Tag Archives: Jochem Douma

Klaas Schilder’s Christ and Culture — Some Notes

Way back in the day (I mean way back — even before university), I got it into my head to take a Dutch course.  The greatest part of my motivation was the desire to read famous Dutch theologians like Klaas Schilder in the original.  So off I went, me and a good buddy, to study Dutch at an evening course offered by the adult education department of Edmonton Public Schools.  After finishing the course, I got my hands on some books by old KS.  One of them was a slim little volume entitled Christus en cultuur.  Unfortunately, my Dutch skills were not up to snuff.  I could make little sense of it.  I gave up soon after beginning.

A few years later, I managed to get my own copy of an English translation of this book.  Translated by Rev. G. VanRongen and Dr. W. Helder, it was published by Premier in 1976.  I got more out of the English translation than I did from the Dutch, but there were large swathes that remained impenetrable.  After reading some other stuff from Schilder, I reached the conclusion that either he was the most brilliantly flawed communicator in the world or I was one of the densest readers.  He could have moments of profound insight, but it was like wading through thick brambles to access that beautiful little trout stream.

I recently discovered a new edition of Christ and Culture.  It was published in 2016 by Lucerna, the publishing arm of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary.  It is a new and much-improved translation by William Helder (who was involved with the first English translation) and Albert H. Oosterhoff.  It also includes helpful explanatory notes, both from the translators and from a recent Dutch edition by Jochem Douma.  As a result, many of the literary brambles have been cleared away and the insights of Schilder are more accessible.

Having read through this new edition, let me make a few notes, both of appreciation and criticism.

It is well-known that Schilder was an outspoken critic of Abraham Kuyper.  Christ and Culture allows English readers access to some of his criticisms and their rationale.  For example, in chapter 4, he critiques Kuyper’s concept of sphere sovereignty:

…Kuyper himself was not able to explain clearly what exactly those “sovereigns” in all those “spheres” might be.  One single Sovereign — that is something we can accept and understand.  But as soon as one begins to speak about “sovereigns” in the plural, each of them in his own sphere, things become vague.  (16)

Chapters 18 and 26 feature Schilder’s critique of Kuyper’s teaching on common grace.  When “the gifts of creation blossom and expand,” Schilder argues that it is not a matter of grace, but of nature.  Cultural activity in itself does not involve grace, but godly cultural activity does.  He agrees that there is a restraining of sin, but there is also a restraining of grace.  Schilder’s critique is worth considering.

In the last number of years, Schilder’s name has been bandied about in connection with the Federal Vision controversy.  In relation to that, it’s worth noting that chapter 14 finds Schilder affirming the active obedience of Christ.  In chapter 16, some might be surprised to find KS appear to be speaking of a pre-fall covenant as something distinct from the covenant of grace.  He even uses the common expression “covenant of works,” but places quotation marks around it — a device which indicates his discomfort with the “works” part of that expression.  Unfortunately, the annotation of Douma gives the impression here that Schilder regarded the “covenant of works” as something essentially distinct from the later covenant of grace.  In reality, Schilder elsewhere clearly regarded the covenant of grace as a continuation of the “covenant of works,” or another phase in the history of the one covenant (see here, for example).  While I wish Douma’s note was the whole story, we do have to honestly acknowledge the facts.

While generally appreciative, there are a number of places where I’ve placed question marks in this book.  In chapter 26, against Kuyper, KS argues that Calvinism should develop its own unique artistic style.  That we don’t do this is a sign of weakness, he insists.  What he means is that Dutch Calvinists should develop their own artistic style.  He has no conception of what it might look like for an African-American Calvinist to develop his own artistic style, or an Australian aboriginal, or a Calvinist from whatever other culture in the world.  This entire book, in fact, is quite insular — it was written for Dutch Reformed readers living in the 1950s who had no to little multicultural exposure.   The book is a product of its time and thus the author can’t be held too culpable for this.  When we think about Christ and culture today, however, we do need to reckon with a multicultural world.

Schilder appears to believe that the only worthwhile cultural endeavours result in educational outcomes.  So, for example, he is rather critical of movies (he’s writing in the 1950s!) because though they exhibit technical excellence, they do not educate people.  Hence, they are breaking down, rather than building up (page 119).  But why is a pedagogical purpose the defining feature of what builds up?  Why can’t a cleverly told story (whether on the screen or in a book) that’s written to delight not also be a worthwhile cultural endeavour?  Is there no place for simple delight and enjoyment in a Christian conception of culture, or must everything have an educational purpose? I’m not convinced by Schilder here.

Though easier than before, this book is still not accessible reading for average church-goers.  Sometimes I write about books and I get people asking me, “Should we buy this for our church library?”  Umm….no, sorry.  Even with all the helpful annotations, this remains rather thick theology.  As such it’s best-suited for pastors, theologians, and academics.  They’ll be challenged and enriched by its contents.  I’m glad that we have this new improved edition and I commend CRTS for getting behind it.

Reflections on the RCN

It seems like I’m being rather curmudgeonly as of late.  Bear with me as I get one last burden off my chest.  I promise to turn things around from here on into the summer break (I always take a blog break in the summer).

Today’s reflections (that’s a nice way to put it) have to do with the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, the sister churches of the CanRC.  In Dutch, they’re known as the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland and the word Vrijgemaakt (Liberated) is often tagged on.  Our recent Synod set up a special ecumenical sub-committee to manage our relations with the RCN and to express our “concerns” and “grave concerns.”  Indeed, the reasons for concern keep piling up.

Dr. J. Douma was a long-time professor at the Theological University in Kampen.  This is the seminary of the RCN.  He was regarded by some as being one of the more “progressive” professors.  He has recently started up a website where he shares his concerns about the direction of the RCN.  Of course, the site is in Dutch, but you can get a very rough translation through Yahoo (for some reason Google doesn’t like Dr. Douma).  In his first installment, Douma speaks about the concerns he has about the authority of the Bible in the RCN, particularly what is happening at the Theological University.  He mentions Stefan Paas, whom I’ve blogged about before here and here.  Then he mentions somebody else: Koert van Bekkum.  I’ve heard of him before, but I didn’t realize that his scholarly work was controversial.

According to some news stories in Nederlands Dagblad (for which van Bekkum works as an editor), his dissertation argues that the sun did not literally stand still in Joshua 10.  Well, of course, we all knew that.  But we also knew that it meant that the day was lengthened so that the Israelites could be delivered from the Amorites.  Van Bekkum doesn’t appear to believe that.  Rather, it’s just speaking in a literary way about a great victory.  The miracle is the great victory, not the lengthening of the day.  And that, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg.

What about David and Goliath?  It’s an historical account, right?  Not necessarily, says van Bekkum.  This website (in English) quotes a 2003 article from van Bekkum in which he argues that it is an option for a Reformed biblical scholar to say that 1 Samuel 17 “in a spiritual and historic sense becomes exemplary for David’s struggle with the Philistines.”

In the June 4, 2010 issue of Clarion, Klaas Stam refers to Stefan Paas and this sort of biblical scholarship.  He says that he would rather go back to the hermeneutics of Dr. S. Greijdanus.  Sign me up too, Klaas.  In fact, for those who don’t read Dutch, I’ve got an English summary of Greijdanus’ excellent Schriftbeginselen ter Schriftverklaring (Scripture Principles for Scripture Interpretation).  Greijdanus had the goods.

Now you might say, all of that is taking place in the Netherlands.  Who cares?  Hardly any of us read Dutch anymore, and we’re increasingly going our own separate way.  Thankfully!  But yet over at Reformed Academic, Dr. Freda Oosterhoff and others want us to pay attention to the Dutch and their manner of doing hermeneutics.  Not so that we can see their mistakes, avoid them, and exhort our Dutch brothers to turn the ship around, but because they want us to emulate them and appropriate their hermeneutics.

Where that leads brings me to the next point of concern.  A while back, I posted an item regarding the organization ContrariO and it’s relationship to the GKV.  This is an organization that advocates for homosexual concerns.  Last week, this item appeared in the newspaper Nederlands Dagblad about the establishment of a new website for gay men in the RCN and other Reformed churches (rough English translation here).  The website is here in Dutch and here with Google Translate.  Maybe there’s some good, helpful thought there, but from what I’ve seen there’s also reason for concern.  For instance, ALTh. de Bruijne teaches ethics at the Theological University.  He describes his journey in understanding the place of homosexuals in the church (Dutch, English).  He was a pastor in Rotterdam and when he encountered gay people co-habiting he encouraged them to do so with a godly attitude and allowed them to go to the Lord’s Supper.  Later he describes homosexuals as having “a special calling in the light of the kingdom.”  I wonder if he would say that about pedophiles, serial philanderers, or those attracted to Fifi.  I recognize that de Bruijne and others are trying to address a serious pastoral issue.  Yet, when a pastor preaches a sermon in which he speaks casually about a “Christian” gay couple living together and occasionally falling into sin and it’s okay because they confess it and seek forgiveness — it should be obvious that the church has been compromised by the culture.  And part of that compromise undoubtedly has to do with the acceptance of critical hermeneutics that appear sophisticated, but don’t take the Bible seriously on its own terms.

Our Synod made the right decision.  Let’s keep talking with our brothers and sisters in the RCN and exhort them to faithfulness.  We have the advantage of being outside their culture and they should be able to appreciate that we bring a different perspective and not write us off for sorry sociological reasons like “immigrant churches are always more conservative.”  When you’re on the inside, it can be difficult to see when you’ve been compromised.  You need someone to call you on your wayward way.  The RCN’s David needs a Nathan.