Summoning Up Remembrances, Henry Stob, Eerdmans Publishing, 1995, 354 pp.
This book is a partial auto-biography of Henry Stob (1908-1996), a philosophy professor at Calvin College and later Calvin Seminary. I say “partial” because the book inexplicably ends in 1952 with just a passing note saying, “I remained in the seminary for the next thirty years.” (p. 338)
I read this book in order to increase my understanding of the theological shifts at Calvin College, Calvin Seminary, and the Christian Reformed Church in the mid 20th century. For that purpose the book was valuable though by no means conclusive or exhaustive on the topic.
The book has frequent forays into national and international news to provide context. While this was helpful, I was primarily interested in the theological and more focused historical sections of the book.
Though the setting of the book begins in the Dutch communities around Chicago, it later moves to Grand Rapids where Stob attended college and lived most of his adult life. This latter setting provided me with fond feelings of familiarity as I grew up in the same area, though a few generations later.
Comparing the era of the events in the book with today’s world, I noted some profound changes. For one, I’m sure dancing, cards, and movie-watching are no longer forbidden at Calvin College. Also, I found myself quite jealous of the financial cost of Stob’s schooling. The tuition was either low or non-existent for the schools he attended including Calvin College, Harftord Seminary, Gottingen University, and the Free University in Amsterdam. In fact, in some cases Stob received a stipend, and while he borrowed some money for his post-doctoral work, it was later forgiven him. Also, a far cry from the difficulties of today’s doctoral students, Stob was chosen to be the professor of philosophy at Calvin before he even finished his studies!
The previous philosophy professor, Harry Jellema, had left for Indiana University and Cornelius Van Til had turned down Calvin’s offer of the position. And so Stob was hired. It seems that the Calvin College administration must have considered Stob – then only 29 years old – to be an orthodox Dutch Reformed thinker, matching his upbringing in the hypocritically legalistic (anti-dancing, anti-card playing, anti-movie watching, but cigar and alcohol favoring) midwestern Dutch communities of Chicago and Grand Rapids. But Stob confirms that even at a young age he “had problems with … reprobation and … limited atonement” (p. 130) and later came to find himself largely agreeing with the theology of Karl Barth. (p. 138-9) In fact, in college, Stob relays, he regularly skipped Henry Meeter’s course in Calvinism and nearly failed it. (p. 99) It seems that Stob, who was studying in Germany when he was surprised with a letter offering him the position at Calvin, was never interviewed by the college to find out what his theology actual was.
Some things I learned:
- Harry Jellema did not like H. Evan Runner, or at least didn’t like his philosophy.
- Many students at Calvin complained of William Hendriksen’s teaching.
- Stob counted among the students in his Plato Club in 1951-1952, Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff.
- Cornelius Van Til taught at Calvin in the Winter of 1952 and had a debate with William Masselink about “Common Grace.”
Interestingly, the book relays, a petition from “concerned citizens” said of some professors at Calvin, “they stress common grace far more than the antithesis.” (p. 319) It seems that the students were more keen on Barthianism than the professors! (p. 321)
Stob comments considerably on the shake-up at Calvin Seminary in 1952, but I’ll probably need to read it again to understand the nuances of the disagreements between the professors. Perhaps the other book I have on my list – Henry J. Kuiper, Shaping the Christian Reformed Church, 1907-1962 will shed further light.
As for Stob post-1952, one of the sources available online is a collection of his “thoughts” upon retirement. Though I guess they are “thoughts,” they are poor ones, with very strong Barthian and liberal leanings. It is sad to consider his what his influence was in teaching at Calvin Seminary for thirty years.