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Book Notes

Written by Rev. P. VanderMeyden
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The book reviewed here was authored by a long-time faculty member of the Theological University of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken at Apeldoorn, The Netherlands. This is the seminary where Rev. Boors (formerly minister of the Dundas FRC) now teaches. As Rev. VanderMeyden explains, this book gives the historical background to the position held by the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken, our sister churches in the Netherlands, in relationship to other Reformed churches. The book was translated at the request of the John Calvin Society, published by Inheritance Publications and is available from our own Free Reformed Publications Committee (see elsewhere in this publication).
Covenant and Election, Dr. J. Van Genderen,trans. Cornelis Pronk, (Inheritance Publications, Neerlandia, Alberta, 1995) 110 pp.

Dr. J. Van Genderen is professor emeritus of the Theological University of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands at Apeldoorn. On October 1953 he was awarded a doctoral degree. His dissertation was on a theologian of the Second Reformation, Herman Witsius.1 He served as professor teaching Dogmatics, History of Dogma and Symbolics from January 13, 1954 until his retirement on August 31, 1993 2

The work being reviewed was published in the Netherlands as Verbond en Verkiezing. Realizing the dearth of literature on the Reformed theology of the Covenant, it has been translated by Rev. Cornelis (Neil) Pronk of the Free Reformed Church in Brantford, Ontario, for the John Calvin Foundation, a body of ministers and laymen in Canada who are committed to the translation and publication of Dutch Reformed literature. These men of the Free Reformed and Canadian/American Reformed churches share the conviction that something detrimental has happened to Covenant theology when the Covenant of Grace became identified with election.

The title of this work comes from the first of the two parts of this book "Covenant and Election" immediately tells us that this first and most substantial part of the work is a study of the relationship between Covenant and Election. The study is not biblical-exegetical, so much as historical-theological in its character. The first chapter examines the writings of Prof. J. Vander Schuit (Christelijke Gereformeerd) in the 1950's against the views of Rev. G.H. Kersten and the Doctrinal Pronouncements of 1931 of the Gereformeerde Gemeenten ([Netherlands] Reformed Congregations). This denomination's synod in 1931 declared that "the covenant of Grace is dominated by election to salvation; that therefore the essence of the covenant concerns only the elect of God and not the natural seed; that the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace are one in character and essence. It is one and the same covenant"(p. 10-Il ).Van Genderen shows that Rev. Steenblok (separated Netherlands Reformed Congregations) took the position of Kersten further to a rejection of the offer of grace altogether 3 (p.17), while on the other hand Rev. R. Kok (later joined Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken--sister churches of FRC) was suspended for identifying the promises of the covenant with theater of grace.

Van Genderen briefly turns his attention outside of the Netherlands to indicate that a parallel development is reflected in the Protestant Reformed Declaration of Principles (1951) and in the posthumously published Reformed Dogmatics (1966) of Rev. Herman Hoeksema. Van Genderen recognizes Hoeksema's fear of Arminianism, but laments that his theology is "so dominated by the idea of election that we have to speak of an election-system whereby the doctrine of the covenant is seriously deformed" (p.24).

The second chapter presents a similar analysis of the identification of Covenant and election in the theology of Dr. A. Kuyper, who taught a baptism on the basis of a presumed regeneration. This along with the challenges of it presented by H. Bavinck contributed to the conflict and compromise at the Synod and Conclusions of Utrecht (1905).This debate about Covenant and election surfaced again in the debate of me 1940's, which culminated in me separation of the "Liberated" (American/Canadian Reformed Churches) under the leadership of Rev. K. Schilder in 1944. Van Genderen suggests that there may be a line from the optimistic covenant view of A. Kuyper through G. C. Berkhouwer to Harry Boer, James Daane and Neal Punt (36-37).

In chapter 3 Van Genderen presents the "entirely new" view of the relationship between Covenant and election which is presented by Karl Barth, that is, a Christo-centric universalism. Jesus is the Elect One, who represents all of humanity and in whom all are reconciled. Election dominates everything. Election is the fundamental all-encompassing act of God ad extra and in Barth's theology eventually there is a fusing of eternity and time, of creation and redemption, which parallels the identification of election and covenant

In chapter four Van Genderen presents the various views of theologians, including J. A. Heyns (of Pretoria, South Africa) on the similarities and differences between Covenant and election. The differences are such that they do require that a clear theological distinction be made.

In chapter five the discussion surveys the tension between promise and demand in the Covenant. There is a close relationship here, since what God demands in His Covenant He is also willing to give. Even the commandments are demands surrounded with promise: "I am the Lord my God." Yet, since not all who are in the covenant are believers, it must also be stressed that where the promises are preached they must be preached with a challenge which calls for repentance and faith, which are demanded of us and worked by the promised grace of the Holy Spirit.

The second part of the book, entitled "Covenant Theology: Past and Present, is a survey of Covenant theology from Zwingli and Bullinger; through J. G. Woelderink and K. Schilder to H. M. Kuitert and H. Berkhof. This part gives a bird's eye view of Covenant theology dealing only with the general covenant concepts held by key theologians since the Reformation. This section could have been better presented first in order to acquaint the reader with covenant theology in general before entering into the more specific issue of the relationship between covenant and election.

Considering the increasing interest in Reformed theology in general and covenant theology in particular, this work is a much needed addition to the library of a student of theology. There are very few works available in English to give access to the development of Dutch Reformed covenant theology. This work is one which will be especially valued by those who are wondering what went wrong in Dutch Reformed theology to produce such a carnal presumption on the one hand, and a cold decretalism on the other. A revived interest in Reformed doctrines will inevitably develop into an understanding of God's covenant relationship with believers and their children. But there are dangers associated with covenant theology when one or another aspect of the doctrines of grace are overly stressed and systematized without limiting and balancing them within their proper Biblical context North American students of Reformed theology will benefit from the historical lessons of studies such as this one and will (hopefully) avoid repeating the same errors and causing the same divisions of past generations.

1. J. Van Genderen, Herman Witsius' Gravenhage, 1953.
2. Prof. J. Van Genderen presented a paper entitled, Het practische syllogisme: De sluitrede des geloofs, ("The Practical Syllogism: the Deduction of Faith") as his inaugural address in 1954. Other published works include his rector's address in 1957: De Waare Kenk ("The True Church"), 'Calvijns dogmatisch werk" ("Calvin's Dogmatic Work," 1965), Geloofskennis en geloofsverwachting, ("Faiths Knowledge and Faith's Expectation," 1982), and Gerechtigheid als geschenk, ("Righteousness as a Gift," 1988). What may be considered his magnum opus is the dogmatics manual which he co-authored with Dr. W.H. Velema entitled Beknopte Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, ("Concise Reformed Dogmatics," 1992).
3. cf. C. Steenbiok, Rondom Verbond, Roeping en Doop, (Gouda: 1979), pp.310ff. Steenbiok teaches that baptism belongs "exclusively to the elect, while reprobates receive nothing but the sign and seal of the curse."

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