Inerrancy — Lessons from History (8)

16 October 2009 by Wes Bredenhof

Report 44 came late to the Christian Reformed Church in 1972.  In fact, there were two overtures to Synod 1972 to postpone discussion of it because of its late arrival.  They wanted more time to study it.  However, for some unknown reason, the Synod decided to go ahead and discuss the report and then later adopted it.

It was claimed that Report 44 attempted to take into account some of the criticisms that had been levelled at Report 36.  For instance, Formulation A and Formulation B were both affirmed as “two inseparable aspects of the Reformed view of Scripture.”  Of course, that did not satisfy those who saw them as irreconcilable.  With regards to the naming of specific figures, the “Introductory Observations” mentions Kuitert and Lever (their views are implicitly rejected by the report) and notes that the body of the report interacts with theologians such as Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, G. Ebeling, and E. Fuchs.

Surveying the report, one finds good statements and bad statements, but more than anything else a lack of clarity.  The average regular member in the CRC would have scratched his head over most of it.  Ambiguity and double-speak were characteristic.  Bones were thrown to conservatives:  for instance, verbal plenary inspiration was affirmed.  Doors were cracked open for latitudinarians:  “Synod reminds the churches of our brotherly obligation to respect such freedom of biblical interpretation as falls clearly within the bounds of our creedal forms of unity, while recognizing, of course, that in all things we are bound by the Word of God.”  Or:  “While the entire Scripture speaks with divine authority, this divine authority is understood concretely and specifically only when one takes account of what God said, how he spoke, to whom he spoke…”  Within a year, the Calvin Seminary student publication Stromata published an article by a “Christian homosexual” arguing that what was true in Paul’s day is not necessarily true in ours.  CRC conservatives were quick to draw the connection between Report 44 and this manner of reasoning.  In their view, Report 44 had opened the door.  Writing in the March 1976 issue of the Reformed Journal, latitudinarian Harry Boer affirmed what everyone already knew:  Report 44 clearly evidenced the influence of higher criticism.

There were other serious theological problems with the report.  The first point of the pastoral instruction said, “Synod calls the churches to a wholehearted recognition that Scripture, which is the saving revelation of God in Jesus Christ, addresses us with full divine authority and that this authority applies to Scripture in its total extent and in all its parts.”  CRC conservatives and others objected to this formulation because in saying “saving revelation” it failed to acknowledge that there are also parts of Scripture that plainly accuse unbelievers (see John 5:45, 12:48-49, 2 Cor. 2:15-16).  This terminology was imported into the CRC from their sister churches in the Netherlands and especially from G.C. Berkouwer (the same Berkouwer cited in the last paragraph of the paper on inerrancy at Reformed Academic).

For our purposes, there are two other noteworthy points about Report 44 and its reception in the CRC.  The first has to do with an appeal to pastoral care of the youth.  Speaking about the “new theology” or “latitudinarian impulse” as we’re calling it, the report stated,

The conviction with which they speak arises from their attempt to gauge the pulsebeat of Christian living today.  Their claim to a hearing is based upon their professed attempts to meet the spiritual crises especially of today’s Christian youth, whose confidence in the authority of Scripture is being threatened by the eroding influences of modern science.  They therefore regard the so-called “new hermeneutics” as a positive contribution to meeting the felt or unfelt, yet very real needs of the church.

Here again is another example of how Fruitland’s conservative pastoral concerns were co-opted by a latitudinarian agenda.  It also shows that there is nothing new under the sun.  Today we continue to hear about how young Christians feel threatened by modern science and how we need to respond in some other way than by encouraging them to simply believe our Father’s Word which will never lie.

Finally, Classis Pacific Northwest submitted an overture to Synod 1972 on “The New Hermeneutic.”  They appealed to the position adopted by the CRC in 1961 and asked the Synod to judge that the “new hermeneutic” is precluded on that basis.  They provided as one of the grounds this:  “Synod in 1959 adopted the Reformed Ecumenical Synod Conclusions regarding inspiration, including the conclusion that ‘…Scripture in its whole extent and in all its parts is the infallible and inerrant Word of God.”  From the Acts it appears that Classis Pacific Northwest’s overture was not even given consideration.  They adopted the recommendations of Report 44, stating that these were an answer to the Classis (and others), thereby skirting the issue of inerrancy and related matters.  The CRC had left 1961 behind for good.

According to one eye-witness report, under the chairmanship of Clarence Boomsma, the Synod “proceeded as a well-oiled steamroller, and objectors looked like boys trying to stop it with a slingshot.”  Combine that with a stacked committee, a late report, and ambiguous language and it wouldn’t have taken a prophet to predict the approval of Report 44 and the CRC’s continued slide away from inerrancy and a high view of Scripture.   In the years to come, Report 44 would often be the appeal of many a latitudinarian in the CRC.  Next time we’ll look at the case of Allen Verhey.

One response to “Inerrancy — Lessons from History (8)”

  1. G.C. Berkouwer wrote two books on scripture which function like book-ends on his career and demonstrate his drift from an orthodox view of scripture and revelation. Anyone who quotes his latter book to strengthen an argument ought to know what he is doing.

    Thanks for these excellent articles, Wes!

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