Myodicy, Issue 25, January 2006

Reformational Movement:
Documentary Series,
Number 5:
When the Scriptures Fell Open

by Cornelis Veenhof

What follows is # 5 in the documentary series on the Reformational Movement and Its History. Click here for the table of contents and homepage of the series as a whole.

NOTE: Cornelis Veenhof (1902-83) experienced the early days of the reformational movement as a student. In this excerpt from one of his books, he tells about the excitement generated by Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven and Schilder during the 1930s. The book is Om de "Unica Catholica": Een beschouwing over de positie van de bezwaarden onder en over de synodocratie (Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1949). This excerpt is taken from pages 52-56 (translation mine). -Theodore Plantinga

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What a wonderful time it was!

The Spirit of God was at work everywhere.

Only, there really wasn't anything "special" going on. It's just that for a great many people, the Scriptures fell open! It was as though God's loving hand had brushed away the dust that scholasticism and mysticism, pietism and all sorts of other subjectivism and individualism had piled up on top of His Word, so that it began to resound clearly in our ears again and give us light, like a pillar of fire in a dark night.

Everywhere the LORD was at work.

In Groningen God awakened the incomparable Anko Scholtens. In his inner communion with the Scriptures, something had come to life for him. He came to understand what believing is: relying directly on the Word of God and living out of it. And he understood again that God's Word is a word of promise, a word of grace, that it is always up-to-date and is spoken by God directly. Naturally, he came to realize that a regimen of self-examination coming between believing and the assurance of salvation, or between believing and Christ or His Word, is an absurdity; he realized that both believing and the Word of God are thereby denatured, with the life of faith being affected in its root. Through his faithful service, the eyes of many in the North were opened to the reformational sola fide. And it was especially the powerful voice of Douwe van Dijk [1887-1985] that carried this ancient and ever new treasure into the hearts of thousands!

In Biggekerke [Antheunis] Janse [1890-1960] was at work, quietly and without ceasing. God had opened his heart to the concrete language of the Sacred Scriptures. He had indeed heard the Holy Spirit speak in the midst of life and the struggle -- the "concrete situation" -- of his days: in a timely way, gripping, judging, delivering. The gift of the discernment of spirits was given him in abundant measure. In one sitting and with a pounding heart we read Van de Rechtvaardigen (Of the Righteous), and we knew without fail that, yes, that's what Scripture says. That's how Scripture wants to be understood. With a firm hand he would sketch for us such figures as Karl Barth, Mussolini, Ghandi, Lenin -- earlier, sharper, more pointedly, and especially in a more spiritual manner than anyone else in the Netherlands.

And in Amsterdam [Simon Gerrit] De Graaf [1889-1955] was preaching! He may well have exercised a deeper influence than any one of the Amsterdam professors of theology. He preached in and out of and about God's covenant. He preached universal redemption in Jesus Christ. He preached life, true life, the life that becomes possible and real in Christ. Through his service God indeed threw down "fire on the earth." [TP NOTE: This phrase is the Dutch title of eight volumes of De Graaf's sermons which had been privately published.] We simply devoured his sermons!

And then there was [Klaas] Schilder [1890-1952]. We, the younger generation, followed him in breathless anticipation as a guide who, to our dumbfounded amazement, enabled us to look into the depths of God's revelation in such a way that we saw things of which we had never dreamed. In a robust manner he brought the hopelessly rigidified thinking about the church, the covenant, common grace, and culture back into motion for us -- and we experienced all of this as a liberation. What he especially burned into our consciences is that when it comes to the church and the kingdom of God, we live in the climate of the Sermon on the Mount! That therefore our yes must mean yes and our no no, for whatever goes beyond this is of Satan. He urged it up on us that we were to take the Church of Christ and the ecclesiastical word seriously again. And -- what's more -- he lived all of this before our eyes. He spoke sharply -- no beating around the bush, no equivocation. There was no hidden agenda with him, and he was averse to all diplomacy and camouflage. With all of his love and hatred, knowledge and acuity, he stood there -- stern, on fire, passionate, in the midst of the tense and emotionally charged life of his day, signalizing, criticizing, in an electifying manner. And we knew that what he said was utterly Reformed. We believed Dooyeweerd when he assured us repeatedly that Schilder's work was completely reformational!

And, last but not least, [D.H.T.] Vollenhoven [1892-1978] and [Herman] Dooyeweerd [1894-1977] were busy speaking and teaching and writing. No one -- and I mean no one -- who did not live through the years after 1926 can form any kind of impression of what their work really meant, especially for those who were then the student generation.

We were living in a time in which criticism and relativism were already ruling the roost in theology and philosophy. The best of the students struggled against such thinking, for they felt that what was at issue was the church and ourselves, and so it was a matter of life and death! But in their work and their study they couldn't get anywhere in their opposition. The leaders did not sense the danger. They were completely unaware that they themselves were often ensnared in the clutches of all sorts of synthesis -- synthesis with the ideas of their deadly enemies. A paralyzing defeatism came over large groups of people. A subtle psychologism destroyed the power and glory of childlike faith in many. Historicism, taking on concrete form in all sorts of pluriformity theories, relativized the majesty of the Word and the earnestness of the Church. The ethicistic religiosity of the National Christian Student Association infected the entire student world. People were almost ashamed to be Reformed. Moreover, we then lived through a Saul-and-David affair! It could happen that a great mass of Free University students would become inflamed and would demonstrate in favor of the negativism that was really the beginning of the [J.G.] Geelkerken [1879-1960] conflict. At a congress held in those days under the auspices of a student movement that called itself Reformed, the life work of [Abraham] Kuyper [1837-1920] was severely criticized and Hartogian idealism was promoted. [[TP NOTE. This is presumably a reference to the thinking of A.H. de Hartog (1869-1938).] Moreover, the rising spirit of bourgeois feeling, of rigidification, of politicizing conformity to the world, that was manifested in the leadership in the Reformed world, was already turning some fine and sharp minds away.

And in the middle of that crisis, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd stepped forward. What it must have meant to be able to sit at their feet in those days! We who were students at Kampen "participated" in all of this from a distance. [TP NOTE: Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven taught at the Free University of Amsterdam, whereas Veenhof and his comrades were then studying theology under Schilder and other professors at the seminary in Kampen.] We were eager to get hold of whatever we could find of theirs, whether transmitted orally or in written form. We listened to them and were won over by them at the student congresses that took place in Lunteren. I will always be thankful to God for what He gave us there! A new world opened up for us. The issue of Antirevolutionaire Staatkunde (Anti-Revolutionary Statecraft) -- the first one came out in the year 1928, I still remember it well -- in which Dooyeweerd first published the prolegomena of his Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (Philosophy of the Law-Idea) still stands in my bookshelf, falling apart because it has been read so much.

How wonderful, glorious and liberating it all was! Not understanding what was going on, we had looked in an anxious way at a world that had become intensely hostile to God's Word and His Church. We did not see through it all. In our anxiety we experienced only its intensely threatening aspect. In this tangle we did not know which way to turn! And then, at once, it did seem that a cloud had lifted. The spectacle remained grippingly earnest for us, filling us with anxiety, for we saw both hidden and public enmity against God and His Christ. But now we could see and understood who the enemy was and where his weaknesses were to be found. We beheld the lie in his work, his system. In our excitement and joy we thereby discovered not just the possibility -- Kuyper and [Herman] Bavinck [1854-1921] had already shown us that much -- but also the reality of a truly Christian, Scriptural philosophy. And we experienced what a great power and wealth it represented in the struggle of spirits.

And then we went to work, we of the younger generation. We preached and spoke and wrote what we could! We regarded it as our calling to make known to God's people that which He had allowed us to see. We wanted to support them in their struggle! We wanted to deliver them from the stifling embrace of scholasticism, mysticism, pietism, and so much more! We struggled to lead them to the joyful and victorious life of faith.

As for "power," or "taking over positions," or "influence" -- we didn't think of such things! And God knows that we were never guilty of scheming and manipulating and conspiring -- those were accusations that were often thrown at us. In this respect we were completely without cunning. We just found it an unspeakably wonderful privilege to know the LORD and His Word in such a way, and to know the situation of the Church and world, and to understand all of this so clearly, and to be permitted to pass these things along to a grateful people that also gave thanks!

It was difficult for us -- I say this in full seriousness -- to have to endure the godless polemic of H.H. Kuyper [1864-1945] and his associates. It was bitter to be wounded by [Valentijn] Hepp [1879-1950]. [TP NOTE: Hepp's accusations against Vollenhoven, Schilder and Dooyeweerd set off a train of events that shattered the unity of the reformational movement. On this matter, see especially Essay 2 in the Narrative Series.] And it was even more bitter that many people continued to take them seriously! But there was a job to be done! We knew that we were called. And we prayed for just one thing, that we would be able to be faithful in our calling in the all-embracing spiritual crisis which had already begun to take on an almost planetary character. How moved we were at the prospect of so many honest brothers walking around in scholastic tatters, crippled by all sorts of subjectivistic influences as they scurried around helplessly in a shocking world and in a church which, in its foundations, was in distress and caught up in quarrels.

Indeed, it was then a glorious time. Is there any greater privilege than to be allowed to receive gifts of grace in a true divine "communion" and to be permitted to be the "servants" of those gifts "each in his own order"?

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The men of the philosophy of the law-idea reached very high. They undertook the awesome task not of coming to the Scriptures with a philosophy but of going to philosophy with the Scriptures. What they were working at was the construction of a truly Scriptural philosophy.

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