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Bondsdag DGK 26 mei a.s. in Zwolle
Zie programma in Agenda, click hier.


Tussen biblicisme en schriftkritiek

met aandacht voor de nieuwe hermeneutiek

Dr. P. Boonstra, GKv  Bussum-Huizen


31 mei 2018, 20.00 uur
Gebouw Brandpunt, Emiclaer 101, Amersfoort

 



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In the footsteps of the synodicals 5

with the Newer Kampen Theology

 

D.J. Bolt 
01-06-13

 

We, the liberated, have become the oil guy, the ecclesiastical testing ground, the prima ballerina in the ecclesiastical world, and are thereby leaving the orthodox mediocrity far behind us. With us it happens!

Thus spoke prof. Harinck. 
But is that still the case? According to the professor, that would have to become evident in the speeches of prof. dr. M te Velde and dr. K van Bekkum, both teachers at Kampen’s liberated university.
Last time we published the story of the first mentioned professor. 

So now the other speech.

 

Van Bekkum’s speech

 

Dr K. van Bekkum addressed the meeting under the title Het leven is stukwerk of het leven is één (Life is piecework, or life is one). We print his speech in full in italics [1] and take the liberty to provide the story from time to time with (non-italic) comment and questions [2].

 

Van Bekkum

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

How will the Reformed Churches (liberated) fare in the coming years? I was asked to say something about that this afternoon in response to Gerard Dekker’s book ‘The ongoing revolution’.

 

Now there is no one who knows what lies hidden in the womb of the future. Everything we say is no more than an extrapolation of what we are observing at this moment. While it is especially characteristic of history that it is contingent [determined by the circumstances, djb]. Things always go different than you think.

 

As someone who has got to know and love the Lord within the very churches we’re talking about, I would still like to add a comment.  I believe that the God of the Bible is a God of judgment and destruction, but also of hope and future. It is the Lord Himself who in that fluid situation builds and preserves His church. Whatever happens, He is there, and He will always point out new paths. If need be, undeterred by the end of a reformed church community. If the people of God have endured the end of the tabernacle at Shiloh, of the two temples in Jerusalem, and of the Carthage of Augustine, it surely will also survive the end of the Reformed world.

 

I would think so too! The church of Christ does not belong to us.

But is it also not bordering on indifference to look at the radical changes in our ecclesiastical and spiritual world in that manner? Is it then not a matter of ‘eternal well and woe’? Of heaven and hell? Should it not cut us to the heart that so many break God’s covenant and utterly lose their way? Then we do not shrug it off, so to say. We shall be held responsible and called to account for the position we took in the process of secularisation and apostasy. It’s just not done to deal with it in an offhand manner.

 

Van Bekkum

After these two comments I come to my story. First I consider briefly what I recognise in Dekker’s book, and then what amazes me. In order to honour the most learned author with some contradiction in the second part of my story. I wish to say something about Dekker’s use of sociology, about the interpretation of today’s liberated theology, and finally about the liberated spirituality.

 

Recognition and surprise

Dekker’s book offers a clear presentation of the data and the description of the historical development of the liberated-reformed world. Those who are not strangers in Jerusalem will recognise much: the shift from ecclesiastical seclusion towards openness, the trends in organisational development, and the undeniable feelings of alienation and disorientation of the last two decades. What Dekker’s book adds to these is a nice comparison with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.

Most pronounced is the parallel between the history of the two churches in respect of demographic development, professionalisation of the ecclesiastical organisation, participation in wider social relationships, and the abandonment of notions that were originally seen as typically reformed, for example the social position of women. 

As with professor Te Velde, we note that there is no denial of the material evidence brought forward by dr Dekker.

 

Van Bekkum 
Less obvious are the similarities in theology. Dekker is right in that the plurality of opinions is increasing. It is also true that in recent decades liberated theologians have been discussing many themes that figured earlier in synodical-reformed circles: the reference to a creation order in ethics, questions about the historicity of the Bible, the place of christians in the world, faith experience and faith practice. This makes sense, because it is exactly in these areas that theologians of both churches know themselves to be the heirs of tensions or defects in the neo-calvinist theology of Kuyper and Bavinck. However, the answers given by liberated theologians are different from those of their earlier reformed colleagues. It is true that over the past decade ecclesiastical turmoil has arisen about the ideas of some of Kampen’s teachers. But in respect of both content and scope, these are matters of a different category than the discussions in the seventies about reconciliation and the authority of Scripture within the GKN. 

We can agree with dr. van Bekkum that the development in liberal direction has not yet progressed to the point where it was at the end of the selected period in the synodical churches. But the (part- or whole of the) Bible-critical views of dr. Paas, professor De Bruijne, professor Harinck and also dr. van Bekkum himself show at the same time much similarity with those of their earlier reformed colleagues in the GKN. In the previous article we illustrated this with some striking examples involving dr. H.M. Kuitert. It is not for nothing that there is much unrest about these matters in overseas sister churches, which has found expression in an official Letter of Admonition to the next General Synod. There should be no doubt that twenty years ago statements and opinions which are now freely propagated would have led to ecclesiastical procedures.
There is in the churches much (hidden) concern about the developments. But this has been suppressed, carefully removed by the synods from their agenda. One reason why there are (as far as we know) no official objections at this moment is that a certain despondency has overcome ​​many who did not see their objections dealt with or honoured. Another is that the new rules make it impossible for a concerned brother or sister to ‘go the ecclesiastical way’. Of course you may suggest that things aren’t all that bad, but there is much tension and concern that will sooner or later find an outlet. 
Let’s hope therefore that the Letter of Admonition to the next General Synod will lead to [synod] decisions about matters that have troubled brothers and sisters for so long already. So that everyone may know where we’re at.

 

Van Bekkum 
This moderation is however undone by something else. There are also areas where, in my perception, the shifts in the Reformed Churches (liberated) go faster and are more substantial in nature than Dekker suggests. Here I think for example of Sunday observance, or of the realisation that you are not only part of a local church but also of a federation.  

 

We are glad that dr. Van Bekkum is alive to this. It is remarkable that he mentions Sunday observance as an example. This is not the place to go into detail about it, but the problem did begin with the decisions of the 1999 Synod of Leusden, where the fourth commandment was stripped of its aspect of rest. With all its attendant consequences for Sunday observance and church attendance. But even more substantial, the total denial that there is still a fourth commandment for us.

 

Van Bekkum 
My children know to which building in Amersfoort their classmates go to church on Sundays. But it does not mean much to them whether that is a liberated-reformed church, a typical PKN or a Bond Community, a Dutch-reformed church or an evangelical church. It is in their experience not the underlying principle or the sticker on the door that makes the difference, but the atmosphere and how they are addressed.

 

Frankly, I’m perplexed. How is this possible? It is of course not proper to discuss the family situation of br. van Bekkum, but he himself places the vision of his children into the limelight. How is it possible, I wonder, that children of one of the teachers at our university appear to have no notion of the fundamental differences that exist between PKN, NGK, GKv and evangelical churches? Is the doctrine of Scripture no longer taught in the family, the church, in catechism and the Reformed school? Do the children no longer receive insight in church history, so that they know why they are reformed (liberated)? How the Lord has worked in the history of His church? 
And does a reformed church no longer have the right atmosphere, are the ‘covenant children’ not addressed in a way they understand, and that helps them find their way through life following Christ?

If this is really the general picture of our youth and young people, it is not hard to predict that with just one generation to go it will be the end of the liberated churches, and that Van Bekkum’s ‘end of the Reformed world’ will very quickly become reality. 
Or does that not cause Van Bekkum sleepless nights? Is this what he meant already at the beginning of his speech: Whatever happens, He is there, and He will always point out new paths. If need be, undeterred by the end of a reformed church community
Moreover, was that ‘easy finish’ actually not already obvious in Te Velde’s speech?

 

Van Bekkum 
So all in all, I share Dekker’s threefold conclusion: (a) the liberated-reformed Churches are subject to a drastic structural change, (b) these changes run partly in parallel with earlier developments in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, and (c) the question arises whether in the long run the resulting loss of identity will not lead to the disappearance of these churches.

 

Thereby again confirming the reliability of Dekker’s research and observations. Nobody can still deny it. There is no denyin git anymore. At the same time whenever you read it and see it confirmed, it stabs your heart.

 

Van Bekkum 
So much for the recognition aspect. Now my surprise. Dekker raises a legitimate question. And he also gives an answer. In fact, he is writing in that direction. The liberated churches will secularise and dissolve. I can follow it and he has a point. The creeping modernisation under the influence of prosperity and television has contributed more to changes in behaviour and secularisation than any theology. 

If I’ve got it right, this is where Bonhoeffer surfaces again. This is Dekker & Harinck speaking. Faith and life are to a (very) large extent determined by ‘the world’ with everything it has to offer. And, says van Bekkum, theology plays but a very modest role. 
Wouldn't it? Isn't it a fact that theology in particular, as it is being expounded in reliable preaching, catechism instruction, pastoral care, and the printed media, is of considerable significance? Perhaps we ought to say this in a ‘more spiritual’ way. If the Word is preached everywhere in accordance with the meaning of the Holy Spirit, then surely that is the most important factor in the lives of God’s children. A power unto salvation! 

So I do not understand this playing down of ‘theology’. Were it not the very theories of a Kuitert, a Baarda, a Den Heyer that caused an unprecedented revolution in the synodical-reformed churches? Perhaps it is useful to illustrate this somewhat more with a few examples. We already mentioned the violation of the fourth commandment by the Synod of Leusden. Aren't the practical consequences everywhere visible in the desecration of the Sunday and in church absenteeism? After the Synod of Amersfoort replaced ‘the commandment ethics’ with the ‘style ethics of the kingdom’ there is practically no restraint left on the number of divorces; and together with the cases of remarriage after divorce, these are increasing hand over fist. 
After the Lord’s Supper was opened up to non-church members and the non-reformed, many lost their confessional understanding about the church; and the ‘border traffic’ with all kinds of (also non-reformed) churches has increased substantially.

The result of all kinds of theological reflections on Genesis 1-11, on the emergence of Israel’s faith in God, on women in office, and on the miracles in the Bible, is that the average churchgoer’s faith in the reliability and authority of Scripture has become a matter of doubt.

Much more could be said. But let it be clear that the influence of theology and theologians should not be downplayed. The eternal question: Is it that God has said ... causes also in our days much sinful damage to Bible explanation and hermeneutics.

 

Van Bekkum 
It’s good to have that in view. But is that the whole story? In the end the tone in Dekker’s book is almost fatalistic. A tone which incidentally can be heard on a much wider front when it comes to secularism. Without its own ‘zuilen’ (confessional-political organisations), the entire orthodox-christian world is going down the drain, says, for example, Andries Knevel. Again and again I am amazed about this embrace of the classical secularisation thesis. Where is in this thesis the culture-historical embedding of the data? Can a theological assessment be missed? 

I don't think so, that's why I turn to my contradiction know.

 

Contradiction

First about the sociology. According to Dekker, the churches are emptying because they are opening up to the wider community. Secularisation is the inevitable price which emancipating christians in an ‘ontzuilde’ (its ‘zuilen’ demolished) society pay for their interest and participation in the culture. This has now also reached the liberated. The ‘yes’ they always said to the world, is starting to backfire on them. That leaves only the pietist-reformed.

This notion has, with respect to the reformed world, for the first time been outlined by theologian J. Hendriks in his thesis ‘De emancipatie van de gereformeerden’ (The emancipation of the Reformed) (- 1970). Hendriks outlines how from 1880 the ‘common people’ set themselves the gaol to emancipate and become the dominant group in Dutch society. The socio-cultural isolation was lifted, and they became influential. But - and here it comes - the ideal of re-christianising society was never achieved. The actual result of trying to achieve the set objectives was that the cohesion of the group weakened and a process of assimilation began. A suspicion which in 1992 was gloriously confirmed in Dekker’s ‘The silent revolution’.

Now there is no denying that this analysis holds water. Since 1850 it is indeed possible to classify the modern ‘verzuilde’ Dutch society in various groups, and to describe these from a sociological perspective. But that is not where it stops. Many christian organisations were not established because of a strategic goal, but from embarrassment. People noticed manifest misery, and decided that something ought to be done about it. Or a schism had such frustrating results that there was no option but to continue in one’s own organisation. It is moreover important to regard content and purpose in mutual context. Kuyper, the strategist par excellence, pictures the reformed indeed as the core of the nation. But at the same time he was deeply convinced that a christian is eventually a stranger in a world dominated by unbelief. That's why his aim is  not just a power grab. Then you miss the underlying motivation. According to Kuyper, the selected structures are always temporary. The point is that despite secularisation a christian must continue to believe that the world is God’s world. Believers in a church community are thus more than a group. They are also pilgrims on their way to a better country.

 

With the latter we wholeheartedly agree.

 

Van Bekkum 
But, Dekker will replicate, that is simply not on for kuyperians. Wanting so badly to be taken seriously, secularisation strikes automatically. That is partly true. The sociological application of the secularisation-thesis analysis works here so well because it is consistent with substantive views of the large groups of kuyperians. Add to that the post-war emphasis on ‘reconstruction’, ‘innovation’ and ‘progress’, and it is understandable why in the second half of the twentieth century the vertical and eschatological dimension of faith was pushed away in many church circles.

 

As I said earlier, something similar threatens the liberated-reformed today. Where the abandonment of the ongoing reformation – which is in fact an alternative reconstruction theology - is experienced as ‘progress’, the windows and doors are opened too easily. ‘For we are not so strict anymore’. 
The question is however: is this what we are experiencing today? For sure. But Dekker is missing a number of factors that qualify, or even contradict that image.

 

There’s quite some yes&no in the last sentences. Let me try to understand what van Bekkum means. 
The secularisation-thesis says that christians who want to win the world for Christ will themselves fall for that world and take on worldly living and thinking. After all, they want ‘to be taken seriously’. In the synodical churches that process of secularisation was all the more reinforced by the apostate thinking of many theologians. On top of that, after the war people had to work hard, which also made it difficult to live a christian life.  
For us liberated, something similar holds today. With their ‘ongoing reformation’ they too wanted to win the world for Christ [3]. But many began to regard that aim as ‘too narrow’ and ‘too strict’. They wanted to be taken seriously, and farewelled it. And as with the synodicals then, they are now (too) easily cutting all kinds of openings to the world. 
Sure, that’s how it is, says van Bekkum. At the same time he will now refine this image, and even contradict it.
Let’s try to follow him in his argumentation.

 

Van Bekkum 
The liberated-reformed have never formed a real power bloc in Dutch society. At this point there is no question of loss, and faith needs no adjustment. Exactly how that works, I do not know. But it seems sociologically important to me.

 

Does van Bekkum mean, in line with what he said before, that a power block leads to and adjustment of the faith? And because the liberated never became as powerful in society as the synodical-reformed, their faith was ‘therefore’ not affected in that way? But then van Bekkum’s question is how that (sociologically) plays out.  
Anyway, this plays no further role in the reasoning of the speaker.

 

Van Bekkum 
Another point is the increased diversity. For Dekker this is the most obvious evidence of disintegration. That is partly true. But to me he measures the development too much by the standards of the earlier rational mass-culture with its social codes. Whereas development can also be defined in a different way. Small, traditional churches adapt relatively easily to the current network-society and experience-culture. This changes the character of the mutual relationships. People become more pragmatic, and the diversity increases. But that does not mean that people feel less connected to each other. Indeed, the mutual differences – for the liberated these are hard to get adjusted to - can also open your eyes to the fact that believers are mainly given to each other in Christ. Together we are strangers in this world. Very special! And starting from there each of us goes back into the full of life.

 

It has become almost a maxim: Different in doctrine, one in the Lord. One hears it all the time, and also notices it again in this speech. While Dekker observes more and more estrangement as regards belief and conduct of life, and from it perceives disintegration, on the rebound those who participate and play a pioneering role in this, interpret it positively: it is especially such ‘small, traditional churches’ with their leaders that are flexible and can easily come along. Exactly: oil guys. 
And still feel connected? Then how come that another professor [4] lectures here and there throughout the country about disconnection and the need to combat it? Even at the congress: Church, between people and walls, a separate workshop was devoted to this subject. My impression (I was there) was definitely not that the attendees regarded it as a nonsense topic. To the contrary. And those who experienced the heyday of the liberated-reformed churches know and feel how the mutual bond is weakening, sometimes has completely disappeared. Many have simply no affinity with ‘liberated’; have found themselves nice contacts like the free baptists and evangelicals. They attend churches and conferences, and visit men’s and women’s days preferably of interdenominational orientation. And that is also being applauded [5]
I agree with van Bekkum, as a (still) liberated-reformed I really have to get used to the fact that we are no longer one in respect of the content of the (reformed) faith.

Frankly, I also don’t want to get used to it. Scripture is clear enough that the unity of God’s children is not just meeting each other in a sweet Jesus - I’m overdoing this for a moment. Jesus Christ is Lord of all believers, and they find their unity in this King and his Word. Or don’t they?

It sounds quite familiar to liberated ears to hear van Bekkum say that together we are strangers in this world.  At the same time it sounds so paradoxical, coming from this teacher of our university. For if anything has happened during recent years, then it is the de-theologising  of [our] alienship on the earth. The singular aspect in all the issues that have played and still are playing, is the eradication of the difference with the world, to not alienate yourself from the world. Whether it concerns Sunday observance, divorce, re-marriage after divorce, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, belief in the miracles of the Bible and a creation of six days, we all want to be accepted and treated as adults by our unbelieving environment. 
Let me just mention one more instance that is intensely topical and for everyone recognisable: women in office. What is a convincing argument for many? That it’s just not on for our churches to have a view on the role of men and women that is different from that of the world. A few quotes:

 

“Personally, I can not follow why the creation order accommodates women in all social positions and not in the church” [6] . 

“In our western culture the chasm between the social functioning of women and the ecclesiastical edict about the difference in position of male and female church members is growing all the time. And yes, as a western woman I do feel this growing tension. I am convinced that we have wanted to partially remove this tension by limiting Paul’s ban on education and authority for women in the pulpit and the church council. But this action has actually made things worse. For Paul and Peter such issues applied especially within a larger social framework.” [7]

 

Not only do we no longer want the alienship, but both ways, we also don’t want the worldly person to feel a stranger in our environment. Just consider all the innovations being dreamt up to make the believer and his gospel acceptable and pleasing to the ‘man of the world’. Complete church services are turned topsy-turvy.

 

In the heyday of the liberated churches believers knew themselves to be real strangers in the world, while at the same time seizing numerous opportunities to provide stature to the authority of Christ as King of this world. Just read the speeches of a brother like P. Jongeling when he was a member of our Parliament [8]. There you will see a living example of what it means to be in but not of the world’. He was not ashamed to explicitly mention God’s law where it concerned all kinds of matters in the lives of citizens. You see it also in the performance of a parliamentarian as Van der Staay (SGP). 
But in our days politics is often furtive, the approach mainly being to argue for ‘the common interest’. Even the basis which for years served as a solid foundation for numerous organisations is no longer safe for revolutionary breakers. Instead of starting out from a constituent basis, we must be led by a perspective, it is said. We must formulate a common goal, and search for people to support it. [9]

 

Yes, into the full of life, says van Bekkum. Pushing on happily, prof. dr. Te Velde adds. But what is ‘the full of life’? The Bonhoeffer / Dekker / Harinck life? What kind of life is that? And what kind of baggage are we taking along?

 

Van Bekkum 
That brings me to the second topic of my contradiction, the interpretation of the current liberated theology. Dekker is extremely brief about. All he signals is that the professionalisation of teaching and research that began in Kampen in the seventies and eighties is continuing vigorously. Practical choices dominate in the composition of the Board of Trustees, the application for subsidies, and the appointment of investigators.

 

It is a pity that Dekker does not look further. Because of that he misses a substantive development that is occurring, and that can easily be illustrated with the help of the themes I mentioned before.

At first sight, the creation ethics of Hans Schaeffer, the political theology of Ad de Bruijne and the study of ‘being in Christ’ by Hans Burger have little to do with each other. But a closer look reveals a connection. All three renew their own neo-Calvinist tradition, albeit in a moving away from the world and towards the church. Whoever wants to uphold marriage on the basis of the creation, or as christian desires to effectively practise politics, must first be aware of being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. And our life is piecework. But in Christ we already are more than conquerors. 
Following the example of Klaas Schilder, the newer Kampen theology is busy creating an open, but clearly reformed variant of the so-called turning towards the church. I know that many critics claim the opposite. But it’s really true. To quote Johan Cruyff: you’ll see it only when you understand it.

 

‘Turning towards the church’? ‘A turning away from the world, towards the church’? What does van Bekkum mean exactly? What is that Newer Kampen Theology? Renewal by theologians, as we learn from the history of the church in recent decades, often means Umdeuting, giving new content to old concepts and terms that is the opposite of its original meaning. What then does it mean when neo-calvinism (also a new interpretation of Calvinism!) is being reworked to a new new Calvinism? Will anything be left of the real Calvinism, which bound itself to God’s Word and confessed that explicitly in the Confessions?

 

A book launch is of course not a conference at which theologies are unfolded. Yet it seems of great importance to me that more clarity is provided as to what this theology really is and wants. Perhaps a brief attempt at description will be helpful. I do that with reference to a discussion in Radix [10] between prof. dr. A L Th. de Bruijne and prof. dr. H G Geertsema [11] on the subject of Church and politics in the light of the kingdom of God. In the context of this article it can only be concise, and present only an outline. In any event, the views of De Bruijne can clarify the intended direction of the Newer Kampen Theology.

 

Political Theology

The core of the political theology advanced by professor De Bruijne is his belief that the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven has a political character. This means that the Kingdom is a description of a real society with structures and institutions in which God reigns as King and the believers are the subjects. Ancient Israel was ‘an Old Testament figure’ of such a society with a land, a people and God as King represented by the Israelite kings.

 

But this kingdom fell into disrepair. Then comes Christ as the new King, who will restore Israel. And not only Israel, but all the nations will submit to Him. Thus there will arise at the second coming a real and new Kingdom, that will replace all the earth’s successive realms. The Kingdom of heaven is thus not a metaphor, not a symbolic definition of God’s present government over this earth, but a real society with all its appropriate features. It is a ‘future reality’. For today there is not yet a land over which Christ reigns. His scattered people do not form an earthly society, and need to be delivered and gathered. That nation has its citizenship in heaven. And the king, Christ, has indeed ascended the throne in heaven, but his kingdom is still hidden on earth. He and His heavenly Jerusalem can be seen only with the eyes of faith. 

De Bruijne believes that his views fit the doctrine of the two aeons [12], of an old and a new ‘era’. The new aeon didn't begin with the first coming of Christ, but starts only at his second coming. The kingdom that is lying ready is approaching, but will not be there before the second coming. 
Christians must in the meantime set their priority on assembling citizens for the future realm, and themselves already begin to live in accordance with the style of the Kingdom. That means a struggle. Not a struggle to realise something of the Kingdom by way of christian action in public and political life, but to hold out against temptations.

 

What does this mean for the church? According to De Bruijne the church is a population-to-be for the future kingdom. One day that community will embrace all peoples, cultures and social relations. Because the church is so all-embracing it does not fit in any structure in the aeon, the era prior to the second coming. The unique community which in Christ’s love transcends all social and political boundaries is already visible in the world. Total loyalty to what is generally accepted in the world will therefore be absent. However, the church must adjust as much as possible to the existing civil societies without causing irritation, for the church still needs them.

 

The use of such power resources as legislation and violence aimed at increasing the influence of the church or the promotion of God’s kingdom, must be rejected. The point is to love your own environment and do good. The church is not allowed to destabilise society, but should rather adapt to its situation. It should not use legislation or other political instruments to impose the good of the Kingdom or obedience to God’s commandments.

 

De Bruijne clearly joins Anabaptist beliefs. He also indicates that. He recognises in their theology four core values:

 

1. Christian striving for political power is rejected. Whatever the gospel calls good may not be imposed on society ​​by political means. That is contrary to the style of peace and non-violence which characterises Christ’s reign. This does not exclude only police and military violence, but also legislation by which christian values ​​are imposed.

2. ‘Kingdom of God’ is not a metaphor, not a symbolic indication of a spiritual kingdom, but a political reality. That’s why earthly political orders and God’s kingdom cannot go together in harmony. For if they could, all earthly politics should be renounced.

3. The church is the ‘society of the future’! It does not form just one of the institutions within contemporary society, but is the beginning of the society that lives in the style of God’s kingdom.

4. The political reality of God’s kingdom is eschatological, that is, it will come down together with the second coming. Today cross-bearing and martyrdom dominate.

 

De Bruijne acknowledges that the reformed rejected all these aspects of the Anabaptist doctrine. Their core objection regards the embedded dualism. That is the contradiction between God’s work of salvation and the created reality. Nature and grace do not go together, according to the Anabaptists. However on the basis of, for example, Romans 13 the reformed believed that political power and force can have their place in the service of God. 
De Bruijne also rejects the Anabaptist dualism. Yet he chooses a position in favour

of the mentioned core values. The Anabaptist option has “preserved some basic Biblical notions better than the reformed”, he writes. He also tries to show this by means of ideas that figured in the Early Church. As happened at that time, the fundamental disharmony between church and public society is experienced again in today’s post-christian era. Anabaptist thinking can help in this regard to regain classic catholic insights.

De Bruijne does not want to know about the Anabaptist ‘hermeneutics of simultaneity’. Anabaptists continue to operate from the circumstances of the New Testament. Jesus could already be followed [obeyed] as if we were not living in a different time. De Bruijne, on the contrary, advocates a contextual hermeneutics that reflects on the public responsibility of church and christians in a situation that was unknown in the New Testament. Thus, new ways can be found that mean a blessing to society and possibly rehabilitate it, transform its culture and renew political institutions.


What is, after all this, left of the calling of the church and christians with respect to public and political responsibility? De Bruijne posits that their task is to make a beginning with the style of the Kingdom, live in the new creation and in that way witness of the coming realm. This does not concern itself directly with social relevance. The Church must speak prophetically about specific themes, resulting in a missionary appeal. And then not with the aim to reform present-day society into a form of the Kingdom. It is however her task to address rulers and authorities creatively on submission to Christ.


The kingdom style of the church can have a blessed and indirect rehabilitating effect on society. The church can employ her insights and unique knowledge about God where society gets stuck. Her motivation is then not the preservation of the earth, or the pursuit of a better world. But she can contribute to citizenship, public norms and foster virtues, care for bonding and meaning. As long as the church does not have to deny herself, she must conform to the existing structures and do good within them.

 

The public mission of the church also relates to the political order. However, her responsibility is limited. After all, the everlasting kingdom is approaching. Christian politicians must not seek to realise universal kingdom standards. They should be modest, more modest than the ambitions of others. They must be attentive to the living conditions of the church and room for the gospel, and reflect God’s generous patience with the unbelieving world. Christian-coloured laws and policies that lead to instability are unwise. 
This attitude also provides more room for compromises. These are acceptable as long as they do not involve ‘active evil’. After all, the world is moving inescapably in the wrong direction.  That process can at best be delayed somewhat.

Christian politics is politics of christians. This is also possible in other parties. Christian factionalism is therefore a practical question and dependent on the circumstances. Factionalism is sometimes useful, but the goals must be limited to the here and now.

 

This concludes the summary of professor De Bruijne’s political theology [13] .

 

This is not the place to go into detail on this part of the Newer Kampen Theology. But it can indeed be obvious that it represents a clear break with important reformed insights about the Kingdom of heaven, our position on earth, and our calling.

Here is a small illustration, taken from daily life. In GKv church bulletin of April 19 this year mrs. S. van der Graaf, a member of the Provinciale Staten (Provincial Government) of Groningen on behalf of the ChristenUnie (Union of Christians) wrote about the Preservation of Small Schools. She ends her article with: 

Together with pupils, parents and teachers, the CU strongly upholds that schools that invest in the building of God’s Kingdom, retain the right to exist and be offered the perspective of a future. This great work can also be done by small schools.  


Building God’s Kingdom. Yes, that’s what we always thought, believed and confessed. But since the theology of De Bruijne that should be a matter of the past. ‘Building God’s Kingdom’ is impossible in this aeon. For does that Kingdom not come down together with Christ’s second coming? De Bruijne has settled accounts (‘renewed’ says van Bekkum) with the ‘reformed vision of the kingdom of God’, and also with the ‘neo-Calvinist sub-tradition of Klaas Schilder’. This has major implications for the attitude and labour of christian politicians. As an aside, why should they still worry so much about all kinds of derailments in modern society, if for this world there are no ‘universal and anti-revolutionary standards’? [14]. Putting it more strongly, don’t irritate them with a ‘pedantic’ reformed finger, De Bruijne suggests.

In my opinion this political theology strongly undermines the party formation that resulted in the establishment of the CU (ChristenUnie) and SGP (Political Reformed Party). If in that situation it is still considered meaningful to do political work, it would probably fit better within the CDA. 

Perhaps it is still worthwhile at this stage to listen to some brothers from that ‘neo-calvinist tradition’. For the doctrine of God’s kingdom is deeply rooted in our faith. Abandoning it has major consequences.

 

Prof. dr. L. Doekes in Coming in glory

“In Him, the Son of God, the kingdom of God has come. He shows his power in healing the sick. Even the demons are subject to Him. When his opponents say: He has that power through His contact with the devil, Christ responds with a sharp warning against blasphemy, and He adds: If I cast out the evil spirits by the finger of God, the kingdom of God has come upon. This is how He is bodily present, visible and audible and tangible, as the living fulfilment of the testimony of ancient prophecy. () This is how the kingdom of God and of Christ has now its place in this world. It also has its history: it forces its way by means of a fierce struggle between the light and the darkness. Children of the kingdom of heaven are cast out into outer darkness, because they have not believed in Christ. But many others are coming from east and west to receive their place with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. They came to know and love Jesus Christ as the firstborn from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth; and therefore they say: “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His blood - and has made ​​us to be a kingdom and priests to his God and Father - to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” (Rev 1:5-6) (p198)

 

“How can anyone seriously maintain that Christ does not exercise his royal dominion? They do point to the facts, in order to say: Everyone can see that Satan has the power on earth. But then they ignore how the Lamb exercises His given authority in heaven and on earth by opening the seals of the scroll. He releases God’s judgments, and the powers of death and horror rush across this world. The dominion of the Lamb reveals itself also in those plagues. Only the faith in this revelation of God’s Word gives us open eyes for His royal regiment in the world of today.” (p 201)

 

Dr. H. Bouwman in Reformed church polity 1

Christ, too, worked with the preaching of the kingdom. That kingdom is not only a future good, as Schmoller and others have taught, but it is a present-day (Matt 11:12; 12:28; Mark 1: 14, 15; 10: 15) and a future good (Matt 7: 21; 9:27; 26: 19). The kingdom is there as soon as the king is there. In Christ, the kingdom of God has already come to the earth (Matt 12: 28). But while his royal honour still awaits his glorification, and the kingdom of the Father cannot receive its completion other than through the travails of the judgment upon sin, Jesus links the coming of the kingdom of God with the Final Judgment and with the blessedness in the house of the Father (Luke 9: 27; Matt 26:29). The kingdom of God comes with Jesus’ coming in the flesh (Mark 1: 15), it comes through his suffering and death, through his victory over Satan and sin, but it is completed only when Jesus comes to judge, and all authority and power has been subjected to Christ. In that kingdom, as it is being revealed here on earth, wonderful benefits purchased by Christ, are granted and enjoyed; forgiveness of sins, righteousness, life, regeneration, communion with God, joy and comfort amid struggle and suffering, the comfort that God’s people are the Lord’s own and that all things work for good (Matt 18:3; Marc 1:15; John 3: 3). The subjects of that kingdom are those who gladly do the will of the Father, who desire to live in dependence on God, the poor in spirit, who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5: 3-6; 9: 11, 13; 11:5; 28-30; 21: 31; Luke 18: 14; 19: 10). And those citizens are given the promise of complete redemption, eternal peace and joy under Jesus’ care in the blessed abundance of the coming kingdom of heaven (Mat. 5: 12; 20: 1-7; 24: 45, 46.


So the kingdom of God is not a political but a spiritual dominion. The mode of entrance into the kingdom is spiritual, which requires: regeneration, repentance, hunger and thirst for righteousness, while also the benefits enjoyed in it are spiritual. With Paul, too, the kingdom of God is a dominion which exists already today, and in the future will be gloriously revealed. God has drawn the believers “from the power of darkness and translated them into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col 1: 13, Gal.1:14). The goods of the kingdom, justice, peace and the fullness of God’s promises are already now being given to the believers (Rom 14: 17; 1 Cor 4: 20; 6: 9; Gal 5: 21, 22; Eph 5: 5); Christ makes His own already now priests and kings (Rev 1: 6), they have their homeland in heaven, have died with Christ, were buried and rose with Him and placed in heaven (Romans 6: 30; 8: 24, 25; 2 Cor 1: 22; 5: 5; Eph 2: 6) and will sit down one day with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the marriage supper of the Lamb.


There is a relationship between the kingdom of God and the church. For the church is an assembly of believers, a spiritual house, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2: 19-22; 4: 16). It is an assembly of believers, the communion of saints, to whom the kingdom of God and all its benefits have been promised (Luke 22: 29; Eph 1: 5, 11). The church is the fighting army, by which the Lord lets His kingdom come (Rev 12: 10). Baptism is associated with both. John and Jesus both worked with the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom, and both administered baptism as the sign and seal of the preaching of the kingdom of heaven (Mark 1: 15; Matthew 3: 11; Luke 3: 3; John 1: 26). So there is a connection between the church and God’s realm, both have one Lord and one King, both have the same subjects, yet they may not be equated as the Roman Catholic Church does, which believes the organised church to be the kingdom of God, and subjects all aspects of natural life, knowledge, science, art, thrones, powers or forces to the church. God’s realm is, according to Holy Scripture a kingdom of which God is King. As creator, sustainer and ruler God is king over all that exists. All authority is given by Him. God’s rule is not limited to man and the human heart, but encompasses all things, present and future. But sin destroyed the harmony. The creature must indeed submit to God, because God is the Almighty, but does not do that willingly, and the harmonious course, the normal concord is not found. But with Christ’s coming begins the great process to deprive Satan of his power and break his works (1 John 3: 8), and restore the disrupted harmony. Through His suffering and death.” (p 56)

 

Prof. dr. J. van Genderen and prof. dr. W. H. Velema in 

Concise Reformed Dogmatics

One of the principal reasons for placing the kingdom of God and the church over against each other, is the thought that the gospel of the kingdom which Jesus proclaimed relates only to the future kingdom. However, those who see that the kingdom of God according to the Gospels is already here as the gracious reign of God in Christ, consider that contrast irresponsible. There is even a direct relationship between the kingdom and the church.

It is incorrect to equate the church to the kingdom, as was often done in the past. The kingdom of God embraces much more than the church. However, we may also not say that the church replaces the kingdom, because Jesus who came to bring the kingdom, would have finished up with only the church. That is a denial of the ‘permanent eschatological perspective that surrounds the church on all sides in its expectation and service.” (Ridderbos, 1950, 307).

 

The kingdom of God is the messianic kingdom. The church of Christ is the people of the messiah. The messiah has a people that belongs to Him, and He came to save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21). The messiah also has a church which belongs to Him, and He will build His church (Matt 16:18). He says to His disciples, that it has pleased their Father to give them the kingdom (see Luke 12: 32).  Ridderbos notes in summary that “the church is being herded and driven in various ways by the revelation, by the progress, by the future of the kingdom of God.” (p 617)

 

G. P. L. van der Linde in Inspired connection – studies presented to prof. J. Kamphuis at his 25th jubilee as professor at the TU at Kampen

“The kingdom of heaven is at hand; so near in the person of Christ and His disciples as a prototype of the Church, and from Pentecost in the Church itself, that He could say to the Pharisees: the Kingdom of God is amongst you (in your midst).

“The kingdom, according to prof. Tjaart van der Walt, is in the Person, word and work (so also in the church) of Jesus already present reality ... The future has already started today - already started, but also just a beginning. What is happening now, is a sign of the future - but then a sign in the loaded sense (also) used by the Synoptics with the actual bond between sign and signifying matter: what is happening (the sign) can only be explained from the signifying matter, ...” The Church and the kingdom of heaven can therefore not be equated. The Church is just sign, but as a sign it also already shows something of its realisation; though it still needs to be completed. The Church on earth lays hold on what after the second coming shall be.

The Church is the organized population of the kingdom of heaven in this world and therefore, according to professor L. Floor, “the domain in which Christ dominates, the domain in which Christ exercises all authority  ... This then means that somewhere in the world is a space, a domain, in which the kingdom of Christ is already visible, even in the church ... Christ reigns, He rules heads, hearts, hands.” In that sense the Church is revelation of the Kingdom of heaven in this world. This is, however, at the same time, through the command to be the salt of the earth and a light of the world as well as a city on a mountain, an instrument through which it can remain sign and therefore revelation of the kingdom of heaven. The church has been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Christ used his church to gather his church; to call its citizens out of the world and care for them in the world.

The Church is a sign, is different from the kingdom of heaven, thus so typical of this age. This shows how close the kingdom of heaven is and disappears when the kingdom comes – the sign disappears when the signifying matter appears.” (p130)

This concludes some random quotes that can show how our reformed faith concerning the kingdom of heaven is anchored in Scripture. And also how far prof. De Bruijne has distanced himself from it at this point.

His political theology 
 

comes into conflict with the doctrine of the kingdom of heaven as taught in Scripture;

is at odds with the Reformed Confessions, including HC 31, 48; NGB art. 36;

represents a break with the reformed vision on the vocation of christians in the public area;

means the death knell for principled christian factionalism;

makes defenceless against (further) Anabaptist errors;

provides an incentive for a new ‘breakthrough’ in politics.

 

Actually you see in De Bruijne’s theology confirmation of a piece of Dekker’s ‘ongoing revolution’. Also here an important building stone from the Reformed faith is (again) being pried loose. I hope to have an opportunity in the new season to go deeper into this. And into the consequences of this new doctrine for our faith.

 

It is high time to again pick up the thread of dr. van Bekkum’s speech. Van Bekkum put forward that there is a turning towards the church in Kampen.  From the political theology of De Bruijne that appears to be so. But it means at the same time a retreat from the world – although not as rigorous as Anabaptism does – but still obvious, and in so far as this is helpful. For Christ does not rule over this world, does He? 
But I believe that diese Wende (this change) denies Christ’s ruling power over creation, and does an injustice to God’s honour.

 

Van Bekkum 
The practical policy mentioned by Dekker stands in the same light. Kampen doesn’t mean much. But wherever in this secular world opportunities arise to serve not only the churches but also christian (The) Netherlands with good reformed theology, the Executive Board does not fail to grab it.

 

What does that say about the churches? That is indeed the question. Different from the past, Kampen has barely a grip on what is going on. Advice is very welcome, and people like to use our expertise. But the churches prefer to make the final choice themselves. I do think however, that that movement from the world towards the church also occurs outside Kampen.

 

The liberated spirituality is known as being rational, practical and world-oriented, with at the bottom of the believing soul a deep sense of having been chosen: you must serve God in your place. This image is accurate, and reflects the preaching of promise and demand as it has sounded for years. You could say that the evangelicalisation of recent years fills the spiritual and emotional deficit in this outworking of the faith.

 

There we have it again [15]. You get a little weary of this parroting about the deficit in the outworking of our and our fathers’ faith. I believe that this verdict does an injustice to the deep faith of the previous generations. A faith that was not only practised in the inner room, but also embodied in numerous activities. And indeed, a faith that in the preaching of the great riches of God’s promises also knew of God’s demand to live a godly life. A ‘balance’ that in recent years has been completely missing in many sermons. It hurts me that in this manner the works of faith à la Hebrews is being written off by numerous more or less ‘newer Kampen theologians’. Let them first of all just show proof that that new way of working with the Scripture is compatible with the Reformed Confessions and really leads to the upbuilding of a godly and devout life. So far we have frequently seen the opposite [16].

 

Van Bekkum 
This is accompanied by much unbalance. Many people for whom things go either too fast or not radical enough, are leaving the church. But if I see it right, traditional reformed structures are in this respect indeed beginning to slowly function as a cushion. The liturgical mix of traditional and new forms is entering calmer waters. 
And two generations later, the ancient question of the Secession pops up again. During the late forties my great-grandfather asked my then 10 years old father with some regularity: “Have you already got a new heart?” And in our days we hear at the men’s breakfast: “Are you already living after the bolt of grace?”
 

Bolt of grace? What next? you’re inclined to think. But fortunately Rev. J. J. Burger in Nader Bekeken [17] knows the origin of this jargon. Author and speaker A. de Rover devised this one-liner, and peddled it at men’s breakfasts. The term stands for a kind of personal experience or identity crisis which a person needs as an unmistakeable moment of regeneration. Burger is not so happy with it. “In this way, - I fear - the assertion returns that you should have had your Peniel- or Damascus experience in your life.” And is de Rover not somewhat too optimistic about life after the “bolt of grace?” Burger wonders. But his principal objection is that for that grace and its bolt the author points not enough to Jesus Christ as source. In de Rover’s book Jesus is no more than a fellow citizen in God’s kingdom, while in reality He is its Priest-King, isn’t He? That’s why Burger says: “I’d rather live in the sun of grace, than after the bolt of grace. Regardless of how difficult that - Kyrie eleison - often may be.” 
Why is van Bekkum excited about this?

 

Van Bekkum 
The liberated-reformed churches are evidently not only becoming a diminishing, vanishing mini-‘zuil’. They are also a fascinating testing ground for being orthodox- reformed church in today’s network society. A place where traditional churches and classic reformed theology take on the challenge of missionary reflection and initiative. Where a new balance is sought between reason and experience. And where participation in many social relationships pairs up with a renewed awareness of alienship in a world that is passing away.

 

The perspectives van Bekkum paints here fit the Newer Kampen Theology as we noted earlier with De Bruijne. We are now gaining a better understanding of what is growing and flourishing in our liberated “fantastic testing ground.” And of the direction in which it is being operated. We discover the changes in doctrine and life that have to underpin this theologically. In a final article in this series we hope to pay some more attention to this.

 

Van Bekkum 
What does this mean for the future? I do not know. God knows and that is enough to fold the hands and put the hand to the plow. Life is one, but it is not attainable. Our doing is piecework. Therefore, no strategies for the moment, but do what your hand finds to do. Ultimately the ship of the church does still offer a safe arrival.

 

No strategies? But the impression we gained from the Newer Kampen Theology with de Bruijne’s political theology is still a ‘strategy’, isn’t it? Intended, as van Bekkum said earlier, to renew the own neo-calvinist tradition? Which is being worked on in a cooperative relationship by university researchers as Schaeffer, Burger and De Bruijne? A theology that has major consequences for the church, for both ecclesiastical and personal life? 

Certainly, the ship will arrive safely. King Christ is making sure. He reigns from the high heavens over His church. The question is whether Kampen’s change of course will not shipwreck us and lead to the end of a reformed church community, as van Bekkum mentioned at the beginning of his speech.

 

Christ reigns. Not only His church. He rules also over His Kingdom that now is, but later on will come in perfection, when God will have made all His and our enemies ​​a footstool for His feet. Then He will be all in all.

That’s a promise. We’re holding on to it. 

(to be continued)

 

NOTES


[1] With minor textual corrections.

[2] For those who first want to read the speech without being interrupted by our questions and concerns, go to http://www.adckampen.nl/node/63 

[3] We just leave the label ‘alternative reconstruction theology’ for what it is. But ‘fun’ is something else.

[4] Prof. dr. C. J. de Ruijter.

[5] For example, by Nederlands Dagblad chief editor S. Kuiper in a positive comment on the huge Pentecostal conferences, ND 18/05/13.

[6] J. Westert, in De Reformatie 14/12/12

[7] From an interview with dr. M. G. P. Klinker-De Klerck in GKv Kerkbode Noord (Church Bulletin) 22/03/13

[8] 14 years Jongeling in the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament

[9] Prof. dr. K. Veling, former Senator for the GPV (Reformed Political Alliance): “It seems fruitful to me to replace the basis-model of christian organisation with a perspective-model. By that I mean a form of organisation of christian activity that is undertaken with a set goal in mind. () That goal is related to values or interests, through which the attractiveness also has to do with a vision on the world, with perspective.” RD 16/05/13. Veling also played an important role in opening up the GPV for the non-reformed.

[10] Radix 2012 / # 2, 2013 / # 3, 2013 / # 4.

[11] Prof. dr. H. G. Geertsema is an emeritus professor in the chair-Dooyeweerd of the Free University in Amsterdam, as well as in christian philosophy at the state universities of Groningen and Utrecht.

[12] Infinite space of time, or eternity.

[13] Prof. De Bruijne indicated that he borrowed many of his ideas from a model of Oliver O’Donovan. He was promoted on this subject.

[14] Compare the position of the Reformed Political Alliance, for which an important foundation was laid by dr. A. J. Verbrugh in his books: Universal and Anti- revolutionary.

[15] See also dr. HJCCJ Wilschut, in GKv Church Bulletin North of 17/05/13.

[16] Dr. HJCCJ Wilschut, Separation?: “Searching for the real front in all the problems and controversies you will, in my view, come out at the devastating impact of secularisation, through which the GKv risk gradually losing the character of Reformed churches - if this trend would continue.” p 43.

[17] Nader Bekeken 05.05.13.