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Friday, 27 June 2014

Berkouwer and Arminius

Berkouwer’s understanding of divine election is best understood in terms of the Dutch Reformation. There, one finds a similar struggle to avoid determinism and thus emphasize the sincerity of the Gospel offer. These motifs are found in the writings of the Dutch Reformer, James Arminius. The strong similarities between Berkouwer and Arminius should not to be taken to mean that Berkouwer regards himself as standing – unequivocally – in the line of Arminius.
While rejecting the equal ultimacy of election and rejection, Berkouwer insists that his own position need not involve the acceptance of an Arminian position (Divine Election, p. 189, n. 31). In his book, Faith and Justification, he explains how his his own position differs from ‘Arminianism’. He opposes, in Arminianism, a most dangerous ‘overestimation of faith as a spiritual achievement’ (p.87). Alongside this criticism of Arminianism, we must set Berkouwer’s favourable attitude towards recent criticism of the very document which opposed Arminianism (the Canons of Dordt). He sees, in such criticism of the Canons of Dordt, the deepest intentions of the Arminians of the seventeenth-century (A Half Century of Theology, pp.104-105). In seeking to describe Berkouwer’s view of Arminius and Arminianism, it may be useful to distinguish between the view of Arminius and the later development of Arminiianism.
In his book, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, Carl Bangs has made a number of observations about Arminius which suggest a striking similarity to Berkouwer (I have reviewed this book in Reformed Review, 40, 2, 145).
(i) The historical situation in Holland was not a simple one of Calvinism coming in, Arminius nearly ruining it and the Synod of Dordt restoring it. Bangs comments, ‘The earliest Dutch Reformed leaders don’t seem to be Calvinists at all. They rise out of the soil, here and there, nurtured by the old Dutch piety, not seized by dogmatic insights but steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith, according to Scripture’ (p.21). This emphasis is similar to Berkouwer’s insistence that election is not a special gnosis for the theological elite. Rather, it is a confession of faith arising from the hearts of those who have come to know the grace of God (Divine Election, p.216).
(ii) Arminius’ theological method is ‘practical and through faith’: ‘For the Theology which belongs to this world, is practical and through faith: Theoretical Theology belongs to the other world, and consists of pure and unclouded vision. For this reason we must clothe the object of our Theology in such a manner as may enable us to worship God, and fully to persuade and win us over to that practice’ (cited by Bangs, p.63, from ‘Oration on the Object of Theology’ in The Works of James Arminius, I, p.264).
(iii) In Romans 9, Arminius finds the message of justification, the message of the freedom of God’s mercy, by which he determines that it will be the believer who will be saved. Bangs maintains that this interpretation of Romans 9 may be viewed as an affirmation of predestination. God has predestined to salvation all who believe in Christ. He also argues that Arminius stands in the Reformed tradition, since he insists that salvation is by grace alone and that human merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation. Only faith in Christ places the sinner in the company of the elect. Arminius’ understanding of Romans 9 is remarkably similar to the view expounded by Berkouwer as Reformed(Divine Election, pp.64-79, 209-217).
(iv) Against synergism – ‘half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s’ (see quotation from Sell, citing Duncan, below in (v)), Arminius affirms that grace is essential for the beginning, continuation and consummation of faith. He does, however, reject the distinction between a universal call which must be resisted and a special call which must be heeded – ‘Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous of their repentance and salvation’ (Bangs, p. 343, citing ‘Certain Articles’ in The Works of James Arminius, I, p.497); ‘The whole controversy reduces itself to this question, “Is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” … I believe that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered’ (Bangs, p.343, citing The Works of James Arminius, pp. 253-254). Arminius’ point is that grace is not a force. Grace is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and in personal relationships there cannot be sheer overpowering. This is precisely what Berkouwer is concerned to maintain in his protest against the ‘ potestas absoluta’ (Divine Election, pp. 60ff.; The Return of Christ, p.444). It is precisely what Berkouwer means by his idea of the divine sovereignty as ‘the personal superiority of love and grace’ (Divine Election, pp. 49, 46).
(v) Regarding the enigmatic character of Arminius, Bangs writes, ‘Some Calvinists, finding that his writings do not produce the heresies they expected, have charged him with teaching secret heresy unpublshed. Many Arminians, finding him too Calvinistic, have written him off as a transitional thinker, a “forerunner”‘ (p. 18) (Here, we may also note the comment made by A P F Sell, in his book, The Great Debate, Calvinism, Arminianism and Salvation – ‘in important respects Arminius was not an Arminian’ (p. 97)). Berkouwer stands in the line of this element of the Dutch Reformation. To those who like to classify theologians as ‘Calvinists’ or ‘Arminians’, he is an enigma. He does not seem to fit. Perhaps, this is because he recognizes that the Gospel itself does not fit neatly into our systems (Again, we may note another comment from Sell – ‘Armnianism says that half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s. Calvinism asserts that the whole is God’s and the whole is man’s also’ (p. 1, citing Colloquia Peripatetica … being notes of conversations with the late John Duncan, p. 29). Note that Arminius’ rejection of this kind of ’synergism’ (see above in (iv)) is one of ‘the important respects’ in which, according to Sell, he was ‘not an Arminian’. For more of my own thoughts on Arminius in relation to ‘the five points of Calvinism’, see ‘Arminius – Hero or Heretic?’ in Evangelical Quarterly, 64:3 (1992), 213-227.)
(vi) Arminius was committed to the Reformed Confessions and their creative interpretation. He was concerned to teach nothing other than the teaching of the Dutch Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (Bangs, pp. 460-461). he sought to present his teaching on predestination as true to the historic teaching of the Church, by which he meant the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 350). nonetheless, there was a curious duality about his relationship to the Confession and the Catechism. he believed his views were consonant with them yet he wanted them revised, reduced to the essentials, to remove the ambiguities that allowed for the views of his opponents (p. 315).
If Arminius is understood according to his deepest intentions and not according to a Pelagian distortion of his meaning, he can be regarded as a Reformed theologian, committed to the Confession and the Catechism, while maintaining an element of ambiguity with respect to them. This is essentially Berkouwer’s position. He seeks to interpret the Reformed standards, being careful to state which interpretation he favours and which he avoids. His favourable citation of recent developments in the confessional life of the Dutch Church has been noted, with the observation that his concern, in such discussions, has been for the interpretation rather than categorical rejection of the Canons of Dordt.
* Bangs points out that the historical situation in Holland was not a simple one – Calvinism coming in, Arminius nearly ruining it and the Synod of Dort restoring it:
“The earliest Dutch Reformed leaders don’t seem to be Calvinists at all. They rise out of the soil, here and there, nurtured by the old Dutch biblical piety, not seized by dogmatic insights, but steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith according to Scripture” (p. 21).
This emphasis is similar to Berkouwer’s insistence that election is not a special gnosis for the theological elite. Rather, it is a confession of faith, arising from the hearts of those who have come to know the grace of God (Divine Election (DE), p. 216).
* Bangs observes that Arminius’ theological method is “practical and through faith”: “For the Theology which belongs to this world, is practical and through faith: Theoretical Theology belongs to the other world, and consists of pure and unclouded vision. For this reason we must clothe the object of our Theology in such a manner as may enable us to worship God, and fully to persuade and win us over to that practice” (p. 63, citing “Oration on the Object of Theology”, The Works of James Arminius, D. D. (WJA), (London edition 1825, 1828, 1875), I, p. 264).
This understanding of theology bears an amazing similarity to Berkouwer’s doxological approach which sets the doctrine of election in the context of praise and thanksgiving (DE, pp. 26, 65).
* Bangs looks closely at Arminius’ exposition of Romans 9 (Chapter 14 – “Theology in Amsterdam: Romans 9; The Conference with Junius”, pp. 193-205).
In Romans 9, Arminius finds the message of justification, the message of the freedom of God’s mercy, by which He determines that it will be the believer who will be saved. This is an affirmation of predestination. God has predestined to salvation all who believe in Christ.
Bangs argues that Arminius stands in the Reformed tradition, since he insists that salvation is by grace alone and that human merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation. Only faith in Christ places the sinner in the company of the elect (p. 340). Arminius’ understanding of Romans 9 is remarkably similar to the view expounded by Berkouwer as Reformed (DE, pp. 64-79, 209-217).
* Against synergism, Arminius affirms that grace is essential for the beginning, continuation and consummation of faith. He does, however, reject the distinction between a universal call which must be resisted and a special call which must be heeded.
“Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous pf their repentance and salvation” (Bangs, p. 343; citing “Certain Articles”, WJA, (London edition 1956), I, p. 497).
“The whole controversy reduces itself to this question, ‘Is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?’ … I believe that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered” (Bangs, p. 343, citing WJA, 1956, pp. 253-254).
Arminius’ point is that grace is not a force. Grace is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and, in personal relationships, there cannot be sheer overpowering. This is precisely what Berkouwer is concerned to maintain in his protest against the ‘potestas absoluta’ (DE, pp. 60ff; cf The Return of Christ, p. 444). It is precisely what Berkouwer means by his idea of the divine sovereignty as “the personal superiority of love and grace” (DE, pp. 49, 46).
* Regarding the enigmatic character of Arminius, Bangs writes,
“Some Calvinists, finding that his writings do not produce the heresies they expected, have charged him with teaching secret heresy unpublished. Many Arminians, finding him too Calvinistic, have written him off as a transitional thinker, a ‘forerunner’” (p. 118; cf. A P F Sell, The Great Debate, Calvinism, Arminianism and Salvation (GD) – “in important respects Arminius was not an Arminian” (p. 97)).
Berkouwer stands in the line of this element of the Dutch Reformation. To those who like to classify theologians as ‘Calvinists’ or ‘Arminians’, he is an enigma. He does not seem to fit. Perhaps, this is because he recognizes that the Gospel itself does not fit neatly into our systems.
In his booklet, A Hole in the Dike: Critical Aspects of Berkouwer’s Theology, C W Bogue has difficulty in classifying Berkouwer within his own Calvinist – Arminian distinction (p. 19).
A helpful manner of stating the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is found in A P F Sell, GD. – “Arminianism says that half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s. Calvinism asserts that the whole is God’s and the whole is man’s also” (p. 1, citing Colloquia Peripatetica … being notes of conversations with the late John Duncan, 6th edition, 1907, p. 29).
* Arminius was committed to the Reformed Confessions and their creative interpretation. He was concerned to teach nothing other than the teaching of the Dutch Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (Bangs, pp. 460-461).
He sought to present his teaching of predestination as true to the historic teaching of the Church, by which he meant the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 350).
Nonetheless, there was a curious duality about his relationship to the Confession and the Catechism.
He believed his views to be consonant with them yet he wanted them to be revised, reduced to the essentials, to remove the ambiguities that allowed for the views of his opponents (p. 315).
* If Arminius is understood according to his deepest intentions and not according to a Pelagian distortion of his meaning, he can be regarded as a Reformed theologian, committed to the Confession and the Catechism, while maintaining an element of ambiguity with respect to them.
In essence, this is Berkouwer’s position. He seeks to interpret the Reformed standards, being careful to state which interpretation he favours and which he avoids.
In his favourable citation of recent developments in the confessional life of the Dutch
Church, his concern is with interpretation rather than categorical rejection of the Canons of Dort.
A child of the Reformation, Berkouwer seeks always to interpret, rather than categorically reject, the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions.
He bears a marked affinity to the Dutch reformation, “nurtured by the old Dutch biblical piety, steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith according to the Scriptures” (Bangs, p. 21).
When we make a connection between Berkouwer and “the old Dutch biblical piety”, we should note also his “consistent apologetic intention … directed against scholasticism” (S Meijers, Objectiviteit en Existentialitet (Objectivity and Existentiality), p.448).
His work is done in a pietistic rather than a scholastic perspective. This does not lead him into subjectivism. It does enable him to deal with the living character of God’s Word.

21 comments:

  1. what was the position of Berkouwer about the relation between faith and election? We are elected because we believe, or we believe because we are elected? This seems to be the main point in the controversy...

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    1. Thanks for this important question. Here are a few thoughts which I hope you'll find helpful.
      I 'm not just asking, "What did Berkouwer say?" I'm seeking to express my own understanding.
      You'll notice that I have quoted hymns and the Psalms (the hymn book of the Old Testament). This is significant. When we are worshipping the Lord, we praise Him, rejoicing in this: He has saved us by His grace. When we say that He has saved us by His grace, we do not deny that that we have been saved through faith.
      We say both these things: "by grace" and "through faith". "Through faith" reminds us that we must make our personal response to Christ. "By grace" is God's answer to the question, "Where does this response come from?" It comes from the Lord. "Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Romans 10:17). When faith arises in our hearts, in response to the Gospel of divine grace, we say, from the heart, "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9).
      The relationship between grace and faith is neither (a) co-operative nor (b) coercive.
      (a) We do not contribute to our own salvation. It is always, "nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling." We do not come to the Lord with our religion in one hand and our morality in the other hand. We come to Him empty-handed and receive from Him His free gift of salvation. Receiving God's free gift of salvation through faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we speak, from the heart, the words of Psalm 118:23 - "the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes. We echo the words of Psalm 115:1 - "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to Your Name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness."
      (b) We are not forced to receive Christ. We do not come to Him with reluctance. We come to Him with rejoicing. Rejoicing in the grace which has reached out to us in our sinfulness, we affirm the truth of Jesus' words, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you" (John 16:15). Receiving this grace with gladness, we say, "The Lord is my chosen portion" (Psalm 16:5). We sing, "O happy day that fixed my choice on Thee, my Saviour and my God." We trace the way in which the Lord has led us to faith and we sing, "He drew me and I followed on, charmed to confess that grace divine." We have been "loved with everlasting love." We have been "led by grace that love to know."
      The relationship between grace and faith may be described thus: the whole of the work is God's (the absolute necessity of grace) and the whole of the work is man's (the absolute necessity of faith). There is, of course, mystery here. it is, however, a mystery in which we rejoice - "Amazing love, how can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?"

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    2. Here's something else which I hope you'll find helpful. This is more directly concerned with Berkouwer's view. I'm posting it as three comments, since it's too long as a single comment.
      It's a critique of A. L. Baker’s book, “G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election: Balance or Imbalance?” This is more concerned with Berkouwer's view rather than expressing my own understanding.
      The book, “G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election: Balance or Imbalance?”, made its first appearance as a Th.D. dissertation (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), entitled “A Critical Evaluation of G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election.”
      It is my view that, apart from providing a catchy title, the revision of the original title adds nothing but ambiguity.
      Showing distinct displeasure with Berkouwer’s treatment of ‘reprobation’ and with his interpretation of the Canons of Dort (pp. 39, 41-42, 115-126), Baker clearly holds that Berkouwer’s doctrine of election does not give a balanced account of the Biblical teaching on election.
      Berkouwer, on the other hand, would argue that the strength of his doctrine of election is closely related to his rejection of the ‘balance’ of the equal ultimacy concept (cf. Divine Election, “Election and Rejection”, Chapter Six, pp. 172-217).
      In view of this ambiguity, the original title might have been preferred unless, of course, this element has been deliberately introduced to arouse interest. There is, however, hardly any indication that Baker is aware of this ambiguity.

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    3. Thank you for your reply. Based on your description, I don't see any differences between Berkouwer and Arminius. Both would say that we are saved by grace alone and through faith alone. Both would say that faith is a gift of God. I think the critical question is that of election. How is it related to our faith? When you say that "we come to God with rejoicing" - is this "rejoicing" a special mysterious work of God in the elect, or it's our response to grace that was given to all people without exception? Do we believe because we are elected, or we are elected because we believe and persevere?

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    4. Thanks for pursuing this question. I'll share more of what Berkouwer has written. I will have to do this in a few comments because the comments have to be restricted to a certain length.
      In his discussion of the 'pre' element in predestination, Berkouwer insists that "he who speaks of God's counsel in terms of human categories will have to be aware ofthe inadequacy of his words" (Divine Election, p. 152). UIn this respect, Berkouwer closely follows Bavinck who, in his discussion of predestination, insists that "one cannot speak of before or after with respect to God" (Divine Election, p. 152). Recognizing the inadequacy of human language, Berkouwer seeks to understand the language of predestination in connection in terms of the "depth-aspect" of salvation (Divine Election, pp.113, 150, 168). He emphasizes that "the depth-aspect of salvation ... is not a matter of hiddenness which goes beyond the knowledge of faith ... not something far distant, not a vague threatening reality, but the foundation of salvation ... " (Divine Election, pp. 113-114).

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    5. For more on Berkouwer's use of the idea of the depth-aspect of salvation, read my comment dated 5 January 2013 01:46. Here's an attempt to bring things together. (1) man knows of grace through revelation. (2) divine revelation comes to man in the form of human language. (3) The inadequacy of human language as a vehicle of divine revelation demands that due care be taken in the interpretation of Scripture. (4) The inadequacy of human language as a vehicle of divine revelation demands an avoidance of undue dogmatism regarding the precise meaning of Scripture. (5) The idea of a depth dimension points beyond the limitations of human language to the profound spiritual realities of the eternal God and His eternal salvation.

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  2. Maintaining that Berkouwer has continually failed to expound the full teaching of Scripture concerning the ‘before’ element of divine election, Baker insists that “Berkouwer cannot communicate what the Bible means by ‘election’ if he neglects such a determinative concept” (pp. 102-103). Referring to the phrase “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4; John 17:24; 1 Peter 1:20), Baker states that “Berkouwer has never commented at any length in any of his Dogmatics on the significance of these words” (p. 102).
    It may also be argued that Baker’s failure to discuss at any length Berkouwer’s concept of the “depth-aspect” of salvation weakens his criticism of Berkouwer’s interpretation of the ‘before’ element of election.
    Here, we may note what Berkouwer says about the depth-aspect of salvation.
    Recognizing the inadequacy of human language, Berkouwer seeks to understand the language of predestination in connection with the “depth-aspect” of salvation (Divine Election, pp. 113, 150, 168). He emphasizes that “the depth-aspect of salvation … is not a matter of hiddenness which goes beyond the knowledge of faith … not something far distant, not a vague, threatening reality, but the foundation of salvation … ” (pp. 113-114 - in a discussoion of Biblical passages which speak about “the Book of Life”).
    With this idea of the depth-aspect of salvation, Berkouwer seeks to understand the idea of ‘before the foundation of the world.’ He emphasizes that “These words do not occur in Scripture as a threat, but in the decisive depth-aspect of salvation. They are not placed in a context in which they make us dizzy in the face of an unapproachable ‘eternity’, … but they are intended to show us the source of our eternal salvation … ‘Before’ indicates that this divine act of salvation, preached to us by the gospel, is free from what we know in the world to be arbitrary and precarious … in this depth-aspect of God’s salvation it becomes … evident that this salvation did not originate in our flesh and blood, and that it is by no means of human merit or creation. But precisely this fact does not obscure the way; on the contrary, it illumines it. ‘Before the foundation of the world’ means to direct our attention to what can be called the opposite of chance and contingence.” (pp. 150-151).
    Berkouwer’s basic understanding of the depth-aspect is defined thus: “When we speak of the depth-aspect, we mean that eternity does not stand in contrast to what in time becomes historical reality, but rather that the salvation accomplished by Christ’s death of reconciliation cannot be merely historical, but that it has its eternal foundation in the love of God” (p. 168)

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    1. Berkouwer's concept of the depth-aspect of salvation may be viewed as a serious attempt to understand the complex problem of the relation of human language to divine revelation. It need not be dismissed as a denial of what Scripture says. It may be regarded as an interpretation of what Scripture says, an attempt to understand what a particular passage teaches in relation to the "entire Biblical message" (Divine Election, p. 18). The recogniton of a depth-aspect of salvation need not involve a denial of Biblical authority. We may regard it as a way of asking the question, "Is this what the Bible is really saying?", a way of developing a penetrating analysis which recognizes that we must make a clear distinction between Scripture itself and theological interpretations of Scripture. This distinction emerges directly from the nature of human language, the precise meaning of which is not immediately evident in its reference to God.

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    2. Berkouwer insists that a proper understanding of theological language is only attainable within the context of the obedience of faith. The language of predestination may be understood as a form of expression which the believer, who has willingly submitted to the authority of grace, uses to confess his Christian faith. Set in this context, the language of predestination need not be viewed as a form of determinism which threatens to strip human experience of decisive significance. Emphasizing that "he who has seen Christ has seen the Father" (John 14:9), Berkouwer maintains that the believer, in his encounter with Christ, comes to know the revelation of God as something which is not threatened by the idea of a hidden God whose secret cannot be known (Divine Election, p. 124).

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    3. Berkouwer insists that a proper understanding of theological language involves the recognition of the inexpressible character of the divine object of faith which the believer encounters in the obedience of faith. The gift of God's grace in Christ is an "inexpressible gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15 - Revised Standard Version). When the believer seeks to express his gratitude to God for this inexpressible gift, he finds it quite impossible to give adequate expression to this gratitude which he feels so deeply. He is almost certain to use language which, at best, will contain ambiguities and, at worst, misleading impressions if his language is not recognized as a groping after a form of expression that is worthy of a virtually inexpressible Reality.

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    4. Berkouwer emphasized the importance of the doctrine of election - "if we take seriously the conviction that election lies ... at the heart of the church, we find ourselves at the centre of the church's faith when qwe focus on the question of election" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 79). He also discerned the harmful effects of a deterministic doctrine of election - "this doctrine has been all but comforting ... an offence, with no real liberating and tension-relieving power ... a decision that was extremely difficult to rhyme with a gospel of love comforting to the heart" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 79).

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    5. Berkouwer recognized that the deterministic interpretation of election has, for many, proved to be an obstacle to faith - "the confession of divine election did come to the fore in a very direct pastoral way; people in the congregations have been plagued by questions concerning election and human responsibility, questions about the certainty of one's own salvation" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 78). Berkouwer's approach need not be dismissed as a denial of election. He does, however, offer us a reinterpretation - "We knew we had to go further - in concern for the heart of the church - than the construction of defensive syntheses" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 89).

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    6. Berkouwer maintained that a thoroughgoing reinterpretation of election was essential if it was to be made clear that "divine election was not an arbitrary decree that opened the door to a fatlism and determinism in which the events of our time and history were robbed of all genuine meaning" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 89).

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    7. Berkouwer gave much serious thought to difficult theological concepts and Biblical passages. Concerning the interpretation pf divine sovereignty, he wrote, "one has to be on guard against isolating and abstracting words, including the word 'sovereignty.' If we are not, we use words that violate the heart of the church" (A Half Century of Theology, p.90). He did not seek "to replace determinism with an indeterminism" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91). He sought to develop an interpretation of election which points to the trustworthiness of God: "the knowledge of divine sovereignty is possible only within knowledge of the God in whom there is no arbitrariness" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91).

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    8. Concerning the interpretation of divine freedom, Berkouwer gave this warning: "waving the banner of absolute divine autonomy does not dam up anguishing questions, and is certainly not likely to lead to praise" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 92). He did not wish to question the divine freedom. He sought to clarify its meaning in a way that "phrases like 'incontestible freedom' and ... 'absolute possibility'" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91)fail to do. He insisted that the New Testament "avoids a dialectic between divine freedom and human freedom" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 101). He emphasized that divine freedom should be understood in connection with divine goodness (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91 - referring to Matthew 20:15). He maintained that divine freedom reminds man that he must not presume on divine goodness. He emphasized that divine freedom serves as " summons to conversion" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91 - referring to Matthew 22:14 and Matthew 20:16).

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    9. Relating his understanding of divine sovereignty and divine freedom to the interpretation of Romans 9-11, Berkouwer wrote, "Words like 'sovereignty' ought not to be approached abstractly via a formal concept: this can only create the impression that we are capturing our own understanding or words in transparent definitions and then applying them directly to God without deeper consideration, as though he naturally fits the definition garnerd from human experience. Not surprisingly, this abstract notion of sovereignty has a profound effect when theologians apply it to ... Romans 9" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 91). He asked this question: "If divine freedom explains everything ... how is it posssible that Paul ... in ... Romans 9-11 ... does not end with a reasoned conclusion that the destiny of eveything and everyone is sealed from eternity. Why does he, rather, end with a breathtaking doxology" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 92 - followed by the words of Romans 11:33).

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    11. Berkouwer maintained that, when Romans 9-11 is understood as referring to "God's revelation of mercy ... and not to a 'naked sovereignty'", the illegitimacy of man's protest against God and the "mystical delight" of Paul's doxology are seen quite differenty from their deterministic interpretation (A Half Century of Theology, pp. 90, 93; Divine Election, pp. 65, 147-149). Man's protest is recognized as entirely inappropriate because "the doctrine of election is an 'inexpressible comfort' for both the believer and the nonbeliever since it proclaims that there is hope for the 'most miserable of men'" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 103). Paul's doxology is recognized as entirely appropriate because it is faith's response to the divine mercy in which "there is nothing of 'the inexplicable arbitrariness of power that moves one to put his fingers to his lips" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 93).

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    12. Berkouwer emphasizes that his reinterpretation of election "has nothing to do with a devaluation of divine sovereignty. It is not motivated by respect for the autonomy of the free man" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 95). He sought to affirm divine election while avoiding the dangers of determinism. Describing the process by which he reached this position, he wrote, "in the Bible's radical and open character, I found a way of speaking that is not defined by some darksome eternal background, but by the way of history" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 100; Divine Election, p. 71) - "I did not have to posit indeterminism over against determinism" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 101).

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    13. As Berkouwer's thought moved from abstract concept towards the person and work of Christ in whom the grace of God is clearly revealed, he found that he was not denying the free sovereignty of God but rather recognizing its character as the free sovereignty of grace (A Half Century of Theology, p. 102).He described the direction of his thought thus: "the reconsideration of election has tended ... not in the direction of a double decree that merely waits to be executed, but in the direction of grace as the nature, the character of election" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 102). He gave this summary of his understanding of election: "anyone who expects salvation from grace rather than works is set immediately within the sphere of election; but he need not encounter alongside or over election in grace a decision that was made in a hidden decree" (A Half Century of Theology, p. 102).

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  3. Berkouwer does not wish to dispense with the ‘before’ element in God’s election. Rather, he seeks to understand it in a way that does not diminish the significance of the historical revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
    Baker contends that, in his interpretation of Ephesians 1:4 - “chosen before the foundation of the world” - , Berkouwer has undermined the ontological foundation of divine election. There is, in Baker’s view, a suggestion that he has not distanced himself sufficiently from his own outlook in order to understand more sympathetically and accurately Berkouwwer’s understanding of the language of predestination.
    In his critique of Berkouwer’s doctrine of election, A. L. Baker writes, “Berkouwer desires to maintain a dynamic concept of election, but instead lays most of his emphasis on the human response to the gospel. He continually warns against ‘an objectivized election that goes its own way without consideration for faith and unbelief” (G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election: Balance or Imbalance?, (1981), p. 67, citing Berkouwer, The Return of Christ, p. 333).
    In response to this criticism, it should be pointed out that, as well as placing a proper emphasis on the human response to the Gospel, Berkouwer, in his exposition of the doctrine of election, repeatedly emphasizes the divine origin of our salvation:
    “… in Scripture the election of God … does not come out of works but out of grace” (Divine Election, p. 51),
    “God’s electing plan prepares the way of salvation in which man learns that salvation is obtained only as a divine gift and never as an acquisition because of good works” (p. 68).
    “… salvation … has its eternal foundation in the love of God” (p. 168).
    “election is not of works but of Him who called” (p. 217).
    “God’s election is sovereign and gracious, and hence not based on any human quality” (p. 308).
    In view of Berkouwer’s repeated affirmation of the divine character of election, it must be denied that most of his emphasis is laid on the human response. Rather, it should be pointed out that Berkouwer’s penetrating analysis of the competition-motif enables him to place due emphasis on the human response without threatening the divine character of God’s gracious election .
    Berkouwer emphasizes that a full emphasis on the significance of faith does not relativize the gracious character of salvation - “The character of faith resolves all tension between objectivity and subjectivity, For faith has significance only in its orientation to its object - the grace of God. Thus sola fide, instead of directing our attention to the believer, points us away from him to grace and God … Sola fide and sola gratia mean the same thing.” (Faith and Justification, pp. 29, 44, italics original).
    In response to Baker’s contention that Berkouwer has continually failed to expound the ‘before’ element in election, it may be argued that Berkouwer has expounded this element. He has offered a different kind of exposition from that which Baker is asking for. An alternative exposition must, however, be distinguished from the absence of any exposition.

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