A YEAR OF TRANSITION
When the 1951-1952 academic year began in September 1951, our daughter Ellen had reached the age of six and was enrolled as a first grader in Baxter Christian School. Dick was not yet three, but he was a robust and active boy who liked to wrestle me to the ground when we played on the living room floor. Hilda ran the ship we sailed in, and clothed, fed, and educated the children and me. She also played hostess to numerous guests and visitors, participated in the life of the school, and continued to draw and adorn our walls with artistic productions done in oils and water colors.
The college opened its doors on September 11, 1951. On that day Bill Spoelhof was installed as Calvin’s president at a convocation held in the nearby Protestant Reformed Church, and here he delivered his first formal address to the assembled college community. The faculty was augmented that year by the addition of Henry Ippel and Evan Runner, and now boasted 51 members. Along with that number were four full-time and nine part-time assistants, among them the venerable A. E. Broene, as well as the much younger seminarians John Stek and Bastiaan Van Elderen. There were 1,170 students enrolled in the various classes, and of these 466 were women, a number of whom were lodged in the three guild houses established on Franklin Street. The Board of Trustees ran the college and seminary on a budget of $557,000, and charged Christian Reformed students $115 a semester for tuition. The campus dormitory was now back in the hands of the men; the chapel exercises continued to be broadcast over WFUR radio; John Tuls came to the assistance of coach Chuck Bult by becoming coach of the freshmen basketball squad; and, in an accommodation to reality, the president was authorized to permit “controlled smoking” in the classroom building.
The seminary had enrolled 31 new students in September, and this brought the total of those registered to 116. The number of faculty members had increased to seven with the addition of Henry Schultze and Harry Boer. Harry, the incumbent of the seminary’s new chair of missions, had been installed in office on August 23, 1951, in his home church in Holland, Michigan, and was now beginning his first year of teaching. In response to a request by the board, he was also coaching students in the use of conversational Dutch. Prof. Volbeda was in the last year of his incumbency and was being assisted part-time by Carl Kromminga, who came to the seminary twice a week from his church in Harderwyk, Michigan, in order to conduct a class in practice preaching. Professor Schultze had been at the Mayo Clinic for consultation and therapy during the summer and, though not robust, was now in fair health. He enjoyed full faculty status and shared with Dr. Hendriksen the responsibility of giving instruction in New Testament subjects. The condition of Dr. Bouma had not improved; he remained hospitalized in Pine Rest, and his classes in ethics and apologetics went untaught until the second semester, when Cornelius Van Til arrived to fill the gap.
The philosophy department in the college was now manned by four instructors, and was amply staffed, if not perhaps overstaffed. No one of us now taught more than twelve hours a semester, and our classes were no longer overcrowded. One of Evan Runner’s offerings attracted no students, and to fulfill the 12-hour requirement he undertook to teach a course in Latin. My first impression of Runner was not as favorable as I had hoped it would be. To welcome him to the college, and to lay out to him what courses we would like him to teach, I visited him at his home in midsummer and was treated to a lengthy discourse on what constitutes a truly Calvinistic philosophy and how he, a junior associate fresh out of graduate school, was disposed to articulate it. I left wondering what sort of person this might be who at a first meeting would undertake with such freedom and animation to instruct me in philosophy, while attending only minimally to the proposals I had made for his insinuation into our fellowship.
Having surrendered ancient philosophy to Runner, I was able that year to concentrate on the other subjects that had hitherto resided within my province. In the first semester I taught introduction to philosophy in two sections to 45 students and medieval philosophy in two sections to 39 students. I again took my place on the discipline committee and continued my association with the Plato Club. Constituting the membership of the club that year was a set of excellent students, many of whom later distinguished themselves in academia. The roster of truth seekers included Jack Bolt, Dewey Hoitenga, Lloyd Kamps, Joel Nederhood, Alvin Plantinga, John Rupke, Calvin Seerveld, Wilbert Van Dyk, Frank Van Halsema, Johan Westra, and Nick Wolterstorff. School activities were just getting underway in September when I preached in Lamont, in Cutlerville, and at Seymour and LaGrave churches in Grand Rapids. In that same month H. R. Niebuhr published his book Christ and Culture, and the United States concluded a treaty with Japan which formally ended both the state of war and the long-lasting occupation.
In October 1951, I addressed the Michigan Christian Fellowship in Ann Arbor on “Faith and Reason” and published an article in the Reformed Journal on “Principle and Practice.” The college benefited in October from two generous bequests: the Calvin Foundation set aside $5,000 to finance the production of a “Calvin Report”; and Mr. L. L. Cayvan bequeathed to the school a precious set of 8,000 musical recordings. The faculty promised to cooperate fully in the preparation of the “Report,” and the executive committee of the board allocated $4,000 to house and service the Cayvan collection. It was also in October that the executive committee accepted an offer from Owen-Ames-Kimball to construct the long-projected student commons at a cost of $397,000.
H. J. Kuiper published in the October 19 Banner an editorial entitled “Some Ideas on the Race Question.” In it he suggested that there might be the same inequality of gifts and talents between races that exists between individuals, and he argued that black converts are better assembled in a racially segregated chapel than in an integrated church. This evoked a critical response from Harry Boer, and I also wrote a piece in which I rejected the thesis of indigenous racial inequality and hailed the day in which the church would embrace into its ranks, and on every level, people of every tribe and color. In subsequent issues of The Banner, Kuiper also took issue with some statements in the race resolutions adopted by the Young Calvinist Federation at its 1950 convention. Satisfied that we had spoken appropriately and well in these resolutions, I made no response to the editor’s comments.
October also brought tragedy and sorrow into our lives. My brother Tom had been recovering in the hospital from a major operation when a vagrant blood clot arrested the flow of his life and caused his death. He was only 59 years old when he died on October 14, 1951, and we all felt that he was too young and too indispensable to be so suddenly taken from us. Tom was the third oldest child of our parents, but in all our affairs he enjoyed the primacy. It was to him that the family looked for help and counsel whenever the need arose, and it was from his resourcefulness and willingness to serve that the broader community regularly profited. Tom had earlier been president of the highly influential South Water Market Credit Association, and was at the time of his death the license officer for the town of Cicero and president of the Berwyn-Cicero Real Estate Board. But most of his energy throughout his life had been spent in kingdom causes. A sometime elder in the church, he was an avid supporter of Christian missions; he was for many years a director of Chicago’s Helping Hand Mission and a board member of the Chicago Tract Society.
His heart, however, was in Christian education. He served on the board of the Chicago Christian High School and on the executive committee of the National Association of Christian Schools. The local Timothy school was the focus of his interest: for 25 years he was treasurer and was twice the president of its board. To all of these institutions and agencies he not only gave unstintingly of his time but also of his goods. Tom was withal a devoted husband, father, son, and brother whose wisdom, love, and charity we cherished and now sorely missed. The funeral service was held in the First Christian Reformed Church of Cicero on October 17; the burial took place in Mount Auburn cemetery, where a stone slab marks his grave.
In November 1951, I spoke on “Christian Ethics and Political Action” at the college during Education Week. In December the college mourned the death of John Hekman and gratefully acknowledged in a public statement his life-long efforts in behalf of Calvin. Hilda and I were also saddened by John Hekman’s death: it was he who often entertained us at his hotel when he came to New York on business during the war years; and during the last three years of his life I had the privilege of serving with him on the consistory of Calvin Church. John and Cora were considerably older than we, but in the course of the years we came to be good friends, and we frequently assembled in each other’s houses for food and fellowship. The death of this good man created a vacuum in the life of the Christian community and also in that of the entire city.
On January 1, 1952, my term of office as elder expired and I was released from my consistorial duties. Although I was never again to serve the church as an elder, I was happy to have had that one opportunity to do so, and I dare think that the experience I acquired in office was constructive. On January 11 there took place on campus what was, I believe, the first “homecoming” reception for the alumni; the day of celebration featured a basketball game between the varsity squads of Calvin and Hope colleges.
The Board of Trustees met in semiannual session in February 1952 and made a number of decisions affecting the seminary, the nature and bearing of which I shall presently indicate. Affecting the college was the board’s decision to appoint Calvin Andre as instructor in physics, Arthur Otten as instructor in French, and John De Beer, the incumbent associate professor of education, as dean of students. The complaint of the “sacred seven” about the lack of Christian emphasis in the teaching of some professors was again before the board, as were complaints about the board’s decision to award the student commons contract to a builder who conducted a closed shop with AFL labor. The college was at that time hurting for lack of adequate facilities, but there was as yet no thought of moving to a larger campus; there was only a concern to enlarge and supplement what the existing grounds contained. At this meeting the board had before it a plan developed by the long-range planning committee to erect one or two new dormitories on the recently acquired college land and to add two wings to the standing Administration Building. No action was taken on the committee’s proposal, but the board did declare that it deserved earnest consideration.
In February 1952 the second semester was already underway, and I was teaching introduction to philosophy to 18 students, medieval philosophy to 25 students, and a seminar on Thomas Aquinas to 11 students. I preached in February at Fuller, at LaGrave, and in Kelloggsville, and published in the Journal an article on “Movies, Television, and the Christian.” It was also in February that I appeared on radio for the third time as the spokesman for Citizens Action. In a half-hour broadcast I took issue with former Mayor George Welsh, who in the February primary was running for office in opposition to the incumbents we supported. My task was made more difficult by the fact that Welsh had appeared on radio a few days earlier to proclaim his conversion to a new way of life. He had passed, he said, through the open door of John 10:9 into the fold of Christ, where peace is found, and comfort, and eternal life. In my speech I had to accommodate myself to this most laudable development, but I had also to consider what Welsh had said in the Shopping News, which he edited. In an article he wrote within days of his conversion speech, he made statements that were without parallel for error, misrepresentation, and truculence. He said that the incumbent commissioners were puppets, the willing, effective, and therefore dangerous instruments of outside influence; that they had given the city the most incompetent and extravagant administration in the history of Grand Rapids; and that Citizens Action, which sponsored their candidacy, was a ruthless machine conceived in hysteria and born in frenzy. To these and other charges I responded with facts and figures, and in the election that followed, Mayor Goebel and Commissioners Gritter and De Korne were enthusiastically returned to office.
In March the executive committee gave renewed attention to the complaint of the “Sacred Seven,” but was unable to give them satisfaction. It was also in March that Cal Bulthuis assumed the part-time position of instructor in English at the college. On April 16, 1952, Her Majesty Queen Juliana of The Netherlands and His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard paid a visit to the Calvin campus. As I recall, a tree was planted in honor of the royal couple, and with the queen’s consent an existing college chair was renamed the Queen Juliana Chair of Dutch Language and Literature. At a gala reception held in the Pantlind Hotel that evening Hilda and I were among the many invited guests.
On April 21 the college faculty had an informal discussion with Prof. G. C. Berkouwer, who had been brought to this country from The Netherlands by the Calvin Foundation for the purpose of presenting a series of lectures in the city and across the nation. I would see Dr. Berkouwer often during his stay, and he was a guest in our house on more than one occasion. It was in April, too, that General Mark Clark replaced Ridgway as Commander of the U.N. forces in Korea; and that Chuck Bult, Calvin’s basketball coach, declared his intention to leave the college and accept a position with the Hekman Biscuit Company.
Prof. Cornelius Van Til had taught courses in ethics and apologetics at the seminary during the second semester of that year, and in the month of May he engaged Dr. William Masselink in a debate about “Common Grace.” The debate was held in the seminary chapel before a full house. I judged that Masselink ably defended the view advanced by Kuyper, Bavinck, and Hepp; but Van Til found the position of these stalwarts untenable and averred that, if it prevailed, one might as well blow up the science building with an atom bomb. This injudicious and provocative remark did not sit well with many of us, but one could hear it echoed in following days by certain partisans who tended to think that truth was held in custody by the orthodox at Westminster Seminary. Dr. Van Til had been tendered an appointment to the chair of systematic theology at Calvin Seminary by the Synod of 1951, but was given a year to ponder the appointment and render a decision. For reasons best known to himself, he now declined the appointment and returned to his post in Philadelphia.
The college, meanwhile, continued to have its detractors. Although a full year had gone by since they had made their initial move, the “Sacred Seven” were still in the lists with their complaints. The executive committee had several times sought to reassure them, but they remained unwilling to withdraw their charges, and the committee finally decided to drop the matter and take no action regarding either the complainants or the accused professors. It was at this juncture that H. J. Kuiper joined in the chorus. In late May 1952 he drew up a petition to Synod and sent copies of it to friends around the country who were asked both to sign it and to secure additional signatures; the petition was eventually signed by 147 concerned citizens.
“It is no longer a secret,” the petition said, “that some of the former pre-seminary students, now in the seminary, have expressed their grievances about the instruction in the college in documented form.” The petition went on to say, “It is an open secret that some of the college professors themselves are convinced that there is a marked difference of approach and emphasis between them and the other professors. . . . There is an emphasis in the English department which is unwholesome and deleterious. It seems that form is stressed rather than content. The reading and study of salacious novels is condoned. . . . Professors give instruction which is more or less colorless and neutral. . . . They stress common grace far more than the antithesis. . . . There is no pronounced spiritual atmosphere in our college.” On the basis of these and similar observations, the petitioners asked Synod to “purify our college, improve its spiritual tone, remove teachers who are confused as to our Reformed faith, and make sure that in the future no teachers are appointed unless they are enthusiastic for our Reformed outlook on life.”
Although not all members of the faculty were equally adept at integrating faith and learning, all were committed to the task, and none were chargeable with the faults Kuiper attributed to the group. Indeed, at the very time the petition was in circulation, the faculty presented to the Board of Trustees a statement assuring it that all members of the college staff embraced the aims set forth in the college catalogue and were then, as in the past, determined to be guided in their teaching by the presuppositions of the Christian faith. Signed by every member of the faculty, the statement fulfilled the board’s desire and served to allay the suspicions generated among the people by the ill-informed and prejudicial attack launched by Kuiper and his associates.
When the Board of Trustees met in May 1952, it added a number of persons to the college teaching staff. Appointed for varying terms and at various levels were George Harper in English, Ann Janssen in speech, Robert Otten in Latin and Greek, and David Tuuk in physical education. Appointed to begin service in September 1953 were Walter Lagerwey in Dutch and Barney Steen in physical education (Steen would assume the coaching position vacated by Bult). A letter from Gerald Nyenhuis severely criticizing the instruction he received at the college was read at the board meeting, and also the document of the “Seven”; but in view of the faculty’s statement and in the light of its own investigation, the Board dismissed the complaints as unfounded and moved on to more important business. Recognition was given at this meeting to the fact that Harry Dekker had completed thirty years of distinguished service in the college and that Lambert Flokstra and Edwin Monsma had served with comparable distinction for twenty-five years. The college announced that it would grant diplomas to 214 graduates that year and that 26 of these would enter the seminary in September 1952.
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The Board of Trustees is the agency authorized to exercise jurisdiction over the college and the seminary, but during 1952 its governance of the latter was curtailed by the presence on campus of a synodically appointed “investigating committee” charged with inquiring into the “seminary situation.” The findings of this committee and the recommendations it would make to Synod were to be reported to the board, but the findings were not subject to the board’s review, nor the recommendations to its endorsement. Consequently, it was the committee rather than the board that tended to move toward center stage. The board did receive some correspondence and some oral testimony bearing on the “situation” from members of the seminary faculty, but the intelligence thus gathered was commonly left unappraised and referred for judgment to the committee. Meanwhile, the board was not deprived of all its competencies. It remained free to supervise the normal activities of the staff; it was free to license students, declare vacancies, make nominations, and the like. But under the circumstances, it could hardly play its usual commanding role in regard to the tenure of professors. This had its consequences, for the solution proposed and finally adopted for the release of tension within the seminary impinged directly on tenure: it consisted in effecting nothing less than the dismissal of four professors and the virtual dissolution of the faculty.
What had originally created a worrisome “situation” in the seminary was a series of intrafaculty disputes about policies, procedures, and management. Disputes of this sort continued to occur, but they took place during the course of that year against the backdrop of a larger issue the issue of fidelity to Scripture and the creeds. It was suggested that there were in the student body those who were connected but loosely to the Reformed tradition, that these erring students enjoyed the favor and support of a minority in the faculty, and that this was the true cause of dissension within the seminary. Prof. Hendriksen sought to give some credence to this view of things in June 1951, when he was up for reappointment. The students had complained about the quality of his teaching, and the board had recommended that on account of incompetence he not be reappointed; but he rose to his own defense by declaring at Synod that “there are questions of a more fundamental character involved in the matter of my reappointment: for example . . . shall the aggressive presentation of the infallible Word prevail at our Seminary or shall we begin to yield little by little to those who oppose this doctrine?” In a petition submitted in support of Hendriksen, Rev. A. A. Koning echoed this sentiment when he declared that “the question at stake is essentially the question of accepting revelation as revelation.” Then Prof. Wyngaarden arose at Synod to say that at the bottom of the whole protest against Dr. Hendriksen was the spirit of students who knew a good deal more about modern theology than about Reformed theology and who were more interested in liberal and Barthian writings than in those of the Reformers.
Against this backdrop occurred an incident that became the centerpiece of that year’s controversy. In October 1951, senior seminarian Raymond Opperwall preached a sermon in Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in which he considered the fact that God had answered Hezekiah’s prayer for the extension of a life destined for imminent extinction. To Opperwall this seemed to indicate quite clearly that God could change his mind and revoke a plan of action he had previously adopted. The Eastern Avenue consistory took exception to this thesis: it judged that Opperwall had lost sight of God’s immutability, and it lodged a complaint against him with the seminary faculty. The faculty had now to adjudicate the case and determine whether Opperwall was guilty of doctrinal defection or had done no more than replace the staticism of Greek ontology with a slice of biblical historicism.
The heresy charges against Opperwall were received by the faculty on October 11, 1951, and in considering them, the faculty split in two: on the one side were the dominant “Four” ,Volbeda, Wyngaarden, Hendriksen, and Rutgers ,and on the other were Stob, Boer, and, to an extent, the reserved and detached Henry Schultze. Although the two sides were differently disposed toward Opperwall, the disputes that ensued were less about doctrine than about procedure. Having as early as May 1950 expressed misgivings about the “soundness” of Opperwall, the “Four” were disposed to lend credence to the charges filed by the Eastern Avenue consistory and indisposed to examine those charges in the light of Opperwall’s rejoinder and in the face of relevant evidence. Stob and Boer had in many meetings urged the faculty to adjudicate the case in hand; but to the growing chagrin of those two men, the “Four” dallied and repeatedly declined to make an explicit pronouncement. By a majority vote, afterward rescinded, the faculty once decided to refer the whole matter back to the consistory for “action.” At another time it sent a batch of undigested materials to the board for possible assessment. For this action the faculty was rebuked by the investigating committee, which in February of 1952 declared that “the faculty should adjudicate the Eastern Avenue complaint and not attempt to divest itself of this obligation by turning over the accumulated data to the Board of Trustees.”
Having as yet formed no judgment concerning Opperwall’s guilt or innocence in the Eastern Avenue case, the faculty met again on November 30, 1951, and witnessed an explosion. At that meeting the chair entertained a motion made by Wyngaarden and seconded by Hendriksen: that “the faculty recommend to the Board that Mr. Opperwall’s license be taken away and that his status as a regular student at Calvin Seminary cease.” The boldness and insensitivity of this move astounded Stob and Boer, but the grounds adduced in support of it evoked their greater consternation. Offered in support of the motion was the fact that at the end of Mr. Opperwall’s junior year the faculty had not recommended him for licensure; that the Eastern Avenue consistory had voted unanimously to file charges against him; and that a certain Rev. Venema experienced “uneasiness” upon hearing an earlier sermon by Opperwall. The opposition pointed out that the faculty’s action in May 1950 had not been endorsed by Professors Bouma and Stob nor heeded by the board which, upon examination, had promptly licensed the harried junior student. They further pointed out that charges are not grounds for punitive action but occasions for judicial assessment, and that in this instance no assessment had been made. The opposition finally pointed out that a young man’s status and prospects are not to be jeopardized by the “impressions” received by a casual listener and reported after the lapse of several months. With these objections to the motion brought forward, the motion still hung in the air and was about to be voted on when Boer moved that the meeting be adjourned, and that without prayer. When this seconded motion was not entertained by the chair, a vexed and angry Harry Boer left the meeting and was followed by George Stob. The outrageous motion which precipitated their exit was withdrawn after Boer and Stob departed, but their unlicensed departure, though apologized for, counted heavily against them in the investigating committee’s final evaluation of the role they had played in the creation of a “seminary situation.”
With the advent of 1952, the procedural issues that had hitherto occupied the faculty’s attention receded into the background and the doctrinal issue came to the fore. On January 18, 1952, after several months of indecisive maneuvering, without regard to the evidence and against the protest of the minority, the majority of the faculty proclaimed that “there is reasonable doubt as to Mr. Opperwall’s soundness in the Reformed faith,” and so it informed the board. The investigating committee was even more outspoken: it judged that statements in Mr. Opperwall’s sermon were “in conflict with the Reformed faith” and asserted that “the position of Mr. Opperwall violates the express revelation of God which declares that God is immutable.” George Stob and Harry Boer did not agree with this verdict; they defended Opperwall to the end and were vindicated in their judgment when the Synod of 1952 admitted Opperwall to candidacy by a vote of 74 to 2. Synod did this after examining him in a special session on the exact point in question. A few months later, Opperwall was unanimously admitted to the “ministry of the word and sacraments” by the Classis of Wisconsin.
However, George Stob and Harry Boer, whose competence in teaching was never called into question and whose conduct throughout was governed by a desire to see justice done, did not escape unscathed from the proceedings recorded here. They were accused of failure to honor the established canons of faith and of tolerating doctrinal divergences. Boer was censured by the investigating committee for his “failure to acknowledge the errors in the Opperwall sermon” and for his “refusal to uphold the teaching of Scripture.” Stob was also censured by the committee: he was charged with “failure to champion the cause of the Reformed faith in conjunction with other faculty members when the situation demanded precisely that.”
Similar judgments about these two professors were made by others after H. J. Kuiper circulated his slanderous petition to Synod. Kuiper professed to be alarmed about “the doctrinal uncertainty and confusion of some of our Seminary students” and said that “his concern was intensified by the fact that two of the Seminary professors, instead of recognizing the seriousness of the complaint (against Opperwall), have done all in their power to discredit and suppress it.” He thereupon begged Synod “to investigate why two of the Seminary professors have minimized the doctrinal confession in the minds of some of the Seminary students and why they have sought to suppress the charges by a Grand Rapids consistory against one of them; also to inquire carefully concerning their attitude toward the deviating views of some of the students.” Kuiper expressed those sentiments in late May 1952, just when the investigating committee was declaring that it “had failed, after rather thorough investigation, to discover any evidences that there are Barthian leanings or sympathies among the students,” and just before the 1952 Synod met. That Synod declared Opperwall a candidate, approved of two other unrecommended seniors, and laid Kuiper’s petition aside for being out of order, and fractious as well.
The executive committee of the board had been kept up to date of most of the things happening in the seminary. On December 13, 1951, it received letters from George Stob and Harry Boer and also a statement from the investigating committee concerning the controversy that erupted on November 30. On January 10, 1952, it was informed that in the estimation of the investigating committee the seminary faculty was stalling on the Opperwall case; on that same day, Stob and Boer appeared in person before the executive committee and indicated that the situation in the seminary was becoming increasingly intolerable. They even suggested that, since there were two parties in the seminary, representatives of both parties ,and not Volbeda alone ,should sit in on the meetings of the board and its executive committee. The committee, quite wisely, did not follow that suggestion. As for Opperwall, the committee advised Prof. Volbeda not to book any preaching engagements for him while the charges against him were under consideration. Meanwhile, support for Opperwall was growing in the student body: a letter expressing confidence in him was signed by 33 of his fellow classmates and would presently be submitted to the board.
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The Board of Trustees met in mid-February 1952 and received from the investigating committee a report the contents of which formed a considerable part of its agenda. The intrafaculty debate about the wisdom of implementing a Th.D. program had by this time retreated behind other more pressing concerns, and the investigating committee now recommended that, owing to a deficiency in faculty personnel, the whole matter be held in abeyance. The board concurred.
A report about Prof. Rutgers was filed: though it did not have the concurrence of Prof. Berkhof, advisor to the investigating committee, it was signed by all the members of that committee, and it declared that Rutgers “does not evidence the quality and degree of scholarship and pedagogical competence for the training and guidance of seminary students.” The committee recommended that he not be reappointed. A motion to adopt the committee’s recommendation failed, and the board finally agreed to say no more than that “it does not feel free to recommend Professor Rutgers for an indefinite appointment.”
The investigating committee could not at first reach an agreement about Prof. Hendriksen, who had been accorded a one year’s extension on his lapsed tenure at the 1951 Synod. A majority wished to have him reappointed for a two-year period, and a minority held that he should not be reappointed at all. The committee finally settled on a compromise, recommending that because Hendriksen “has not given sufficient evidence that he possesses the scholarly spirit requisite for work of seminary caliber” and because “he has given evidence of personality weaknesses which create doubt as to whether his personality is such as to exert the proper influence in the Seminary,” he not receive an indefinite appointment. The board thereupon decided to inform Synod that it was withdrawing its 1951 recommendation that Hendriksen not be reappointed, and that it was now prepared to say only that “it does not feel free to recommend Professor Hendriksen for an indefinite appointment.
The investigating committee had not come to a final judgment about Professors Stob and Boer at that point. However, it was prepared to say that it had “come to hold certain serious misgivings with respect to them.” It felt that “Professors Stob and Boer have, by reason of certain readily observable weaknesses, contributed appreciably to the aggravation of faculty tensions,” and declared that “unless through frank consultation with them, and through diligent efforts on their part, definite improvement becomes evident, their tenure must be considered insecure.” The board received this as information and took no further action.
In commenting on intrafaculty relations, the investigating committee referred to the faculty altercation that took place on November 30, 1951. It judged that Professors Boer and Stob had not been justified in leaving the meeting, but it also acknowledged that an ill-considered proposal had aroused their ire. The committee exempted no one from blame when it characterized faculty meetings as beset by “barriers which obstruct the free flow of discussion” and declared that “serious tensions and frequent clashes hinder the efficient execution of faculty business.” “Faculty deliberations,” it said, “are not always characterized by mutual confidence”; there is not that “frank interchange which is required for arriving at a corporate judgment.” On the basis of these observations, the committee made a radical proposal to the board. It recommended that, “in view of the faculty’s inability to administer its affairs properly,” a committee be appointed to “function in cooperation with the President of the Seminary in the administration of faculty affairs.” Heeding that advice, the board decided: “(1) that, during the emergency, the administration of faculty affairs shall be taken out of the hands of the faculty; (2) that the President, Secretary, and Vice President of the Board shall act as a committee for the administration of faculty affairs, in consultation with the Seminary President; (3) that during this time no faculty meetings shall be held except with the consent of, in the presence of, and under the direction of said committee; and (4) that during this emergency arrangement all faculty decisions shall be advisory in character.”
The adoption of these revolutionary measures did not please President Volbeda, nor the three others who stood at his side. On March 26, 1952, the “Four” addressed to the investigating committee and the board a letter in which they objected not so much to the new arrangement as to the reason given for its adoption. They asked, “Why do you speak of ‘the faculty’s inability’?” “You have,” they said, “leveled a charge against the entire faculty, particularly the officers. It is our conviction that the blame should have been placed where it properly belongs; namely, with two of the faculty members, Professors Stob and Boer. . . . Why should all be penalized when two members make themselves guilty of reprehensible conduct? . . . These two professors have consistently and most vigorously defended the students [whose licenses were suspended]. In the process of this defense they have made themselves guilty again and again of unparliamentary and rude behavior.” This bold charge, reminiscent of a similar charge made earlier against Prof. Bouma, was without foundation in fact and can only be interpreted as slanderous. Incredibly, the “Four” went on to suggest that “the entire matter could have been settled by the withdrawal of their [Boer’s and Stob’s] right to attend faculty meetings.” But this was not all. The “Four” sent copies of this letter to the stated clerks of every classis in the church.
For this propagandistic ploy and breach of good order they were promptly reprimanded by both board and committee. In a letter dated April 14, 1952, the Investigating Committee told the “Four” that it considered this action both out of order and prejudicial. “Your letter,” it said, “jeopardizes a fair and just appraisal of the Seminary Situation on the part of the church. . . . It is not correct to assume that the recommendation of the Investigating Committee re the suspension of preaching license of some of the Senior students constitutes a vindication of the action of the majority of the faculty. . . . Nor is it correct to anticipate the judgment of the committee with respect to the distribution of responsibility for ‘the faculty’s inability to administer its affairs properly. . . .’ Hence our urgent request that you recall your communication from the Stated Clerks.”
The investigating committee also dispatched letters to the stated clerks: the secretary who signed the letters declared, “I have been instructed to advise you that consideration of this material by the Classis would be highly improper, since the investigation has not been completed. The communication of these four professors is not a full presentation of the facts, and a consideration of the matter contained therein by the Classes would jeopardize a fair and just appraisal of the Seminary Situation.”
The midyear sessions of the Board of Trustees ended on February 20, 1952. Before it adjourned, the board suspended the licenses of three senior seminarians whose doctrinal soundness was called into question by the investigating committee; it began and then abandoned an effort to prepare a nomination for the chair of practical theology; and it instructed the executive committee to inquire once again into the condition of Prof. Bouma. In the interim between February and May, the executive committee learned that Dr. Volbeda had fallen ill, had not been able to meet his classes since April, and had decided not to stay on for another year, as he had planned, but to go into immediate retirement. The committee also consulted Dr. Mulder and his asso-ciates at Pine Rest and learned to its regret that Prof. Bouma’s condition had not improved, and that in the opinion of his physicians he would not be able to assume his teaching duties at any time soon.
The investigating committee continued to inquire into the “seminary situation,” fixing its attention on some actions of the “Four” to which Stob and Boer had raised objections. Prof. Wyngaarden was found to have erred on at least six counts: among other things, he had, as registrar, considered the grades Stob gave to his students in church history to be below the norm, and, before the grades were processed or officially reported, he leaked them to selected students and encouraged them to complain. For this he was severely reprimanded by the committee. But particularly offensive was Wyngaarden’s reaction to a speech George Stob had given. The following is Harry Boer’s account of what took place: “In September of 1951 Stob delivered a welcoming speech to the entering Juniors in which he urged the importance of a community of thought among those preparing for ministry in the church. On February 8, 1952, five months later, Dr. Wyngaarden made a motion in the faculty charging that in that speech Professor Stob proposed that we fellowship with liberals. The motion was supported by Dr. Rutgers and was entertained by the President. I remonstrated, but to no avail. The motion was passed and was placed on the books. I was amazed that Dr. Volbeda entertained this slanderous motion. In the whole period of five months between the time of Professor Stob’s speech and this faculty action, not one faculty member had talked to Professor Stob about his speech, much less raised questions or expressed criticism concerning it. Dr. Wyngaarden was later forced by the investigating committee to repudiate this motion in the severest of the committee’s denunciations of Dr. Wyngaarden’s actions.” The truth of this account is reflected in the committee’s report, which says, among other things, that “Dr. Wyngaarden’s charge is not sustained by the manuscript of the address.”
Professors Wyngaarden, Hendriksen, and Rutgers were also interviewed as a group. The three acknowledged that, as Stob and Boer had contended, “student visiting might have been more thorough”; that “the Minutes were not written as carefully as they might have been”; and that “with respect to the awarding of a prize, greater discretion should have been exercised by one of us.” Beyond this they made no concessions, which led the committee to declare: “The three failed to explain satisfactorily a number of other matters which in the Committee’s view placed them in an unfavorable light.” The three nevertheless had the temerity to offer counsel. Confident that, in contrast to a number of erring students and to two compromising members of the faculty, they stood firmly with the president for orthodoxy, truth, and righteousness, they said to the committee: “It is our conviction that the fundamental doctrinal issue should be thoroughly examined, with respect to both college and seminary.”
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The Board of Trustees met again in May 1952, and the Investigating Committee submitted to it a final, but divided, report on Professors Stob and Boer. The majority of the committee members had come to believe that George Stob was to a considerable extent responsible for the creation of a “seminary situation.” They declared that “Professor G. Stob has been a great contributing factor in bringing about a condition which is most deplorable.” They admitted that “Professor Stob has certain excellent qualities which could make him a real asset in our Seminary.” They acknowledged that “he has pedagogical ability, an alert mind, and a facile pen”; but in contrast to what I knew of him ,they judged that “Professor G. Stob’s personality is such that it generates an atmosphere of tension and creates a definite barrier to the efficient operation of the faculty in the administration of its affairs.” They held that Stob was impulsive, arrogant, prejudiced, and judgmental; that he was overly concerned about technicalities; and, above all, that he “failed (in the Opperwall case) to champion the cause of the Reformed faith when he really had no alternative.” Having made this assessment and having come to believe that “drastic action is imperative,” the majority recommended that “Professor G. Stob’s tenure of office be terminated at the close of this school year.”
A minority of two dissented. “It is our conviction,” they said, “that the recommendation of the majority is premature and that the grounds adduced do not sustain the drastic action proposed.” Their defense of Stob was, however, weak and vacillating and hardly calculated to persuade a person otherwise disposed. Nevertheless, it was strong enough to give the board pause. Having received the two reports, the board decided “to receive as information the judgments and advice of the Investigating Committee re tenure of Prof. G. Stob, and to take no further action at this time.”
The majority in the investigating committee judged that Harry Boer, too, was in great part responsible for creating unrest and dissension in the seminary. “The talents which Prof. Boer has revealed have not gone unappreciated,” they said, but they found his “personality” offensive. They held him to be opinionated, rash, impetuous, accusatory, and lacking in self-control ,a judgment that misinterpreted and masked his unrelenting “zeal” for justice and good order. What really did Boer in, however, was his steadfast defense of Opperwall. “We are alarmed,” said the committee, “by a development of recent date which confirms our opinion that Professor Boer’s nature is such that he will adamantly retain a position which he has previously taken even when that position places him in a poor light as a theological professor who is called upon to champion the Reformed faith and to enlighten students who are theologically confused. Ever since the Eastern Avenue protest was brought to the attention of the faculty, Prof. Boer has consistently championed the cause of Mr. Opperwall and . . . in his document of April 19, 1952 . . . he has again without qualification defended Mr. Opperwall.”
I hazard the opinion that what was really alarming in this situation was not Boer’s steadfast defense of an accused student but the committee’s failure to recognize that God’s immutability is not to be construed in static terms but in terms of an accommodating mobility that is a feature of all God’s engagements with a world in process. However that may be, the majority recommended, on the basis of Boer’s “personality” and on his “failure to acknowledge Opperwall’s error,” that “Professor H. Boer’s tenure of office be terminated at the close of the school year.” As in the case of George Stob, two members of the committee registered their dissent from this recommendation. The Board of Trustees received the two reports as information and took no further action.
Having been informed that the investigating committee was recommending to Synod the untimely dismissal of Professors Stob and Boer, the Board of Trustees reconsidered its previous decisions regarding Professors Hendriksen and Rutgers. It had earlier dared to say only that those professors should not receive an indefinite appointment; it now decided to recommend to Synod that the tenure of both be terminated. Approved in the face of slight opposition was the resolution: “It is the judgment of the Board that Dr. W. Rutgers . . . and Dr. W. Hendriksen . . . should not be reappointed.” It was not known how Synod would respond to these multiple recommendations, but should all of them be adopted, the faculty of the seminary would be depleted, and professors would have to be chosen to fill the vacancies created.
Being charged with presenting slates of candidates for existing vacancies, the board did not know quite how to proceed with respect to the chairs that were under siege but still occupied by Hendriksen, Rutgers, Stob, and Boer. Because it had taken no action respecting the tenure of Stob and Boer, the board made no suggestion regarding their replacement. It felt obliged, however, to prepare nominations for the tenuous positions still occupied by Hendriksen and Rutgers. For the chair of New Testament the Board nominated Herman Ridderbos, Ned Stonehouse, and John Weidenaar; for the chair of systematic theology it nominated G. C. Berkouwer, Herman Kuiper, and Alexander De Jong. By the nature of the case, these nominations, prepared for a contingency, were held in reserve: the names of the nominees were not published in the papers, and they would be presented to Synod only if the situation warranted it.
Things proceeded differently when it came to the consideration of possible replacements for Professors Volbeda and Bouma. The chair of practical theology was declared vacant in view of Dr. Volbeda’s impending retirement, and the chair of ethics and apologetics became vacant when, “in view of the medical opinion expressed, the board decided to recommend to Synod that Professor Bouma be emeritated.” The board now took steps to fill these officially established vacancies: it nominated Carl Kromminga for the chair of practical theology, and nominated Fred Klooster and me for the chair of ethics and apologetics. These nominations were published in the church papers before Synod met, and Synod’s consideration of them was unrelated to the actions it took relative to the incumbent professors under indictment.
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The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in the Calvin College auditorium from June 11 to June 25, 1952, and was chaired by Rev. Herman Bel, who was assisted on the podium by William Kok, Peter Holwerda, and Peter Van Tuinen. It was ironic that the four professors whose fate hung in the balance sat as advisors to Synod and helped shape the reports of the many committees that served the assembly with advice. Synod examined the seminary graduates who were standing for candidacy and found them qualified. Among them were Raymond Opperwall and Ralph Baker, who had failed to obtain the recommendation of the faculty; Ed Walhout was another student whose orthodoxy had been called into question, but he had elected to go into high school teaching and thus was not required to undergo examination. Others, not of that graduating class ,were also declared ministerial candidates: among them were Robert Sutton and Eugene Callender, both of whom had studied at Westminster; Marten Woudstra, a member of the Free Reformed Church, was granted a preaching license for one year, a license that would be renewed only if he became a member of the Christian Reformed Church.
As usual, Synod made several appointments. Those nominated for positions in the college were approved. John Hamersma was re-elected to membership on the Board of Trustees, and Henry Evenhouse was made director of missions. In matters of substance, Synod declared that an unbiblically divorced person who remarries is guilty of engaging in continual adultery. But apparently unsure of itself, Synod at the same time appointed a committee to inquire into the soundness of that position. Respecting education, Synod judged that the establishment of a Reformed University in America was at this stage not feasible, but it heartily endorsed a financial campaign to raise $2 million for college expansion.
It was, of course, the “seminary situation” on which the attention of Synod was chiefly focussed. Before it got into the center of that sad business, Synod granted honorable emeritation to Professors Volbeda and Bouma; disapproved of the action of the “Four” in sending copies of their protest to the stated clerks of the classis; rebuked H. J. Kuiper and his associates for circulating petitions in violation of good order; and decided that “the taking of steps toward the awarding of the Th.D. degree shall be held in abeyance for the present.” In order to consider the reports presented by the investigating committee and the Board of Trustees, Synod appointed a special advisory committee that operated without the assistance of a faculty advisor. On the advice of this committee, Synod adopted a set of rules in accordance with which “the trial” would be conducted. “All professors,” it said, “shall be permitted to remain during consideration of all matters in order that they may (1) state their case, (2) raise questions as to fact, (3) criticize reports and recommendations, and (4) answer all questions put to them; but final discussion and decision shall take place in their absence.”
I do not know, or do not recall, whether or to what extent the professors seized the opportunity to testify in their own defense; but it is a matter of record that Synod discussed the reports bearing on the case for the better part of three whole days. From its advisory committee the Synod received the following recommendations: “That Dr. Rutgers and Dr. Hendriksen be not reappointed; that Professor Stob’s and Professor Boer’s tenure of office be terminated; and that Professor Wyngaarden be dismissed.” On the afternoon of Wednesday, June 25, 1952, Synod went into executive session and, after some discussion, proceeded to vote. The result of the balloting was devastating: Hendriksen, Rutgers, Stob, and Boer were cast out, and Wyngaarden was retained in office by a small margin.
George Stob and Harry Boer were most gracious in defeat: a few hours after they were ousted, they sent letters to Synod submitting to its verdict and wishing it Godspeed in its efforts to restore the seminary to health and fruitfulness. Professors Schultze and Wyngaarden were, at this juncture, the only professors left in a shattered faculty, and Wyngaarden went home burdened with a synodical admonition.
Synod had before it nominations for the positions vacated by Volbeda and Bouma, and it had during the course of its meetings given some attention to possible replacements for the men just released. It now proceeded to form a new faculty. Exercising extreme caution, it decided to make ,with one exception ,only one-year interim appointments. The one exception was Dr. G. C. Berkouwer, who was given an indefinite appointment as professor of systematic theology. Ned Stonehouse was appointed to the chair of New Testament; the recently retired R. B. Kuiper to the chair of practical theology; John Kromminga to the chair of church history; and myself to the chair of ethics and apologetics. The chair of missions was left vacant. With this accomplished, the executive committee of the Board of Trustees was instructed to name from among those chosen a seminary president for the coming year; and it was also asked to inquire whether Cornelius Van Til would be willing to teach parttime during the coming year in the area of ethics and apologetics, the department assigned to me.
The Synod was now finished with its work, but before it adjourned, it prepared an “announcement” for publication in the church papers: in it Synod told the people that there had existed in the seminary “a situation so serious that it damaged the prestige of our Seminary, created an atmosphere which was detrimental to the training of our prospective ministers, and threatened the peace and welfare of our churches.” It declared that it was in response to this situation that it had dismissed, without prejudice, the four professors who were most closely involved in the situation. The announcement went on to say that Synod did not establish or deny the guilt or innocence of any member of the faculty; that it made no judgment concerning any real or alleged defection in conduct or belief on the part of any member of the faculty; that it did not depose from (ministerial) office or otherwise discipline any member of the faculty; and that its action was taken simply out of consideration for “the peace and welfare of our churches.”
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I had not been called upon to make many career choices in the course of my life. At the age of seventeen I had chosen to study for the gospel ministry; when I was nearing my twenty-ninth birthday, I was led to accept an appointment to teach philosophy at Calvin College; and now at age forty-four, in the midterm of my life, I was placed before another choice. As is often the case in similar situations, I was pulled in two directions. I was reluctant on the one hand to leave my present post: the lure of philosophy remained fastened on me; I was en rapport with my peers at the college; and the students were generous in their assessment of my offerings while I found pleasure in their company. I thought, on the other hand, that if I should ever make a change, now would not be an inappropriate time to do so. And, of course, the appointment I had been tendered had its own attraction: I would be teaching students who had already earned a college degree; since ministers still played a leading role in community life, I would have a hand in shaping the mind of the church; and in the process I would not stray far from the center of my academic interests, for what I was being called upon to teach could fairly be called philosophical theology.
Tilting me toward the seminary were also some recent happenings. Cornelius Van Til, whose presence in my department ,even on a part-time basis ,I would not have relished, indicated that he would not be coming to Calvin in any capacity. In addition, both Berkouwer and Stonehouse sent letters regretfully declining the appointments they were given. In this situation with Synod in recess, the seminary would obviously be hurting if I should also withdraw.
But there was more. There had been in the seminary, and there was present in the church, a state of mind that, inclined toward safety on the one hand and toward militancy on the other, impeded the progress of thought and growth and encouraged the development of a narrow and stultifying conservatism. The Reformed Journal articulated a different “mind,” and those who shared it not only supported my candidacy for the seminary position, but urged me to accept the appointment without qualms or reservations. “Your voice,” they said, “should be heard in the sanctuary.” I was not a “liberal,” for the Christian verities were dear to me; but I disliked “stand-pattism” and did not think that we held the truth in pawn and could learn nothing from those who differed with us. Falsehood and error, I thought, were parasitic and therefore existed through the sufferance of a residual truth that sustained them and was worth retrieving. In my teaching at the college I was concerned to arrive at a Christian judgment concerning the world’s philosophers, but I didn’t think that they were to be attacked frontally and from the outside. One should, I thought, enter with empathy into the structure of a philosopher’s thinking, discover what aspect of reality induced him to think as he did, and only then undertake to find fault with his possible misplacement or misinterpretation of it. I had learned that the philosopher in question could meanwhile disclose to me a side of the many-faceted truth that had previously been hidden from me. I believed that ministers and theologians should be aware of this, and I thought that I could perhaps be serviceable in the seminary to this as well as to other ends.
In accordance with these reflections, after much prayer, and with Hilda’s concurrence, I decided to accept the appointment tendered me. On July 10, 1952, I dispatched a letter to the stated clerk of synod, in which I wrote: “I accept in the confidence that the call is from the Lord, upon whose qualifying grace I utterly rely.” Without my asking, but with notice conveyed, the executive committee of the board had made my move easier by deciding “to grant Dr. H. Stob a year’s leave of absence from the college in the event he accepts the appointment to the Seminary offered him by Synod.”
At about the time I made the decision to transfer to the other end of campus, the executive committee was informed by Kuiper and Kromminga that they too were accepting their appointments. The three of us would now join Schultze and Wyngaarden and together form a faculty of five that would be hard pressed to live up to the standards a good seminary should maintain. With Stonehouse unavailable, Prof. Schultze would single-handedly man the New Testament department; and in the absence of Berkouwer, the work in systematics would be done by a trio of part-time lecturers operating outside of, but under the supervision of, the faculty. Appointed to give instruction in the various loci of dogmatics were J. T. Hoogstra, W. Masselink, and J. Bratt. R. B. Kuiper, who like the rest of us had received no more than a one-year interim appointment, was named temporary president of the seminary by the executive committee, and the president, vice president, and secretary of the Board of Trustees were charged with making the necessary arrangements for the opening of school in September.
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During six weeks in June and July of 1952, I was occupied at summer school, where I taught a course in introduction to philosophy to fourteen students, most of whom were public school teachers in quest of additional college credits. I preached in June on four successive Sundays, and I also published in the Journal an article entitled “Shall We Expand Catechesis?” In that same month I was invited by the American Committee to deliver a major address at the International Calvinistic Congress to be held in Montpellier, France, in July 1953. I readily accepted that invitation, partly because the congress would be held just prior to the meeting of the Edinburgh Synod, to which I had been delegated, and partly because I would have a whole year in which to prepare the promised lecture. I preached in local churches on three Sundays in July, and I published in the Journal a meditation on “What Think Ye of the Christ?” In August I published an article on “Academic Freedom at Calvin” in the Reformed Journal. These activities left me relatively little time to prepare for the new tasks I would face in September, but by seizing every moment, I sought earnestly to acquire at least some of the competency required.
The article I wrote on academic freedom did not sit well with certain persons, and in the course of the ensuing school year it was cited more than once to prove my unacceptable libertarianism. There was, I thought, no grounds for such an assessment, for early in the article I had rejected the thesis that scholarship is incompatible with faith and commitment and had advocated a freedom rooted in obedience and regulated by the Truth authoritatively disclosed in the sacred Scriptures. I had, however, declared that Christian scholars are sometimes put under arbitrary restraints and subjected to spurious heteronomies. From these, I said, they must be freed. I suggested, among other things, that those appointed to teach at Calvin should not be compelled to establish anyone in his private conceits, nor to further the ambitions of any party. They must be free, within the framework of a shared commitment, to come to a conclusion that contravenes the majority opinion, or perchance the opinion of an articulate and militant minority. They must be at liberty to explore new areas of truth, and to do so in their own responsible way. And they must have the same liberty to hold at arm’s length new ways of thought, however impatiently presented for adoption. They should, moreover, not have men breathing down their necks and constantly peering over their shoulders. They can’t work that way. What they need is trust. They must be free to attack knotty and complex problems in the knowledge that they have the confidence of the church, and they must have the freedom to express and expose to public criticism tentative ideas that may require revision or abandonment. They also need freedom from the weight of custom and from the tyranny of venerable names. What they need, too, is freedom from fear and reprisals. And what they need most of all is freedom from the sting of uninformed prejudice, freedom from name-calling, and freedom from silent but enervating suspicion.
These were the sentiments I expressed, but there were those who took no pleasure in them and entered them into their file. During that summer I was in touch with my friends and fellow editors George Stob and Harry Boer, and I observed with great satisfaction their determination to carry on despite their recent setback. George returned to Princeton in September to complete his dissertation, and would obtain a doctorate in church history within a year. Harry left at about the same time for Amsterdam, where, upon completing his graduate work, he was granted a Th.D. in missions by the Free University. Meanwhile, I was forced to sever, for a year at least, the strong ties that bound me to the college and to take up residence in the seminary. I would there occupy the chair vacated by Clarence Bouma, and I hoped that during my brief tenure I would not tarnish the luster with which my predecessor had endowed it. As it turned out I remained in the seminary for the next thirty years, twenty-three of them as professor of moral and philosophical theology, and seven of them as an auxiliary lecturer during the years immediately following my formal retirement. Of this long period in my life I hope someday to give a detailed account.
Here I can only say that, although the wind was not always at my back, I was at all times upheld by a gracious God and supported by caring colleagues, charitable students, kind friends, and an indulgent public, to all of whom I remain deeply indebted.