THE INFALLIBILITY CONTROVERSY
When the school doors opened in September of 1958 I entered upon the seventh year of my teaching at the seminary. The faculty consisted this year of M. Wyngaarden and M. Woudstra in Old Testament; H. Schultze and R. Stob in New Testament; F.Klooster and A. Hoekema in Systematic Theology; C. Kromminga and M. Monsma in Practical Theology; H. Dekker in Missiology; J. Kromminga in Church History; and myself in Ethics and Apologetics. Hoekema was new to the faculty, having been appointed by the Synod of 1958 to replace the retiring Herman Kuiper. Our salaries had increased, and I could look forward to an annual stipend of 7,920 dollars.
The faculty met regularly during the year, and a good portion of its time was spent poring over the plans which the architect had drawn up for the erection of the new Knollcrest Seminary Building. It of course did other things besides. In cooperation with the Pine Rest Christian Hospital it established a course in Pastoral Psychiatry, to which James Ozinga, Wayne Gritter, and Donald Postema were admitted as the first enrollees. The pre-seminary curriculum in the college had been revised, and no longer required the study of the Dutch language. This led the faculty to require of degree candidates that they pass an examination in Dutch as a condition for admission into the seminary. To supplement its own counseling services, the faculty engaged Dr. Leonard Vande Linde to provide two hours of psychological counseling each week, and to ease the plight of the financially burdened, it put into operation a Federal Loan Fund which enabled students to borrow monies at rates below those then prevailing. In early September the faculty took advantage of Professor Dooyeweerd’s presence in the country by engaging the distinguished Dutch philosopher in a friendly and instructive colloquium that lasted all afternoon.
There were anniversaries to celebrate and felicitations to bestow, and the faculty was not lax in responding. It too, note of the fact that the Back to God Hour would in 1959 complete 20 years of meaningful broadcasting. It joined the church in observing the 450th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth, and with the Board of Trustees it remembered that it was 400 years ago that the Schola Genevensis was founded. In observance of this anniversary we sent to the University of Geneva a beautifully illuminated scroll expressing our felicitations and celebrating the school’s illustrious past.
There were not only happy days to recall, but also deaths to mourn. Nineteen Fifty-eight saw the demise of Dr. Y.P. DeJong and of Rev. Edward J. Tanis. In 1959 Rev. John M. Vande Kieft passed away. All of them were prominent in the church, and two of them were for many years distinguished members of the Board of Trustees. These men would be sorely missed and a grieving church did not fail to honor their memory. What most deeply affected the faculty, however, was the death of one of our own. suffering during the last nine years from the effects of a stroke, Professor Henry Schultze was struck down by a paralyzing cerebral hemorrhage on March 5, 1959 and died early the next morning at the age of sixty-five. All classes were dismissed when on March 9 the funeral services were held, and at the special Seminary Chapel Memorial service held on March 10 our friend’s merits were recalled and God was thanked for a life well-lived. I delivered the eulogy. As secretary of the faculty I was also asked to prepare a short statement for publication in the church papers, and page 2 this, in part, was what I wrote:
Professor Schultze’s services to the church were many and significant, and during his long tenure in the seminary he greatly enriched the campus community. When still in full possession of his remarkable powers he brought to the classroom both erudition and insight, and into the councils of his colleagues a mature and responsible judgment. The alacrity with which he obeyed every call of duty, and his patient and cheerful endurance of mounting disabilities evoked the admiration of all who knew him. His devotion to Christian truth and his personal exemplification of Christian charity challenged and chastened us all. In his passing the church as well as the seminary has lost an outstanding teacher, leader, and friend.
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In class sessions I came to know most, if not all, of the 104 students who in this year were enrolled in the seminary. In the first semester I taught Basic Christian Ethics to 25 seniors, and canvassed Early Apologetic Literature in a seminar with 7 advanced students. In the second semester I taught Apologetics to 39 juniors, Polemics to 26 middlers, a course in Moral Problems to 27 seniors, and examined The Ethics of John Calvin in a seminar with 67 advanced students.
I had acquired a tenured Professorship at the college in the spring of 19947, but was given the rank of Instructor when I moved to the seminary in September of 1952. The same happened to Professor Ralph Stob when he made the move a year later, and this in spite of the fact that he had been with the college since the early 1920’s and had for six years been its president. This odd procedure would now be rectified. On December 5, 1958 the faculty recommended me for reappointment, this time as full Professor with life tenure, and this action was shortly thereafter endorsed by the Board of Trustees. Ralph Stob, by many years my senior, and an outstanding scholar, had to wait another year to be similarly treated.
During the school year I preached in local churches on two occasions, and was thrice involved in extra-curricular activities of a somewhat different sort. An inter- faith Forum on Immortality, Self-fulfillment, and Social Responsibility was held at the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina on February 24 – 25, 1959. Dr. Robert H.L. Slater, Professor of World Religions at the Harvard Divinity School, was there to present the views of the Eastern Religions on these issues. Dr. Malcolm H. Stern, Rabbi of Temple Ohef Shalom of Norfolk, Virginia, was there to present the Jewish vision, and I had been asked to put the three Forum topics in Christian perspective. Panel discussions before a full house of students and faculty were held in the afternoon and evening of February 24, and in the afternoon of February 25. The Forum ended with an evening session on February 25, at which I delivered a summarizing address to a large audience assembled in the Elliot Hall Ballroom.
In the spring of 1959 the Grand Rapids Chapter of the Calvin Alumni Association launched its fifth annual Lecture-Discussion Series, and at 8:00 P.M. on the evening of April 30 Lester DeKoster and I were presented as disputants on the issue of Christian Education. As I recall Lester argued for the inclusion in the college curriculum of courses in vocational training and the industrial arts. I argued that the public would be best served if the college eschewed technical training, concentrated on the liberal arts and sciences, put the medieval Trivium at the core of its offerings, and enclosed the whole within a faith-oriented philosophy. After our presentations the audience joined in the discussion until 10:00 when we adjourned for coffee.
I met throughout the year with the synodical committee appointed to consider whether or to what extent the church should continue to cooperate with various denominations and mission agencies in the support and management of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN). There were those in the church and in the committee who were not disposed to enter into ecumenical relations with non-reformed churches and agencies, who lacked confidence in the leadership provided by the Principal of the college, our own Dr. Harry Boer, and who preferred to establish in Nigeria a separate theological college with a distinctly Calvinistic imprint. There were those of us, on the other hand, who endorsed the joint effort to train native pastors, who did not wish to fragmentize the Nigerian Christian community, who were confident that the college authorities were guided by evangelical principles, and who believed that the establishment of a second college was neither necessary nor wise. The committee, accordingly, produced divergent reports and gave synod conflicting advice. It could thereafter do nothing but await Synod’s verdict.
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The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church met in annual session during the middle two weeks of June, 1959. By custom members of the seminary faculty served Synod as advisors, and I was among those present in that capacity. My particular responsibility was to meet with the advisory committee on Church Order. On the evening of June 10 the synodical delegates sang songs out of the new – the centennial edition – of the Psalter-Hymnal, copies of which had been presented to Synod in an appropriate ceremony by Henry Bruinsma, the book’s editor. The hymnals were at adjournment donated to the seminary for use in the chapel.
Information of various sorts was brought to synod’s attention. Synod was informed that ground had been broken for the erection of the new seminary building at Knollcrest, that an unnamed Grand Rapids family had donated 75,000 dollars for the erection of that building’s chapel unit, that in 5 years the Tiv Field in Nigeria will be completely taken over by our mission agencies, and that our first and only black minister, Rev. Eugene Callender, had discontinued his work in Harlem and had severed his connection with the Christian Reformed Church.
In actions affecting the seminary, synod asked the faculty and the board of trustees to ” consider the inclusion of a course in sacred music in the seminary curriculum.” It also declared Bastiaan Van Elderen a candidate for the gospel ministry, and ordered that his examination and ordination take place prior to his imminent assumption of the New Testament chair vacated by Henry Schultze. A harbinger of things to come was an overture from Classis Alberta South asking Synod to rule that emeriti professors may speak or serve on advisory committees only upon request. The overture in this instance was turned down, but a rule with a similar import – aimed largely at R. B. Kuiper- would in a following year be adopted, to the benefit, I think, of the entire church.
A number of ecumenical issues were addressed by Synod. The 4th Reformed Ecumenical Synod had met in Potchefstroom, South Africa in 1958, and two of the Declarations it had formulated were now taken up for consideration. The first, on Evolution, asserted that “the church should repudiate any concept of evolution which entirely eliminates God, regards him as dependent on the process of creative evolution, or regards him as merely incidentally intervening in the natural course of evolution.” Added was a note saying, “The church, however, should observe the utmost discretion in making all kinds of pronouncements in connection with scientific matters.” Whether it was this addendum or some other consideration is not clear, but the declaration was neither subjected to close scrutiny nor acted upon. It was simply received as information. Synod did, however, adopt the twelve-point declaration on Race Relations which Potchefstroom had formulated. Synod declared, among other things, that “there exists a fundamental unity or solidarity of the human race”, that “no single race may deem itself entitled to a privileged position and consider itself superior to other races”, and that “no direct scriptural evidence can be produced for or against the intermixture of races through marriage.” Although these sample resolutions do evacuate of all weight and significance the superiority principle that underlies Apartheid, and do perhaps secure for Adam a place as father of the race, they could also give comfort to those who oppose inter-racial marriages.
In 1959 the relations existing between the Christian Reformed Church and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church were closer and more cordial than they have since become. In evidence it is enough to report that at this Synod the standing committee on ecumenical relations was encouraged “to increase its efforts to establish sisterly relationships with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church so that the way may be paved to possible eventual union.”
In 1924 there was a considerable exodus out of the Christian Reformed Church. Unwilling to abide by synod’s declaration on Common Grace, the Revs. Hoeksema and Danhof were defrocked, and many sympathizers joined to form the Protestant Reformed Church. In recent years, however, disunion arose within that church, and a group led by Rev. DeWolf left the parent body and set up an independent community. Efforts had for some time been to lure the dissidents back into our fellowship, but residual opposition to the doctrine of common grace impeded progress. To overcome remaining objections Synod prepared and dispatched to the group what it called “an official interpretative statement concerning the Three Points (of common grace): 1) that there is in God a favorable attitude toward all mankind; 2) that sin is restrained; and 3) that the unregenerate perform civic good.”
Designed “to pave the way for further considerations regarding an eventual unification”, the sent missive sought to assure the group that nothing in the doctrine of common grace militated against the verities of the Calvinistic faith. “we continue”, it said, “to accept the biblical basis and creedal formulations of the doctrine of the divine decrees, irresistible grace, and the antithesis.” It went on to say that “the grace shown to the elect is not the same as that shown to creatures in general”; that” Synod in no way countenances the teaching that in making the offer of the Gospel to all who hear it God has in mind to save all. The general offer of salvation is not the same as the offer of a general salvation”; and that “only the regenerate can perform good works, since in a sense only those works are good which proceed from true faith, according to the law of God, and to his glory.” The letter ended with the words: “We sincerely hope that we have clarified our position with respect to the Three Points, and that our conferences with your committee may lead to an eventual unification.” Sometime later the union actually took place, but some who re-entered the fold never became really acclimatized.
My associates and I lost the battle of TCNN. I had joined four fellow committee members in urging Synod not to set up a separate and rival seminary, but to continue its long-standing and fruitful association with the Theological College of Northern Nigeria. But our counsel was not heeded. In orientation to the report of the other committee members Synod declared that “in view of its total commitment to the Reformed faith, it cannot see its way clear to be co-responsible for a college which may present many different doctrines”, and it instructed the Board of Missions and the Nigerian General Conference “to maintain and develop the Reformed Pastor’s Training Program in Nigeria with a view to hopefully establishing a Reformed Theological Seminary.” By that the die was cast, but one other matter needed resolving. Dr. Harry Boer was the Mission Board’s salaried representative on the faculty of TCNN and also the Principal of the College. There were those who wished him to withdraw. There were others who thought him to be in violation of his ordination vows. But at this point synod was wiser and more concessive: it declared that it would continue “to loan Dr. Boer as professor of Reformed Theology in the TCNN.” So ended a long and sometimes bitter dispute around one dimension of our tenuous ecumenical involvements.
Outside the ecclesiastical and academic walls the world moved on. Henry Zylstra’s Testament of Vision appeared in 1958, and was widely read and appreciated. So was John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society. Vice-President Nixon made a “good will tour” through Latin America in 1958, but was unkindly received in Peru and Venezuela, often heckled, and a few times physically abused. In that same year Presidential Assistant Sherman Adams was forced to resign when it became known that he had accepted a precious gift from a Boston industrialist. In January 1959 Fidel Castro, at the head of armed insurgents, forced the dictator Batista, out of Cuba, and assumed control of that country. Initially hailed by American citizens as a democratic liberator, he fell out of favor when before long he established a communist state, nationalized foreign properties, and vested all power in himself. Premier Khrushchev came to the United States in 1959, addressed the United Nations Assembly, visited an Iowa farm, and met with President Eisenhouwer at Camp David. In that same year Edward Cornell resigned as President at Fuller Seminary, and both Alaska and Hawaii attained statehood.
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What concerned all of us at the seminary the whole year through was the battle over the Bible. A controversy raged in church and school about the supposed inerrancy of the scriptures. The match that lit the flame was struck by Marvin Hoogland, a first year seminary student , who in the September 1958 issue of the student journal Stromata published an article entitled “Infallibility Questioned”. The article had an immediate effect. It created tension within the faculty, set pens in motion, disturbed the populace, engaged the attention of consistories and classes, and dominated the discussions at Synod.
Hoogland entertained no doubts about the Bible’s essential veracity. He held the Bible to be inspired by the Holy Spirit; he regarded its teachings as absolutely authoritative; and he accepted its deliverances as the church’s only rule of faith and practice. But he did not think the Bible was inerrant – or infallible in every part and particle. Not only does the Bible not claim infallibility for itself, it exhibits on its face the marks of human frailty. Found in it are faulty grammatical constructions, stylistic infelicities, scientific misconceptions, anachronistic geographical references, historical inaccuracies, discrepant accounts, and other such things, and for this reason the whole ought not to be called infallible. Is the Bible then not a divinely inspired book? Of course it is, but inspiration does not of itself entail infallibility. Of this the existing text is proof. A conservative tradition contends that an inspired book must be a blameless book, a thoroughly sanitized book, a book inerrant in every detail and with respect to every dimension. It argues from the perfection of the Spirit to the perfection of the Scriptures; as God is so is the Bible. However, to discover what inspiration really means, one must start from the other end, from a careful scrutiny of the text. When this is done it will become evident that the Holy Spirit in enlightening and guiding the biblical writers was out to proclaim and preserve the Message, but was not concerned to suppress every deficiency or short-coming of the writers, or to lift them at every juncture above the cultural level of their day. And let this not bother us; our reliance on and commitment to the Word is not by this put in jeopardy — “what sense does it make to say that our faith must necessarily falter and disintegrate if we admit that the Holy Spirit not only did not choose to reveal an accurate astronomy, but also allowed the inspired writers to use grammar in their own inaccurate way, and possible misstate a few historical facts?”
When I read the article I sensed that it would raise some eyebrows, but I found myself in substantial agreement with it, and I congratulated the gifted and articulate young writer on a work well done. It was otherwise with some of my colleagues. They were troubled and offended, too. Wyngaarden, Woudstra, Monsma, and Klooster regarded the essay as heretical, in clear and flagrant violation of the creeds, and they demanded that the offending student be promptly censured and referred to his counselor for improvement. But the focus of attention soon shifted and came to fall upon the President “Who authorized the publication of this scandalous piece?” it was asked. When John Kromminga acknowledged that he had pre-read the article and cleared it for publication, he was chided for by-passing the faculty’s Committee on Student Publications. And when Kromminga said that he cleared the piece because he judged it to be within the parameters of the creeds, he was thought to be lacking in creedal awareness. A number of us, of course, stood with the President, and defended him against trivial and unjust charges. But this new alignment tended to exacerbate an already existing intra-faculty polarity, which happily did not develop into open and rancorous hostility; we usually conducted our joint affairs with the grace and tolerance our shared faith demanded.
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The attention that the student writings attracted remained focused on Marvin Hoogland’s September article, but that piece did not stand alone. Marvin’s brother john, a senior seminary student and the editor of Stromata, published a supporting article in that magazine in October of 1958. He had observed the Psalmists “wrote with varying degrees of stylistic skills”, and in an article entitled “Infallibility and Poetry” he concluded that “the Holy Spirit did not feel it necessary to correct or elevate their literary style”. With the practice of harmonization in view, he wondered why one should assume “that there is an explanation somewhere for every non-religious contradiction in the Bible”. Marvin published a second article in the November-December issue of Stromata. In it he contended that in disassociating inspiration from infallibility he was not departing from the creeds and was standing solidly in the company of such Reformed theologians as John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck. In an article published in the Stromata of January, 1959 John Hoogland sought to persuade his readers that neither he nor his brother were “liberals” for, though they questioned the applicability of the term “infallible” to the Bible as a whole, they wholeheartedly accepted its “religious teachings” and regarded its authentic deliverances as the “Infallible Rule” of faith and conduct. With this the students’ writings on infallibility came to an end, and the public responses began to appear.
Marvin Hoogland’s September article was reviewed in the Calvin College Chimes on October 31, 1958 by student commentator William Brown. Brown found the piece eminently praiseworthy – “an example of the kind of clear critical thinking so much needed in the current atmosphere of uninformed polemic.” With characteristic ebullience, and with little regard to the sensibilities of the evangelical community, he declared that “Hoogland has had the good sense to question a doctrine that has become an idol of the Evangelical Tribe.”
Rev. Emo Van Halsema, the editor of the church’s Dutch weekly examined Marvin’s essay in the November 18, 1958 issue of De Wachter. After accurately setting forth Hoogland’s central thesis, together with its attendant qualifications, he assessed it with his usual grace and charity. He found the author thoughtful, literate, and honest; he appreciated the quandary the young man was in, and he acknowledged that not only this student, but every careful reader of the Bible, is confronted with textual variations difficult to harmonize and puzzling phenomena hard to resolve. Yet, not everything in the essay was to Van Halsema’s liking. He thought the title “Infallibility Questioned” was too broad and misleading; it suggested that the entire Bible was fallible, although the author himself ascribed infallibility to its teachings and precepts. Not yet ready to associate inspiration with fallibility and error, and wanting to maintain the church’s historic position, Van Halsema ventured to suggest that “instead of dropping the term “infallible” because it presents certain difficulties, it would be better to preserve the term “in spite of the fact that it presents certain difficulties.”
Rev. John Vander Ploeg, editor of the church’s English weekly The Banner, devoted three successive editorials to the issue raised in the student publication. In these editorials he did not so much engage the students in dialogue as set forth for the benefit of the church community what he regarded as the correct view of Scripture.The first editorial dated January 9, 1959 bore the title “What, No Infallible Bible?”, and it began with the words, “It can only be with a heavy heart that one finds occasion to ask the above question also in the Christian Reformed Church”. The answer to the question was, of course, at hand: “The infallibility of the Scriptures is accepted by those of the Reformed persuasion as a corollary of the doctrine of their divine inspiration.” Furthermore, “The inspiration, authoritative character, and infallibility of the scriptures are the last bastion of defense of the Christian faith as well as the rock-bottom foundation for our mission to a lost and dying world.” But what Scriptures are these? To this question Vander Ploeg replies: “…the Scriptures as given by the Holy Spirit….Those who transcribed or copied the Scriptures in former times were not infallible, even as those who put these into print today are not necessarily free from error.” Although the autographa are nowhere to be found, VanderPloeg nevertheless thought the students were mistaken when they declared that the Bible we have in hand is both inspired and in some respects fallible. “Inspiration…. and Infallibility”, he said “stand or fall together.” in The Banner of January 16, 1959 VanderPloeg drew still tighter the relation between inspiration and infallibility. Inspiration, he said, “is plenary, pertaining not only to some, but to all of the Scriptures, and it is verbal in the sense that the Holy Spirit gave to the writers of the Bible not only the thoughts and ideas, but also the words in which these were to be expressed.” He went on to say, and this without any qualification, the Bible is “a divine book…a God-breathed book of which God Himself is the author. “How then,” he asks, “can we come to any other conclusion than this, that all of Scripture is infallible, inerrant, without mistakes?” After drawing this deductive inference he exclaimed, “to budge an inch on this matter can only mean that the floodgates will be opened and that the deluge will be upon us.” In the third editorial published in The Banner of January 23, 1959 . VanderPloeg poses the question “’Errors in the Bible, Are They Real?’” To this he replies, “They are only apparent and never real”, and then proceeds to give six reasons why we ought not to consider them “real”. Chief among these reasons is the fact that we are simply unequipped to judge. “our knowledge of science, history, and all of general revelation is not infallible . . . . neither is our human reason altogether trustworthy . . . .It is without warrant therefore to demand that these should as the criteria to determine whether any given portion of scripture is true or not.”
Rev. H.J. Kuiper was at this time editor of the Torch and Trumpet, an independent monthly put out by the Reformed Fellowship, Inc. He entered the lists by publishing in the January 1959 issue of that journal an editorial entitled “The Infallibility of Scripture Denied .” “We were really shocked,” he said, “by two articles in Stromata . . . .These articles have caused grief as well as dismay.” Touching upon a procedural matter that throughout the year would cause President Kromminga some uneasiness, he asked “Why are not the contributions to Stromata reviewed by faculty members before publication? We assume this is not done. We cannot imagine Faculty approval of the two articles under discussion.” Respecting the Bible he declared that “there is no doctrine so basic and fundamental as that of the infallible Holy Scriptures. If this bastion falls all our defenses of the truth of God have crumbled.” Declaring that our faith” does not permit us to insert a wedge between inspiration and infallibility” he proceeded to an analysis of the relevant articles in the creeds, and concluded that “it was clear to the author of the Belgic Confession and to the church which adopted it that inspiration means infallibility.” He judged therefore that “the publication of views which conflict with this doctrine becomes a most serious matter”
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At the seminary each of us gave some thought to the views expressed by the Hoogland brothers, to the policy which should be adopted for monitoring student publications, and to the stridency of the voices raised in protest to the student writings, but the faculty did not meet in plenary session to address these matters until December 5, 1958 when it re-committed a submitted proposal for the regulation of Stromata, received a letter from Rev. C. A. Veenstra reflecting unfavorably on Marvin Hoogland’s article, and referred Marvin for special counseling to his monitor, Professor Wyngaarden.
On February 2, 1959 the faculty met in special session to discuss the question of Inspiration and Infallibility. We asked each other whether a further clarification of these concepts was necessary, desirable, or possible under the circumstances; whether we could arrive at a joint and official judgment concerning the student articles; and whether, in view of public sentiment, the faculty should or could do something to allay fear and suspicion. We carried on our discussion for almost the whole of a long evening, but arrived at no consensus, and made no formal decisions. We took time out to consider a report presented by Professor Wyngaarden, the counselor of Marvin Hoogland. The rather critical report, which we received for information, was accompanied by the recommendation that Hoogland be censured for being in violation of the Belgic Confession. The recommendation was not adopted, whereupon Wyngaarden announced his intention to appeal to the Board of Trustees.
The Board met in semi-annual session from February 3 through February 5, 1959. It took note of the fact that Marvin Hoogland had written two articles in Stromata, and that certain periodicals in the church had taken issue with the views expressed. It received from Mr. Hoogland a letter expressing his dissatisfaction with the characterizations made of his person and opinions by his several critics, but also expressing his willingness to cooperate fully should the Board wish to conduct an investigation. The Board referred the Hoogland matter to a committee, and after considering its report the Boar took official notice of the fact that the faculty is counseling the student, and judged this “to be sufficient at this time.” Against this three members of the Board had their negative votes recorded. It was thereupon moved “that the Board express its conviction that the article in Stromata calls into question a fundamental doctrine of the Reformed creeds. The motion was tabled, and in its stead the Board appointed a committee “to consult with the seminary faculty on the concept of the “Infallibility of Scripture”, and advise the May Board on the matter.” Appointed to the committee were William Brink, Charles Greenfield, William Hendriksen, Gordon Spykman, and John Stek.
In his customary Presidential Report, John Kromminga informed the Board, among other things, that three members of the faculty believe he should not have cleared the student article for publication, and hold that he erred when he declared that “;the article did not call into question any doctrine of the Reformed Creeds.” This information, graciously provided and in no way belittled, was received without comment. Kromminga had prepared for publication a ten-page essay entitled “How Shall We Understand Infallibility”. Copies of it were distributed to members of the faculty, and on February 5 he was asked to read it to the Board. The Board took no action on it, but in it were certain statements which his critics later seized upon. I thought the essay was excellent, but there were those who questioned his interpretation of the relevant articles in the Belgic Confession, disliked his reference to “scriptural items which are on the periphery of the Spirit’s teachings”, and were offended by the doubt he cast on the validity of the syllogism “God does not err; God wrote the Bible; therefore the Bible is inerrant.” Kromminga’s essay was never published; it remained an in-house document, but copies of it had reached Classis Pacific, and in early March that body prepared an overture for submission to Synod. It proposed that Synod “investigate the views of Dr. John Kromminga with respect to the doctrine of infallibility.” Hearing of this the Board’s Executive Committee dispatched to classis an urgent request to withdraw the overture since 1. it is based on a document “the publication of which has not been approved by the author,” and 2. “publishing a grievance before consulting the person involved is not in harmony with proper ecclesiastical procedure.” Happily, the committee’s request was heeded; the overture was withdrawn.
After the February Board Meeting a great deal of the faculty’s time and resources were absorbed by the necessity it was under to assess the in-house writings on the subject of Biblical Infallibility. On March 5, 1959 the faculty met with the Board’s Committee of Five. We were asked to scrutinize and pass judgment on Marv Hoogland’s writings and urged to reach a speedy agreement, since “counseling depends on unanimity.” The analysis and assessment of these writing took place in special faculty meetings held on March 12 and 20, and on April 6, 11, 13, and 14. Our findings, arrived at by majority vote, were submitted to the Committee of Five on April 16. This, in substance is what we said:
1. Although there are many varieties of style and diction in the Bible, and many linguistic irregularities, such variations and irregularities ought not to be characterized as “grammatical mistakes.”
2. The Bible teaches its own infallibility, but the term “infallible” needs qualification.
3. Although the relation between Inspiration and Infallibility is not one of “simple identification”, there is a necessary connection between the two, when both are rightly understood.
4. Since the Bible uses the language of daily experience when referring to astronomical behavior, it is not warranted to attribute such utterances to “erroneous scientific conceptions.”
5. It is the Christians’ duty to accept by faith all that the Bible teaches.
6. It is incompatible with the Creeds to say that “where differences of historical detail occur in the reports of the biblical writers, it is permissible to regard one of the writers as in error on the point of difference.”
Article number 6 was adopted by a vote of 4 – 3, the President not voting, and one member abstaining. President Kromminga expressed her disagreement with the decision, and Professors Harold Dekker, Carl Kromminga, and Henry Stob had their negative votes recorded. Dr. Hoekema, who had abstained, later joined those who dissented.
We were required by the Committee of Five to scrutinize and assess John Kromminga’s essay as well. A special faculty meeting, under the chairmanship of Professor Monsma, was held on April 15 to discharge this obligation. The members differed markedly in their evaluation of the piece, and after four hours of deliberation no consensus was reached. The Committee of Five was apprised of this fact, and here ended the faculty’s formal engagement with the essay. It was now the prerogative of each member to proceed as he saw fit.
On April 11 Professor Wyngaarden provided the faculty with the last of several reports on Marvin Hoogland, his counselee. Wyngaarden still maintained that the Stromata articles were in violation of the creeds, and, in spite of the young man’s avowed commitment to doctrinal infallibility, judged that “he did not regard the doctrinal parts of the scriptures as infallible either.” It was against this background that the faculty considered on May 20 whether to recommend Marvin for licensure. After considerable discussion a motion to recommend him was made and seconded. This was soon countered by a motion to table which prevailed, and on that motion I took the liberty to have my negative vote recorded.
John Hoogland had now reached the end of his senior year, and was technically eligible for candidacy, but to be considered by the Board and Synod he needed the recommendation of the faculty. The faculty interviewed him at some length on June 1, 1959. After the interview it was moved and seconded that he be not recommended for candidacy, since “he allows for the existence of actual historical discrepancies in the autographa.” Voting by ballot, the members of the faculty cast five votes for and five votes against this motion. A week later the faculty received from eleven of John’s classmates a note saying that they shared John’s views. All had previously been recommended for candidacy.
The Board of Trustees met in semi-annual session on May 26, 1959. Before it lay for consideration and adjudication “the Report of the Committee of Five, and three letters from three members of the seminary faculty, all of whom expressed disagreement with certain actions taken and certain views held by President Kromminga. Professors Wyngaarden, Woudstra, and Klooster objected to John Kromminga’s clearance of the original Stromata article, to his assertion that the article lay within the confines of the creed, to his interpretation of some articles in the Belgic Confession, to his apparent tolerance of minor historical errors in the Bible, and to other things besides. They hoped the Board would take such action as would not compel them to seek satisfaction at Synod. The three letters were “received for information.”
The Committee of Five presented a dual report. A majority composed of Greenfield, Hendriksen, and Stek, advised the Board to declare that: 1. From the point of view of the purpose and intent of the authors, the inspired Scriptures are infallible (inerrant) in every statement, not merely in matters of faith and practice; that 3. Dr. J. Kromminga erred when he took the position that Hoogland’s article was not in conflict with the Confession. A minority composed of Brink and Spykman advised the Board 1. to re-assert its determination to require and maintain a firm commitment to the creedal standards on the part of our professors and students, and 2. to charge the seminary faculty to continue its study on the relationship between inspiration and infallibility in the light of Scripture and the creeds. A lengthy discussion of these two, quite diverse, sets of recommendations took place on May 26 and 27, and no decision had been made respecting them when on May 28 discussion was halted by the appearance in the room of Marvin Hoogland.
Marvin, who had applied for a license to exhort in the churches had to that end been summoned to appear for an interview, and that interview now took place. The interview was lengthy, thorough, and eminently satisfactory, so gratifying, indeed, that at its conclusion the Revs. Greenfield, Hendriksen, and Stek retired for a brief consultation and returned to read to their associates a statement which said: “In the light of the admissions and clarifications made by Mr. Marvin Hoogland before the Board today, we withdraw our recommendations.” It was thereupon decided to take from the table the motion that Marvin Hoogland be recommended for licensure. The motion was adopted unanimously, and Marvin left the assembly with the coveted authorization to exhort.
The majority, having withdrawn its recommendations, and the recommendations of the minority still undigested and unapproved, the Committee of Five withdrew to draw up a new set of recommendations. In a united report the committee recommended that 1. the Board affirm its continued determination to maintain a firm commitment to the standards of our church on the part of our professors and students; that 2. The Board recommend to Synod that a study be made of the relationship between inspiration and infallibility in the light of Scripture and our creedal standards, and that 3. the Board request Marvin Hoogland, under the guidance of the Seminary President, to issue a public statement in our church papers regretting the misunderstanding which have arisen out of his Stromata articles, and further stating his commitment to the fact that the Bible is in every part the inspired and infallible Word of God. Upon presentation these recommendations were promptly and unanimously adopted.
In view of the action just taken, the Board requested Wyngaarden, Woudstra, and Klooster to hold their communications in abeyance; the Board determined not to take these under further consideration. A letter from Marvin Hoogland appeared soon after in the church papers. He said, in part: “I wish to state publicly that I sincerely regret the disturbance and misunderstanding which has arisen in the church in connection with the article in Stromata. . . .I desire to assure the church that I am fully committed to the Reformed doctrine that the Bible is in every part the inspired and infallible Word of God.
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Press activity around the issue of infallibility continued unabated throughout the first half of 1959. H. J. Kuiper wrote extensively in February and April in the Torch and Trumpet and several times in The Banner during April, May, and June. John Vander Ploeg, Henry Van Til, and Edward Young joined in the chorus. In every instance the Stromata articles were laid under judgment, and the case for inerrancy advanced and buttressed.
I myself entered the fray by publishing in the May 1959 issue of the Reformed an article entitled “Synod and Biblical Infallibility.” I had observed that at least three classes — Classis Sioux Center, Orange City, and Rocky Mountain– were sending , each of them citing the creeds as clear, exhaustive and definitive on the point at issue, and 3. urging Synod to act promptly and decisively against the rising tide of biblical criticism. In my article I hazarded a comment on each of these three matters.
The student, I said, is questioning, not infallibility, but a theory of infallibility, a theory which makes the term bear a heavier load than it was meant to bear, a theory which requires the biblical writers to express themselves in immaculate Greek and Hebrew, to achieve mathematical exactitude when putting down numbers. to depict the physical world with cosmological precision, and to observe the canons of scientific historiography when narrating events. It is this, and not the classical views of infallibility that the student finds wanting. He does not see it exemplified in the actual form and visage of the Bible, and he finds it neither dictated by Scripture, nor essential to Christianity, nor ratified by the Spirit, and in this he is undoubtedly correct.
Reformed Christians confess that noting can be alleged against the canonical status of the Bible-books, and they believed without doubt all those things which are contained in these books for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith. So does the student. But the question he raises is not contemplated in the creeds. Because the creed is a confession of faith and not a theological treatise, it leaves many things to be defined and distinguished within the are of theological reflection. It makes no distinction between, and therefore does not commit one to, a mechanical or an organic theory of inspiration. Nor does it distinguish between the several kinds of Biblical authority as, for example, between the well-known auctorias historiae and auctoritas normal. It does not, in short, preempt the field of theology. Because it does not do so it leaves room for a restricted number of important questions among which, I believe, must be counted the one asked by Mr. Hoogland. Since this is so I could not wish to have his question summarily silenced.
For reasons already indicated, it is to be desired that Synod decline to adopt the proposals for action contained in the overtures now before it. Let the matter be aired at Synod if need be, but let us already now remind ourselves that it is a matter ill-suited to parliamentary debate, and not suited at all to a quick and peremptory decision. It is a matter that requires hard, long, and prayerful study, in an atmosphere of mutual confidence. Let, therefore, a committee be appointed to take the whole question under scrutiny, to consider also the Report of the Ecunemical Synod, and to confer with Reformed theologians in this country and abroad. Meanwhile let those with opportunity to do so address themselves with vigor to the problem.
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Synod convened on Wednesday, June 10, 1959. On Friday, June 12, Synod undertook the examination of prospective candidates for the ministry. Upon the recommendation of the screening committee all the applicants were admitted to candidacy, save John Hoogland, who had not survived the test. Hoogland reapplied and was examined in plenary session by Synod on Saturday, June 13, but again he failed. A motion to admit him to candidacy was rejected by a vote of 62 to 56. This displeased a number of us, and on Monday, June 15, my colleagues and I addressed a letter to Synod which read:
The undersigned members of the Seminary Faculty who after careful consideration recommended Mr. John Hoogland for candidacy, are constrained to inform Synod that they regard the action of Synod in refusing candidacy to Mr. Hoogland as being unwarranted and unjust for the following reasons.: 1. The view maintained by Mr. Hoogland in his interviews before Synod with r respect to inspiration and infallibility is not in conflict with the creeds. 2. In the course of his interviews before Synod Mr. Hoogland clearly indicated his willingness to abide by such defined position as Synod might adopt on this matter.
J. H. Kromminga,
That same day a number of those who had just been declared candidates sent a letter to Synod saying, “We have learned with deep regret of the action of Synod in not declaring Mr. John Hoogland a candidate for the ministry. We wish to inform Synod that we share essentially Mr. John Hoogland’s views on Inspiration and Infallibility, in so far as we understand them.” The letter was signed by Calvin Bergsma, Henry Bouma, Bruce Hemple, Mel Hugen, James Huizenga, Andrew Rienstra, Walter Swets, John Timmer, Douglas Vander Wall, and Paul Vermaire. Among the candidates who had earlier addressed the faculty in similar vein were James Bonnema, Wayne Gritter, Alvin Hoksbergen, Donald Postema, and Durant Van Oyen.
These communications elicited another which expressed sentiments far different and illustrated the cleavage that had developed within the faculty and student body. On Wednesday, June 17 a letter was sent to Synod which read in part:
We, the undersigned professors and emeriti professors of Calvin Seminary, wish to inform Synod that we find ourselves in full agreement with the decision of June 13 concerning the candidacy of Mr. John Hoogland. A very important matter was thoroughly, fairly, and prayerfully considered, and it is our conviction that Synod could not do otherwise.
We deem it incontrovertible that to grant the possibility of actual discrepancies in the autographa is to contradict the plain teaching of the Bible itself and the confessions.
Fred H. Klooster,
R.B. Kuiper, Martin Monsma,
Martin H. Woudstra,
Martin J. Wyngaarden.
Synod deferred consideration of these communications and on Friday evening, June 19 took up the report submitted by its advisory committee on Infallibility. Upon the recommendation of this committee, Synod adopted a set of six resolutions on Inspiration framed by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Potchefstroom in 1958. I argued at Synod that these resolutions should not be immediately adopted, but should be referred to a study committee for scrutiny and advice. Synod normally makes just this kind of referral when decisions of the Ecumenical Synod are up for consideration, and these were good reasons for proceeding according to custom in this instance, also, for the Resolutions rested on Conclusions upon a lengthy report which constituted their interpretative context, but which most delegates to Synod had not even seen. My advice and that of others was not heeded, however, and we now found ourselves declaring that “Holy Scripture alone, and in its entirety is the Word of God written . . . It is given by an inspiration of God which extends not only to the ideas, but also to the words. . . and it is infallible and inerrant in the whole extent and in all its parts.”
These declarations were not wholly to my liking. That the autographa were in every respect inerrant was, of course, a possibility, but no one living had seen or inspected them, and the claim that they were this could not be empirically verified. The claim was no more than an inference drawn from the fact that the biblical writers were inspired; a deductive movement was made from the perfection of the Spirit to the perfection of the Bible. But the Bible we have in hand is also inspired, and an inspection of it reveals that it lacks the perfection which the Spirit possesses. The message it conveys is clear enough, and it bears on its face the divine imprimatur, which is why we regard it as authoritative and embrace it as the Rule of Faith and Practice. But the message, the teaching, is encased in flesh, and there is no more reason to regard this as an impediment than to doubt that the Divine Word was revealed in and through a Galilean.
After Synod adopted the six Resolutions, it moved even farther to the right. It made a specific pronouncement on a controverted point, and it did so in the context of an official complaint. The three seminary professors who had lodged a complaint against John Kromminga had received no satisfaction from the school’s trustees, and now one of the–Martin Wyngaarden–was at Synod leveling charges against the seminary President. He charged that Kromminga had “taken a position on infallibility which is not in line with our Belgic Confession,” and he cited as evidence the stand the accused took when in a faculty meeting he allowed that “errors of historical detail” may possibly be found in the Bible. Wyngaarden took exception, too, to several expressions occurring in Kromminga’s unpublished essay “How Shall we Understand Infallibility”. Kromminga was said to be out of line with the synodically approved stand of 1922 and 1937″ when he misinterpreted articles 3 – 7 of the Belgic Confession, when he asked “how far infallibility extended,” when he spoke of “scriptural items which are on the periphery,” and the like. Synod considered these charges, gave credence to some, heard Kromminga make a few concessions, and at the end dismissed the whole matter by deciding to “withhold judgment as to whether Kromminga’s views are consistent with the creeds.” It was in the course of this inquiry, however, that Synod made the pronouncement earlier alluded to. Apropos of one of the charges made by Wyngaarden Synod declared that “it is inconsistent with the creeds to declare or suggest that there is an area of scripture in which it is allowable to posit the possibility of actual historical inaccuracies.” This was said, not of the autographa, but of the existing Bible. That Bible was said to be free, not only of historical errors, but of historical inaccuracies. That Bible was said to be free, not only of actual, but also of possible inaccuracies.
When this proposition was up for discussion I arose in opposition. I objected to it on procedural ground, arguing that it emerged out of an adhoc committee working while Synod was in session, that it had not been considered by a study committee, and that for want of consultation it lacked the concurrence of other Reformed churches. But I also opposed it on personal grounds. I informed Synod that I considered the statement unwarranted by the facts, that it did not express my views, and that I could not in good conscience endorse it. This did not sit well with many, but there must have been some who were not wholly unsympathetic, for forty-four delegates voted against the proposition.
Synod did another thing. It appointed a committee with a double mandate: 1. to consider whether there is “some aspect” of the words of Scripture which is not germane to the Spirit’s purpose, and 2. to study the relationship between Inspiration and INfallibility in the light of Scripture and our creedal standards. To this one could, of course, take no exception. But it was a belated move and somewhat ironic, for the committee was being asked to consider matters which the Synod had already and quite prematurely acted upon.
Towards the end of its proceedings Synod took up a communication it had earlier received from four seminary professors. It was a strange letter apparently critical of some of us, and in any case indicative of the polarity that existed in the faculty.
This, in part is what it said:
“. . . .in answer to questions directed to him, President Kromminga said that those who had previously questioned and/or denied the complete verbal inerrancy of the Scriptures as inspired by the Holy Spirit have not altered their position on this score in essence . . .This means, we are sorry to say, that the brethren concerned still do not subscribe to the doctrine of verbal inspiration and verbal inerrancy as this doctrine has always been upheld in Reformed theology. They leave room for historical inaccuracies and contradictions in the original manuscripts as written by the prophets and apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
“We felt it our duty to inform Synod of these facts.”
“Fraternally and Prayerfully,
Synod received this letter “for information,” took note of the fact that it neither identified the “brethren” against whom the charge was made, nor offered substantiation for the charge, and put it aside.
In the morning of June 23, 1959 Synod considered the recommendation of an advisory committee that I be reappointed, with life tenure, to the seminary position I had held since 1952. I had previously been recommended by the faculty and the Board of Trustees, but there were those at Synod who were not disposed to concur. Among these was the Rev. R. B. Kuiper, who from the beginning of our association had taken little pleasure in my presence, and that not without cause, since my view of things was in many respects alien to his own. I was, of course, not present when the discussion regarding my appointment took place, but I was later informed that Kuiper, who though retired, was present at Synod as Advisor, had arisen to oppose me, and had with his usual eloquence urged non-compliance with the recommendations. What, in terms of numbers, the ensuring vote came to I do not know, but Synod did, as I expected handily reappoint me, “Professor of Ethics and Apologetics for an indefinite term,” and in this I found satisfaction.
A letter dated June 26, 1959 reached me a few days later. It was from R. B. Kuiper and read:
I feel I should write a few lines. I had misgivings concerning your appointment to the chair of Apologetics and Ethics with indefinite tenure, and I thought it my duty, however unpleasant, to indicate that to Synod. Now that the church has given you that position I congratulate you and wish you God’s abundant blessing and the guidance of His Spirit in your work. It is my prayer that the future may completely dispel my misgivings.
Cordially yours. R.B.
A few days later I thanked Kuiper for his note and assured him that he was in my prayers as well.
In the afternoon of June 23 John Hoogland was reconsidered for candidacy. After a lengthy interview and a thorough interrogation by the delegates the ballots were cast. By a vote of 105 to 9 Synod declared Hoogland a candidate for the ministry.
Synod adjourned on June 24. With the church committed to the strictest possible view of Scripture, but with Marvin Hoogland licensed to exhort in the churches, John Hoogland made a candidate eligible for ordination, John Kromminga restored unimpaired to the Presidency, and myself settled in my chair at the seminary, the Battle of the Bible came to a temporary halt.
In the two summer months remaining I published in the Journal an article entitled “Synod and Biblical Infallibility,” preached on seven successive Sundays, took a two-week vacation with my family, and set myself down to prepare for the next year’s assignments.
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The academic year 1959-1960 began peaceably enough, and nothing occurred in the course of it to disrupt our fellowship. Tempers had cooled during the summer, the issue of biblical infallibility had been placed in the hands of a synodical committee, and we had been set free to conduct business as usual.
In September 1959 I entered upon my eighth year of teaching at the Seminary, and was being paid 8,280 dollars for my services. Eleven of us constituted the faculty, but only ten of us were aboard, Fred Klooster being away on Sabbatical leave. Bastiaan Van Elderen had come in to replace the deceased Henry Schultze and would henceforth provide instruction in New Testament in association with Ralph Stob. One hundred students were enrolled in the three undergraduate classes, and fifteen others were engaged in graduate studies.
The eyes of the faculty were directed this year toward the Knollcrest campus where a brand new seminary building would soon come into being. Contracts for its erection were let in early October 1959; costs were projected at 613,000 dollars, and occupancy was promised for September 1960. A faculty committee on furnishings reported periodically, and careful consideration was given to the allocation of office space.
Professor Martin Wyngaarden was approaching retirement age, and this led the faculty to consider a number of candidates for the position he held. Two qualified persons were eventually nominated, one of whom was recommended for appointment by the Board of Trustees; but before Synod met the nominee withdrew his name, and no appointment was made.
Professor Ralph Stob was up for reappointment, and he was now recommended for appointment to full professor with tenure. Anthony Hoekema was recommended for reappointment as Associate Professor for four years. A note attached to these recommendations cast a light on the times. It said: “The faculty has not reviewed the positions which these men hold on the question of scriptural infallibility.”
Upon the recommendation of a joint College-Seminary Committee the faculty decided “to move in the direction of a Calvin Institute of Missions; to initiate the movement with a Summer Institute in 1961; and to give consideration to the appointment of a cultural anthropologist and an expert in missionary linguistics in the college.”
Competency in Dutch was still required of all regular students, and the faculty spent some time stipulating just how the Dutch Reading Test would be administered to those seeking entrance into the Seminary. In recent years no courses in speech had been offered in the seminary. It was now decided to establish three one-hour courses in speech, the instruction to be given by a member of the college faculty.
Upon the recommendation of the Special Activities Committee the faculty decided that henceforth ceremonial recognition will be given to persons appointed to tenured professorships at the seminary. An inaugural address would be given by the professor concerned, invitations would be extended to the public and to members of the larger academic community, and the inaugural lecture would be published at school expense. Since I had acquired a tenured professorship in the previous year, it was stipulated that I be first to fall under these provisions.