The Janssen Case- Chapter 5: The Relation Between Common Grace and Janssen’s Views (4)

(In the last article, we discussed one area in which Janssen connected his views of Scripture with common grace. This was in the area of gen­eral and special revelation. Because the general revelation of common grace enabled the heathen with whom Israel had contact to discover many elements of truth, Israel borrowed extensively from heathen thought in its own religious beliefs. We turn in this article to other areas in which Janssen connected his views of common grace with his views of Scripture.)

If Dr. Janssen held erroneous views of reve­lation, it is not surprising that he also denied the truth concerning the inspiration of Scripture. And if he connected his views of revelation with common grace, it is not surprising that he would connect his views on inspiration with common grace. He did this, however, in a roundabout way.

Janssen, first of all, made a distinction between mechanical and organic inspiration. In fact, he took the position that these were really the only two possible ideas of inspiration: one either believed in organic inspiration or one believed in mechanical inspiration.

The difficulty was that he defined organic inspiration as “thought inspiration,” i.e., when God inspired the Scriptures, He only gave some thoughts to the secondary authors, and they put these thoughts into their own words. Thus, Janssen did not believe in verbal inspiration.

And, rather cleverly, he said: If one does not believe in organic inspiration, then the only option open is to accept mechanical inspiration. And mechanical inspiration teaches that the Bible just fell from heaven. Janssen actually used that expression when talking about the cre­ation narrative in Scripture: “The narrative, as it were, fell out of heaven.”

He did not mean to deny, of course, that God used men to write the Scriptures; but the way in which God used them was to make of them stenographers to whom God dictated word for word what He wanted them to write, so that they wrote down what God said, sometimes without even being conscious of what they were writing.

All who did not accept “thought inspiration” had to believe this idea of mechanical inspira­tion.

The Reformed believer has always refused to be put on the horns of that false dilemma. He believes in organic inspiration to be sure, but he does not find that organic inspiration makes ver­bal inspiration impossible.

However this may be, Janssen was intent on emphasizing the human element in Scripture. In fact, he emphasized the human element so much that in all his writings and notes there is not so much as a single reference to the divine element.

But it was in the human element that Janssen once again found room for common grace. He rails at his accusers who teach that the creation narrative came from God in this way: “The considerations and reflections con­cerning God, the world as called into existence by God, the unity of the creation, – considera­tions which God has given to man, to all men, and which He by virtue of His common grace, has preserved from destruction, must (by my accusers) be ignored.”

What is meant here is very clear. Because of common grace, God gave knowledge of His work of creation to all men. This knowledge has been preserved by common grace among all men. What the nation of Israel believed concerning creation, therefore, came from her contacts with the heathen. And the inspiration of Scripture, because it is the writings of human men, reflects what these human men learned from the hea­then.

So the human element in Scripture, in Janssen’s view, included the elements of truth which were found in the heathen world by virtue of common grace and which were incorporated into Scripture.

It ought not to surprise us that Janssen’s view of inspiration is exactly the view which is held almost everywhere throughout the Reformed church world. In the years when I was attending college, this was the view that was taught. If one does not want to believe in mechanical inspiration, then one must necessar­ily be committed to the thought inspiration of organic inspiration. But then also there are obvi­ously errors in Scripture, for God only gave to men certain thoughts and allowed them to express these thoughts in their own way. As they expressed these thoughts in their own way, they did so under the influence of the heathen around them by whom they were influenced. But all this was not bad because the heathen also possessed the truth by virtue of God’s common grace. So, ideas of the heathen are incorporated into Scrip­ture as well as ideas of God.

One may not find Janssen’s line of argumen­tation very persuasive, especially when he tries to get the whole doctrine of common grace to support his views of Scripture. But the fact that he did so is significant. The Christian Reformed Church condemned his views of Scripture, but adopted common grace. It is, therefore, not sur­prising that the same views of Scripture which Janssen taught have appeared again in the Christian Reformed Church.

It ought not to surprise us that Rev. Hoeksema, a fierce opponent of Ralph Janssen, also, many years after the controversy, turned his attention to the whole subject of the inspiration of Scripture. When Hoeksema saw that Janssen supported his heresies by means of common grace, and when Hoeksema repudiated the whole idea of common grace, he took another long and hard look at the doctrine of inspiration in order to develop it from the distinctive viewpoint of sovereign and particular grace. In doing so, Rev. Hoeksema made a major contribution to the whole doctrine which has been indeed a great help to all those who wish to hold firmly to the infallible inspiration of Scripture. We wish to talk about this a bit more in a later article, but for now, if one wants to know what Rev. Hoeksema actually developed, he may find it in Prof. Homer Hoeksema’s book, The Doctrine of Scripture. Prof. Homer Hoeksema himself acknowledges that much of the material in this book is gleaned from his father’s writings.