16 January, 2017




Introduction


The year 1999 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the “three points of Kalamazoo,” promulgated by the synod of the Christian Reformed Church, convened in Kalamazoo in the summer of 1994. The synod affirmed common grace, and condemned the teachings of two Christian Reformed ministers, Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof, who rejected the newly popular concept of common grace. The two ministers also denied that God demonstrates any grace or favor toward the reprobate, or that salvation is in any sense offered to the reprobate in the universal call of the gospel.1 The synod’s decision and the surrounding debate over common grace resulted in the most significant ecclesiastical schism that the Christian Reformed Church has yet endured in its history.2

The synod’s three points contended that there is a certain grace or favor God shows to his creatures in general, both elect and reprobate; that the Holy Spirit restrains sin in individuals and in society; and that unregenerate persons, while unable to do any saving good, can indeed perform acts of civic good.3 Thus far, these three statements are easily defensible from the standpoint of the history of Reformed theology, exegesis, and confessions. But the latter part of the first point introduces a concept of the general or universal offer of the gospel (algemeene aanbieding des Evangelies), and it is here that the matter becomes much less clear. The first point reads:

Concerning the first point, regarding the favorable disposition of God with respect to mankind in general, and not only to the elect, synod declares that according to the Scripture and the confessions it is certain that, besides the saving grace of God, shown only to the elect unto eternal life, there is a certain kind of favor or grace of God that he shows to his creatures in general. This is evidenced by the aforementioned Scripture texts and from the Canons of Dort II:5 and III/IV:8 and 9, where the confession deals with the general offer of the Gospel; while it is evident from the aforementioned declarations of Reformed writers from the most flourishing period of Reformed theology that our Reformed fathers of old have advocated this opinion.4

The latter half of this point not only affirms a general offer of the gospel, but also adduces this universal offer as evidence for God’s common grace to all humanity. The report of the synodical advisory committee on common grace makes this matter more specific. The report argues that God is graciously inclined toward the godless and unrighteous, which naturally includes the reprobate.5 Putting aside the questionable nature of this conclusion itself for the moment,6 the proof that the synod produces for the first point includes the assertion that there are biblical texts that indicate that “God comes to all with a well-meant offer of salvation.”7 The synodical committee cites Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11, which indicate that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, and that he would prefer that Israel would repent of its sins and live. The report continues by claiming that the Canons of Dort (II:5; III/IV:8-9) deal with the “general offer of the gospel.”8 These evidences are followed by the “declarations of Reformed writers from the most flourishing period of Reformed theology,” namely, two passages from Calvin’s Institutes and one from Peter van Mastricht’s Theoretico-Practica Theologia. These passages lend weight to the concept of a general grace of God shown to all, but they do not demonstrate the existence of the doctrine of the well-meant offer in the early history of Reformed theology.9

The proof adduced for the first of the Kalamazoo points is problematic. In the first place, Reformed theology has generally been reticent to connect any common or universal grace with the process of salvation, particularly since the Remonstrant party, the Arminians, conceived of common grace as a factor that made all individuals capable of responding to the gospel call.10 The first point, however, considers the universality of the call of the gospel to be evidence for the existence of common grace.

More significant, however, is the introduction of the concept of the universal, well-meant offer of salvation. A historical examination of the issue will demonstrate that at this point the synod introduced a quite debatable doctrine into the church, and in doing so misinterpreted the confessions and prominent Reformed theologians. The result was that the ministers Hoeksema and Danhof were condemned, in part, for defending the proper interpretation of the Reformed confessions. Even if one considers their sweeping rejection of common grace to be dubious and extreme, their repudiation of the well-meant offer is much more defensible from a historical and confessional perspective. A further result was that the Christian Reformed Church was left with a doctrine that is of doubtful logical coherence, given the soteriological framework confessed in the Canons of Dort, and that does not find support among leading theological figures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The cause of this unfortunate state of affairs, moreover, appears to be a lamentable lack of careful historical and theological study of the issue by the 1924 synod and its defenders, as well as extreme and uncharitable recriminations on both sides.



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FOOTNOTES:

1. On the views of Hoeksema, Danhof, and the Protestant Reformed Churches regarding common grace and the well-meant offer of the gospel, see Herman Hoeksema, A Triple Breach in the Foundation of the Reformed Truth: A Critical Treatise on the “Three Points” Adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924 (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1942 [originally published in Dutch in 1925] ); idem, A Power of God Unto Salvation, Or, Grace Not an Offer 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, [1931] ); idem, God’s Goodness Always Particular (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1939); idem, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America: Their Origin, Early History and Doctrine (Grand Rapids, n.p., 1947); Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof, Sin and Grace (n.p., 1923); idem, Not Anabaptist, But Reformed (n.p., [1923]); David J. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1994).


2. For historical summaries of the common grace controversy, see Henry Beets, The Christian Reformed Church: Its Roots, History, Schools, and Mission Work, A.D. 1857-1946 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1946), 108-9; John Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Church: A Study in Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1949), 82-86; A. C. De Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer: The Views of H. Hoeksema and K Schilder (Franeker: T. Wever, 1954), 11-16; James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984): 110-15.


3. See Acta der Synode 1924 (Grand Rapids: Publishing Committee of the CRC, 1924), art. 132, pp. 14547; hereafter cited as AS 1924. While I have made use of a translation in progress of the 1924 Acts of Synod by Henry De Mots, to be published by the Hekman Library Archives of Calvin College, I am responsible for the final form of citations from the Acts.


4. AS 1924, art. 132, pp. 145-46.


5. AS 1924, art. 100, p.126.


6. It does not follow from the assertion that God acts favorably toward the godless and unrighteous that God does so toward each and every such person. God graciously makes the godless godly and the unrighteous righteous, but only in the case of the elect. The elect can also be considered godless and unrighteous ante conversionem.


7. “dat God met een welgemeend aanbod des heils tot allen komt,” AS 1924, art. 100, p. 126.


8. “de algemeene aanbieding des Evangelies,” AS 1924, art. 100, p. 127.


9. See AS 1924, art 100, pp. 127-28. The citations are from Calvin’s Institutes, 2.2.16 and 3.14.2, and Peter van Mastricht, Theoretico Practica Theologia, 2 vols. (Utrecht: Thomas Appels, 1699), 2.17.15-16; Dutch translation by Henricus Pontanus, Beschouwende en praktikale godgeleerdheit (Rotterdam: Hendrik van Pelt, 1749-1753).


10. See, for example, Canons III/IV, Rejection of Errors V.

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