be extremely sorry to learn that my remarks were interpreted by anyone as reflecting unfavorably upon your self, your book, or your course.
The academic year 1948-1949 had now come to an end. The June commencement exercises were held in the Civic Auditorium, where diplomas were handed out to 254 college graduates. The faculty was dressed for the occasion in newly acquired caps and gowns that the board had purchased at a cost of $2,500.
The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in the college library from June 3 to June 17, 1949, and I attended as an elder delegate from Classis Grand Rapids East. Rev. Emo Van Halsema presided at our sessions, and I was assigned to the advisory committee on publications and appointed as its reporter. This was my first engagement in synodical proceedings, and I learned how taxing the work of synodical delegates is. A study report on the National Association of Evangelicals came into the hands of our committee, but we found it impossible to support either the majority, who wished to continue membership in the organization, or the minority, who wished to withdraw. We advised Synod to appoint a committee charged with preparing a proposal based on more substantial grounds. Our consideration of publication matters presented no problems, but we did process lists of nominees for eventual election to various posts. Rev. Van Halsema was appointed to succeed Rev. Keegstra as editor of De Wachter, and Clarence Boomsma was appointed as a member of the standing publications committee. In its address to college matters, Synod authorized the Board of Trustees to expand the library at a cost of $290,000; approved the building of a student commons as soon as possible; and required out-of-town college and seminary students to transfer their membership to a local church of their choosing. The Reformed Presbyterian Church wanted Synod to endorse its proposal to put into the Preamble of the United States Constitution the words “We the people of the United States, devoutly recognizing the authority and law of Jesus Christ, the Savior and King of nations. . . .” Although the delegates had little stomach for this, the matter was referred to a committee for study. Synod also appointed a committee to study the Boy Scout movement; and in another action it disapproved of ministers entering the industrial chaplaincy.
I made my first extended synodical speech when the issue of “worldly amusements” appeared once more on the floor of Synod. The pamphlet put out by the Youth and Calvinism group had not gone unnoticed: in an appendix to the published essays was an account of a poll taken among members of the Young Calvinist Federation showing that a considerable number of respondents had in good conscience attended movies and were of the opinion that the church’s ban on such attendance was unwarranted. Alarmed by this disclosure, a number of consistories and one western classis overtured Synod not only to reaffirm its stand on worldly amusements but also to re- emphasize its mandatory character.
When this matter came up for discussion, I arose to address it. I assured the delegates that as long as I had been teaching at the college, I had sedulously observed the rules governing student behavior; that I had, however, no disposition to censure students who played cards and went to movies under Christian restraints; that I myself had since student days attended theatrical and cinematic performances with no observable adverse effects; that I deplored The Banner editor’s reiterated insistence that selective movie attendance was not only hazardous but positively sinful; that I found it hard to believe that the Synod of 1928 intended to place an absolute ban on the cultural forms it characterized as amusements tending to cultivate worldliness; and that what was needed now was a re-examination and a reassessment of the position alleged to have been taken by the church.
The speech did not endear me to a number of my associates at Synod or enhance my reputation in the church; but I was not without supporters, and when the matter came to a vote, Synod decided to appoint a committee to re-examine the decisions of 1928. The committee was ordered to clarify the decisions and, considering that worldliness can take many forms, to amplify them where necessary and desirable. Restrictions were, however, to be observed; the decisions of 1928 were for the time being to remain in force, and their essence was to be preserved in any clarification attempted. The committee appointed to conduct this study consisted of seven ministers (L. Greenway, J. Vander Ploeg, J. Breuker, H. J. Kuiper, N. Monsma, W. Kok, and G. Hoeksema) and two laymen (E. R. Post and H. Stob). The assignment I inherited in the wake of my Synod speech would occupy a considerable portion of my free time in the next two years.
When Synod adjourned, I was not set at leisure: summer school awaited me, and in the course of the next six weeks I taught ancient philosophy to a class of 13 students and modern philosophy to a class of 14 students. Meanwhile, I continued to accept preaching engagements and during the summer conducted worship services in ten different churches.
Between January and September 1949, the world continued to turn on its axis. In our own country, Harry Truman began his second term as President; the United States Senate approved the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Congress raised the minimum wage from 40 to 75 cents an hour; and book publishers advertised the appearance of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. Europe and the Near East were in ferment. The Russians broke the United States nuclear monopoly by exploding an atomic bomb, but they also eased East-West tensions by terminating their blockade of surface shipments to Berlin. Germany itself was split in two. East Germany was established as an independent communist state, and a West German Republic was set up in Bonn with Konrad Adenauer as chancellor. In the Near East, Trans-Jordania annexed the West Bank, claimed sovereignty over the eastern half of Jerusalem, and took on the name Jordan. In China the revolutionary forces of Mao Tse-tung were poised to drive Chiang Kai-shek out of office and to set up a communist state on the vast mainland of Asia.
Thus ended my first three postwar years at Calvin College.