28 March, 2018

James Daane’s “The Freedom of God” (A Review)

Homer C. Hoeksema

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 7, no. 2 (May, 1974), pp. 18-40]

[THE FREEDOM OF GOD: A Study of Election and Pulpit, by James Daane (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1973). 208 pp., $5.95]

In an introduction to his book, the author informs us that his book deals with the reasons for an alleged silence of Reformed pulpits on the theme of God’s gracious election. Concerning this silence the author writes:

When the sound of election is no longer heard in the pulpits of churches creedally committed to the truth of election, the situation would appear to warrant an investigation to discover whether the pulpit or the doctrine is at fault. This book is an effort to uncover the reason for this strange silence. There are two parts to the answer. One reason is that Reformed theologians have differed among themselves about election so profoundly that controversy has often deeply disturbed the churches. In reaction, for the sake of peace, there has been a tendency to mute the sound of election in the pulpit. Second, as the truth of God’s election was refined more and more by influential Reformed theologians, election became increasingly unpreachable. (p. 6)

It is with the second of these two reasons that Daane’s book deals chiefly. And he claims that “the theological features and emphases that rendered election largely unpreachable” originated in the decretal theology of seventeenth-century Protestant scholasticism.” Francis Turretin is presented throughout the book as the epitome of such “Protestant scholasticism.” Daane claims that “Reformed decretal theologians generally theologized from a commonly accepted notion of an all-comprehensive divine decree that ‘accounts for all that happens in the world.’” He goes on to claim concerning what he calls throughout his book “decretal theology” the following:

All thought that God’s eternal purpose in Christ must be defined within the terms of God’s all-inclusive decree; the biblically stated eternal divine purpose in Christ did not, in their thought, decisively determine the nature and purpose of God’s decree. What God eternally purposed in Christ was left to be defined in the larger context of another more expansive decree. Whatever disagreements there were among these theologians occurred only within this basic commitment. (p. 7)

The author then sets forth the purpose of his book, as follows:

This book attempts to elucidate the differences between the scholastic view of God’s decree and the biblical view of God’s eternal purpose as decreed in Christ. We shall see how the scholastic version of God’s decree governs most of the recent articulate proponents of Reformed theology and how this persistence of decretal theology accounts for the pervasive silence concerning the doctrine of election in Reformed pulpits. Although we shall be looking closely at the theological statements of some recent exponents of seventeenth-century decretal theology who demonstrate that such a doctrine of God’s decree cannot be preached, our chief intent is positive, not critical. Our main concern is to demonstrate that God’s only decree is the gracious and elective purpose that he in divine freedom purposed in Jesus Christ, and that this decree can be preached because it can be believed (Ibid.).

Daane then goes on to claim for his view the following:

This book projects a view of God’s decree understood as an act of his freedom in Jesus Christ. It is a view that differs significantly from the divine decree that scholastic theologians see as formulated as outside of and antecedent to God’s purpose in Jesus Christ. The scholastic decree contains and accounts for everything, including sin. The decree of God’s purpose in Christ does not account for sin but savingly triumphs over it. (pp. 7-8)

And while the book “makes no pretense to theological finality,” the author claims for it that “it opens a window on a clearer biblical view of election than that offered by decretal theology, a view that can help return election to the pulpit.”

The little introduction succeeds in setting forth the sum and substance of Daane’s book. It also succeeds in mentioning just about every point on which this reviewer finds himself in disagreement with the author and critical of his book. In Daane’s introduction there is probably but one statement with which this reviewer can agree. It is the statement of the author “that I have not probed all the biblical heights and depths of election, nor achieved a theologically inerrant reflection of the Bible’s teaching about election.” And in the opinion of this reviewer, this statement is, to say the least, an understatement. Positively put, Daane has achieved a thoroughly errant view of election, one that is neither biblical nor Reformed. Moreover, he has produced an unfair and dishonest caricature of what he calls pejoratively “decretal theology.” One can recognize in Daane’s book neither the true picture of “decretal theology” in his description thereof, nor the true, biblical and Reformed doctrine of election in Daane’s view over against this “decretal theology.” To criticize Daane’s book in detail would require a book of even greater length than Daane’s. But such a book would be largely negative and apologetic, and, in our opinion, not worth writing. In this review we shall try to summarize as clearly as possible some of our main objections to Daane’s presentation. We differ, of course, as to Daane’s claim concerning the silence of Reformed pulpits on the theme of election. Perhaps what Daane writes on this score is true of his own denomination and of others; by experience, this reviewer can say without qualification that Protestant Reformed pulpits are not silent on this theme. We differ with Daane also as to both reasons which he adduces for this alleged silence of Reformed pulpits. We differ especially with his claim that the Reformed truth of election (and it must be kept in mind that Daane himself recognizes the outstanding Protestant Reformed theologian as having most consistently developed this truth in the manner of which Daane is critical)—we differ with the claim that this Reformed doctrine of election became “increasingly unpreachable.” We differ, further, with Daane’s claim that all Reformed decretal theologians thought “that God’s eternal purpose in Christ must be defined within the terms of God's all-inclusive decree.” Either Daane has never understood the theology of Herman Hoeksema, or he is guilty of deliberately misrepresenting it. If this reviewer understands the theology of Herman Hoeksema, he never taught that “what God eternally purposed in Christ was left to be defined in the larger context of another more expansive decree.” The contrary is true.

Some of these basic disagreements with Daane we shall touch upon in the course of this review. And although Daane’s book is predominantly critical, even in those chapters in which his own view is supposed to be developed, we also purpose to consider the question whether Daane’s own view can at all be classified as biblical, Reformed, and preachable.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

After a brief chapter on “The Sum and Substance of the GospelDaane turns immediately to his criticism of the Reformed doctrine of election, which he characterizes as “decretal theology” andProtestant scholasticism.As we said, the largest part of Daane’s book is devoted to a criticism and a polemic against this “decretal theology.” Even in the chapters in which Daane is supposed to develop his own view, he finds it difficult to stick to his subject, and he wanders off repeatedly into renewed criticism of the Reformed doctrine of election.

Now it is of the utmost importance that when one criticizes a view, and especially when one criticizes a view of so important a doctrine as the doctrine of election, and more especially when one criticizes a view which he himself admits to be the traditional view, that is, the view held over a long period of time and by the majority of Reformed theologians, then he must be accurate, fair, and honest in his presentation of the view which he criticizes. For one thing, he must not present a caricature of that view, but the view itself. For another, he ought to be careful to allow the representatives of that view to speak for themselves, and not to present his characterization or his slanted and prejudiced presentation of the views of those representatives. This also implies, of course, that when he quotes others, he should quote them accurately and fully. Still more, when such a critic attempts to portray that which is traditional, that which belongs to the main line of history, that which is a trend, he should be careful to choose and to call attention to that which is genuinely representative, and not merely to some aberrations. If in his critique and his polemic an author fails in these respects, his critique becomes suspect, his reliability is impeached, and his polemic, of course, becomes valueless, due to the fact that it is a polemic against a straw man.

Now it is the claim of this reviewer that Daane’s book falls short precisely in the above-mentioned respects. And of this we can produce clear evidence.

Dr. Daane considers the late Herman Hoeksema to be the most consistent representative of “decretal theology.” In his criticism of twentieth century representatives of “decretal theology” Daane refers to Hoeksema more often than to any other theologian. It is but natural that our interest in this connection is chiefly in Daane’s presentation and criticism of Hoeksema’s theology with respect to election and reprobation. And it is with this theology that we are best acquainted, and therefore also in a position to judge whether Daane presents this theology accurately, fairly, and honestly.

And it is our judgment that if the manner in which Dr. Daane presents the theology of Herman Hoeksema is a sample, then Daane is not to be trusted when he presents the theology of any so-called decretal theologian in his book, whether that be Van Til, Berkhof, Turretin, Beza, or Calvin himself. This reviewer, for one, cannot recognize the theology of Herman Hoeksema and of the Protestant Reformed churches in the picture which Daane draws both by quotation and by direct reference. And although this may seem a heavy charge, we find it difficult to believe that the misrepresentations made by Dr. Daane are mere mistakes and misunderstandings. The misrepresentations are too obvious and Hoeksema’s writings are too plain for this to be believed.

Let us check on this.

On page 26 Daane writes as follows:

Again, Hoeksema contends that when God speaks to man, he speaks not so much to man as to himself. God’s word spoken in Christ is less spoken to man than to himself. (Here there is a footnote referring to Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 16-17. HCH) If God spoke to man redemptively in Jesus Christ, God would be responding to a condition lying outside of himself. Finally, Hoeksema contends that when God loves man, his love is not at bottom a response to the reality of man but to himself, for in loving man God loves only his own image in man, and thus his love for man is primarily an act self-love.

At the end of the above quotation there is another footnote, which reads as follows:

If any divine responsive action is seen as a conditional action, and if it is rejected on that account, what meaning is left to God’s judgment on sin and His wrath against the sinner? Hoeksema replies by eternalizing the wrath of God. In order to do that, divine wrath must be seen as internalized within God, with the result that it is seen as an attribute of God, apart from any external object of wrath. Such a God is in himself a God of wrath. What is rejected here is far more than the conditionality found in Arminianism. Conditionality as defined and rejected by decretal theology is an overkill of Arminian theology, an overkill that exacts its price within decretal theology. Cf. Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 104-123.

In the above quotation and the two footnotes there are no less than three misrepresentations of Hoeksema’s position. The first reference is to Hoeksema’s “Introduction to Dogmatics,” where he is speaking of the principles of the knowledge of God. But if one consults Hoeksema’s own language on the pages referred to, he cannot find any such statement as Daane attributes to Hoeksema. With not a word does Hoeksema say that “God speaks not so much to man as to Himself.” With not a word does Hoeksema say, “God’s word spoken in Christ is less spoken to man than to himself.” Hoeksema does indeed emphasize that “we must remember that also in this Word of God ad extra He does not speak in the first place to us, but of Himself and to Himself.” But this is by no means the same as Daane’s statement concerning Hoeksema’s contention in this section. This is the first misrepresentation. The second is Daane’s next sentence: “If God spoke to man redemptively in Jesus Christ, God would be responding to a condition lying outside of himself.” Daane leaves the impression as though this is Hoeksema’s teaching, and therefore as though Hoeksema does not and cannot teach that God “spoke to man redemptively in Jesus Christ.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Here is the second misrepresentation. But the most serious misrepresentation is that found in the footnote concerning the wrath of God. Here Daane fails to quote Hoeksema at all. One would certainly expect that for such an important point Daane would furnish proof in the form of a direct quotation. But of all that Daane writes in this footnote, and especially of the idea that Hoeksema internalizes God’s wrath, and above all of the idea that Hoeksema presents God’s wrath as an attribute of God,—of all this Daane offers absolutely no proof. Meanwhile, by his reference to pp. 104-123 of Reformed Dogmatics he leaves the impression that this is indeed Hoeksema’s theology. And, of course, the very suggestion that wrath is an attribute of God, or that God is in Himself a God of wrath is abhorrent on the surface of it. Yet, the alert reader, who checks up on the page references given by Daane will discover that Hoeksema suggests this with not so much as a word, and that by no stretch of the imagination could this even be distilled from what Hoeksema writes in these pages concerning some of God’s attributes. This is reprehensible misrepresentation.

Another example. On page 27 Daane writes as follows:

When the Protestant Reformed Churches divided into two denominations in 1957, the issue that produced the split was a crisis of the pulpit. Separation occurred over the legitimacy of saying in the pulpit, “If you believe, God will save you.” Hoeksema rejected this formulation because of its conditionality. He saw it as a concession to Arminianism and a surrender to conditionality of God’s true sovereignty. Given his position, the crisis would have been theologically the same if the issue had been stated in reverse: “If you do not believe, God will damn you.” Either expression was heretical because it endorsed the kind of conditionality Hoeksema rejected.

In this one short paragraph there are at least four mistakes or misrepresentations, anyone of which might easily have been avoided. In the first place, it is an error of fact when Daane states that the split in the Protestant Reformed Churches occurred in 1957. It was not 1957, hut 1953. This is in itself a minor item; nevertheless it is an indication of Daane’s carelessness with the facts, an indication of failure to do simple historical research. I dare say that if Daane had only checked up on some of his own journalistic writings of that time, he might have discovered this error. In the second place, it is simply not true that “the issue that produced the split was a crisis of the pulpit.” Daane is here bending the facts to fit his proposition in this chapter that under “decretal theology” there is a gap between election and preaching. It is true, indeed, that the heresy which was condemned by the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1953 was a heresy that was spoken in the pulpit. It is not true, however, that the separation occurred over the legitimacy as such of saying or not saying something in the pulpit. This is only Daane’s unproved claim, made again in his desperate effort to show that “decretal theology” has no gospel to preach. In the third place, Daane does not quote the statement in question in that controversy, but something entirely different. Daane makes the statement this: “If you believe, God will save you.” The statement which was condemned by the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1953 was considerably different. Condemned as literally heretical was a statement which embodied the heresy of a general, conditional promise: “God promises everyone of you that, if you believe, you will be saved.And that there is considerable difference between the two should be plain from the fact that in the course of the controversy it was stated more than once that if a minister said in the pulpit, “I proclaim to all of you that if you believe, you will be saved,” this would be perfectly legitimate. Now it is not my purpose at this stage to enter into the difference between the statement which was made and the statement which Daane presents as the quotation on page 27. I only want to point out the misrepresentation. Dr. Daane cannot show with a single fact that Hoeksema ever said in 1953 that the statement which he has placed in quotation marks was seen as a concession to Arminianism and a surrender to conditionality of God’s true sovereignty.” And this would not be so serious, were it not for the fact that Daane gave considerable attention to the controversy mentioned at the time that it occurred. Charitably stated, therefore, we may say that Dr. Daane failed to do his research although he had sufficient access to Protestant Reformed literature to be able to do this research rather easily. Charitably stated, we may say that Daane is careless here about his facts, that he is talking “off the top of his head.” But even this is both dangerous and unfair when one is making charges as serious as those which Daane here makes. And as a result of the inaccuracy just mentioned Daane makes himself guilty of a fourth one when he draws the conclusion: “Given his position, the crisis would have been theologically the same if the issue had been stated in reverse: ‘If you do not believe, God will damn you.’ Either expression was heretical because it endorsed the kind of conditionality Hoeksema rejected.” From no writings of Herman Hoeksema or of anyone else in the Protestant Reformed Churches can Daane show, directly or by implication, that the statement, “If you do not believe, God will damn you,” is considered heretical.

In all this. Dr. Daane is guilty of bending the facts order to support his own false proposition of a gap between election and preaching. If Daane would make charges of this kind, let him come with objective evidence. It will not do facilely to avoid saying that the gospel is not heard in the Protestant Reformed Churches, the churches that follow Hoeksema’s theology, by saying as Daane does that “The gospel is able to break through our theological mutations of it and gain a hearing for itself.” This is only an easy way of avoiding the conclusion which Daane for some reason does not want to draw, namely, that the gospel is not heard in churches that follow this “decretal theology.” Nor will it do to say as Daane does, and that without an iota of proof, that “Such a gospel can be announced—cooly, objectively, without pathos or human concern or tears—but it cannot be preached with persuasion, with the tears of Jesus and the anguish of Paul for his unbelieving fellow Jews” (p. 27). If Daane had only taken the trouble to consult some examples of Hoeksema’s preaching on Romans 9-11, he would have discovered that the contrary is true. And shall I remind him that there was a time when he listened to that preaching rather often? Even if he cannot recall that, he could consult Hoeksema’s writings.

Here is a third example. In his chapter on “The Single Decree,” Daane writes as follows on pp. 60, 61:

What decretal theologians mean by divine sovereignty derives much of its connotation from this view of the decree. Decretal theologians, of course, do speak of God’s sovereign freedom. Discussing God’s speech to what is outside of himself, Hoeksema says, “It should be emphasized that this is not an act of necessity but of sovereignty, of sovereign freedom”—but then he continues: “determined by His sovereign, eternal counsel.” (The reference is again to Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 16, 17. HCH) But what is a sovereign freedom” that is determined by a “sovereign counsel”? It is no freedom at all. God’s freedom is not determined by his counsel; his counsel is an expression of his freedom. Only on this understanding can we assert that God created and redeemed the world, not out of necessity, but in freedom, and that grace is an expression of God’s freedom, not a necessary reflex according to which he is merciful to himself.

Now I ask in all seriousness: does Daane consider Hoeksema to have been such a theological ignoramus as to teach what Daane here claims that Hoeksema teaches? It is, of course, nonsense, complete and utter nonsense, to say that God’s sovereign freedom” is “determined by his sovereign, eternal counsel.” It is perfectly obvious that a determined freedom cannot be a sovereign freedom. And it is certainly true, as Daane states, that God’s counsel is an expression of God’s freedom. But this is exactly Hoeksema’s position in the quotation given. And in the light of the fact that the quotation as interpreted by Daane is nonsensical, it should have been plain to Dr. Daane that this was not Hoeksema’s meaning at all. His meaning in this brief quotation is that the phrase “determined by His sovereign, eternal counsel” is an appositive to the phrase “of sovereign freedomand to the phrase “of sovereignty.” God’s speaking His Word ad extra is an act of sovereignty, that is, an act of sovereign freedom, that is, an act determined by His sovereign, eternal counsel. And that this is the only possible interpretation of this statement of Hoeksema is plain from the negative part of his proposition here, namely, that God’s speech ad extra is not an act of necessity.” I ask, is this carelessness on Daane’s part? Is it ignorance? Or is it deliberate misrepresentation? Daane may choose.

Another example of such misrepresentation of Hoeksema’s theology may be found on page 36. In the context Daane is speaking of the expression in the Conclusion of the Canons, in the same manner.” To this subject we shall return presently. In this connection Daane speaks of his claim that in traditional Reformed theology “the Canons’ imbalance between election and reprobation was thus often lost (when Reformed theology gave election and reprobation equal footing, HCH); the logic of reprobation, as we shall see later, triumphed over election.” And then Daane goes on to say: “When this happened a demonic element was introduced into some Reformed theologies, as is inevitable when the relation between election and reprobation is taken to be one of mutuality, for such mutuality tears the gospel apart.” It is at this point that Daane again refers to Hoeksema’s theology, as follows:

An example of this emergence of the demonic can be seen in Hoeksema’s theology. According to Hoeksema, God decreed to reveal in Christ his own covenantal life. Everything else in God’s all-comprehensive decree is a means to that end. Since Christ and the community of the elect reflect God’s inner covenantal life, election at this point in his thought has a priority. Within the pattern of the decree, reprobation also serves the purpose of election, “as the chaff serves the ripening of the wheat.” Here again election has the priority. But Hoeksema further holds that God had to reject some if he was to elect some. Reprobation was absolutely necessary for the election. “Rejection exists to realize election: rejection was necessary to bring the elect to the glory which God had ordained for them in His infinite love.(The brief quotations are from Reformed Dogmatics, p. 165, and De Plaats der Verwerping in de Verkondiging des Evangelies [1917], p. 16. HCH)

Now if God must damn some in order to elect and bless others, he is not sovereignly free in his grace. But this means that reprobation has really triumphed over election, for reprobation and human damnation are required for a disclosure of the nature of God’s covenantal life. God was obliged to reprobate. He could not do otherwise. How forthrightly, and with what confidence, decretal theologians delimit the possibilities of the sovereign God! G. C. Berkouwer finds this “frightening and alarming” [Divine Election, p. 207n.]. It is a clear instance of how scholastic decretal theologians must read alien elements into God.

Now if I may use a term which Daane himself applies to Hoeksema’s theology, here we see the emergence of “the demonic” in Daane’s treatment of “decretal theology.” For, in the first place, if there is any Reformed theologian who does not balance election and reprobation, it is Hoeksema. In fact, this is the very point in the brief quotations which Daane makes in this connection from Hoeksema. Yet, in the context Daane is speaking of an alleged imbalance in the Canons between election and reprobation and an alleged tendency to give election and reprobation equal footing on the part of decretal theologians. But at no point in his theology, and especially in his exposition of election and reprobation, does Hoeksema give election and reprobation equal footing. In the second place, if Daane has ever read Hoeksema’s theology, he knows very well—and could learn from both sources from which he quotes—that Hoeksema at no point in his theology posits a necessity of reprobation which is of the nature of an absolute necessity for God, so that God’s sovereign freedom, either in election or reprobation, is denied. And I ask: what nonsense is it to claim that in Hoeksema’s theology reprobation has triumphed over election, when at every point in his theology Hoeksema makes reprobation subordinate to election? The difficulty is, of course, that Daane is here aping G. C. Berkouwer who himself obtained his quotation of Hoeksema at this point second hand. Later, on pages 137 and 138, Daane claims that he has shown that Hoeksema “made reprobation the precondition of election,” something to which, of course, Hoeksema never subscribed.

We could go on and analyze every reference of Daane in this book to the theology of Herman Hoeksema. We would discover that at no point does Daane present this theology sympathetically. But worse, we would discover that at no point does Daane present Hoeksema’s theology honestly and fairly. He puts words in Hoeksema’s mouth, words to which Hoeksema would never have subscribed. And he does this in order to drive Hoeksema and “decretal theologians” into a corner in which they do not want to stand and in which they never did stand. In other words, when Daane has finished describing decretal theology at various points in his book, the result is not an accurate picture of the position of genuine decretal theology, but a caricature. And this means that in his book Daane does not fight decretal theology, but a straw man.

These few examples of the manner in which Daane misrepresents Hoeksema’s theology should caution the reader against accepting uncritically Daane’s presentation of other theologians, Daane’s presentation of the Canons of Dordrecht, and Daane’s presentation of the history of Reformed preaching or of Reformed inability to preach election. At no point in his presentation of Church History in connection with this subject and at no point in his presentation of the views of others, from Calvin to the present, is Daane to be accepted uncritically. John Calvin himself is about the only Reformed theologian whom Daane does not criticize. And yet the very fact that Daane does not correctly present Calvin probably also accounts in part for the fact that Daane does not criticize him.

Now admittedly all of the preceding has more to do with the method of Daane than with the content of his book, even the negative content. This we freely admit. This, however, we insist is important. Daane claims to present in his book something new and better in comparison with decretal theology. In order to do so, he must first show that decretal theology is defective, and that therefore it must be replaced. But in order to show that it is defective, he must picture true decretal theology, and not rear up a straw man to shoot down. And in order to picture true decretal theology, he must present the teachings of decretal theologians as fairly, as completely, and as sympathetically as possible. In this Daane fails utterly. He himself classes Hoeksema as the most consistent of the decretal theologians. But if his presentation of Hoeksema is a sample of his presentation of Van Til, Berkhof, Turretin, Beza, and Calvin, then this reviewer would advise the reader to go back to the sources rather than trust Daane.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

This brings us to another phase of our criticism. Daane’s book is supposed to be in the nature of a solution to a problem. The problem, according to Daane is that election is not preached. The reason for the problem, according to Daane, is that Reformed theologians have an incorrect view of election. And the alleged solution to the problem is Daane’s better view of election.

It is but natural that the book, therefore, should begin with the presentation of the problem. This is what Daane does in his chapter on “The Gap Between Election and Preaching.”

But the difficulty is that the statement of the problem is faulty. And if the statement of the problem is faulty, the solution will also necessarily be faulty.

How does Daane present the problem?

In his chapter on “The Gap Between Election and Preaching” Daane first gives his attention briefly to Arminian theology, in order to show that “the Arminian doctrine of election is not preachable.” I cannot refrain from suggesting that it was at this point in his book that Daane should have seen the obvious solution to the absence of election-preaching from so many Reformed pulpits. That solution, in the view of this reviewer, lies in the surrender of Reformed churches and Reformed pulpits to Arminian heresy. In his desperate effort to get election back into the pulpit (not into Protestant Reformed pulpits, from which it has never been absent, but into other Reformed pulpits) Daane arrives principally at the same position as that of Arminianism. That is, he denies sovereign reprobation. Thereby he adopts principally the position of Arminianism. But he himself states—and correctly so—that the Arminian doctrine of election is not preachable. And thus it takes Daane some 200 pages to reach a solution which is not a solution, while the obvious solution (forsake Arminianism and get back to the Reformed position on predestination) is ignored.

But let us note how Daane presents the problem of this alleged gap between election and preaching in Reformed pulpits. He writes on page 19:

But the gap between the Reformed doctrine of election and the Reformed pulpit is much more serious. Not only is election scarcely whispered in most Reformed pulpits, but the Reformed doctrine of election has at times imperiled the very possibility of preaching the gospel. If Arminianism (which is shorthand for a peculiar definition of election) was unable to include election within its preaching of the gospel, Reformed theology (which is shorthand for another definition of election) was at some points in its history theoretically unable, because of its view of election, to preach the gospel at all. To this history we shall now turn.

In classical Reformed theology, election does not stand alone. Although Scripture speaks of predestination to life and never, explicitly, of predestination to damnation, election in Reformed thought implies its opposite, reprobation. Election was regarded as selection, a divine choice by which some men were predestined to eternal life, and all other men were regarded as reprobates predestined to eternal damnation. With election, reprobation emerges. This dual aspect was frequently called “double predestination.”

The combination of election and reprobation created considerable intellectual difficulties for theologians, as the long history of Christian thought reveals. But for those called to preach the gospel, it created an even greater problem. How could one preach election?

The difficulty here stems not from election, but from reprobation. If all men were elect, the preaching of election would create no problems. One could preach election as he preaches all other Christian truth: by proclaiming it and calling people to believe it. But since some men are reprobates, the elect are not known. And if they cannot be identified from the vantage point of the preacher of the gospel, how can election be preached, even to the elect?

This is the apparent peculiarity of the doctrine of election. Every other Christian doctrine is susceptible to proclamation. None contains an inherent difficulty for the preacher. All can be projected in preaching; all can be proffered as truth that men ought to believe. But it is not so with the doctrine of election. It is true only of the elect, and there is nothing in the act of preaching that makes them identifiable. This is not to say that God’s elect people cannot be known. It is only to say—and for the pulpit this is much—that there is nothing in the act of preaching that makes the elect identifiable to the preacher. Election indeed lends itself to lectures and theological reflection, but it appears impossible to preach—except to those identified as elect by some method that preaching itself does not possess.

Daane goes on to claim that reprobation is something that cannot be preached at all, because it does not meet the criterion of being “something in which men are summoned to believe and trust to the saving of their souls.” From all of this it is already apparent that the Reformed doctrine of reprobation is going to be the scapegoat on which all the alleged sins of Reformed theology and the Reformed pulpit are heaped, and which is then going to be sent outside the camp. But this is not the point here. The section just quoted rather concisely states Daane’s presentation of the problem of election-preaching for the Reformed pulpit.

But this presentation of the problem is entirely faulty and wholly imaginary. It is an unproved claim. Daane claims that since some men are reprobates, the elect are not known. Although this is a strange piece of reasoning, we will let the main proposition stand: the elect are not known. But the next proposition, stated emphatically in the form of a question, is the key proposition here: “And if they cannot be identified from the vantage point of the preacher of the gospel, how can election be preached, even to the elect?Now here is a plain case of begging the question. The presupposition of Daane at this point is that in order for election to be preached, the elect must be able to be identified from the vantage point of the preacher of the gospel. Now unless Daane means something entirely different from what he appears to say here, this is abject nonsense. Not only that, but it is a charge which in one form or another has been made by Arminian enemies against Reformed preachers of predestination many times. But why is it necessary for the preacher to be able to identify the elect in order to preach election? This Daane fails to make plain, and this he does not prove. What is indeed necessary is not that the preacher must be able to identify the elect, but that the elect must be able to identify themselves in the light of the preaching. Or rather, what is indeed necessary is that the preaching, in its content, should clearly identify the elect, so that the elect may be able to find themselves, so to speak, in the gospel preached. But this is precisely what is done by the general, or promiscuous, preaching of a particular gospel. That promiscuously preached, particular gospel identifies, marks, points out the elect according to their spiritual names and according to their historical manifestation. And so they recognize themselves and know themselves in the light of the preaching and receive the personal assurance of their election in Christ. But the problem which Daane here poses, or rather, the necessity which Daane here imposes upon the preaching of election is a figment of the imagination and an assumption which he can show neither from Scripture, nor from Reformed theology, nor from history.

It is small wonder that when Daane makes such a faulty presentation of the problem, he also arrives at the solution, and does so by destroying the problem, namely, by getting rid of sovereign reprobation.

Daane then goes on to claim that the Reformed doctrine of election “has at times even imperiled the possibility of preaching the gospel,” let alone that it muted “its own sound in the pulpit.” In this connection he makes reference to Scottish theologians of the seventeenth century and to Dutch theologians in the Reformed churches during the eighteenth century. On pages 22 and 23 he writes as follows:

During the eighteenth century the same problem arose in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. Election again challenged the addressability of the gospel to all men. One side in this Dutch controversy contended that the gospel of the good news of salvation could be preached only to men whose lives gave evidence of an operation of divine grace. Only these could safely be regarded as numbered among the elect, and the good news of salvation was for the elect only. Thus identification of the elect became an indispensable condition for proper proclamation of the gospel. A person’s election had to be established to the satisfaction of the judgment of others, and established apart from the gospel before his eligibility to hear the good news could be determined. Until the trustees of the gospel were satisfied that he was elect, it was not permissible for them to proclaim and for him to hear and believe that the gospel was good news for him. Curiously, this identification of a hearer as elect before he heard the gospel and without aid from it was not regarded as something forbidden by the warning against “vainly attempting to investigate the secret ways of the Most High” (Canons of Dort, I, 14).

On the other side of the controversy were those who recognized this position as theologically absurd and religiously impossible. They contended that the nature of the gospel is such that it can and must be preached as the good news of salvation to all men. It is interesting—and theologically significant—that the theologians on this side of the controversy were dubbed new lights,” that is, liberal theologians bringing a new, strange light to fall upon the relation of election and preaching. And the theologians who opposed thesenew lights” and muted preaching in the name of election by making identification of the elect an indispensable condition for the addressability of the gospel were designated as “old lights,” that is, conservative theologians faithful and loyal to the Reformed tradition.

Now it is worthy of careful attention that throughout this little excursion into what might be called a history of preaching in Reformed churches there is absolutely no mention of the names of theologians or preachers, nor any mention of specific churches, nor any reference to sources of information. Hence, it is impossible to check the accuracy of what Daane here relates; and it is impossible to determine from the information given by Daane whether or not he is speaking of theologians and preachers who had a place in the mainstream of Reformed theology and the Reformed churches, or whether he is writing here of off-shoots and aberrations. This reviewer does not believe, and will not believe unless definite proof is furnished, that the picture drawn by Daane of this kind of gap between election and preaching is a picture of a phenomenon in the mainstream of Reformed theology and in the main current of the preaching of Reformed churches. That there have been and still are Hyper-Calvinists similar to those described (though not named Hyper-Calvinists by Daane) is undoubtedly a fact. But that they do not stand in the mainstream of Reformed theology and preaching is also a fact. And that the problem represented in the controversy raised by their kind of preaching is not a problem which inheres in so-called decretal theology as such is also a fact.

But all this is again illustrative of the extremes to which James Daane will go in his unjustified and unsuccessful attempt to place so-called decretal theology in a bad light, in order presumably to make room for his own proposed solution of a problem which after all is the figment of his own imagination. We repeat that we do not deny that the truth of election (and reprobation) has been muted in many Reformed pulpits. Dr. Daane could have discovered that the history of these churches shows (and this includes his own Christian Reformed denomination) that the point at which election began no longer to be heard from the pulpit was that point in history when Reformed churches began to compromise and to depart from decretal theology. If Daane’s study of the gap between election and preaching had concentrated on this facet, it would have been far more profitable, and it might have resulted in a better solution being presented in this book.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

The next question we consider is this: what is Daane’s attitude toward the Canons of Dordrecht? There are especially two passages in this book in which Daane speaks rather at length concerning the teaching of the Canons. We refer, first of all, to Daane’s attempt to explain Canons I, 6, particularly the well-known statement, “That some receive the gift of faith and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree.Daane is here faced by the fact that the Canons here explicitly teach a single decree of election and reprobation, a doctrine which Daane abhors. He tries desperately to explain away the plain teachings of the Canons at this point by claiming that what the Canons say may not be interpreted in terms of “the single decree of a later decretal theology.” He claims that the single decree of the Canons is not the same as the single decree of later Reformed theology. And thus he makes room for himself to be in somewhat grudging agreement with Canons I, 6. Possibly thinking that the best defense is a good offense, he even tries to put the onus of being in disagreement with the Canons at this point on “latter-day decretal theologians,” who “read (the Canons) in terms of a post-Dort scholasticism.” As might be expected, Daane, as he has frequently done in the past, and following Berkouwer, appeals to the in eodem modowhich occurs in the Conclusion of the Canons. We have been over this subject before, as Daane also knows. And we shall not repeat in detail what we have pointed out before. Our criticisms are twofold: 1) The method of interpreting the Canons themselves in the light of a statement in the Conclusion is utterly faulty. The proper method would be to interpret the statement in the Conclusion in the light of the body of the Canons. Daane’s method is tantamount to letting the tail wag the dog. 2) At this point and throughout the book Daane ranges far afield from the actual statement in the Conclusion of the Canons. Repeatedly in his book Daane writes as though the Canons simply reject in general the teaching that God elects and reprobates in the same manner. But this is by no means the position taken in the Conclusion. The statement made there is much more careful and much more specific. He must remember that in this section of the Conclusion there is a quotation of a whole series of false and slanderous charges made by the enemy against the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination. The Synod of Dordrecht in effect not only casts these charges far away and detests them, but also points out that those who make these charges “have violated all truth, equity, and charity, in wishing to persuade the public” against the doctrine of the Reformed churches. Now what specifically was that false charge in which the phrase “in the same manner” appears? Has it merely the general statement, without any limitation, that God elects and reprobates in the same manner? By no means! Here is the statement: “That in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and the cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety.” Operating on the principle that the fountain and that which flows from the fountain are morally identified, and proceeding from the fact that the fathers call election not only the cause, but the fountain and cause of faith and good works, and proceeding from the fact that the fathers teach a sovereign reprobation, the enemy slandered the Reformed fathers by saying that they taught that reprobation is the fountain of unbelief and impiety, even as election is the cause in the sense that it is the fountain of faith and good works. In other words, the enemy was bringing the old slander that the Reformed doctrine of reprobation makes God an evil God, the author of sin. For the fountain and that which flows from the fountain are morally identified. If what flows from the fountain is evil and corrupt, then the fountain is evil and corrupt. The only thing, therefore, which the fathers cast far from them in the Conclusion is the same thing which they cast far from them in Canons I, 15, namely, the idea that God could possibly be the author of sin. But it is important to note that this kind of charge would not even be brought against the kind of reprobation which Daane wants to teach. It would only be brought against the kind of reprobation taught by the Canons and by decretal theologians, namely, a sovereign reprobation, that is, a reprobation according to which God is indeed the sovereign cause of unbelief and impiety without being the author of sin. This interpretation will stand the test of the Canons themselves. It will stand the test of the record of the Synod of Dordt, in which the opinions of the delegates appear in detail. And it is high time that Daane stops making this illegitimate use of an inaccurately cited phrase in order to corrupt the teachings of the Canons. There is a further inaccuracy in what Daane states in this connection. On page 41 he writes: “The Canons explicitly reject the idea that God is in any sense the cause of sin and unbelief.” This Daane cannot possibly show. What the Canons explicitly reject is the idea that the cause of sin and unbelief in the sense of guilt, or blame, is in any wise in God. This is the teaching of Canons I, 5.

However, when Daane returns to this subject of the Canons in his next chapter, he faces again the fact that the Canons explicitly teach a single decree of election and reprobation. And while on pages 40 and 41 he seems to try to justify the Canons and to find a home for himself under the Canons, on page 46 it would appear that his wrath against the doctrine of a single decree cannot be restrained even when it comes to the Canons. For while he must concede that the Canons very pointedly teach that there is a single decree of God, he writes:

Whether it is possible to hold to a single decree that includes both election and reprobation and to hold at the same time that God does not elect and reprobate in the same manner” is a rhetorical question. If God elects in one manner and rejects in another, then it is impossible to attach any actual meaning to the singularity of the divine decree. It seems clear that the rejection of the “in the same manner” introduces a distinction into the concept of singularity that makes the quality of singularity highly problematic. So while the insistence on a single as opposed to a multiple decree was useful in debate with the Arminians, it also undermines the Canons’ rejection of the in the same manner.”

There are other points in the book at which Daane’s hostility against the Canons shows only too clearly. For example, Daane does not like the fact that the Canons speak of the “number of the elect” (p. 137). And he does not like the fact that the Canons teach limited atonement, although he claims that they do not teach limited atonement, and certainly overlooks the Rejection of Errors when he mistakenly claims that the Canons “cite no Scripture passages to prove ‘limited atonement.’”

But the deepest disagreement of Dr. Daane with the Canons is on the score of the doctrine of reprobation. This lies at the root of everything. In fact it is this denial of sovereign reprobation which is in a sense the key to all that Daane writes in this book.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *

As far as the positive section of this book is concerned, we may be very brief. In the main, although even in this positive section Daane cannot refrain from inveighing against decretal theology, this positive section consists of a chapter on “The Election of Israel,” “The Election of Jesus Christ,” “The Election of the Church,” “The Freedom of God and the Logic of Election,”
“Election and Preaching.” Concerning this section of the book we state the following:

1. After all Daane’s criticism of Reformed theology that has held the field for centuries, one would expect that in the positive part of his book he would develop a careful and thoroughgoing view to replace what he so sharply criticizes and rejects. Instead, he produces something very scant and very vague.

2. Before Daane expects anyone to believe what he writes concerning the election of Israel (a national election) he ought at least to favor his readers with a thoroughgoing and pertinent explanation of Romans 9-11, rather than give this classic passage (and in fact, the whole subject) the once-over-lightly.

3. Specifically, in his treatment of the election of Israel, Daane fails to reckon with the fact that election and reprobation cut right across the generations of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He fails, too, to reckon with the fact that from the outset the reference in Romans 9 is to the election and rejection of individuals, of persons. If Daane would address himself directly to the exposition of the text in this classic passage, he would be compelled to give up his notion of a national election of Israel. He would also be compelled to give up his denial of reprobation, which begins to put in its appearance very plainly in this chapter, as, for example, in the following statements: “The unique and peculiar election of Jesus Christ itself excluded no man or family or tribe or nation in the world. It only excluded that sinful pride by which a man or family or tribe or nation would make itself the Elect of God, the man (or family, tribe, or nation) of destiny, the one through which God would deal with all other men.” (pp. 107, 108)

4. Undoubtedly, from a formal point of view, Daane hits upon a key idea when he speaks of the election of Jesus Christ. But the correctness of Daane’s emphasis on Christ’s election is only formal. Daane completely spoils this emphasis by pouring into this idea of the election of Jesus Christ a content foreign to Reformed theology, and one, we may add, with strong overtones of Barthianism. If Daane would pay as much attention to Herman Hoeksema’s emphasis on the election of Christ (as, for example in his Christology and in his Exposition of Colossians 1:14 ff.) as he does to Herman Hoeksema’s allegedly faulty decretal theology, he might have learned something; and he certainly would have kept many untrue characterizations of Hoeksema’s decretal theology in his pen.

5. When Daane finally gets around to the subject of election and preaching, he gets rid of the problem of which his book was supposed to present the solution by an explicit denial of all that has ever been considered Reformed with respect to the doctrine of reprobation (p. 200): “for Christ is the truth of election, the reason that some men are saved, but not the reason that some are not. This means that any doctrine of reprobation is illegitimate by biblical standards except that which biblical teaching sanctions: that he who rejects God, God rejects.” Herewith, whether he will admit it or not, Daane has also lost the Reformed doctrine of election—if, in fact, he had anything left of it after his strange and speculative description of a historical decree.

Finally, after having poured into election and reprobation, into sovereignty and eternity, as well as into the election of Christ, a content foreign to the Reformed faith and to the Scriptures,
Daane gets around to answering the question whether individual, or personal, election can be preached, by, in effect, saying, “Yes, by preaching Christ.” Really now, does it require more than 200 pages of turning all of Reformed theology upside down and of pouring strange contents into biblical and Reformed terms, in order to arrive at the simple conclusion that the assurance of election can only be found in Jesus Christ?

Personally, I prefer the Reformed, scriptural, clear, and far more explicit answer of our Canons of Dordrecht.

No comments:

Post a Comment