DIGGING IN AT THE SEMINARY
When school began in September of 1953, the Korean War had come to an end, the fighting having ceased when on July 27 a formal truce agreement was signed by the contending parties. By this time, too, Nikita Krushchev had succeeded Stalin as Premier of the Soviet Union, Jonas Salk had discovered the anti-polio vaccine, and James Watson and Francis Crick had worked out the double-helical shape of DNA. Our daughter Ellen was now eight years old and a pupil in the third grade at Baxter Christian. Dick had not yet attained the age of five and was for that reason not permitted to enroll as a kindergartner in Baxter School. We felt, however, that he was ripe for formal schooling and succeeded in placing him in the Baldwin Street School, where he spent a pleasant year under the tutelage of Miss Alice Fenenga. Ellen usually walked to school in the company of other children from the neighborhood, but I customarily drove Dick to and from his more distant place of learning. Once, when I was late in picking him up, he ventured forth alone and startled his apprehensive mother by appearing unattended at her door, thereby prompting her to thank the Lord, and the child’s guardian angels, for bringing her dauntless four-year-old safely across many busy intersections.
The seminary faculty had grown in size and now consisted of eight full-time instructors. Although Dr. Ralph Stob and the Rev. Mr. Martin Monsma had been appointed as lecturers for a period of one year, they were, by order of the Board, seated as members of the faculty, and so of course was Dr. Herman Kuiper who had received a two-year appointment as Associate Professor of Dogmatics. Aiding Herman Kuiper as a temporary lecturer in Systematic Theology was Fred Klooster who, however, took no part in our deliberations and would at the end of the year take up a position in the college. Eighty-eight students were enrolled in the three under-graduate classes, and nine graduate students were taking courses with Wyngaarden, Schultze, and R. B. Kuiper. Among the five unclassified students were the Rev. Messrs. J. Herbert Brink and Edward Hills, who were enrolled with a view to entering upon a ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. The Board of Trustees operated both the college and the seminary this year on a budget of 700,000 dollars.
At the first faculty meeting, held on September 4, 1953, I was reelected Secretary of the faculty and made a member of both the Educational Policy Committee and the Committee on the Library. In the first semester I taught Ethnic Religions to 30 Middlers and Apologetics to 27 students, most of whom were Juniors. I again sponsored the Nisi Domino Frustra Club, guided the students through a study of C. C. Morrison’s book, The Unfinished Reformation, and engaged them as well in a discussion of Existentialism. Dewey Hoitenga had become President of the Club, and he was associated in it with Harold Bode, Winston Boelkins, Henry Bouma, Henry De Rooy, Bernard Haven, Earl Marlink, Harlan Roelofs, Jay Vander Ark, Maas Vander Bilt, Wilbert Van Dyk, and Gerald Van Groningen. During the first semester I preached on ten successive Sundays, attended two meetings of the Board of Trustees of the Christian University Association of America, and commiserated with my friends when on November 24, 1953, John Daling lost his wife in death and when in December Henry Zylstra was hospitalized with a heart attack. Hank recovered sufficiently to use to advantage the leave of absence he was enjoying by reason of having been given a generous grant from the Ford Foundation, and John after a while took to himself another wife.
Highlighting the first semester was my induction into the offices of both Minister and Theological Professor. After receiving the approbation of the congregation the consistory of the Calvin Christian Reformed Church called me on September 14, 1953, to be an Associate Minister of Calvin Church. I was examined by Classis Grand Rapids East on September 17, and after engaging in a Colloquium Doctum with the Rev. Mr. Ralph Danhof, was “declared qualified for and admitted to the Sacred Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments in the Christian Reformed Church.” I was ordained in the presence of the congregation and of many members of my family at a vesper service held in the college chapel at 3:30 PM on Sunday, October 4, 1953. Clarence Boomsma, the officiating minister, read the form of ordination; R. B. Kuiper delivered the sermon; John Kromminga read the Scriptures and offered prayer; John Bratt exhorted the congregation; and in his charge to me John Weidenaar reminded me of the duties and responsibilities of the ministerial office. After the laying on of hands I closed the service with a benediction. The day of celebration ended with an evening worship service at which I preached on John 14:6. Another ceremony took place soon after. Four of us—R. B. Kuiper, Herman, Kuiper, John Kromminga, and I—were installed as Professors of Theology at a service held in the Neland Avenue Church on the evening of November 12, 1953. Dr. Ralph Danhof, pastor of the church, preached the sermon; the Rev. Mr. J. T. Holwerda, Secretary of the Board of Trustees, offered prayer; Dr. J. Bruinooge, President of the Board’s Executive Committee, read the form of installation; Professor-Emeritus Louis Berkhof delivered the Exhortation; the seminary choir sang an anthem; and R. B. Kuiper dismissed us with the benediction.
It was on October 31, 1953, that Frederick Nymeyer, a businessman from South Holland, Illinois and a confirmed critic with a patina of scholarship, informed me in a letter that he disagreed in principle with the Race Resolutions my committee had formulated in 1950, and that he planned to publish his objections in a brochure entitled “The Stob-Bouma Solemn Race Declarations.” There followed upon this a number of oral discussions in which I participated at his request, but our differences were not resolved, and Nymeyer’s brochure was published early in the year 1954. His main contention was that our race resolutions abridged his Christian freedom to discriminate. He claimed the divine right to disapprove of bow legs, crooked teeth, and black skin, and did not wish to have his liberty judged by another man’s conscience. “If the members of the Race Declarations Committee wish to be negrophiles, that,” he said, “is their business. But it is not their business to insist that we be negrophiles too.” Copies of Nymeyer’s brochure were sent to the school authorities, to the officers of the Young Calvinist Federation, and to selected individuals, but it elicited little favorable response and a frustrated Nymeyer eventually withdrew from an encounter that was going nowhere.
Before the first semester ended and the year 1953 came to a close the faculty decided to enroll all seminary students in the newly established Campus Health Service, adjudicated a complaint registered against a student by a consistory, adopted amended Rules governing the Seminary Presidency, sent a gift of flowers to Professor Berkhof on his 80th birthday, appointed R. B. Kuiper and Carl Kromminga as delegates to the Centennial Convocation to be held at Kampen, The Netherlands, in June of l954, and cut short an evil practice by prohibiting the duplication and distribution of Professors’ notes and lectures without the expressed permission of the professors involved.
When the Board of Trustees met in February of 1954, it was not yet ready to make recommendations regarding the chair of missions in the seminary, but it did reappoint R. B. Kuiper, Ralph Stob, and Martin Monsma for an additional two years. R. B. Kuiper informed the Board that he would not be able to attend the Kampen Centennial and Herman Kuiper was appointed in his place. Word was received that there was a slight improvement in the condition of Dr. Bouma, but the hope for a complete recovery that this news elicited could not be sustained. At the college the student enrollment stood at 1200. Harold Dekker and Fred Klooster were appointed to teach Bible, and Harold was also named Dean of Students in replacement of John De Beer.
In the second semester of the academic year 1953-1954 I taught middler and senior students in Ethics and Polemics, and conducted worship services on almost every Sunday. In February of 1954 I spoke over the radio for the fourth and last time in behalf of Citizens Action and the slate of candidates we were presenting to the public. Not every one approved of this activity of mine. One of a number of correspondents from within my own communion wrote, “I am shocked to learn that men like yourself are engaging in politics. I think it is shameful to drag the church of Jesus Christ into such a thing.” In my letter of response I said, “You are right in thinking that the church should stay out of politics. You are wrong in thinking that a Christian should show no active interest in the government of his city. . . . You are free to speak; free to vote. So am I, and this freedom neither you nor I should lightly surrender. Our fathers died to secure it.” An objection of another sort was publicly voiced by Evan Runner. He objected not to my engagement in politics, but to my membership in Citizens Action, an association that was not specifically based on Christian principles and that embraced people of diverse faiths. In his opinion there were no neutral organizations. If any organization did not in its constitution acknowledge the sovereignty of God and rely upon the guidance of his Spirit, it was positively anti-Christian, and not open to a responsible follower of the Christ. I would later debate him and his followers on this issue, but for the present I remained a self-assured associate of atheists, humanists, Jews, and Christians in support of good government in Grand Rapids.
The second semester was marked by the appearance on campus of Professor Jan Waterink. He had been brought from The Netherlands by the Calvin Foundation, and beginning in February of 1954 he taught a course in “Basic Concepts of Christian Psychology” in the college, and a course in “Pastoral Psychology” in the seminary. Waterink had come to the States with his wife and sister, and in the course of their stay Hilda and I entertained them several times in our house. In a Pedagogical Institute that ran for six weeks in March and April Professor Waterink delivered six weekly lectures on Christian Education. Harry Jellema, Lambert Flokstra, and I served as chairmen and discussion leaders at the institute sessions.
In the course of this semester the faculty established a Jewish Mission Prize funded by a grant received from Dr. William J. Yonker; adopted regulations governing those students who, having completed their theological education elsewhere, attend Calvin Seminary with the object of entering the Christian Reformed ministry; enjoyed an evening of fellowship with the students and faculty of Western Seminary; recommended Lewis Smedes as a candidate for the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church; and responded favorably to a request from H. Richard Niebuhr for the faculty’s cooperation in the preparation of a Report on Protestant Theological Education in the United States and Canada.
On May 21 and 22, 1954, a scientific conference was held on campus. The printed program declared that “during the last several years the people of the Christian Reformed Church have shown an increased interest in the general problems which arise when one attempts to incorporate into our tradition the accumulating data of the sciences. To bring about a better understanding of this topic, Calvin College is sponsoring the First Calvinistic Scientific Conference. The conference will consist of a series of short lectures introducing several basic topics, each topic being open for lengthy discussion by the group, in the hope that we may find the areas of agreement and possible disagreement which may exist among us.” On Friday morning, May 21, Dr. Cornelius Van Til and the Rev. Mr. John Weidenaar presented statements on “The Relation Between General and Special Revelation.” In the afternoon Dr. John R. Huizenga and Dr. E. Y. Monsma declared themselves on “The Nature of Natural Law in Creation.” On the following day Dr. J. P. Van Haitsma spoke on “Design and Purpose in Creation” and Dr. A. Robert Van Dyken spoke on “Carbon 14 Dating and its Implications for the Christian.” A plenary session, to which the public was invited, was held on the evening of Friday, the 21st. I was that evening the featured speaker and delivered a lecture on “The Christian and the Philosophy of Science.” The evening ended with a coffee hour that began at 10:15 PM.
At its May meeting the Board of Trustees approved the honorable emeritation of Dr. Peter Hoekstra and Dr. J. P. Van Haitsma, appointed Dr. Alexander De Jong to a one-year Lectureship in Dogmatics at the seminary, recommended that Synod establish a one-year Lectureship in Missions, and, in an action neither foreseen nor solicited, “assured both Dr. Ralph Stob and Dr. Henry Stob permanent tenure either in the seminary or somewhere in the college.”
The annual Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in the Calvin College chapel from June 9 to June 19, 1954. The 96 delegates in attendance operated under the presidency of the Rev. Mr. Herman Bel. Dr. Jan Waterink was present as the fraternal delegate from the Gereformeerde Kerken of The Netherlands, and I was appointed advisor to the committee on Protests and Appeals. In this capacity I was unhappily involved in considering a second protest presented to Synod by Harry Boer. Boer maintained that the reply given to his earlier protest by the Synod of 1953 was “an evasion of the issues raised,” and declared that he “could not receive it as an answer” to his communication. His lengthy appeal was carefully considered by the committee of advice, but the committee did not recommend reconsideration of his case, and Synod reaffirmed the stand it had previously taken in justification of the judgment made by the Synod of 1952. In other actions Synod declared that the 1952 Revised Standard Version of the Bible is not approved for use in public worship, appointed a committee to confer with the Gereformeerde Kerken of The Netherlands regarding a revision of Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, did not see the need or practicality of particular synods, and decided to abandon the South India Mission field. Synod declared, over my voiced objections, that “a consistory has the right to refuse permission to baptize adopted children,” and in a better moment “refrained from sending a directive to the Board of Trustees regarding the right or wrong method of economic organization in employer-employee relations as a part of the contract involved in building projects.” In its address to college matters Synod authorized the Board of Trustees “to construct a central heating plant on and for the east campus, and authorized the executive Committee to borrow funds for the erection of a two-unit girls’ dormitory.”
I was pleased when Synod received as information the Board’s assurance that Ralph and Henry Stob would be accorded permanent tenure either in the seminary or in the college, and when it declared that, since the two of us had had an indefinite appointment as college professors, our new seminary rank “will not involve a decrease in salary.” It added that “in the case of Dr. Henry Stob this will be retroactive.” Toward the close of Synod I was made a member of a study committee on Marital Relations. Appointed to serve with me were Peter Holwerda, Gerrit Hoeksema, William Brink, and John Ribbens.
In June, July, and August of 1954 I preached on eleven successive Sundays, and in August attended as an observer one or two of the meetings of the World Council of Churches which were being held in Evanston, Illinois. There was a good deal of talk at these meetings about Agape—Christian Love as the Greeks express it—but some news reporters, not in the know, wondered why so much was being made of mouths that were held to be agape. The highlight of the summer was no doubt the marriage of Clarence Boomsma with Shirley Balk. The wedding took place in the Calvin College chapel in the afternoon of June 24, 1954, on my 46th birthday. I united the pair in holy matrimony and succeeded in doing it felicitously, in spite of the fact that Clarence’s prospective brother-in-law had wondered whether “that old codger” could pull it off.
Important things were happening in the outside world between January and September 1954. When the year began, the United States was helping to finance the French colonial war in Vietnam, but American assistance failed to reestablish French sovereignty. The occupying troops were forced to withdraw in May when the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu was overrun by the revolutionary forces of Ho Chi Minh. In July a multi-nation conference was held in Geneva, and at this conference Vietnam was roughly split in half at the 17th parallel. Communist North Vietnam was thereafter controlled by Ho Chi Minh, and a putatively democratic South Vietnam was placed under the governance of U.S. sponsored Ngo Dinh Diem. In an effort to contain the spread of communism in the Far East, the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was set up in Manila on September 8. In the Spring of 1954 television viewers in the United States were entertained with live drama when in 35 days of public hearings Senator Joseph McCarthy was exposed and humiliated by Army Counsel Joseph Welsh. McCarthy was soon thereafter censured by the United States Senate for making rash and unsubstantiated charges against officials in the war office and in the government generally. It was in May of this year that the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Warren, ruled that segregation in the public schools is “inherently unequal” education, and thus unconstitutional.
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I began my third year of teaching at the seminary in September of 1954. New to the faculty this year was Carl Kromminga, Instructor in Homiletics. Seated on the faculty now were two Krommingas, two Kuipers, and two Stobs, a quite adventitious circumstance which could, however, prompt a critic to suspect the presence of nepotism. Wyngaarden, Schultze, and Monsma completed the faculty roster. Assisting in teaching Dogmatics, but not a faculty member, was Alexander De Jong, the recipient of a one-year appointment as a part-time Lecturer. Ninety-nine students were enrolled in the three undergraduate classes, almost half of whom were Juniors. Fourteen graduate students brought the total enrollment to 113. The college meanwhile had counted 1380 registered students.
In the Fall of 1954 Dick became a first-grader at Baxter Christian, and Ellen, now in the fourth grade, accompanied him on his daily walks to and from school. Marking the Autumn season was the appearance of Jim Daane’s book, A Theology of Grace; the purchase by General Electric of the first universal automatic computer (Univac) from Remington Rand; the establishment of the world’s first non-military atomic power plant at Shippingsport, Pennsylvania; the broadcast of the Back to God Hour’s first TV program; and the expressed intention of the Calvin Foundation to invite Dr. Lever of the Free University of Amsterdam to the States for a series of lectures on Creation and Evolution. Lever had written a book in support of an evolutionary theory, and the prospect of his appearing on campus elicited the vigorous opposition of H. J. Kuiper and others. As it turned out the projected invitation was never issued.
In the first semester of the academic year 1954-1955 I taught a revised course in Ethnic Religions, a developing course in Basic Ethics, and offered my first elective—an inquiry into the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas which attracted six students to a weekly seminar. In the course of this semester I preached on six occasions; participated in the ordination of Maas Vander Bilt and Sidney Newhouse; officiated at the weddings of William Rees with Marilyn Stob and of Charles Vander Ark with Cynthia Stob; published in the Journal an article on Jan Waterink’s visit to the campus and also a December meditation on “Christmas Fear”; was active in a group which, under sponsorship of the Christian Labor Association formulated a statement on “Christian Social Action in the United States”; and welcomed the appearance of my Montpellier lecture in the French Journal La Revue Reformee. I again sponsored the Nisi Domino Frustra Club and led its members in a study of the first book of Calvin’s Institutes. The membership consisted this year of Winston Boelkins, Henry Bouma, Henry De Rooy (Pres.), Dewey Hoitenga, Hugh Koops, Edson Lewis, Earl Marlink, Joel Nederhood (Secy.), Jack Pauw, Harlan Roelofs, Eugene Rubingh, Cecil Tuininga, Jay Vander Ark, Peter Van Egmond, and Frank Van Halsema.
In one or another of its monthly meetings the faculty considered how the granting of a Bible major in the college might effect the status and function of the seminary, contemplated meetings at regular intervals to discuss material issues in theology and in the life of the church, regulated the outside employment of students, granted the seminary choir permission to make a concert tour of Canada, and sent to the hospitalized but recovering Professor Berkhof a floral token of its esteem. Noting that the terms of four faculty members would expire at the end of this academic year, the faculty proceeded to make its recommendations to the Board. It recommended that Carl Kromminga be appointed for a two-year term as Associate Professor of Practical Theology, and that John Kromminga, Herman Kuiper, and myself be appointed to a four-year term as Associate Professors in our respective fields. To replace Dr. Alex De Jong the faculty recommended that Anthony Hoekema be appointed to a one-year Lectureship in Dogmatics, and in an effort to find an eventual replacement for the aging Professor Wyngaarden it recommended that Marten Woudstra be appointed to a one-year Instructorship in Old Testament. To fill the vacant chair of Missions the faculty sent to the Board a nomination of Harold Dekker and William Brink.
Of some interest is the fact that during this first semester Dr. Philip Hughes of London, England, delivered on campus two lectures on “Evolutionary Dogma and Christian Theology.” As might be expected he had no good word to say for an evolutionary process active in the formation of any species of flora or fauna. An event of a different sort took place in the seminary building. An able senior student who afterward distinguished himself in academia had become bored by a class lecture in Church Order, and to escape from his thralldom had on a wager exited the ground floor room through an open window. The event would later be several times recalled, not without laughter, but punishment was the immediate consequence. The offending student was “for this misconduct not allowed to exhort in our churches for the remainder of the semester.” The shape of a time that was passing was revealed when a nearby consistory complained to the faculty about “the custom some students have of returning to Grand Rapids after conducting the morning service when they are scheduled to reappear for the evening service.” It was felt that “the unnecessary travel compromises the sanctity of the sabbath.” We held chapel services in the seminary, but did not monitor attendance. It was otherwise in the college. A set of rules recently adopted by the college administration stipulated that after three unexcused absences from chapel a student would be warned, after four his parents would be notified, after five he would be suspended for a week, and after six he would be suspended for the rest of the semester.
The Board of Trustees held its usual mid-year meeting in February of 1955. I was summoned to one of its sessions, was interviewed by Rolf Veenstra and questioned by a few others, and was thereupon reappointed as Associate Professor of Ethics and Apologetics for a term of four years. The growth of the Canadian sector of the church was recognized when the college President reported that 55 Canadian students were now enrolled in the college, and when a Board committee reported that eleven immigrant ministers had accepted an invitation to attend free of charge the Ministers Institute scheduled to be held in Grand Rapids in June. It was announced that two new guild houses had recently been purchased and outfitted as residences for first year women students at the college, that the Long Range Planning Committee was preparing a ten-year master plan, and that John Hamersma would be retiring from the Board at the end of this academic year. This latter development I did not like, for it was always a pleasure to entertain my good friend when he came in for Board meetings, but his two terms had now expired and this for a time made him ineligible for further service. It appeared that a degree of tension still existed in the department of philosophy at the college, for after having served since September of 1951 Evan Runner was given only a two-year reappointment in view of “his inadequate course coverage and his difficulty in adjusting himself to the departmental program.”
The second semester began in January of 1955, and in the course of it I was burdened with the heaviest teaching load I had hitherto shouldered; the entire undergraduate student body was now enrolled in my several classes. I taught Apologetics to 44 Juniors, Polemics to 27 Middlers, and a course in Moral Problems to 26 Seniors. The course in Moral Problems was a novel offering. I thought it necessary to introduce such a course because I was unable in my course in Basic Ethics to consider the many specific issues and concerns that a practicing minister might confront during an active pastorate. In Basic Ethics I defined the nature of moral inquiry, considered the main theories of Ethics, and laid down what I considered to be the principles that should guide the Christian in making moral judgments. The new course I was now introducing was a venture into practical ethics, an attempt to confront issues difficult of solution and about which no consensus had developed. It was to be a course in “problems” not easily solved. The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees had granted me permission to introduce such a course, but it was not wholly pleased with its designation. It recommended that I “improve the name of the course.” What precisely the Committee had in mind I do not know; they wished perhaps that I would focus on “solutions” rather than on problems, on “answers” rather than on questions. I assured the Committee that I would do my best to bring to bear upon the issues I discussed the principles I had elsewhere enunciated, but that I thought the name I had chosen for the course fitted it exactly and that I was indisposed to change it. This interchange of views took place in December of 1954, and in January of 1955 President R. B. Kuiper advised me several times to change the name and focus of the course, but this in good conscience I could not do, and the name and drift of the course remained unaltered during all the years I offered it.
I don’t remember all the subjects we touched upon during the course of this semester. I seem to recall that we discussed the “white lie”; the rationale of “Christian Social Organization”; “birth control”; “abortion”; “divorce” and a few other topics, but what I vividly remember is the session we held on “artificial insemination.” I had not on the other issues we had discussed needed outside help, but to gain an insight into what is involved in artificial insemination I had invited my friend Dr. Peter Northouse to address the class on the intricacies of the procedure in question. Dr. Northouse, a gynecologist and obstetrician, appeared before the class on March 8, 1955, and remained during the whole of the two and a half hour session we held that afternoon. Several issues arose during the discussion that ensued—the marriage bond, adultery, masturbation, donorship, infertility, and the like—and by way of question and comment I gave some indication of where I stood on the question. Although I regarded masturbation as a questionable practice forgivable when indulged in by persons in their puberty, I did not in the context of artificial insemination consider it illicit, although I did insist that the sperm-donor might be none other than the husband of the woman who was to be impregnated. I judged that the inviolability of holy wedlock needed to be preserved, and that children should be conceived and brought to birth within the bounds of a monogamous marital relationship. Much beyond that I did not go; I was this day not the lecturer, and I was neither disposed to quarrel with a guest who had taken time from a busy schedule to accommodate me, nor to expand in a systematic fashion on a matter that had engaged us during most of the afternoon. When the long session ended I asked the class whether it felt the need to continue the discussion at a subsequent meeting. The great majority felt that the subject had been sufficiently illuminated and that we should proceed to the next topic on our agenda.
After the class meeting a number of students expressed their appreciation of what had gone on, and there was not one who expressed misgivings, annoyance, or disapproval. On the following day, however, the President of the seminary asked to see me. He told me that three students had expressed to him their outrage at my performance. They had charged me with consenting to everything the guest lecturer had said, and with failure to present a clear case against a practice which they regarded as manifestly wicked and perverse. The President did not name the students concerned and passed no judgment on the incident, but did advise me to schedule another class session on the controverted subject, and this I readily consented to do. At a subsequent meeting of the class I entered upon a systematic analysis of the procedure and subjected donor insemination to a basic critique. It was then that I learned who my critics were. One was Cecil Tuininga, a member of the original “sacred seven,” and the others were Nick Vogelzang and Jack Matheis, the apprenticed outriders of that nettlesome group. I learned in addition that the three had complained not only to R. B. Kuiper, the President of the seminary, but also to John Vander Ploeg, the chairman of the Board’s Executive Committee. But that was not all. Tuininga had written to his friend Harry Van Dyken, the erstwhile leader of the “sacred seven,” who since his graduation from the seminary had been installed as Pastor of the Second Christian Reformed Church of Redlands, California. In his letter Tuininga urged Van Dyken to initiate ecclesiastical action against me. All this went on behind my back. Not once throughout this entire episode did the three indicate to me that the discussion on artificial insemination had left them dissatisfied, or that they were taking steps to improve my sentiments and behavior and perhaps to effect my dismissal from the seminary.
Harry Van Dyken evidently brought the matter to the attention of his consistory, for in early April I received from the clerk of that consistory a letter which said, in part:
It has come to our attention that on or about March 8, 1955, you had a guest lecturer in your class on Moral Problems who spoke favorably of artifical insemination for humans; and in connection with that minimized, or possibly even obviated the sinfulness of the practice of masturbation. The information at hand indicates that you apparently approved the thrust of the lecture; or, at least, failed to show your disapproval in any appreciable manner. . . . It is our hope that the information received may be proven groundless. If this cannot be done, we would deeply appreciate as much information on this lecture as you can give us.
The same letter, or a similar one, was sent to the President of the seminary and to the President of the Senior class. After a lapse of some time I sent a brief reply to the clerk of the consistory indicating that I had in the first session pointed to weaknesses in the argument of the guest lecturer, and had in a subsequent session made what I considered to be a responsible Christian appraisal of the practice in question. Rod Westveer, the President of the Senior class, also made a reply. In his letter he said,
The doctor began by presenting the issue from a medical viewpoint. He the looked at the matter from the standpoint of our faith. Some of his conclusions appeared to differ from those which some of us held, though the doctor made it clear that he was taking a position in order to provoke discussion. But enough about the doctor. The point is—on the basic matters Dr. Stob did not agree with the doctor. After the doctor concluded his lecture and after the class had questioned him, Dr. Stob pinpointed the main issues and indicated his own position on the matter. . . . If any objections still remained, they were, or at least should have been, completely removed the following week at our regular meeting. At that time Dr. Stob presented a concise Christian case against artificial insemination for humans (by donor).
I do not know whether R. B. Kuiper responded to the letter from the Redlands consistory. What I do know is that he brought the consistory’s letter to the Executive Committee of the Board and, with John Vander Ploeg, involved that Committee in a serious and prolonged consideration of the students’ complaint.
It was on April 14, 1955, that the Executive Committee first addressed the issue. R. B. Kuiper introduced the matter by reading the letter he had received from the Redlands consistory and by reporting the conversation he had had with Tuininga and his associates. I was thereupon called in to respond to the charges made against me. Discussion followed, but no conclusion was reached, and this led to the appointment later that day of a small “investigating” committee. Named to it were R. B. Kuiper, John Vander Ploeg, and John Breuker, the first two of whom had previously responded sympathetically to the concerns of the disaffected students. On April 20 the investigators indicated that their “study” had not been completed, but they presented to the Executive Committee a preliminary report in which the hand of R. B. Kuiper was clearly visible. They declared that “Dr. Henry Stob engaged in a questionable practice when he invited an ‘outside’ speaker to a class without first obtaining the approval of the President of the seminary, and he erred in inviting Dr. Northouse to speak on ‘Artificial Insemination of Human Beings’ and ‘Masturbation’ when he knew the position of Dr. Northouse on these practices and yet did not give an unmistak-enly clear Scriptural refutation of Dr. Northouse’s position at the same session of the class.” The fact is, of course, that I did not require the President’s approval for inviting a guest lecturer, that I did not know just where Northouse stood on the issue, and that I did not then or later regard artificial insemination as something to be condemned when engaged in by a husband and wife active in the exercise of their Christian freedom. But this is an “aside,” and not part of the ongoing story. When the “preliminary” report became known, the Senior class as a whole entered the fray. A letter was composed and signed by 23 of its 26 members, the non-signers being Tuininga, Vogelzang, and Matheis. The writers did not in their letter address themselves to the issue of “presidential permission,” but confined themselves to a discussion of the posture I had assumed during the class sessions. They said, in part, that
. . . at no point did Dr. Stob agree with the arguments of Dr. Northouse. Instead, overagainst Dr. Northouse’s assertion that artificial insemination by donor was not a case of adultery Dr. Stob stated that by divine ordinance conception and birth are required to occur within holy wedlock, and that artificial insemination (of the sort contemplated) unwarrantably introduced a third party. . . . At the conclusion of this meeting it was felt and said that the issues in terms of which the two practices should be judged had been illuminated. . . . We believe that Dr. Stob was not remiss in his duty since he provided the right principle in terms of which artificial insemination should be judged.”
The special committee of inquiry made its definitive report to the Executive Committee on May 3, 1955. The amended report contained Findings and Recommendations. The committee “found” that I had invited Dr. Northouse without consulting the President, that I was aware of Northouse’s favorable stance on artifical insemination, that at the first meeting I failed to condemn the practice outright, that in a subsequent class session I put things to rights, but that even then some members of the class remained in doubt as to whether artificial insemination was “sin.” These “findings” were received as information, and the following recommendations were adopted:
. . . that the Executive Committee express to Dr. Henry Stob its regrets that he did not in the session with Dr. Northouse in forthright fashion condemn artitificial insemination as contrary to Christian ethics; that Dr. Stob be commended for his condemnation of that practice in a subsequent session of his class; and that, in the light of this incident, the Executive Committee again request Dr. Stob to alter the name of this course now known as ‘Moral Problems,’ or change the description of this course in the catalog so as to stress Scriptural solutions to these problems.
The three students were lightly censured. They were reproved for their failure to present their objections to me before they approached the chairman of the Executive Committee, and Tuininga was reproved for instigating ecclesiastical action “before taking all possible steps toward rendering such action unnecessary.”
When this document came into my hands, I took no pleasure in it, and determined to address the full Board regarding it. In a letter dated May 24, 1955, I commented on the “Findings” by saying, among other things, that in inviting Dr. Northouse to address my class without consulting the President I was not violating protocol but acting in accordance with common and well-established academic practice; and that, not being the lecturer on the occasion of Dr. Northouse’s visit, I was not in a position to do more than probe, comment, and demur, all of which I did to my own satisfaction and to that of everyone but the three censorious litigants. Regarding the proposal that I change the name of the course and alter its description so as “to stress Scriptural solutions,” I informed the Board that I had no disposition to do so, and that I needed no catalog entry to remind me of my obligation to address moral problems in the light of Scripture. The Board took cognizance of my letter, when it met in late May, took no action on it, and referred it for disposition to the Executive Committee.
The unpleasant episode here recorded ended when on June 1, 1955 the dissident students sent me a letter of apology for their failure to observe due order in filing their protest, and when on October 14, 1955, the Executive Committee informed me that “it did not intend its expression of regret as an official rebuke,” and also that its request to alter the name of my course “was not based upon the judgment that Dr. Stob was not stressing Scriptural solutions of moral problems, but upon the general consideration that the seminary ought in its catalog to stress the fact that all of its instruction is Scriptural.” With this I could live, and with this the three month long distraction came to a close.
The close of this episode was, however, attended by the opening of another. The Board of Trustees which at its May meeting had processed a complaint about my moral insensibility in the case of artificial insemination, was now presented with a detailed complaint about my doctrinal aberrations and pedagogical deficiencies. It was in receipt of a six-page communication from the same three restless and indefatigable critics who had felt uncomfortable in my class on Moral Problems. In their address to the Board Cecil Tuininga, Nicholas Vogelzang, and Jack Matheis declared that they had “serious misgivings concerning Dr. Henry Stob’s teachings.” They felt that “the matter is of such a weighty nature” that they would be neglecting their “God-given duty” should they keep silent. My teachings, they said, “lacked a positive Reformed emphasis.” The views I expressed in my apologetics course “make the antithesis between believer and unbeliever irrelevant and nullifies the Christian warfare.” I had in the course in Basic Ethics elicited their “serious misgivings” when I posited the existence of a “natural love” and when in commenting on Reprobation I had made “several statements of a questionable nature.” My method of teaching left much to be desired. The students, they said, “are given no definite principles to guide their thinking along Reformed lines.” My “method of pedagogy is unreformed, and dangerous for the future of our church, since it harbors within it the dangerous practice of speculative thinking outside of the context of Scripture and our Reformed Confessions.” They solemnly averred that they were bringing these and other things to the attention of the Board so that “God’s Kingdom may be served and His name receive the praise and the honor and the glory.” They indicated, too, that should they not be sustained by the Board they would appeal to Synod.
There were countervailing testimonies from whole classes in the seminary, including one from the Junior class, but to assure itself that I had not in fact departed from the faith and had not lost every aptitude to teach, the Board summoned me to appear for an interview. I was questioned by Nicholas Monsma and Ralph Bos, and by others in the group, upon which a general discussion ensued in which I set forth my views, and in which I also commented on the impropriety of inquisitorial proceedings precipitated by habitual dissidents with a cause to plead. The Board lost no time in reaching a decision. It declared that “having heard Dr. Henry Stob, it does not share the misgivings of the document of the students Tuininga, Vogelzang, and Matheis,” ordered that “the President of the Board express this to these men,” and appointed a committee to deal with the students further.” In a letter to me under the date of June 4, 1955, Tuininga, Vogelzang, and Matheis wrote:
Dear Dr. Stob:
After conferences with President Kuiper and a committee of the Board of Trustees we are forwarding you this communication . . . . On the one hand, we cannot honestly say that our misgivings have been removed. We are still of the opinion that your teaching tends to belittle doctrines of the antithesis, reprobation, and total depravity . . . . On the other hand, we are not ruling out the possibility that the differences which have arisen between you and us may, if carefully analyzed, prove to be differences within the confines of our Confessions. In view of the latter consideration we do not intend to appeal to the coming Synod from the Board’s decision on this matter.
And with that this additional sorry chapter the year’s proceedings also came to an end.
Letters from friends and from students past and present kept pouring in while these things were going on, and some of them I was bound to answer. I was kept busy meanwhile performing the various duties and responsibilities that devolved upon me. I met my classes regularly, attended committee meetings, counseled students, met several times with the synodical committee on marital relations to which I had been assigned, preached on ten different occasions, published in the Journal an article on “Jesus and the Old Testament,” another on “Faith and Science,” and still another on “Can Physics be Christian?,” and delivered an evening lecture before a large audience at a meeting sponsored by the Grand Rapids Chapter of the Calvin Alumni Association.
I, of course, attended the monthly meetings of the faculty, where business was transacted as usual, and where my customary relations with the President gave no hint of our sometimes adversarial involvements with the Executive Committee and the Board. The faculty celebrated the birth of the seminary at a Dies Natalis banquet in March, adopted a sophisticated book-buying policy governing library acquisitions, and in May recommended most seniors for candidacy. Among the latter were Tuininga, Vogelzang, and Matheis, in the voting on whom I chose to abstain. Of some interest was a letter addressed to the faculty by the Middler class. In its letter the class commented unfavorably on a statement appearing in a Board of Trustees’ Report published in The Banner of March 25, 1955. In criticism of that statement the class questioned “the assumption that marriage results in lower scholastic achievements,” questioned “the (further) assumption that the general level of student work is lower than it had been in preceding years,” and declared that “a warning concerning the level of work and the academic disadvantages of the married estate has never been issued to seminary students.” The faculty received the letter as information and instructed the Secretary to write an appropriate reply. I don’t recall how I responded, but it was evident to me that the judgments made by the Board did not rest upon faculty assessments.
When the Board of Trustees met in May of 1955 it had more to do than attend to complaints against me. It recommended 26 seminary graduates for candidacy, licensed 38 Juniors to exhort, and admitted to the seminary 34 recent graduates of the college. It recommended the appointment of Harold Dekker to a one-year term as Lecturer in Missions at the seminary; appointed Alan Gebben, Harold Geerdes, Carl Sinke, and Sherman Van Solkema to the college staff; and accepted the resignations of Henry Bruinsma and Calvin André. Noting that Professor R. B. Kuiper’s term of office would expire after a year, the Board appointed a Presidential Nominating Committee consisting of four Board members and three faculty members. Interesting in the light of later developments was the Board’s reaction to a notice about a member of the philosophy department. Martin Monsma called the Board’s attention to the views allegedly held by Cecil De Boer concerning theistic evolution. The Board in response initiated no inquisition, but adopted instead the recommendation of a sub-committee, which read: “In view of the scientific and philosophical climate involving the problem of theistic evolution, the Board proposes a series of conferences of philosophers, theologians, and scientists within our academic community to discuss the theological, scientific, and pedagogical issues involved.” As far as I know the proposal was never implemented, but this openness to discussion I regarded as courageous and salutory.
The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in the Calvin College chapel from June 8 to June 18, 1955. The Rev. Mr. Henry Baker presided at its sessions and was assisted by John Vander Ploeg, Peter Holwerda, and R. Tolsma. I was again present as advisor to Synod, and was assigned for specific duties to the committee on Protests and Appeals. Among the protests we had to consider was one submitted by Joseph Gritter, the head of the Christian Labor Union. He objected to the election by the Boston Square congregation of a deacon who was a member of a “secular” union, the UAW-CIO. His complaint was fortunately disallowed. The study committee on Marital Relations, of which I was a member, had not been able to complete its work, but in our brief interim report to Synod we did indicate that we were tending to differ substantially with the findings submitted by a companion committee on divorce. The issue of women’s voting rights at congregational meetings remained unresolved; Synod appointed yet another committee “to make a thorough study of the Scripture passages bearing on the matter.” The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations was at this time considering calendar reform, and Synod expressed its gratification when the government of the United States opposed the proposed plan on the ground that “a blank day at the end of each year would disrupt the seven-day sabbatical cycle.” Synod was informed that the committee on the Revision of the Psalter Hymnal was hard at work, that construction had been started on the Denominational Building at Kalamazoo Avenue and 28th Street, and that according to a recent census 100,000 Dutch immigrants had in the post-war years settled in Canada, of which number 30,000 were of Reformed persuasion. In a series of elections John Vander Ploeg was named to succeed H. J. Kuiper as Editor of The Banner, Henry De Wit was appointed Business Manager at the college, Sydney Youngsma’s term as Development Secretary was extended, and the Rev. Mr. E. F. J. Van Halsema was asked to teach Dutch on a part-time basis. By action of Synod Anthony Hoekema, Harold Dekker, and Marten Woudstra were added to the seminary teaching staff, and I was reappointed as Associate Professor for a period of four years. The appointments to the seminary staff were made in executive session, from which R. B. Kuiper was excluded. This displeased him and he wrote a letter to Synod protesting his exclusion. No action was taken on his protest.
I spent most of the summer at home in pursuit of my studies. The family did, however, take a two-week vacation, which we spent at a rented cottage on Big Star Lake. Although my outside activities were limited, I did preach on eight Sundays during June, July, and August, united Nickolas Wolterstorff and Claire Kingma in marriage on June 25, and published in July an article in the Journal on “Science and Pure Reason.” During the first eight months of the year 1955 nothing particularly startling occurred on the world stage. Worth noting, however, is the fact that West Germany joined the NATO alliance, that Anthony Eden replaced Winston Churchill as Prime Minister of Britain, that Marshall Bulganin replaced Malenkov in the Soviet leadership, and that Chiang Kai Shek fortified the islands of Qemoy and Matsu, which lay just off the shore of mainland China. During this time, too, Richard Daley became Mayor of Chicago, AFL and CIO effected a merger, and commercial aviation began using jet-propelled aircraft.