INTIMATIONS OF MORTALITY
At the beginning of the academic year 1956-1957 there were eleven members on the seminary faculty, the newest member being Fred Klooster, who had been appointed to a chair in Dogmatics by the Synod of 1956. There were 125 students enrolled in the seminary, and 1751 in the college. The Board of Trustees ran both schools on a budget that for the first time reached the one million dollar mark. I was paid a gross annual salary of 7,140 dollars.
During the first semester—in the fall of 1956—I taught a course in Basic Ethics in the seminary, and also conducted a seminar on St. Augustine. I was recruited once more to help out in the college’s philosophy department, where I delivered lectures on the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas to a small class of senior students. I again led the members of the seminary student club in a study of Calvin’s Institutes, met frequently with the members of the synodical committee on Marital Relations, preached on four occasions, and published in The Banner of November 2 an article on “St. Paul the Pastor.”
The faculty met at regular intervals during the semester, and at its first meeting reelected me as Secretary and named Fred Klooster as Registrar. John Kromminga, our new President, presided at our meetings and conducted them with competence and poise. The three of us constituted the Committee on Educational Policy. On September 15, 1956, the faculty hosted a dinner in honor of the retiring President R. B. Kuiper, and some days later held a reception for the incoming students at which I spoke on “Education in College and Seminary: A Comparison.” In the course of our meetings we requested the denominational Publication Committee to publish in the new Psalter Hymnal the complete text of the Canons of Dort, including the Epilogue, which had hitherto been omitted, established a Fund to finance the publication of scholarly studies, met with the college faculty in a science seminar, set aside a class period each week for outside lecturers, and recommended the reappointment of staff members whose terms would soon expire.
Although the legal instruments giving the Board of Trustees possession of the Knollcrest campus were not signed until December 31, 1956, the property began to be utilized as early as August 1. During the month of August and throughout the fall the Physical Education Department laid out a temporary running track and baseball diamond. After school began some buildings on the grounds were used for student socials, and Mr. and Mrs. George Kamp were installed in the Manor House, which came also to be used for conferences and guest lodging. The Hekman brothers who had financed the erection on the old campus of both the seminary building and the library were naturally concerned about these structures, which stood as memorials to their parents, but they graciously consented to their eventual sale, and requested only that the cornerstones be preserved and used elsewhere.
In November of 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower, with Richard Nixon as his running mate, defeated Adlai Stevenson for the Presidency of the United States, and was thereby assured of a second term in office. At age 21 Elvis Presley was crooning his way into the hearts of swooning bobby-soxers, and Charles Heston was starring as Moses in The Ten Commandments. Egypt came into the news when on October 29 President Nasser, angered by United States pressure on Aswan, nationalized the Suez Canal. Israel, aided and abetted by England and France, invaded the Sinai Peninsula and, after defeating the Egyptian army, reached the banks of the Suez Canal on November 2. In response to a threat by Prime Minister Anthony Eden of Great Britain, Nasser blocked the canal by sinking ships across the channel, and this brought the United States and the Soviet Union into the dispute. By exerting diplomatic pressures they forced the British to evacuate their Suez base, and upon their leaving a United Nations contingent was sent in to maintain order. What stirred the interest of the world even more was what was happening in Hungary. In November of 1956 the people there rose up against the existing communist regime, but the insurgency was put down within a week by massive Soviet forces which brutally reestablished control while ignoring the feeble protests of the irresolute and non-interfering Western Powers.
Many Hungarian freedom fighters fell before the Soviet onslaught, but death stalked the corridors of our life as well. On October 3, 1956, my brother George died at the early age of 56. George had some years before undergone surgery for rectal cancer, had now gone to the hospital for remedial treatment, and had there succumbed from the effects of a blood clot in his lungs. George was by eight years my senior, but we were of like mind and spirit, and I delighted to be in his company. He was a devoted member of the church which he regularly served as Elder, and he was a masterful leader of the Men’s Society which he customarily led in Bible study. A layman with limited formal education, he possessed an alert and inquisitive mind which he exercised with exceptional discernment and wisdom on almost every issue that arose in state and church. His passing impoverished us all and was an especial shock to me who found in him a constant source of strength and encouragement. Although he had lately moved with his family to Wheaton, Illinois, the funeral services were held in the First Christian Reformed Church of Cicero, which had long been his church home. Mart and I attended the funeral and saw our dear brother interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery on Saturday, October 6, 1956.
During this time Hilda’s mother, Mrs. Winnie De Graaf, lay in a weakened condition in Cutlerville’s Pine Rest Hospital, and a few months later, on December 12, 1956, she died at the age of 84. Her going to meet her Lord meant a loss for us, but in her condition and at her age we could not quarrel with the destiny that effected her release, and we were content to live with the pleasant memories we had of our life together.
The death of Mother De Graaf occurred in the shadow of another, more tragic, death that took place just ten days before. On Sunday, December 2, 1956, Henry Zylstra, my close friend and constant companion, died of a heart attack at the age of 47. He was struck down suddenly and unexpectedly while standing on a street corner, his wife Mildred at his side. It happened far from home, while he was on leave from Calvin College fulfilling a one-year appointment as Senior Lecturer in English and American Literature at the Free University of Amsterdam. Accompanied by his wife and two children, Hank had set sail for The Netherlands in late August. It was his first trip to Europe, and life aboard the Dutch Liner Maasdam suited him fine, as his first letter to me attested. He wrote frequently during the short three months of his stay on Dutch soil, the last letter being dated November 29, and it was apparent from his correspondence that he was heavily engaged.
The month of September seems to have been taken up with adjustments to Dutch life and customs. After the family had established itself in Amstelveen, Hank attended a two-week orientation course provided by the Fulbright Foundation, and which took place in Noordwyk aan Zee. He followed this with visits to the Franz Hals Museum in Haarlem and the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, and with studied explorations of his new environment. He subscribed early on to various Dutch papers and periodicals which, with his long-standing mastery of the language, he had no trouble in digesting. Beginning in October he went to the University three times a week to deliver to appreciative audiences the lectures he had prepared, the students defying custom by attending the sessions with uncommon regularity. On these and other days he immersed himself in the life of the University by making acquaintance with the members of the staff and by attending the various functions that dotted the school’s calendar. He seems in November to have overtaxed himself. Besides delivering the prescribed lectures and holding court with his students, he met often with the Calvin alumni resident in the city, addressed the student corps, spoke over Radio Hilversum, wrote an article for Bezinning and another for De Gids, prepared an “Amsterdam Letter” for The Reformed Journal, completed a translation of a Dutch pamphlet on Peter Stuyvesant, took charge of an English worship service in Amstelveen’s St. Paulus Kerk, attended the convocation service of the theological school in Kampen, and did other things besides. As though this were not enough, he informed me on November 29 that “requests for my services are piling up, and the old leisure is fading.”
On the evening of Sunday, December 2, 1956, Hank and Mildred were guests, with the Berkouwers, at the home of Professor and Mrs. Grosheide. Upon leaving the house later that evening, they walked a short distance to a bus stop. It was while they were waiting there for the arrival of the bus that Hank said, “There is something not right!,” and with that he fell into his wife’s arms and then into the street. A moment later he was dead. Someone called an ambulance and summoned the police. The stricken husband and the distraught and unbelieving wife were thereupon brought to the Wilhelmina Gasthuis nearby. Friends stayed with Mildred that night, and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday the American students–among them Gene Rubingh and Doug Vander Wall—watched over the sorrowing and inconsolable woman who had in a twinkling of an eye been bereft of her dear husband. On Tuesday, December 4, a short service was held in an Amsterdam funeral home, and on Wednesday evening Mildred and the children were put on a plane and sent on their way back to the States. George Stob came to New York to receive them, and Ray Vander Meer met them in Detroit. The body from which a noble soul had fled arrived in Grand Rapids on Saturday, December 8. A memorial service was held in the college auditorium on Friday, the 7th, at which I led in prayer, and on Monday, the 10th, a funeral service was held in the LaGrave Avenue Church where Jake Eppinga preached the sermon and I delivered the eulogy. Hank is now with the Lord, and his body awaits the resurrection while resting in a marked grave in Woodlawn Cemetery.
There are no words adequate to express my grief at the death of a man whose life was intertwined with mine for the better part of twenty-eight years. He was my friend during student days, my close colleague afterward, and my congenial co-worker on the Journal which with other friends we founded and co-edited. I spoke of him at the funeral and said, in part, that . . . what defined him was a moral quality: simplicity. What distinguished him, besides his acute intelligence and vast erudition, was unity, singleness, integrity, wholeness. He was of one piece. He was focussed. There was in him a veritable concentration of power. It was this that accounted for the weight of him; it was this that lay behind the impact that he made. His eye was single. This gave a linear and incisive quality to his character and to all his powers. He was not one to be misled by irrelevances. He could not easily be diverted. And he was intolerant of sham. To him pretension was an impertinence. Nothing pleased him more than authenticity. Toward human foibles he was charitable, toward human greatness respectful, toward human persons kind and helpful, but toward human authority reticent and detached. He had given his heart in pawn to God, and he could not own any man, party, or program as his master. He did not reject the truth because evil men held it; and he did not accept error because good men proclaimed it. He had his own direction, and it was laid out by God. Here was a man who, touched by grace, was sent to serve us, and to disclose to us the heights men may reach who faithfully employ their gifts in subservience to the God who gave them.
In the January 1957 issue of the Journal I published an “In Memoriam” in celebration of Hank’s life and works.
When death intrudes, the deceased are laid to rest and the life of the community goes on, and so it was in this instance too. The first semester was still in progress at the seminary, and what dominated it was the issue of the presidency. John Kromminga had received a one-year appointment; and, with the expiration of his term in view, the Executive committee reactivated its Nominating committee and instructed it to present a list of electable candidates. Constituting the seven-man committee were four Board members (W. Van Rees, D. De Vries, L. Greenway, and J. Breuker) and three faculty members (H. Kuiper, M. Monsma, and H. Schultze). On January 4, 1957, the faculty was informed that the committee would be presenting to the Board a nomination consisting of John Bratt, Fred Klooster, Ned Stonehouse, and John Kromminga. Obliged to react to this proposal, we discussed the nomination and proceeded to vote. Although no nominee received unanimous endorsement, the nomination as a whole obtained the faculty’s endorsement. Since I favored the reelection of Kromminga, I was dubious about the candidacy of Bratt, and could not support the candidacy of Klooster and Stonehouse. What surprised and disappointed me was that even at this stage two members of the faculty, happily unknown to me, voted against the candidacy of Kromminga. The majority of the faculty submitted its written evaluation to the Board on January 18, and I submitted my assessment a bit later. Under date of February 4, 1957, this is what I wrote:
I am happy that the Nominating Committee is proposing Dr. John Kromminga as a candidate to succeed himself in the Presidency of Calvin Seminary. I consider that he has acquitted himself well and that he will continue to administer the affairs of the Seminary in the best interests of the church.
I should have preferred to see Dr. Kromminga simply nominated for reappointment, but since there is some doubt as to the procedural propriety of this, I am pleased that Dr. Bratt is being proposed as a second candidate. Although I should regret his being elected to replace Dr. Kromminga, Dr. Bratt, in my opinion, possesses important qualifications for the Presidency.
I am sorry that I cannot say the same for the other two men who are being proposed by the Committee. Since it was my duty last year to comment on the candidacy of Dr. Klooster, I perhaps may be allowed at this time to do no more than point out that Dr. Klooster has neither the maturity, nor the learning, nor the ecclesiastical and academic experience, nor the qualities of leadership, nor the accumulated evidence of achievement that should be found in one being seriously proposed for so responsible a post as the President of a Theological Seminary.
Dr. Stonehouse has many of the qualifications that Dr. Klooster lacks and might in the abstract be taken into serious consideration for the Presidency. But in the concrete his candidacy, in my judgment, is an irrelevancy and an affront to the church. I judge that we are not so lacking in the kind of talent required for the Presidency that we must reach out to a man who is not one of us, who has not borne the burden of our common effort, who is disoriented to our burning problems, who is relatively unknown to our constituency, who is known to lack enthusiasm for a church-controlled Seminary, who when he set out to get a theological education bypassed our own Seminary in favor of another, and who for about two decades now has been a member of another denomination which in temper and outlook differs significantly from our own.
Concurring in the nomination of Drs. Kromminga and Bratt, I regret that I cannot endorse the nomination of Drs. Klooster and Stonehouse.
The Board of Trustees convened on February 5, 1957, and at its first session considered the proposed nomination in the light of the assessments submitted by the members of the faculty. After lengthy discussion the Board decided “(1) to present a nomination to Synod; (2) to receive the nomination of the Nominating Committee as a working basis; (3) to add the name of Dr. Henry Stob to the working list; and (4) to close the list with the addition of this fifth name.” It thereupon referred my name to the Nominating Committee and to the faculty for evaluation. John Kromminga who, as Seminary President, was present at this meeting informed me early that evening that my name had been added to the gross list of candidates, and before I retired for the night I composed the following letter, which I submitted to the Board promptly the next morning.
I have just heard by way of the President that there is a disposition on the part of at least some members of the Board to take me under consideration as a possible nominee for the office of Seminary President.
I hope I shall not appear insensitive and ungrateful to any when I declare that I should prefer not to have my name considered or proposed. Recognizing that no true servant of the Lord can leave unheeded a genuine and unmistakable call of his King, it is nevertheless my honest desire that in this instance, and with reference to myself, no call be issued, or even contemplated.
I make this statement the more freely because as I have elsewhere indicated, I consider that Dr. Kromminga has performed his duties well and should be invited to carry forward the work he has begun.
On the evening of that day—February 6, 1957—the faculty met in special session to consider my candidacy. Unaware of the letter I had written that morning, the members of the faculty decided by a vote of 7 to 2 not to recommend me for the presidency and instructed M. Wyngaarden and M. Monsma to draw up the faculty’s evaluation. This written evaluation was approved by the faculty on the morning of the 7th and sent on to the Board. On February 8, after the several evaluations of my candidacy had been read, the Board decided to vote for two from the nomination of five, and (to quote from the official Minutes) “the result of the balloting disclosed that Dr. John Kromminga and Dr. Henry Stob were elected by the Board as the nomination to be presented to Synod for the Seminary Presidency.” This nomination was adopted without alteration by the Synod when it met in June of 1957, and when the balloting took place John Kromminga was, to my complete satisfaction, expeditiously returned to office, this time for a period of four years.
The Board that met in February of 1957 had more to do than attend to the presidency of the seminary. It appointed a number of people to the college staff, most notably Lewis Smedes, Andrew Bandstra, and Anthony Hoekema, and it reappointed to the seminary staff the people whose terms were about to expire. Notable here, however, is the fact that Herman Kuiper, “in view of the fact that his manner of teaching is not effective,” was given only a one-year reappointment. This displeased him, and, in response to his protestations, the May Board recommended him for reappointment to a three-year term, at the end of which he would reach retirement age. The issue of Evan Runner’s incumbency was again before the February Board. It was reported that Runner’s adaptation to the curricular order was irregular, that he did not cover the field assigned to him, and that he failed to follow the sequences and observe the requirements laid down by the department of philosophy. In the light of these representations the Board reappointed Runner for a term of one year and instructed its Executive Committee “to study the total problem of Dr. Runner’s place and continued presence at Calvin College.”
What highlighted the first semester, besides the issue of the presidency, was the invitation I received to lecture in Japan. The Reformed Seminary in Kobe wished me to conduct a course in Ethics and to speak as well in other Japanese institutions. It appears that I was recommended for these assignments by our missionaries on the field, all of whom had at one time or another been my students. The first intimation I had that things were astir in Japan was induced by a letter I received from Leonard Sweetman in mid-November of 1956. He wrote, “Since you are undoubtedly aware of the decision of the recent General Assembly of the Reformed Church in Japan relevant to your services during the course of the next academic year, I wish to enter into correspondence with you pertaining to the details of the invitation.” In my reply I told Len that I was not aware until now that my services were sought, and that, since I was not in receipt of a formal invitation, I could hardly make a relevant response. I indicated, however, that the prospect of my going was pleasing, and it was apparently this indication that nerved the face-saving Japanese authorities to issue the invitation previously decided upon. In a letter dated December 15, 1956, the Trustees of the Reformed Theological Seminary in Kobe wrote, “We cordially invite and earnestly request you to come to give a course of lectures at our Seminary.” They added, “The General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution expressing the hope that you will speak not only at the Seminary, but use every opportunity to speak outside the Seminary as well.”
I was encouraged on all sides to accept the invitation, but there were problems to be faced. I did not wish to use my forthcoming sabbatical for this purpose; nor did I relish the thought of leaving Hilda and the children for an extended period; and it was not clear how the whole venture would be financed, the Japanese Church not being in a position to defray the expenses. In the end everything fell into place. The President of the Seminary and the Board of Trustees granted me the requisite “leave”; although taking no pleasure in my eventual departure, Hilda endorsed the project with her usual grace; and the Calvin Foundation and the Board of Missions agreed to underwrite the venture. I accordingly informed the people in Japan on January 20, 1957, that I would come in 1958, would teach in Kobe during the quarter that ran from April through July, and would come alone in order to reduce expenses and to resolve more easily the problem of housing and maintenance. This met with the hearty approval of all concerned, and there for the present the matter rested.
The second semester of the academic year 1956-1957 was by this time in progress, and in it I taught Apologetics to 29 juniors, Polemics to 43 middlers, and Moral Problems to 43 Seniors. I preached during the semester on nine occasions, and published in The Banner of April 12, 1957, an article on “Why Jesus Wanted to be Baptized.” We were now in our centennial year, and upon the invitation of a number of east coast churches I addressed public rallies in three New Jersey localities in March on the centennial theme “God’s Favor our Challenge.” I also spoke to a Grand Rapids audience on the same theme in April. I was busy meanwhile editing the Journal and writing articles for it. I published in March a long article on “The Mind of the Church,” and in April another of equal size on “The Mind of Safety.” These pieces received considerable attention in the church, and were in many quarters received with approval and in some cases even with acclaim, but there were those who did not like what I had written. Chief among these was H. J. Kuiper who since his retirement from The Banner had assumed the editorship of the Torch and Trumpet. In the May-June issue of that periodical he published a critique of my “Mind of Safety” under the title “Safety First!”
Kuiper began by saying, “We cannot at present recall any article with which we disagree so completely as the one now under consideration.” It is, he said, “a misrepresentation, a caricature or distortion” of an attitude he confessedly took toward things, the attitude of “Safety First.” He went on to declare that “we should make the safety of the church our first concern,” that “our first and foremost task is to cling to our heritage,” and that the “preservation of the church’s purity” should for everyone be paramount. I had indicated in my article how the mind of safety had come to expression in the course of our history, how it had fostered the development of certain attitudes, how it had addressed certain issues, and how it had led to the adoption of certain positions. In a subsequent (July-August) issue of the Torch and Trumpet, Kuiper addressed himself to these remarks. He deemed it “dangerous” for a seminary graduate to attend “any liberal Seminary or University for post-graduate work”; the young man had better go to the Free University, or to Westminster. He justified his objection to Dr. Lever’s appearance upon our campus by observing that Lever was known “to be sympathetic to theistic evolution,” and it is not safe to come into living contact with a man who espouses views of this sort. He disagreed with the position the church had recently taken on Divorce and Remarraige, held that unbiblically divorced persons who remarried were living in continual adultery, and judged that to hold otherwise would encourage divorce and threaten the purity of the church. He doubted whether it is possible for a person to confess Christ’s name “in the typical labor union of our day,” and maintained that the Synod of 1928 had strictly forbidden attendance at movies, and had done so in order “to promote obedience to the precepts of Christ.” I had wondered whether the mind of safety was hospitable to theological advance. Kuiper was sure that it was, but he did not think it was sound theological inquiry “to continue to raise questions about issues that had been settled, for example those dealing with higher criticism,” and he decried “expeditions into the fields of more or less liberal or neo-orthodox thought to show how much good can be found there.” It was evident from all this that Kuiper and I were of different “minds,” and, deeming it proper that the church should judge between us, I did not undertake to reply.
Faculty meetings were held as usual during this semester. We considered whether applicants for admission to the seminary should submit to a psychiatric examination, had lunch and conversation with Paul Tillich when on March 16 he appeared on campus to speak at the Michigan Student Christian convocation, decided to conduct an Evangelism Institute for all prospective candidates at the end of their senior year, granted permission to some students to conduct religious services in churches outside the Christian Reformed denomination, observed with sorrow the death of Professor Emeritus Louis Berkhof on May 18, 1957, and did many things besides which it is not necessary here to record.
During the course of this semester, President Eisenhower entered upon his second term in office, and in March of this year he proclaimed the “Eisenhower Doctrine,” which, with congressional approval, empowered him to extend economic and military aid to the nations of the Middle East whenever these are threatened by communist aggression. I was honored at the end of the academic year when the members of the Senior class presented to the seminary the memorial gift it was customary for the graduates to bestow. The Seniors broke precedent this year by establishing a “Publication Assistance Fund” to be used for assisting a professor in the publication of his class lectures. In their letter to the faculty they declared that “the Professor selected is Dr. Henry Stob and the money is to be used by him for putting into book form his lectures in Apologetics.”
When the Board of Trustees met in May of 1957, it authorized the granting of degrees to 297 college graduates and to 39 Senior seminarians. It granted honorable emeritation to Professor Harry Dekker, who had served the college for 36 years, much of the time as Registrar, and it honored Harry Jellema, who was celebrating the 25th anniversary of his association with the college. Fred Brouwer had since Cecil De Boer’s death been assisting in the philosophy department, but was now leaving to pursue further graduate work. Nickolas Wolterstorff was appointed to replace him. He was appointed for a one-year term, and accorded the rank of Instructor.
The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in June of 1957 under the presidency of N. J. Monsma. John Gritter, John Breuker, and J. T. Holwerda completed the roster of officers. I was again an Adviser to Synod and served with Klooster and Woudstra on the Protests and Appeals Committee. The Synod convened on June 12, and on that evening attended the gala centennial celebration held in the Civic Auditorium. The centerpiece of the program was the pageant entitled “Upon This Rock,” the text of which had been composed by Henry Zylstra. A week later a Centennial Dinner was held, to which the many fraternal delegates were invited. A number of significant decisions were made by Synod. It declared for the first time that “women may participate in congregational meetings with the right to vote.” It adopted a statement on race relations which warned that “the deprivation of equal rights and opportunities in society on the basis of race or color is contrary to the will of God.” It took steps toward the establishment of Particular Synods by appointing a Committee “to draw up a plan for denominational organization in which particular synods would form an integral part.” Objections were raised at Synod against our participation in the establishment of a multi-denominational theological college in Nigeria, but Synod encouraged Harry Boer to carry forward his plans to head the United Theological Seminary in Gindiri. In other actions Synod approved of a Revised Compendium of the Christian Religion designed for catechetical instruction, instructed the Centennial Committee to adapt the centennial seal for a permanent denominational ensign, and appointed a committee to enter into conversation with the “De Wolf Group,” which had recently separated from the Protestant Reformed Church.
The Committee on Marital Problems, of which I had been made Secretary, presented its report to Synod. We had been asked to consider whether there was more than one biblical ground for divorce, and to determine what judgment should be made regarding polygamy on the mission field. I had come to the conclusion that I Corinthians 7:15 legitimatized divorce on the ground of desertion, but the rest of the committee did not agree, and upon their recommendation Synod declared that “the teaching in I Corinthians 7:15 does not provide the Christian with a (second) ground for divorce.” We were agreed on polygamy, and upon our advice Synod declared that “Christians may not contract a polygamous marriage, but pre-conversion polygamists may nevertheless be admitted to church membership.”
Synod was much occupied with college expansion, but before it could take action regarding the new campus it had to deal with the perennial problem of denominational ownership. In the face of overtures demanding that the college be given over to “societal control,” Synod declared that “the church possesses the derived, though not the inherent, right to exercise ownership and control of a college,” and in the light of this decided that “under the present circumstances the church shall continue to own and operate Calvin College.” It had been determined earlier that a new seminary building would be the chief centennial project, and Synod now authorized the Board “to obtain and approve plans for, and to proceed with, the construction of the seminary building.” In taking this action Synod rejected a proposal, for which I had some sympathy, which urged suspension of seminary construction until an investigation was made concerning “the best possible location for the seminary from the spiritual, academic, and practical point of view.” The possibility of resettling the seminary on its present site was cut off when Synod authorized the Board to sell the present campus and appointed an appraisal committee whose findings it agreed to accept as “the basis of negotiations for the sale.”
During the summer of 1957, I preached on seven occasions and in July published in the Journal an article on “The Militant Mind,” the third piece in my series on the mind of the church. Clarence Bouma had been doing creditable work in the library, had spent the 1956 Christmas vacation in Florida, but had in May of this year suffered a stroke and was now hospitalized in Pine Rest. His speech was impaired, his mind confused, and his psyche disturbed. Upon assessing his condition, the doctors had concluded, to the disappointment and sorrow of many, that Professor Bouma “would very likely be unable to do any work in the future.”
A feature of the summer was the publication in book form of my essays on human liberty. Put out by the International Publications Company under the title “The Christian Concept of Freedom,” the 52-page booklet was dedicated to Hilda and contained one chapter on “The Liberty of Man” and another on “The Liberty of Conscience.” I had presented these earlier as lectures, and in the preface of the booklet I declared that “It is at the kind insistence of students and friends that the lectures are now exposed to public view. They are sent forth in the conviction that authentic human liberty stands or falls with the historic Christian faith, and it is hoped that the reader will find in them some reason for sharing this conviction.” The booklet enjoyed a good sale, and the reviews, with one exception, were favorable. Rousas J. Rushdoony stood out in dissent. In a review published in the Torch and Trumpet he judged that “the weakness of the lectures lies in their presentation of the Christian concepts.” “Tacit to the whole book,” he said, “is the assumption that a Christian is a Liberal with faith. . . . Stob states, for example, that the Calvinist is in principle committed to some form of democracy in government, and thus links again the Liberal and the Christian. . . . Nor is the Christian committed to freedom of worship, as Stob would have it. The modern conception of religion liberty makes the state the vehicle of truth, but of all this Stob is unaware as he blithely endorses the Liberal program at each point and baptizes it with Christian approval. . . . Stob shares fully the Liberal blindness to basic issues. . . . His lectures tell us little concerning the Christian concept of freedom; they spell out more clearly the irrelevance and impotence of Christian thinking today.”
With these encouraging accolades ringing in my ears, the academic year 1956-1957 came to a close, and I laid me down to rest.
* * * * * * *
I began my sixth year of teaching at the seminary when in September of 1957 the school doors opened upon another academic year. The number of faculty members stood fixed at eleven, but the student body was slightly smaller than last year’s; 97 undergraduates and 20 graduate students were now under instruction. The budget for college and seminary had risen by 150,000 dollars above the one million mark, and I was being paid a yearly salary of 7,525 dollars. We were still located on the Franklin campus, but a group of architects were engaged in drawing up site and building plans for the development of Knollcrest, and it became clear that the old homestead would before long be abandoned and delivered into other hands.
At its first meeting, the faculty took note of the serious illness of Miss Gertrude De Boer, our faithful clerk-typist, and it was saddened when on November 20, 1957, she was overtaken by death. Coincident with the opening of our school was that of almost every school in the country, but what drew the nation’s attention was what was happening in Little Rock, Arkansas. Orval Faubus, the governor of that State, had mobilized the national guard to prevent nine black students from enrolling in the local high school, and this discriminatory move aroused the ire of many. The will of the people prevailed when President Eisenhower sent army troops to escort the black children to their classrooms. Congress soon after passed a Civil Rights Act and established a permanent Civil Rights Commission.
The faculty during the first semester took several actions of its own. It introduced a new counseling program, established a committee on Field Work and Placement, and undertook to publish a volume of essays on John Calvin in commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the Reformer’s birth. The faculty also engaged in a self-study oriented to a guide issued by the American Association of Theological Schools, and spent some time in consideration of the facilities it wished to be included in the proposed new seminary building. The Dutch language was still considered essential for the fruitful pursuit of Reformed studies, and faculty members were encouraged to require of their students the reading of Dutch theological literature. In an effort to stabilize the teaching staff, the faculty nominated for the Chair of Old Testament, Edward Young, Meredith Kline, and Marten Woudstra; for the Chair of Missions, J. H. Bavinck, Robert Recker, and Harold Dekker; and for the Chair of Dogmatics, G. C. Berkouwer, Gordon Spykman, and Anthony Hoekema. These nominations, endorsed by the Board of Trustees, were considered by the Synod of 1958, and Woudstra, Dekker, and Hoekema were appointed by that body to the posts for which they were nominated. Upon the recommendation of the faculty and Board, Carl Kromminga, Martin Monsma, and Fred Klooster were by the same Synod reappointed for a period of four years.
During this year I again functioned as Secretary of the faculty, took my accustomed place on the Educational Policy Committee, sponsored the Nisi Domino Frustra student club, and took pains to insure that The Reformed Journal made its monthly appearance. In the first semester I taught Apologetics to 35 Juniors, and Basic Ethics to 42 Seniors. In the October issue of the Journal I published a second article on “The Militant Mind,” and also a meditation on “Mary and Jesus.”
In the fall of 1957 there was a good deal of talk about space travel and about the possibility of establishing colonies on distant planets, and discussion about these matters received a new impetus when on October 4 Soviet scientists put Sputnik into orbit. H. J. Kuiper spoke to this issue in the Torch and Trumpet, and on Friday, December 13, he was featured in the Grand Rapids Press, and quoted as saying that the colonization of other planets by human beings goes beyond what God meant for his creatures when he gave man dominion over the earth. Basing his opinion on Genesis 1:28 and Acts 17:26, Kuiper declared that “man was given dominion over the earth, but not over any star or planet not our own…. It may be man can inhabit the Moon or Mars, but he will be disobeying God if he does…. Man may make trips to other planets for scientific investigations, but may not subdue and inhabit them.” I was astounded when I read this, and gave expression to my sentiments in the presence of several of my colleagues in the college. One or more of them must thereupon have called the Press, for before the day was spent, a reporter came to interview me. I told him that I did not like to argue with a respected member of my community, but wished the public to know that the Rev. Mr. Kuiper did not speak for the church, and certainly not for me. Man, I said, had been given dominion over the whole creation, as Psalm eight clearly indicated, and I saw no reason whatsoever why a human colony could not be planted on any planet found inhabitable. A picture was taken of me beside the telescope atop the science building, and the composite was emblazoned upon the front page of next day’s Press. I was quoted as saying that “There will no doubt be many who will find in the conquest of space an occasion to indulge human pride, but this does not mean that man is not permitted to conquer space or to settle upon whatever hospitable planet he may reach in his travels. In Christian teaching man is vicegerent not only of the earth, but of the entire universe. Even the suns were made to serve him.” I regretted having had to confront Kuiper on the pages of a secular newspaper, but I believed that only a public rejoinder could allay the suspicion that the church had bound men to the earth, and assure the reader that science and religion were not at this juncture once again in conflict. I received a number of letters endorsing my response, and the incident was reported in De Wachter and in Church and Nation, but there the matter rested, and nothing further came of it.
It was a sad day in my life when word was received that my mother had died in her sleep from an apparent heart attack. I had been often in correspondence with her, and I had visited her whenever I came to Chicago on preaching assignments or other business, but I wished now that I had been in closer contact with her in her declining years. She had taken up residence in Roseland’s Holland Home, where she was well cared for and where she formed many new friendships, but she delighted in nothing more than visits from her children, and I should have been oftener in her company. When she died on December 26, 1957, she was one week short of her 90th birthday. She had lived a full and satisfying life surrounded by children and grandchildren down to the fifth generation, and she was at peace with the Lord who was the light of her life. I shall never forget the good woman who bore and nurtured me, and who in every exigency of my life upheld me with her prayers and encouragements. The funeral service for mother was held in the First Christian Reformed Church of Cicero on December 28, and she was buried that day in Mount Auburn Cemetery, where she was laid next to her loving husband, my dear father, who had preceded her in death by 25 years.
I would be leaving for Japan in the early Spring of 1958, but I was still on campus when the Board of Trustees met in semi-annual session in February of that year. Twenty-eight clergymen representing that many Classes were members of the Board, and these were associated with nine laymen representing four districts of the church. John Kromminga, now established as the President of the Seminary, was at this meeting elevated to the rank of full professor and given indefinite tenure, although his presidency would after four years come once more under review. It was announced that 1791 students were enrolled in the college, that the five-year old “Needs of Today” campaign had yielded 1,220,545 dollars, and that the Centennial Memorial Fund for the erection of a seminary building now stood at 358,000 dollars. Funds for the development of the Knollcrest campus were pouring in from such sources as Standard Oil, Dow Chemical, General Motors, and Detroit Edison, and the amount accumulated to date came to nearly 300,000 dollars. To fill a chair in the department of New Testament the Board nominated Herman Ridderbos, Andrew Bandstra, and Baas Van Elderen, and at the Synod of 1958, Van Elderen was given the appointment.
In the second semester of the academic year 1957-1958, I met my classes in an accelerated program which enabled me to provide for my students the full course of instruction that the schedule called for. In the two months available to me I fulfilled my curricular obligations by teaching Polemics to 28 Middlers, and Moral Problems to 42 Seniors. I addressed the Chicago Chapter of the Calvin Alumni Association in February, and in March preached in Holland, Michigan, and addressed a meeting of the Grand Rapids Inter Nos. I attended faculty meetings through March 7. In the meetings held prior to that time the faculty expressed to the Knollcrest planners its desire to have a theological library separate from that of the college, appointed Woudstra and me to prepare for student use a list of basic theological works, and asked me to convey to the Reformed seminaries of Kobe and Pusan the Christian greetings of the faculty.
A portion of my time during this period was spent in preparation for my trip. The Board of Foreign Missions had asked me to visit the various mission stations across the globe, and to fix my itinerary I had frequently to stop at the travel agency and make the necessary reservations. I had also to renew my passport, select clothes for the journey, and take the prescribed “shots” required for immunization against foreign maladies. All this filled in the interstices of my regularly scheduled time.
Although I was not able to hear him, I was glad that the Calvin Foundation, on whose Board I had long sat, was able to present to the public the eminent Professor F. F. Bruce, who in the week of April 10-16 presented a set of lectures on “New Testament Apologetics” to what, I was told, were capacity audiences.
I would be absent from the scene when the Board of Trustees met in May, and for the first time in many years I would not be in attendance at Synod.