This series is a transcription of an article published originally in Dutch by the Christian Reformed theologian Foppe Ten Hoor (1855–1934), who was a minister in the Christian Reformed Church and professor of Systematic Theology, from 1900–24, at what became Calvin Theological Seminary. He was born in Friesland, the Netherlands and educated at the Theological School of Kampen. He began and conducted his ministry in the Netherlands until he was called to Oakdale Park CRC in Grand Rapids, which he served from 1896–1900, when he took the chair of systematic theology at the theological school of the CRC.
The following essay, “Our Theological School In Relation to the American World,” was originally translated by George Stob and published in The Reformed Journal (September, 1951), 4–7. This essay was originally published in De Wachter (April 17, 1901). According to Stob’s editorial note, the material in quotation marks indicates that it is a direct translation. That which is not in quotation marks is paraphrased (HT: Aaron De Boer).
“This unity has not always been sufficiently kept in view in Reformed theology.” There was a tendency to fall into the one-sidedness of either speculation or mysticism. “Reformed, theology has thus in the past, always gravitated, in greater or less degree, between an intellectual and a mystical one-sidedness. That duality also came to the fore in our day. But instead of bringing this duality back to unity, the two extremes are now being independently systematized. There is, so it is said, a twofold theology. There is a theology as knowledge of God, which is practical and has references to life. That is the theology for the congregation, the theology for preaching. There is, however, another kind of theology, namely, theology as science, whose concern is not with practice, but with itself, with knowledge; and which is designed for the School and not for preaching. . . . This duality in theology results in a dual tendency in the church. The one follows the intellectualistic and speculative, and the other, in reaction to it, follows the practical and mystical line, and this eventually results in conflict.
“This does not help us out of the difficulty, but puts us deeper into it. We must desist from the first extreme, and then the second will disappear of itself. We do not have one truth for the mind, only, and another truth only for the heart. The same, the one truth, is for the whole man, and is designed by God for the fulfillment of all our needs.”
“The practical spirit of the American world requires of us that we shall be done with that intellectualist and speculative one-sidedness, because our theology will never register here in that form. It will run up against a stone wall in this world, and our School would in that way make herself useless to the American world, and In Time put herself beyond the possibility of serving that world. ”
The American world also makes a positive demand upon us. It does not do so consciously, but this demand is upon us because of America’s need. The American concern for practicality is accompanied by a lack of concern for basic principles. “As a result, the American theological world suffers from superficiality, and has sustained the almost complete loss of the substantial and penetrating conceptions, which she once inherited from Europe. Because of that, theology, and Christianity, here are lost in subjectivism and mysticism of every. . .variety.”
“America need of a substantial theology, which is at the same time meaningful for the practice of life, — has need of the knowledge which is life. If reformed theology does not reckon with that need, it has no future here. The need for something solid, will assert itself again in the American world. Ernest people will not, in the long run be able to survive on a water-and-milk theology. Our School is thus confronted with the challenge to reckon with these needs.”
The Calling Which Our School Must Fulfill In This American World
“. . . The Hollanders, who have come to America in the last 50 years or so [i.e., since about 1850—GS] have not yet. . . given a sufficient account of their calling, which they must. . . fulfill here in Christian and theological matters. Most of them have come here. . . out of self-interest. . . in order to get out of America as much as they can take from America, but they give her very little. This is true not only in social and political affairs, but also in Christian and theological matters. . . This is, frankly, a bit selfish. It may not continue thus; in this way American has meaning of us, but we come to have no meaning for America.”
“We Reformed Hollanders have a task to perform here also in the sphere of church and theology. What many people up to the present understand by Americanization is totally one-sided and a much too low ideal. . . People are willing to repudiate what they are and instead become America, often without knowing what a real American is…One see everywhere the striving to conform in everything to America and to take everything over, without distinguishing between what is good and what is bad. How little evidence is there of the courage and strength to row against the Methodistic [today we would call it ‘the fundamentalist’—GAS] current in America. People let themselves be carried along with the current, find it much more convenient, and it pays off better in church-life too.”
“But our people do not perform any particular service in the American world that way. That is because they are not seriously enough concerned, they are without the power of resistance to remain standing, they aren’t conscious enough of their own Reformed confession and its principles to know its opposites and to contend with zeal for it. . . The correction of this is therefore, our first task. Even so, that is only preparatory. For unless we live again with full consciousness into our solid, deep, rich theology, we cannot fulfill our task here.”
What then is our task? “That task is especially to exhibit the meaning of Reformed theology for life, and to demonstrate its living character. The Reformed teaching is intellectually strong because it reaches down to principles, the true principles. But the power in this teaching has not yet…come to expression in life. Many people who are Reformed in doctrine, are for the most part Labadistic [the reference is to mystics, who make much of Christian experience, after Jean de Labadie—GS] or Methodistic in life. The Roman Church puts the Roman character into the life of the people; the Methodists put the Methodistic character into the life of the people; but the Reformed Church has never yet really succeeded in putting the Reformed, the genuinely Reformed character into the life of the people as a whole. . . . Our doctrine comes to very little expression in active life… Is, then, our truth not in itself a truth for life, a word of life unto life, a truth that makes free?”
The fault “does not life with Reformed doctrine as such, but it lies with us. We do not live deeply enough in it, and therefore it lives so little in us. If, indeed, there is a teaching in which there is power for a life of inward and outward godliness it is the Reformed truth. . .”
“It is the task of our School and of our Church in the American world to cultivate an awareness of the practical significance of the Reformed confession and to make it real in the practice life. . . The Reformed Church has never before taken its place amongst a people so characteristically practical as the people of the American world; and we know that the genius of the a people is reflected also in the church, and that the church of any nation has found peculiar strength in the genius. . . Is it not now indicated by God in his providence that is the nation in which the great practical significance, the dynamic, of the Reformed faith is to be realized? If the does not happen, the the Reformed Church has no particular reason for existing in this land. . . . If the dynamic of the Reformed faith does not come to the strongest possible expression, the solid Reformed theology will not gain entrance into America. In that case we should fail of making contact with the American world. Therefore, this is for the Reformed Church and theology here the question of ‘to be or not to be.’ ”
“There is something else. . . . If we are to fully comprehend our task in the American world, then. . . We must also be intelligently aware of the present status of the American world. This world lives at present in a highly crucial period. . . . Christianity is falling off like the rushing waters. . . One who takes note of current phenomena is aware that the fullness of unbelief has come into this world. The flood of a new modernism is on the roll.”
“And this will be followed by reaction, as was more or less the case with the old modernism of Europe. As soon as infidelity appears for what it is, enunciates its own principles, and discloses its nature, many earnest souls will begin to look for security and will be moved to take the Confession and the Christian life more seriously. Negation does not profit, and uncertainty does not satisfy. That will be the time in which we, too, can bring our weight to bear in the American world—the time in which there ill be need for solid truth and sure redemption. ”
“if our School, and through her, our Church, is to accomplish her future task in the American world. Then she must apply her self with all Ernest Ness, to prepare strong men. . . .”
“Will our School be able to cooperate in this task” of serving America’s need with a firm faith? Some doubt it. A Reformed professor from the Netherlands once said, a few years ago, that he did not expect much from the Reformed Church and theology of the Hollanders in America. The Reformed Church, so said he, tended toward loss of distinctiveness, and the Christian Reformed Church suffered from petty-mindedness and national conservatism, and sat, complacent, and it’s a little corner. Acknowledge that, as concerns, our Church, there is some truth in that, and we do not mention it in order to ignore it. But, as for the future, we have better hopes than that professor. We do not believe that God transplanted the Christian Reformed Church from the Netherlands to this land only to languish and disappear. Our Theological School, too, holds promise of something quite different. We have already a number of young men in our Church, and more at our School, who have so many and great gifts from God, that by dint of earnest and persevering study in theological science, they may become men of the first rank. This is providential. It bespeaks a future for us. If we had no task for the future in this American world, God would not have given us such gifts and strength. For that reason we go on with courage. We, his servants will arise and build, and the God of heaven, he will prosper us.”1
1. Editor’s note: we are aware that the original copy closed quotations where there were no obvious opening quotation marks. The punctuation conventions followed in 1951 vary somewhat from ours so, in the interests of absolute fidelity to the original we have followed the text as we have it.
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- R. Scott Clark, “‘Magic and Noise:’ Reformed Christianity in Sister’s America,” in eds. R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey (Escondido: Westminster Seminary California, 2010), 74–91. (Apple Books version).
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I wish some Hollanders or Americans would come to my country