Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hermeneutic Showdown in Hamilton?

The Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS) is currently advertising a conference entitled "Correctly Handling the Word of Truth: Reformed Hermeneutics Today", scheduled for Jan.16-18, 2014 in Hamilton, Ontario.

Of special interest is the fact that 5 (of 11) speakers are from the Theological University of Kampen (TUK) of the Gereformeerde Kerken Vrijgemaakt (GKV), the Dutch sister-church of the Canadian Reformed Church.

The CanRC Admonishes the GKV regarding TUK
Why is this so interesting? Because at its last Synod (May, 2013) the Canadian Reformed Church strongly admonished the GKV for the "acceptance of  higher-critical scholarship" at TUK (Acts 2013, art.165).

Particular concern was expressed about TUK professors Dr Stefan Paas and Dr Koert van Bekkum. Dr Paas, in his dissertation "Creation and Judgment", expounded the notion that the Israelites arose from a migrant and Canaanite population, calling into question the historicity of the Exodus (Art.148). Dr. van Bekkum, in his dissertation "From Conquest to Coexistence", questioned the historicity of various events in Joshua, such as the sun standing still and the walls of Jericho falling down at the time of Joshua. See my post Is Joshua Historical? Van Bekkum's thesis was awarded a cum laude distinction by TUK, where he was subsequently appointed as lecturer.

Concern had been expressed earlier about another TUK professor, Dr A.L.Th. de Bruijne, who "allowed for inaccuracies in the Bible and its use of myth" (Art.148, 2.2.7).

CanRC Synod 2013 asserted," allowing such views to be presented and promoted undermines the orthodox Reformed character of the TUK" (Art.165). Synod 2013 further stated, 
 "With respect to the allegations made against Dr Paas and Dr van Bekkum, we do not understand how a church federation which claims to be subject to the Word of God can tolerate these views as being in accord with Scripture and confession" (Art.148, 3.3).
and expressed concern about
"the views coming from or tolerated at the TUK  which show marks of Scripture criticism and which deviate from Reformed hermeneutical principles as indicated by Articles 5 and 7  of the Belgic Confession" (Art 148, 4.3).
Why This Conference?
So, one wonders, why does the CanRC seminary invite TUK speakers  to a conference on "Correctly Handling the Word of Truth: Reformed Hermeneutics Today" when, according to the 2013 CanRC Synod, TUK is incorrectly handling Scripture and tolerating un-Reformed hermeneutics? This question is particularly pertinent concerning the above-mentioned Dr van Bekkum and Dr de Bruijne, who are among the invited TUK speakers.

Is this meant to provide a platform for CRTS professors to soundly refute the un-Reformed hermeneutics coming from the TUK? Do they perhaps hope to convince their TUK counterparts of the error of their hermeneutical ways? These would be worthy aims.

Nevertheless, I question whether an open conference is the best means to achieve such goals.

It is, of course, essential that the CRTS professors clearly promote orthodox Reformed hermeneutics, boldly defend the plain truth of Scripture, and openly refute all errors. They must train future ministers to do likewise, so that they may properly guide their flocks through the various errors and challenges of our day. To that end, it will be useful if their lectures will be made more widely available in printed form.

However, making these hermeneutical  issues a matter of academic debate may well detract from their serious nature. It seems to me that inviting TUK professors to this conference gives too much credibility to errant TUK views. The advertisements for the conference make no mention of the CanRC admonishment of the GKV about TUK.

Discussions involving hermeneutics, theology, epistemology, and science can be made to seem very complex. Not much conference time is allotted for thorough discussion. No doubt the TUK speakers all consider themselves as correctly handling Scripture and as being soundly Reformed. Is that claim really going to be openly contested--and decisively disproven-- at this conference?

It would be regretful if this conference were to leave attendees with more questions than answers, mistakenly thinking that the censured TUK approach is merely another valid Reformed way of correctly handling the Word of God.


Anonymous said...

I can understand your concerns about whether or not a conference is the best way to deal with serious errors. However, it's pretty obvious that the Conference is intended to engage and expose the spirit of error at work in the GKV and the TUK. A look at the list of speakers from the CRTS and the titles of their speeches indicates that the purpose is to defend an historic Reformed hermeneutic over against creeping liberalism.

Gerhard H. Visscher said...

Greetings, Dr Byl

While I do not wish to get into a protracted discussion about this on your forum, there are some points that may be helpful for your readers to realize.

First, long before the Report you reference was published or the Synod was held, TUK asked CRTS about the possibility of having a conference together - to which we responded positively and suggested hermeneutics as an appropriate discussion topic.

Second, it should be noted that Synod 2013 did not sever the relations with the GKN(v); thus we continue to be in a sister-relationship with them. The purpose of such relations is to discuss, correct, and encourage. If we can do that via public papers, magazines, and the like, it should not be a problem to do so through a conference. Such face-to–face discussion will then be happening in two public sessions, in an academic level conference, in personal discussions, as well as a private preconference. The intent is to discuss together what it means to correctly handle the Word of truth in this twenty-first century. Much of that can also happen profitably in a public manner.

You can rest assured that if they or we espouse views that are not considered Reformed, such views will not go unchallenged.

I am hopeful that our federation will be thankful for the involvement of CRTS in such a venture with leaders of her ecclesiastical sister.

Dr. Gerhard H. Visscher
Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

john byl said...

Hello Rev. Schouten and Dr Visscher

Thank for your comments.

To Dr. Visscher:

I appreciate your helpful background information.

I would like to point out, however, that a recommendation for a hermeneutics conference involving professors from CRTS and TUK was made by the Committee for Relations with Churches Abroad to Synod 2010 (Synod 2010, art.

Several churches objected to such a conference, due to the serious nature of the issue (art. 86.2.9). Subsequently, although Synod 2010 suggested a hermeneutics conference might have merit within e.g. the ICRC setting (art.86.3.5), Synod 2010 did not approve the recommendation for a hermeneutics conference.

To Rev. Schouten:

I trust that the CRTS professors will indeed clearly expose and soundly refute TUK error. My concern is that doing this via a public conference, giving TUK professors equal time to deflect, defuse, and complicate, has the potential to muddy the waters, at least in the minds of the hoi polloi.

John van Popta said...

Dear Dr. Byl

(Full disclosure: I sit on the committee that organizes the CRTS Annual Conference, but I am not speaking for it in this post.)

Just because the 2010 Synod "observed" that several (actually less than 6%) of the churches did not agree with the recommendation of the committee to organize conferences on hermeneutics, and seem to have suggested that the “concerns are not topics for a scholarly debate...". And just because the same synod in its “considerations” suggested that “organiniz[ing] a conference can have its merits within e.g. the ICRC setting, but it is not sufficient to address serious concerns”, does not mean that a conference should not be held. Furthermore, no one is suggesting that this will be a ‘sufficient’ response.

The recommendation from the Committee for Relations with Churches Abroad (Fall 2009) was that (the churches via its) “Synod decide: 4. To seek ways to organize conferences on hermeneutics which would involve professors currently teaching in Hamilton, Kampen and perhaps elsewhere.” True, this recommendation was not acted on. However, decisions of assemblies have effect in what is decided, not in what was not decided. A recommendation may not be accepted, or a motion may be defeated, for all sorts of reasons which we will never know. The broader assemblies don't make all kinds of decisions. It would be “synodical” in the worst way to think that since a recommendation (made to the churches 4 years ago) “to seek ways to organize conferences” was not acted upon then, means it is now forbidden, or even unwise or improper, much less, unhelpful, to hold one now.

With respect

John van Popta

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Byl,
Thank you for post, I also share your concern. Given the current situation in the RCN it is the last place I would seek speakers for a conference that we are hosting. It worries me how we are flirting with the new way of interpreting scripture.

Casey Leyenhorst

john byl said...

Dear Rev. van Popta

Thanks for your comment.

You raise an interesting procedural question: Is it proper for the CRTS to implement in 2014 precisely that controversial recommendation that was addressed, but not approved, by the churches in 2010?

In my opinion, it is not. The CRTS exists solely by and for the churches. It has no self-autonomy; it is fully accountable to the churches. As such, the CRTS should be sensitive to the concerns of the churches. Hence, given the background, it seems to me that the CRTS should have consulted the churches.

Gerhard H. Visscher said...

Dr Byl

Your memory is better than ours. The 2010 Synod discussion did not even enter into our discussion when we agreed to a conference nor to the topic. I don't believe anyone even remembered that synod discussion. I certainly didn't. That being said, I fail to see that Synod was saying that such a conference could not happen. It just did not mandate it nor believe that it would be enough to bring about the desired result.

Likewise, we have no grandiose aspirations. We simply believe the discussion is appropriate, worthwhile, and a Christian obligation.

Dr. G. H. Visscher

john byl said...

Dear Dr Visscher

Thank you for your elaboration.

Let me stress that I am glad that the CRTS is openly confronting the new hermeneutics coming from TUK. I trust that the CRTS professors will boldly defend Biblical truth and Reformed hermeneutics. And I hope that the conference will prove to be completely successful in exposing and refuting TUK error.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Byl,

We share your concerns and pray that the CRTS will openly refute the TUK hermeneutics, for the sake of His churches here and our sister churches in the Netherlands. We believe that God Himself speaks to this in Romans 16:17-19. "I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil." May God grant wisdom in this.

Peter and Glenda Bysterveld

Harry deboer said...

Dr. Byl. I also would like to support your posting with regards to the attendees of this conference. By allowing the speakers from TUK to present their views on hermeneutics we give them to much credibility and already open the door for possible acceptance. I agree and support our professors refuting these views but do not agree that this is the correct forum

John Byl said...

To Casey Leyenhorst, Peter and Glenda Bysterveld, and Harry deBoer

Thanks for your comments and support.

Of course, whatever misgivings we may have about the speakers and format, the conference will go ahead. And I do believe it that this is better than having no hermeneutics conference at all.

We thus hope and pray that the conference will indeed be entirely successful in defending Biblical truth and refuting error.

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

If I might pose a question to the representatives of CRTS and of TUK who are to speak:

The point in question for the conference is that of rightly handling (that is, correctly interpreting) the Word of God: determining what it is that God has said to us in His Word. Two particular questions that come up in Dr. Byl’s initial post are: Did the walls of Jericho fall in Joshua’s time, and as the Bible relates? And, did the sun stand still? But can we factually and definitively answer these questions apart from the Word of God?

These are not firstly questions about rightly handling the Word of God. These are questions that are firstly about rightly handling factual information from our own discoveries. Assuming that the Bible speaks figuratively on these stated matters is already assuming that man’s conclusions are facts instead of conclusions. Is that rightly handling science? Do we know with that degree of certainty that the walls did not fall and the sun did not stand still? Or is it rather that we can’t explain these things, or reconcile them to what we think we know? Do we call it science, and therefore assume it has some priority over beliefs? Why does an assumption by men have the status of calling God’s Word into question? Does it? Is it not first in order that we determine what is fact and what is assumption or conclusion by men? I am not satisfied that the assumptions upon which men call God’s Word into question have been sufficiently certified.

So my question is this:

Since the points of difference centre on archeological or scientific conclusions, why are we not first having a conference on rightly handling science? Are we so sure that the credibility of scientists need not to be called into question here instead of God’s Word?

Unknown said...

""The advertisements for the conference make no mention of the CanRC admonishment of the GKV about TUK."". at least theis conference is being promoted in Canada. Here in the Netherlands it seems to be getting swept under the carpet.

Kim Batteau said...

I support the doctrine of the inerrancy wholeheartedly, as expounded by my teachers at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, fro 1969-1972, including Prof. Cornelius Van Til. I am quite worried that there is little support for this important doctrine, which is totally confessional (see the Belgic Confession on Scripture), here in our churches in The Netherlands (RCN (Liberated)). I hope we will return to this doctrine, as defended historically by Klaas Schilder and A.G. Honig. J.M. (Kim) Batteau, emeritus minister of the RCN (L) church of The Hague-Center/Scheveningen.

Unknown said...

Dear Dr. Byl. The conference is now over. What comments can you now make?

John Byl said...

Hi David

I was not at the conference, and have not as yet heard or seen any of the lectures or discussions. I did speak to several people that were present. Their impression was that this conference was an eye-opener for many that attended: there was a distinct difference between the traditional Reformed hermeneutics defended by the CanRC, and the "new" hermeneutics of the TUK.

So, it seems that the conference has served to convince more members of the CanRC that the GKV has very serious theological problems.

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

The seminary website has posted videos of the conference at

If there is a post-conference press release I haven't seen it yet.