Sunday, 4 December 2016

Berkouwer’s Contribution to the Ecumenical Movement

The challenge of the  theological  discussion of the doctrine of the Church extends far beyond the bounds of Protestantism.
E. Schlink emphasizes that “the Reformation Churches … do not take ecumenical discussion seriously unless they are prepared to enter upon discussion with the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church” (The Coming Christ and the Coming Church (1967), p. xii). 
Berkouwer’s major ecumenical contribution has been concerned with the relation between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. His theological method is also of relevance to the East-West conflict.
Berkouwer’s theological method is (a) doxological and (b) confessional.
(a) Doxological  - “The work of theology must be climaxed, not with the satisfaction of having solved an intellectual problem, but with a doxology to the God of grace” (L. B. Smedes, “G. C. Berkouwer” in P. E. Hughes, (editor), Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology, edited by , p. 69).
This theological method is similar to the approach to “(d)ogma in the Eastern Church (which) is quite apparently determined to a large degree by the structure of doxology” (E. Schlink, p. 272).
(b) Confessional - “Only those matters that the believer can and ought to confess as his  personal faith… are the proper conclusion of theology” (L. B. Smedes, pp. 65-66).
This theological method is similar to the Eastern approach to “dogma (which) is determined by the creedal confession of the services of worship” (E. Schlink, p. 272).
These points of similarity suggest that Berkouwer’s approach might prove fruitful in the East-West dialogue.
Since, however, Berkouwer has concentrated his attention more directly on Protestant- Roman Catholic relations, I will, in this series of posts, focus attention on that particular Berkouwer “was invited by Pope John XXIII to be an official observer at the Second Vatican Council” (The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism (1965), p. 4 , from L. B. Smedes’ Translator’s Preface).
With his involvement in both the World Council of Churches and the Second Vatican Council, Berkouwer would agree with the Roman Catholic scholar, Hans Kung, who has written, “The work of the World Council of Church on the one hand and the Second Vatican Council on the other is bearing fruit” (The Church (1968), pp. 276-277).
Berkouwer has written two earlier books on Roman Catholicism - The Conflict with Rome  and Recent Developments in Roman Catholic Thought (both 1958).
Highlighting the major importance of Berkouwer's book, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism -  Berkouwer, “extremely well qualified to report on the theological problems” associated with Vatican II”, has written “both wisely and critically - just the way we Catholics need it!” (from the outside, rear dust cover of the book).

The Apologetics of A B Bruce

Best remembered for his biblical expositons on the life of Jesus with His first disciples, The Training of the Twelve (1871), described by Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas as 'one of the great Christian classics of the nineteenth century', his contribution to the field of apologetics should not be entirely forgotten. After sixteen years' service as a parish minister, he worked, from 1875 until his death, as Professor of Apologetics and New Testament Exegesis at the Free Church Divinity Hall, Glasgow (Trinity College). His interest in apologetics arose out of an early experience of wrestling with doubt which produced in him a particular sensitivity to the doubts of others. He was deeply affected by D. F. Strauss's Life of Jesus (English translation, 1846), an anti-supernatural approach which portrayed the gospel history as a collection of myths. Responding to Strauss's radically liberal approach, he placed a heavy emphasis on the historical reliability of the New Testament. His concentration on this issue was so great that other matters of apologetic interest were largely overlooked. A liberal evangelical, his work was received with suspicion in more conservative circles, e.g. the hostile reaction within his own communion to his book. The Kingdom of God (1889). Typical of this conservative criticism was B. B. Warfield's contention that he conceded too much to unbelief. Also disconcerting to conservative critics was the favourable reception of his works of New Testament scholarship, e.g. St. Paul's Conception of Christianity (1894) and The Epistle to the Hebrews: The First Apology (1899), among liberal critics from Germany. Conservative fears about his liberal views were increased with the posthumous publication of his article on 'Jesus' in Encyclopaedia Biblica (1901). The fact that his major work on apologetics - Apologetics or Christianity Defensively Stated (1892) - is nowhere near as well known as his work on the training of the twelve suggests that much, if not all, of his work on apologetics is now regarded as being somewhat dated.

Berkouwer on Barth’s Distinction Between Universal Election And Universal Salvation

Some people are impressed by Barth’s distinction between universal election and universal salvation. They defend his position. Some have been influenced by Barth and have become universalists. Berkouwer’s view was that our critique of Barth must begin with looking closely at his teaching concerning universal election.
* By speaking of the idea of the depth-aspect of salvation, Berkouwer distances himself from double predestination.
* In his critique of Barth, Berkouwer distances himself from universal salvation.
* With such a strong emphasis on both grace and faith, Berkouwer guards against any suggestion that, by our faith, we contribute anything to our salvation. It is always God’s free gift, and all the glory belongs to Him.
I think that the distinctive feature of Berkouwer’s teaching is that he emphasizes that everything we say about God’s salvation is said from within the experience of having been saved by grace through faith.
We have heard the Good News - “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). We have been given God’s gracious promise: “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). We have taken Jesus at His Word: “he who comes to Me will never be cast out” (John 6:37).
* There is nothing in this joyful declaration of Good News that leaves us wondering whether the idea of double predestination should leave us in doubt about whether the words, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” are really words for ourselves.
* There is nothing in the call to come in faith to Jesus Christ our Saviour which gives us encouragement to think in terms of universal salvation.
* There is nothing in God’s description of each and every one of us as “sinners” which suggests that we could ever save ourselves. We do not come to the Lord Jesus as Pharisees who take pride in our morality and our religion. We come to Him as sinners. We pray, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner”, and we are “justified” (Luke 18: 13-14).

Links to excerpts from Berkouwer's "Studies in Dogmatics"

Here are some links to excerpts from Berkouwer's "Studies in Dogmatics.