Go Calvin!

| |

In last month’s Banner we reported on a bit of a dustup at Calvin College, our denominationally owned liberal arts school. Two profs in Calvin’s religion department recently published articles in a scholarly journal questioning whether we should take the Genesis creation accounts as historical and whether we need to reframe the doctrine of the Fall to better square with current biblical interpretation and scientific findings. Let’s be clear: unlike classic liberalism, these profs do not question biblical authority, God’s creation of everything, humanity’s bondage to sin, our need for salvation in Christ, or the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. What they question is how our confessions formulate the doctrines of creation and how sin and sadness came to be.

I don’t regret that we reported on this. You have a right to know what’s happening at your college. But I regret that the matter turned a bit ugly even before we reported on it. It has created tension between Calvin professors and administrators. That’s understandable and not so serious. With a wise board, solid leadership, and an excellent committee process, Calvin will sort that out. Worse is that this has needlessly sown distrust in Calvin’s support community: prospective students, parents, and donors.

Sorting out how Scripture intends to be read and interpreted in the light of creation revelation is a complex, ongoing task. I am delighted that the community of scholars and students at Calvin College take on this challenge with a deep commitment to Scripture and the confessions. If their careful investigation turns up something we need to consider or reconsider, let’s hear them out without resorting to snap judgments and blanket condemnations.

When believers inquire carefully into the relationship of fossils and faith, it opens them up to lots of questions. The mysteries of God and God’s interaction with the creation are much more complex than we ever imagined. That should lead us to greater humility about our own position and greater shared wonder at the glory and majesty of God. It should not lead us to scratch each others’ eyes out.

Let’s not spoil what can be a healthy investigation appropriately carried out in a biblically obedient, Reformed, academic community. By overreacting now, we damage an institution that continues to serve us so well. Calvin does not deserve that.

I know many Calvin profs and administrators. I respect them highly and trust them. I know many Calvin grads. They received excellent preparation for their life’s callings and have matured in their faith. They were mentored to explore the jagged edges of truth, to question, to grow in understanding—and to do so always fully committed to the Truth who is Person, not proposition.

As a pastor I speak with many covenant youth who experienced a crisis of faith trying to square what they learned in Sunday school with what they learn in biology class. They deserve far better answers than I can give them. The help of Calvin scholarship in this has been a godsend.

I am grateful for Calvin and schools like it where there is no disconnect between knowledge and faith but where faith seeks after knowledge.

Calvin needs and deserves our generous and sustained support. Go Calvin!

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

See comments (9)


Go Calvin! We all know you can evade the issue for another hundred years!

Whether Calvin deserves our generous support or not, I'll leave to others. I will say, however, that your editorial isn't likely to make much of a difference.

It's kind of like George W. Bush offering a ringing endorsement of Dick Cheney - nice, but not likely to change any minds.

What is the difference between Calvin and other institutions of learning? Evolution, homosexuality, secular bands, its all the same.

Bob, the students deserve better answers than Calvin can give them. I urge you to visit www.creation.com and see for yourself how many answers there are that do not conflict with scripture.

Your pleas for Calvin to be given the freedom to continue to do "healthy investigation" and for us constituents to not make "snap judgments and blanket condemnations" were legitimate. But framing it under the cheerleading motto of "Go Calvin!" was offensive. I read it like this: "Go Calvin! Just keep on violating the Form of Subscription and keep undermining the creationist view of Scripture." The editorial lacked respect for those who hold a more clearly creationist position and the "motto" approach just fueled the fire against Calvin. I am sorry for that, because I love Calvin College!

We can thank God that there is a thoroughly Reformed faculty at a thoroughly Christian college who are dealing with real problems in a thoroughly Christian way. May God bless them, as all of us CRC folk should.

The Editor writes that these two profs affirm many of the central doctrines of the faith, and as a matter of fact they do. We need to remember that, and not assume the worst about their motivations and spiritual orientation to God. Agreed, and well put.

The Editor goes on to add. . .

"What they question is how our confessions formulate the doctrines of creation and how sin and sadness came to be."

I think the truth is a little bit more problematic than that. What these two profs actually do is (shall we say?) "strongly imply" that "how sin and sadness came to be" is formulated in the confessions in ways that are counterfactual to how we "know" they actually came to be. They go from there to "strongly imply" it is time to reformulate what is contained in those confessions.

There are already many encouraging signs that the Board of Trustees will identify that as an abuse of "academic freedom," and a breaking of faith with a community and constituency who have covenanted together to follow a much more deliberate, collaborative, and circumspect process for raising these difficult issues.

One more thing. . . It is one thing to argue that scripture may say different things than we have always understood it to say. It is another thing to use a whole different and illegitimate set of rules (hermeneutics) as we seek to understand what scripture says. The high calling of integrating scriptural truth with scientific truth gets derailed when the proper rules of scientific inquiry are prostituted make "science" fit with scriptural teaching. It is just as quickly derailed when the discipline of interpreting scripture is prostituted to the task of making scriptural teaching fit "science."

Thanks for this terrific editorial.

Science and theology are two human endeavors that are dynamic and constantly, um, evolving, because we continually learn more about both God's world and his word. We learned that we do not live in a three-tiered universe that the people of Bible times thought we lived in. We learned that Galileo and others were right, Earth is not the center of the universe, which the church once taught was unbiblical. Now God has revealed other things about his creation that seem to conflict with other understandings about the Bible.

Rather than distorting, denying, or ignoring these revelations, or giving up our faith as hopelessly incompatible with scientific evidence, we should consider how to resolve perceived disagreements. Calvin's science profs are teaching faithfully, honestly, and to the best of their abilities, what they see God revealing in his world. They believe in the Creator. Calvin's theologians are faithfully teaching about the Bible. Both are exploring what God is saying, in the Bible and in the creation.

It is not wrong to ask questions. This is exactly what we should be doing.

Retired biologist/geologist

Thank you, thank you thank you. All my life I have struggled growing up in the faith with questions such as the ones being discussed right now in the Calvin community. I have often felt that the leadership of the CRC has left me defenseless and almost ashamed & guilt-ridden for having such questions. It is so important to allow for these questions within the Christian community, for the growth of our faith and the moving of the Spirit.