I did not have the courage to publish what follows without first having read the book Cruciaal itself. I found the content too shocking, although an article by the Rev. De Jong[i] is even more outspoken – and rightly so, in my view, having now read the book.
As you may well know, the General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands [RCN] appointed both Dr Hans Burger and Dr Dolf te Velde, on 16 January 2015, to the positions of university lecturers in Systematic Theology at the Theological University in Kampen. These appointments fill the vacancies created by the retirement of Prof. Dr Barend Kamphuis on October 5, 2015.
Late in 2014 the book Crucial – the surprising meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion appeared on the market. Its editors are Hans Burger and Reinier Sonneveld. The authors are Henk Bakker (Baptist), Erik Borgman (Roman Catholic), Hans Burger (RCN), Kees van der Kooi (PKN), Willem Ouweneel (Congregation of believers) and Maarten Wisse (‘Modernized’ Protestant church.)
Editor Reinier Sonneveld, who graduated at the Theological University Kampen (RCN), withdrew from the RCN and has for some years been a member of a house church (which is not part of a bond of churches).
Rev. Dick de Jong in www.bijbelknopendoos.nl and Br. H. van Dijk in www.eeninwaarheid.info criticised an attempt [in Cruciaal] to undermine the atoning power of the blood shed by our Saviour on the cross. Their criticism was directed at the contribution “Voorbij de offercritiek” by Dr Hans Burger, at the time a researcher at the RCN’s Reformed Theological University. His contribution can be found on pages 50-65 of Cruciaal. [ii]
What is the theory of Dr Hans Burger? That Christ has been given to us by His Father to make it possible for us, through Christ’s perfect dedication, to live again with God in dedication and harmony.
So what is wrong with that? It sounds good, but in Burger’s theory it does not mean that Christ was sent by the Father to redeem us from our guilt and to reconcile us with God through his blood shed at the cross. According to him we do not have such a cruel, bloodthirsty and immoral god. After all, with a god like that you will not be welcome in today’s western world; it simply does not belong to our time, says Burger on pages 52 and 53.
But is he then not in conflict with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession (Art. 25)? Yes, he is. However, Burger says that this way of speaking originated in the Middle Ages, when the image of the sacrifice became associated with the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation which has a legal nature. The fact that Calvin also sees the suffering of Jesus under God’s punishment as payment for our debt and the purchase of redemption is understandable, says Burger, against that medieval background. But we must realize, he adds, that this is a later theological-historical development. Burger says that the Reformers gave Biblical answers to medieval questions. But what they did not do is put those medieval questions up for discussion. And that, he adds, is what we should do.
If we should put the questions of the Reformers up for discussion, must we then not also do the same with the questions that come up from our culture? And should we then not draw the conclusion that it is not our questions that should take centre stage, but that we should just let God’s Word speak before we encapsulate or restrict that Word or direct it with our questions?
But is it then not true that we find all those bloody animal sacrifices revolting, as Hans Burger writes (p. 53), and does the Bible itself not say that in Psalms 40, 49, 50, and in Jesus’ critical attitude toward the temple service?
Scripture and the Confessions teach that the bloody sacrifices and temple service were not abolished because of the gore, but fulfilled by Jesus’ shedding of blood on the cross. This is how Article 25 of the Belgic Confession echoes God’s Word.
Is it true that the idea of ‘reconciliation through atonement’ originated in the Middle Ages? Certainly not! writes Br. H. van Dijk, and he substantiates this with the following scriptures:
- Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted (Isa 53:4 and following).
- God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (Rom 3:25).
- Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7).
- … and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2).
- … so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Heb 9:28).
- And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Heb 10:10-14).
- He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
- This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).
- Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Gal 3:13).
How then does Dr Burger develop his reasoning?
It is based on the new hermeneutics as taught in the RCN and also used in the M/V Report [iii] to the Synod of Ede:
- first, the intent of the Bible writers is interpreted on the basis of our cultural experience; for example, the kingdom of God instead of sin and grace; or, that the aim of Jesus’ life and death is this: that for every person in the world genuine communion with God again becomes a viable option;
- next, all God’s Words are tested, read, and interpreted on the basis of that intention; for example, from the viewpoint of the kingdom of God. In this way God’s wrath in the ‘reconciliation through satisfaction’ model can receive much less emphasis.
How is the RCN-contextualisation theory applied here?
- By figuring out what the cultural questions were in Bible times to which the good news of Paul and Jesus was the answer.
- By determining that the Reformers sought Biblical answers to their medieval questions (about sin and grace, and then especially in a legal manner).
In this new hermeneutics it is now up to us to figure out how we can find much richer biblical theories for our current core experiences and questions, with more attention given to the community, to Israel, to God’s kingdom, to the mission of the Church, to justice and ecology, to this planet that is being redeemed and healed.
What are, according to Dr Burger, possible consequences of this new way of reading the Bible? The broadness of this Biblical theory offers a new opportunity to tie Christian traditions together if we are willing to learn from each other and especially from the Bible: Reformed, Anglicans, Charismatics, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox. It will change the way the story about God’s good news is told, about Jesus and about God’s realm. Sometimes dramatically and it is too early to predict how.
Is Dr Burger not obliged to first submit his viewpoint, which deviates from the Confession, in the ecclesiastical way? Apparently not, because in the RCN it has already has been accepted in practice [iv] that
- nowadays there are office bearers who are unable to agree that the doctrine of the Three Forms of Unity in all their parts agree with the Word of God;
- the current approach towards the Subscription Form is already much more flexible than the impression created by its strict wording. Office bearers therefore are already experiencing it as a formality that need not be given much consideration;
- the new theological insights seem to be ignored by the Subscription Form which has only the Three Forms of Unity;
- you do not raise deviations from the Confession until you yourself find that there is a difference between the doctrine of the Bible and the Confession. So if you think that the Confession provides medieval answers to the questions of the people who lived in the time of the Middle Ages, you do not yourself have to experience a difference because today we are dealing with different questions to which different answers must be sought.
Therefore it makes no sense to me to protest in the ecclesiastical way within the RCN against this attack on the Scriptural doctrine of atonement, on the heart of the gospel.
(Lectures on Cruciaal have already been planned.) [v]
The above article was translated from the website www.werkenaanéénheid.nl placed there Friday, January 23, 2015, 21:45.
[i] Rev D de Jong, in De achtergrond van de offertheorie van dr Hans Burger on www.bijbelknopendoos.nl.
[ii] Cruciaal, with the subtitle “the surprising sense of Jesus ‘crucifixion’, edited by Hans Burger and Reinier Sonneveld, Buijten & Schipperheijn ISBN 978-90-5881-810-2 € 13.90.
[iii] M/V = Man/Vrouw, translated Man/Woman. The Report deals with the question whether women should also be admitted to the ecclesiastical offices of minister, elder and deacon.
[iv] See www.werkenaaneenheid.nl – under Kleurbekennen (‘woordsjoemel’) met een onthechtend ondertekeningsformulier).
[v] AKZ +, a joint project of the Theological University Apeldoorn, the Kampen Theological University and the Reformed College Viaa at Zwolle, organises lectures in March and April 2015 to be given by editors and authors of Cruciaal.
On 1st April, in the third and final lecture of AKZ+, held at the Reformed College in Zwolle, three University lecturers will elaborate on the doctrine of ‘reconciliation through satisfaction’.
Reinier Sonneveld names ten past and present objections raised against this doctrine. Hans Burger shows that the element of punishment should be embedded in the larger story of God with his creation. Cees-Jan Smits will argue that this doctrine only has a future if it is accompanied by a deep sense of the human unwillingness to repent.
We hope that this will make clear at which point all this deviates from the Reformed doctrine of the vicarious ‘reconciliation through satisfaction’. And also to what degree the fall into sin is accepted as historic reality. Where does evil come from? Did all people sin in Adam? Is there acknowledgment of original sin as has always been taught in Reformed churches? What is the view on God’s wrath upon Christ’s punishment on the cross? And at what point does the Confession of the church, according to them, deviate from the Scriptures today? And what tension is being experienced exactly between faith and knowledge on the one hand and on the other hand the question whether God offers us real hope and is worthy of our love?
Source: Jesus’ crucifixion as reconciliation through satisfaction – Dr Hans Burger, Drs. Cees-Jan Smits, Drs. Reinier Sonneveld