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In the footsteps of the synodicals 3

as oil guy


D.J. Bolt


'In the footsteps of the synodicals' is a stinging observation that strikes every true liberated-Reformed deep in his heart. It is not surprising that BBK deputies’ reaction to that conclusion of the Canadian brothers was almost allergic [1]. Because deep down the issue is whether our churches are following the (former) synodical community in their denial of Scripture with its associated devastating consequences.

It is therefore exceptionally exciting when a professor at our theological university, prof. dr. G. Harinck, initiates a project which attempts to assemble arguments that will answer this heated question. And if the sad outcome confirms that the liberated are indeed following in the footsteps of the synodicals, how this professor digests it. Is he zum Tode betrübt? Will he perhaps succeed in discrediting the project because its conclusion is insufficiently substantiated, and will he then show the real situation? And if that is not very successful, will he then make a firm attempt to mitigate the harsh judgment of the book, for example because there are quite a few gaps in the research? And then point another way than Dekker and his former kindred do?

Let us listen.


Harincks address

The book’s presentation ceremony is conducted by prof. Harinck, who is also scheduled to speak first. His subject is The reception of 'The silent Revolution' in 1992. We print his speech in full in italics [2] and take the liberty to provide the story from time to time with (non-italic) comment and questions [3].


An important thesis in Gerard Dekker’s religious sociological work is that church and religion are co-determined by the cultural environment in which they exist. 
Co-determined: church and religion are not taken up with culture and they can also not be reduced to it, but neither are they able to withdraw themselves from it, and they are hallmarked by it to a greater extent than is often realised in the churches and among believers.  

When Dekker explained this proposition in 1992 in his book ‘The silent Revolution’ about the Reformed Churches (synodical) during the period 1950 to 1990 he had indeed chosen the most spectacular case that could then be imagined. In 1990 there was not a single point at which these churches were comparable to those of 1950, and not one reviewer has been able to say anything substantial against the word revolution in the title of his book. Although the word revolution within orthodox christian circles since Groen van Prinsterer has been reserved to disqualify the work and intent of an opponent, no one disputed Dekker’s application of this concept to the Reformed Churches. His book confirmed with a multitude of facts the correctness of its motto, a citation from the Reformed theologian Herman Berkhof, which reads:

“In little more than a quarter century the Reformed Churches have changed so fundamentally as I have not seen anywhere else in this century in the West European Reformed churches.”

This is exactly why it hurts the liberated-Reformed so terribly much when people say of them that they are walking in the footsteps of those churches. A revolution, a reversal of almost every article of the faith cannot fail to shake those who with heart and soul want to be reformed. Also when you look at the spiritual and ecclesiastical havoc which figures as Kuitert, Augustijn, Wiersinga and Den Heijer have brought about by which hundreds of thousands farewelled the faith and the church, would it not be the last thing on earth to follow in the footsteps of those churches? Or was it perhaps not all thát bad, and did others outside the synodical churches judge much milder than Dekker did in his book?  


In reviews of ‘The silent Revolution’ in the orthodox press Dekker was praised for his honesty: he had put the irrefutable facts that led to his hard conclusion on the table. It certainly helped that Dekker had written his book in business style. He was neither morbid nor triumphalistic. It made his book different from other high-profile publications in synodical-reformed circles of that time. 'The theologians led the way' [De theologen gingen voorop] (1987) from the ‘bezwaarde’ (conscience-troubled) Reformed minister Lindeboom, and (1992) ‘Het algemeen betwijfeld christelijk geloof’ (The generally doubted christian faith) by the least-of-all ‘bezwaarde’ Harry Kuitert. How modern Dekker really was, was difficult to gauge from his book, and he was still in the good books of the orthodox for example with his comment on the future of his own church as cited in their press: ”I am quite pessimistic, because the church leaders are just about conducting a clearance sale of ‘being reformed church’.” At this point the orthodoxy was entirely in agreement with Dekker. His book confirmed for many of them what they themselves had been thinking all along, and now it was there in black on white. Sometimes this was reason to lash out once more at the Reformed Churches. W.H. Velema found in Theologia Reformata with astonishment that whoever had a positive appreciation of this silent revolution and yet believed to be able to be reformed, had something else in mind than what had ever been the issue.  

And so it was: No! Definitely no softening of the judgment about the synodical-reformed churches. Logically speaking, that was also not to be expected from people who wanted to remain reformed. Harinck got that right. We do however consider the pitch in his approach to those who at that time with great dedication tried to turn the tide, irritating. Morbid? Triumphalistic? While Dekker gets a feather in his religious pants. Because it was not clear “how modern” he was. And he would have made ​​it all the way with his pessimism about "the clearance sale of  being reformed church”. However, in chapter Perspective of ‘The silent Revolution’ Dekker already points the way that finishes up where he as a student of Bonhoeffer ‘stands’ now, as we showed last time. That's why we can hardly imagine that the orthodox are happy to have him in their good books.


But we saw not only dismay and alienation. There was actually relatively little reproachful talk about the Reformed Churches. In the religious Netherlands of 1992 there was no blame culture. Not that there was room for pity. Pity with Kuyperians is the last thing you show, and probably the last thing they want to receive. Of course, the exploits of the secularised Reformed Churches were all dished up in the reviews: “Discipline has almost completely disappeared, the confessions have more or less been put out of operation. A different view has emerged on the ecclesiastical office and the structure of the congregation. The church became more democratic and less uniform. The view on the Bible changed with the report about the authority of Scripture and the relational conception about truth. The Lord’s Supper also changed radically and is nowadays celebrated casually without preparation or re-commitment. Mission and evangelism, in so far as evangelism is still being practised, changed into dialogue. There were many changes in direction.”

Yes, a bloody church revolution.


But it is especially noteworthy that in orthodox church circles this book was read as a touchstone: the Reformed Churches are secularised. Now we see in black and white what we already thought. But how about us? The content of Dekker’s book did not leave the orthodox churches unaffected like water slipping off a duck’s back. Most writers did understand that this revolution had occurred perhaps more intensely and radically among the Kuyperians, but also that the process of secularisation was not going to bypass any church. In reformational circles it was heard: Are we currently not also a stronghold à-la the Kuyperian world, with which we are rightly happy in many respects? ‘A reformational stronghold’? Just as the pre-history of the demolition of the neo-reformed ‘zuil’ (organisational ‘pillar’) is largely the consequence of complacency, we too run the risk of being satisfied with outward rules and tradition, however praiseworthy they may be.” And the Reformed themselves also saw it that way. An orthodox representative like Klaas Runia wrote in the Central Weekly:

“I think that the Reformed Alliance is rightly criticising us. But what has the Alliance itself done to respond to the challenges of this modern world? Did it not seek a solution in ‘reformed isolationism’?
 But that is of course no more of a ‘solution’ than what we have done in ‘the silent revolution.’”

And Runia's slightly less orthodox colleague K. A. Schippers was not impressed when he heard the liberated say that they were still a stronghold: ‘I know too well what is happening within their churches.
 The same is true for those of the Reformed Alliance. Sooner or later they have to face the same questions as once the Reformed Churches.’ So everyone was convinced that the substance of the silent revolution would not bypass any church door.

One can sense from the parcel of quotes what Harinck is aiming at: namely Dekker’s proposition quoted at the beginning: Church and religion are co-determined by the cultural environment in which they exist. Now that thesis is rather unspecified. You can take it any direction. But the issue is in any case not the colour of the church building or the level of church contributions. Harinck places the questions of our days against the background of the development in the synodical churches. His presentation assumes something of an indictment against the orthodox-reformed. Where were we as liberated, for example when the synodicals struggled with ‘the challenges of the modern world’? Nowhere, according to Dekker:

“Viewed from this perspective
[of the maturation of mankind and world, djb] all the past changes in the liberated-reformed churches are not much more than changes that came too late; while all the forthcoming changes, being adjustments to the innovations that are currently happening in the world, are coming too late.” [4]

And so the question arises:


What to do? Could a cure be developed? The Reformatorisch Dagblad (daily newspaper) sighed: We must guard against being satisfied with outward rules and tradition; and the liberated Rev. D.W.L. Krol exhorts in the church bulletin of Assen that there is perspective only if we expect our happiness from above.  

In this manner the orthodox did exactly what they did not actually want: turn their religion into a comfort dummy or a refuge in this reality, into a place that is untouchable by the actuality of life.
 The answer to the secularisation was to reject the world and to trust only in Christ, to position the authority of doctrine over against what is being experienced, to tighten the bond with the confessions over against the spirit of the age, or as Rev. J. Maasland wrote in De Waarheidsvriend:

“Whoever allows apparently small openings in the levee of the authority of Scripture as confessed in the Reformed confessions, will sooner or later be standing in the middle of the floodwaters.
 Then the objectivity of Gods revelation falls away. And what remains is the subjectivity of human experience. ‘Thus says the Lord’ is no longer decisive, but ‘I think and feel that way.’”

It is of course not difficult to fabricate cynical caricatures with the help of one-line quotes. But does Maasland here not really hit the nail on the head? Was the issue in the synodical churches, deep down, not the authority of Scripture, the authority of God in His Word over all of life? The God with us report that introduced the ‘relational truth notion’, paved the beginning of a road that finished up with ‘The generally doubted christian faith’ [5] and 'all knowledge about Above comes from down below’. [6]

Harinck’s parole seems to be: No ‘comfort dummies’ or ‘refuges’, but bravely as mature mankind ‘confront the reality of life’. Not a negative word about ‘the world’, but fully positive about the emancipated and autonomous world of Bonhoeffer and his pupil Dekker.


You don’t need to be a Gerard Dekker to understand that this is indeed an escape from secularism, but no defence, no answer, no perspective either. For, as I said at the beginning: church and religion are inseparable from culture, no matter how high you build the levees and how many gates you close. Pieter Boomsma, synod president of the Reformed Churches was right when he said at the presentation of ‘The silent Revolution’ that this book made sense only if you saw it as a challenge to his churches and “not as a problem, for then you can say goodbye, your days are numbered.”

The orthodox defensive reaction confirms Dekker’s emphasis on the intertwinement of religion and culture.
 For in his view the orthodox reaction is fatal. He believes that his own churches have done one thing well, and that is to adopt an open mind towards culture and to make allowance for the intertwinement of religion and culture - he himself in sociological respect and others in that of theology, for example in the ‘God with us’ report about the nature of the authority of Scripture.  

Here the real ‘antithesis’ comes to light. On the one hand the orthodox who want to continue speaking of “Thus says the Lord in His Wordand put their trust “in Christ alone.” And on the other hand, the Dekkers and Harincks who fraternise with the world and its culture, and in that way alone expect a future for the church. If you want to join them, the price is high. Then absolute truth claims like: Thus says the Lord must be abandoned, as was done in the God with us report, rightly referred to here by Harinck. For the world does not accept absolute christian truth claims, but only its own scientific dogmas and secular cultural achievements.  

There is moreover a remarkable paradox in this philosophy. Secular people in the mature and autonomous world go their own way, openly and without restraint. They determine their own nómos, their own values ​​and laws. They create their own (cultural) world in freedom and self-determination. Are they not auto nómos?

But if such free people really exist, do not christians also possess that same autonomy and freedom? And may they then not use that freedom to voluntarily submit to a different law, the law of God? And, in accordance with their own mature choice, start living safely behind the levees and gates in God’s Kingdom. As free mature christians you are completely free to not join the cultural loafers from the other side, aren’t you? [7]

Or does Harinck mean that only secular man can be mature, and christians remain pathetic slaves? Are they immature as long as they submit themselves to God’s revealed will? Is there not a twist here with Harinck? Does this perhaps have something to do with the 'religion-free’ religion of Bonhoeffer?

There is, however, yet another point to be made. According to Harinck, no levees and gates can be built that are able to restrain the members of the church from submersion in a secular culture. But is that such a miracle, when he himself lowers the flood barrier and unlocks the gates? First, by suggesting a kind of secularisation- automatism which discourages christians in advance from keeping themselves “unspotted from the world” [8]. But also by leading them in that direction. We think, for example, of his advocacy for homosexual relationships in the church community [9]. And for women in all the offices [10]. By this the professor infiltrates a secularised culture into our church community. Yes, if our church leaders themselves undermine the barriers to a secularised culture, any prophecy about inadequate levees and gates becomes very self-fulfilling and cheap.  

It is urgently necessary to pay further attention to this. In our opinion it raises at least two questions, namely: What is freedom? and What is truth? We hope to find the opportunity later on to develop this somewhat further. Because we feel this to be a live assault on the reformed doctrine and faith.


And it is precisely for this reason that the developments in the liberated churches became the subject of another book by Dekker. These churches are not dominated by the Pavlov-reaction to secularisation that we see in other orthodox churches and groups. Here the neo-calvinist ideal of culture was given - I do not say a successful but indeed - a new form, and this distinguished these churches from the rest, so that today, as a church-historical colleague of mine recently said, all eyes are focused on the liberated: that’s where things are happening.  

Which way will the liberated go?
 That was unclear in 1992. But not unclear was that they were now the testing ground for orthodoxy. After the orthodox commentators on ‘The silent Revolution’ had offered their analyses, their attention turned to the liberated. Journalist G. Roos wrote a few months after Dekker’s book:

“Whoever studies the state of affairs within the Liberated-Reformed Churches comes to the startling finding that the ever so solid bulwark of Schilder threatens to crumble under internal squabbling. The greater openness, such as announced by the ever strictly ecclesiastical Reformed Political Union, is no isolated phenomenon.
 And if the liberated are not careful, the fire will indeed flare that high, it will cost them their own newspaper.”

And Chris Janse, editor in chief of Reformatorisch Dagblad wondered in his review of ‘The silent Revolution’ about the secularisation in the ‘Gereformeerde gezindte’, and pointed in particular at the liberated “who from the viewpoint of history stand closest to the Reformed Churches and are familiar with the same ‘matter-of-factness of the faith’ as the previous generation of synodical-Calvinists.
 It is especially in their circles that in recent years, not so much in the doctrine, as indeed in practical life, all kinds of changes are happening that are definitely not improvements.” [the dutch says: geloofsvanzelfsprekendheid. ‘vanzelfsprekend’, is: self evident – a matter of fact. Translator]

This was a new development which is marked by the publication of ‘The silent Revolution’.
 Until that time the Christian Reformed Churches (CGK) were the ones among the orthodox where things were happening: they were orthodox and had discussions about abortion, they had contacts both with the middle-orthodoxy as with the Oud-Gereformeerden; they were the 'oil guy' among the orthodox, and demonstrated more flexibility and variety than other sympathizers, churches and groups. But now, in 1992, the ever so rigid and unapproachable liberated took over the baton, and after having been in the spotlight for two decades the Christian Reformed sank back into the orthodox mediocrity.
[Oil guy is a free translation of 'oliemannetje', which is a Dutch term for someone who tries to ensure that negotiations or developments go more smoothly (well-oiled), a kind of go-between. Translator]     

It is true that the GPV (Reformed Political Alliance) and ND (Nederlands Dagblad) were lost as reformed entities. The GPV was absorbed by the CU (Union of Christians) which definitely has no reformed identity. This is shown by the very fact that Roman Catholics can be members, and actually are representing the party.  
ND has become a platform-newspaper in which very diversely feathered birds are freely chirping their songs [11]. And to mention another important institution: reformed education ranging from primary up to the Theological University in Kampen is also moving in the same direction of identity blurring.

Unlike journalist Roos we do not attribute all this to bickering. This line of development was deliberately chosen by the big men in our churches. That then was followed by a fierce struggle [12] to implement it. And the consequences are becoming more and more evident.   

But there is something more important to note in this part of Harinck’s discourse. Something excitable, almost something triumphant is entering his address. Because yes, until the early nineties the Christian Reformed Churches were the ones that stood in the spotlight of (Dutch) christianity. They were the “the oil guy among the orthodox.”  But then, by around 1992 (they didn’t yet know it themselves ...!) the liberated took over the baton. The once rigid and unapproachable liberated who changed rapidly in doctrine and life became the “testing ground” of ‘orthodoxy’ while the Christian Reformed sank to ‘the middle’. Look at that! Without knowing it, we rose from the grey drabness of faith to the top of the spiritual world, and thereby knocked the Christian Reformed from the throne.  

We are the champions now!   

Is Harinck not right? A journalist from the Reformatorisch Dagblad confided that its  staff is happy to attend the synods of the liberated. Because it was there that things were happening. In contrast to, for example, at synods of the Gereformeerde Gemeenten (Reformed Congregations). It is true that from a journalist’s viewpoint it is more interesting to follow new developments in the GKv than in the ‘orthodox mediocrity.’ But the question is whether this places these churches at the top in positive ranking of reformed orthodoxy.

Would Harinck’s pride not have something to do with his observation that his own conviction is slowly being realised, and that our churches are slowly moving in the direction in which he from his place helps pushing? Thus: in the footsteps of the synodicals? [13]. Is Harinck not himself one of the ‘oil guys’ on this slippery path?


What did the liberated themselves think about it? Kars Veling, professor at this institution (TU), wrote a cautious review in Nederlands Dagblad in which he urged to keep things together and not fall into negativity. In 1992 there was in liberated circles much criticism about the church, and there was division and partisanship. There was a ‘Reformed Appeal 92’, a plea for unity with the Nederlands Gereformeerden (NGK), there were new magazines Reformanda and Bij de Tijd, and a few months after the publication of Dekker’s book the ND terminated its liberated binding. But that they were on the way of becoming the prima ballerina of orthodoxy - no one was aware of it.

What happened? Was it the beginning of the same slippery slope as with the synodicals? Journalist Wim Houtman was fascinated by Dekker’s analysis of the liberated and their exciting Kuyperian cultural vision as the sociologist explained this in September 1992 on the EO microphone. But he believed that the liberated did not necessarily have to go the same way as the synodicals. Yes, they are Kuyperian, but they are also christians and, listening to the Word of God, can also make different choices than the synodicals did.


Yes, that is possible. But the point is precisely that Dekker’s new book shows that the ‘liberated Kuyperians’ apparently are not making different choices. While the situation is still not equal to that of the (former) synodical-reformed churches, all the signs indicate that they did choose that path, and are also proceeding on it at galloping speed. The change that has occurred in the thinking about Scripture and its authority supports and promotes that process.


How that choice was going to come about, was in 1992 unclear because the situation was as always confusing. In ND of 24 September in which Houtman wrote there was also an interview with the rector of this university (TU), Barend Kamphuis. He was concerned about the theological students who, although not embracing Kuitert, by then were devouring Berkouwer. There was a myth of peace in the churches, Kamphuis said, a running away from the real issues. But meanwhile he reported that students were questioning the authority of Scripture and the relationship with the confession. The ‘God with us’ report lured. On the next page the new professor Gert Kwakkel said that developments among the liberated were going too fast for him: the GPV should above all stop going further into the direction of opening up the membership. Also in ND of that day was an article by then journalist Henk Hoksbergen, who everywhere around him noticed the accursed arminian errors emerging, and warned against the denial of original sin and so forth. That day the newspaper also offered the result of a modest survey among ND readers about Bible reading: half of the elderly still did this three times a day, in the middle group only a third, but uplifting was that of the twenties age group nearly 40% did. So there was perhaps no question of a rapid collapse. In the Letters section there was an ongoing discussion about women voting rights, with one writer suggesting an extra-scriptural binding and another sighing about all the bickering. It was a confusing issue of ND, in which on the front page only the guiding word of outsider Gerard Dekker created order under the headline: Liberated are particularly vulnerable to secularisation. That much is clear from this one issue of the ND: there was confusion, conservatism, deviation and concern, but also fortitude and positive news. For both friend and foe in 1992 the only certainty was that from ‘The silent Revolution’ it was evident that in the coming decades the liberated would become the exciting ecclesiastical testing ground in a secular culture. Here was the beginning of the new prima ballerina role of the liberated.

Harinck mentions some names and facts and speaks rather loftily about it. With it he identifies his own attitude with respect to reformed doctrine and reformed life. It is not surprising that this professor shows barely concealed enthusiasm for the developments since 1992 and as they were set out by Dekker. For are they not moving in the direction he himself advocates? [14] ? We recall in this context his sensational interview of some years back [15] which we reported.


Whether they still are? That will be decided by the following two stories.  

Oil guy, ecclesiastical testing ground, prima ballerina. According to Harinck these are the means by which the liberated are rising high above ‘orthodox mediocrity’. But will two of his colleagues at the TU be able to come along? Are they joining in with Harinck’s euphoria, or do they call back from the way he wants to go with the churches?

To be continued



[1]   See the articles on Canada and the BBK - in section Kerkverband

[2]   With minor textual correctives.

[3]   For those who first want to read the speech without being interrupted by our questions and concerns, go to

[4]   The ongoing revolution, p136

[5]   Title of a book by synodical-reformed prof. dr. H.M. Kuitert in which he settles accounts with the christian faith.

[6]   A statement also made by H.M. Kuitert.

[7]   Prof. Dr. K. Schilder in Christ and culture: “An endless task, that is indeed our cultural mandate in following Jesus Christ. Blessed is my wise ward-elder, who does his home visits well. He is a power of culture even though he may not be aware of it. Let them mock him, they do not know what they are doing, those culture loafers from the other side.”

[8]   James 1:27. Similarly in Phil 2:15

[9]   “Of course, homosexuality is a controversial subject among us, but I am not at all negative about it. (…) Homosexuals have always been there, and I find that no problem at all. Friendships between men? OK. I don’t participate in those discussions about a biblical prohibition and such. That analysing is not my style. Relationships? No problem.”

[10]   “I have nothing to do with those texts that are constantly being brought into discussions about women in office. I find that nonsense. Women in office should have happened yesterday.”

[11]   Moreover, given the fall in subscribers numbers (from an all-time high of more than 32,000 to now 25000 plus) it will probably not be long before this newspaper is forced to incorporation with a larger newspaper.

[12]  We are thinking for example, of a full page advertisement from prominent people in our churches to open the GPV to non-Reformed church people.

[13]  In this context it would be useful to read again the article by S.J. Driessen: Vuur en Vlam, die niet koesteren maar verslinden, (Fire and Flame, which do not cherish but devour) published on - in section Kerkverband.

[14]   See the controversial interview he gave a few years ago: Flits 31 – Hoogleraar en hoogmis (Professor and high mass), and Flits 32 - Harinck of Kuitert,  in section TU Kampen. The above story is entirely consistent with the picture we got at that time from this professors ideas.

[15]  Broadcast on 26/01/2008 and 02/02/2008 by Groot Nieuws Radio (Great News Radio).