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In the footsteps of the synodicals 2

and Bonhoeffer is the prophet


D.J. Bolt

Last time we gave an extensive analysis of the book The ongoing revolution, written by religion sociologist dr. G. Dekker. We refrained from offering comment on its content, but now it is time to engage with what Dekker writes about our churches. And not only that. For after his conclusion that the liberated indeed are walking in the footsteps of the synodicals, he also provides an interesting evaluation of what he has observed, and points the way the liberated-reformed churches should go if they want to survive and have the right to exist.

It is of course a story of a former synodical professor. Can we do something with it? Does he not, so to say, have a lot of butter on his head as regards the decline of his own churches? Can he in that situation be our prophet?  
It depends of course on where Dekker 'stands’. Is he deeply saddened by the ruins of his former church community? And can he from that position show the liberated where things went wrong, and how they can prevent that kind of church destruction. Or does he perhaps regard the historical development of the synodical churches an example to be followed?

It gets even more exciting when we involve the speeches given at the book’s presentation by three liberated professors and teachers at the theological university, prof. dr. G. Harinck, prof. dr. M. te Velde and dr. K. van Bekkum. What is their response to the traditionally menacing and now observed cliché:  ‘In the footsteps of the synodicals’?   

Research and book

We will first say something about the research that was done and its impact on the book. It analyses the developments in the liberated-reformed churches, compared with those in the synodical-reformed churches during earlier times. The publication has been included in the AD Chartas series (under the auspices of het Archief- en Documentatiecentrum van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Kampen) and may therefore be regarded as a scientifically sound work.  
We believe that this raises some questions.


The material for the book originates mainly from two sources: the Manuals of the liberated-reformed churches, and the historiography in Fire and Flame[1]. And that is of course rather sparse, to say the least. In particular because the label that the book sticks on these churches is a tough one. This entitles us to expect that its grave conclusion ‘there is an ongoing revolution in these churches' rests on scientifically robust and broad evidence.  

It was of course not really helpful when at the book’s presentation its title was treated somewhat shoddily by criticism like what's in a name. That is just below par. The reproachful title that strikes a sensitive chord in many a liberated soul must be justified, and not trivialized as an amiable choice of words.  Especially since the conclusions in the book aim to justify it.

It is also somewhat strange that not more readily available source material has been used. Why were the Acts of general synods not also consulted? In the earlier book The silent revolution that was done very extensively. It could have been done very easily in this case as well, since all the Acts are available on internet.  

Why are church magazines and websites that hold a wealth of information about the development of the churches also not involved?

No fieldwork

Prof. Dekker has indicated that he has not been able to do fieldwork, that is, closer investigation of sources but also in-depth interviews, etc. in order to derive not only conclusions from written material, but also gauge living opinions and convictions of people who are part of the whole development process. Without fieldwork the picture becomes rather limited and shallow in some respects.

This backfires more than once. Dekker suggests for example that on the basis of an EO investigation "one may safely assume" that among the liberated the practice of 'sex before marriage' has changed. That could be true, and is indeed likely. But it is also of great importance to know the answer to the follow-up question: Is that so because people abandoned the biblical conviction at this point, or because they succumbed to much temptation in our sexualised society?  

Another example is Sunday rest, also mentioned by Dekker himself. But he mentions only that around the turn of the century the Sunday was discussed a few times. But why was the subsequent development not examined? Then he would, for example, also have come across the book of Rev. W. Wierenga in which he argues that the Ten Commandments no longer apply to us and the Fourth Commandment no longer has any meaning for ‘working on the day of rest’. And also that afterwards no one berated him. Dekker could have used this example ‘nicely’ to illustrate how problems with doctrine, church discipline and pluralism are coexistent issues in our churches.

Dekker occasionally does give chapter and verse, for example when he mentions prof. Harinck’s alternative views on atonement. But why is concrete attention not also given to other shocking examples of shifting conceptions? For example: S. Paas (creation of Israel and its religion), Van Bekkum (the miracle in Joshua 10), De Bruijne (metaphors theology), Douma (framework hypothesis). Issues of this kind that have such great impact should not have escaped attention. And is that not what one may expect from a scientific publication? The more so, because certain parallels with developments in the synodical-reformed churches are discernable?


There are gaps in the study. We will mention a few.  
Hardly anything is being said about the preaching in the churches. Yes, Dekker observes, the format of the church services is changing on a large scale. But the preaching always stands (stood?) central in reformed worship services, and has great influence on the thinking and conduct of the people. How then can it be that in research conducted under the scientific label this point was not thoroughly examined?

The same is true for instruction given by the church. Which changes are observable with regard to catechism instruction, youth clubs, men's and women's associations, Bible study groups? What is the education level of office bearers who have the task to lead the congregation, especially spiritually? What are the parallels here with the developments in the synodical-reformed churches?

We also read little about the involvement of people in all kinds of activities organised by the church, especially those on the spiritual level. If you want to compare developments in reformed life in your research, should you not pay a lot of attention to this aspect? 

Dekker also pays no attention to family devotions even though it is an important measure of spiritual life. And what happened over the study period with respect to family- and personal Bible reading and study, the education of the children? Which (church) magazines and newspapers are (still) being read?
So there’s virtually nothing about all this.

Why was also the relationship with churches abroad completely neglected, while in that area all kinds of important developments have been ongoing for years? 

Why is there no analysis of the influence exerted by the forefront of ‘ecclesiastical officials without direct bond with the local congregations’, as Dekker defines it, which he did do for the synodical-reformed churches? That would be proper of a scientific study, wouldn’t it?

In the review on euthanasia and abortion he notes that these issues no longer seem to be in discussion at the official GKv level. But he does say: "But perhaps the practice is changing in the GKv without the official positions being adjusted. The difference with the GKN may therefore be less than was assumed at first sight.” Indeed, that's what you get when no field work is done.


We believe that the book’s presentation of the study is frequently deficient. Thus we noted regularly a large unbalance between the quantity of factual material about the synodical-reformed churches and that of the liberated-reformed churches. For example, when dealing with the church and Dutch general society the description of what happened in the synodical-reformed churches is quite scanty in comparison with that of the liberated churches.

The same observation applies to the section about church organisation. Of the synodical-reformed churches only the start and end points are mentioned, a comparison of the development process in both churches is missing, while very specific details are sometimes mentioned about the GKv; for example, that office-bearers who perform official work in another congregation sometimes remain members of their own congregation. One would love to see especially more-exhaustive and more-detailed comparison. For it isn’t trifling when Dekker mentions that the christian character of the original (synodical) reformed organisations has in many respects suffered damage because of their weakening bond with the churches.

Another example: reformed education. How was this dealt with in comparison with liberated-reformed education? Dekker says nothing about the developments in the synodical-reformed churches.


The book lacks keyword- and personal indexes [1]. Is that not just a minor (digital) effort? Would you publish a scientific work without them?

And finally, it seems to us that in these expensive times € 19.90 is a bit steep for a skinny little book of less than 150 pages in A5 format. We’ve had occasionally more value for our money.


Considering that this is a book that wants to answer a question that is so important to many people, we’re justified to ask whether it was responsible to publish it like this, without sufficiently broad and in-depth scientific research. All the same, it seems unwise to just leave it at that and proceed to the order of day.

Dekkers conclusion

"This brings me to a conclusion which, for now, I would put forward as not much more than a hypothesis: In the coming years the liberated-Reformed will demonstrate radical changes. They will (have to) adjust themselves more and more to the developments in general society, precisely because they (want to) apply their faith to all aspects of life. During the coming decades they will therefore develop in the direction in which the synodical-reformed have developed, and they will in future also begin to look more like the synodical-reformed."

This is what Prof. Dekker said in 1994 at the symposium Fifty years Liberation. Now in 2012 he finds and concludes with respect to the liberated churches:

  • Membership will decline rather quickly.
  • There is growing openness to the (ecclesiastical) world.
  • Association with the Council of Churches is advocated.
  • Exclusive liberated organisations can not (no longer) be maintained.
  • Many organisations are struggling with their identity.
  • There is growing integration with general society.  
  • The relationship between Synod and the churches is weakening.
  • There is strong organisational growth and professionalisation.
  • The deacons still retain an independent position.
  • Women will acquire passive suffrage [update 240413].
  • Church attendance is declining, the second service is in discussion.
  • Variation in format has grown dramatically
  • There is great attention for liturgy.
  • Attention is shifting from doctrine to conduct.
  • There is a more liberal view on and attitude towards doctrine.
  • The number of members that confess their faith is decreasing.
  • There is the feeling to be standing on the threshold of a new understanding of Scripture.
  • Greater plurality is developing with unrest the result.
  • Divorce is sometimes considered unavoidable.
  • There is still ecclesiastical reluctance towards unmarried cohabitation.
  • In practice, cohabitation has been increasing.
  • There is more tolerance with regard to sexuality outside marriage  
  • Views on homosexuality differ quite much.
  • The reformed lifestyle has been honoured for longer.

In very many of these issues Dekker observes confirmation of his 1994 hypothesis:

The liberated are indeed following in the footsteps of the synodicals.  

But the pace of change is lower than at the time in the synodical-reformed churches.

The key question

The key question is of course whether Dekker’s sociological research justifies this conclusion. For there is quite a bit to criticise in the method and depth of his research. Yet it would be totally incorrect to shrug off his conclusions, for two reasons:  

  • The observations described by prof. Dekker add up. For years now this site has identified events, statements and developments consistent with what Dekker has observed from his sociological perspective.
  • The situation is even more serious than Dekker has detected. Think for example of the views held by professors and teachers at our university (S. Paas, Van Bekkum, Van der Schee). But also of a kind of preaching from which the sin-element has disappeared; of the widespread lack of understanding about the church; of the increasing promotion of all kinds of evangelical practices as ministry prayers and exorcism.

It is also not hard to voice criticism here and there on some of Dekker’s assessments and accents. A few examples. 

Dekker places substantial emphasis on the self-imposed isolation of the liberated without appearing to have sufficient understanding that isolation can also be externally imposed.

And we believe that it is demonstrably one-sided when Dekker suggests that the unity with the Christelijke Gereformeerden (CGK) has been hampered mainly by liberated ‘obstacles’ and ‘tough demands’. Then you demonstrate too little insight in almost seventy years of liberated searching for unity with the CGK.

We shall not at this moment engage further with a variety of facts presented by Dekker, but focus attention on something else that perhaps is much more threatening and fundamental for the future of the churches.

This directs us to the final chapter of Dekker’s book: Evaluation.   


Like in his book The silent revolution Dekker presents also in his book about the liberated-reformed churches an evaluation of the developments. As sociologist he regards developments in the churches partly as the result of changes in society, in ‘the world’. 
There are three different ways of dealing with this. We again summarise briefly.

Angle of incidence: Secularisation

Secularisation is seen as clashing with the will of God and harmful to the faith. The church resists it. Only where Biblically sound, are church life and personal life adapted to the changed situation.

Angle of incidence: Reformation

The churches regard the changes in the world as challenges. Developments must be made 'reformed'. Changes are consciously incorporated as much as possible in the practice of faith and the church's existence. The risk that accompanies the adaptation of the faith must be accepted.

Angle of incidence: Mature man and world

The changes and developments in the world are the result of the growing autonomy and maturity of modern man. Basically these are seen as willed by God. And the church accepts them. Resistance is useless, and also not understood and appreciated by the world. Moreover, the church will always lose out. Human maturity and autonomy do not necessarily have to clash with God’s authority. God wants it that way, doesn’t He? 

Prof. Dekker unmistakably favours the third angle. His source of inspiration appears to be theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is he who opened Dekker’s eyes for this necessary and desirable third angle, of the autonomous and mature human being. We reprint the final two pages of Dekker’s book in full to show how deeply incisive these views are and how they touch the reformed churches, their faith and confession in the heart.

Prof. Dekker:

"According to Bonhoeffer a great development is ongoing in history, a development that leads to autonomy of man and world. He spoke about this in terms of maturation (5. Compare: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Verzet en overgave (Baarn 2003), p 358).

Many will agree with Bonhoeffer. But the difference between Bonhoeffer and the majority of christians (and also most churches) is that Bonhoeffer values this development positively, while the organised christian religion has always fiercely opposed it. The latter because this development is seen as an attack on the authority of God. Bonhoeffer, however, posits that it is God's very intention that we become autonomous, mature.

We are talking about the recognition that in the world developments are taking place that can be in line with God’s intentions for man and world, indeed, are perhaps even ordained by God, even though they are not initiated or promoted by individual christians or churches.

For it is clear that to a large extent the renewal of the world was not accomplished by religious people.
 The renewal of the world is thus not a direct fruit of the renewal through people but follows its own ways. Whether those ways are the ways of the Spirit cannot be said beforehand but neither denied beforehand.  (6 H. Berkhof, Christelijk geloof. Een inleiding tot de geloofsleer  (Nijkerk 1973), P522).

But, as previously noted, the churches have historically always opposed changes that they did not initiate themselves. They have always experienced those changes as being contrary to the christian religion, and therefore also labelled them anti-christian. The result is that those who promoted the changes also adopted an anti-christian position, because they always had to extract those changes from christianity. This has created an unnecessary strong contrast between church and world; a contrast and a struggle in which the churches under the current setup will always be the loser.

With this in mind the churches should not oppose that growth in autonomy and maturity but let the light of the gospel shine on it, so that people will also make good use of that autonomy. They should not resist all kinds of development in the world, but 'illuminate’ them as it were. The relationship between church and world would then become much different.

Viewed from this perspective, all the past changes in the liberated-reformed churches are not much more than changes that came too late; while all the forthcoming changes, being adjustments to the innovations that are currently happening in the world, are coming too late.

It so happens that God teaches the church as much by the world as vice versa.
 Worse is that often the church has taken the lesson to heart either too little or too late. It took the church a century and a half to learn the lesson of the French Revolution. (7 Berkhof, op cit, p 521.)

Looking at it that way, the churches, also the liberated-reformed churches, have never been up-to-date; they have not recognised God's work in this world. They are struggling with themselves. And despite their ‘innovations’, many people disengage because (often without being able to put it into words, or without consciously experiencing it) they no longer recognise themselves in that church and in that struggle of the church.

These three angles of approach may perhaps help us get more insight in what is currently going on in and with the liberated-reformed churches. All three of them throw different light on the developments. The first two approaches are most familiar to us, and our preference is largely a matter of appreciation of the christian tradition and of the developments occurring in society. The third angle is new to many in church life. But that angle definitely casts new light on the relationship between church and world.

But it should not be, should it, that christianity which in the past began so revolutionary, will now forever be conservative; that every new movement has to clear its way without the church, and that it always takes the church twenty years to realise what has actually happened?
  (8. Thus Bonhoeffer, in a sermon held in Berlin, quoted in Dietrich Bonhoeffer Een thematisch dagboek, edited by Gerard Dekker (Zoetermeer 2011), p 172).

Looking at it that way, the correct understanding of the nature of the developments around and in the liberated-reformed churches is, not in the last place also important for the position of christianity in Dutch general society."


So much for the final 'evaluation' in Dekker’s book The ongoing revolution. It is clear that this is not merely an evaluation, but also urgent advice to the liberated-reformed churches to change course. For they have never recognised the work of God in the world, and have always been busy with themselves.  

So there!  

Dekker and Bonhoeffer

Let's just have another look at the ideas of Bonhoeffer and his enthusiastic disciple Dekker. We use an article Dekker wrote on 21 November 2011 [2] under the title De actualiteit van Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We print it in full. It is a bit long but gives us a necessary deep understanding of the direction that is being pointed out.

The twentieth century well-known and controversial theologian Dorothee Sölle once said that the only German theologian still worth reading in the twenty-first century will be Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It looks as if she is going to be right. No other theologian has in recent years been given so much attention as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian who lived in the beginning of the previous century and worked as lecturer at the University of Berlin and (both at home and abroad) as pastor, and filled a leading role in the Confessing Church of those days. In the course of time already more than 50,000 studies have been published about him, and there is an international Bonhoeffer Society with branches in many countries (also in The Netherlands) working with the legacy Bonhoeffer has left behind.

Why the interest? There are, I think, several reasons. There is the person Bonhoeffer, who with heart and soul opposed the Hitler regime, and as a result had to spend the last years of his life in prison and just before the end of World War II was murdered on Hitler's personal order. And there are his often revolutionary ideas about God, about Jesus, about the faith and about the Bible, that differ in many respects from the views living among many christians and have set many christians thinking. He was able to combine in his mind and life, profound piety and radical involvement with the world, by which he inspired many. 

Here I want to point to one aspect of his entire world of thinking, an aspect by which even now he still is up-to-date; and that regards his appreciation of the development of the world in the light of the christian faith. And then I am referring to the birth of the modern world as a consequence of the developments during especially recent centuries.

There is, Bonhoeffer writes in one of the letters that were smuggled out of prison, a great development that leads to the autonomy of the world. God as a working hypothesis has been overcome; it is a matter of intellectual rationality to drop this working hypothesis or switch it off  if at all possible. Our knowledge about the world and the possibilities to give this world form, have in the course of time greatly increased. And in that respect people know themselves to be increasingly independent of external forces, therefore also of God. At least of the God who, as Bonhoeffer formulates it, functions as a hole-mender, as a stand-by, that is to say: the God we need in particular when our knowledge and our abilities fall short. 

This development has been, and is referred to by different terms. The great sociologist Max Weber spoke in the last century of the disenchantment of the world. He was referring to the modernisation of society by which scientific explanation became more important than faith, and things are done on the basis of our rational thinking. Bonhoeffer himself speaks mainly about the maturation of the world. By which he clearly thought of the description philosopher Kant gave of the Enlightenment, namely the withdrawal of man from his self-inflicted tutelage. 
Immaturity is then seen as the inability to use one’s own intelligence without the guidance of someone else, also therefore without the guidance of a church, of religious thinking or of God. Hence in the above quotation Bonhoeffer uses the word 'autonomy'. Others, especially in the christian world, define this entire development with the term secularisation, because they see that it pushes God and religion to the edge of life. 

These terms clearly express a different valuation of the development of the world. Weber's term, the disenchantment of the world, is primarily descriptive in nature. But the terms secularism and maturation express a kind of appreciation. 
In his description and evaluation of the world’s ever increasing maturity Bonhoeffer does not use the term secularisation. Indeed, he even disliked the negative, judgmental tone of this word. He favoured the maturation, the coming of age of man and world. This was a new signal. Because dominant christian thinking approached it negatively. As late as the nineteen-fifties the Reformed ethicist Brillenburg Wurth (truly not a conservative theologian!) still wrote in the Christian Encyclopedia: At the same time however, this world is more and more going the way of sinful emancipation. Like never before, she feels herself the emancipated world (Bonhoeffer). She considers herself fully self-supporting. Fallen away from God and increasingly alienating herself from Him, her life assumes more and more clearly the character of Eigengesetzlichkeit [autonomy, being one’s own master)

God and man, not opposite each other 
In the same letter from which I quoted above, Bonhoeffer wrote: Anxious souls are asking themselves: Is there still room for God? And because they have no answer to that question they condemn the entire development that brought them in such a difficult situation. That was the attitude of most of christianity: condemnation and rejection of this development. With the result that we ended up in the situation in which the emancipation of the world and the whole movement of the Enlightenment on the one hand, and the christian religion on the other hand, are being experienced as two opposing developments. According to some, there is even an invincible opposition between these two worlds. A theologian and church official said recently that by our sins and through the philosophical thinking of the Enlightenment we have shut up heaven; but with God everything is possible, even that we should go back to the time before the Enlightenment.

Bonhoeffer reminds us at the same time that christianity has itself created this opposition. For the Enlightenment was not by definition anti-religious; there were very religious enlightenment philosophers. But christianity has right from the beginning labelled the entire process of maturation, of the world becoming autonomous, as anti-christian. The result was that each step in the direction of this maturation had to be wrested from christianity, and that thereby the movement towards maturation also began to regard and label itself as anti-christian.

As Bonhoeffer formulated it, God and Christ are being labelled and used as opponents of this development, and to the measure that this is done, that development begins to regard itself as anti-christian. The interpretation and definition of that development thereby influenced the subsequent developments, and strengthened the opposition between Enlightenment and christian religion. 

The same kind of development has also occurred in the Netherlands with regard to socialism. The church resisted that movement right from its beginning. This led to socialism also resisting the churches and publicly declaring up to the nineteen-thirties its opposition to religion; thereby reinforcing the struggle between christianity and socialism. And still the tension between christian religious life and socialism has not disappeared, as can still be observed regularly, for example in political- but also in church life. That it could have been otherwise is shown by what happened in England, where a strong Christian Socialist Movement emerged, by which right from the beginning no opposition was experienced between the christian religion and christian church on the one hand, and socialism on the other. Also this example shows (and that's why I mention it) how important the characterisation of symptoms and developments can be for the further course of these developments.

Bonhoeffer has sharply condemned the negative attitude of the christian religion towards the maturation of the world: I regard the attack of the christian apologetics on the maturation of the world meaningless, indecent, and unchristian. 
Meaningless, because it seems to me an attempt to send adults back to their puberty, to make them dependent on things on which they are no longer dependent, to talk them into problems that are no longer problems for them. 
Indecent, because it exploits the weakness of man to win him for a purpose that is foreign to him, that he has not chosen freely. 
Unchristian, because it confuses Christ with a certain stage in the development of religion, that is to say with a human law.

Many have got into difficulties with their faith by defending the opposition between the maturation of man and the christian faith. God and man were, so to say, placed in opposition and played off against each other. The predominant thought in traditional christian religion was that man’s acting and power undermine the power, the authority of God. So this meant that as a christian one could not participate in the development towards autonomy and maturation of man and world, and thus as it were had to withdraw from the world; [or] break with one’s existing belief in God. And it was especially the latter that happened.

Man as co-worker with God 
I say it with emphasis: the existing belief in God, a belief in God that is based on the idea of a God who is omnipotent, and on whom man is dependent in all his doings.

Which therefore forbids and prevents man from becoming mature, because that would curb God's power. It is the faith that belongs to a certain phase of the development of religion (as Bonhoeffer put it). It is that notion of God that we should abandon, according to Bonhoeffer. We must start thinking about Him in a different way. Which has immediate consequences for our ideas about the relationship between God and man. Stated briefly: not man as a competitor of God, but man as co-worker with God. And that is possible as long as we accept the incarnation of God, for God has become man! Thus the incarnation of God plays an important role in Bonhoeffer’s world of thinking. 
Then the maturation of man and world do not finish up over against God; it does not occur at the expense of God and faith in God, but this maturation is perfectly in agreement with God’s intentions for man and world, and it lies directly in line with the faith in God.

That makes it possible especially from the position of the christian faith to adopt a positive attitude towards the growing autonomy of man and world. When Jesus, as Bonhoeffer once observed, does not call Himself but His disciples the salt, He transfers the activity on earth to them. He involves them in His work. (To avoid misunderstanding: this does not commit to a positive view towards all the developments and results of such developments that emerge in the context of that growing autonomy; there is plenty to be regarded critically, as also Bonhoeffer knew very well, but the point is that man and world are increasingly able and permitted to act more and more autonomous and mature).

Thus there is with Bonhoeffer no opposition between God and man and between God and the world. Rather, God is concerned with man and world, and not as still many christians seem to think with the church, not even with the christian religion. Faith is all about the world and humanity. About the world, because faith is lived in and not outside of the world. In the words of Max Weber: no outside-of-the-world religiosity (ausserweltlichen Askese), but worldly religiosity (innerweltlichen Askese). And about man, about being man. He expressed this in numerous ways: being christian does not mean being religious in a certain way, it means being a human. And: Jesus does not call us to a new religion, but to life. 
That God and this world have everything to do with each other, yes, become each other’s extension, can hardly be expressed more powerfully than Bonhoeffer did when he wrote: If you want God, live in the world. The same idea is expressed in his statement: If you want to find eternity, then serve the present.


Every day many christians as well as many non-christians who are fully engaged in the world experience and express a contrast between the christian faith and the world’s progress towards greater autonomy. The latter in particular when that autonomy is attributed to a certain interpretation of the Enlightenment. This view and attitude cause casualties on both sides; on that of the faith, as well as on the side of the world. On the side of the faith, because christians who live a worldly life often feel that the faith in which they grew up is being attacked; it makes them more and more uneasy, they find it increasingly difficult to harmonise it with their faith. But also on the side of the world, because christians resist all kinds of developments [; and] if they participate in the developments often do so with hesitation and reluctance. With the result that in their actions they are often conservative or being perceived that way. 

Bonhoeffer can teach us that there is a particular religious belief and attitude with which one can fully cooperate with the process of the world’s becoming more and more autonomous and mature. Yes, [teach] that belief in a God who is working towards a new earth in which He will be all in all, even asks from a christian to live a worldly life. And however strange it may sound, it is that kind of worldly life that can especially reinforce the faith. At least that is Bonhoeffer’s experience according to one of his statements: that he has experienced and I am experiencing it up to this very moment, that you do not learn to believe until you are standing in the midst of the earthiness of this life.

Bonhoeffer still has much to say to christians, especially if it concerns their attitude towards and standing in the world. It is therefore not surprising that many are still fascinated by him and his thoughts. 

Because those thoughts are still fully up-to-date. 

So far Dekker’s article from 2011.


Dekker’s article is evidence of great interest [3] in Bonhoeffer. This interest is understandable from a historical perspective. This man has intensely resisted Nazi Germany and eventually paid for it with his life. That continues to fascinate. The more so because he was an erudite theologian. His life could have been so different if he had adjusted a little to the spirit of the time. But he did not and put up active resistance. With all its consequences. That deserves great sympathy. 
At the same time, if Bonhoeffer's ideas above have been represented even remotely correct, then everyone, even the novice Reformed catechism student will sense that here no scriptural reformed doctrine is being propagated. On the contrary, is this not the language spoken by the autonomous derailed paradise man? We will not explain that here and now, but hope to do that later.

What concerns us now is whether that overwhelming attention for Bonhoeffer and his theology are also noticeable in our reformed world. One would basically not expect that for a person whose thoughts on fundamental issues disagree so much with the reformed doctrine that adjustment of many points of doctrine becomes  necessary. 

It is amazing, but attention for Bonhoeffer appears to be enthusiastic and growing also in our circles. A few examples.  

  • In 1999, prof. dr. B Kamphuis of the TU in Kampen involved also Bonhoeffer in his doctoral study [4] . Since then he may be regarded as an authority on Bonhoeffer. "For me Bonhoeffer has remained an exemplary theologian, both in the course of his life and the content of his theology" [5] .
  • Prof. dr. G C den Hertog contributed to the translation of Bonhoeffer's book Ethik that was published in translation in March 2012.
  • Three professors, dr. G C den Hertog and dr. J Maris both of TU Apeldoorn, wrote together with dr. B Kamphuis: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, de uitdaging van zijn leven en werk voor nu (the challenge of his life and work for today). The book is full of praise for Bonhoeffer's ideas and contains but very little criticism.
  • AKZ +, a joint project of  TU Apeldoorn, TU Kampen and Zwolle’s Gereformeerde Hogeschool conducts this spring a seminar in two locations: [translated] Bonhoeffer, prophet of the 21st century[!] (€ 140).
  • Nederlands Dagblad organizes this end of May a seven-day  Bonhoeffer trip to Germany (€ 945, already booked out!). The trip is led prof. B Kamphuis and prof. G C den Hertog. 
  • In early July, NetwerkTijdVoorActie and ND organise for young people a seven-day trip to Germany and Poland (€ 499) about the work and person of Bonhoeffer [6] . The motivation is: "His philosophy is still up-to-date and relevant."

We feel that the time has come for an explanation. Because we no longer understand this. 
There is obviously great enthusiasm for Bonhoeffer's thoughts. Apparently so great that 'pilgrimages' for young and old are being organised. Then there must be a lot of value on offer.  
The pressing question is what we should have to learn so urgently from this Barthian oriented ‘prophet of the 21st century’. What are professors Harinck and Kamphuis (Kampen), and Den Hertog and Maris (Apeldoorn) trying to teach us? Is that in line with what we have presented above from professor Dekker?  
Somewhere Dekker quotes, and he does that again in his conclusions:  "In many topics of conversation [in the GKv, djb] one gets the feeling that we are standing on the threshold of a new understanding of Scripture" [7] . 
We ask: what is going on? What are these leaders of the reformed universities and Gereformeerde Hogeschool up to? Working on the road indicated by Dekker perhaps? At the presentation of The ongoing revolution, three speakers, all teachers at the TU in Kampen, were given an opportunity to say a few things in response to Dekker’s book. Did they perhaps provide clear answers to our questions? Was there an unequivocal and frontal rejection of the author’s Evaluation ? 

We will try to obtain some more clarity about this in the next instalments of In the footsteps of the synodicals.


(to be continued)



[1]   He does in The silent revolution.

[2]   It can be found on ; and was published in abbreviated form in Friesch Dagblad on 19 November 2011.

[3]   Dekker wrote also: Leren geloven met Bonhoeffer. Heeft de kerk zichzelf overleerd? 366 tekstfragmenten van Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

[4]   Dissertation Boven en beneden: het uitgangspunt van de christologie en de problematiek van de openbaring aan de hand van ontwikkelingen bij Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Wolfhart Pannenberg (Kampen: Kok, 1999)

[5]  De Reformatie, 23 March 2012, p286.

[6]  ND, 4 April 2013

[7]  The ongoing revolution, p96, p125. He relies on a statement by Rev J H Kuiper in het Jaaroverzicht van het vrijgemaakte Handboek 2004, p417.