The opening of the Seminary in September of 1952 was preceded by a Faculty-Board Convocation held at Camp Geneva near Holland, Michigan. The two-day program included sports and periods of relaxation but was centered on presentations and panel discussions on a variety of subjects. Considered were such topics as teacher appraisal, seminary-college relations, the role of philosophy at Calvin, and the role of the Christian in the arts. Henry Ryskamp spoke for the college and I for the seminary in the panel on seminary-college relations.
The first meeting of the seminary faculty was called to order by President R. B. Kuiper on September 5, 1952. The faculty at this time consisted of but five members—R. B. Kuiper (Practical Theology), Martin Wyngaarden (Old Testament), Henry Schultze (New Testament), John Kromminga (Church History), and Henry Stob (Ethics and Apologetics). Dogmatics was being done by a trio of lecturers who had no faculty status. At this first meeting John Kromminga was elected Registrar and I was made Secretary, a post I would occupy throughout my seminary career. Committees were established and assigned, and I found myself with Kuiper and Schultze on the Library Committee, with Schultze on the Inter-Faculty Relations Committee, and with Kromminga on the Committee dealing with Student Organizations. There were exactly 100 students enrolled in the three seminary classes—31 Juniors, 33 Middlers, and 36 Seniors. Since almost all of these men had passed through Calvin College they were not unfamiliar to me, nor I to them. I was appointed Counselor to six students—Harvey Bultje, Gilbert Haan, John Morren, Kermit Rietema, Adrian Van Andel, and Ted Verseput—but I don’t recall doing anything for them; they probably required no shepherding. I was paid this year a salary of 6,000 dollars, and the Board of Trustees ran the college and seminary on a budget of 605,000 dollars.
The September enrollment at the college stood at 1160, Sydney Youngsma had come aboard to work under the supervision of the college and seminary Presidents as Director of Finance, and James Haveman was engaged to draw up plans for the two girls’ dormitories. When in early September George Stob and Harry Boer inquired whether they were entitled to severance pay in view of the termination of their service before their tenure expired, the Executive Committee of the Board declared that it did not interpret Synod’s decision as including any financial settlement.
In the first semester of the academic year 1952-1953 I taught a total of six hours, and this enabled me to set aside considerable time for the preparation of my class lectures. Beginning in early September I taught Apologetics to 31 Juniors and Ethnic Religions to 30 Middlers. In teaching Apologetics I drew upon my knowledge of the history of Philosophy, and in surveying the religions of the Middle and Far East I called to mind the study I had earlier made of Max Weber’s writings on the subject. By surrounding myself with relevant books of current vintage I sought to add to my knowledge daily. There existed in the Seminary a student club with the motto Nisi Domino Frustra which my cousin George had founded and which I was now asked to sponsor. I gladly accepted the invitation to meet bi-weekly with the students, and upon my suggestion we undertook a study of Hugh Ross Mackintosh’s book on Types of Modern Theology. After I had introduced the students to the philosophy of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd we surveyed the theologies of Schleiermacher, Hegel, Ritschl, Troeltsch, Kierkegaard, and Barth. The discussions were lively and frequently incisive, and I thoroughly enjoyed the long evenings we spent together. The membership included Harold Bode, Albert Haan, Gilbert Haan, Dewey Hoitenga, William Huyser, Peter Lagerwey, Bernard Niemeyer, Cornelius Persenaire, Harlan Roelofs, Sidney Rooy, Charles Terpstra, Harry Van Dyken, George Van Groningen, and Frank Van Halsema. Rooy served as President, Huyser as Moderator, and Van Dyken as Secretary.
In September I preached in Cutlerville, took a seat on the Board of the Calvin Foundation, and published in the Journal a “Note to a College Freshman.” My “Note” would later precipitate a storm and with my piece on “Academic Freedom” generate some unpleasantnesses, but of this I had at the time no inkling. In October I preached on two occasions in local churches and delivered the main address at the Midwest Christian Teachers Convention in Chicago. At the October 9 faculty meeting we licensed the formation of a seminary choir and of a Dutch study club, and I was asked to draft, with Kuiper, an affirmative reply to a request for our participation in the production of a “Calvin Report.” The Executive Committee effected in this month the pre-enrollment of most pre-seminary college students with a view to draft exemption, and received from the Rev. Mr. Chris Huisjen the announcement that he and his congregation will not participate in the current financial drive as long as Calvin Church is allowed to use the college chapel for worship services.
I preached twice in November and went to the polls in support of Adlai Stevenson, but to the delight of my Republican friends Dwight Eisenhower emerged the victor in the presidential race. I preached at Calvin Church in December and was appointed by the faculty to the Diamond Jubilee Scholarship Committee. At its December 5 meeting the faculty decided to introduce a course in Reformed Church Music to be taught by Henry Bruinsma, decided to grant the B.D. instead of the Th.B. degree in accordance with the recommendation of the AATS, and entered into conversation with members of the college Bible department about the desirability of coming under the provisions of the Social Security Act. On December 11 the Executive Committee authorized the college’s Long Range Planning Committee to purchase all the houses on Franklin Street between Benjamin and Calvin Avenue, and in the course of this month President-elect Eisenhower undertook a 3-day visit to Korea in an effort to stop the war. Before the year 1952 came to a close Ernest Hemingway had published his The Old Man and the Sea, American scientists had invented and exploded a hydrogen bomb, and King Farouk of Egypt was deposed and replaced by President Nasser.
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The second semester began in January of 1953 and during this semester I was engaged in nine hours of teaching. I met the 36 Seniors in a class on Ethnic Religions, met them again in a class on Polemics, and also taught Polemics to a class of Middlers. In Ethnic Religions I conducted a survey of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and the religion of Islam, and in Polemics I attempted an analysis of Fundamentalism, Modernism, and Roman Catholicism. I preached in January on four successive Sundays, and published in the Journal an article in which I addressed the question “Is there too much Philosophy?” Dwight Eisenhower was installed into office on January 20, 1953, and to seek God’s blessing on the new President a prayer meeting was held in Sherman Street Church at which I was asked to present in a brief address the needs of the incumbent and his staff. It was announced in January that Mr. Cayvan had donated an additional 800 musical recordings to the college, and that the Calvin Church had agreed to start its morning services at a later hour in order to accommodate the Back to God Hour’s Sunday broadcast emanating from the college chapel.
In January both the seminary faculty and the Executive Committee were engaged in preparing nominations for presentation to the Board which would hold its semi-annual meeting in February. The seminary faculty met on January 3 and promptly nominated R. B. Kuiper and John Kromminga for reappointment, but postponed until January 5 a consideration of my name. At that meeting the faculty decided not to recommend me for immediate reappointment, but to present to the Board for the position I now occupied a dual nomination of Fred Klooster and myself. I was, of course, not present when this action was taken, and was not informed of the reason for it, but suspected already then that President Kuiper was behind the move. Klooster, who had studied at Westminster, had from the beginning been Kuiper’s candidate for the job, and because I had voiced objections to elements in Cornelius Van Til’s Apologetics I was to some degree a renegade in the eyes of Philadelphians. An additional factor had undoubtedly played a role. As I later learned, the “Sacred Seven,” all of whom had sat in my first semester class in Ethnic Religions, were not wholly pleased with my teaching. They thought that I had not been as critical of competing faiths as I should have been, and they reported this to the President who, being of like mind with them, had become their confidant and was inwardly disposed to credit their account. But there was more. R. B. Kuiper was in the confidence of his son-in-law, the Rev. Mr. Edward Heerema. Heerema had studied at Westminster, had recently transferred his membership from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to our own, and was now on the editorial committee of the Torch and Trumpet the official organ of the Reformed Fellowship, Inc. When, at its January meeting, the seminary faculty was considering nominations for staff positions, things were being discussed in the councils of the “Fellowship” of which Kuiper was well aware. The Fellowship was planning an exposé of my “errant” view on Christian education.
The blow fell just as the Board of Trustees was settling down to the business of filling seminary vacancies. Early in February there appeared in the Torch and Trumpet a lead article, five pages long, in which my “Note to a College Freshman” came under attack. Labelled a “Note to a Seminary Professor,” the article was composed and signed, not by a single respondent, but by a three-man editorial committee composed of Edward Heerema, John Piersma, and Henry Van Til. The combined weight of these men was meant no doubt to lend substance to the accusations and to indicate that the “Fellowship” as a whole stood behind the troubled plaintiffs.
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My “Note to a College Freshman” had appeared in the September 1952 issue of The Reformed Journal. It was a slight piece, occupying slightly more than one page in the Journal, and though it was well received in the college community, I did not suppose that after a lapse of five months it would be of interest to any one, be he friend or foe. In this I was, of course, mistaken, for the Torch and Trumpet people had stored it up for timely utilization and were now exploiting it. The piece I wrote elaborated no philosophy of education; it simply urged the beginning student to develop the mind of Christ and in the process abandon the sophistic mind and appropriate the all-embracing mind which, rooted in the Christ, included the best that the super-individualistic human mind had thought and said.
What I had said to the Freshmen was in essence this:
You have come to college, I assume, because you want to expose your mind to the liberalizing and formative influences that a college is meant to generate and release. . . . The first thing you will be asked to do is to abandon whatever you have retained of the sophistic mind—the mind that is able to express no more than the provincialisms, the idiosyncrasies, the incommunicable and unshared tastes of the isolated self. . . . This must be replaced by the broader mind which lifts you out of your privacy and identifies you with mankind. It is the purpose of a liberal, that is a liberalizing, education to form this mind in you, to enlarge the cramped perspective of your cabined self, and make you kin to the large-minded men who have created our art and science and become the teachers of our race. . . . But it is not merely the mind of man you want. It, too, must be transcended if you are to achieve your ultimate range and scope. The movement beyond our shared humanity does not involve the abandonment of it, but the inclusion of it within a larger perspective, a subordination of it to a higher, indeed, the highest, the ultimate rationality. To be truly educated, to be completely liberated, to be wholly enlightened, is to share in Christ the thoughts of God and thus to transcend the relativity not only of the subjective but also of the merely human. To understand ourselves, to understand the world, to truly and fundamentally understand anything at all, we must take up position neither in the individual nor in the race, neither in sophistic intelligence nor in human rationality, but in the Truth himself, which is what is meant by taking on the mind of Christ.
The people of the Reformed Fellowship did not like what I had said, and they commissioned three of their number to say so publicly. The three began by saying that “there is no more important question confronting us today than just this question: What constitutes Christian higher education?” They went on to say that since “Dr Stob has given what we regard as a very faulty presentation of this highly important matter . . . we have decided that we should give open expression to the serious objections we have of his Note.” They were writing, they said, from a sense of duty. In a direct address to me they solemnly declared: “We would be untrue to our calling as servants of Christ and also to our declared objectives as a Reformed Fellowship if we did not deal openly and frankly with the crucially important questions raised by your article.” They worried, too, about the seminary and were concerned about the soundness of the instruction given there—”the position you now occupy is so strategic that we are quite jealous for the accuracy of the opinions you render.” I had, they said, at several points gone seriously astray. I had been untrue to the relevant biblical texts when to symbolize the Christian mind I had employed the phrase “the Mind of Christ.” I had, in addition so defined the term “mind” that it “called for a virtual identification of finite man with the divine Christ.” I had contended that “participation in the broader human mind takes place at an earlier stage of education and is so far unaffected by the mind of Christ,” and had represented the mind of Christ as “a third step in the academic process in which by some undetermined retroactive effect it influences the previous steps.” I had viewed the mind of Christ and the mind of Plato as complementary, and had failed to recognize that “these must be looked upon as antithetical.” I had depicted the human mind as “a purely natural product, as the peak in the evolutionary process of purely natural forces.” The type of thinking that marks the structure of my article had made Christ “irrelevant,” and had allowed me to do no more than “force a marriage between the mind of Christ and the pagan mind, as the Roman Catholic Church has done.”
When I read the Note addressed to me I was amazed to learn that I had been able in so small a space to give voice to so many errors and stupidities, and my friends were equally astonished. They, it must be said, had looked with favor upon my little piece, and had even applauded it, but now it stood exposed as a vehicle of falsity and its author as an advocate of egregious error. Although neither they nor I recognized myself or my views in the account now given, we wondered how this fantastic misinterpretation would affect the public, and especially the Board of Trustees. We wondered, too, why the Note addressed to me had been held up for five long months and delivered at just this juncture. My critics themselves resolved our puzzlement. “We do not deny,” they said, “that we wanted to publish openly our disagreement with Dr. Stob’s views . . . so that the church at large, and the trustees of Calvin College and Seminary as well, might know our convictions in this matter.” And was it not clearly stated on the masthead of the Torch and Trumpet that it was established to defend the faith and oppose all error? And was it not clear that its spokesmen were the accredited guardians of the Truth?
Circulating at the same time that the February issue of the Torch and Trumpet reached the stands were two overtures addressed to Synod by two consistories aligned with the Reformed Fellowship. A consistory in Ripon, California, called for a committee to study the Board’s method of examining prospective professors, and a consistory in Everett, Washington, called for a committee to formulate a philosophy of education “so that all teaching at the seminary may be in keeping with the Reformed faith.” The Everett overture adduced two grounds in support of its plea for the exercise of strict control. The second of these was quite simply “The published statement of Dr. Henry Stob in The Reformed Journal that our professors must be free to study, investigate, conjecture, etc., without having someone looking over their shoulder.” The accented reference was, of course, to my earlier article on academic freedom, of which the consistory obviously disapproved.
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President Kuiper was advisor to a “sub-committee on nominations” when in mid-February the Board of Trustees came to consider candidates for the chair of Ethics and Apologetics. In the hands of the Committee was the faculty’s nomination of Fred Klooster and myself, and the presence of Kuiper’s hand in the proceedings of this Committee is reflected in the action taken by the Board. Article 70 of the Board’s Minutes records what happened—”The sub-committee on nominations reports that it has considered the advisability of reappointing Dr. H. Stob or of submitting a nomination looking forward to a permanent filling of this chair as proposed by the faculty. It took note of the fact that there is some question as to Dr. Stob’s effectiveness as a teacher in the seminary and believes that Dr. Stob should be given opportunity to prove his ability in the seminary before a final decision is taken. The committee recommends that no final decision be taken at this time and advises the Board to postpone action until the May meeting. This is adopted.”
That through the mediation of President Kuiper the complaint of some of the “Sacred Seven” had been heard, and that the writing in the Torch and Trumpet had come to the Board’s attention, is evident from the appeal filed by John Hamersma, Gerrit Hoeksema, and several others. In registering their negative votes these men disclosed that in the discussion preceding the Board’s action “reference was made to the opinions expressed by ‘some’ unnamed students regarding the teaching of Professor Stob in the course on Ethnic Religions, and to an article recently written by him in The Reformed Journal.” The Rev. Mr. E. J. Tanis was charged with reporting the activities of the Board in the pages of The Banner, but in his published report he made no reference to the non-action of the Board in reference to myself. In a letter addressed to me at the time Tanis wrote: “I felt it was much better not to say anything. Several of us—just about half of the Board—did not like that postponement, and could not see its necessity. . . . Your recent article in The Reformed Journal is so clear in regard to your theological position that I don’t see why there should be any hesitation.” But the prestige of Kuiper was high, his influence considerable, and his followers vocal, and there were not many who at this stage dared to cross him.
Although somewhat piqued by the inaction of the Board, I was, in view of the total situation, not completely surprised at the outcome of its deliberations. I had sensed for some time that there was a minority in the church who did not want me in the seminary, and what had happened now tended to strengthen this impression. Suspect because of my stand on “worldly” amusements, on academic freedom, on social legislation, on the nature of the antithesis, and on the shape of a liberal education, I had fallen out of favor with those people on the extreme Right whose mentor was Cornelius Van Til and whose chief spokesmen were H. J. and R. B. Kuiper. This group had for the moment gained the ascendancy, and I could only await with patience the future unfolding of the events now occurring.
The Board of Trustees had more to do than concern itself with me, and at its February meeting it dealt with many matters affecting the college and seminary, among them the filling of additional posts in our still truncated faculty. It readily recommended the reappointment of R. B. Kuiper and John Kromminga. Nominated to be associated with President Kuiper in the department of Practical Theology were George Gritter, Martin Monsma, and John Weidenaar. For appointment to the chair of Dogmatics the Board nominated Jacob Bruinooge, Ralph Danhof, and Herman Kuiper. To complete the faculty roster Harold Dekker was nominated for a one-year Lectureship in Missions. The Board took notice of Professor Volbeda’s serious illness, and appointed John Kromminga to replace him as the church’s professorial delegate to the Ecumenical Synod. Rules governing the Seminary Presidency were approved, and Senior student Andrew Bandstra was awarded the Diamond Jubilee Scholarship.
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In the month of February I preached in Oak Park, Illinois, and at Eastminster Presbyterian in Grand Rapids, published in the Journal an article on “Reading Pagan Writers,” was appointed counselor to Middler student John Hulst, who was recovering from an attack of polio, and took pleasure in attending a college chapel service at which the newly constructed Student Commons was dedicated.
On my mind during a part of February was, of course, the piece in the Torch and Trumpet which had given the Board pause and had scandalized my friends. Some of those around me did not consider the blast published in that magazine worthy of a response, but I was determined to answer it and to set the record straight. Among those who were curious about what I intended to do was R. B. Kuiper himself. “Are you going to reply?” he asked me one day. Upon my telling him that I so intended, he said, “I would like you to present me with a copy of your response before you publish it.” The temerity of this request (or demand) astounded me, but my answer was quick and decisive. I told him that I could not possibly satisfy his wish, and assured him that he would have the privilege of reading my reply when in due time it appeared in the pages of the Journal, and with that I took my departure.
I preached in March on four successive Sundays, attended the annual Dies Natalis banquet, and busied myself with formulating a reply to my Torch and Trumpet critics. Before the month was up I had completed my self-imposed assignment, and on March 24 I dispatched a letter to the Editorial Committee of the Reformed Fellowship in which I simply said, “I have read your published Note to me and wish to say that I am making a reply to it in the April issue of The Reformed Journal to which I am pleased to refer you and your readers.” With that accomplished I could devote myself without reserve to the discharge of my customary duties and responsibilities.
In April I was by virtue of my faculty Secretaryship constituted a member of the Seminary’s Educational Policy Committee, was appointed to a committee charged with inquiring whether the seminary should seek membership in the American Association of Theological Schools, and as a member of the College-Seminary Relations Committee was instrumental in effecting a synchronization of college and seminary class schedules. I preached in April at LaGrave, at Franklin Street, and in Lansing, Illinois. On April 21, in response to an earlier U.N. proposal, the warring factions in Korea began exchanging prisoners, and on April 26 the truce talks began in earnest.
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In the April 1953 issue of The Reformed Journal I addressed the editorial committee of the Reformed Fellowship in a lengthy article entitled “Toward Better Understanding.” Analysis reveals, I said, that you are occupied in your Open Letter with both my fleeting composition and my enduring philosophy. There is some indication that you wish to attack my fugitive Note and not my settled creed. You say,
We are simply debating the merits of one piece of writing,” and elsewhere you put rhetorical questions which enforce this statement of limited intent. Yet one need not go very far into your letter to discover that the phrasing of my Note is not your chief concern. Your main complaint is against my views. What offends you are my ideas. You think there is a “basic difference of opinion” that divides us. It is a “matter of principle” that you wish to debate with me. You are “jealous for the accuracy” of my “opinions,” and you feel yourself under solemn compulsion to “take issue” with them. As against the view I hold you wish to present “a sounder point of view in Christian higher education.” This circumstance compels me to do not merely the one thing that might otherwise be required. It compels me to do two things. It compels me to exegete my Note, and also to state once more the basic elements in my view of education. I shall try in what follows to do both as plainly as I can.
I thereupon set down in a twelve-point credo the principles that had governed all my writings on Christian education. Having affirmed my belief in a radical antithesis, in the doctrine of the covenant, in the indispensability of grace for Christian discipleship, and in similar biblical verities, I indicated how these things bear upon the educational enterprise. I went on to declare, however, what some Van Tillians seemed to deny and what in the existing climate of opinion needed re-saying. I maintained that God, through his general revelation, the general witness of his Spirit, and the restraining influence of his common grace, enables the non-Christian to discover and disclose facts and complexes of fact which the Christian may and must use as constitutive elements in a Christian science of reality. I said that the Christian educator, in his effort to fashion the student’s mind, must utilize the materials provided by both special and general revelation, and that the Christian student should be formed and informed not only by the Word and Spirit, but also by the funded wisdom and experience of the race, the two operating always in indissoluble union, a union in which the Word is the sovereign norm and corrective. I declared that Christian education, in the process of forming in the Christian student the Christian mind he already in principle possesses, does not destroy but redeems his manhood and, by making him a man in Christ, humanizes him as no non-Christian education can.
In exegeting my original Note I indicated anew how I had used the term “Mind,” and carefully distinguished mind from “heart,” the religious root of our being. I asserted that, though there is an unqualified antithesis between the regenerate and unregenerate heart, there is no such antithesis between the Christian and the non-Christian mind, since in the case of both Christian and non-Christian the mind can be false to the heart. As for acquiring pagan learning, I reaffirmed the student’s duty to appropriate the knowledge concerning the cosmos which the human race has through millenniums acquired and stored up, and which is the common property of all educated men. But I did not stop there. It is possible, I said, to look at the world through the narrow aperture of the isolated self, and to find a little bit of truth; the Sophists are there to prove it. It is possible also to look at the world through the broader mind of the universal man, and to see more truth; Plato is there to prove it. But it is only as one is in Christ, and it is only in the measure that one looks at the world through the mind his Spirit gives, that one attains the whole and steady look and sees things as they truly are.
I ended my article with a story. I told how during the Japanese war, when our troops had constantly to guard against the infiltration of their lines by a cunning and stealthy foe, it sometimes happened that a soldier standing watch would fire on a fellow guardsman. Hearing a rustling or a stirring close at hand he would, in his eagerness to protect the line, shoot before he had the right man in his sights. It was not that he was more sensitive than others to the signs of enemy action or more concerned to protect the encampment. He was only less careful, or perhaps more afraid, or perhaps more eager to make good; or perhaps he was new to the line. In any case, his finger sat heavy to the trigger, and sometimes in his zeal to kill an enemy he would wound a friend who stood with him on guard. I hoped that my critics would draw from this story an appropriate inference.
The piece I wrote was greeted with special favor in the community that The Reformed Journal served, and was extraordinarily well received by those who had from some distance bent their ears to the internecine quarrel, but my three critics remained unsatisfied and obdurate. They commented on my piece in a subsequent issue of the Torch and Trumpet. In an article entitled “Mind, Heart, and Antithesis” they wrote, among other things, “Whether Dr. Stob’s reply leads toward better understanding is debatable, if by ‘better understanding’ we mean full or nearly full agreement. As a matter of fact there are aspects of this latest expression in our debate that add force to the criticisms we were constrained to make upon Dr. Stob’s original Note.” To them my “construction” was quite unacceptable. “To us,” they said, “it seems like an effort to synthesize Christianity with a humanistic mode of thinking. In our opinion such thinking empties the antithesis of all meaningful content and determinative significance for our conscious experience and cultural endeavor. . . . In our judgment this type of reasoning carries disastrous implications for distinctively Christian action in philosophy, education, or any other line of human, cultural activity.” Unfortunately for them the community at large did not endorse this verdict, and with this shot fired, and with their credibility undermined, my critics retreated into an extended and beneficent silence.
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The seminary faculty met three times in May of 1953. In the course of these meetings I was appointed as the seminary representative to work with Bill Radius of the college on arrangements for the annual Fall conference, and was asked to draw up with R. B. Kuiper a fitting statement memorializing the death of Professor Samuel Volbeda, who died on May 16, 1953. Upon my recommendation Junior student Frank Van Halsema was at one of these meetings awarded the Manhattan Junior Prize, and on May 10 I preached in the Neland Avenue Church. At its meeting on May 7 the Executive Committee of the Board decided to have the Calvin seal registered and copyrighted, accepted the resignation of Arnold Brink as Educational Secretary, and asked R. B. Kuiper “to seek the necessary credentials for proper release from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”
The Board of Trustees met for three days in late May. It spent the evening of Wednesday, May 27, in a discussion of the seminary faculty’s nomination for the chair of Ethics and Apologetics. In the letter previously referred to, E. J. Tanis had said to me, “I am sure that in May there will be a recommendation to Synod for your reappointment,” and so indeed it turned out. On Thursday, the 28th, the Board eliminated the name of Fred Klooster and by a sizable majority recommended me for reappointment. It was recommended that I be appointed for a period of two years, be given the rank of Associate Professor, and be paid 5900 dollars a year. Not everyone on the Board was happy with this decision, but only one of its members had his negative vote recorded and reserved the right of protest. The prospective appellant was Henry Venema, a member of the Reformed Fellowship, and the hitherto unnamed “listener” who had a year before testified against Raymond Opperwall in the Eastern Avenue case. Fred Klooster was not forgotten. The Board requested Synod to create a temporary lectureship in Dogmatics, and should the post be established, to name Klooster as the first lecturer. The Board, as usual, approved candidates for the gospel ministry and admitted applicants into the seminary. One thing it did in this connection attracted my attention. In teaching Ethics at the college I had on several occasions argued in favor of responsible birth control. I accordingly thought it strange that the Board in granting a college graduate permission to enter the seminary found it necessary to record that “this action does not constitute the Board’s approval of the applicant’s views on controlled parenthood.” Before adjourning the Board appointed Henry De Wit and Steve Vander Weele to the college staff, hosted a testimonial dinner in honor of the retiring professors Van Andel and Van Zyl, and set afoot a plan to acquire the properties lying between the college campus and the east-lying land it had purchased from the Clarke estate.
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The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in the Calvin College auditorium from June 10 to June 22, 1953. Ninety-six delegates from twenty-four Classes were in attendance, and on opening day the Rev. Mr. E. F. J. Van Halsema was elected President of the assembly. Assisting him on the podium were George Goris, John Gritter, and John Breuker. As custom dictated, I and my colleagues on the seminary faculty were present as synodical advisors. I was assigned to the advisory committee on Protests and Appeals, a committee of which Clarence Boomsma, a delegate from Classis Grand Rapids East, was named Reporter. Early in the sessions 25 seminary graduates were approved as ministerial candidates, and so, too, were Edward Palmer and Marten Woudstra, who were entering the church from other denominations. Of some consequence for the management of denominational affairs was Synod’s decision authorizing the Denominational Building Committee to purchase a 9-acre tract of land on the southeast corner of Kalamazoo Avenue and 28th Street at a cost not to exceed 50,000 dollars. Synod spoke to a theological issue in a way not entirely to my liking when it expressed its dissatisfaction with certain resolutions adopted by the Ecumenical Synod of 1949. Synod found them unacceptable “because they do not distinguish with sufficient clarity between the Reformed position on the one hand and the position of so-called theistic evolution and the dialectical theology on the other hand.” I, however, thought well of Barth and had no doubt that under God’s governance and direction some kind of cosmic evolution had indeed occurred. A moral issue was touched upon when Synod decided to petition the President of the United States “to curb and prevent profanity on the part of the officers and men of the armed forces.” Being a Christian, I, too, deplored the occurrence of cursing and blasphemy, but having served in the armed forces and having observed the ways of military men, I had not the slightest expectation that the petition would be considered or acted upon.
The tragedy of 1952 was recalled when several overtures pled in vain for the reinstatement of Hendriksen and Rutgers, and especially when Synod came to consider a lengthy document submitted by Harry Boer. Harry, in his submission, withdrew the conciliatory note he had addressed to the Synod of 1952, and now charged that Synod had not only dismissed him without due cause, but had failed to recognize that he occupied a distinct (fourth) office in the church—that of Professor of Theology—from which one can be deposed only after a formal trial is conducted in accordance with the provisions of canonical law. In his appeal Boer also gave such an account of the events that led to the creation of a “Seminary Situation” as to place the blame where in his judgment it belonged—on those who opposed his efforts to maintain good order and to secure for students charged with deviation such treatment as would satisfy the demands of justice. Boer summarized his complaint in these words: “I protest the action of the 1952 Synod because that action did not arise out of a facing and adjudication of the grave moral issues that existed. Furthermore I protest this action because it violated due process of law by effecting deposition without grounds.” This document came late to Synod, did not appear on the agenda, and could receive only scant attention by the busy delegates who in any case were indisposed to study anew the tragic and disturbing controversy that a previous synod had resolved. Upon the recommendation of an advisory committee Synod decided not to sustain the protest on the grounds that Boer was not deposed from office but only released from an engagement, and that the severance was solidly based on a studious assessment of the then existing “Seminary Situation.” Although Harry Boer was my friend and editorial colleague, I found it impossible to quarrel with this judgment of the synod.
A particular debate that took place at Synod is fixed vividly in my memory. It took place before the nominations for seminary positions were considered, and it concerned the qualifications the nominees were expected to possess. A Board committee, of which R. B. Kuiper was a member, had presented to Synod a Brief proposing that “the following requirements be set up for candidates for the instructional staff of the seminary.” Under the head of “Personal” the committee recommended that the candidate should, among other things, “possess a consuming zeal for the Reformed faith” and “be truly militant in the defense of the Reformed faith against heresy.” I detected in the phrases “consuming zeal” and “truly militant” the hand of Kuiper, and I found the language inappropriate, not to say offensive. The advisory committee with whom I had consulted modified the language and proposed that the candidate be “zealous” for the faith and be “diligent” in its defense. When the whole matter came up for discussion R. B. Kuiper delivered a long and eloquent speech in defense of “militancy.” I countered with a speech of my own in defense of “diligence.” The debate went on for some time, with each of us responding to the other’s arguments. When at last a vote was called for, the tally revealed that the assembly was equally divided. It happened that George Goris, the Vice President of Synod, was presiding at the moment, and he was now privileged to cast the deciding vote. To my delight and to the evident dissatisfaction of Kuiper he chose for “diligence.” As an apologete I could now be diligent in my defense of the faith without being militant, and with this President Kuiper had to be content.
On Thursday, June 18, the Synod went into executive session and began a discussion of the candidates proposed for appointment to the seminary. R. B. Kuiper was reappointed for one year as Acting President, was asked to teach Homiletics, Practice Preaching, and Missions, and was urged to expedite the transfer of his church membership. Martin Monsma at age 60 was appointed to a one-year’s Lectureship in Practical Theology and was charged with giving instruction in Church Order, Catechetics, Liturgics, and Pastoral Theology. Carl Kromminga was appointed as Instructor in Homiletics with the proviso that he spend a year in graduate studies and report for duty in September of 1954. Henry Schultze was asked to continue as Professor Extraordinary in the department of New Testament, and to assist him the veteran Ralph Stob was given an one-year appointment as Lecturer in Greek and in New Testament studies. Herman Kuiper at age 64 was appointed Associate Professor of Dogmatics for a period of two years, and Fred Klooster was given a one-year appointment as Lecturer in that same field. John Kromminga was reappointed as Associate Professor of Church History for two years, and I was reappointed with the same rank and for the same period to the chair of Ethics and Apologetics.
I had been teaching at the college since 1939, had been a tenured Professor in its department of Philosophy since 1947, and was in 1952 given a leave of absence in order to serve a one-year term as Instructor in Ethics and Apologetics at the seminary. I could have returned to the college now—and in the years that followed there were times that I wished I had—but upon prayerfully inquiring what the Lord would have me do, and upon assessing the situation then prevailing in the church, I felt obliged to remain in the seminary even though this entailed a reduction in rank and salary and left me without a tenured position. Although I had a theological education and was licensed to exhort in the churches, I was not an ordained minister, and this caused Synod to give some attention to my possible ordination. Upon receiving a recommendation from an advisory committee, Synod declared that “as soon as Dr. Stob has informed Synod or the Stated Clerk that he has accepted the appointment he shall become eligible for the office of the Gospel Ministry.” Synod thereupon requested the Calvin Church “to call Dr. H. Stob to the Gospel Ministry with a view to his serving the church as Professor of Theology in our seminary,” and requested the same church “to ordain Dr. Stob after due examination by Classis Grand Rapids East.” I did not long delay my acceptance of Synod’s appointment. In a letter of acceptance dated June 19, 1953, I expressed to synod my appreciation of the confidence placed in me, and begged all the delegates, as well as the entire church, to pray for that qualifying grace by which alone I and my colleagues can hope to discharge our high calling in Christ Jesus. It is recorded that Synod received this letter “with joy,” and that was good enough for me. At a meeting of the Executive Committee held shortly after Synod had adjourned Bill Spoelhof raised a question about my relation to the college. He judged that my leave of absence should be extended for two more years since my seminary appointment was provisional, but the Committee thought otherwise. It declared that “the relation of Dr. Stob to the college will terminate when he is installed as professor in the seminary.” With this the die was cast.
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Synod adjourned on June 22, and on June 24 I reached the age of 45. I had in June attended all the sessions of Synod. I had in addition preached in Cutlerville and at the West Leonard church, and had published in the Journal a meditation on the words of Jesus: “Lo, I am with you always.” I was now poised to undertake the long projected trip to Europe, where I would be speaking at the Calvinistic Congress in France and attending the Ecumenical Synod in Scotland. As is usual in situations like this my heart and mind were troublingly divided; I looked forward to the trip but disliked leaving Hilda and the children, and feared especially that in a six or seven week absence I would be placing an excessive burden of care upon Hilda. But duty called and opportunity beckoned, and with Hilda’s blessing I kept my plans intact. To fill a gap, and to provide diversion for the children, we settled upon an expedient: we decided to buy a television set, and before I left one of these miraculous instruments enabled all in our house to keep an eye upon the world.
Clarence Boomsma had for some time been wanting to visit Europe and the Holy Land, and he decided to plan his trip to coincide with mine. I, on my part, agreed to leave earlier than I had planned in order to guide him through those parts of Europe with which I had earlier made acquaintance. The arrangement proved to be to my advantage. Clarence was my friend and on the way he became not only a delightful travel companion, but also a facilitator whose managerial skills eased our passage through the many stations that lay upon our path. We left for the east coast on June 28. We were conveyed to our destination by my nephew, Charles Ryskamp, who as a Yale student was setting out that day on a drive to New Haven. We had a pleasant trip, and upon our arrival in New Jersey, Chuck dropped us off at John Hamersma’s house where on the 30th we were royally entertained and domiciled.
John and Helen Hamersma brought us to the docks on the following day and escorted us to our cabin on the English liner the Queen Elizabeth. We steamed out of New York harbor on July 1 and before long were out at sea. We were not without friends on board. Mr. and Mrs. William Eerdmans were sailing with us, and so was Peter De Visser who worked for Eerdmans and also served as managing editor of The Reformed Journal. Peter, Clarence, and I shared a large ship-side cabin in and out of which we followed our own routines while exercising companionship in shared talks and banter. I had not completed the lecture I was to give in Montpellier, and to finish it I spent several days in the ship’s library where I could work undisturbed. The days were broken up, of course, by meal times when all five of us ate together at the table assigned to us. The days were marked, too, by an evening ceremony. Promptly at 9 P.M. Mr. Eerdmans would knock at my door and conduct me to the bar where, at my host’s expense, we drank a B and B before retiring for the night. It was strange, but true, that neither Clarence nor Peter were ever invited to join us.
We arrived at Plymouth on the 6th of July, and proceeded by train directly to London, where we took lodgings in a hotel the name of which I have forgotten. Eerdmans and De Visser had business to do in London, but Clarence and I were unencumbered, and on the 7th we embarked at Harwich for the pleasant trans-channel trip to the Hoek of Holland. We spent three days in Amsterdam, two of them as the guests of the Bylevelds, my adoptive parents. I had not seen these good people since the Spring of 1939 and it was good to be with them again, and to hear how they had endured the war and survived the occupation. In the course of these three days we had opportunity, too, to visit with Harry Boer, James Daane, and Lew Smedes, all of whom for one reason or another were currently in the city.
We left Amsterdam by train on the 9th, and at Oldenzaal crossed the Dutch border into Germany. Because I wished to revisit the scenes of my student days we headed first for the region of Schaumberg-Lippe where after crossing the Weser we disentrained at Buckeburg. We lunched there in the same Gasthaus in which Hilda and I had stayed in the Fall of 1936. Wilhelm Vauth had died in the war, but his parents and siblings still lived in nearby Rusbend and we did not neglect to visit them. We also went to Vehlen, where Wilhelm had served as Pastor and Hilda and I had spent a summer. It was there that we met Wilhelm’s wife and daughter. From Buckeburg we proceeded to Hannover, a city which still bore on its face the marks of a devastating war, and from there we went to Gottingen, the seat of my graduate studies.
In the course of our stay in Göttingen we called at the Klempts on Obere Masch Strasse, enjoyed a short visit with Professor Stange on Hanssenstrasse, toured the city, and relaxed in the confines of the Ratskeller. It was when we were about to leave the city that we ran into Fritz Gebhardt, about whom we had earlier inquired without success. The meeting was uncanny. Clarence and I were walking toward the Bahnhof when a bicyclist rode swiftly by. Looking up I recognized the rider and with a loud voice yelled “Fritz!” The rider stopped and faced us, and there indeed was my old friend who, after dismounting, fell into my warm embrace. The meeting was short lived. Our train would soon depart and we could not linger, but Fritz, amidst fast talking, walked us to the station and on the platform waved bravely as we moved off to other parts.
From Göttingen we went to Kassel, thence to Köln, and from there to Bonn. We boarded a Rhine steamer at Bonn and rode as far as Mainz, the scenery on the way enthralling both of us, although I had on two occasions passed this way before. In Mainz we met a friendly American army officer who not only showed us the city and the cathedral, but drove us to Worms where we stood at the Luther Denkmal and visited the Liebfrauenkirche and the nearby winery where we partook of the savory “Milch” which the vintners freely offered us. We went thereafter to Heidelberg where we slept in a bed and breakfast place overlooking the Neckar. Clarence was a bachelor, but in Heidelberg he wrote a letter to Shirley Balk, and from this I concluded that a romance was afoot. My spirit lagged in Heidelberg because the American Express office there could deliver to me no letter from my dear Hilda, who had hitherto followed my trail with encouraging notes and letters.
After a week in Germany we crossed over into Switzerland. From the 15th to the 20th of July we visited Basil, Bern, Interlocken, Lucern, Zurich, and Geneva, and late on the 20th came to the Italian city of Milan. On the 22nd Clarence and I parted company at Milan. He set out from there for Rome and the Middle East, while I went by way of Nice to Montpellier in southern France. It was agreed that we would meet again in Edinburgh, after which we would sail home together on the same Queen Elizabeth that brought us to the English shore.
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I arrived in Montpellier on Thursday, July 23, 1953, and was assigned lodging with a French Huguenot family, where I freshened up from the journey and had supper. I attended the Thursday evening service of dedication conducted by the Rev. Mr. Alexander MacDonald, minister of the Free Church of Glasgow, Scotland, and went early to bed. The International Congress for Reformed Faith and Action settled down for business on the following day. Present were delegates from most of the European countries, and some from Africa, Asia, and Australia as well. To list all the names would serve no purpose, but it is perhaps worth recording that John Kromminga, Martin Monsma, Eugene Oosterhaven, and I were there from the United States; Stanford Reid from Canada; Philip Hughes and D. M. Lloyd-Jones from England; Herman Dooyeweerd, S. U. Zuidema, and J. Vanden Berg from The Netherlands; W. J. Snyman from South Africa; and Jean Cadier and Pierre Marcel from France. There were, I believe, 114 participants in all, besides which there were many guests and observers. The program consisted mainly of lectures and discussions centering on the theme of the Congress: “The Reformed Answer to the Secularization of Modern Life.” The opening address was delivered on Friday morning by our host, Dr. Jean Cadier, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Reformed Seminary of Montpellier. Our meetings were held in the unpretentious seminary building and were presided over by Cadier, who shortly after he had given his welcoming speech was elected President of the Congress. The Congress met for an entire week, in the course of which seven major addresses were delivered. Gerhard Wienands of Germany spoke on “The Concept of Work,” D. W. Ormel of The Netherlands on “The Concept of Property,” Herman Dooyeweerd of the Netherlands on “Scientific Thought,” R. Grob of Switzerland on “Caritas,” Andre Schlemmer of France on “The Cure of Souls,” Stanford Reid of Canada on “Family Life,” and myself on “The Liberty of Man.”
I was the first to speak. On Friday afternoon, July 24, I set forth what I considered to be the Christian conception of freedom and contrasted it with the spurious freedoms advocated by western man since the Renaissance. The address was generally well received, but the designated Respondent—a Swiss evangelist by the name of George Visscher—thought that it attributed to the Gospel certain secular entailments which he believed to flow from unfaith and apostacy. What he seemed especially to dislike was what I said in one of my opening paragraphs. These were my words:
Man has an essential dignity and a native claim to liberty. Made in God’s image, he was not meant to be a slave, and he can never be happy in bonds. This the Christian knows better than any man and that is why he hates all tyranny. It is the reason for his uncompromising opposition to political dictators, economic collectivisms, and coercive religious establishments. It accounts for his resistance to monopolistic education and programs of thought control. It is the reason why he defends human liberty on all fronts. . . . In thinking that man should be free from arbitrary restraints in every department of human thought and action the Christian does not differ from the modern Liberal. The Liberal, too, loves liberty, and though he is not so sure as formerly just what liberty means and how it can be preserved, he still pursues it with religious, though not with Christian, devotion. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the Christian, in whom the love of freedom is inextinguishable, in at least apparent agreement on many practical issues with the secular Liberals of the day. Like the latter he is apt to be an advocate of some form of democracy in government, of free though responsible enterprise in business, of liberty of conscience in religion, of freedom of expression in journalism, of civil liberties for men of every race and color in social polity, and of freedoms of thought and inquiry in the schools. He is especially apt to be this if he is a Protestant and aware of the Protestant tradition of liberty, criticism, and non-conformism. The typical Protestant is a doughty champion of human freedoms, and thus in form at least a brother to the modern Liberal.
Having uttered these opening words, I stood by them, but made no attempt to defend them against my somewhat agitated critic, whose fast-spoken French was in any case not wholly intelligible to me.
I have not retained in memory the substance of the many addresses I heard, and of what else transpired during the course of this long week there is little that I can recall. I do remember that every day started with a service of worship, that meal times were graced with sometimes lengthy devotions, that copious amounts of wine were served at every refectory meal, and that we were taken at least once on a short excursion, but beyond this almost all that took place in those days has sunk into the pit of forgetfulness. I did, of course, meet many people, all of whom were gracious, but of only a few do I retain a living impression. One of these was John Vanden Berg of The Netherlands, with whom I formed a friendship that long outlasted our chance encounter at the Congress.
When the Congress adjourned on Friday, the 31st, John Kromminga and I entrained for Holland. John went on to Amsterdam while I disembarked at the Hoek of Holland, from which I took a channel ferry to Harwich and proceeded to London. On Monday, the 3rd of August, I left London and went on to Edinburgh.
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The Reformed Ecumenical Synod was held under the auspices of the Free Church of Scotland in St. Columba’s Church, located on Johnston Terrace in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. The Synod was composed of twenty-four voting delegates from ten denominations, though a considerable number of guests and observers participated in the proceedings. The Christian Reformed Church was represented by Martin Monsma, John Kromminga, and myself. Among the delegates I knew, or came to know, were Ned Stonehouse, Herman Ridderbos, D. Nauta, C. Vander Woude, W. J. Snyman, J. P. Coetzee, and Ben Marais. Notable among the guests, some of whom I had met before were F. F. Bruce, G. W. Bromiley, John Murray, Stanford Reid, and Pierre Marcel. In the elections held at the first session of Synod the Rev. Mr. G. N. M. Collins was chosen as President, Professor Stonehouse as Vice President, and P. J. Coetzee and W. J. Grier as Clerks.
Upon my arrival in Edinburgh I was put up in a Scottish home where during the course of Synod I shared accommodations with Fred Bruce. I have unfortunately forgotten the name of our hosts, but I remember being treated hospitably, eating porridge each morning at breakfast, and participating with the family in evening devotions before retiring for the night. I was present when on Monday evening, August 3, a prayer meeting was held in the Free Church College on Bank Street. At that meeting Professor A. M. Renwick bade us all a hearty welcome and in a stirring address surveyed for us the history of the church in Scotland.
Synod sat down for business at 10 A.M. on Tuesday, August 4, and at this first session I was appointed Convener of one of the five committees constituted to advise Synod on the matters coming before it. Initially assigned to my committee on Ecumenicity were C. C. Hunter, C. Vander Woude, J. C. Maris, E. J. Poole-Connor, B. J. Marais, and Stanford Reid. After some of these men left for other engagements Ridderbos, Stonehouse, and Snyman were added to the committee. During the early days of Synod the afternoons were reserved for committee work, and the morning and evening sessions for discussion and decision making. Each plenary session was begun with a service of devotion in which psalms were sung, the Bible read, prayers offered, and a meditation or sermonette presented. No hymns were sung, and all singing was done without accompaniment. In the Free Church of Scotland (among the “Wee Frees”) it was considered unlawful to use musical instruments in divine worship services or in any other spiritual exercise.
Although it considered a rather large number of issues, Synod did not make many substantive decisions. It referred to a subsequent Synod the issue of Creation and Evolution, the standing Report on Marital Problems, and the knotty problem posed by “Apartheid.” Some declarations were, of course, made. Regarding “Apartheid” Synod declared, no doubt truthfully though not very helpfully, that “the solution of the racial problem lies not in secular and philosophical liberalism, but in the proclamation of the Evangel and in the generation of the grace of God.” With respect to ecumenicity Synod advised its member churches not to join the World Council of Churches as now constituted, but it refused to declare that membership in the World Council is incompatible with membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. It did, however, request those of its churches which are already members of the Council to “reconsider their position.” The Rev. Mr. Carl MacIntyre put in an appearance at the Synod and spoke in behalf of his International Council of Christian Churches, but Synod was not impressed and declared that it “does not at this time recommend membership in the ICCC.” The Christian Reformed Church of North America had sought the advice of Synod on the matter of Women Voting at Congregational Meetings. Although Synod referred the matter for further study to a subsequent Synod, it did declare that “the participation of women in the election of office holders is not forbidden in Scripture.”
We did not work at Synod at an extremely fast pace, and there were periods of leisure and entertainment. On the evening of Wednesday, August 5, we were guests at a Civic Reception given by the Town Council of Edinburgh; on Thursday afternoon the Town Council provided us with a bus tour of Edinburgh; and on Saturday, the 8th, we spent a pleasant day in the Trossacks, thanks to the host church. On Sunday, the 9th, I preached at the morning worship service in an Edinburgh church.
Of the work we accomplished on the days preceding and following these times of relaxation I have already given some account. It could here be added that on Thursday, August 13, the last day of Synod, I proposed for adoption a resolution I had formulated. Upon my motion the assembly spoke these words: “Synod notes with gratification the formation of the International Society for Reformed Faith and Action, looks with favor upon the proposed activities of the Society, and pledges itself to assist the Society in every appropriate way to advance the cause of the Reformed faith in the world.” On the evening of this day the Synod came to a close. Clarence Boomsma had by now appeared upon the scene, and was able, I believe, to hear the President’s farewell address. On the following day—Friday, the 14th—Clarence and I entrained for London.
We spent Saturday and Sunday in sightseeing, while not neglecting church, and on one of our walks we were accosted by a slightly inebriated citizen who, noticing my grey hair, advised Clarence to take good care of his aging father. I was, by this time tired of traveling, had been long enough in foreign parts, and longed eagerly for home. I decided, therefore, not to await the sailing of our ship, and to fly home as soon as I could. Bidding goodbye to Clarence I booked a flight out of London airport on the 17th of August, and was able to have breakfast with Hilda the following day. I was happy and thankful to be home again and to find my loved ones in good health and spirits. In the week that followed I did little but bask in the love and fellowship of the family, but I soon observed that the Summer had fled, and that the school term loomed on the near horizon, and I went frantically to work.