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Klaas Schilder and the Advent of War
Part 4/4 - The Klaas Schilder Reader: The Essential Theological Writings
This is the fourth and final instalment of a series on the Klaas Schilder Reader from Lexham Press, if you would like to catch up, click this footnote1 for a rundown of what we’ve covered thus far. Just a quick reminder that while Lexham Press has provided me with a copy of the reader at no cost, all opinions are my own.
The Advent of War
It’s an odd feeling knowing that while I’m sitting writing this article, war has once again broken out on this continent, and Christians and Non-Christians on both sides are dealing with the consequences. Not only that, but in our inter-connected world, it’s easy for anyone to chip in and give their opinion on the situation at hand. Two common responses I’ve seen are:
Switch off, ignore the issue, wait until it ends or comes closer.
Be quick to speak up with closed ears.
As Christians, we have no excuse to keep our ears closed, but our primary source of information and encouragement at this time shouldn’t be social media or the news, but the word of God. Brett McCracken’s Wisdom Pyramid is meant to speak to life in general, but it’s particularly pertinent to the issue of determining and discerning which information to listen to and how we listen to it. In the book—and the talks which formed the basis for it—McCracken sets out to convince the reader to grow in wisdom by consuming knowledge from the following sources in the following order:
The Internet/Social Media
I don’t know what your natural tendencies are when it comes to this list, whether you naturally gravitate to what’s new, or you’d rather focus on the world around us, but it’s prudent to be judicious in our weighing of sources. It’s important also not to take each at face value either, we must be sure to, within each category, search out the most useful sources. There are heretical Bible translations, false churches, corrupted nature, baseless books, and false visions of beauty, and I know this is hard to believe, but please try:
Not everything you read on Twitter is true.
I’m sorry, someone had to say it.
With that said, Klaas Schilder wrote the articles we’ll be talking about today during the advent of the Second World War, during the German Occupation. While others in his own camp were capitulating to the Nazi regime, Schilder had recently been apprehended and arrested, before being released upon the condition that he did not publish any further articles. My favourite short story of all time, Schachnovelle, deals with a similar issue, but on the Austrian side of the war. In the book, we meet Dr B, a former captive of the Nazi regime, not in a concentration camp, but in solitary confinement with nothing but “a table, a door, a bed, a wash-basin, a chair, a window, [and the] walls.” He’s regularly questioned and has to toe the line telling them enough to survive, but not so much that others might die because of the looseness of his lips. In the book, he eventually comes across a book and steals it away but is heartbroken to find that it contains nothing but famous chess games. Before long he begins to play these games out with rolled-up bits of bread, but just as quickly finds himself having run out of plays. He’s left with no choice but to become both players.
“From that moment on, as I began to try and play against myself, I began—unconsciously—to challenge myself. Both halves of me…had to fight one another, to fulfil his own desires, each fought impatiently to win…when one side triumphed over the other’s mistake, my other ‘me’ would react with bitterness over his blunder.”
Stefan Zweig, Schachnovelle (Translation my own)
This image of what it’s like to live under occupation, confinement, and torture, to defend both oneself and one’s country proves to be mentally excruciating for Dr B. I’m saying this before we begin because it’s easy to judge a situation unfairly when we have no experience of it. Schilder is a man of his moment as much as any other of his time, and though he didn’t give in to the Germans, he would have certainly fought this fight within his own mind. To fight for oneself, and one’s church, we all hope we’d choose the latter if pressed, but documents like these prove that many of us—maybe even you or I—will need rebuking and reminding if and when the time comes.
When reading these articles, it’s worth recalling Schilder’s influences, and the reason he’s writing, as well as some of the ways he is not writing. It could be easy to assume bitterness or malice but having digested them, I don’t think we can read that into his work here. What inspires Schilder isn’t vengeance, it’s rootedness in the scriptures and in the church. Though we’ve discussed his previous disagreements with other Neo-Calvinists, he was still a card-carrying member of that theological camp and its involvement in the anti-revolutionary party2. To put it simply, Schilder isn't drumming up anarchy against the German occupation, rather he's trying to feed the roots of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands rather than see them torn up and laid to waste. Though he's certainly no fan of the Nazis, which is a good thing, his argument isn't principally against them but for orthodoxy.
Schilder is focused on the truth, not the enemy.
That needs to be really clear in order for us to understand these articles and the heart behind them, because if we miss that then we could end up taking his tone and his temper without the spirit which fed them. Having spent four weeks writing about Schilder I can't say that he always presents himself in the most winsome way possible, but what is consistently clear is his love for the Scriptures and unwillingness to budge from them.
Imagine hearing this all day, every day, week after week, for years.
You’re walking down the road, you see a high-ranking officer, with a raised hand, and once again, you hear, “Heil Hitler.”
“Heil Jesus,” you reply, “Heil Jesus.”
When we are in relative peace saying “Hail Jesus” or “Hail King Jesus” is true and to an extent it is countercultural but it's unlikely that we’ll be arrested for it. In a situation in which one man has made god in his own image—and thereby deified himself—however, this is quite possibly one of the most polemic statements one could make. If you were to do so it's unlikely you're doing it just to spit in Hitler's face, but rather because you trust and believe in the lordship of Christ. While not being allowed to publish under his own name, Schilder adopted the pseudonym Adolphus Venator in order to provide himself some degree of safety.
The name means, in essence, Hilter’s Hunter3.
I’ll end with this point, but before I do, please don’t just read these articles, whether this is the first of this series that you’ve read, or the fourth, because they are not designed to be descriptions but introductions. My intention in writing “Book Reviews'“ is never to encourage you to read, but help inform how and why you read. It’s important I say that because while that’s true, there’s a reason I’ve spent four weeks writing about a book I could easily have spent one week on. I could have said, “go pick the book up now, it’s great because of these reasons,” but I truly believe that newer and older readers alike would do well to go and grab this book and begin delving into an important moment in theological history, one I believe has been largely lost to time and memory. Our historical knowledge of the early 20th century can cloud our minds and trick us into believing that we know all we need to about that time, but given how similar the last iteration of our culture was to Kuyper and Bavinck's day, we’d do well to consider what came after in Schilder’s.
Here’s my final point.
Schilder didn’t hunt Hitler by stalking him like prey, but by casting himself on the one who was already victorious. The war had begun, but Schilder looked to the later advent, the second coming of the King. It was in the shadow of his wings he found comfort and the weapons he provides for us:
In this occupied land, they will not place the matter in their own hands, but in God’s hands. To the extent they pray, they will want to see weapons used in this time, but only those weapons that we know from Revelation 11, namely, the weapons of prayer. We realize that others think such weapons blunt and laugh at them. At any rate, people who think so will deem these weapons completely harmless.
Klaas Schilder, The Klaas Schilder Reader: The Essential Theological Writings, eds. George Harinck, Marinus De Jong, and Richard Mouw, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2022), 515.
Hitler fell, time passed, we’ve experienced more peace and war since then, and yet through it all, Jesus is still victorious.
Soli Deo Gloria,
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The best book I’ve read on the origins of this theological/political worldview and what influenced is Challenging the Spirit of Modernity by Harry van Dyke
Adolf’s Hunter lit.