Tag Archives: Louis Praamsma

Let Christ Be King

I just finished re-reading this little book by Louis Praamsma.  It’s an excellent and fairly reliable introduction to Abraham Kuyper.  There are just a couple of places where I placed question marks.

One of them is in regard to his discussion of common grace.  He quotes the synodical declaration of 1942 in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands on the subject and then states:  “What must be stressed, however, is that in 1942 there was unanimity in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands with regard to the common grace issue, and that this unanimity was in line with Kuyper’s insights” (144).  That’s not a fair representation of the history.  A synodical declaration does not equal unanimity.  The page before this he mentions Schilder’s critique of Kuyper on common grace, so even Praamsma acknowledged that there was dissent.  So far as I know, Schilder didn’t abandon his critique of Kuyper because of the synodical declaration in 1942.

That being what it is, this is still a helpful read.  You can find a free electronic copy in .pdf format right here.


Praamsma — Before the Face of God

The other day I was attending a book discussion group of some Reformed ministers from southern Ontario.  One of the older colleagues there mentioned a two-volume work on the Heidelberg Catechism by Louis Praamsma.  I’d never heard of it before.  I asked about the publisher and it was Paideia.  That was good news because everything Paideia has ever published (plus a lot of stuff that they distributed) is available online here.  Louis Praamsma’s Before the Face of God is there too.  I’ve just glanced through it and it looks helpful.  Here are the direct links if you’re interested:

Praamsma, L. Before the Face of God I-XXIV
PDF (pdf file 6 meg)

Praamsma, L. Before the Face of God XXV-LII
PDF (pdf file 7 meg)


The Rationalistic Attack on Scripture (Louis Praamsma) — 4

Today I’ve got the final installment of Dr. Louis Praamsma’s article from the December 1979 issue of The Outlook.  Praamsma was responding to a weakening of the doctrine of Scripture in the CRC especially with men like Allen Verhey and Harry Boer.  Within five years, the exodus out of the CRC began.  Some of those who were the first ones to leave ended up at Canadian Reformed churches.  Now these people are watching with deep concern as history seems to be repeating itself.  One correspondent reminded me of the old saying, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Will the Canadian Reformed Churches succumb to the spirit of the age?  If the experience of the CRC is indicative, this question will be answered by what parents tolerate in our elementary and high schools, whom we allow to teach at our seminary, the questions that are asked of seminary students/graduates at classis exams (and how the answers are evaluated), and where we send our children for post-secondary education.

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Bavinck and Machen

Must I mention more names?  Must I speak of Herman Bavinck who absorbed all the wisdom of liberal Leyden of his days and kept his faith, faith in an infallible Bible?  Must I mention Gresham Machen who absorbed all the wisdom of liberal Germany in the beginning of our century and wrestled with it until he had conquered it and then became that outstanding champion of truth?  Machen wrote, “I hold that the biblical writers, after having been prepared for their task by the providential ordering of their entire lives, received, in addition to all that, a blessed and supernatural guidance and impulsion by the Spirit of God, so that they were preserved from the errors that appear in other books and thus the resulting book, the Bible, is in all its parts the very Word  of God, completely true in what it says regarding matters of fact and completely authoritative in its commands” (The Christian Faith in the Modern World, 36-37).

The point is again that not the valiant Machen wrote those words, but that Machen, who wrestled with all the intellectual problems which then and now are brought in against inerrancy and had conquered them, wrote those words.

Must we draw the conclusion now that Augustine and Calvin, that Kuyper, Bavinck and Machen, not to mention many more, belonged to a certain kind of Reformed tradition which should be described in Dr. Boer’s words as “an unprincipled ruthless exercise that bends any desired Scripture in its foreordained meaning”?

Mind well what Dr. Boer means: he wants to tell us that those men made use of their own logical foreordination, not of that of God.

Escape from Unbelieving Rationalism

We should not draw that conclusion.  We should say that those theologians had escaped from that rationalism which wants to mould and model Scripture after a pattern of time-bound human logic.  Their eyes had been opened to the limits, the defects, often the arrogance of that human logic.  They knew that even the best-informed human scholar does not know everything.

Those “best-informed scholarly theologians” are now referred to as form-critics.  They always speak about documents which they can never produce.  They always refer to a tradition-behind-a-tradition which they construct with all the ingenuity of first-class detectives.  They are the professionals who know – know what?  Next year they will tell you which hypotheses are more probable than those of last year.


The Rationalistic Attack on Scripture (Louis Praamsma) — 3

At the end of yesterday’s installment, Dr. Praamsma reminded us that attacks on the reliability of Scripture are nothing new.  Men such as Celsus and Julian the Apostate did everything they could to undermine the Word of God.  Today, as he continues, Dr. Praamsma briefly discusses how these challenges were met by Augustine and, later in history, by Abraham Kuyper.

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How Augustine Met It

The great church father Augustine was, before his conversion, vexed by this same problem which he could not solve.  In the New Testament, Christ was introduced by long and contradictory genealogies.

It is remarkable that although before his conversion Augustine was beset by intellectual doubts, after his conversion he believed the whole Bible as it was written.  “For Augustine, the Bible was the only truly reliable history book, because it was not written by men alone and because the choice of what is significant had been correctly made” (P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 322).

“Augustine teaches that, if we think we see a contradiction in Scripture, we may not say that the author was mistaken.  There may be a defect in the manuscript or the translation is not correct or we don’t understand the right meaning” (A.D.R. Polman, “Augustine” in Christelijke Encyclopedie, 1:382).

Augustine was moved by the Spirit to accept the Word of the Spirit without making objections.  He did not even object against the “discrepancy” between Matt. 27:7 and Acts 1:18.  The different versions of Judas’ death were not first discovered by theologians of our time; they have always been recognized.  Augustine found the obvious solution, writing: “He fastened a rope round his neck and, falling on his face, burst asunder in the midst” (Against Felix the Manichean, I.4).

Busken Huet versus Kuyper

Dr. Boer wrote differing Bible passages in two columns.  A man who did about the same was the nineteenth-century minister Conrad Busken Huet.  In letters (not columns) written to a lady friend, he tried to make clear the incontestable incompatibility of several comparable parts of the Bible (Brieven over de Bijbel).

Thirteen years afterward Busken Huet wrote scathing words at the address of a young minister who had dared to attack Modernism and who had taken a firm stand in favour of an unqualified belief in all the facts and figures of the Bible (Litterarische Fantasieen and Kritieken XV, 167).  That young minister was Abraham Kuyper and Busken Huet wrote about him that he was a courageous man but also a man behind the times.  Science had proven that orthodoxy was untenable.

But what was the special feature of the stand made by Abraham Kuyper?  It was the fact that he was a converted man; he had harboured the same doubts.  At one time he’d had the same reverence for the power of modern science as shown by Busken Huet; he had applauded when one of his professors had dared to say that modern man cannot believe any more that Jesus was physically raised from the dead.  But the almighty hand of God had changed his heart and now he believed like a child all the words of God revealed in the Bible, as true and without error.  This is what he wrote: “Each of the writers [of the Bible] was so moved and directed by the Holy Spirit that the page of Scripture which, after pencil and pen had been laid aside, lay before him, was as unalterably written down as though it had originated in an immediate divine creation.”  He added: “The Scripture is God’s Word, both as a whole and in its parts” and “Hence it was a verbal inspiration, not mechanically by whispering into the outward ear, but organically by calling forth the words from man’s own consciousness.  That means: by employing all those words that were on hand in the spiritual senses of the writer” (In Kuyper’s speech, “De hedendaagsche Schriftcritiek in hare bedenkelijke strekking voor de Gemeente des levenden”).

The point is not that the great theologian Abraham Kuyper wrote these words, but that the converted Christian Abraham Kuyper did so.  Much as Augustine had done, he had been forced to conquer all the intellectual objections of his age to which his own heart had responded.  He had accepted the Bible as it was and is, the infallible Word of God.  His wisdom appears in the four caveats which he adds to this lecture:

  1. We don’t have the original manuscripts
  2. Scripture is not the book of a notary, but the work of a heavenly Artist who paints with a diversity of colours
  3. If passages of Scripture seem to be contradictory, they should be brought into harmony in a spiritual way, not artificially
  4. If there remain baffling problems (cruces), I should confess my ignorance

The Rationalistic Attack on Scripture (Louis Praamsma) — 2

Today we’re continuing our serialization of an article from the December 1979 issue of The Outlook.  Dr. Louis Praamsma was responding to Dr. Harry Boer’s attempt to marginalize biblical inerrancy so as to make room for other aberrant views.  Here’s part 2:

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The Suggested Change

It seems that we now live in another climate.  A distinction is being made between infallibility and inerrancy; it is said that we certainly have an infallible Bible, which, however, contains many errors.

Dr. Harry Boer wrote a book about this topic (Above the Battle: the Bible and its Critics) which has been largely discussed by Dr. Alexander De Jong (Christ’s Church, the Bible and Me).  I need not repeat what has been said by these two able men.  I would recommend that every reader study the brochure of Dr. De Jong.

Alleged Discrepancies

In his book Dr. Boer adduces (mainly in parallel columns) some ten passages or groups of passages in which the Bible seems clearly to contradict itself with respect to specific data of circumstance, time, place, person, number, and phraseology.  As a point in case he refers (in his reply to Dr. De Jong) to the account of the death of Judas Iscariot both in Matt. 27 and Acts 1.

Apparently he is convinced of the fact that both stories cannot be true; one of them must be in error.  If the logic of Dr. Boer holds, it might even be assumed that both Matthew and Luke may have been in error; each one of them may have jotted down some rumour from the many stories circulating in the first congregations.  However, who is qualified to say what really happened?

But all this does not matter, in Dr. Boer’s view, as far as the infallibility of Scripture is concerned.  That infallibility, in his opinion, is “the massive idea of the unbreakable, ever-valid revelation of the creation, redemption, and consummation of all things in Christ.”

Echoes of Barth

It is small wonder that I, reading those things, was immediately reminded of the position of Karl Barth.

Barth, the man who with a mighty voice and great talent, once opposed the liberal theology of his days, also declared: “The prophets and apostles as such, even in their function of witnesses, even when writing down their witness, were real historical men as we are, and therefore sinful in their actions and indeed guilty of error in the spoken and written word” (Church Dogmatics I.2, 529).

Barth also once wrote: “As far as the relativity of all human words, including those of Paul, is concerned, I share the opinion of Bultmann and of all intelligent people” (Romerbrief, XXXI).

It was quite a remarkable, I am almost inclined to say, a most un-Barthian thing, to appeal to “intelligent,” i.e. critical people.

I was also reminded of something else.

A Much Older Problem

Is it only in our time, the time of refined historical methods, the time of endless hermeneutical problems, the time of an existentialistic relativism and loneliness without measure, that we are struck by “historical inaccuracies” and “discrepancies” in Holy Scripture?  We should know by now that the fight for the Bible is by and large as old as the Christian church itself.

The first adversaries of the church were not blind, even as the church fathers were not blind.

Among those early adversaries was Celsus.  He knew the Bible.  He claimed that it taught falsely that God changes His mind, that He chooses favorites among the human race, and that it is full of childish legends.  There was also Julian the Apostate.  He claimed that the Bible teemed with contradictions, obvious at first sight by a comparison between the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.