THE MIDDLE YEARS
When the academic year 1949-1950 began in September 1949, the number of students enrolled in the college stood at 1430. The faculty had grown with the addition of John Weidenaar in the department of biblical studies, but with only 46 people on the staff, the student-teacher ratio remained at the unacceptable level of 26 to 1; this was true even though Johannes Broene, A. E. Broene, and J. G. Vanden Bosch were retained to teach part-time. Harry Jellema and I still manned the philosophy department, and our classrooms were generally filled to capacity. Jellema taught modern philosophy, a course in philosophical perspectives, and another in ethics, while I pursued my studies in logic and in ancient and medieval philosophy. I functioned that year as a member of the faculty’s discipline committee, but no longer served on the educational policy committee. The latter had been reconstituted to include the four divisional chairman (of which Jellema was one), the registrar, the secretary of the faculty and, of course, the academic dean, who presided at its meetings.
The Board of Trustees ran the college and seminary that year on a budget of $462,000 and paid full professors a salary of $4,500 to $5,500 a year, the variation depending on the recipient’s length of service in that rank. Since the campaign to raise funds for building expansion had come to an end, Samuel Van Til resigned as field secretary in September 1949, and Mr. Voss was charged with collecting the pledges still outstanding. The science building was nearing completion, the student parking lot had been black-topped, and drapes had been hung in the chapel to improve acoustics.
In the fall semester of the 1949-50 academic year I taught introduction to philosophy in two sections to 81 students, medieval philosophy in two sections to 76 students, and logic to a class of 30 students. I again sponsored a Plato Club composed of excellent students who presented papers on a variety of philosophical topics. Constituting the membership that year were Dick Baay, John Borst, Nick Huizenga, Rod Jellema, Peter Lagerwey, Stuart Kingma, Don Oppewal, Charles Ryskamp, Henry Stevens, Joe Stevens, and Charles Terpstra. My extracurricular activities during that semester were not extensive: I preached at LaGrave Church in the month of September, and in October I addressed a civic audience on “The Dutch in Philosophy.” A citywide meeting was held in the Grand Rapids Public Museum, where a collection of Dutch art was on display; in my speech I traced the development of Dutch thought from Descartes and Spinoza to Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd.
What engaged my attention throughout the year was the matter of enlarging the philosophy department. Harry Jellema and I had raised the issue as early as June 1948, but it was not until May 1949 that the educational policy committee acceded to our request and recommended the appointment of an additional staff member. Harry and I were agreed that Cecil De Boer was the man we would like to have as our associate; but when the committee began to consider candidates, the name of a certain Mr. Evan Runner kept coming up. Runner was interviewed by the committee on May 25 and put on their “long” list of candidates; but he fell out of contention when the committee effected the dual nomination of Cecil and Jesse De Boer. At its meeting held on May 31, 1949, the faculty endorsed the committee’s nomination, but it added the name of Evan Runner as the third nominee by way of amendment. The Board of Trustees considered the three candidates on June 1, 1949, but deferred action on the nomination until it should meet again in semiannual session at the beginning of the next year.
On October 19, 1949, the educational policy committee again took up the matter of the philosophy appointment. This was somewhat odd, because the faculty had settled on a nomination in May, which now rested securely in the hands of the board. The fact was, however, that Jellema was opposed to Runner’s nomination and had persuaded his fellow committee members to reopen the issue. His efforts were directed toward securing the nomination of the single candidate, Cecil De Boer, regarding whom he and I were in complete agreement. At that October meeting, Cecil De Boer was indeed renominated with my concurrence; but when it was decided to renominate Jesse De Boer as well, I argued that Runner’s name should also stand. A motion by a committee member to restore his name, however, was not even seconded. To avoid further embarrassment the committee then decided to choose between Cecil and Jesse De Boer and present a single nomination; Cecil received the nod. But when this nomination reached the faculty on November 7, the faculty judged that the committee’s proposal was out of order and that the multiple nomination agreed on earlier was still in force.
In a second effort to get Runner’s name removed, the committee met on November 16, 1949, and decided to ask the faculty to rescind its decision of May 31 and make a new nomination. On December 5 the faculty did rescind its earlier action, and in accordance with the committee’s recommendation named Cecil De Boer as its sole nominee. But when the executive committee of the board received the faculty’s single nomination on December 8 and referred it to a subcommittee, the latter, on January 12, 1950, proposed that Runner’s name be added to the nomination. The Board of Trustees met on February 8, 1950, and on the recommendation of its executive committee put both Runner and De Boer on nomination. The board did this despite the education policy committee’s statement that argued strongly against Runner’s nomination.
I had earlier refused to endorse the committee’s statement because I considered its negative appraisal to be insufficiently grounded. Being aware of this, the board now asked Jellema and me to appear before it and give expression to our sentiments. I was not present when Harry gave his testimony, but when my turn came, I declared that I would be eminently satisfied with the appointment of Cecil De Boer, but I thought that Evan Runner was worthy of consideration and had no objection to his remaining in nomination. Noting a lack of unanimity in the department, the board decided to postpone action on its dual nomination until it met again in June of 1950.
At the board meeting held in June, Cecil De Boer was appointed to the staff at the rank of full professor and promised a salary of $4,900 a year. But that was not all: Evan Runner, a Harvard fellow who was now pursuing philosophy under Vollenhoven in Amsterdam, was also appointed to the staff “subject to the favorable outcome of a personal interview before the Board at its next meeting.” Both appointments were ratified by the Synod of 1950. Thus, in the course of a single year, Calvin’s philosophy department had doubled in size, though only DeBoer would be aboard when the school doors opened in September.
Feelings ran high both within and without the faculty regarding those appointments, and Jellema was not pleased with my refusal to oppose Runner’s nomination. But I did not then share Jellema’s dislike of the new Dutch philosophy nor his estimate of Runner’s capabilities. Moreover, I thought that our homogeneous college staff would be enriched by the addition of an evangelical scholar who had not been bred in our circles and against whose academic credentials little could be alleged. I did not positively advocate Runner’s nomination, much less his appointment; but neither could I, in fairness to an eligible candidate with wide support, join in the effort to put him out of contention. The course pursued by Runner after he joined the faculty in 1951 did not always generate sweetness and light, and I was led in subsequent years to wonder whether I should have acted differently during the nominating process; but what I did, I did in good conscience and am now satisfied to leave the entire matter to the judgment of history.
When the drama of the philosophy appointments was being enacted, there was action on the world stage as well. Before the first semester ended and the year 1949 drew to a close, the revolutionary forces of Mao Tse-tung had established a communist state on the mainland of China and had caused Chiang Kai-shek to flee with a remnant of his troops to the island of Formosa (Taiwan), where he was protected against further assault by the United States fleet. With the establishment of Mao’s government, our missionary activity in China ceased, and by the end of 1949 all of the staff except Rev. A. H. Smit had been repatriated. China was evidently not regarded as a threat to Korea, because during that year the American troops that had been stationed in Korea since the end of World War II had been withdrawn and either sent home or transferred to Japan. Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose were convicted of treason that year; Cardinal Mindszenty went on trial in Hungary; the Dutch Calvinists kept coming to Canada and had by now established fourteen Christian Reformed churches in that country; and in the United States Dr. Edwin Land had introduced the polaroid camera.
When the second semester began in January 1950, my classes were again so large that I could not give the required attention to all the students enrolled. That semester I taught logic in two sections to 119 students, ancient philosophy in two sections to 102 students, and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas to a class of 12.
In February, I appeared on radio to answer the charges made against Citizens Action by Mayor George Welsh. I also enlisted the populace in support of the candidates we had put forward to replace him and his cronies; in the election that followed, all five of our candidates were successful: Paul Goebel became mayor, and Doerr, Hoogerhyde, De Korne, and Gritter took seats on the city council. In March, Dr. Hideo Kishimoto, professor of religion at Tokyo University, paid a visit to Grand Rapids and was a guest in our house for two days. I had worked closely with him during my tour of duty in Japan, and I was delighted to see him again and review several of our joint ventures.
In April, I was made chairman of a committee charged with drawing up a set of resolutions on the race issue for the forthcoming Young Calvinist Convention. Serving with me were Garrett Heyns, Clarence Boomsma, Jack Stoepker, and Neal Rensenbrink. In May, I preached on three Sundays in local churches and addressed the seminary students on “honesty” at their annual Corps Fest. During the course of the year I met in several lively sessions with the other members of the synodical committee on worldly amusements.
Things were happening in and around school as well. Clarence Bouma resumed his post at the seminary in January 1950 after spending a sabbatical year in research and writing; at the same time, Case Plantinga joined the college faculty in the department of psychology. The completion of the new science building was celebrated at a dedicatory service held in the Civic Auditorium on February 6. In that same month the Board authorized the establishment of a series of annual college-seminary lectures featuring outside speakers. By March, work was in progress on the addition to the library. In April, Steve Vander Weele was offered an appointment as an assistant in English, and in May the Calvin Foundation was formally established as an agency for the support of Calvinistic studies and ventures. At the June 1950 commencement 307 graduates received their college diplomas.
The internal struggle that resulted in the appointment of two men to the college philosophy department, and which for a time put a strain on the relationship between Jellema and me, was minuscule compared to the struggle concurrently developing in the seminary. A sign of unrest first appeared at the February 1950 meeting of the board, when the student Corps voiced its dissatisfaction with the quality of teaching in the New Testament department. The students were only slightly appeased when in March the executive committee made a “friendly judgment,” which the professor of New Testament, William Hendriksen, considered prejudicial. Within the faculty itself there was a split between the dominant four, who controlled the seminary offices, and the remaining two, whose sentiments on a variety of matters went unheeded and whose objections to certain tactics and procedures were dismissed as unfounded. A bone of contention was the proposed Th.D. program: supported by Volbeda, Wyngaarden, Hendriksen, and Rutgers, it was opposed by Bouma and Stob, who felt that neither the faculty nor the library met the standards requisite for its introduction. It appears that in the faculty discussions concerning this matter, it was particularly Prof. Bouma who roused the ire of the dominant four; for on May 23, 1950, it was only these five who, at a meeting of the executive committee, not only expressed their differences on the issue of the Th.D. but also aired complaints against each other’s conduct in the management of affairs.
Tension was not eased when, by a vote of four to two, the faculty decided not to extend licensure to two students who were supposed to be “confused on some doctrinal points touching on Barthianism.” Bouma and Stob supported the students at the executive committee meeting held on May 31; and at the June 1950 board meeting the students were vindicated and duly licensed.
On June 8, “the Four” presented to the executive committee a “peace proposal” affecting their dispute with Bouma; but reconciliation foundered on charges of collusion and pre faculty meeting caucuses that allegedly created “deplorable conditions” in the seminary. At a meeting held on August 30, 1950, the executive committee heard evidence from George Stob in support of Bouma’s complaint and advised the faculty both to appoint a different registrar and to dispense with the educational policy committee or reduce it to two members. The students entered the picture once again when the entire class of June graduates presented the committee with a document expressing its dissatisfaction with the quality of teaching in the departments of New Testament and Dogmatics.
The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in June 1950, and at its opening session was reminded that it had been now a century since our immigrant forefathers were received into the Reformed Dutch Church and were constituted as Classis Holland within the particular Synod of Albany. Synod ratified the appointments in the philosophy department but did not mention during its proceedings the trouble brewing in the seminary. The amusement committee reported that it had met four times during the year but had not completed its assignment and asked for another year of grace. The committee on woman suffrage was likewise unready with its report, but advised that, pending the outcome of its investigation, no church should undertake to introduce woman suffrage at its congregational meetings. Synod recognized the growth of the Canadian constituency when it authorized the formation of the Ontario churches into a separate classis.
The life of the college was affected when Gordon Buter was appointed as Calvin’s business manager and Shirley Balk was appointed to teach piano and organ. The addition to Calvin’s library had by now been put in place, and on a certain day the entire Synod recessed to attend a dedicatory service at which Henry Zylstra, chairman of the library committee, gave a stirring address. I was not a delegate to Synod but was given the privilege of the floor when a matter arose affecting Calvin Church. The Board of Trustees had recommended that Synod purchase an additional five acres of land from the Clark Memorial Home and lease one acre of this land to Calvin Church for a period of ninety-nine years at the price of $10,000. The leasing issue was opposed by seven local churches and, as it turned out, also by Synod’s advisory committee. As an elder of that church, I argued as best I could for the leasing provision, but to no avail. Synod authorized the purchase of the property but made no concession to the church.
It was not uncommon, while Synod was in session, for friends to gather at our house for comment and appraisal. It chanced that near the close of Synod’s 1950 session a number of those who had in one way or another been involved in Synod’s proceedings were present in our living room. Jim Daane was there as a minister delegate from Classis California; so was Harry Boer, who had addressed Synod as a returning missionary from Nigeria and as the professor-elect of missions; George Stob, who had served as advisor to Synod, was present; as was Henry Zylstra, who had presided at the unveiling of the library cornerstone. After we had consumed the refreshments Hilda served, and when our survey of church affairs had reached a climax, the five of us arrived at a decision regarding a matter that some of us had contemplated on other occasions: we decided to launch a publication.
Not satisfied with what we read in the pages of The Banner, and judging that the Calvin Forum was not an appropriate vehicle for the expression of our sentiments, we determined to put out a magazine that would articulate the vision that we shared. That evening we did not know how the venture would be financed, nor what the publication would be called, nor why it should be just this set of persons who should constitute its editorial board. But we said a prayer and decided to proceed. Following that meeting there was a nine-month period of gestation. With Daane back in California and Boer in Amsterdam for further study, the burden of launching the new venture fell largely on George Stob, Henry Zylstra, and me. In subsequent months we received the unstinting support of Mr. William Eerdmans, Sr., who offered to assume the expense of publication. After considering a host of fancy names to give to our projected creation, we hit upon a simple one, and in March 1951 the first edition of The Reformed Journal appeared in the mails. We hoped the periodical would exist for at least eighty years, but its demise came a few months short of its fortieth birthday.
The summer of 1950 was fortunately unencumbered by summer school, and I was able to devote a large part of it to my studies. Yet all was not peaceful in Zion. Toward the end of summer there erupted in The Banner a dispute in which some of us later became involved, and which caused some concern to the college authorities as well. The National Association of Evangelicals, of which the Christian Reformed Church was a member, had at its most recent convention endorsed a book by John T. Flynn entitled The Road Ahead. In The Banner of August 18, 1950, Lester De Koster bemoaned the endorsement: he denounced Flynn’s opposition to the aspirations of black people, as well as Flynn’s eagerness “to smear with the Red label all who differ with his own political and economic notions.” H. J. Kuiper, editor of The Banner, replied in a lengthy editorial on August 25. Kuiper praised Flynn for his opposition to a “planned economy” and for his denunciation of the “socialistic virus” that was allegedly throttling the American spirit of free enterprise. He went on to say: “Frankly, we can’t quite conceive of anyone reacting so vehemently to Flynn’s book without wondering whether he is in sympathy with the socialistic trend in this country. . . . We should like to know where our Calvin teacher stands.” This remark lit a fire that burned well into the new year, and which as early as August 30, 1950, was reflected in the minutes of the board’s executive committee: attention was called to “the public criticisms directed toward members of our college staff for supposed leanings toward socialistic ideas,” and the educational subcommittee was requested to give this matter its attention.
The twenty-seventh annual convention of the Young Calvinist Federation was held in Lynden, Washington, in late August 1950. With several other adults, I joined the assembled group. On Sunday, August 20, I preached in the Second Church of Lynden, and on the following day delivered the keynote address at the convention. The theme of the convention was “Kingdom Frontiers,” and I spoke on “The Kingdom World Wide.” The resolutions prepared by our committee on race relations were considered that same day and, after a lively discussion, adopted with lan. It was not until the mid-sixties that black people in America received widespread legislative protection against public apathy, abuse, and discrimination; but already in 1950 the young people of our church rose to the defense of their black brothers and sisters.
In solemn assembly they declared, among other things, that the existing differences of race and color provide no warrant for the “indulgence of racial pride in and through discriminatory practices”; that “the Christian in his community should strive to honor the negro’s intrinsic right to live, work, buy, and sell in free equality, and should do all within his power to initiate and support such legislative and educational programs as would secure for the negro rights and opportunities equal to those enjoyed by the other members of society”; that “the Christians should foster in every reasonable way the negro’s integration into the community and the community’s life”; and that “all measures which obstruct this end, such as forced segregation, should be condemned as a violation of Christian principle.” With the South African situation in view, the delegates also declared that “although the Christian must always exercise concern and care for his fellowmen in keeping with the Gospel requirements, this demand is not to be taken as justifying the imposition of an unwelcome guardianship by one race upon another.”
While these things were going on, other events at home and abroad were affecting our communal lives. During the first eight months of 1950, the communist scare in the United States grew unabated. Senator Joseph McCarthy charged that the state and defense departments were riddled with subversives; Congress passed the McCarron Internal Security bill; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were put on trial for espionage; and Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years in prison. The economy held steady. The first of six hundred Volkswagens reached New York from a recovering German industry; ten thousand mass-manufactured houses transformed former New York potato fields into a bustling Levittown; a renewed Social Security act boosted benefits and enlarged the number of beneficiaries, and the New York telephone company was authorized to raise its basic coinbox charge from five to ten cents.
What dominated the news, however, was the outbreak of the Korean War. On June 25, 1950, a large contingent of troops from communist North Korea crossed the 38th parallel in Soviet-made tanks and moved toward Seoul, which they occupied three days later. The Security Council of the United Nations, whose permanent home had only that year been established on East 43rd Street in New York City, called on all members to provide assistance to South Korea. President Truman responded by activating Japan-based American air and naval units, and soon thereafter ordered MacArthur’s ground troops into action. By the end of August, however, the North Koreans had advanced as far south as Pusan, and it was not until September that General MacArthur, previously appointed as the United Nations Commander of the entire operation, was able to outwit the invaders by making a daring amphibious landing behind enemy lines at Inchon.
* * * * * *
Our daughter Ellen reached the age of five in August 1950, and when the academic year 1950-1951 began in September, both of us were in school. Ellen entered kindergarten at Baxter Christian School, and I began the twelfth year of my association with Calvin College. Cecil De Boer had come to join Harry Jellema and me in the department of philosophy, and his coming both enriched the department’s offerings and afforded Jellema and me some relief from our teaching duties. At the beginning of that year the faculty had forty-fix full-time instructors; augmenting the established teaching staff were nine assistants.
In September 1950 the number of students enrolled in the college stood at 1,270; the Korean War had exacted its toll, and by the end of the first semester the enrollment had dropped to 1,169. In view of the war, the faculty considered for a time the introduction of accelerated courses, and even contemplated the introduction of an ROTC program; but nothing came of this and things proceeded at school in quite the normal way. The Board of Trustees ran the college and seminary on a budget of $517,000, and the tuition charged Christian Reformed students came to $115 a semester. That year Gordon Buter assumed the newly created position of business manager, and when the venerable Mr. Voss died later in the year, Lester Ippel took on the duties of assistant treasurer. Jan Kingma assisted Van Andel in teaching Dutch; the women still occupied the campus dormitory; and plans were approved for the soon-to-be-erected student commons.
In the fall semester of the year 1950-1951 my teaching load was, because of DeBoer’s presence, considerably reduced. I taught introduction to philosophy to 34 students, ancient philosophy to 16 students, and medieval philosophy in two sections to 50 students. I served again on the faculty’s discipline committee with Hoekstra, Monsma, Spoelhof, De Beer, and Van Opynen, and sponsored as usual the ongoing Plato Club, where I met regularly with a group of budding philosophers that included Klaas De Ruiter, Sidney Newhouse, Jacob Oppewall, Gordon Oosterman, Joe Stevens, Frank Van Halsema, and John Vriend. In October 1950, I preached on one Sunday in an outlying church, delivered an address at the annual meeting of the board and staff of the Christian Hospital in Cutlerville, and, by way of an interview with a news reporter, commented in the Grand Rapids Press on “The Far East and its Prospects for Democratic Government.” I met several times in the fall with the synodical committee on worldly amusements; and by the end of the calendar year we had our divergent reports ready for publication in the Agenda. I remained involved in the activities of Citizens Action, and also took a seat on the Grand Rapids Council on World Affairs, where I deepened my acquaintance with Duncan Littlefair, pastor of the liberal Fountain Street Church.
Some excitement was generated in the fall of 1950, when Prof. Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary appeared on campus as the first lecturer in the college-seminary lecture series. His five addresses on Barthianism were well attended, but his characterization of Barth as a malevolent “neo-Modernist,” while pleasing to some, struck a number of us as a representation suffering from misunderstanding and distortion. The socialist issue, which, like Barthianism, was being agitated in the church, was addressed by Harry Jellema when he joined Stanley High and Norman Thomas in a December symposium on “Christianity: Capitalism or Socialism” in Paterson, New Jersey.
In September, General Dwight Eisenhower, who was being courted by both national parties as a possible candidate for the Presidency, assumed his duties as president of Columbia University; and in November, Richard Nixon won a Senate seat in a California race against Helen Douglas. Before 1950 came to a close, the National Council of Christian Churches was launched in the United States; the 31-year-old Billy Graham began a revival campaign in California; and Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Virgin Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven.
The Korean War, meanwhile, continued on its course. General MacArthur’s September landing at Inchon resulted in the retreat of the North Koreans. On September 25, U.N. forces regained Seoul, and on October 19 they occupied Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. In November, however, hordes of Chinese “volunteers” fell on MacArthur’s extended lines and forced him to retreat. He thereupon appealed to Washington for permission to blockade China, bomb enemy bases in Manchuria, and utilize Chiang Kai-shek’s Formosan troops. His request, however, was disallowed, and this enabled the North Koreans to reach the outskirts of Seoul by year’s end. Washington’s veto also created the rift between Truman and MacArthur that eventually led to the general’s dismissal as field commander. MacArthur’s general deportment, plus his determination to implement the battle plans he had himself conceived, did nothing to lessen the tension that steadily grew between himself and the President.
The second semester began in January 1951, and during its course I taught ancient philosophy in two sections to 81 students, medieval philosophy to 18 students, and a seminar on Aristotle to 6 students. In February, I spoke on “Election and Missionary Activity” at the Mission Week Seminar held at the college; in the same month I was elected by Classis Grand Rapids East as an elder delegate to the Synod of 1951. A number of important matters came under consideration at the February meeting of the Board of Trustees, which I will report in due time; but here I will mention that the board assisted Calvin Church in its search for a suitable building site by agreeing to exchange a parcel of land held by the college for a similar one held by the church. The board also dealt lightly with Clarence Boersma, who refused to sign the Form of Subscription because, as he said, he did not “detest the Anabaptists” and did not regard the Catholic mass as “an accursed idolatry.” Some of us who had signed the Form shared Boersma’s sentiments but considered that we were not bound by expressions formulated in the heat of sixteenth-century battles, and we judged that the accepted creeds are best left unaltered and for historical reasons preserved in their integrity.
In late January the executive committee of the board had considered the appointment of two additional professors to the seminary faculty in order to further its development and to obviate the difficulties encountered in the effort to establish a Th.D. degree. They named C. Van Til, G. Berkouwer, H. Stob, and H. Ridderbos as possible candidates for these appointments; but in its February meeting the board decided to postpone action on that matter until the May meeting.
In March 1951, Calvin celebrated the 75th anniversary of its founding: the period from March 4 to March 11 was designated “Jubilee Week,” and one of its highlights was an elaborate pageant presented before a full house in the Grand Rapids Civic Auditorium. Henry Zylstra wrote the text of the pageant: entitled “A Tree of Life,” his moving production set forth the school’s growth in terms of the vision that gave it birth, the beneficence of those who supported it, and the mercy of the Lord who blessed it. The whole was masterfully presented by a cast of actors recruited from the college community.
In that same month, The Reformed Journal made its debut. During the nine months of gestation preceding its publication we had been kept busy preparing for its delivery; but we had not bothered to inform others of its imminent birth until just before the first issue emerged from the press. We first supplied semi-public information about our project to our academic colleagues in a letter dated February 5, 1951, and signed by George Stob, Henry Zylstra, and me:
We take this means to tell you about something we are going to do. We are starting another paper. It will be denominationally oriented, and will be devoted entirely to ideas, issues, and events which are important to our church in all matters of faith and life. We are prompted by our sense of the need for substantial and forthright discussion. We think this is the time to speak. The paper will come out monthly. We shall call it The Reformed Journal. It will be published by Eerdmans, and will differ in nature and purpose from The Banner and The Calvin Forum, with both of which we want to maintain active cooperation. . . . Our project has been a long while deliberated, antedates the recent tensions, and does not spring from polemics.
Harry Boer and James Daane were with us from the beginning and are with us on the editorial staff. We know there is something bold about five men setting up this way. We talked about spreading the editorial base, wished sometimes that the thing could be done in full ‘town meeting,’ but in the end it seemed best to go on as we began. We hope and pray that we can manage a purposeful witness.
We advertised the Journal in the Grand Rapids Press on February 10, set the subscription rate at two dollars a year, and offered charter subscribers the ten monthly issues of 1951 for the price of one dollar. At a dinner hosted by Mr. Eerdmans, the editors, and Mr. Eerdmans as well, became charter subscribers by ceremoniously placing on the table the one-dollar bills they had extracted from their wallets. The twelve-page March 1 issue contained one editorial statement in which we commended the Journal to the attention of the Reformed community, another in which we celebrated the fraternity of the Press, and a third in which we sketched the genesis of our enterprise. To these were added seven articles by the individual editors: Harry Boer on “The New Orient and Missions” and on “Synodical Procedure”; James Daane on “Self-Examination Expanded”; George Stob on “The Diamond Jubilee”; Henry Stob on “The Call for Leadership”; and Henry Zylstra on “Interests and Education” and on “Liberalism and Dogma.” The response to our offerings was gratifying and we were encouraged to proceed on our way.
A month after the Journal’s arrival, another new magazine appeared on the scene: in April 1951 the Torch and Trumpet made its debut. The magazine was published by the Reformed Fellowship Incorporated, which in its turn was governed by a board of trustees consisting of Herman Baker, Arnold Brink, P. Y. De Jong, John De Vries, Leonard Greenway, Edward Heerema, Marvin Muller, John Piersma, John Van Bruggen, Fred Van Houten, Henry Van Til, and Henry Venema. Banner editor H. J. Kuiper commented on the appearance of the two new journals in a an editorial on April 20. He judged that the Torch and Trumpet is not the same kind of religious magazine as The Reformed Journal. Its purpose is not primarily to enter the arena of discussion and debate on issues that confront our church. Its principal aim is to present articles on important aspects of revealed truth. It intends to be polemic as well as constructive. Modernism, Barthianism, and other theological issues will be exposed in their anti-Scriptural teachings. The editors add, however, that ‘when necessity presents itself’ they ‘will not hesitate to engage in controversy.’ We were happy to read this.
It soon became evident that the Torch and Trumpet represented the ultra-conservative wing in the church and was out to cultivate a mind that valued safety above advancement and militancy above engagement. Consequently, the two magazines gradually grew apart, each occupying its own place in the life of the church.
In April 1951 the relationship between Truman and MacArthur reached the breaking point. In defiance of a restriction imposed upon him by Washington, MacArthur had on March 24 released to the press a fresh plan for ending the Korean War. Truman was furious, and at a meeting held in Hawaii shortly after this, the general compounded the mischief by arriving late for a scheduled interview. MacArthur’s tenure ended when, on April 11, Truman stripped him of his field command and replaced him with General Matthew Ridgeway.
Within the Calvin community, on May 24, 1951, the executive committee of the Board of Trustees received from seven advanced preseminary students a complaint against six of their college professors. The complainants, Dick Bouma, John Byker, Cecil Tuininga, Harry Van Dyken, Gerard Van Groningen, Alvin Venema, and Richard Venema, alleged that the instruction they had received in certain classes was lacking in Christian orientation and emphasis, and was hardly distinguishable from what could be obtained at a secular university. The charges were brought without consulting or informing the President, the faculty, or even the professors involved; and when the faculty considered this breach of protocol, it referred the matter to the discipline committee, of which I was a member. Our committee, in turn, sent to the board a protest against the students’ procedure, together with a defense of our colleagues, whom we knew as estimable professionals, apt at integrating faith and learning and strongly disposed to make a Christian witness on any fitting occasion.
The Board of Trustees took the students’ complaints seriously enough to interview the professors and to rediscover that they were worthy of the trust and esteem they had long enjoyed. The complaining student group came to be known in time as the “Sacred Seven,” and it is not surprising that, after serving for several decades as Christian Reformed ministers, three of them finally left the church in protest to what they regarded as its slide into laxness and deformity.
The controversy that had earlier erupted in The Banner about the relevance of John Flynn’s book to the social and economic thought of Reformed thinkers carried over into 1951. A number of us did not like the tone in which the editor of The Banner conducted the discussion, and we resented his suggestion that the Calvin faculty was riddled with crypto-socialists. The 1950-51 school year had barely begun when Henry Zylstra and I composed a letter for The Banner column “Voices,” to which we secured the signatures of an additional sixteen colleagues. Our brief statement appeared in The Banner of September 15, 1950: it simply voiced our shared conviction that the context in which Flynn set the principle of individual freedom was not one to which a Reformed Christian is necessarily committed.
H. J. Kuiper did not, of course, look upon our letter with favor. In his editorial comments about it, he declared, among other things, that he knew that “some of these eighteen brethren believe in a large measure of control of industry, but we did not know that so many of them refuse to feel alarmed at the constantly increasing power of civil government in our country.” Kuiper was also dissatisfied with the brevity of our report and with its lack of argumentation. This led him to ask, “Who is ready to agree with the utterance of these men merely because they are professors at our school and in number eighteen?” To this he added: “The Bible is contrary to the present drift toward more and more state control of our economic life. If that is wrong, as these eighteen professors seem to believe, we should like to be convinced from Scripture.”
At this point Lester De Koster again entered the fray, as did those who endorsed the editor’s position and joined in his lament about conditions at the college. We, “the eighteen,” decided meanwhile to withdraw from a controversy that was going nowhere. In a statement published in The Banner of September 29, 1950, we said in effect:
Mr. Flynn is indeed a champion of freedom. So were Voltaire and Rousseau. Flynn favors the unbridled economic liberalism of the 19th century. We do not. Being neither socialists nor socialist sympathizers, we embrace the historic Reformed economic and socio-political principles expressed in the writings and labors of Calvin, Kuyper, Talma, Colyn, and others in our tradition.
To this we added words that now appear to be somewhat lacking in patience and forbearance; we concluded by saying to the editor: “We are of the considered opinion that, in view of your kind of editorial writing and comment, no further statement in The Banner can be fruitful.”
This did not end the turmoil. Already on September 14, 1950, the day before “the Eighteen” appeared in “Voices,” the executive committee of the board had addressed a communication to the Christian Reformed Publishing House expressing its regrets that The Banner had editorially cast unwarranted suspicion on the college faculty. In subsequent days and weeks the committee interviewed Lester De Koster, Don Bouma, and myself, and received assurance from us that we and our colleagues held none of the sentiments that the Banner editor had ascribed to us. However, complaints continued to pour in from those the editor had aroused. Gilbert Den Dulk, for instance, plus twenty of his medical associates, complained to the board about the “socialist leanings” of Calvin faculty members. H. J. Kuiper himself accused the board of tolerating unsound teaching, of being lax in making appointments, and of being reluctant to exercise effective discipline. The executive committee responded in The Banner of October 20, 1950: it expressed its disapproval of the editor’s conduct in the controversy with De Koster and “the Eighteen,” and it emphatically disavowed the editorial allegations made against them.
In the end, Lester De Koster, whose noncompliant letter to the editor had started the whole thing, was not only reappointed as associate professor of speech but also nominated as the first director of the library. As late as June 1951, however, the president of the college reported that he was still being told by various persons that the faculty was sheltering Bolshevists. Indeed, it was rumored that when the Russians finally landed on our shores, De Koster and I would be proudly seated on the Soviet tank that rumbled at the head of the invading forces. What started innocently enough with a letter to the editor developed for a while into a storm; but after a year the storm subsided, and the whole thing proved to be no more than a tempest in a teapot.
Of more lasting significance was the situation that was developing in the seminary. The internal strife that had begun during the previous year continued unabated in the course of 1951, and the executive committee and board were kept busy processing the various documents and presentations emanating from the contending parties. On one side were Clarence Bouma and George Stob, and on the other were the dominant four: President Volbeda, Registrar Wyngaarden, Secretary Rutgers, and Prof. Hendriksen.
The first issue to arise that year concerned the position of registrar: to prevent the recurrence of an earlier dispute about grading practices, the executive committee had instructed the faculty not to re-elect Wyngaarden to the post. Volbeda, however, regarded that instruction as “gratuitous advice,” and the faculty renewed Wyngaarden’s appointment in September of 1950 despite objections raised by Bouma and Stob. But there was more. In the interval before the re-election of the registrar, Volbeda had declared that the executive committee had exceeded its authority regarding this matter. Bouma vehemently protested that remark; but when the minutes of that meeting were read at a subsequent faculty meeting, though they reported Bouma’s protest, they failed to report the remark to which he had objected; the minutes in fact recorded a revised and milder version of it. When George Stob brought these things to the attention of the executive committee in October and November, the committee reiterated its demand that the registrar be replaced and rebuked the secretary for his failure to keep accurate minutes.
Prof. Hendriksen now became registrar, but reports of executive committee members who visited his classes were often unfavorable, and student complaints concerning the quality of his teaching continued. What lent significance to these complaints was the fact that Hendriksen’s term of appointment would expire at the end of that academic year, and the issue of his reappointment would soon have to be faced. When the Board of Trustees met in February 1951, it received a request from the student Corps, and another from Prof. Bouma, to make a thorough investigation of the seminary situation before considering a reappointment. When the “Four” endorsed this proposal, presumably because they considered Dr. Bouma to be at the root of the trouble, the board appointed a five-member committee to undertake the investigation. John Hamersma, a lay board member who was a guest in our home at the time, was named as a member of the committee.
The investigating committee submitted two reports to the board when it met again in June 1951: the minority report was signed by Hamersma and the majority report by N. J. Monsma cum suis. The board undertook a line-by-line consideration of these reports, but soon abandoned that as unexpeditious and took up only selected matters for consideration and resolution. One of these concerned a disagreement between William Hendriksen and George Stob, which was resolved in Stob’s favor. The board thereupon considered Hamersma’s recommendation that Hendriksen not be reappointed; after much discussion, the board decided to concur in Hamersma’s recommendation. The decision not to reappoint Prof. Hendriksen was based on a negative assessment of his methodology, on his perceived failure to disclose the broad revelational lines of the New Testament, and on his reluctance to relate the gospel message to the critical issues of the day. This action did not meet with the approval of every board member; several of them had their negative votes recorded.
The prospects for academic stability and growth in the seminary were not bright at that point. The tenure of Hendriksen was uncertain; the performance of Rutgers was being judged unsatisfactory by most students; the mandatory retirement of Volbeda loomed on the horizon; and now a distinguished member of the faculty fell seriously ill. Clarence Bouma had returned from a sabbatical in January 1950, but he had come back without the manuscript that he had hoped to write, and this, I had noticed, preyed on his mind. It was also reported that he was sometimes chided by his colleagues for his failure to produce the promised text. In the year that followed his return, he also became deeply involved in the disputes, large and small, that broke the peace in the seminary. To what extent these things played a role in bringing on his collapse no one can say for sure; the fact is that in late February 1951 he was laid low by a psycho-physical disorder from which he never fully recovered. On March 17 he was put under the care of Dr. Mulder at Pine Rest Psychiatric Hospital in Cutlerville; but he underwent no marked improvement there, and on the advice of his physician, the executive committee decided in early May to grant him “at least one year of sick leave.” The tragic decline of my good friend and colleague meant that he would not be available to teach in the academic year 1951-1952; it also meant that the students in his current classes were left in mid-semester without a mentor and without the benefit of final grades. It is ironic that, under these circumstances, the seminary faculty could not even agree on what to do about the student grades. George Stob favored waiving some of the requirements for graduation, but the majority argued for giving the students a passing grade; the executive committee resolved the issue by agreeing with the majority.
On May 10, 1951, the executive committee considered how it might fill Dr. Bouma’s position during his long absence. C. Van Til, H. Stob, H. Schultze, and G. C. Berkouwer were mentioned as possible candidates for the job; but before proceeding to place some or all of these men in nomination, the committee decided to ask the seminary faculty for its recommendation. The faculty recommended Prof. Cornelius Van Til of Westminster, and in late May the Board of Trustees decided to appoint him as professor in the department of systematic theology for an indefinite term. The board judged that Van Til was not only qualified to teach the courses in ethics and apologetics during Dr. Bouma’s absence but was also equipped to supplement the work of Dr. Rutgers by giving special attention to significant trends in contemporary theology, especially to the Barthian “theology of crisis.”
During that year there was an important development in the college as well. Prof. Schultze was now in his eleventh year as president of the college. He had during most of his tenure performed his work with unostentatious efficiency and with evident ardor, but he had been ill frequently in recent years, and it appeared that his health was in decline. This affected his performance, and toward the beginning of the 1950-1951 school year the executive committee wondered whether the college was suffering from a lack of vigorous leadership. In February 1951 the committee informed the president that it was troubled about the state of his health and discussed with him the possibility and utility of his early retirement. Schultze’s response was prompt and decisive: having been advised by his physician several times earlier to engage in less strenuous activities, he submitted his resignation to the committee on March 8. He cited health reasons for his action and indicated that he wished the resignation to go into effect no later than September 1951. The committee accepted the resignation with regret, and it asked the faculty to submit a slate of candidates fit to replace a president who, in the judgment of all, had written a commendable record as administrator.
The faculty assigned the nominating task to its educational policy committee, which for this purpose was enlarged by the addition of five professors who were elected in plenary session. After due deliberations, and against the background of a lengthy report it had prepared on the qualifications an ideal candidate should possess, the committee presented to the faculty its slate of candidates. Recommended for appointment as president, and named in the order of preference, were Henry Stob, George Goris, and George Stob. Adopted by the faculty on April 10, this officially sanctioned nomination was received by the board’s executive committee on April 18. At a meeting held on May 10, the executive committee added to the faculty’s submitted list the names of William Spoelhof and John De Vries. However, those two asked that they be eliminated from consideration since they fully supported the faculty nomination. The committee thereupon did scratch the name of John De Vries, but referred the question of whether Spoelhof’s name should stand to the judgment of the full board.
At a meeting held on June 3, 1951, the Board of Trustees added to the faculty’s nomination the names of several other candidates, including that of William Spoelhof. There followed a process of elimination. Finally, being disposed to present to Synod the dual nomination of Henry Stob and William Spoelhof, the board asked the faculty to react to this proposal. The full faculty convened on June 5 and adopted the following resolution: “The faculty wishes to reiterate to the Board that our original nomination is still our preference, and that it was arrived at after careful and lengthy deliberation.” With reference to Dr. Spoelhof, the faculty declared that, though it did not find him unacceptable as a candidate, it felt that there were on the faculty several persons who were at least as qualified as he, and that if his name were to be retained, the faculty would like to add to its nomination the names of Harry Jellema, Henry Ryskamp, and Henry Zylstra. On receiving that communication, the board deliberated for some time, retained the name of Spoelhof, asked Spoelhof and me to appear for an interview, and finally decided “to submit the names of Dr. H. Stob and Dr. W. Spoelhof to Synod as its nomination for President of Calvin College.”
The matter of the presidency would be settled at Synod, but so would the issue of worldly amusements, with which my mind had been engaged off and on during the past two years. The study committee to which I had been appointed had received from the 1949 Synod a mandate that was simple and direct: it was not to change or refine the position the church had adopted in 1928; it was to make no evaluation of it; it was to pass no judgment on its soundness or unsoundness; it was simply to “clarify” and, if necessary, to “amplify” it. The committee had to answer only one question: What in fact is the stand of the church on worldliness, more particularly on worldly amusements, more particularly still on movie attendance, dancing, and card playing? What precisely do the resolutions of 1928 say?
The committee had not been able to produce a unanimous report: it had submitted to Synod a majority report signed by Henry J. Kuiper, William Kok, Nicholas J. Monsma, John Breuker, and Leonard Greenway, and a minority report signed by Gerrit Hoeksema, John Vander Ploeg, Egbert R. Post, and me. The two reports manifested a wide area of agreement, but they differed on one point: the moral status assigned by Synod to the three practices specifically mentioned in the resolutions. The question that divided the committee was this:
Did the Synod of 1928 say that movie attendance, card playing, and dancing are essentially and invariably sinful, or did it not? The majority maintained that Synod did say that, and the minority maintained that it did not. That was the only point in dispute between the two parties.
The majority represented Synod as saying: You may not under any circumstances dance, go to the movies, or play cards; to do so is incompatible with a Christian profession. Commitment to Christ requires total abstinence from these activities. They are simply, pervasively, and unqualifiedly evil. Engagement in them, however infrequent and selective, is sin. The minority denied that Synod said this, or that it made a catalogue of sins. Did Synod then, it might be asked, approve a limited and judicious participation in the three amusements? To that question the minority answered, No! It said: There exists no synodical rule prohibiting all participation in the three amusements. But it also said: there exists no declaration permitting such participation. Synod made no pronouncement either way: it did not ban participation, but neither did it justify participation. It was now up to the Synod of 1951 to determine whether the majority or minority had read the 1928 resolutions correctly.
The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in the Calvin College auditorium from June 13 to June 26, 1951. Rev. Henry Baker served as president of the Synod; associated with him on the podium were Martin Monsma (vice president), William Haverkamp (first clerk), and John Gritter (second clerk). I was present as an elder delegate from Classis Grand Rapids East and was appointed reporter for the advisory committee on protests and appeals, of which committee George Stob happened to be the faculty advisor. Confirmed at this Synod was the appointment of Evan Runner as assistant professor of philosophy at the college, of Henry Ippel as instructor in political science, of Lester Ippel as assistant treasurer of Calvin College and Seminary, and of Lester De Koster as director of the library and as ecclesiastical archivist.
There have always been those in the church who maintain that Reformed Christians should not hold membership in non-Christian organizations. This sentiment came to expression when Synod discouraged membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the ground that its program was “based upon a philosophy evidently that of the Modernist.” The church’s ecumenical outreach was somewhat shortened when Synod decided to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals; but that withdrawal appeared to me as a justifiable retreat from an organization whose eccentric and truncated Christian witness was quite inconsistent with our own. Gratifying was Synod’s decision to engage a black person for “Negro evangelism,” as was its decision to appoint a committee to study the issues relating to creation and evolution. I was happy to learn that this committee would be working with a statement framed by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of 1949, which read, in part: “The human form of the biblical revelation should prompt the church to proceed with caution and modesty, and to refrain from making various kinds of pronouncements in the field of natural science.” In response to persistent calls from various sections of the church, Synod appointed a committee “to keep Synod informed with respect to the feasibility and need of Junior Colleges among our people.”
When the time came to consider seminary matters, Synod took a number of significant steps. Aware of the fact that Prof. Volbeda would reach retirement age in 1952, and not being prepared at that juncture to name a successor, Synod asked him to stay on for an additional year, which he promptly agreed to do. President Schultze was about to leave his post at the college, and not wanting him to be without significant employment, Synod tendered him an indefinite appointment as Professor Extraordinary in the seminary. Schultze accepted the appointment and resumed his seminary teaching career in September 1951. The board’s appointment of Dr. Cornelius Van Til as professor of systematic theology was confirmed by Synod, but Van Til was given a year’s time to respond to the appointment. Upon the recommendation of the seminary faculty, however, he was asked to teach at the seminary during the second semester of the academic year 1951-1952. Because he was to be on sabbatical leave during that term, he readily consented to that.
Synod did not adopt the board’s recommendation to terminate Prof. Hendriksen’s association with the seminary; nor did it accord to him the indefinite appointment he would normally have received. In the light of all that was happening in the seminary, it reappointed him “for the next school year.” Fraught with a significance not sensed at the time was Synod’s appointment of a committee to inquire into the “seminary situation.” The “seven” appointed to the committee, H. Baker, P. Van Tuinen, H. Kuiper, W. Vander Haak, D. Walters, J. Vander Ploeg, and G. Gritter, were instructed to make a thorough study of prevailing conditions, to consider in particular the issue of reappointments, and to report to and advise the Synod of 1952. Prof. Berkhof was appointed as advisor to the committee.
The whole of Friday, June 22, 1951, was taken up with a discussion of the two reports on worldly amusements. Later that evening, when the final vote was taken, it became apparent that the authors of the minority report had prevailed. What the Synod of 1928 had said or had not said was, of course, the issue. In its address to that issue, the Synod of 1951 declared that the 1928 resolutions (1) condemned worldliness; (2) laid down the principles that are to guide the Christian in his relation to the world; (3) did not pass judgment as to whether or not theater-attendance, card playing, and dancing are sinful in themselves; (4) did urgently warn against these activities, and did not condone participation in them; (5) left to the judgment of the consistory the determination of just what constitutes such “offensive conduct” as calls for admonitions and discipline; (6) required consistories to receive from those who wish to make profession of their faith “satisfaction as to their stand and conduct in the matter of worldly amusements”; and (7) did not prescribe a hard-and-fast rule as to how this inquiry is to be made.
There is a mixture of ingredients in these declarations, as in all declarations born out of compromise; but what finally emerged did reflect what the minority had been concerned to say, and when the debate finally ended, I took satisfaction in the conclusion we had reached. There were others, however, and these our friends and supporters, who were troubled by what was said in statement four: that the Synod of 1928 “did not condone” participation in the three so-called “worldly amusements.” To them this seemed to say that 1928 did not “allow” such participation. In fact, the word “condone” was lifted out of the minority report, where it was employed to declare that Synod did not “sanction” or promote such participation. Synod, we had declared, did not forbid participation, but neither did it “license” it; it had made no pronouncement either way. Although one could wish that the word “condone” had not been used, it is in this context and with this meaning that the word must be understood by all who would make a fair and accurate assessment of Synod’s action.
The Synod went into executive session on June 20 and again in the morning of June 21 to consider the appointment of a college president. It was toward noon on the second day that the vote was announced to the people waiting in the halls: William Spoelhof had been elected. The friends who were gathered around me expressed their disappointment with the outcome. Since losing is not what one exults in, I too was somewhat taken aback by the news that reached me. However, I did not become disconsolate. I received Synod’s judgment with the respect that was its due and bore it, I dare say, with matching equanimity.
I sought Bill out and congratulated him, and he came to our house later that day, in part to express his own mixed feelings and in part to commiserate with a cheerful Hilda, who had hoped all along that her husband would not be drawn into this new venture. By the time we retired for the night, Hilda and I had not only completely acquiesced in the verdict of an overruling Providence, but we were also buoyed up by a quieting sense of relief. We would not be in the spotlight, and I could stay in the classroom and be free of administrative duties bound to be onerous and taxing.
I was tempted later to inquire why things turned out as they did, but I soon recognized that every effort to do so would turn out to be an exercise in futility. There is no way to account for a public vote. In the last analysis, one can only register the fact that one candidate is preferred over another. And I should say here that Synod made an excellent choice: Bill Spoelhof was an excellent teacher, a respected scholar, and a sensitive and ingratiating person. He did not aspire to high office, shunned rivalry, and was a faithful friend who in his acceptance speech at Synod paid me compliments that went far beyond my deservings. It became abundantly clear as the years went by that the Synod of 1951 had not erred in its judgment. For twenty-five years President Spoelhof guided the college through fair weather and foul to heights of attainment and stature never before reached. I doubt that I could have matched his achievement.
In an earlier session of Synod three delegates were chosen to attend the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, which was scheduled to convene in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1953. Our church was permitted to send one theological professor, one ordained clergyman, and one consistorial elder, and I was chosen as the elder delegate. There appeared in the June 1951 issue of The Reformed Journal my article on “The Majority Report Examined,” and in the July issue I published a piece called “Synod on Worldly Amusements.” It was also in July that I was interviewed on the radio by a Mr. Dunbar concerning the goals and strategies of Citizens Action, with which organization I continued to be associated. At about this same time the executive committee of the board felt that Prof. Volbeda needed help in conducting his seminary classes in practice preaching, and I was asked whether I would be willing to provide such help during next year. I respectfully declined, and learned later that Carl Kromminga would come to Volbeda’s assistance.
Truce talks began in Korea on July 10 of that year, but fighting did not stop and the war proceeded on its course. After Synod adjourned there were not many weeks left in the summer recess period, but during this time I preached on eight successive Sundays in various local churches, and I also managed to deepen my understanding of the subjects I would again be teaching in the fall.