On two prior occasions, Myodicy has taken note of the life and work of the late Prof. H. Evan Runner of Calvin College. One was an essay entitled "H. Evan Runner: Man of Passion, Man of Conviction," and the other was a short reflection on the student society into which he poured so much of his life's energies: "Whatever Happened to the Groen Club?" No history of the Groen Club was ever written, but an intriguing document that sketches its profile in mid-career is Runner's own address on the occasion of its celebration of its tenth anniversary in 1963. That speech has sat on various shelves as a small unpublished booklet for many years. I am reproducing it here, and I have retained the page breaks in the booklet edition. The voice of Runner is clearly heard in this speech. Further commentary would be superfluous. The Foreword, by James H. Olthuis, then the President of the Groen Club, is also included. -T. Plantinga
Serious Christian students desired to find a Christian Way -- in distinction from the humanistic way of secular education -- in the world of learning. The Groen van Prinsterer Club was born. That was ten years ago. During these years the infant has grown into a youth under the able, inspiring tutelage of Dr. H.E. Runner. Even now we only walk totteringly on the Scriptural Way, often we turn on strange paths, but we have a beginning! For this we thank the Lord. In this anniversary year the Club must look backward and forward, and both at the same time. That is the reason we present this booklet, as thankful response for the Lord's gracious leading, and as challenge to continued reformation. In this spirit our sponsor relates our history. It is a glimpse of the beginning of a movement. It is the story of the unfolding of a vision, a vision we are slow to catch, but which refuses to let us go; the vision of the kingdom of God. May all who read this booklet be struck by the challenge to live by faith in the Gospel -- by faith alone. This is the genius of the Groen Club.
For the Groen Club,
James H. Olthuis,
Members of the Groen van Prinsterer Club,
Old members and friends,
There is something really "fascinating" about the Groen Club, just as Rudolf Otto said there is about the object to which our sense of the holy is directed, the so-called mysterium tremendum. Indeed, the Groen Club is altogether an amazing phenomenon, at once, again using Otto's terms, "quelling and yet entrancing the soul." Everyone finds it difficult to say what the Groen Club actually is; for actually to speak of it as a club is simply to state our lingual embarrassment and impotence. Above all else, I suppose we may say, the Groen Club is a movement, and at this both solemn moment of rethinking the meaning of the Groen Club and at the same time highly festive moment of celebrating the tenth anniversary of our birth we ought especially to become aware of how far we have moved in the space of one decade.
Imagine, if you possibly can, a time when no Groen Club posters ever appeared at the foot of the stairs in the basement of the Administration Building, or just inside the campus-side entrance to the Commons Building, or at Knollcrest seminary or in the new campus library-classroom building, either to be torn down over night, as in our very first years of trial, or, as later, to be allowed to stand, a silent but unquestionably strong, to some, disturbing witness to a reformational style of life that is being advocated and lived in the midst of Calvin College and Seminary; a time when [page 2] there never was the lusty yet devout singing, the carefully thought out scriptural meditation, the often very able papers, the unpredictable discussions, the eagerly awaited announcements about the CCA (Calvinistic Culture Association) in the first years, later about the ARSS, the CLAC, the Vanguard, and all the other little things that together constitute our essentially indescribable but thoroughly heart-warming meetings up there in good old room 32 of the Administration Building; or when there were no fiercely intense but by and large deeply spiritual Board meetings, ordinarily held at the home of the sponsor, at first for several years at 420 Ethel Ave. and now since 1958 at 1220 Thomas St., S.E. Or you can think yourself into what it would be like to have no Groen Club syllabus, The Bible and the Life of the Christian; and no stenciled speeches or articles or previous papers of the Groen Club like Who Was Groen? or The Anti-revolutionary Principle; no copies of The Guide to be distributed at the club meetings; no black or green or brown Christian Perspectives books; and no Unionville or Banff conferences at the end of the summer; no student clubs at the University of British Columbia or at the University of Alberta at Edmonton, the University of Western Ontario at London, the University of Toronto, at Guelph, Kingston, etc.; no study groups at St. Catharines, Essex, and other communities; no CLAC; no ARSS; no student tradition of translating very badly needed literature from Dutch into English for the people and young people who -- often without being conscious of it -- are so desperately in need of it; and no young men going out into the ministry of the churches and into all those new Christian Schools with deeply ingrained scripturally directed cultural convictions; [page 3] no maturing Reformed students like Harry van der Laan in mathematical physics and stellar astronomy at the Cavendish laboratory of Cambridge University, John and Harry Cook, Hugh's brothers, in physics and biology respectively at the Free University, none who, like Bernie Zylstra, Uko's brother, were persuaded to change over from theology to law in order to begin the work of cultural reformation not only in the theoretical law field but in the world of Anglo-Saxon common law practice as well, or, like John van der Stelt or Bert Boonstra, are driven to find a way of theologizing still more in keeping with our reformational principle of life, or, like Henk Hart and Dirk Zylstra, are eagerly attempting to grasp the history of philosophical ideas, or again, like Phil Bom, struggle to get hold of the field of political science from our reformational perspective -- and there are so many others, often unknown to you, perhaps sometimes even not known to me, who through their having become acquainted with the ideas and programs of study of our Groen Club, or with our ARSS Conferences, or through some other closely related channel, have been swept up into the new movement for a radically scriptural reformation of the branches of theory and the several areas of life practice, and are now at this or that stage of preparation for assuming positions of leadership in the gigantic struggle of our time in such fields as history, classical languages and literatures, mathematics, etc.
When you have performed that feat, you will have grasped something of the historical significance of these ten years of the Groen Club. Our first meeting, in all frailty and hesitancy, was [page 4] held in the fall of 1953 and -- prophetically, as it turned out; for it was another three years before we ever again met in the room with which, since that time, our club has been so intimately connected -- in room 32 of the Administration Building, the history lecture hall at the very top of the East staircase. When our club reconvenes, it will be fall, 1963, and we shall be setting forth upon our second decade.
In one sense it seems also incredible to one like me, who has lived through these ten years and participated in all this history at its very center, and who was, at least in some measure, aware from the beginning of the radical innovation, the unusual historical importance, of many of our decisions and actions. The question keeps coming up in my mind, Whatever put all this life into that little band of men with which we began back there in the fall of 1953? What is the power, the strength, the attraction, the fascination of the Groen Club? What has given it its sense of urgency and all the energies it has so variously deployed through these years?
With these questions in mind I have both studied and mused over the records of our history, in order to prepare my heart for this moment of celebration. Nothing else could work so stimulatingly upon a man to bring a vivid recall of those first years. The result has been that I have been mightily confirmed in my conviction that there is in our human life a depth level of religion, and that it is at this level of the mainsprings of our life that we are to find the explanation of the phenomenon we know as the Groen Club.
[page 5] On the phenomenal surface of the club there was an extraordinary number of fumblings and mistakes, enough to kill ten other clubs, and just the kind of thing that does kill and has killed other clubs we have known. In our first meetings there was much that failed to meet the immediate needs and situations of the fellows. But then we hardly knew each other! Many years later, in 1960 or '61, Albert Huls, whose memory will always be in great honor among us as long as our generation lasts, informed me with obvious mirth that in the first year of the club probably none of the fellows really knew what we were doing. I did not, even at that late date, dare to confess to him that I, the sponsor, had only half known!
Notwithstanding all that, the first year was amazing. We grew in our common conviction that we had to go on with the work and association of the club. None of the phenomenal weaknesses was able to still the drive, the enthusiastic conviction, the religious determination. Both the students and I felt, I am sure, that there was something of radical importance in our work that would prove to be decisive for all our ways. But it was as though the boys were saying to themselves, Here and here and here we have not found a way to articulate what we sense, but we know that what we sense is real and therefore we will try again, because this knowledge is wonderful, and we must get a good hold on it in our thought and speech. In this way, I think it can be said, the Groen Club was first of all a spiritual or religious sensing of the possibility of a radically and integrally scriptural life-expression before there came any articulation of that sense in particular form.
[page 6] Of course, I do not mean to suggest that there were no doubts in the first years. There were, and we even lost some boys. This latter, given our intentions with the Groen Club, has always cost me pain. There remained, however, a corps of fellows who just would not be downed. The difficulties were enormous. I do not mean the hostility of our environment that came to frequent expression. But there had to be introduced into our life a germinal principle so fertile that it would grow to embrace almost all the discussions that most other clubs have, whether they be pre-sem clubs, mission clubs, political science clubs, psychology clubs and go down the list, and much more. I have insisted for many years now that our Groen Club cannot be considered a rival to other existing clubs: it functions at a deeper level. The seed was introduced, but imagine the embarrassment of us the recipients, who had had neither the time nor the experience to prepare for what was bound to come of that seed. For one thing, the "wholeness" of the new life-principle had to be grasped more or less at once, though in club meetings we had as a rule to limit our discussions to this or that restricted topic. This meant that the club meetings often did not satisfy us that we were succeeding in getting at what we all felt was there to be got at. Fortunately for all of us, we had a great deal of personal contact with each other in those early days, both on the campus and at my home. Thus informally we often edged up to the big broad subjects of which we knew that we were not the master. In spite of all the weakness and ignorance on our part we nevertheless from the outset felt [page 7] ourselves to be driven; driven to understand what Kuyper had meant when he spoke of the re-discovery in his time of the Reformed principle as a life-principle, and driven besides to get at the precise nature of those other "principles" out of which the articulated forms of our western civilization have taken their rise. In the face of many hostile taunts our confidence was that the Lord in Whom we trusted would not let us be put to shame. He has not.
As I look back now upon that circle of companions in the first year or two of our association together as a club I can only say that those boys were "mad," but as Paul was in Festus' eyes. Anyone with "worldly" experience who might have observed us in those days would undoubtedly have predicted that we would defeat ourselves, destroy ourselves, be destroyed by that which consumed us. In fact, just about everybody did predict that. Everybody, that is, except the fellows involved and their sponsor. The trusted in God to establish their goings, and thus surprised all those Christians who exercise a "worldly" judgment.
By the foregoing I have simply meant to say that just as God is first with our souls, so He was first with the Groen Club. Our club is of Him and through Him and unto Him. Our first obligation this evening is to offer up, collectively and also individually, our deep-felt thanks to God, from Whom we have received our Groen Club. The shining glory that many young men have seen in the club through these ten years comes in no way from us, but is the glory of the ascended and glorified [page 8] Lord, which shines throughout the length and breadth of His Kingdom. The purity of our cause is His righteousness, in which we have been graciously called to share. The "fascination" of our club is the winsome influence of the Holy Spirit of God at work in our midst. The "power" in our movement is nothing of ours, but is the Spirit's irresistible power. The Groen Club has never been the cause of us who first stumbled onto it or who have kept it going since then. From the start we have wanted to put ourselves at the disposal of the sovereign God speaking in His Word. We want the power He employs to bring in His Kingdom to be operative through us at our club activities. That is the only secret the Groen Club has. It is a mystery only to such Christians as have not learned to take Lord at His Word.
When the Board of the Groen Club extended to me the invitation to be your speaker at this tenth anniversary banquet I literally jumped at the opportunity, particularly because the invitation was accompanied by the request that I make use of the occasion to review something of the history of our club. This I was most eager to do; in the first place, because we Reformed Christians in America have been extremely neglectful of our own history and especially of our history-in-the-making, and I saw in the Board's request one more evidence that the men of the Groen Club are determined to live differently. We ought not to defer any longer the development among us of an historical mind. We must develop an eye for historical records, form the habit of collecting and cataloguing personal comments and notes on significant events and happenings [page 9] we have experience of. We should not overlook photographs and tapes, always making sure that we date and describe the materials we keep. Just in itself a tenth anniversary is important enough to call for historical comment, and it is thus time, whatever may come in the future, to record the amazing development of the Groen Club movement in the past ten years. It cannot, of course, all be done this evening.
In the present instance, however, there was a far more compelling reason for my wanting to put on record something of our pre-history and earliest history. You know, it is not really permitted to you and me to say, as we sometimes thoughtlessly do, that I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. As a matter of fact, every last man of us is not only a prophet but also, with the exception of Adam, the son of a prophet. And we carry the responsibility of the prophet. Tonight I wish to prophesy, responsibly, I trust, with respect to the sense of our existence as a Groen Club through these first ten years of our history.
A broad world-historical perspective is sometimes required if we are to "see" what is happening close to home. It was Groen van Prinsterer, after whom our club is named, who once wrote: "Modern society, with all its excellences, having fallen into bondage to the theory of unbelief, is increasingly being seduced into a systematic denial of the living God." Since the rise of the Humanist and Renaissance movements, modern history has been one growing Apostasy from God. Organized Christianity lost its hold first upon [page 10] the intellectuals and the centers of our intellectual life, the universities. Within fifty years of the Synod of Dordt practically every university in the Netherlands was permeated with the spirit of Cartesian rationalism. This new spirit quickly penetrated everywhere, even into the catechetical activity of the churches. I have seen a Dutch catechetical book from that period which proceeds to explain the Heidelberg Catechism in the Cartesian or rationalist fashion. In those early days of the upcoming humanism the new movement had all the vigor and self-assuredness of youth; it was fully convinced that it could take upon itself the responsibility for the salutary direction of the development of western civilization. The leading figures of the West either succumbed or accommodated their Christian views to the new spirit. As for the churchmen in particular, they had no thought-out Christian view of the world and our human life in it. Thus, in combating the rising secularist spirit of Humanism, these men of the church were able to do nothing better than to fall back upon the thought of the ancient pagan Greek, Aristotle, in order to attack the new danger of Descartes and his followers. When, subsequently, the Aristotelian viewpoint proved unable to meet the demands of modern science, the Humanist party everywhere claimed masses of new "believers." Christians had made common cause with one form of the "world" in order to resist another form of it. They were left with nothing. Since the 17th century the Christian religion has not been a serious contestant in the struggle for control of our cultural development.
[page 11] This development constituted the first big Falling Away or Apostasy of modern times. It led to the French Revolution, an Age of Revolutions, and the concept of the "permanent revolution."
The second great Falling Away occurred when organized Christianity decisively lost its hold on the workers or wage-earners of the western world. This Apostasy has dominated much of the 19th and 20th centuries. I do not think that it would have occurred if the first Falling Away had not taken place in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Deprived henceforth of both the intellectuals and the wage-earners of the western world, most of what continued to call itself Christian was a middle-class, self-satisfied bourgeois phenomenon, cautious to the point of having nothing radical or critically relevant to say to the times (while the Gospel is both radical and critically relevant) and careful always to accommodate itself to the dominant cultural patterns of humanism.
In the light of these two momentous stages in the Grand Apostasy of Christendom I take it to be a highly significant fact, one to which we must give more earnest heed than we have done so far, that in the midst of our life and in our generation two radically and integrally Christian cultural efforts are slowly but surely coming to the fore: the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) [page 12] and the Association for Reformed Scientific Studies (ARSS), both of them, indeed, the proper concern of all Christians, but the one focussing the integral Light of scriptural revelation upon the world of labor and the life-situation of the wage-earner, the other doing that for the world of scholarship and the conditions of scholarly thought. In view of the course our modern western history has taken, these two organizations could very well prove to be the beginning of a turning-point in a vast historical movement of the human spirit.
Evidence that our western civilization had arrived at such a critical turning-point was being noticed in Europe already a couple of decades or more ago. Prof. Dooyeweerd, for one, wrote about it in his book Reformatie en Scholastiek in de Wijsbegeerte [Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy], a book which, though in connection with world events it could only be published in 1949, was for the most part written during the course of the Second World War. In summary, he said that since the last decades of the nineteenth century three highly significant phenomena have begun to announce themselves in the civilization of the western world, of the significance and mutual connection of which we can begin to form a better estimate in the twentieth century. First, we see setting in a general process of deterioration of the humanistic outlook, by which it is gradually being put on the defensive against newly arising anti-humanistic cultural forces.
[page 13] Second, there has been a great renaissance of Roman Catholic thought and action, initiated by the encyclical Aeterni Patris of Pope Leo XIII in 1879. Third, Prof. Dooyeweerd takes note of the rise, in the same period, of the effort in Protestant circles to come to an essential reformation of humanistic thought and action, an effort which remains largely limited to the modern Calvinistic movement to which the name of Dr. Abraham Kuyper, Sr. is indissolubly attached.
"The close interconnection of these three phenomena cannot be denied," Dooyeweerd writes, concluding that "herewith a momentous transition-period in world history has announced itself, in which a struggle, as yet undecided, for the spiritual control of our western culture is being carried out. In this apparently chaotic transition-stage the older cultural forces of the West, Roman Catholicism and Reformation, are once again beginning to mingle, now with modern weapons, in the great spiritual struggle ... to demand once more the leadership in the battle for the as yet so obscure future of the western world."
I am highly sensitive of the fact that I am speaking about these high matters to a Groen Club which just last week completed a semester's study of the religious ground-motives that have successively given order to the experience of western man. That study was meant finally to heighten in your minds and hearts the awareness of the conflict (antithesis) between the Word [page 14] of God as ordering Principle of our lives and the other substitute religions or idols by which men have lived and attempted to discover the sense of our lives.
For though a turning-point in our culture is a distinct possibility, any such turning-point begins, as we are well aware, in the heart, where the derailment first took place. In the Groen Club we talk much of the necessity of Christian organization, and I do not take away one whit from that when I say that the power of organization is the concentration of the thrust of men's lives who have a common conviction of faith.
And that is where the Groen Club comes into the picture. It explains also why the Groen Club must always remain a loose type of organization. The Groen Club exists in a frontier situation. On the outside, speaking generally, are the masses of students whose home, church and school backgrounds have usually prepared them to accept a view of the Christian religion that accommodates itself to the American cultural forms. There must be an open door into the Groen Club meetings for all such students as will listen seriously and patiently to the careful and gradually unfolding presentation of our case. Viewed from the inside, however, the Groen Club is a very closely knit fellowship such as can be experienced only where there is radical common commitment to root religious questions. In between the open door to the meetings and belonging to the closely knit inner fellowship there is usually a thorny road that must be traveled. This is the path upon which [page 15] men change from a form of Christianity which has been accommodated to the cultural patterns of the hitherto dominant humanism to a radically scriptural Christianity which seeks the reformation of all life-expression.
In this sense I have repeatedly witnessed in individual lives a radical change of direction. I have, for example, seen a man come into a particular meeting of the Groen Club with the announced intention of wrecking the meeting and showing us all up to be the dunces that we were, only to see him go out at the close of the same meeting convinced at least of this, that we had something that deserved a closer looking into. Sometimes the change has been rather late in coming. There is a young minister in one of your western Canadian provinces who, though he half-heartedly attended many of our meetings for a number of years, only committed himself whole-heartedly -- but I really mean whole-heartedly -- to the cause we represent after he had been in the ministry for several years. Another young minister, at present in the province of Ontario, who had attended Groen Club rather indifferently while he was at Calvin College and Seminary, came to me at the close of the second ever Unionville Conferences in the summer of 1960 and with a mighty handclasp which expressed the power of an integral heart commitment (and accordingly almost broke my hand) said, "You know, Dr. Runner, that I have never given myself whole-heartedly to your cause, but now I see it, and from now on you can count on me, completely."
These are real experiences I am narrating. [page 16] And what came to these two men only after they left the club has come to many while they could yet participate fully in the club's closer organizational forms. Indeed, the Groen Club is the place where change of life-direction takes place. This is why it is such a serious religious obligation upon every Groen member, yes, to present our cause in the summer vacation at home or in our summer congregations -- virtually an opportunity to reach the entire Canadian church and, we hope, some parts of our church in the United States --, but especially next fall to get hold of every new student we think could become interested in the work of the club. By the way, this does not mean that a student must already be halfway favorable to our views. Some of our heartiest supporters were, like Paul, active persecutors just minutes before. What it does mean, I think, is that there should be no deceit in such a student-candidate. We must never forget that there are many false conceptions floating around this campus about the Groen Club. Do not try to explain away all misconceptions. I am thinking of Philip's bringing of Nathaniel to Christ. Christ had taken hold of Philip's heart, and Philip went and found Nathaniel and told him, "We have discovered the Man Whom Moses wrote about in the Law and about Whom the Prophets wrote too. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph and comes from Nazareth." Now there were stories circulating about Nazareth as they do about the Groen Club. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" retorted Nathaniel. Philip's only reply was: "You come and see." At the same time, we should not overlook the fact that Nathaniel was a man of whom Jesus could say, "Now here is [page 17] a true man of Israel; there is no deceit in him!"
A fascinating phenomenon, our Groen Club. How did it ever get started on the Calvin campus? It is time that the story be recorded before memory of it dies or it gets lost or swallowed up in the mists of legend.
Our formal meetings began in the fall of 1953, just two years after I came to Calvin. But before that time there had been a certain amount of more informal fellowship between certain like-minded students and myself. As early as our first Groen Club banquet, which was held on the evening of May 5, 1956, after we had been meeting as a club for three years, in my banquet speech I remarked that "we cannot even put our finger on the exact time at which our fellowship together began." It was at that first banquet too that the three men who are leaving our association for good (the first ones to do so), having completed their theological studies, each in his farewell speech -- a luxury we could easily permit ourselves in those early days -- made reference to something which up to that moment had never once entered my mind, but which since then has never really been out of it. I remember as though it were yesterday hearing each of these men observe that he thought it a remarkable providence of the Lord which had brought the club's sponsor and the first Canadian students to Calvin College within a year of each other. It was a wonderful coincidence, really. Behind it lies a development that is truly amazing.
After the Second World War, I had returned in the late summer of 1946 to the Netherlands. My [page 18] concern was with the new school of Protestant Christian philosophy which had been developing at the Free University of Amsterdam, and though it is true that at a distance I followed with some interest all the many cultural activities of Christian groups in that little country, I fear that my attention would have remained largely limited to scientific problems of theology and philosophy if it had not been for a young law student at the Free University who was soon to become my brother-in-law, Leo Oranje, who one day casually dropped the remark that I ought just once to pay a visit to the Kuyperhuis in The Hague and talk with the people there. The fact is that I did do that, very shortly thereafter, and that as a result of that visit a warm mutual interest sprang up between certain men of the Anti-revolutionary Party and myself. Out of this connection there developed a series of gatherings at the Kuyperhuis for American students, later also for German, South African and other foreign students, and men like Dr. Bruins Slot, Prof. Johan Mekkes, Mr. Algra (of the Fries Dagblad) and Dr. Gerbrandy (who had been premier in London during the war) read us papers or talked more informally with us. I left the Netherlands in the spring of '48, but when I got back exactly two years later I again participated in the meetings which succeeded in this series. I have a record of those days in the form of a small European cahier or notebook containing notes I made in the summer of 1950. Three points I find there are significant for our story. One is: "We must distantiate ourselves from the Pilgrims and Calvinists of New England, as well as from previous attempts to erect a `Christian political party' on this [page 19] continent." Alongside the remark is a reference to a passage in Schlesinger's Age of Jackson. The second point: "We are not conservatives. Conservatives are one wing of the humanistic block, which, as times get increasingly severe, loses to the liberals and radicals." My third and in a sense most human note: "Train young college students to think of these things, and awaken through them the Christian people."
My notebook got mislaid somewhere in my study when I finally got settled in Grand Rapids in the fall of 1951, and I rediscovered it -- with an accompanying light wave of shocked surprise that I had written that down as early as 1950 -- only years after the Groen Club was a going concern. At first it was completely forgotten. Meanwhile, my own difficulties at Calvin, which became most intense within a very few months of my arriving here, almost completely absorbed my life. The incidental contacts with the first Canadian students in the fall of 1952 could not develop into something because of my depression and preoccupation.
When I was thus absorbed in my personal situation and my eyes were closed to the wider possibilities -- because God had just at this time wonderfully sent those first Canadian students, who were seeking the very articulation of the Christian religion God had been preparing me to make --, an unexpected knock at my door one evening in the Christmas vacation in 1952 suddenly completely changed the particular direction and the feeling-tone of my life. It turned my depression into the joy of faith.
When I opened the door I found three men standing on the porch who told me that they were [page 20] immigrants from the Netherlands to the United States and that they lived either in Grand Rapids or its immediate environs. Two of the three men are probably known to quite a few of you who are at this banquet tonight. Mr. Steven Harkema and Mr. Boonstra, the father of our Bert Boonstra, who is married to our Jane Horzelenberg and studying theology at the Free University.
What was there in the visit of those men that led to so complete a change in my life? One of the men present told a story of an immigrant boy he knew well who was studying at one of our Christian high schools. "Dr. Runner," this immigrant said, and he was obviously deeply moved, "this boy's father is sacrificing to send his son to this Christian school, but there is much in the attitude he comes home with which we of the older generation feel is not right. In particular, this boy comes home to his parents claiming that America became great because of the liberating democratic ideas of the 18th century." I wish you could have seen the man, as I see him yet, sitting forward in his chair, agitatedly telling me of his and his friends' concern for their children. "Dr. Runner," he concluded simply, "I had no higher formal education, but I went faithfully to Young Men's and Men's Society in a little Frisian city, and I know that those so-called liberated ideas of the 18th century were the corruptions on the part of unbelievers of ideas the Reformation had re-discovered. But if we tell our boys that, they laugh and say, Dad, you never went to one of these big American schools."
After that there was some general conversation, and then the men made the proposal which had brought [page 21] them to my house in the first place. It seemed that there was in Grand Rapids a group of immigrants who had formed a choir and came regularly together. These men wanted to get conversations going in this group about the dangers of humanism in American public life. They thought that out of the membership of the choir there could be set up a Calvinistic Culture Association (CCA). They had the idea that there should be a public meeting to inaugurate such an Association, and they asked me if I would speak for them. The condition was that I would have to speak in Dutch!
Now what you should know is that all through my school years I had been more of the studious type and definitely on the more gentle side of life. Certainly, I was very fearful of addressing a public audience. Indeed, in the Junior and Senior High Schools I attended in Philadelphia I did everything my ingenuity could devise to avoid having to give speeches or even appearing on the platform at morning assemblies. On those occasions when I finally found that there was no way out I did what I had to do, but only in a condition of body and mind that must be described as one of the direst extremity.
And here I would have to speak in Dutch! Yet I accepted. Only one thing, I wish to say now, could have induced me to accept. I was convinced that the Lord had sent those three immigrants to my front door, and I had determined, as I sat listening to them, to throw myself into the struggle to help them in any way I could in the great common wrestling of spirits.
The meeting was held on the evening of February 5, 1953 in the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church and the title of my address that evening was Het Roer Om! which, I have been informed, should be translated [page 22] into English as Runner Hard Over. (The Rev. Rein Leetsma translated the speech into English for the readers of Torch and Trumpet, and it appeared in the April-May, 1953 issue. I still have the original manuscript in my possession. After all, it's my one Dutch speech!)
This meeting was held just after the beginning of the second semester of my second year at Calvin. I distinctly remember that Jan Kunst had just arrived in Grand Rapids from Amsterdam and was in one of my logic sections. I had finally got the courage, the morning of the 5th February, to ask him if he would go over my speech to judge my Dutch, and I shall never forget his forthright and responsibly Dutch report later in the day: The Dutch is good, een beetje ouderwets! [TP: a bit old-fashioned] By then, of course, it was too late to do anything about it anyway, had I been able, which I wasn't, so the people who attended our meeting that evening were treated to a good old ouderwetse speech.
Apart from its significance in the story of the beginning of the Groen Club, the evening had its own importance. It was the public dedication of the Calvinistic Culture Association. A number of Calvin professors were present, and several of them, unfortunately, were made exceedingly angry. There had also been a very good number of students present. I say these things, because the presence of Calvin professors and students undoubtedly had something to do with the later course of events. For almost at once discussion, heated and persistent, began. We are getting closer to the Groen Club, as you can feel. The important thing to note is that out of the delivering of the speech Het Roer Om! [page 23] the Groen Club came to be born. This speech, then, may in one sense be regarded as the first document of our history.
To be sure, everything did not happen at once. But there must have been a great deal of talk among the Canadian students and Dutch immigrant students of the United States. Finally, I think early in March, Jan Kunst and Bernie Zylstra, who were together in my afternoon logic class, came to me one afternoon after that class. They stopped me right in front of the faculty room door, which was scarcely the place to discuss the matter (but you know that students will be students), and asked me if I would be willing to give one evening out of every fourteen days to some students who felt the need of discussion of such matters as Christianity and culture, and particularly the necessity of Christian cultural organization. Immediately I accepted, before they had a chance to think twice, and that explains how the Groen Club came to be stuck with a sponsor.
From time to time through the rest of the spring semester we talked these matters over, and we finally came to the conclusion that it would be best to organize a preliminary meeting the following fall, to have the newly acquired sponsor suggest a year's program of work, and if enough fellows showed interest to organize a club in the form of a student chapter of the newly established Calvinistic Culture Association.
This brings the story of the Groen Club -- which would not be known by that name until sometime in the course of the second year -- up to the time of our first formal meeting. Indeed, a remarkable providence of God, who so ruled in our lives as to bring [page 24] together at just that one moment all the conditions which make our club a possibility. The Groen Club -- indeed, a fascinating phenomenon.
Your devoted sponsor,
H. Evan Runner
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