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What are we to say about ‘biblical criticism’?

Berkouwer presents a view of biblical criticism which promises to overcome theological polarization. Keeping the Gospel at the centre of his thinking, he maintains that it is possible to acknowledge that there are “hesitations and doubts … present at many points (which) do not in themselves indicate a deep and final uncertainty” (A Half Century of Theology, p. 8).

This hearing of the Gospel in the reading of Scripture does not involve the presupposition of a ‘vox celestis, a heavenly voice … that human beings do not take part in” (Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith, p. 19). Such a view would exclude biblical criticism.
One hears the Gospel in Scripture as one acknowledges what Scripture is, not as one speculates about what Scripture should be (Holy Scripture, p. 33, n. 70). The recognition that, in Scripture, one has ” … the Word written by men … The Word of God …  going the histioric way” (Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith,  p. 19) leads to the view that the character of Scripture demands biblical criticism (Holy Scripture, p. 104).
When it is recognized, however, that “We hear the human voice and in that human voice we hear the voice of the Lord (Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith, p. 19; cf. Holy Scripture, pp. 155, 165, 172), there remains an imperative to approach the Bible with a ‘childlike faith’ (Holy Scripture, pp. 346-348).
In emphasizing the importance of a childlike faith (Holy Scripture, pp. 346-348), Berkouwer insists that this is not put forward as “a cheap solution” (p. 346). It is the only appropriate response to the Gospel (pp. 346-347).
Commenting on Mark 10:15, he maintains that “on ehas all but lost a real scriptural faith if he does not immediately relate it to the call to become “as a child” … “receiving as a child … should not tempt anyone to … push aside … searching reflection … by means of a simplistic interpretation of this “childlikeness” … Someone whio is inclined in that direction has his own limited idea of “being a child”, interpreting this … as a form of naivety that can scarcely be distinguished from immaturity.” Recognizing that certain aspects of the child’s way of living are to be given up (1 Corinthians 13:11), he points out that this does not relativize Christ’s insistence on ‘receiving the kingdom as a child” (p. 347). He emphasizes that a childlike faith is a direct consequence of the belief that, in the human voice, we hear the voice of the Lord.
The close connection between Scripture and its message demands that our relation to Scripture should be understood in terms of obedience. Berkouwer emphasizes that the reading of Scripture with a view to obedience to its message is not to be thought of as “a form of naivety whereby serious questions and reflections are out of the picture” (Holy Scripture, p. 347). Childlike faith does not mean “the attitude of one who walks with closed eyes” (p. 347). Childlike faith seeks for the Gospel in Scripture, while fully acknowledging that ” … there is much left in Scripture that arouses doubt … there are and will be questions and struggles for a correct understanding of Scripture, objections and knotty problems that ought not to be disguised or hidden from view” (p. 347). The obedience of faith does not involve the exclusion of real questions about Scripture (p. 348, cf. pp. 134, 137).

Throughout Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture, we see his positive attitude to both the Bible as the Word of God in the words of men and biblical criticism.

The basic principle upom which he builds this view centres on his understanding of ‘listening’: “listening to God’s voice does not need to be threatened by scientific research into Holy Scripture. Man’s listening is only threatened when he stumbles over the skandalon” (p. 104; cf. Faith and Justification, p.9 (emphasis mine)  – “theology is occupied in continuous attentive and obedient listening to the Word of God … listening, unlike remembering, is always a thing of the present moment.”
Berkouwer contends that the real question is whether one exercises faith in the Christ to whom the Gospel, by the Spirit and through Scripture, points. He argues that this approach is not based on a dualistic separation of history and faith. It is the view that is most in harmony with the specific purpose of Scripture – to point sinners to our Saviour, Jesus Christ (Holy Scripture, p. 180).
The important question of “Faith and Criticism” is not, for Berkouwer, an incidental matter. In his book, Holy Scripture, he devotes a whole chapter to the subject (Chapter Thirteen, pp. 346-366).
He distinguishes between two different types of criticism.
First, there is the kind of criticism that exalts itself above God, turning against the message of the Gospel. This kind of criticism is to be resisted, since it presents an obstacle to the knowledge of God (p. 356 – Citing Romans 9:20, he writes, “That kind of criticism … was resisted by Paul: ‘but who are you, a man, to answer back to God?’”
Second, there is the kind of criticism that recognizes “the way God speaks to us in His Word – in the form of a witness through human words” (p. 358). By recognizing the way of God’s revelation, we legitimize biblical research as a duty (pp, 358-359, 363).
The former type of criticism is to be overcome by obedience.
Berkouwer emphasizes that “When God speaks, we are not dealing merely with a margin of reliability alongside another margin of unreliability” (p. 356; cf. Chapter Nine, “Reliability”, pp. 240-266).
God’s Word calls for a total response: “It is not possible to exalt oneself above God’s speaking … God’s Word can only have one subjective correlate, namely, faith” (p. 356).
This faith is not a blind faith (pp. 349-353) – ” … the authority of God’s Word is not being enforced like an arbitrary external authority … ” (p. 349).
It is, through the Spirit’s “wooing and conquering authority” that man is drawn, in his entire existence, to believe the Gospel (p. 349). With this view of Biblical authority, Berkouwer is able to maintain that “Faith in terms of a sacrifice of the intellect is a perversion of the Christian faith and of obedience” (p. 351). In his rejection of blind obedience, he insists that ” … a sacrifice of the intellect is a dangerous view of faith; for faith would then be called to a decision without inner conviction regarding the object and content of the faith to which man is called” (p. 352).

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