This article was written by Rev. John Heys in the February 15, 1954 issue of the Standard Bearer.
“The pedagogical approach.”
It also is an insult to God!
An insult it must be, for it was invented and is set forth to defend the God-insulting conditional theology that speaks of prerequisites which man must fulfill before God will bestow salvation upon him.
Indeed, we have been assured repeatedly by the defenders of conditional theology that man fulfills these conditions by God’s grace, that they too believe that man is by nature dead in sin and can do nothing before God gives him the grace to do so. But if they are sincere, why do they insist on defending the word condition as a prerequisite? Why do they, by conflicting arguments, try to defend those heretical statements of Rev. De Wolf? Why do they—though it is plainly a lie—continue to defend the contention that when God’s word speaks concerning the elect, it speaks of the promise as being unconditional, but that when God speaks to the elect, he tells them that the promise is conditional? Why do they invent and defend such a God-insulting thing as “the pedagogical approach?” As long as they do these things we may not and cannot accept their conflicting claim to be Protestant Reformed, to believe in total depravity and to be free from the Arminianism and Pelagianism against which the Reformed churches have always waged a holy warfare.
One who loves the Protestant Reformed truth is amazed at the expressions and statements produced in the defense of conditional theology. One wonders whether the authors of these phrases and terminology really thought the thing through before putting it down as the thing they intend to defend, or whether they deliberately invented these things to deceive the unskilled. This phrase, “the pedagogical approach,” for example, sounds so innocent and even seems to be so beautiful and scriptural a solution of the problem. Yet look at it again. Analyze it and consider what it really says and denies, and you will see that it insults the almighty and all-wise God.
According to the “pedagogical approach” we must come to man with the promise of God as being conditional, lest man become careless and profane. The “pedagogical approach” would come to man with a long list of things which he must do, chief of which is that he must believe in Christ. Then you will not make him careless and profane. You will be presenting to him something that will keep him active in things spiritual. Come to man first with what man must do, and then, the “pedagogical approach” claims you can tell him about the grace of God which enables him to do all these things. Never come to man first with a finished salvation in Christ and with sovereign election from the foundation of the world:—never come to man first with election unto faith and with an unconditional promise of faith to the elect, the “pedagogical approach” says. That would tend to make man careless and profane. That is a passive doctrine! You can come with these later on, the “pedagogical approach” says, when a man has become stronger in his faith, but even then you have to be careful with such a doctrine. Oh, indeed!, they say that they believe such things too; but it must not have the emphasis. Christ and God must not have the emphasis. It is nice to have them and to believe in them. But you must approach man with man’s works which he must do. That is the way to keep him in the fear of the Lord.
All this would be sensible and even correct were it not for one extremely important element that the “pedagogical approach” either ignores or does not even believe. And that fact is that GOD PREACHES IRRESISTIBLY HIS OWN GOSPEL, and the conversion and activity of faith in man is not wrought by the human preacher—though it is through him that God works it—but by the irresistible power of the Spirit of God.
The “pedagogical approach!”
Is God afraid of the gospel too? Must he approach man very gently and cautiously lest the very man he wants to save is by the gospel driven away from salvation? And does he therefore tell his human messengers to make use of this “pedagogical approach” lest his work of salvation be rejected and overthrown? Is HE afraid that little man, who is utterly dependent upon God for every breath of life will make God’s work of salvation more difficult unless he is approached with what man must do instead of with the gospel which tells us of what God HAS done? Is a regenerated child of God going to be influenced to evil works by being told that God is the God of ALL his salvation and that our works are the fruit of salvation, rather than the condition unto salvation? No Protestant Reformed man can believe that! No Protestant Reformed man subscribes to the “pedagogical approach!”
The school teacher needs a pedagogical approach. The politician and salesman need their special approach. These have to be careful lest they antagonize. These must approach man when he is in the right frame of mind, or else by their words they must first put man in the right frame of mind before driving home the point for which they contacted that man. Men have to try to exert influence on other men. For that you need a pedagogical approach. You have to try to make them see things your way. You have to try to mold and bend their hearts and minds to conform to your heart and mind. But that is not a fair presentation of what God does through the preaching of the gospel.
God does that which no man can do to his fellowman. God puts a new life in us. He gives us a new heart and a new mind. He makes us to be new creatures in Christ, 2 Cor. 5:17. Before a man can even see the kingdom, God causes him to be born again. To that born again man who has a new heart and a new mind God preaches the gospel. And that new life, which is from above cannot become careless and profane when the gospel is preached unto it, and when it hears of the wonderful, finished work of salvation which comes unconditionally to the elect of God. John, by the power of the Spirit, is bold to say that “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God,” 1 John 3:9. That truth stands in direct opposition to the “pedagogical approach.” John knew nothing of it. And he dared to tell the elect that they do not, and cannot sin according to that new principle of life which God has given them. And the “whosoever” in the text is not a condition. John does not tell us what we must do in order to obtain that glorious state of being sinless and of being incapable of sinning.
To be sure, that born again man will need instruction. God saves him as a rational, moral creature; and so he will be told by God, in HIS preaching of the gospel, what God has done for him and in him. He will be told what the way of the Lord is. And he will be told by God what the fruits of the Spirit and of salvation are, so that as he finds them in his life, he may have comfort and assurance in a life here below where his “sins rise up against him, prevailing day by day.” But let us never forget, that God preaches the gospel to that reborn man. He tells him what HE has done.
In the hearing of fallen man who had chosen the friendship of the devil and who was still placing the blame upon his wife—and that in such a way that he complains that God gave him an unfit wife—God preaches the gospel of a salvation that stipulates no conditions for man to fulfill. Without the “pedagogical approach” he dares to tell man at the very outset of his journey in the fields of sin that HE intends to deliver him fully from that power of sin that holds him. To a very rebellious nation God says, without any “pedagogical approach,” these words of salvation, “I the Lord change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” Mal. 3:6. To sinners who, because they were aware of their sins were filled with terror when an angel of the Lord appeared to them, God had the gospel preached without the “pedagogical approach” when the shepherds were told “Fear not for behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy. For unto you is born in the city of David a Savior,” Luke 2:10–11. Let us not insult God by declaring that he must, through his human messengers approach man with the need of his works in order to prepare him for instruction in God’s wonderful work of salvation. No Protestant Reformed man will do that! And if through ignorance and failure to think it through, he has declared such a thing, he will surely admit that he was wrong, and see to it that those whom he taught this error know of his condemnation of it.
And then, too, that expression that gives content to the “pedagogical approach,” namely, that when God’s word speaks about the elect it presents the promise as being unconditional, but when God speaks to his elect people he presents the promise as being conditional! Analyze it once! Think it through. Test it out! Every time God speaks concerning the elect, he presents the promise as unconditional. We ask, to whom does he speak concerning the elect? To the devil? To the reprobate? To the holy angels? Or to other elect? And for whom were these passages of holy writ recorded and preserved all these years? For the reprobate? For the devil? For the holy angels? Or again for other elect? Is it not so very plain that whenever he speaks concerning the elect and presents the promise as unconditional that he is speaking to other elect? And is it not very dangerous for God to tell some elect that the promise to other elect is unconditional? Should we not come to the only possible conclusion, then, that God always must speak of the promise as being unconditional? No one we now know has yet dared to say that. But let them be honest and either admit that the “pedagogical approach” is an insult to God and that they do not want it anymore, or else let them be consistent and dare to tell their people that the almighty God is afraid of man, whom he has made, and therefore must approach him with care and with due respect for his feelings and powers to frustrate the almighty God!
Those who are so afraid of the gospel that they have deceived themselves into thinking that God is also afraid of his own gospel are not Protestant Reformed men. The truth makes us free. It gives peace and joy.