Review of Claris Van Kuiken, Battle to Destroy Truth: Unveiling a Trail of Deception (Manassas, VA: REF Publishing, 1996), 320pp.
National Public Radio is doubtless the most irritating and probably the most intelligent radio programming in America. It certainly got my Christmas off to a weird start. On the evening of December 21, 1996 NPR broadcast live from the pseudo-Christian neo-pagan Cathedral of Saint John the Divine via two hundred local and willing radio stations throughout the USA, the seventeenth annual Celebration of the Winter Solstice. The two hour concert was paid for, in part, by tax dollars from the NEA, both an example of pagan Church and State working harmoniously together, and a disturbing harbinger of the future. In a church once dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel was celebrated the pagan re-enactment of the rebirth of the sun. At a key moment in the ceremony, the Cathedral was shrouded in darkness, symbolizing the journey into the longest night of the year, and the soul’s descent into death. Suddenly the brass “sun gong” appeared, bathed in light, and was solemnly and repeatedly struck as it was raised twelve stories to the Cathedral ceiling. A hallelujah was “sung” to the “rising sun” – do not read “the resurrected Son!” For what seemed like an eternity, the two thousand congregants uttered blood-curdling screeches of pagan praise that sounded like the howling and baying of an enormous pack of hungry wolves. Said the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend James Parks Morton, the experience is not like reading a book, but is a moment that one must feel, like the experience of going deep into the earth. Clearly there is more than one way of being “embraced by the light.”! I could not help being reminded of the first century initiation experience into the pagan cult of the goddess, Isis, where Lucius, the initiand, having entered a blackened cave, speaks of “seeing the sun at midnight.”
Such an event is not, as the English would say, a “one off.” This so-called “Christian” cathedral, the largest gothic structure in the USA, permanently houses Shinto and Native American shrines, and is often the site of interfaith and syncretistic celebrations. One notable cleric, who has performed the Eucharist on numerous occasions, is David Spangler. The ex-fundamentalist New Ager calls the second coming of Christ the “Luciferic Initiation.” According to Spangler, and to this Cathedral in much of what it does, there is fellowship between Christ and Belial.
The book under review by Claris Van Kuiken, Battle to Destroy Truth, documents simply but with remarkable attention to detail her attempt to warn her local Christian Reformed Church of the dangers of subtle theological apostasy. What, you may ask, has orthodox Orland Park Christian Reformed Church of Chicago to do with apostate Saint John the Divine of New York City? The connection is quite simply the books of Madeleine L’Engle, which Van Kuiken discovered in the Orland Park church library. As she tells it, Van Kuiken was not attempting to have the books removed. She simply wanted the pastoral staff and the librarian to be cognizant of the subtle and not so subtle errors in L’Engle’s works in order to have church parents and Christian school teachers aware of the issues. Her efforts met with delays, accusations and in the end, massive resistance from the pastors and elders, and, when she and a few of her friends had exhausted all the channels, local, regional and national, she was forced to leave the denomination she loved. Her account, told in the first person singular, is a theological page-turner.
In partial defense of the pastors, Madeleine L’Engle has often wrapped herself in ambiguity and written mostly via fiction, and many evangelical institutions have welcomed her with open arms. She has been lauded in The Banner, the Christian Reformed Church’s official magazine, she has taught at Calvin College, and has an honorary doctorate from Wheaton College. Interestingly, however, while the Wheaton College Library has a special collection of her works, so does the New Age bookstore in downtown Wheaton! We would all like to see our books in B. Dalton but this “crossover” is more like theological “crossdressing.”
Brenda Scott and Samantha Smith in their study of L’Engle’s works, Trojan Horse: How the New Age Infiltrates the Church (1993) have attempted to document with chapter and verse how much L’Engle’s thought has been influences by New age spirituality. Just a few citations, pointed out by Scott and Smith, from L’Engle’s most obvious aberrations must suffice. L’Engle says:
I believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ…not the literal resurrection of this tired body” – Irrational Season, 108-109;
There is a lot of emphasis today, particularly among the more extreme right branches of the church, on the evils of witchcraft. Any book that mentions witches, or magic, or ghosts is automatically to be taken from the shelves.” Trailing Clouds of Glory: Spiritual Values in Children’s Books (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985), 62-63;
We are not called to be Christians; we are called Christs. I find this both challenging and freeing. And It Was Good, 51;
She calls the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ “the paternalistic male chauvinist pig Old Testament God.” The Irrational Season, 156, and prefers the” much kindlier goddesses” of Canaanite paganism – see Trojan Horse, 164;
Just these few statements raise enormous questions, and there are many more, but should doubts persist concerning L’Engle’s theological commitments, her attachment to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine ought to lift them once and for all. In the place of apostate pagan celebrations such as I heard this Christmas, L’Engle is “author in residence,” assistant librarian and a lay preacher. What kind of fellowship can she have with such an obvious expression of pagan spirituality, while all the time claiming to be an orthodox Christian authoress? Is she joining the opposites in her own way but in similar fashion to Spangler?
Can one really defend teachers of the truth who refuse to look at this kind of evidence squarely in the face? Why is it that pastors and elders in heartland, USA, in a strongly Reformed orthodox denomination like the CRC fail, seemingly irrationally, to take a stand when challenged to do so by zealous church members? What causes the failure of nerve? Certainly the New Age has infiltrated the mainline churches in more or less obvious ways, the more obvious being the apostasy of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. It doubtless enters orthodoxy simply by demanding that no one rock the boat. It merely asks for a spirit of tolerance, a spirit that one day will be its undoing. Van Kuiken’s book shows that many, in places of authority, have been asleep at the wheel, sentimentally believing that the demands of unity trump any serious vigilance for purity. A case in point with regard to the CRC is the handling of the divisive issue of “women in office.” The 1996 synodal decision to ordain women, forced on the church with little regard for constitutional procedure or biblical exegesis, appears to be one of the results of a denomination that has for some time, in many of its leaders, been imbibing the dubious “values” of our liberated culture, and has refused the hard work and thankless task of doctrinal vigilance. The story of Claris Van Kuiken, while anecdotal, is a warning to all churches who naively think they can coast along in this postmodern world, with its manifold subtle attacks against the truth, without having seriously to examine every thought in order to bring it captive to Christ.
The Dutch can also inspire us. Abraham Kuyper was brought to orthodoxy by the simple, courageous faith of a peasant girl. The young liberal Kuyper, in 1863, had just moved to his first pastorate in the tiny village of Beesd when Pietronella Baltus, the miller’s daughter, bravely challenged him to believe what he was preaching. With great courage and conviction, the intellectually-brilliant Kuyper publicly confessed his error, openly broke with Modernism, fully embraced the Reformed faith, and inaugurated a great return to the truths of Scripture in the Low Countries. Pietronella could never have imagined the repercussions of her actions. Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary thirty five years later bore testimony to the enduring fruit of the simple faith of that peasant girl. Before the august assembly of the Presbyterian elite of the New World, Kuyper declared, with disarming simplicity, the absolute necessity of the Reformed Antithesis, that is, he emphasized not the joining of the opposites but the clarification of the spiritual conflict between the truth and the lie. Spoken at the hey day of American Christianity, his memorable words ring true with added force and unusual insight in the present hey day of relativism, tolerance, compromise, and unabashed pagan revival in this once Christian land:
Do not forget that the fundamental contrast has always been, is still, and always will be until the end: Christianity and Paganism, the idols or the living God.
While our day is singularly lacking in pastors like Kuyper, capable of giving such a clarion call to a clear-headed confession of the truth, perhaps, as in mid-nineteenth century liberal Holland, the Lord will protect his church in late twentieth America by raising up laypeople like Pietronella Baltus, so that, even in a day of small things, when the hey day of the Faith in America is quickly becoming but a nostalgic memory, the flame of the Gospel will never be put out. May the tribe of Van Kuiken be fruitful, multiply and replenish the church!