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Groningen School

A theological movement which flourished in the Dutch Reformed Church in the middle third of the nineteenth century. Dissatisfied with the formalistic religious establishment of the day, but opposed both to the conservative and pietistic approach of the “Awakening” (Réveil*) and to the rising influence of dogmatic liberalism, it tried to revive the humanistic and evangelical emphasis of earlier figures such as Coornheert* and Erasmus.* P.W. Van Heusde, who taught philosophy from a Christian Platonist standpoint at Utrecht, inspired most of the leaders of the movement, who gathered at the theological faculty at Groningen. Petrus Hofstede De Groot was the leader of the group; other prominent figures included W. Muurling, H. Muntinghe, L.G. Pareau, and J.F. Van Oordt.

After 1835, when the synod refused to censure them for their rejection of traditional Calvinism, their influence steadily widened. In its heyday around mid-century, the “Groningen School” was perhaps the dominant influence in the church. Its teachings emphasize walk of life rather than dogma. Man is characterized by an innate spiritual feeling which relates him to the divine. God has revealed Himself in Christ, who has taught us that our spiritual nature is fulfilled in love. The Gospel calls us to follow Christ, which we can do if we so will. God is to be seen as loving Father. Love of neighbor is more important than dogmatic system (the Trinity, e.g., is interpreted as a valuable symbolic insight rather than a statement of fact).

Such teachings were expounded in the movement's periodicals, Waarheid in Liefde (“Truth in Love”) from 1837, and Geloof en Vrijheid (“Faith in Love”) from 1867. The Groningen School was reluctant to deal in dogma and metaphysics, and this left it exposed to attacks, during the last third of the century, from “scientific” modernism, and from the Kuyperian revival of Calvinism, both of which stressed world-view as well as personal ethics.

See J.H. Mackay, Religious Thought in Holland During the 19th Century (1911); and Th. L. Haitjema, De richtingen in de Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (2nd ed., 1953).

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