Inerrancy — Lessons from History (9)

16 October 2009 by Wes Bredenhof

Allen Verhey
Allen Verhey

Our story continues further into the 1970s and the case of Allen Verhey.  Verhey graduated from Calvin Seminary in 1975 and was then examined by Classis Grand Rapids East on September 28 of that year.  An eye-witness report of this exam was published in the February 1976 issue of the Outlook:

This fall a candidate in a preliminary examination had repeatedly told us that he intended to teach people to read the Bible critically.  Questioned about this matter he stated that he did not believe that the serpent spoke to Eve as reported in Genesis 3.  Questioned further about the earthquake mentioned in Matthew 28:2, he explained that whether or not this happened was a wrong question and the earthquake in the account should be understood as an apocalyptic literary symbol of the end.  Some of the results of such a view of the Bible were also apparent in views he expressed on some moral questions.  His view of abortion differed from that officially expressed by the church.  The command, ‘Servants obey your masters’ was no longer to be repeated in 1850, but the Bible taught a principle of equality under Christ which brought an end to slavery.  The same principle, in his opinion, applied to the place of women in the church.  Although it was plain that he held many orthodox opinions, regarding the Bible he was convinced that we cannot identify the words of biblical authors with the words of God in other times.  What became apparent in the examination was that such views were held not only by him.

Despite all that, the classis still passed him and opened the way for his ordination as a minister in the CRC (so that he could teach at Hope College).  That eye-witness report came from one of “the founding fathers” of the United Reformed Churches, P.Y. DeJong.  His church, the Dutton CRC , decided to appeal to Classis Grand Rapids East.

The matter was not discussed until the following May and it became clear that the classis was essentially paralyzed.  Verhey was a member of the Neland Ave CRC and so a delegate asked whether the church was interacting with Verhey on this matter.  They insisted that Verhey “still holds to the authority of Scripture, creeds, teachings of Scripture.  That is a hermeneutical problem…It’s Report 44.”

Dutton did not waste any time appealing Verhey’s ordination to the next CRC Synod.  There was a lengthy and heated discussion on the appeal that lasted a number of days.  A minority report was prepared which proposed to sustain the appeal of Dutton.  However, although this was recommended to Synod 1976, it was not voted on.  The Majority Report which proposed to reject the appeal of Dutton was, however, adopted.  Essentially, the grounds boiled down to procedure.  Classis Grand Rapids East had followed the correct procedure, while Dutton’s concerns about Verhey had not been expressed correctly according to the CRC Church Order and Form of Subscription.

Following Synod 1976, Dutton attempted to follow the procedure mandated by the synod and after failing to see satisfactory results, took it to the next Synod as well.  Numerous churches, classes and individuals sent overtures and appeals relating to the case.  The Synod decided to pass the matter over to the Neland Ave CRC and asked them to bring a report to the next Synod on Verhey’s views.  One conservative commentator noted that it was ridiculous to ask Verhey’s church (which was on record as clearly being in favour of his views) to study his views.  As it turned out, Neland Ave appointed Verhey’s pastor and a number of his friends to interact with him – with predictable results.

The Verhey case gave more clear evidence that the CRC was steering for a dangerous reef.  As for Verhey, today he teaches Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School, a United Methodist Institution.  He was released at some point from the ministry in the CRC.

There is a Canadian Reformed connection to this story, because in a 1977 article in Clarion (later republished as chapter 2 in Essays in Reformed Doctrine and available on-line here), Dr. J. Faber interacted with Allen Verhey’s attack on Harold Lindsell’s doctrine of inerrancy.  While he chided both Verhey and Lindsell for drawing parallels between the incarnation of Christ and the inscripturation of the Bible, Faber stated that “our place on the battlefield is over against Verhey.”  It was clear that Faber was more comfortable with Lindsell than Verhey.  Moreover, in 1977 when the Canadian Reformed Churches issued their “Appeal to the Christian Reformed Church,” the Verhey case was mentioned as giving concern “that there will be a lack of doctrinal church discipline in your own church…”  Dr. J. Faber had also written that “Appeal,” together with D. Vanderboom and W.W.J. VanOene.  From the Canadian Reformed perspective, it was clear that not disciplining someone who denied and attacked inerrancy was a serious reason for concern – even if said person claimed loyalty to the Three Forms of Unity.

In our last instalment, we’ll briefly discuss the formation of the United Reformed Churches and their relationship to inerrancy and the future of this question.

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