I’ve just received John Bolt’s essay “Herman Hoeksema was Right.” (in Biblical Interpretation and Doctrinal Formulation in the Reformed Tradition, Essays in Honor of James De Jong, ed. Arie C. Leder and Richard A. Muller, Grand Rapids: MI, Reformation Heritage Books, 2014)
1924 to 2014. That’s 90 years from the CRC’s Synod of Kalamazoo to Bolt’s essay.
Bolt’s essay is an important work in reversing the tide against Herman Hoeksema (and by extension, Gordon Clark) on the question of Common Grace and the Free Offer of the Gospel, particularly as the essay comes from within the CRC, the historic defenders of the doctrine. Or should we say, the historic perverters of the doctrine.
Bolt boldly begins:
“With respect to the issues and events surrounding the common grace controversy generated by the decisions of the CRC’s Kalamazoo Synod of 1924 and its aftermath, including the suspension of the Rev. Herman Hoeksema by Classis Grand Rapids East, on the three fundamental issues—that grace is particular; that the doctrine of common grace is an extra-confessional mater on which Reformed people can have different opinions; and that Reformed Church polity was violated by hierarchical actions—Herman Hoeksema was right and the Christian Reformed Church was wrong.” (p. 296-297)
After explaining Herman Hoeksema’s positive connections with Abraham Kuyper, and the important Kuyperian distinction between particular saving grace and God’s general bestowal of blessings on all people, Bolt argues that it was the CRC, not Hoeksema, who departed from Kuyper’s views:
“The difficulty with this particular formulation [the CRC’s first point of common grace] is not so much with the first sentence but with the linkage of God’s broad-based general favor to the ‘general offer of the Gospel’ as a ground. The broad favor of God ‘to mankind in general,’ the 1924 synod concluded, ‘is evident from [writings that discuss] the general offer of the gospel.’ This is precisely the linkage that Kuyper so vigorously warned against in his meditations on particular grace.” (p. 302)
Further, Bolt argues that the CRC misread the historical meaning of “offer”:
“Christian Reformed discussions about the ‘general offer’ usually fail to distinguish carefully between ‘call and ‘offer,’ and in so doing accept the Remonstrant definition of call as God’s desire and intention to save those who receive the call.” (p. 302)
“When the Canons of Dort do use the word ‘offer’—in III/IV.9—the reference is to Christ, and the Latin offero means ‘to show, reveal, exhibit.'” (p. 302)
This is exactly what the Protestant Reformed Churches have been arguing for 90 years! We should praise Bolt for coming to this position. (Having tenure must help!)
Why has this taken so long? Have the CRC (and other defenders of Common Grace) been so full of themselves, that they couldn’t admit to being wrong on this issue when they so obviously are? (Resorting to the doctrine “paradox” when having their contradictions pointed out). At the time (and for many years hence) the CRC was THE powerhouse denomination in conservative Reformed theology in America. Perhaps on this basis some figured they could not be wrong. (Surely the great Louis Berkhof, the author of a prominent systematic theology book, and the probably author of the Three Points on Common Grace, couldn’t be wrong, could he?)
Was it impossible for anyone to disagree with Murray and Stonehouse (and Van Til) in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on this issue without suffering the consequences? Perhaps the results of the Clark Controversy (with its respective 4th point on the Free Offer of the Gospel) were enough to dissuade conservative Presbyterians from investigating and coming to the truth on the doctrine.
After years of sliding into theological liberalism, conservative scholars like John Bolt are leading the CRC back into historic Christianity. And in doing so Bolt has been able to reinvestigate the crucial topic of Common Grace which divided the church 90 years ago.
We should praise Bolt for his stance. But, even more, we should praise those in the PRC, who for so long have held to the truth on these doctrines against the overwhelming majority. Their hope of being a witness to the truth may be starting to come to fruition.