Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hermeneutics Conference Overview

The Hermeneutics Conference (Hamilton, Jan.16-18, 2014) is now long over (see previous post). This conference featured speakers from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS) and the Theological University of Kampen (TUK) of the Gereformeerde Kerken Vrijgemaakt (GKV), the Dutch sister-church of the Canadian Reformed Church. The main purpose was to debate traditional Reformed hermeneutics versus the "new" hermeneutics advocated by TUK.

Videos of the lectures have just been posted at the site of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. Unfortunately, these do not include the discussions. Written summaries of the lectures by the Dutch professors, Drs. B. Kamphuis, J.M. Burger, and G. Kwakkel are at the site of the Theological University of Kampen (TUK). Some English translations can be found here. The Dutch posts include responses (by Drs. A.J. de Visser and A. Strange), and questions from the audience. The Dutch sites Werken Aan Einheid and Een In Waarheid are the best sites for links to lectures and analyses.

A Brief Overview
Rev. C. Bouwman, who attended, has written a valuable review . Two main issues were how to interpret Genesis 1 and I Timothy 2.

Rev. Bouwman relates that, according to the TUK professors,
"Genesis 1 isn’t about how we got here, but it’s instruction to Israel at Mt Sinai about how mighty God is not the author of cannot go to the Bible to find out how the world got here – because that’s not what Genesis1 is about, and so it’s not a fair question we should ask Genesis 1 to answer."
As to 1 Timothy 2, the TUK professors argued,
"when Paul wrote the prohibition of 1Timothy 2, the culture Timothy lived in did not tolerate women in positions of leadership. If Paul in that situation had permitted women to teach in church or to have authority over men, he would have placed an unnecessary obstacle on the path of unbelievers to come to faith. Our western culture today, however, gives women a very inclusive role in public leadership. If we today, then, ban them from the offices of the church, we would place an obstacle in the path of modern people on their journey to faith in Jesus Christ. Had Paul written his letter to the church in Hamilton today, he would have written vs 12 to say that women would be permitted to teach and to have authority over men."
The TUK hermeneutics is said to be a "third way", between the traditional approach ("foundationalism") and rejecting the Bible altogether ("relativism"). Rev. Bouwman remarks:
This speech about the ‘third way’ helped clarify for me why the Kampen professors could say what they did about Genesis 1 and 1 Timothy 2.  They were seeking to listen to Scripture as well as to what our culture and science, etc, were saying, and then under the guidance of the Holy Spirit sought to come to the will of the Lord for today’s questions.  To insist that Genesis 1 is God’s description about how we got here (creation by divine fiat) leads to conclusions that fly in the face of today’s science and/or evolutionary thinking – and so we must be asking the wrong questions about Genesis 1; it’s not about how we got here….  To insist that 1 Timothy 2 has something authoritative to say about the place of women is to place us on ground distinctly out of step with our society – and so we must be reading 1 Timothy 2 wrongly.  As a result of deep meditation on Scripture plus input from culture etc, these men have concluded that God leads us to condoning women in office in our culture, accepting a very old age for the earth, and leaving room for homosexual relationships in obedient service to the Lord....One questioner from the audience hit the nail on the head: the Dutch brethren were adapting their method of reading the Bible to produce conclusions accommodated to our culture.
Rev. Bouwman concludes,
There was a time when the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and their Theological University in Kampen were a source of much wisdom and encouragement in searching the Scriptures.  Given that all the men from Kampen spoke more or less the same language at the Hermeneutics Conference, it is clear to me that those days are past.
Some Comments
From the above sources, and having spoken to several attendees, my impressions are as follows.

1. The conference has served well to illustrate the great differences between traditional Reformed hermeneutics and the so-called "new" hermeneutics of the TUK. The professors from the CRTS (and Mid-America Reformed Seminary) did very well in defending the traditional hermeneutics against the TUK approach. Consequently, more members of the CanRC have been made aware of the fact that the TUK has very serious theological problems. For many this conference was a real eye-opener.

2. It seems to me, however, that the TUK professors got off rather lightly. For example, Dr van Bekkum was not explicitly confronted about his dubious approach to the book of Joshua (in his Ph.D. thesis he questioned  the historicity of various events in Joshua).

It seems that the TUK professors tried to minimize the adverse nature of their hermeneutics, and were not completely frank as to what they actually believed. For example, Dr. Kamphuis, when asked from the audience about Adam and evolution, avoided giving a direct answer. He should have been pressed on this important question. The TUK approach to Genesis makes room for mainstream science, with its evolutionary view of origins. But acceptance of evolution entails rejection of the Biblical Adam, which in turn undermines such crucial doctrines as an historical Fall, original sin, and substitionary atonement. Once the unbiblical presuppositions underlying the TUK hermeneutics have worked themselves out, nothing will be left of the Reformed faith. Just look at the example of the GKN (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland:  Reformed Churches in the Netherlands), which embraced a similar hermeneutic.

3. Some within the Canadian Reformed Church may well be sympathetic to the TUK approach to Scripture, particularly regarding Gen.1-11. To that end, it would be beneficial if the CRTS professors would publish their presented papers, as well as follow-up articles dealing with the TUK hermeneutics and its implications.



JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

It seems to me that there is a contradiction in what the Kampen professors are saying. First, the parameters of the articles of faith, that which we believe, are asserted as being formulated from a consensus of what the Word of God says, and not directly from the Word of God alone. That is already self-contradictory; but then it is declared, as if it is an oracle from God Himself, that Genesis One is not about the creation but rather about God not being responsible for evil.

No proof is given for the assertion that Genesis One is not about how we came to be, it is just asserted as if it comes directly out of the Word of God.

But this initial reaction comes from reading the reported summaries of some of the lectures, and not the lectures themselves. It would be nice to read the actual speeches. And not in Dutch.

John Byl said...

Hi John

Regarding Genesis 1, see the video of the lecture by Dr van Vliet on "The Two Books Debate" at
This includes a response by Dr Kamphuis (starting at about 41:00; he discusses Gen.1 starting at about 51:00). Although this video includes also a reply by Dr van Vliet, it unfortunately omits the discussion following. The only source I found for that was in Dutch.
Question 2 asks Dr Kamphuis about the historicity of Adam.
Dr Kamphuis does indeed give no exegetical proof for his assertion that Genesis 1 is not about origins.

Johan Trip said...

Hello all,
In the answer of question 4, Kamphuis is very clear (source: Freely translated: "There is a model which specifies four relations between science and faith: choice, integration (compare:creationism and hindoeism); dialogue, seperation. I do not believe in integration because science cannot answer fundamental questions. And Scripture is nog given to us to give answers on all our curious scientific answers about the origin of the world or the future of the world. I also do not believe in the struggle between science and faith. Dialogue is always good, but seperation is better. Science is something different then what God reveals in his Word."
According to Kamphuis, we received the holy scripture for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith. That is why we cannot address scientific questions to the Bible. God reveals himself as far as it is necessary for us to praise Him and for our salvation in Jesus Christ.

According to me this means that there are more (seperated) worlds where we live in. The world of faith, the world of real life, the world of science, etc.

Johan Trip said...

ofcourse: "curious scientific answers" should be "curious scientific questions".

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

I have not yet listened to Dr. VanVliet's presentation. It is one that I am keenly interested in.

As I indicated above, I'm only just now starting to read and listen to the conference's speeches and responses. The contradiction that I noted is just an initial reaction.

I will not accept the idea that the Bible does not touch on matters of science and history. In these areas the Bible always has been forensically basic; and I believe it continues to be so in our day as well. But that it does not directly give us doctrine, well that's just too much to swallow. Especially when it is put forward as if its a doctrine.

Annie Kate said...

Thanks for your analysis and for the links.

JohnV said...

Dr Byl:

I've only had time to listen to some of lectures so far. The following is my reaction to Dr. Kamphuis' response to Dr. VanVliet's presentation (in two parts.)

I have four observations concerning Dr. Kamphuis’ response to Dr. VanVliet’s presentation on the Two Books.

1. Dr. Kamphuis switches the “book” metaphor: i.e. general revelation is “as a book” (metaphorically) but special revelation is “a book” of metaphors. SR is confined in meaning to its GR context: GR reveals SR, but SR does nothing to reveal GR. The idea of “book” as norm for the other is switched.

2. Dr. Kamphuis concludes that contradiction necessarily exists between the two revelations: i.e. if the two are taken as speaking in the same sense then they will not agree, since special revelation is metaphor from general revelation.
(Formerly it was held that the two revelations cannot contradict because they are both from God, thus assuming that they do indeed speak in the same sense about matters in common to both: i.e. the Bible speaks about facts which are the subjects of science and about history, and general revelation speaks about God’s power and deity, about His truth and goodness, about justice and equity, etc.: never in contradiction to each other. But Kamphuis assumes contradiction as the norm.)

JohnV said...


3. Dr. Kamphuis has changed Bible interpretation as a result of his views of general revelation. Whereas he speaks of keeping them apart in separate spheres, he is forced to that conclusion, and interprets Gen. 1 altogether differently from historical Reformed theology, due to his views on general revelation.
(Formerly the Reformed churches looked upon general revelation to aid in discerning between literal and figurative meanings of Scripture, meaning that it was acknowledged that the Bible contained both literal and figurative accounts and teachings; but according to Kamphuis it is all now figurative.)

4. It is not that Dr. Kamphuis accepts man’s account of origins as infallible, even though he treats it that way in assuming it as general revelation. Post-modern secular belief is defined by its denial and shiftiness on such absolutes as truth and fact. In addition, post-modern exegesis assumes that every meaning attributed to Scripture is human interpretation, and therefore always fallible; but the Bible remains infallible. Kamphuis does not disagree with this, it seems. But this kind of infallibility becomes meaningless when applied to the meaning of Scripture. Man is surer of his science than his is of his theology, even though the former is from man and the latter is directly from God. He intones that theology is always speculative and subjective, while science is seen to be objective and certain, even though temporal and subject to correction and improvement. Dr. Kamphuis does not interact with the idea of infallibility in the Reformed sense because, in fact, it is a non-issue for his way of thinking.

I conclude from this that the faith that Kamphuis is speaking of is not the faith that I hold. He is saying things about, supposedly, my faith that I have never believed for even one day in my life in the church. He seems to be affirming things that I have been taught to reject.



JohnV said...

I couldn’t give a summary statement of observations on the Hamilton conference, like Rev. Bouwman’s, which would capture all of the presentations. Instead, I’d like to focus in one only one thing: how do the Kampen professors know what they claim to know?

Dr. Kemphuis states that we have to read the Bible with the point of view of how to glorify God and praise Him, and not to learn about history or science. But how does he know this? From where does he glean this “knowledge”? If the Bible is a book of metaphors, then where does it say how we have to read the Bible? How does Dr. Kemphuis know how we have to read the Bible”?

Another professor, Dr. Kwakkel, openly avers that the text itself cannot do anything about the different interpretations of the text. “It has to accept any meaning I assign to it. But at the same time there is a common understanding of what a text means in a particular community.” Again, if we assign meanings to texts, then how does he know that the Bible has to be read that way? How does he know that the old way of reading the text, of preferring the plain meaning, is either wrong or just another man-imposed interpretation (e.g. the word “day” in Gen. 1; cf Ex. 20:11)?

The point seems to be that these professors assumed these things from their reading of the Bible, but that the Bible in no way says these things on its own.

The Reformed insistence on Sola Scriptura, of deriving doctrine from Scripture alone, that it depends not on men, consists most importantly of weeding out all man-originated meanings, of letting the Scripture speak for itself; even without the church’s interposition (BC, art. v, vii). Where did things change so that all we have is man-originated imposition on Scripture? What happened to Sola Scriptura?

That is the question that weighs upon me, having listened to a number of these presentations: What happened to Sola Scriptura in the Dutch churches?

JohnV said...

Another question arises, one concerning authority. This question would also be in keeping with the main thrust of this blog.

It would seem that the Kampen professors would have us believe that we cannot take Genesis One literally. They are not saying, it seems to me, that a literal understanding of Genesis One is one of two or more possible understandings (as, say, the people at Reformed Academic imply); they come across to me as saying that modern science has rendered the literal meaning as obsolete, as not a possible interpretation. They assert that this one mighty act, the creating of the universe in six ordinary days, has been wrongfully attributed to God because science says it did not happen that way at all.

It is one thing to say that God’s own words, taken as they are, without imposing any of our own meanings onto the text, is only one of the possible meanings of the text (asserting that a literal meaning of “day” is imposed by man; that, indeed, every interpretation on any text is a man-imposed interpretation); it is another to assert that it must be ruled out altogether as a possible meaning of the text. But here is the rub, as I see it:

Q. Who gives a professor at the churches’ seminary the authority to tell God’s servants, God’s people, that they are to forget or deny this one particular mighty work of God which He recorded for us in His Word?

We are enjoined and even commanded not to forget any of God’s works of old (see Ps. 105:5; Ps. 111:2 and 4; Ps. 145: 4), but the teachers of our age tell us that we can forget and even deny this particular one, God’s creating acts recorded in Genesis (Ps. 136:4-9). They may even stand in the place of authority, an office for which they must sign the Form of Subscription, and tell us to forget or deny this one act. But by whose authority? Does the church give them this authority? Does the Bible? Does Christ? Does the Holy Spirit?

Here is my question: By what right or reason does such a person claim the authority to be teaching something that does not come from God’s Word?