Twentieth Century Issues
Read Bruggink and Baker, By Grace Alone, chapters 16-20.
Read Word and World, 93-106
Read Coakley, Concord Makes Strength.
View the three videos on RCA missions linked from the website.
Read Meeter, “The RCA and the Kingdom of God,” in Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought, March 2008, available here on line.
The Chapters You Are Reading
By Grace Alone, chapters 16-20.
Chapter 16 tells the story of the RCA in Canada, in which both Cor and I have some experience. It’s the story of the third immigration, and how the RCA, somewhat reluctantly, backed into the “Thompson Principle” which it had been trying to move away from. (Remember the Thompson Principle?) But the world was beginning to come to North America. The great age of immigration was not over, it was beginning again in a new way. And the Dutch immigration to Canada would be followed by the immigrations of the Koreans and Latinos, all of whom have changed the RCA dramatically, and in different ways. America is no longer able to stand apart from the rest of the world. More and more, especially on the East and West Coasts, we find ourselves part of a global culture.
One of the accidental results of the Canadian immigration was to put us back in touch with our ancient mother church in the Netherlands. For the first time since John Henry Livingston, some of our graduate students went to the Netherlands to study. And we have increased our participation in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. We have begun to see ourselves again as a North American branch of a worldwide Reformed fellowship.
I served one of the Dutch immigrant congregations in Canada. One woman told me that when their immigrant ship landed in Halifax harbor, they were met by Rev. Hari Zegerius. He found an old wooden door, and laid it across saw horses, the handles sticking up and down, and there at the wharf he celebrated the Lord’s Supper. That woman told me it was the most moving Communion she had ever experienced.
Chapter 17 tells the story of the extension into the Far West, perhaps the most momentous demographic change in the RCA since 1847. It is remarkable how the California churches started out very Dutch, with Dutch services in Emmanuel, Paramount till 1948, but now are typically on the vanguard of new ideas and new ministries. How powerful was the influence of Robert Schuller? Or did he rather capitalize on an openness and energy that was already there? I don’t have the historical facts at hand to know which is the case, or whether both are. I have heard Wes Granberg-Michaelson say that the Far West churches have more in common with the East than with the Midwest. This is an intriguing take. I can imagine he might be right, but maybe it’s most about context. New York and Los Angeles are the two truly global cities in the US. Does that make the difference?
Chapter 18 makes an interesting (but maybe shallow) comparison of the relative expansions of the RCA and the Methodists. What the chapter fails to mention, however, is how limited and compact were the goals of Methodist evangelization: the felt experience of conversion, followed by a short list of very specific marks of sanctification, especially abstinence from alcohol. The whole system was very easy to understand and get down. That it tended to narrow the gospel is another matter.
Chapter 19 is the apologia pro vita sua. Do you think Bruggink makes a sufficient case for the RCA’s continued existence? Do you buy his reasons for our membership “leakage”? Chapter 20 is thoughts you might well ponder for your own future.
Video 1, “Building a Mission-Minded Church”
This is a very valuable video. It opens with the Emil Brunner and John Piet quotations which are having enormous impact in the RCA today (and which I believe have all the unfortunate power of punchy slogans made into formative theses). The interviews with DeYoung, Schrock, and Braaksma distill years of missionary experience. The interview with Charles Van Engen is worth the whole video. He’s a remarkable guy, simultaneously brilliant and lovable, great fun and passionately earnest, an RCA pastor, and a world leader in mission theory. He’s a professor of missions at Fuller Seminary, and he’s in touch with missionaries and pastors and churches around the world. Note every word he says. Nobody knows it like he does.
Video 2, “Caleb and Joanna Swart: The Daasenech Windmill Project in Ethiopia.”
I know I cry kinda easy, but I gotta tell you I was in tears while watching this video, I was so moved by it. Joanna gives the short and sweet answer to Roger Schrock’s question (#25 below), when she says, “we show faithful God’s love.” That’s not sentimental or simplistic, that’s very powerful in a context either animist or Muslim. I was very moved when the Daasenech elder said, “Caleb, I always knew you would come back, what took you so long.”
Video 3, “Clancy Street Ministries; Steve and Carol Faas”
Full disclosure: I was a member of the Clancy Street Board and Steering Committee. I need to point out that it was started as a Sunday School (remember what I wrote last session) by an RCA couple, who then got the support of their own congregation and then some others, and then they added worship services and programs, until it finally became an organized church.
The video nicely avoids the fact that at first we could not get any support or assistance from the RCA General Program Council. Ten years ago the RCA Urban Mission philosophy was all about “community development organizations,” not about starting new churches. (Most of us who had urban experience were very frustrated with this.) Well, our Clancy Street people were being served by the programs, but they also “wanted church,” a real church. I’m glad to see that the General Program Council has come around. And Clancy Street is a wonderful story. And it’s an example of the holistic ministry that Deb Braaksma mentioned, and which lines up with our long-standing RCA mission principles.
Word and World, 93-106.
I. John Hesselink wrote this essay. He was a long-time missionary professor in Japan, who then became the president of Western Seminary and later Professor of Theology. He was also elected President of General Synod. “I. John” studied with two great Reformed theologians, Brunner and Barth, and earned some fame by bringing them back together after a bitter dispute.
In this short article John explores, perhaps with some adulatory exaggeration (eg., only two of us studied at the Liturgical Institute in Groningen), the post-war contributions of RCA people to the wider world of scholarship. Note his point about the revival of interest in Calvin and the Reformation, and how recently seminarians began to read Calvin again! Note also his point about the reconnection with contemporary Dutch theology, especially A. A. Van Ruler. Van Ruler’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and on a fully Trinitarian theology, is the most distinctive theological theme in the RCA today.
Names that should stand out for you are Samuel Zwemer, Albertus Pieters, Eugene Heideman, and “I. John” himself. Out of modesty, John fails to mention that he became known worldwide as a leading Reformed theologian, especially among scholars of Calvin and Barth. . Please note, once again, that it’s RCA foreign missionaries who are the best minds of the church, and who stand for that dynamic theological balance of ecumenism and evangelism. The RCA has always depended on its foreign missions to call us to our best, to keep us both outward in our thinking and centered in our faith.
But there’s a sad part to this story. The ground-breaking work, Christ and Architecture, by Don Bruggink and Carl Droppers, which was so fresh and so widely received, has now been repudiated by their own denomination. The contemporary church buildings which I have seen in the RCA completely reject the physical expressions of Reformed theology which Bruggink and Droppers advocated. What does this indicate about the RCA? That our Reformed theology is something we preserve in our books but are reluctant to put into practice?
Meeter, “The RCA and the Kingdom of God”
I am asking you to read this only because it’s an example of what Hesselink points to: the influence (on me) of contemporary Dutch theology in general, and of Hendrikus Berkhof and A. A. van Ruler in particular.
Concord Makes Strength
I am asking you to read the whole book, though some of it is more theology than history. Make special note of the essays by Harmelink, Japinga, Blei, Fromm, Case-Winters, Jansen, and Granberg-Michealson. In my lecture (forthcoming) I will have more to say about these things.
Study Guide for Session 6:
1. Who was Robert McDowell, what did he do, and how did he end up?
2. What caused the loss of our first Canadian expansion?
3. What is the third immigration and what caused it?
4. Why were we reluctant to enter Canada again?
5. How did the Thompson Principle get revived in Canada?
6. Know who Hari Zegerius was.
7. What was a “fieldman”?
8. When was the first congregation organized in California?
9. Why did Dutch people settle in California?
10. How have the Far West churches changed in complexion?
11. Who is Robert Schuller?
12. Be able to name the three RCA colleges and their locations.
13. What is the World Alliance?
14. What is the Formula of Agreement?
15. What is the National Council of Churches?
16. What is the World Council of Churches?
17. What’s the Emil Brunner slogan? The John Piet slogan?
18. Note the value of the Brazil and Annville work group/mission trips: they “opened our eyes.”
19. Is it true that “the RCA has been a mission-minded denomination for 300 years?
20. Note the RCA mission principles:
a. Roger Schrock: partnership
b. Roger DeYoung: responding to native requests rather than doing it “for them”
c. Debra Braaksma: holistic mission, not just as a “hook,” but part of the gospel
21. How do these principles line up with older RCA mission principles?
22. What does Schrock say about “longevity”?
23. Know what this means: You were here before oil.
24. Note Schrock’s statement: we seek not “success” but faithful witness to the gospel.
25. Note Schrock’s question: What does it mean to serve those who do not know Christ?
26. What does De Young mean by: these principles build relationships?
27. Know who Charles Van Engen is.
28. What does Van Engen say about what the 2/3 world and the West can offer each other?
29. Animism is “cool” among American intellectuals. How did it affect the Daasenechs?
30. How does Joanna Swart’s narration reflect on RCA mission principles?
31. Know about Samuel Zwemer.
32. Know about Eugene Heideman.
33. Know about Our Song of Hope.
34. Know about Christ and Architecture.
35. Know about the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Jusitification (Coakley and Bruggink)
Discussion Group Issues
1. Discuss contemporary versions of the continuing tensions in the RCA that still define our character.
2. Discuss the tension between Full Communion and the Ten Year Goal.
Reflect on following issues: Show me you know the stuff. Give implications.
1. RCA Mission Principles and how we practice them domestically and worldwide.
2. Discuss whether the RCA deserves to continue its own existence in the light of comments by Bruggink and Karel Blei.