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Sunday, 30 December 2012

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).

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