Introducing Berkouwer’s Theology
Dilemmas always are a source of polarization. We quickly move over to simplistic either-or’s … in which the fulness of truth is torn apart. And in the atmosphere of false polarities, we often stop listening to each other’s words. With this, irritation and pique poison the theological discussion. But it is striking and, at the same time, reassuring that the clear intent of the gospel comes through even in the midst of theological polarization, especially when all the parties intend to be faithful to the gospel’ (A Half Century of Theology, p.208).
In these words, Berkouwer offers a persepective which promises to be most helpful in the discussion of theological polarization.
These words of Berkouwer come immediately after a favourable citation of Karl Barth’s repudiation of ‘(t)he construct, “God is everything, man is nothing”, as a description of grace’.
The immediate context of these words - an attempt to understand how God and man are related to each other in the Gospel - provides us with an important starting-point as we seek to develop a constructive approach to the problem of theological polarization.
As we concentrate attention on the relationship between God and ourselves - seeking to avoid a one-sided perspective - , we will take care not to impose on the Christian message a theological ’system’ which does not permit the Gospel to be understood and proclaimed in the fulness of its Biblical perspectives.
It is vitally important that theological system-building takes account of Christian experience. If we are to achieve a faithful understanding of the Gospel, it is essential that we pay close attention to the relationship between Christian doctrine and Christian experience.
True faith is more than an adherence to a particular type of theology. It is a ‘life response of the total person, at the depths of his being, to the summons and opportunity of the Gospel’ (L B Smedes, ‘G C Berkouwer’ in P E Hughes (ed), Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology).
Taking account of the experiential dimension in Christian faith does not mean that we must succumb to the temptation of making the Gospel message fit a particular understanding of human experience. The Gospel speaks to us in the whole of our life. It does not merely inform our intellect, calling only for our intellectual assent. It does not merely affect our emotions without calling also for the renewal of our mind. It calls for our response to Christ in every part of our life.
Building on the theological perspective opened up for us by Berkouwer, we hope to develop a contemporary theology which is both systematic and experiential, a theology which will instruct the mind and inspire the heart.