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Letters: April 2011

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Islamic Teaching

Rev. Paul Hansen is of course entitled to his humble opinion (“The Muslim-Christian Chasm,” IMHO, March 2011). I would like, however, to correct one popular error that appears in his description of Islam. It is not, in fact, a “principle teaching” of Islam that Muslims ought to lie, whether to believers or nonbelievers. Presumably he is referring to the rather obscure doctrine of taqiya, invoked by Muslims as reassurance that God knows the heart even when under persecution their mouths tell lies to protect themselves. It is something like the righteous Gentiles who during the Nazi years lied so as to not reveal the whereabouts of Jews they were hiding. We do not therefore suppose that the entire Christian tradition encourages falsehood. Nor does Islam.

—Douglas Howard
Professor of History
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Immigration

As an Arizonan, I see the immigration issue in a different light than Kurt Rietema (“Illegal,” February 2011). I work with students whom teachers identify as struggling in their classrooms. This year I have had almost 70 students—all of whom but one are from Mexico. One of those students recently told me she wished she were dead. I said that made me sad and asked why she would say that. I knew before she answered, though, that her dad has been deported, she is living with relatives where there is a lot of fighting, and her mom has a boyfriend. If her parents had chosen legal options, I feel that she and her brother may have been spared every one of those concerns.

Moreover, I have worked with students who have come into the classroom with no understanding of the English language. Imagine yourself teaching a class of 25 students in which one or several students understand little of what you say. Are you really ready to sacrifice the other children’s educational achievement for reasons of compassion? California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada now rank as some of the lowest educationally achieving states. Are all the bad teachers and poor teaching methods in the southwestern U.S., or could this have something to do with the states’ proximity to the border?

The education and health-care cost to Arizona of undocumented immigrants is more than $2 billion a year. At one point that was the Arizona deficit. To make up the debt we are all paying higher taxes and some of our services have been reduced. Yes, we do need to show compassion, but what is happening in the southwest now is bankrupting our states.

—Florence Smith
Phoenix, Ariz.

More on Science and Faith

Thank you for your news article “Calvin Profs Say Evolution Evidence Conflicts with Reformed Creeds” (February 2011) about Daniel Harlow's and John Schneider's recent publications. It is encouraging to hear about Christian scholars engaging in scientific discourse and investigating the conflict between recent scientific evidence and the Reformed confessions. Moreover, I was glad to see that the two authors chose to consider our interpretation of church doctrine, as opposed to simply dismissing the science, or worse, denying it.

—Peter Dove
Burlington, Ontario

Are these professors seriously considering "that the traditional understanding of the Fall does not fit with current science"? How could current science ever understand the Fall? These men are dangerously questioning this biblical fundamental and others that affect the foundations of our beliefs as a church—and quite possibly teaching them to students who will teach them again. I hope Calvin College’s board of directors does the right thing and releases both these professors from work at Calvin. I am relieved The Banner has brought this matter to the church's attention.

—Stephen Visser
Orwell Cove, Prince Edward Island

Calvin professors Harlow and Schneider use "current science"—which is by definition flawed because "current" means it is fallible and changeable—to question the reality of Adam and Eve, the Fall, and original sin. With "current science" as a basis, how could the virgin birth and the resurrection ever have occurred?" The answer is in the infallible, unchangeable, inspired words of Scripture, starting with Genesis 1:1. That is the only truly reliable foundation of belief.

—Michael DuMez
Oostburg, Wis.

I invite everyone in the CRC to read Harlow’s and Schneider’s articles. They are readily available on the Internet and are self-explanatory. No one denies that Christian scholars need to investigate issues regarding human origins, but, in a denominational school like Calvin, we engage such research from within a clearly defined confessional framework. Harlow’s and Schneider’s writings are not even remotely within the bounds of our confessions, and I am beginning to question what signing the Form of Subscription means in the CRC.

—Rev. Ken Benjamins
Brantford, Ontario

I read this article with dismay. I understand these professors imply, by their questioning, that Adam and Eve never really existed, that there was no literal Fall, and that original sin is incorrectly presented in the Reformed confessions. The Bible is true in its entirety. To discount a portion of it is to discount Christ. Read again Romans 5:12-21; Proverbs 3:5-8; and Job 38 through to Job 42:8. That said, my prayer is that these gentlemen turn back to the path of simple faith.

—James Heidinga
Trenton, Ontario

In the March Banner editorial (“Go Calvin!”), Rev. Bob De Moor seems to imply that Calvin professors Daniel Harlow and John Schneider do not question biblical authority, God being the creator of all things, humanity’s bondage to sin, our need for salvation through Christ, or the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection; but they question the way our Reformed confessions formulate the doctrine of creation and how sin and sadness came to be.

However, Harlow says that scientific discovery clearly shows that mankind did not descend from a single pair of human ancestors, implying that the accounts in Genesis 1:26-31 and Genesis 2:7 are simply not true.

Harlow further states there was no historical sin, but we inherited sin from our animal past; nevertheless, he goes on to say that he wants a Christ to save us from our sins. What Harlow seems to be missing is that by denying the historical Adam, there is no Christ.

Schneider also wants to take a run at the traditional interpretation of our confessions, which he says has led us to believe in the historical fall into sin by Adam and Eve.

Furthermore, he asserts that traditional Protestant believers are not intelligent enough and not equipped with enough confessional ammunition to meet the challenge to our faith as presented by scientific proof that humans have animal ancestors.

So much for our confessions. . . .

Our challenge is to stand on the never-changing Word of God and not compromise that Word by going with the flow of science, which is ever changing.

—Albert Rumph
Collingwood, Ontario

I would like to know how the CRC deals with the Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, dinosaurs, and other creatures that lived millions of years ago. The genealogies in the Bible go back only about 8,000 years. Were there two attempts at creating humans and animals? Was their death before the Garden of Eden and sin? I realize this is part of what Paul calls “looking through a glass darkly” and none of this has anything to do with salvation, but what explanation can there be? Do we dare ask for one, or is it simply unexplainable?

—Joel Veldheer
Kentwood, Mich.

I can't say I was surprised to read about Calvin professors compromising evolution with the Bible, but it is disheartening nonetheless. Reading the “Statement on Evolution” put forth by the biology department only increases that feeling. I cannot fathom how anyone can be convicted of the authority of the Bible and claim to believe that the theory of evolution best explains God's creation. It is ironic that we want to adopt the Belhar Confession as it was written in response to Apartheid, which did not owe its strength to the use of our confessions but to the inevitable conclusions drawn from belief in evolutionary explanations of man's origin. Perhaps the time has come for the CRC to cut the ties with this institution, which would apparently be more comfortable operating without the restraints of an honest interpretation of Genesis. Nonetheless, I cling to the Amazing Grace of God, who could bring a man like C.S. Lewis from the grip of atheism to Christianity and use his life for such good despite his belief in the evolution of man. And I pray that everyone at Calvin will be open to the literal interpretation of Genesis and find, as I have, that there is no need to compromise.

—Rosemarie Radcliffe

Professors Harlow and Schneider have used their evolutionary beliefs to propose that Adam and Eve were “literary figures” of a “divinely inspired story.” If true, then there would be no need for a Savior. Jesus would not have had to die on the cross for the sins of storybook people or their fairytale children, especially if their “moral evils are practically part of God’s original design.”

—Russ Hoekman
Lakewood, Calif.

In 1911 my father, J.C. DeBruyn, graduated from Calvin Seminary. He served as pastor of several Christian Reformed churches until 1938, followed by four years as regional representative for the Home Missions Board. Since then, four generations of his family have been students at Calvin College, and I had the privilege of serving Calvin College for 16 years, teaching in the Education Department (1976-1992).

Frequently, throughout the years, our denomination and our college have faced differences in opinion concerning interpretation of the Scriptures and our cultural Reformed heritage. The church has weathered these storms by spending much time in prayerful, thoughtful, and collaborative discussions of each issue. Our church leaders at synod and Calvin College have defended Christian academic freedom in each of the incidents. The Calvin Faculty Handbook sets out appropriate procedures through which the college faculty, administration, and board can address the relevant issues.

My prayer is that our denomination will continue in the wisdom of the leaders of the past and allow time for thoughtful discussion without rushing to judgment.

—Bette DeBruyn Bosma
Grand Haven, Mich.

The professors are mistaken, first of all, in their failure to separate science, which is a model of reality, from reality itself. Science is our attempt to account for our observations of the world thorough an intellectual construct based on some basic assumptions. The Ptolemaic system in its day accounted for the observed facts of astronomy and was good science; newer observations and a better theory made it obsolete. Newton’s physics also proved to be good science, but relativity and quantum mechanics have shown it to be incomplete. Evolutionary theory is the best model we have to explain the origins of life on earth, but we don’t know how it will look to the people of the future. We are commanded to seek the truth, and scientists must be free to follow where research and understanding lead them, but science must not be given authority to sit in judgment over revelation.

The Calvin professors are also mistaken in thinking that the Genesis account can be read as myth or allegory without doing violence to God’s entire plan of salvation. 

—Jack Hickman
Alameda, Calif.

The March editorial “Go Calvin!” lauds Calvin College for stimulating our thinking to the point that we are “mentored to explore the jagged edges of truth . . . always fully committed to the Truth who is Person, not proposition.” Such a statement seems attractive, but it is right out of the postmodern vocabulary.

Truth is not just a Person, it is also a proposition. The liberalism of the early 20th century described Christianity as a mere expression of Christian experience. Hence, doctrine was not important. What was important was a deep sense of the divine in your soul. The gradual evolution of this doctrinal error has led to present-day postmodernism, which says that there are no absolutes or propositions in the realm of faith: what is right for you may not be right for me.

However, Jesus, the Person, takes exception to that. The proposition that Jesus made of himself as a person in John 14:6 is “I am the way, and the truth, and th life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (ESV).

The suggestion that Harlow makes near the end of his article denying the historicity of Adam and Eve concerns the Reformed doctrine of substitutionary atonement. He favors theories of the atonement like the “Christus victor model or the moral influence theory.” The moral influence theory of the atonement says that Christ’s death served only as an example for us to emulate. This is not merely an outgrowth of Harlow’s (incorrect) view of original sin, it is a complete dismantling of the Reformed faith that has always been founded on the substitutionary view of the atonement.

Truth is not only a Person, it is also found in propositions that we know as the Gospel. That’s why the gospel of John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1, ESV).

—Rev. Ken Van De Griend
Byron Center, Mich.

What happened to the age-old Reformed position that all disciplines are subject to and not above the authority of Scripture?

—Klaas Brobbel
Oakville, Ontario

I'm thankful that you informed us about the research of Professors Harlow and Schneider. I pray that we as a denomination have the capacity to host a calm, reflective—and very honest—discussion on their work. We live in a culture that is characterized by fear-mongering and reactive anger, and this climate encourages instantaneous judgment rather than meaningful dialogue. I would implore you to do all that you can as our denominational sounding board to challenge us to grow such a capacity. The first question for me is not whether I agree with the professors, but whether I am willing to quietly listen to them and then engage them in a conversation filled with probing questions (as James 1:19 exhorts us to do: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry").

 —Rev. Syd Hielema, Chaplain
Associate Professor of Religion
Redeemer University College
Ancaster, Ontario

In my humble opinion, there can be no actual conflict between true science and true theology, simply because God is the ultimate and unerring author of both. It appears that some would like to promote an illusion of fundamental conflict between the two. In my reality, where conflict may appear to exist, it boils down to a finite misunderstanding or misinterpretation of one or the other.

I am glad that Calvin's educators are committed to this truth and are willing to engage in trying to bring these two disciplines into harmony.

—Ted Lyzenga
Byron Center, Mich.

I was very glad to read your editorial in the March issue. I liked your careful and clear distinction between doctrine and educational exploration. I highly value my Calvin education to this day.

—Brenda Visser
Athens, Ontario

Our Position on Abortion

The contrast between "Fish and Wonder" and "Our Real Position on Abortion" in the February Banner certainly made me catch my breath. In the first article, the precious value of human life, even at a difficult end, is celebrated.  On the next page we are encouraged to allow the deliberate taking of human life at a difficult beginning. Of course, we should have nothing but compassion for the victims of abortion, including the women who've suffered it, often under great stress. But, in my humble opinion, we should also stand firm in promoting the sanctity of human life created in God's image and precious whether preborn, disabled, seriously ill, or elderly. It's all part of "Loving the Broken" (article on p. 36)!

—Lynn Wielenga
Hull, Iowa

Thank you for “Security for Whom?” (Editorial, January 2011), a necessary and valuable complement to “Our Real Position on Abortion” (IMHO, February 2011). In imitating Christ, can we not at least acknowledge but also find words and deeds to support couples and women who face ectopic pregnancies incompatible with the mother’s life, the possibility of pregnancy after rape or incest, or devastating diagnoses of embryos or fetuses with severe genetic or developmental malformations?

—Hessel Bouma III
Grand Rapids, Mich.

I cannot find one instance in Scripture where Jesus was presented with a “hard case” and decided the best course of action was to end the life of that person. Rather, he ministered to those whom society shunned. And most important, he gave his life to save the ultimate hard case: humanity.

If God could look past our appalling sinfulness and depravity and find our lives worthy of saving, then certainly we can overcome our personal hard cases here on earth and find the lives that result from them worth saving as well.

—Scott Oostman
Highland, Ind.

George Vander Weit argues that we ought to change our denominational position to allow for abortion for babies conceived during rape or incest. While that sounds compassionate, post-abortion counselors tell me the advice is reckless and uninformed. Rape and incest are tragic, but to abort the child only compounds the problem by adding a lifetime of guilt of abortion to the trauma of the conception. By giving birth, the woman, regardless of her age, has a far better chance to experience emotional healing.

—Rev. Bill Hoogland
St. Mary’s, Ontario

My life journey includes “hard cases.” I prefer to call them my children, three of whom are living in heaven and four of whom are here on earth.

My son Mitchell was diagnosed at 22 weeks into the pregnancy with several severe heart malformations. The medical community could do nothing to save him and estimated that he would live only 24 to 48 hours at the most, if he even survived the birthing process. The doctors gave us the option to terminate the pregnancy.

My husband and I chose to honor God and carry Mitchell to term. We based our decision on God's value for our unborn child. God the Creator of Life knew exactly how many breaths our son would take. As mere mortals, we prayed for healing for our son but also yielded to God's will.

Mitchell lived among us for 11 days, then died in my arms at home. He was loved by his parents, his siblings, our church community, our friends, and others who were praying for him. But most of all, Mitchell was loved by God. His life, though short in our eyes, had meaning and a purpose. Mitchell influenced others around him (I have letters given to me that reflect that); his life had an impact.  His severe health problems didn’t change the fact that he was beautifully made in God's image.

I do not pretend to understand how each "hard case" feels. But I do know that in all cases, God never stops loving his creation. In all circumstances, we need to let God be God and to value what God values, including the sanctity of life.

I pray that the CRC would stay true to God's view on life and not declare abortion permissible in some cases. I pray that the "pastoral sensitivity" referred to in the article would not be to suit our culture. Rather, may we increase pastoral sensitivity in showing support for women/girls/families who find themselves in challenging times while carrying or caring for God's children, and in  showing compassion and forgiveness toward those who unfortunately made or are making their decisions apart from God's Word.

—Nadine Norton
Peterborough, Ontario

Abraham Kuyper once stated, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is the sovereign over everything, does not claim, ‘Mine!’” That would include an embryo. Not only is the pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule under the absolute control of our divine Creator, but God as the Fountain of Life gave life to this embryo. Scientists in the field of molecular biology are also more and more beginning to give recognition to this foundation of our Christian faith. Let us not tamper with the biblical truth.

—Dirk R. Woudstra
Orono, Ontario

Rev. Vander Weit’s position on abortion unfortunately allows for the sacrifice of one life out of compassion for another. God intends for life created in his image to be preserved unless another is at risk of losing that gift. The life of a “hard case” child is no less valuable than the life of any other child.

—Rich Newhouse
Holland, Mich.

When the Creator God took on human flesh, his mercy and grace caused him to stoop much lower than we will ever have to stoop to identify with and value any baby in the womb. For every “hard case” pregnancy there are three people "the Hound of Heaven" will pursue with reckless love and costly grace: the baby, the mother, and the father.  Be God’s faithful servant in supporting those whose anguish seems unbearable, not the unknowing tool of the Father of Lies who says, “Surely this one has no human value.” 

—Mary Bruinsma
Indianapolis, Ind.

I am a Calvin student and a frequent reader of The Banner. The articles provide good discussion. However, “Our Real Position on Abortion” made me unsure of ever wanting to pick up The Banner again. . . .

First, I did not believe anyone had the audacity to look God in the face and tell him, “You goofed. This baby isn’t right; take it back.” Is this what has become of our church?

Second, you know precisely what will happen with the term “hard cases.” It will eventually be taken to mean any instance when money is tight, an “accident” happens, or almost any other excuse. Even if you stick with “genetic defects,” many of my friends—brilliant and caring students—would not now be on this earth. Rape and incest are other topics, for which we can’t deny the emotional trauma, but answer me this: do two wrongs make a right?

—Stephen Eising
Flushing, Mich.

I vehemently disagree with Rev. Vander Weit’s contention that sensitivity to the abortion issue is somehow best demonstrated by making it permissible in the church if the baby was conceived in rape or incest. This thinking is dangerously close to the pro-choice argument that “abortion is necessary because every child should be a wanted child.”

Rape and incest are devastating evils, and I understand the pull for the church to allow abortion for women who become pregnant in such circumstances. Still, no matter how a child is conceived it is at that moment in relationship with its Creator. Furthermore, it becomes incumbent on the church to protect that life at all cost. The position of Synod 1972 remains the right thinking on this issue.

—Jim Sprague
Executive Director
Pregnancy Resource Center
Grand Rapids, Mich.

When I praise God each Tuesday evening with members of our church’s Friendship Club who have physical and cognitive impairments, I fervently thank God that their parents didn’t share Rev. Vander Weit’s views.

—Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
St. Catharines, Ontario

Correction

In “Flood Aid for New Brunswick” (p. 10, March 2011), the accompanying photo incorrectly identifies, from left, Debbie vanOord of Providence CRC, Beamsville, Ontario, and Diane Boonstoppel of Fredericton (N.B.) CRC.

The Banner apologizes for the error.

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