Herman Hoeksema – Editor of the Young Calvinist

A reader of Beacon Lights, after having stumbled upon some material pertinent to the history of young people in the church, suggested it would be profitable for our readers. “I have just been rereading Therefore Have I Spoken, the biography of Herman Hoeksema. In there, (pages 113-124), it speaks of Hoeksema as the first editor of the CRC’s Young Calvinist, and quotes some of his editorials and speeches. What about reprinting some of those? They are still pretty powerful and timely, in my humble opinion. They would be coming on the heels of Prof. Engelsma’s writings regarding Herman Hoeksema.” I did a little research, and found that one of these editorials (“Lost – A Thinking Cap” printed again in this issue) had been published earlier in the April 1996 Beacon Lights. Some further searching on the internet found nothing about The Young Calvinist but did net some information on the American Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Societies of which Herman Hoeksema was nominated and elected to be its first president and also editor of its monthly magazine, The Young Calvinist. In fact, this federation is now called “Youth Unlimited” and its history is described on their website. Interestingly, no mention is made of the The Young Calvinist or the fact that Herman Hoeksema was its first president. I don’t think he would recognize it as anything that grew from the seed that was planted in 1919.

Youth Unlimited was established in 1919 as the American Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Society and has since evolved and grown into being what Youth Unlimited is today, serving churches with junior and senior high youth groups across North America. Listed below is a brief look at our history.

September, 1919 – American Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Society (AFRYMS) founded

December, 1920 – The first Convention – 26 societies present

May, 1932 – American Federation of Reformed Young Women’s Society (AFRYWS) organized

August, 1938 – Richard Postma becomes part-time director

December 1955 – Merger of Young Men’s and Young Women’s Federations ratified to become the Young Calvinist Federation (YCF)

August, 1959 – First co-ed Convention in Edmonton, Alberta

August, 1960 – First Summer Worship in Missions (SWIM) – Salt Lake City, Utah

October, 1962 – James Lont becomes YCF director

September, 1966 – YCF, Calvinettes (now GEMS) and the Calvinist Cadet Corps merge to form United Calvinist Youth (UCY) (now Dynamic Youth Ministries or DYM)

March, 1980 – Robert Hough becomes YCF’s director

Summer, 1989 – Brian Bosscher is hired as executive director

1989 – SERVE begins with 3 mission sites

1992 – Youth Unlimited (YU) is chosen as the new name for the Young Calvinist Federation

1999 – Compass 21 is developed as a youth ministry assessment tool

June, 2000 – Barry Foster is promoted from Programs Manager to Executive Director.

Summer, 2001 – ENCOUNTER replaces SWIM as YU’s long-term missions program

Winter/Spring 2004 – One Week spiritual renewal weeks are offered to Christian Schools across the United States and Canada

July 2004 – Rachael Cooley is hired as Executive Director

September 2005 – SERVE and ENCOUNTER merge into a unified Missions Program

Spring 2006 – Youth Unlimited partners with area urban youth network to offer the Where U At? urban youth conference

July 2007 – Jeff Kruithof is hired as the current Executive Director

Regarding this early history, Gertrude Hoeksema writes in her biography of Herman Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken about his work as editor and quotes from a number of articles he wrote to point out how his writing for the young people served to alienate him from those who were in favor of the idea of common grace. The following is from pages 114-122.

“On the evenings of September 18 and 19, while Rev. Hoeksema was still serving his pastorate in Holland, Michigan, he was asked by Mr. R. Postma of Grand Rapids to be present at an organizational meeting of the League of Young Men’s Societies. Representatives from the areas of Grand Rapids, Holland, and Chicago were to meet at the Pantlind Hotel to discuss possibilities of forming a federation.

Mr. Postma presided at the first meeting, having first schemed with one of the young members present to nominate H. Hoeksema as first president of the newly-formed American Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Societies. After Hoeksema was elected president, the Federation decided to publish a monthly publication, to be called The Young Calvinist. The newly elected president was also chosen to be the first editor of the paper.

The first issue was printed in January of 1920, just about the time the pastor of Fourteenth Street Church accepted the call to Eastern Avenue Church in Grand Rapids. A few quotations will illustrate the new editor’s vigorous, concise editorial style and will furnish a commentary on the thoughts and subjects of interest in church life in the early twenties.

The February issue had an editorial titled, “That Wayne County Civic Association.” Editor Hoeksema wrote that this association had a “petition to amend the Constitution of the State of Michigan to require all residents between the ages of five and sixteen years to attend the Public School….”

And he commented:

Young men, you are strong! Perhaps most of you are not qualified voters and will not receive the petition. But you can fight it. Discuss the matter in your societies till it is very clear to you all that this petition opposes both our religious convictions and our love of liberty. Then witness against the movement. Reveal the danger of the thing. Expose its evil. Be strong!

The title of the March issue editorial, “About Those Jongeren,” was explained by the editor:

…let me briefly inform you that they are a group of younger men in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands that are dissatisfied with their own church and the way in which the Reformed faith was presented in the past.

…these young-reformed rebel against the antithesis between God’s people and the world, between the regenerate and the non-regenerate….

Complaints were brought in against too much doctrine, cold dogma. Not enough gospel, you see! Again I say, characteristic!

Still more. The doctrine of predestination was publicly denied….

I write this as a warning. Let us be on our guard against it if we still love the good old Calvinism. What we must have is not less, but more, principle.

“The Normal School” was the subject of the April editorial of The Young Calvinist, and the question was asked:

What is a normal school? It is an institution for the purpose of training young men and young women for the teaching profession. It is with a view to the teaching profession what a seminary is for the ministry. Now, we all agree that we must not expect competent ministers in our church without a good seminary. But just as little right we have to expect competent teachers in our Christian schools without a good normal school.

Calvin never had a normal course. It has no normal course today.

The attempt to do this is being made today.

We need your help. Do not stand outside and watch to see what will become of that Normal School without your help. Normal Schools do not grow like Jonah’s gourd. They can only be established by united effort.

In “Principles or Conditions” in the June, 1920 issue, the editor said:

If you ask the world of the present time what is more important, principle or practice, truth or reality, the general answer will be: the former is of less importance than the latter, reality is greater than truth, life is more than principle.

Again they say, “We must not emphasize principle all the time!

“It is time we were doing something!

“Let us stop quarreling about the truth. Let us rather see the needs of the world and with all our might apply ourselves to remedy its evils, to alleviate its suffering, to lift it to a higher level of existence and life!… Let us sacrifice a little principle for reality!”

“Is this true?” the editor asked.

Is this a safe stand to take? Is reality greater than truth? May the former ever dominate the latter? Our unequivocal answer is: No, never!

Mark, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I know very well that faith will necessarily show itself in works. I do not mean to defend the proposition that we must shut ourselves up in isolation with our principles and refuse to put forth any effort to enforce them in the world. By no means. The Christian surely will want to realize his life-view. He will strive to materialize his principles.

But I do mean that we must be spiritual idealists.

Alert to problems of youth, Editor Hoeksema devoted the editorial of the July issue to “The City, Amusements, Our Young People,” and said:

Personally I like the city. The city still offers many advantages and opportunities the country can never offer….

But the city has its dangers, too….

Take, for instance, the movie.

If we frequent the movies we do not merely look at the particular pictures we like to select, but we are supporting the movie as a whole.

In the second place, it naturally offers very cheap enjoyment…. The lower emotions and desires are brought into play, are aroused into action.

The movie is a means to destroy our home life…. the habit of being constantly away from home is fostered. A very bad habit, indeed. The home is the very basis of society. It is the very center of our covenant-life as members of God’s church.

The movie is detrimental, too, to our young men’s societies. The facts show plainly that our young men that frequent the movie generally are not the best members of the society. Very often they are not members at all…

It tends to draw us away from the church and to lead us right into the midst of the world in the evil sense of the word….

Let us, as young men that belong to God’s church, that are baptized in the name of God Triune, that are called to be God’s party in the midst of the world, also in this respect fight the battle of faith, and overcome the evil one.

In the same issue there was “A Suggestion.”

Just recently the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church held its session in the large auditorium of the Calvin College building.

I attended a few of its meetings.

And then I had a vision that set my heart aglow.

The vision was of some such assembly as gathered in Calvin, but the members were all young men of Reformed persuasion. They were not ministers and elders, but they were delegates and members of our Young Men’s Societies from all over the United States….

Is not the vision possibly to be realized?…

I think it is….

Would it not be a great event?

Are you interested in it?

The December issue carried the “Impressions.”

It was a complete success!

It was good beyond all expectations!

It was great!


Why, the first annual meeting of our American Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Societies….

Was there nothing to criticize?

Undoubtedly there was. It must be a poor affair that is beyond all criticism. And they must be poor creatures who imagine that there is no room for improvement in their work.

But just now I cannot think of anything. Perhaps in future days, when “distance lends enchantment to the view,” but also clearness, and our first joy and enthusiasm has somewhat subsided, we shall be able to pass a more correct judgment upon this first convention.

These were the days of Prohibition, and in the January 1, 1921 issue he wrote on “Crime and Prohibition.”

The enthusiastic advocates of prohibition never tired to assure us a few years ago, that as prohibition spread its wings over the country, the number of crimes would surely diminish. To work for prohibition meant to labor for the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Then the editor cited evidence of the rising crime rate and reasoned, “Small wonder that some are baffled…”

Of course, if you deny that the root of sin and crime is in man’s heart, if you have an idea that a sober sinner is nearer the Kingdom of God than a drunken one; if you seek the cause of sin really in anything outside of man’s heart, we can understand that these facts are rather confusing… We hear… too little of the real truth that unless a man is regenerated by the Spirit of God, he cannot even see the Kingdom of God!

In the March, 1921 issue Editor Hoeksema, under the title, “Irenical Reformed,” acquainted the reader with De Reformatie, a weekly paper published in the Netherlands. He described an article by Dr. Hepp, who defined an irenic person “to be a lover of peace, to assume a conciliatory attitude.” The editor enlarged on the idea by saying that the term “has come to describe people who are always sweet, want to cover up differences that actually exist.” Dr. Hepp condemned this and so did Editor Hoeksema. Dr. Hepp gave some guides to be followed in all controversy, which Hoeksema endorsed:

In the first place, in criticizing, the critic ought to practice self-control and self-restraint.

In the second place, as to the form of our criticism, …it must be characterized by courtesy. Even though we may have serious objections against the views of anyone, a discussion in public must be free from personalities, must remain polite.

In the third place, negative, destructive criticism may never predominate. The chief element in anyone’s work must be positive and constructive.

The editor noted that:

There seems to be a certain fear of controversy, of public discussion in our circles…. One would hardly get an inkling of an idea that there were any important questions among us at all. And if the ghost of controversy nevertheless appears on the scene, it so scares many people that they immediately cry out for peace.

There was unrest in many areas in 1921, also in the Christian Reformed Church life. Calvin College was in the throes of the Janssen Case, of which the editor of The Young Calvinist had considerable knowledge, and with which the church papers were filled to bursting.

This occasioned the last editorial which Rev. Hoeksema wrote for The Young Calvinist, the one in the September issue, “Out of Sympathy With Us?”

The editor wrote:

In the last few issues of our paper our Young Calvinist was the subject of an interesting discussion and at the same time the object of severe criticism….

And now I am referring specifically to the articles of Mr. H. Ballast.

They breathe a wrong spirit.

And they are purely destructive….

It is the welfare of our Young Calvinist we have at heart….

The keynote of what Mr. Ballast wrote, it seems to me, is that our paper wants to be too specific. It wants to be too Reformed. It wants to be too Calvinistic. It emphasizes principle too much. He would have it more general, Christian!

I have emphasized it more than once, and I wish to repeat it now, that our danger does not lie in the direction of becoming too narrowly Reformed and Calvinistic…. The danger lies in the opposite direction…. What we must emphasize is not a would-be broadminded Christianity, colorless and tasteless, but the specific principle of our Reformed faith.

To do this, Mr. Ballast, is the very purpose of our paper.

Our paper never meant to be anything else than Reformed.

And, therefore, if the criticism of Mr. Ballast would have us change this, we flatly refuse. We will not give other than strictly Reformed leadership. Of the silly spirit of broadmindedness we will have nothing. It is perfectly nauseating to us.

We will give leadership in a Reformed direction, or no leadership at all!

When one examines the issues of this magazine for youth in the unsettled years just after World War I, one sees evidences of the instability and the lack of firm conviction among the young men, which substantiate the fears and admonishings of the editor. Reaction to the tension of war led to a certain superficiality, a persistent pleasure-madness, also in the sphere of the church. Small wonder it is, then, that the editor felt that his Reformed readers needed some jolts.

In letters to the Department “Voice of All,” complaints were voiced and dissatisfaction was expressed with the editor’s comments on the issues of the day or his hammering on the prevailing laxity in doctrine and practice. Objections were raised that this was not the purpose of The Young Calvinist.

Editor Hoeksema took note of these opinions. He also surveyed his host of other duties and the increasing pressure of his work, and in this issue of September, 1921, he submitted his resignation as editor. Some said that it was a good thing, for he was a harsh man, ruled only by reason. Others said that they had lost a strong Reformed leader. As retiring president and retiring editor of the Federation’s publication, he was asked to give the address at the second annual convention of the Federation of Young Men’s Societies. This speech was published in the January, 1922 issue of The Young Calvinist under the eye-catching title of “Lost — A Thinking Cap.” (pages 114-122)