Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dubious Dutch Connections

1. Currently the Canadian Reformed Church is being challenged by the ReformedAcademic quartet. A recent creation, global flood and the direct creation of Adam are all under fire, to be replaced by some form of theistic evolution.

2. These views are hardly new. In fact, the positions and arguments advanced by ReformedAcademic are virtually indentical to those promoted back in the 1980's, in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC),  by the Calvin College professors Davis Young, Clarence Menninga, and Howard van Till. They, too, equated mainstream science with divine revelation and claimed to be in the Reformed tradition of Calvin, Kuyper, and Bavinck. They, too, denigrated the traditional view as fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, dangerous, and an impediment to evangelism.

3. The CRC was at that time heavily influenced by its Dutch sister church the GKN (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland: Reformed Churches in the Netherlands).  Many CRC and GKN ministers studied at the Free University (VU), a Reformed institution established by Abraham Kuyper in 1880. Heavy promotion of evolution began in 1958, with the publication of VU biologist Jan Lever's Creation & Evolution. Lever soon garnered support from VU geologist J.R. van de Fliert.  By 1968 VU theologian H.M. Kuitert declared that there was no historical Adam and no historical fall into sin. In 1971 Herman Wiersinga, a GKN minister, in his VU doctoral dissertation, asserted that Christ did not die for atonement of sin. Although objections were made to GKN synods, those synods never disciplined Kuitert or Wiersinga. Further doctrinal degeneration soon followed.

The tragic demise of the GKN was documented by A.S. Lindeboom in his book “De Theologen gingen voorop" (The Theolgians led the way: A simple tale of the dismantling of the Reformed Churches). The titles of the first 6 chapters sketch the course of the disintegration:
       Chapter 1. The arrival of intellectualism
       Chapter 2. Under pressure from modern science
       Chapter 3. Bible criticism begins – Genesis 1
       Chapter 4. Continuation of Bible criticism
       Chapter 5. Consolidated advance – Gen.1-11
       Chapter 6. The son of God (his divinity, resurrection, return)

Lindeboom's title is perhaps somewhat inaccurate, for it was not the church theologians who led the way but, rather, its scientists. Once the GKN scientists had undercut the historical basis for Genesis, the theologians merely followed through by discarding the doctrinal principles (e.g., original sin, atonement) grounded in that history.

Today, the GKN no longer exists. She united with the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (Netherlands Reformed Church ) to form the Protestantse Kerk in Nederland (PKN).

4. The Canadian Reformed Church in 2010 is currently in a  position similar to that of the CRC around 1985. It, too, is heavily influenced by a straying Dutch sister church, the Gereformeerde Kerken Vrijgemaakt (GKV). In 2002 a book appeared, titled Woord op schrift [The written Word: theological reflections on biblical authority], a publication of the liberated reformed Theological University of Kampen. This contained a contribution by Rev. J.J.T. Doedens wherein he argued for a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1. Another contribution, by dr. A.L.Th. de Bruijne, argues for a more metaphorical approach to Gen.1-11 that places stress on extra-biblical sources. In 2004 Prof. Dr. J. Douma published the book Genesis, wherein he is declared himself to be open to big bang cosmology and human evolution.

Although objections were sent to GKV Synod 2008, it refused to discipline either of these men.

A recent poll in the Dutch Reformed magazine Nederlands Dagblad (2009) reveals that only 10% of GKV ministers believe in literal Genesis days. The top category is a non-historical Genesis, the next presumably some form of day-age, then literal days, myth, and, at the bottom, the framework hypothesis.

Kampen Seminary Prof. Gert Kwakkel, supporting literal days, remarked that 10 years ago more than half of the GKV ministers would have chosen literal days. A remarkably rapid decline that bodes ill for the futureof the GKV.

The mark of a true church is its rejection of all things contrary to the pure Word of God (Belgic Confession Art.29). The Bible clearly teaches creation in six historical days. On such grounds the above graph suggests that the Gereformeerde Gemeenten and the Hersteld Hervormde Kerk are much nearer the mark than the GKV.  A survey of other controversial issues reinforces the conclusion that the GKV is setting off on the same trajectory as the former GKN.

Would it therefore not be prudent for the Canadian Reformed Church to reconsider its ties with the GKV, lest it be enticed to follow suit?


Henrietta said...

Thank you very much for this very informative posting, Doctor. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa is currently also experiencing a similar kind of onslaught. I will most certainly refer people who are interested, to this posting. God bless! Henrietta Klaasing South Africa.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Byl,

I appreciate your commentary on this topic and I agree with what you say about the relationship between the CANRCs and the GKV. However, I don't agree with your assertion that the CANRCs are "heavily influenced" by the GKV. Personally, I don't recognize or feel that influence in the pew or in the pulpit.

Rob Schouten
Aldergrove, B.C.

Anonymous said...

Don't know how Robert became Roberto.

Anonymous said...

In the CANRC pews are members that question the 6 historical days of creation. There is a wel-known scientific blog (an elder in the CANRC is a contributor) and our church magazine Clarion received some interesting letters to the editor recently. The influence might not be official from the Dutch, using the Internet what goes on in Dutchland can be followed closer than ever!

john byl said...

I would caution not to underestimate the influence of the GKV on the CanRC:

1. Most of our members have roots in the GKV; many still have family connections; many attend GKV churches when visiting the Netherlands, many read GKV periodicals, including the English language Lux Mundi

2. Diakonia has published numerous GKV articles translated into English, often without substantial critique. In 2004 the Clarion published a long series of articles by Dr. Oosterhof promoting the faulty ideas of “Woord op Schrift”. These same views are now promoted by ReformedAcademic.

3. Many CanRC ministers and all CanRC seminary professors studied at the GKV seminary in Kampen (except for Dr. van VLiet, who studied at the Christelijke Gereformeerd seminary in Apeldoorn). Presumably they keep up to date with writings of their professors and developments at their alma mater. I am not suggesting that our ministers or professors have been unduly tainted by the GKV, on the contrary. However, unless I have missed it, they seem reluctant to publish substantial criticisms of the GKV. It is not easy to publicly reprove one’s former professors & colleagues.

4. The CanRC reluctance to seriously admonish the GKV on the issue at hand is evident in the report of the Committee on Relations with Churches Abroad (CRCA) to CanRC Synod 2010. In 2007 the CRCA noted that the GKVHersteld had voiced objections to “Woord op Schrift”, but the CRCA ducked the issue by claiming it could deal only with official GKV synodical acts. Now, after GKV Synod 2008 has in fact whitewashed both “Woord op Schrift” and Douma, the CRCA simply ignores it altogether. The two CRCA delegates who were sent to that synod complained of a “lack of translated material” (which raises the question of why the CRCA would go to the expense of sending delegates who can’t read Dutch). But the GKV synodical decisions are readily available, even in English (

Unhappily, the CRCA recommendations to Synod 2010 contain no strong admonitions to the GKV--only two mild "disappointments" and a suggestion for a joint conference on hermeneutics, which would only offer the GKV yet another opportunity to infect the CanRC.

Anonymous said...

I still maintain that the great majority of leaders in the CANRCs, including ministers of the Word and professors of theology, are not "heavily influenced" but rather deeply suspicious of trends in the GKV - reason for gratitude.

Rob Schouten
Aldergrove, B.C.

Fred Butler said...

Dr. Byl,
What is it with Reformed folks and their fascination with alternative views of Genesis? I have seen this a lot in recent years. Do they genuinely think the biblical record must be synchronized with modern, evolutionary scientism or is it just an over reaction to their dislike of fundamentalists who tend to be dispensational? It truly is baffling.

James Visscher said...

If Dr. Byl had bothered to read more carefully he would have noted that in my address to the Synod Zwolle-Zuid (see Appendices) we raised "a number of serious concerns" with the members of Synod. These concerns had to do especially with the two reports that we were asked to comment on. The one had to do with unity discussions with the NGK and dealt with opening the offices in the church to women. The other had to do with the hermeneutics underlying this report and the report on the role of women in the church.

In addition, what Dr. Byl and others were not prive to was the closed session in which the sister churches (and that includes the CanRC)warned the GKV about what the consequences would be if certain trends and developments continued.

Also, while the book "Woord op Schrift" is as such not part of our mandate as CRCA, a number of the matters and concerns in it were discussed with the Dutch Deputies.

Finally, I think that Dr. Byl greatly exaggerates the influence that the professors in the GKv have on Canadian Reformed ministers and professors. For one, most of my colleagues do not even read Dutch. Secondly, very few of them subscribe to any Dutch periodicals and Lux Mundi is read by just a select handful who receive it. Third, those few colleagues and professors who do read Dutch and know the Dutch GKv scene are distressed by any number of recent theological and liturgical developments there and thus examine what comes out of the GKv quite critically.

Oh, and by the way, both delegates (Rev. J. Moesker and I) have no problems reading and communicating in Dutch.

James Visscher
Surrey, BC

john byl said...

Dr Visscher

Thanks for your comments and clarification. Let me respond:

1. Please take my remarks in context. I criticized the CRCA for not admonishing the GKV regarding “the issue at hand”, namely matters concerning Genesis: “Woord op Schrift” and Douma. On this matter your report said nothing.

2. You claim this was not part of your mandate. Yet point 7 of your mandate encourages the committee “to monitor the situation in the RCN (i.e., GKV), keeping in mind the concerns expressed by the churches…”. Surely this includes the GKV waffling on Gen.1-11. And, surely, one of your recommendations should have been to admonish the GKV on this matter or, at the very least, to monitor developments.

3. I do not think, and did not say, that our ministers and professors have been greatly influenced by the GKV. What I said was, “I am not suggesting that our ministers or professors have been unduly tainted by the GKV, on the contrary. However, unless I have missed it, they seem reluctant to publish substantial criticisms of the GKV.” Please point me to the relevant publications.

However,whereas our ministers and professors may not have been greatly influenced by the GKV, current developments in the CanRC make it clear that others have been.

Let me stress that I am indeed grateful that none of our ministers or professors support this movement but, rather, a number of them have recently opposed it and have spoken up clearly for biblical truth.

4. If both delegates both read Dutch, why does the CRCA report say that “other matters could not be discussed" due to (among other things) "lack of translated materials”?

James Visscher said...

Thank you, John, for your reply.

Let me make a few additional comments:

First, the book 'Woord op Schrift' was published back in 2002 and I was told when I was put back on the CRCA in 1997 that it had been dealt with by the previous Committee. Members of the CRCA had spoken with the Dutch Deputies as to their concerns about this book.

Second, the CRCA mandate comes for a large part from the churches. As such we do monitor developments among the Churches in Ecclesiastical Fellowship on an ongoing basis.
In 2008 Rev. J. Moesker and I had a number of meetings with our Dutch counterparts at Synod Zwolle-Zuid where a number of ongoing concerns and issues were addressed.
In 2009 the Rev. Schouten and I also had several meetings with members of the Dutch BBK at the ICRC in New Zealand and a number of outstanding issues were again on the table.
The upshot of all of this is that the current CRCA is not too popular in some Dutch circles.

Third, with respect to the "lack of translated material" being a problem at Synod Zwolle-Zuid, it should be made clear that the problem was not with Rev. Moesker and I but with the other delegations (the Free Church, the FCS Continuing and the OPC) who neither read nor speak Dutch. We even asked for additional matters to be discussed by Synod, but were told that the material for this was not in English and that as a result the other delegations would not be able to participate in the discussion.

john byl said...

Dr. Visscher

I appreciate your further elaboration on the issues I raised--that does clarify the situation. Also, I commend the CRCA for their work done and efforts made. My prime concern is with the CRCA recommendations to Synod 2010, which I believe should be substantially strengthened (as noted above).