Questions for the CanRC (1)

Over at his blog, Scott Clark, an instructor at Westminster Seminary in California, has posed some questions for the CanRC. I can't speak for the CanRC, nor can I say how representative my views are within the CanRC, but I can answer his questions as best I can.

Question 1: "The CanRCs grew out of a controversy in the GKN. They are directly descended from one side of that controversy led by Klaas Schilder. How do the CanRCs now view Schilder’s influence in their theology, piety, and practice?"

Answer: The preface to this question strikes me as somewhat imprecise. The Canadian Reformed churches were established by post-war Dutch immigrants who in the Netherlands had been members of the GKN-V (the Liberated), a federation of Reformed churches whose formation was occasioned, in large part, by Klaas Schilder's ouster from the GKN. Schilder himself wanted to remain in the GKN and, though he disagreed with them vehemently, thought the views of his opponents were within confessional bounds.

A synod of the GKN decided in 1944, the worst year of the war, to depose Schilder for his views on covenant and baptism (while Schilder was still in hiding from the Germans). Many ministers and members in GKN regarded this judgment as ecclesiastical tyranny and on August 11, 1944 an Act of Liberation and Return was signed by those who rejected the ruling of the synod and a new federation of churches was born.

I think that leaders in the Canadian Reformed churches have always felt a sense of indebtedness to Schilder for his labors and his faithfulness to the gospel. Those of us who can read Dutch marvel at his genius. He was far less of a theological maverick than he is made out to be. On the other hand, he was not opposed to theological innovation, so long as the innovation was within confessional bounds. He was one of the first theologians to offer a substantial critique of Karl Barth and he remained, over the course of his life, a vigorous opponent of the Swiss theologian. Cornelis Vanderwaal once speculated that, had Schilder lived another 20 years or so, he might have attained the stature of Barth---so great were his intellectual capabilities.

Moreover, Schilder was a courageous and brilliant pioneer in the field of redemptive-historical interpretation and preaching and his published volumes of sermons, accessible to readers of Dutch, may perhaps be his greatest legacy.

He was fond of Abraham Kuyper, but refused to embrace all the theological categories Kuyper introduced or endorsed. He routinely castigated the fixation with Kuyperian theological categories and dichotomies as scholasticism. He was particularly perturbed by Kuyper's view of presumptive regeneration. Since the sacraments confirm faith (LD 25) and since we can't know whether an infant has faith, Kuyper insisted that regeneration and faith must be presupposed in the infant baptismal candidate in order for baptism to make sense. If we could see that the infant didn't or wouldn't have faith, Kuyper speculated, there wouldn't be any purpose in baptizing him or her. For this reason, some Kuyperian ministers, after baptizing a child, would say, "Let's hope this was a real baptism." The baptisms of children who proved to be unbelievers were meaningless spillings of water.

Schilder insisted that the basis for baptism must be God's objective promises and not our presuppositions. He did not want to narrow the scope of covenant to the decree of election. What God said in history was, for Schilder, just as important as what He decreed in eternity past. God speaks promises to children being baptized. Who are we to diminish the importance or doubt the sincerity of that speech?

Schilder thought that a lot of Kuyper's dichotomies (external covenant/internal covenant, visible church/invisible church, militant church/triumphant church, etc.), when pressed, hindered a proper interpretation of Scripture.

Schilder was also a cultural theologian and the contributions he made in this realm are increasingly being recognized in North America. Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College, Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, and James K.A. Smith of Calvin College are among the contemporary evangelical intellectuals interested in Schilder's cultural philosophy (which Mouw interestingly regards as a kind of hybrid between the creational worldview of Kuyper and the anabaptistic ecclesial worldview of Stanley Hauweras).

In conclusion, I suspect you'll find a lot of sympathy for the Schilder's theology among the leadership of the Can Ref.


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