Re: RFEP/ID/Providence

Howard J. Van Till (
Sun, 5 Apr 1998 20:09:10 -0400

Bob Dehaan,

Your selections from the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism
were right on target on the topic of God's action of providence as
"upholding," "governing," "ruling," "giving unto every creature its being,
shape, form," -- mostly expressed in the vocabulary of _power_.

You concluded this fine selection of excerpts from these 16th and 17th
century Reformed creeds with the following personal statement:

"These doctrinal statements are fully as rhapsodic about providence as they
are about creation. They contain the essence of what I mean by

"I miss in your writing the kind of emphasis on providence that these
doctrinal standards give. They suggest that creation and providence
provide a continuum of the way God deals with his creation; that providence
cannot be separated from creation. If I have overlooked this emphasis in
your writing, I would appreciate having it called to my attention."

My response: These doctrinal statements are indeed "rhapsodic" in their
discourse about God's action both in creation and in providence. In my
education from first grade until graduation from Calvin College I was
immersed in the heritage of these creeds in the chruch, in the Christian
day school, and in my home.

I treasure that experience. It has shaped my theological perspective. I
value that Reformed heritage and I am thankful for its immensely important
contributions to my worldview. But I cannot say as you did that these
historic creeds, written in the historical context and conceptual
vocabulary of the 16th and 17th centuries, "contain the essence of what I
mean by providence" for me as a person living in the late 20th century.

In saying this I do not in any way wish to show any disrespect for my
theological heritage, but I wish to say instead that I count that heritage
as a great place to begin, but not the place to stay forever. It is my
belief that each generation of Christians must work with diligence to
rearticulate the historic Christian faith in its own historical/cultural
context and in its own conceptual vocabulary. The conceptual vocabulary of
the late 20th century differs considerably from that of four centuries ago.
I see no value in overlooking that difference.

On a practiical note, that means that when I try to articulate my
understanding of the ways in which God acts in and interacts with the
Creation I must do so in the light of everything that we have learned about
the Creation by means of empirical investigation in the centuries since
these creeds were written. Our theology must, I believe, be informed by the
totality of the human experience, including our experience in the
scientific laboratory.

That may lead some persons to say that something is "missing" in what I
write, but I would hope that what is missing has been replaced with
something more relevant to our own time and place in the history of the
human experience with God and with his Creation.


Howard J. Van Till