A Critique of A. L. Baker’s book, “G. C. Berkouwer’s Doctrine of Election: Balance or Imbalance?”

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.
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).
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.