Charles’s quotes


"It is surely ours to combine these elements of mourning for sin and joy in our salvation in one complex and composite experience which keeps us perpetually humble and yet perpetually joyful too."— Rev William Still

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Evangelism And Ecumenism

Frequently, there has been a deep division between those who are committed to 'evangelical' concerns and those who are committed to 'ecumenical' concerns. This is a sad situation especially when we look at this particular tension in modern theology in the light of the Gospel. In John 17:2, we read of Jesus' prayer for the Church - "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." In the light of Jesus' prayer, we must acknowledge honestly that the division of the Church is a spiritual catastrophe for the watching world. We must not become so accustomed to disunity that we become immune to the words of warning in Jesus' prayer. The contemporary must penitently acknowledge "that the endless division of the Church gives the world cause for joy and derision, a reason for its unbelief" (Berkouwer).
In the face of its mission, the Church must acknowledge guilt for the world's unbelief. We must, however, reject the idea of 'unity at any price.' We must not be gullibly taken in by a 'lowest common denominator' type of ecumenism which pays little attention to truth. We must heed the warning of Hans Kung - "A Church which abandons truth abandons itself." We must have realsim about the ecumenical enterprise. We must, however, be quite clear about this - realism is not fatalism. Realism will keep us from acting in a misguided way, but it will not rob us of a true concern for Christian unity. Realism means recognizing that, if ecumenism is to have any relevance to our world, it must be grounded  in the Gospel. Realism means that we must not be so closed that we are unwilling to move forward with the Gospel into new situations of life. Realism also means that we must not be so open that we lose sight of the Gospel, and then have no Gospel to bring to the world. Evangelism will lead us beyond our own group, our own denomination. Will ecumenism lead us to seek to win men and women for Christ? - This is the question which realism forces to ask. As we reflect on Jesus' prayer "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 17:21), our concern must be for world evangelism, and not simply for the kind of ecumenism which may turn out to be more of a hindrance to world evangelism rather than a compelling impetus to evangelize the world. 

Assessing the Christology of Wolfhart Pannenberg

In his Christology, Pannenberg adopts a ‘from below’ approach rather than a ‘from above’ approach (Jesus - God and Man (1968; German edition, 1964), pp. 33-37).
Using historical reason, he concludes that it is more reasonable to defend the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection rather than denying it.
He accepts Kirn’s definition of the historical method: “A historical conclusion can be regarded as certain when … despite the fact that it is not removed from all possible attacks, it is nevertheless in agreement with all the known facts” Basic Questions in Theology, Vol. I (1970), p. 54).
Adopting this approach to Jesus’ resurrection, he concludes that “(t)he Easter appearances are not to be explained from the Easter faith of the disciples; rather, conversely, the Easter faith of the disciples is to be explained from the appearances” (Jesus - God and Man, p. 96).
Pannenberg holds that Jesus’ resurrection has retroactive power, i. e. in the resurrection, God sets His seal on the pre-Easter activity of Jesus, declaring Him to be the Son of God.
Insisting that “the idea that Jesus had received divinity only as a consequence of his resurrection is not tenable” (p. 135), he writes, “That God is revealed in Jesus can only be asserted on the basis of his resurrection from the dead … If Jesus as a person is ‘the Son of God’, as becomes clear retroactively from his resurrection, then he has always been the Son of God” (p. 141).
The notion of the retroactive power of the resurrection is carefully distinguished from all assumptions concerning any direct Messianic self-consciousness or direct Messianic claims on the part of the pre-Easter Jesus (pp. 327, 332).
Pannenberg’s view of the relationship between the self-consciousness of the pre-Easter Jesus and the retroactive power of the resurrection is undergirded by his concern to avoid any hint of determinism (pp. 330, 332).
This concern may appear to be apologetically relevant since it reflects the mood of modernity in its search for freedom. This claim to apologetic relevance does, however, become questionable when his interpretation of Scripture is closely examined.
Pannenberg’s conception of the retroactive power of the resurrection might have been extended in the direction of validating Jesus’ view of the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures (C. Pinnock, “Pannenberg’s Theology: Reasonable Happenings in History” in Christianity Today, 31, 3 (5th November 1976), p. 22). Jesus’ view of the Old Testament Scriptures may then have been related to the idea that Jesus Himself has given a Christological foundation for the Church’s confession of the authority of the New Testament.
Pannenberg refuses to develop his notion of the retroactive power of the resurrection in this direction, preferring to approach the biblicism - liberalism dichotomy by way of a theology of universal history.
His refusal to move in the direction of Biblical authority is determined not by the intrinsic rationality of his idea of the retroactive power of the resurrection but by his particular reaction against authoritarianism.
If he had drawn an adequate distinction between an authentic authority and an unwarranted authoritarianism, he might have developed his notion of the retroactive power of the resurrection in the direction of a more significant insight into the role of the words of Scripture in divine revelation.
Pannenberg’s interpretation of the Gospel narratives is dominated by his own conception of a ‘from below’ approach to Christology. As part of an apologetic theology, his analysis of Jesus’ Messianic self-consciousness is of ambiguous worth. The question arises whether it is more reasonable to believe that the resurrection declared Jesus to be what He had not claimed to be than to believe that the resurrection declared Him to be what He had claimed to be.
Pannenberg regards the “so-called passion predictions” as “vaticinia ex eventu” (i. e. written by the Gospel-writers with hindsight rather than spoken by Jesus Himself prior to the events) (Jesus - God and Man, p. 245).
Pannenberg holds that “Jesus’ claim to authority by itself cannot be made the basis of a Christology … everything depends upon the connection between Jesus’ claim and its confirmation by God” (p. 66).
The question arises whether there is any necessary connection between Pannenberg’s insightful emphasis on the resurrection as the confirmation of Jesus’ claim and his interpretaion of the passion predictions.
C. Brown’s words are worthy of consideration here: “if the traditional understanding of his mission is at all valid - and surely this possibility ought not to be ruled out a priori - the very thing we should expect to find is that Jesus would have tried to convey to his followers something of the meaning of his death and resurrection” (Philosophy and the Christian Faith (1969), p. 282, italics in the original).

Revelation - Centred On Christ, Our Saviour

Carl E. Braaten has written that "Serious reservations ... must be voiced against the dominant position of the idea of revelation in theology." Braaten suggests that the idea of revelation implies that "man's essential predicament is his lack of knowledge." Braaten offers this comment: "If the ignorance of man stands in the centre, then the fact of revelation relieves that plight; but if man's guilt is the problem, then not revelation but reconciliation must become the theological centrum" (History and Hermeneutics, p. 14).
Any worthy theology of revelation will take full account of the substance of Braaten's comment. Man's basic need does not lie in his finitude. It lies in his sinfulness. This need is not met by mere knowledge about God. It is met by reconciliation to God. We must, however, resist any and every tendency to draw a false contrast between revelation and reconciliation. Revelation is not merely an antidote to ignorance. Revelation centres on Christ. He is our Saviour. He is the One who reconciles us to God. Biblical revelation must be understood with respect to its specific intention. This is most closely related to salvation. The Scriptures point us to Christ. They call us to believe in Him. They call us to receive eternal life through faith in Him. This salvation is more than simply an antidote to our ignorance. It is God's way of removing our guilt. Scripture's primary focus of attention is on the divine reconciliation by which our guilt is removed. Let us not think, however, that we should dispense with the word, 'revelation', and simply replace it with the word, 'reconciliation'. Let us rejoice in the God who has revealed Him most wonderfully in His great act of reconciliation through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). 

Doctrine And Devotion

For some Christians, 'doctrine' is a taboo word. They only need to hear the word and their hackles are up! In their view, doctrine is dry. It is head-knowledge. It is not practical. There are others whose preoccupation with doctrine gives precisely the same impression. One recalls the story of the man who was asked his opinion of a certain preacher. The question was put to him, "Was he sound?" The reply came back immediately, "Oh yes. he was sound all right, but the rest of us were sound asleep."
Doctrine can be 'on fire.' Doctrine need not be dull. Doctrine does not need to be above the heads of the ordinary people. It does not belong to the private domain of the academic's 'ivory tower.' When you hear the word, 'doctrine', do not imagine an academic 'holy of holies' which is protected by the words, "Trespassers Forbidden." For both the academic theologian and the ordinary believer, the way forward in doctrine is the same. We must enrol in the school of discipleship. In this school, there are no courses restricted to the intellectual elite. All of us must learn in precisely the same way. It is the way of sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His teaching (Luke 10:39).
In Jesus' school of discipleship, doctrine and devotion belong together. Jesus and His apostles knew nothing of the modern tendency to separate doctrine and devotion. If some modern Christians regard 'doctrine' as a taboo word, the fault does not lie with the New Testament. Let us look briefly at what the New Testament says about doctrine.
"The people were astonished at Jesus' doctrine. Jesus "taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" Matthew 7:28-29). Jesus' teaching was doctrine with a difference. It was doctrine brought to life for the people. Doctrine can be doctrine with a difference for you!
"The common people heard Jesus gladly" (Mark 12:37). Jesus' teaching is described as His doctrine (Mark 12:38). In His teaching to the common people, Jesus gave them this warning: "Beware of the scribes ... " (Mark 12:38). Jesus was able to speak forthrightly about the scribes because He spoke with an authority which they did not possess. His doctrine made a difference to His hearers. It brought them gladness. Doctrine can make a difference to you!
The 3,000 souls who were brought to Christ on the Day of Pentecost "continued steadfastly in (or "devoted themselves to") the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:41-42). The apostles' doctrine brought 3,000 souls to Christ in one day! This was doctrine with a difference. This was doctrine on fire. This was doctrine which had authority. This was doctrine which brought gladness to the people. It was no ivory tower doctrine which brought 3,000 souls to Christ in one day. This was doctrine and devotion brought together in a powerful combination. Don't let it be 'Docrine or Devotion?' Let it be 'Doctrine and Devotion.'

Assessing the Eschatological Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg

Eschatology has rarely been directly associated with the doctrine of election, which has generally been understood in relation to its ‘pre’ element (see, for example, J. Calvin, Institutes, Three, XXI, 5 and L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp. 109-118).
Election and eschatology have been understood in direct relation to one another by Wolfhart Pannenberg, whose whole theology bears a distinctly eschatological flavour.
Pannenberg’s peculiarly eschatological theology has been described thus: “The intellectual task that Pannenberg has set himself is a monumental one, namely to construct a fundamental system of thought in which the primary ontological principle is futurity” (W. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God (1975), edited by R. J. Neuhaus, p. 12 (from “Wolfhart Pannenberg: Profile of a Theologian” by Neuhaus).
The fundamental importance of futurity in Pannenberg’s thought is expressed thus by Pannenberg himself: “we see the present as an effect of the future, in contrast to the conventional assumption that past and present are the cause of the future. the future lets go of itself to bring into being our present” (Theology and the Kingdom of God, pp. 54, 59).
From this thoroughly eschatological perspective, Pannenberg understands election thus: “The Christian people, chosen from all nations, has been elected to exist in this world as the eschatological community of the God of Israel and witnesses even now to this imminent rule over all creation and all mankind” (Human Nature, Election and History (1977),
p. 101).
In Pannenberg’s understanding of election and eschatology, there is an undeniably universalist tendency. The election of the Church is presented as a witness to the coming universal Kingdom of God. Drawing a radical distinction between the Kingdom and the Church, he emphasizes “the universal thrust in the notion of the Kingdom of God” (Theology and the Kingdom of God, p. 73).
This universal thrust is heavily underlined by Pannenberg: “the Kingdom of God is certainly universal. The power of the one God cannot be conceived as limited to certain areas. It extends to the whole world and every individual” (W. Pannenberg, A. Dulles and C. E. Braaten, Spirit, Faith and Church (1970), p.111). “The Kingdom of God will comprise all mankind” (p. 116).
Pannenberg insists that his view of the Kingdom of God is not “merely a formalistic idea about God’s ruling over everybody and everything” (Theology and the Kingdom of God, p. 78).
Here, he seeks to distance himself from a superficial understanding of universalism. It is not, however, clear how he can defend himself against the charge of allowing a preconceived notion of the Kingdom of God to dominate his theology.
Particularly questionable is his attempt to explain the meaning of judgment.
He writes, “the wholeness of our existence can only be represented as an event beyond death … the entrance of the eternal depth into our experience means both resurrection and judgment at the same time. It means resurrection because in that event man’s destiny is fulfilled in his own person. It means judgment because the eternal totality of his own life must be destroyed in the contradiction between the ego and man’s eternal destiny” (What is Man?, (1962 - German original), p. 80) . “eternity means judgment because in the eternal concurrence our life must perish because of its contradiction and especially because of the basic contradiction between the self and its eternal destiny” (p. 81).
When speaking of judgment in this way, Pannenberg does seek to make room for the significance of individual faith. Of the individual under judgment, he writes, “he will not simply become nothing; he will be destroyed in the face of his infinite destiny, that is, his destiny to a total, healed life” (p. 79). Concerning the significance of “individual faith”, he writes, “Only for the person who is in communion with Jesus does the resurrection mean eternal life as well as judgment” (p. 81).
When we look at his radical distinction between the Kingdom and the Church, it is not clear how we are to understand these remarks regarding the significance of individual faith. He speaks of individual faith in connection with the Church: “individual faith” is “fundamental in the concept of the Church“. This statement is set in the context of the “universal communion of renewed humankind in the Kingdom of God”. We may wonder how Pannenberg’s comment, “individual faith is fundamental in the concept of the Church” is to be related to his statement that “Participation in the Kingdom of God is a matter … of spiritual rebirth” (Human Nature, Election and History (1970), p. 107, emphases mine).
Pannenberg speaks of “the wholeness of our existence” as “an event beyond death.” Is this the “spiritual rebirth” which he describes as “participation in the Kingdom of God”?
Pannenberg’s notion of an eternal concurrence between resurrection and judgment fits in well with the notion of a universal Kingdom of God - a “universal communion of renewed humankind in the Kingdom of God”. It does not appear to fit in so well with other aspects of the New Testament proclamation of the Gospel. It is difficult to see how statements like “You must be born again” (John 3:3) and “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3) fit into Pannenberg’s theology.
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The Gospel we are called to preach
* We proclaim God’s love for the whole world - “God so loved the world … “(John 3:16).
* We affirm God’s purpose for the whole world - “God sent His Son … that the world should be saved” (John 3:17)
* We echo God’s warning to the whole world - “he who does not believe is judged already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God … he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:18, 36).

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Some European Theologians

Schillebeeckx, Edward Cornelius Florentius Alfons (1914-2009)
Dominican scholar. Born in Antwerp, Belgium, he taught dogmatic theology at Louvain (1943–45, 1947–58). He was appointed professor of dogmatics and the history of theology at the University of Nijmegen in 1958. In 1965 he helped to found the international theological journal Concilium. His Jesus received acclaim in the wider theological world but disapproval from the Vatican (he was summoned to
Rome in Dec. 1979). His controversial Ministry (1981) caused even greater concern. He was the first theologian to receive the Erasmus Prize (1982) in recognition of his important contribution to European culture. He retired that same year. He has received the highest civil honor in the Netherlands — Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau. He has been described as “one of the very greatest theologians” (J. Bowden). His major works are Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (1974) and Christ: The Christian Experience in the Modern World (1977).

Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1928-2014)
German theologian. Born in Stettin (now Szczecin), Poland, he studied at the universities of Berlin, Göttingen, and Basel, lectured at Heidelberg (1955–58), then was successively professor of systematic theology at Wuppertal (1958–61), Mainz (1961–68), and Munich (1968– ). Originally a student of philosophy, he came to Christian faith through rational reflection concerning the meaning of human existence and history. In Revelation as History (1960) he voiced a strong protest against irrationalism in theology. This book provides the key to much of his later development, for example, the “from-below” approach to Christology (Jesus—God and Man), the apologetic approach to Christian doctrine (The Apostles’ Creed), the concern to lead theology out of its isolation to meet the substantial challenge of the sciences (Theology and the Philosophy of Science), and the eschatological orientation which earned him the description, “a mysterious figure in the background” of “The Theology of Hope” (Theology and the Kingdom of God). Contending that he is a Christian because he is a modern and rational man, he has set himself the courageous and controversial task of demonstrating the reasonableness of Christian faith in the modern world.

Diem, Hermann (1900-1975)
Lutheran theologian. After studies at Tübingen and Marburg (1910–23), he was a pastor in the state church of Württemberg, a part-time lecturer at Tübingen, and a leading member of the Confessional Church. He was a well-known writer on Kierkegaard, and theologically stood close to Karl Barth. That stance changed significantly in 1957 when, at his inaugural lecture as professor of systematic theology at Tübingen, he sought to build a bridge between Barth and Bultmann — and did so with what Barth called “marked originality of character.” In the 1959 foreword to his Dogmatics, Diem stated that he had “cut through all sorts of fixed positions” in order to help “those who will not or cannot simply adhere to one of the major schools of theological thought and … subscribe like disciples to the teaching of one master and read nothing else.” His earlier writings, which reflect his interest also in practical theology and church organization, include Warum Textpredigt? (1939), Restauration oder Neuanfang in der evangelischen Kirche? (1946), Der Abfall der Kirche Christi in die Christlichkeit (1947), Amerika-Eindrücke und Fragen (1949), Grundfragen der biblischen Hermeneutik (1950), and Theologie als kirchliche Wissenschaft (1951).

Gollwitzer, Helmut (1908- 1993)
German theologian. Born in Pappenheim, the son of a Lutheran pastor, he studied philosophy and theology at the universities of Munich, Erlangen, Jena, and Bonn, and succeeded Martin Niemoller as pastor in Berlin-Dahlem (1938–40). A prisoner-of-war in Russia for some years after World War II, Gollwitzer became professor at Bonn (a post once held by Karl Barth) before transferring to the Free University of West Berlin in 1957. He acknowledged his debt to Martin Luther and Karl Barth, and has been described as the latter’s “most controversial living disciple.” He was prevented from succeeding Barth at Basel by “political difficulties.” Gollwitzer’s Introduction to Protestant Theology (ET, 1982) is “in the tradition of Barth and Bonhoeffer” and was said to have been “a theology of freedom and solidarity.” His other writings include Unwilling Journey: A Diary from Russia (1953), The Demands of Freedom: Papers by a Christian in West Germany (1965), The Existence of God as Confessed by Faith (1965), and The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (1965).

Dooyeweerd, Herman (1894-1977)
Dutch philosopher. Born in Amsterdam, he graduated from the Free University there, and was assistant director of the Kuyper Institute, The Hague (1922–26), before appointment as professor of the philosophy of law in the Free University (1926–65). His major work, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (4 vols., 1953–58), challenged the “pretended autonomy” by which philosophical thought asserts self-sufficient independence from divine revelation. He attacked speculative metaphysics, insisting that true knowledge of God and self-knowledge come from the working of God’s Word and Spirit in the heart. Accepting the concepts of general revelation and common grace, he held that neither provides any foundation for natural theology based on man’s unaided reason. Moreover, orthodox theology was no guarantee of true spiritual understanding; the latter comes through submission of the whole person to the message of Holy Scripture concerning “redemption by Jesus Christ.” Acceptance or rejection of this was “a matter of life and death to us, and not a question of theoretical reflection.” In 1935 Dooyeweerd cofounded the journal Philosophia Reformata, and was prominent in the establishment of the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy (later called Christian Philosophy). From 1948 he was a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of the Sciences.

Rookmaaker, Hendrik Roelof (“Hans”) (1922-1997)
Dutch scholar. Born in the Hague, he was educated at the Municipal University of Amsterdam and received his doctorate there in 1959. He was lecturer in the history of art at Leiden University (1958–65), and professor of the same subject in the Free University of Amsterdam (1965–77). From 1973 he also taught in the Kortenhoeve Community, an extension of Francis Schaeffer’s Swiss L’Abri Community. In his late teens Rookmaaker was a prisoner of war and barely escaped execution. During his three-month imprisonment he had nothing to do but read Scripture—and that was the turning-point of his life. Toward the end of World War II, during a second term of imprisonment, he discovered Herman Dooyeweerd’s New Critique of Theoretical Thought and applied the Christian vision articulated there to art history, asking how an artist’s work reflects his beliefs. Rookmaaker traced the history of philosophy through the work of artists in his best-known work, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (1970). Emphasizing that what a man believes makes him live in a certain way, he held that Christians today must understand the spirit of the age. His approach involved learning from the past without being bound by it. He has had a significant influence on the art world. More generally, he has helped many people understand the attitudes, problems, and concerns of the times in which they live.
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I wrote these articles for the Twentieth-Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Baker Book House). I also contributed the articles on ‘Berkouwer’ and ‘the Netherlands’.

Revelation and Reconciliation

'Serious reservations ... must be voiced against the dominant position of the idea of revelation in theology, with its corollary that man's essential predicament is his lack of knowledge ... if the ignorance of man stands at the center, then the fact of revelation relieves that plight; but if man's guilt is the problem, then not revelation but reconciliation must become the theological centrum' (C E Braaten, History and Hermeneutics, p.14).
Building on Braaten's comment, we emphasize two important points:
(i) Man's basic need lies in his sinfulness rather than his finitude;
(ii) That need is met by reconciliation to God rather than mere knowledge about God.
In his treatment of the doctrine of Scripture, Berkouwer places the doctrine of reconciliation at the centre. Divine revelation is not merely an antidote for human ignorance. Scripture must be understood with respect to its specific intention (Holy Scripture, p.125), which is 'most closely related to salvation' (p. 142). An adequate doctrine of Scripture demands a proper understanding of the function as a pointer to Christ, through whom believing man receives eternal life (p.125). The revelation that comes to us through the Scriptures is precisely '(t)he powerful operation of the Spirit' which 'centres in the salvation that has appeared in Christ' (p.49). This work of the Spirit, pointing to a salvation that calls for the response of faith, is central to Berkouwer's understanding of the doctrine of Scripture:
'Believing Scripture does not mean staring at a holy and mysterious book, but hearing the witness concerning Christ. The respect for the concrete words is related precisely to this, and the 'is' of the confession (Scripture is the Word of God) points to the mystery of the Spirit, who wants to bind men to Christ through these words, through this witness' (p.166).
'It is possible to live with Scripture only when the message of Scripture is understood and is not considered 'a metaphysical document', but a living instrument serving God for the proclamation of salvation' (p. 333).
The relation of God's Spirit to Scripture is essentially connected with the concepts of guilt and reconciliation rather than the 'revelation' of a knowledge which is primarily cognitive. Assurance concerning the authority of Scripture is directly related to Christian experience. Such assurance is the expression of the faith which trusts Christ and finds Him trustworthy (p.241).
The assurance that God's Spirit continues to speak through Scripture concerning Christ is quite different from the kind of rationalism which turns the 'is' of the confession - Scripture is the Word of God - into 'a rationally developed infallibility of Scripture that was supposed to preclude all doubts' (p.32). (Note: It should not be supposed that Berkouwer has no doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture. His criticism is directed not aginst the notion of Biblical infallibility as such but against a particular conception of infallibility - 'a rationally developed infallibility').
Berkouwer's criticism of 'a rationally developed infallibilty of Scripture that was supposed to preclude all doubts' is directed against an approach to Scripture which operates primarily on a cognitive level with its concern for infallible and inerrant information. He suggests that this formalized notion of infallible and inerrant truth threatens to undermine the true meaning of faith.
Faith is not simply an addendum to cognitive knowledge concerning infallible and inerrant truth. It is misleading to place cognitive assent to a certain theory of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture prior to believing trust in Jesus Christ. When ' rationally developed infallibility of Scripture that was designed to preclude all doubts' is made the prerequisite of reliable knowledge of Jesus Christ, this suggests that one believes the Bible with a different 'faith' from the faith which trusts Christ. Such a notion involves concepts of faith, truth and knowledge that are primarily intellectual in nature. The suggestion is that faith is to be thought of as assent to an external authority.
Critical of this rather static understanding of truth, Berkouwer directs our attention to the dynamic aspect of truth suggested by Bible passages which describe faith's relation to truth in terms of doing the truth (John 3:21), walking in the truth (2 John 4; 3 John 4), being set free by the truth (John 8:32) and being sanctiifed by the truth (John 17:19).
In making this criticism of 'a rationally developed infallibility of Scripture designed to preclude all doubts', Berkouwer is encouraging us to take care to avoid building our doctrine of Scripture on a concept of knowledge that is so generalized that it fails to appreciate the truly religious nature of our knowledge of God: 'For the purpose of the God-breathed Scripture is not at all to provide a scientific gnosis in order to convey and increase human knowledge and wisdom, but to witness of the salvation of God unto faith'. Clarifying his meaning, he comments, ' This approach does not mean to separate faith and knowledge. But the knowledge that is the unmistakable aim of Scripture is the knowledge of faith' (p.180).
Berkouwer's perspective is not concerned with infallible information secured by inspiration. Holding that 'the nature of the God-breathed character of Scripture cannot be deduced by means of various analogies to the inspiration', Berkouwer contends that 'Scripture is the Word of God because the Holy Spirit witnesses in it of Christ' (p.162).
By speaking of the Holy Spirit's witness to Jesus Christ, Berkouwer does not intend to draw our attention away from the human witness to Jesus Christ. Rather, he seeks to direct our attention to the 'deep dimension of the human witness'. Concerning this 'deep dimension', he writes, 'This witness does not well up from the human heart but from the witness of God, in which it finds its foundation and empowering as a human witness' (p.165). With this conception of Scripture as 'human witness empowered by the Spirit', Berkouwer maintains that 'the Word of God does not draw us away from the human but involves us with the human' (p.167).
Berkouwer's appreciation of the human aspect of Scripture, his insight into the relation between the Spirit and Scripture, and his distinction between the nature of the knowledge of God and other types of knowledge each constitute important elements in an adequate doctrine of Scripture.
Berkouwer is in basic agreement with Braaten's remark that the concept of reconciliation, as an antidote to man's guilt, should be more central in our theological thinking than the concept of revelation as an antidote to man's ignorance. It should not, however, be assumed that he is ready to dispense with the idea of revelation and replace it directly with the idea of reconciliation.
Berkouwer's understanding of the relation of revelation and reconciliation can be explored further by turning our attention to a book which contains the word, 'revelation', in its title - General Revelation.
Here, Berkouwer emphasizes both the reality of God's revelation in creation and sinful man's inability to understand this revelation. He maintains that there is 'an objective revelation of God in His works which man ... can no longer read because of the darkening of his understanding'. Taking account of human sin without denying the divine revelation in creation, Berkouwer affirms that 'the spectacles of special revelation ... are needed in order to read the revelation in creation' (p.30).
Expanding on this point, he emphasizes that general revelation can only be understood through grace. He insists that the one who has come to experience the grace of God in salvation is alone able to understand the revelation of God in creation. Writing on 'The Nature Psalms', he states this succinctly: 'nature is not seen isolated from the salvation of the God of Israel ... man in and by the salvation of God is delivered from the tenacity of the egocentric and commences to sing of the glory of God. It is this salvation that opens doors and windows towards God's handiwork ... This understanding, and seeing, and hearing, is possible only in the communion with him, in the enlightenment of the eyes by the salvation of God' (pp.128, 131).
Berkouwer affirms that while there is an objective revelation of God in creation, we can only understand that revelation properly when we experience reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. While the idea of reconciliation is central to Berkouwer's theology, it should not be assumed that that God's act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ constitutes the entirety of God's revelation. God revealed Himself first in creation prior to man's sin and, therefore, prior to the need for reconciliation. Since man has sinned, he is no longer able to rightly understand this revelation. Man's sin, therefore, occasioned the need for 'the revelation of reconciliation' (p.26).
The redemptive revelation should not be seen as replacing the creational revelation. God has revealed Himself redemptively because of the failure of sinful man, and not because of any failure in His creational revelation. The purpose of creational revelation was not redemptive, for, prior to his sin, man did not require to be redeemed. Redemptive revelation has a restorative character. Man's original relationship with God, spoiled by his sin, is restored through the revelation of reconciliation.
The full process of the revelation of reconciliation includes five elements:
(a) The creational revelation through which God gave Himself to man in a relationship not yet marred by sin. That revelation remains revelation after man's sin, though it is not properly understood until man's sinful blindness is removed through God's redemption.
(b) The incarnation in which God Himself became man with the purpose of delivering man from sin and death (The Work of Christ, p.28).
(c) The Scriptures which serve as 'a living instrument serving God for the proclamation of the message of salvation' (Holy Scripture, p.333).
(d) Proclamation which calls for the Church to be joyful and faithful servants of the Redeemer and His mesasage of redemption. Through the Church's very human witness, Christ speaks His divine Word to the world. (Proclamation is used here in a broad sense. It is not to be identified exclusively with 'preaching' or 'pulpit ministry').
(e) The Spirit of God whose activity is indispensable if there is to be reconciliation. Without the Spirit's presence, Christ's incarnation would remain a matter of past history, the Scriptures would be no more than a record of Jewish religion and the proclamation of the Church would be empty religious tradition. Whatever there may be of past and present tradition, there would be no reconciliation, for it is the Spirit who enables the message of Christ in the Scriptures and the proclamation of the Church to be a message of reconciliation which actually brings us into a new living relationship with God.
As we reflect on the importance of each of these five elements, we must emphasize the integral unity of the whole process of revelation through which God comes to us as our Creator and our Redeemer. No part can be ignored without affecting the whole.
(i) The loss of the perspective of creational revelation results in the loss of an adequate perspective on man's sin, for man's sin 'is unmasked in its guilty character precisely because there is and remains revelation' (General Revelation, p.31).
(ii) Without Christ, there can be no Christian faith, for without Christ, we have no Saviour.
(iii) Without the Scriptures, we would not have the message of Christ available to us (Holy Scripture, p.57 - Here, Berkouwer cites favourably 'Calvin's rejection of a spiritualism that makes great display of the superiority of the Spirit, but rejects all reading of Scripture itself').
(iv) Without the Church's proclamation of the message of reconciliation, that message would remain in the Bible without reaching those for whom it is intended (The Return of Christ, p.132 - Here, Berkouwer comments on our call to be a missionary Church. He insists that there can be 'no distinction in this area between the "being" and the "well-being" of the church. It is a matter of the church's very being to turn towards the world').
(v) To lose the perspective of the Spirit is to open the door to the kind of barren rationalism which kills rather than giving life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
We need the presence and power of the Spirit if our knowledge of God is to be heart-knowledge of the kind which enables us to say, with Paul, 'we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit' (2 Corinthians 3:18).

A Critique of J D Bettis, "Is Karl Barth a Universalist?"

The question of universalism in Barth’s theology has been raised directly by J D Bettis in his article, “Is Karl Barth a Universalist?” (Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 20, No. 4, December 1967, pp. 423-436). This article requires to be carefully discussed not only for its significance as an interpretation of Barth’s thought but also because it presents a serious misrepresentation of Berkouwer’s criticism of Barth.
Bettis writes, “Modern protestant theology has defined three basic answers to the question of the particularity of election: double predestination, Arminianism and universalism” (p. 423).
By attempting to fit Berkouwer into “this structure of alternatives” (p. 423), he misrepresents completely Berkouwer’s criticism of Barth. According to Bettis, Brunner and Berkouwrer hold that “because Barth fails to accept either Brunner’s Arminianism or Berkouwer's double decree, he must be a universalist” (p. 426). There are two misrepresentations of Berkouwer here.
(a) In Divine Election (DE) (Chapters Six and Seven – “Election and Rejection”, pp. 172-217 and “Election and the Preaching of the gospel”, pp. 218-253), Berkouwer dissociates himself from the idea of the double decree. In The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth (TG), he writes, “I am of the opinion that … one can judge soundly of the scriptural doctrine of election only when one rejects this symmetry (i.e. the ‘equal ultimacy’ of election and reprobation)” which he describes as “an unbiblical distortion of the message of the Divine election” (p. 391, brackets mine).
(b) Berkouwer never states that Barth is a universalist on the basis that he must be a universalist. He acknowledges that Barth dissociates himself from universalism. He does, however, question the effectiveness of Barth’s rejection of universalism. Berkouwer discusses this question in TG, Chapter X, “The Universality of the Triumph”, pp. 262-296. He acknowledges “Barth’s express rejection of the doctrine of the apokatastasis” (p. 266). It is precisely because Barth is, by his own profession, not a universalist that the discussion of his theology is so important. Bettis asks the question, “Is Katl Barth a Universalist?” In terms of Barth’s own words, this question can be answered with a simple “No”. The subsequent question, “Is Karl Barth’s rejection of universalism convincing?” is the central question.
If Bettis had made the latter question more central, he might have followed through his own critical remarks (p. 433) more fully (more about this later) rather than concentrating chiefly on a defence of Barth, which disposes of his critics by means of misrepresentation. Bettis could not have been so uncritical if he had taken Berkouwer’s critique seriously. This would, however, have required genuine dialogue rather than unfair dismissal!
Bettis contends that “For Barth, one can reject both Arminianism and double predestination without having to accept universalism” (p. 423). This statement might have been written of Berkouwer, whom, it may be argued, rejects this structure of alternatives more convincingly than Barth does. It may also be argued that the precise nature of Berkouwer’s criticism of Barth can only be properly understood when his rejection of this structure of alternatives is recognized.
Berkouwer’s rejection of this structure of alternatives is observable in his book, Faith and Justification, where he writes, “Everything is really said in an unobtrusive phrase, in Christ, … faith is not added as a second, independent ingredient which makes its own contribution to justification in Christ … faith does nothing but accept, or come to rest in the sovereignty of His benefit … we are not acceptable to God because of the worthiness of our faith. Grace is exclusively and totally God’s” (p. 43, emphasis original), “a speculative logic can invade a scriptural proclamation of salvation and torture it beyond recognition … When speculation on time and eternity, with eternity swallowing up the significance of time, determines the line of thought, there is no possibility of doing justice … to justification through faith within the temporal reality of our lives” (p. 150), “Barth’s conception of the relation between election and faith … (bears) a similarity to universalism” (pp. 196-197, emphasis mine) by which he is brought “continually to the precipice (emphasis mine) of apokatastasis (italics original) or universalism” (p. 165).
This raises the question whether “Barth really does justice to the depth of earnestness in the scriptural witness” (p. 165).
It is clear, then, from Faith and Justification as well as Divine Election and The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth that Berkouwer rejects the system of alternatives: Arminianism, the double decree, universalism.
It is, therefore, inaccurate to suggest that Berkouwer accepts a system of alternatives rejected by Barth. Both reject this system of alternatives. The crucial question is: Which rejection of this system of alternatives is the more convincing – Berkouwer’s or Barth’s?
Bettis maintains that “Barth consistently rejects universalism as a doctrine” (p. 427, emphasis mine). The problem with this estimation of Barth’s rejection of universalism is that it does not take sufficient account of Barth’s own words: “Even though theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances in this direction (universal reconciliation), we must not arrogate to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift” (Church Dogmatics (CD), Vol. IV, 3, first half, p. 477; cited by Bettis, p. 433, emphasis mine). Barth’s rejection of universalism is not motivated by the interests of theological consistency which, he acknowledges, might seem to lead towards universal reconciliation.
Bettis notes that Barth “leaves open the possibility that within God’s freedom all men may be saved” (p. 427). Barth holds that, because of the freedom of divine love, even the believing man can never escape the threat of eternal rejection (CD, Vol. IV, 3, first half, p. 477, cited by Bettis, p. 433). Thus, Barth’s rejection of universalism is rooted in the idea that the future of all men is uncertain.
This notion involves a conception of God’s freedom which might be characterized as a freedom to be ungracious. Barth’s entire theology appears to proclaim the grace of God. This conception of divine freedom seems to suggest, however, that the affirmation of grace requires to be qualified by the possibility that God might not be gracious.
While the chief direction of Barth’s theology is towards assurance grounded in the revelation of divine grace, it seems that such assurance must be qualified by a recognition of the divine freedom to withhold this grace.
Admittedly, Barth’s intention is to stress that grace is a free gift which no man has any right to expect from God. This principle is, in itself, unassailable. When, however, the universal threat of eternal rejection is set over against the divine reconciliation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the issue is not one of man’s rights but of the faithfulness of the divine promise of grace to be received through faith in Christ.
The divine reconciliation in Christ strips man of all the rights he supposes himself to have. At the same time, however, this reconciliation provides the believing man with a gracious assurance which is vouched for by God Himself in His divine promise of grace.
This assurance has nothing at all to do with man’s rights and everything to do with the free grace of God which has been pledged to believing man through Christ.
Barth writes, “We should be denying … that evil attempt (the persistent attempt to change the truth into untruth) and our own participation in it, if in relation to ourselves or others or all men, we were to postulate a withdrawal of that threat … No such postulate can be made even though we appeal to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ … we must not arrogate to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift” (CD, Vol. IV, 3, first half, p. 477; cited by Bettis, p. 433).
Barth’s intention – to emphasize that grace is God’s free gift – is to be appreciated. It should, however, be asked whether he has not set ‘God in Himself’ over against ‘God for us’.
What are we to make of this suggestion that God might yet withdraw His saving grace from those who believe? It rules out the possibility of the assurance of salvation. It also casts aspersions of doubt on the reliability of the divine promise of grace which is received through faith in Christ.
Christian assurance is not a form of presumption which takes God’s grace for granted. Rather, it is an assurance which is rooted in the reliability of God in His gracious self-revelation in Christ.
If this revelation of grace is to be qualified by a concept of divine freedom which can be isolated from God’s self-revelation in history, it can only be done at the expense of introducing both an element of arbitrariness into the doctrine of God and a basic uncertainty into the believer’s knowledge of God.
It may be that the particular form of Barth’s rejection of universalism arises directly from the universalist structure of his theology.
He conceives of God’s dealings with men in universal terms. God’s dealings are with ‘man’ rather than with the believer and the unbeliever. In criticizing this aspect of Barth’s thought, it is not being denied that there is a “(k)erygmatic universality” (Berkouwer, DE, p. 240). It is, however, to question whether Barth has represented rightly the nature of this universality.
In Barth’s theology, there is no suggestion of a dichotomy between the believer and the unbeliever. The introduction of such a dichotomy into his rejection of universalism would run counter to the whole tenor of his theology. Barth, therefore, insists that universal reconciliation may not be postulated since the threat of eternal rejection hangs over all men because all men are sinners.
Recognizing that Barth’s notion of divine freedom entails the devaluation of the trustworthiness of the salvation of God in Christ, Bettis writes, “Rather than ask whether Barth attributes too much to the work of Christ, the real question is whether Barth attributes enough to Christ’s work. If it is not to remove the threat of permanent rejection for those who believe, what is the purpose of the crucifixion and resurrection?” (p. 433).
Barth’s concept of divine freedom prevents him from giving an adequate answer to this question. For this reason, his rejection of universalism remains quite unconvincing.
Since Barth thinks of the election of grace in universal categories, it follows that his rejection of universalism is presented in universal categories. The ontic structure (I intend to say more on this subject in my next post) of Barth’s thinking concerning the universal election of grace lies behind Barth’s rejection of universalism.
Bettis comments, “Barth does not reject universalism because the future of the pagan is uncertain. He rejects universalism because the future of all men is uncertain” (p. 433).
Since Barth thinks of ‘man’ and his relation to the divine gracious election in universal categories, he cannot, without undermining the whole structure of his theology, posit a withdrawal of grace from some men (i.e. unbelievers) only, for this would be to make man’s faith (or unbelief) decisive in a way that Barth has consistently refused to do (In TG, p.113, Berkouwer describes Barth’s view thus: “The divine decision … can … not be undone by any human decision”).
If the freedom of God is to be used as a basis for rejecting universalism, it must, in Barth’s view, be a freedom to withhold grace not only from some men but from all men.
Barth states that both the idea of universal reconciliation and the idea of the damnation of all men are “formal conclusions without substantial content” (Die Kirchliche Dogmatik, Vol.II, 2, p. 461; cited by Berkouwer in TG, p. 117). It must, however, be pointed out that even the suggestion of the possibility of the damnation of all men has drastic consequences for the understanding of the faithfulness of the God of revelation and the unity of His redemptive work.
A rejection of universalism on this basis does not represent a defence of free grace. It is the introduction of a rather formless freedom which relativizes the divine faithfulness.
If universalism and this type of rejection of universalism are adjudged to be unsatisfactory, there needs to be further reflection concerning the meaning of kerygmatic universality (more about this in the final post in this series).
Bettis insists that “Barth’s rejection of universalism is consistent with his … strong and clear intention of refusing to identify the love of God with a cosmic plan of redemption and with refusing to identify the gospel with information about that plan” (pp. 435-436, accompanied by footnote (n. 1) to CD, Vol. II, 2, pp.76-93).
Before looking more closely at this statement, it should be pointed out that it might have been made of Berkouwer who writes, “it is extremely dangerous to think and talk about ‘the love of God’ and what ‘follows’ from it outside of the gospel” (The Return of Christ (RC), p. 422). He insists that “the tender mercy of God … is not the point of departure for logical conclusions on our part” (RC, p. 423). He resists “the persistent and almost irresistible inclination to go outside the proclamation of the gospel to find a deeper gnosis, whether in the form of certain knowledge or only as a surmise”, insisting that there is “only one ‘necessity’ … ‘Necessity … is laid upon me. Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel!’ (1 Cor. 9:16)” (RC, p. 423). He stresses that the Gospel’s answer to the question of the number of the saved is found in Jesus’ words: “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (p. 423; I intend to say more about this in another post – though this will be not be part of the present series on Barth).
Bettis rightly points out that Barth’s rejection of universalism is consistent with his clear intention of refusing to identify the Gospel with a cosmic plan of redemption and the Gospel with information about that plan.
He might, however, have raised the more important question of whether either of these motifs is consistent with other aspects of Barth’s thought.
Bettis writes, “Barth rejects universalism because the premise of its argument is that God’s love is good because it saves men” (p. 436).
A universalist might, however, argue, with some justification, that this represents a reversal of the universalist argument. A universalist might contend that the effect (“it saves men”) is grounded in the cause (“God’s love is good”) and is not seen as the factor which determines his view of God’s love. A universalist might even state that Barth has been a formative influence on his doctrine of God!
Bettis contrasts universalism with Barth’s view. Universalism is concerned with an “ontological reorganisation of the universe” concerning which men are to be informed. “Barth knows that men are not justified by knowledge, even knowledge of God’s plan for their lives. Men are justified through faith” (p. 436).
There appears to be a selectivity in Bettis’ analysis which leads to a failure to acknowledge adequately the tension in Barth’s doctrine of salvation.
Barth speaks of the “eternal destruction” of those who do not believe that they are God’s children from eternity” (CD, Vol. I. 2, p. 238). On what basis are those who are God’s children from eternity to be committed to eternal destruction? Is it on the basis of a lack of a “(s)subjective revelation” which, in Barth’s view, is “not the addition of a second revelation to objective revelation” (p. 238)? Is it on the basis of the raising and answering of the question of our destiny at a different point from the Son of God’s assumption of humanity (p. 238)? Barth answers both questions in the negative. Barth holds that “the truth” (p. 238; i.e. the objective truth) is that he is a child of God from eternity (“’in Christ’ … reconciled … elect … called … justified … sanctified”, p. 240) even when he is “not in the truth” (p. 238; i.e. subjectively).
It is questionable whether Barth has understood the relationship between salvation and judgment in a Biblical way. It might also be asked whether Barth’s belief in the reality of eternal destruction might not have led him to think and to speak differently of the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity.
In his article, "Is Karl Barth a Universalist?", Bettis has not shown any awareness of the kind of theological perspective on grace and faith offered to us by Berkouwer. The lack of real understanding of Berkouwer's view is highlighted in Bettis' statement that Brunner and Berkouwer hold that “because Barth fails to accept either Brunner’s Arminianism or Berkouwer's double decree, he must be a universalist.” In view of all that Berkouwer has written in his book, "Divine Election", I wonder where Bettis gets the idea that Berkouwer thinks in terms of a "double decree."
Another point of interest here concerns Bettis' interpretation of Brunner. I'm less familiar with Brunner's work. I do, however, remember that,in his book, "Our Faith", he was critical of the double decree. He did speak of election in a way that was a bit different from Berkouwer. I recall Brunner speaking of people being invited to accept or reject their "election." Berkouwer, on the other hand, emphasizes that it is only out of the experience of divine grace that we can speak of divine election. This is an important distinction. What Berkouwer is saying about election is not the same as saying that you can accept or reject your election.
He insists that a proper understanding of theological language is only attainable within the context of an encounter with the divine object of faith. He holds 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, RSV). 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 certain 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.
While I cannot pass any detailed comment on Brunner's critique of Barth, I should point out that Berkouwer never stated that "Barth must be a universalist." He did, however,ask the question, "How convincing is Barth's rejection of universalism?" While Bettis is not entirely uncritical of Barth, I think that Berkouwer's book, "The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth", is a much deeper analysis of Barth's theology. The moment Bettis makes any criticism of Barth, we must ask him, "Where are you taking us?" As I recall, he is neither taking us in the direction of any of the "three basic answers" - double predestination, Arminianism and universalism" nor is he offering any other option which enables us to get beyond the "three basic answers." Bettis has given us an article on Karl Barth. He has unfairly dismissed Berkouwer. we are left wondering, "Where exactly does Bettis himself stand on these matters." I think that, in fairness to Berkouwer, there is much more of a positive statement of his own view of election than we get from Bettis. In Berkouwer's book, "A Half Century of Theology", the chapter on "The Heart of the Church" provides a very helpful discussion of the doctrine of divine election. In my book on Berkouwer, I have commented on this chapter. My comments were set within the context of a discussion of Berkouwer's approach to apologetics. Emphasizing the apologetic value of Berkouwer's doctrine of election, these are the points that I made:
(i) He discerns the harmful effects of a deterministic doctrine of election.
(ii) He acknowledges that the deterministic interpretation of election has, for many, proved to be an obstacle to faith.
(iii) He affirms the primacy of divine revelation over human reason.
(iv) He refuses to be content with "the construction pf defensive syntheses."
(v) He has thought seriously about difficult theological concepts and biblical passages.
(vi) Through honest questioning, he has reached a positive position.
(vii) His position could provide an aid towards faith for the person drawn to nihilism because of disillusionment with the deterministic notion of divine sovereignty.
I will now return to Berkouwer. I will not be returning to the Bettis article. Since, however, I am building on the discussion of the Bettis article, I am including these comments on Berkouwer as the final part of this post on Barth and universalism.
Berkouwer rejects a priori universalism without losing a proper perspective on the divine freedom. From Berkouwer’s perspective, the possibility of universal reconciliation would be related not to the freedom of God to be ungracious but to the freedom of God to be gracious.
Such a conception of divine freedom would be more consistent with the Gospel as a revelation of grace than Barth’s introduction of the idea of the freedom of God as a qualification placed on a theology which bears an inherently universalist structure.
Barth’s notion of divine freedom raises problems regarding his theology of revelation. The suggestion that believing man stands under the threat of eternal rejection tends to relativize the reality of God’s gracious revelation. The faithfulness of the God of revelation is called in question. Thus, it becomes difficult to distinguish between divine freedom and arbitrariness.
In A Half Century of Theology, pp. 45-49, Berkouwer emphasizes Barth’s “strong opposition to theological arbitrariness” (p. 46). Concerned to draw attention to “the free and gracious gift of God” (p. 49, emphasis original), Barth insists that “(t)here is no way leading from us to grace … (since) (t)hat … would be the worst kind of Pharisaism” (p. 49, emphasis and brackets mine; with reference to though not a direct citation of CD, Vol. IV, 1, p. 617). It is against the arbitrariness of “all false boasting” (p. 48) that Barth emphasizes the freedom of God’s grace
The way in which Barth argues for the freedom of God’s grace is questionable. In challenging Barth’s way of speaking of God’s freedom, I would maintain that an appeal to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is precisely the opposite of arrogating to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift. It is a looking away from ourselves to the Saviour. There is no genuine appeal to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ where there is any thought that salvation can ever be anything other than a free gift.
Barth’s intention, in CD, Vol. IV, 3, first half, p. 477, may be to warn against false boasting. His manner of speaking does, however, open the door to a conception of divine freedom which goes beyond a protest against false boasting.
In Barth’s conception of divine freedom, there appears to be no essential connection between the historical revelation in which God promises salvation to those who believe and the eschatological possibility that this salvation might yet be withheld from those who believe.
If the freedom of God is not to become a formless freedom which conflicts with the affirmation of the gracious character of revelation, it requires to be understood that “the universality of the New Testament … is nowhere made into an objective state of affairs” (Berkouwer, DE, p. 240).
When objectivity and subjectivity are not set in tension with each other, a priori universalism may be rejected without recourse to either an arbitrary avoidance of theological consistency or an arbitrary conception of divine freedom which suggests that God may, in His eschatological judgment, act in a manner that is unfaithful to the promise of grace given in His historical revelation.
The significance of man’s faith is fully recognized when the reality of the divine faithfulness in God’s promise of grace is upheld. The significance of unbelief is emphasized in the face of the warning of the Gospel. Thus, the significance of man can be affirmed over against the universalist devaluation of the seriousness of unbelief and the threatening of faith’s significance by an a-historical conception of divine freedom.
Thus, without any sacrifice of theological consistency, it can be affirmed unambiguously that “Kerygmatic universality does not preclude but include(s) the call to belief and repentance” (Berkouwer, p. 240).
The question arises most pointedly in view of Barth’s affirmation of the reality of eternal destruction (CD, Vol. I, 2, p. 238) whether it is sufficient for Barth, in his preaching of the gospel, to say, “By grace you have been saved! – this is true, even though we may not believe it, may not accept it as valid for ourselves”, even allowing for his words, “and unfortunately in so doing may forego his benefits” (Deliverance to the Captives, p. 40, emphasis original; I will return to the relationship between grace and faith in a later post).
In the broader context of contemporary theology, Berkouwer and Barth have much in common. Both affirm the reality of divine grace. Both affirm the doctrine of divine election. Both affirm the centrality of Christ in this doctrine. Berkouwer welcomes Barth’s emphasis on both God’s sovereignty and God’s love, his emphasis on both divine election and Jesus Christ: “We ….must listen to his warning not to separate God’s sovereignty from His love, and His election from Jesus Christ, for in view of the many dangers and misunderstandings this warning becomes necessary” (DE, p. 161). There are, however, significant differences between Berkouwer and Barth (for more on Berkouwer’s understanding of divine election, see my post, “Loved with Everlasting Love”). In affirming the reality of divine grace, the doctrine of divine election and the centrality of Christ, they have not spoken with a single voice. The voice of Barth has been more dominant than that of Berkouwer. I hope that, by drawing attention to Berkouwer’s theology, my posts will enable his voice to be heard by more people. The more we become aware of his distinctive contribution, the more he will be appreciated as a theologian whose work is to be highly valued.

Marx’s Call for a World-Changing Philosophy: Herbert Marcuse, Liberation and Jesus Christ

Marcuse emphasizes that liberation is grounded in the truth.
He sees, in Marx’s thought, an “absolutism of truth (which) … once for all separates dialectical theory from the subsequent forms of positivism and relativism” (Reason and Revolution (RR), p. 322, emphasis mine).
Marcuse describes this absolutism of truth thus: “According to Marx, the correct theory is the consciousness of a practice that aims at changing the world. Marx’s concept of truth, however, is far from relativism. There is only one truth and one practice capable of realizing it. Theory accompanies the practice at every moment, analysing the changing situation and formulating its concepts accordingly. The concrete conditions for realizing the truth may vary, but the truth remains the same and the theory remains its ultimate guardian. Theory will preserve the truth even if revolutionary practice deviates from its proper path. Practice follows the truth not vice versa” (RR, pp. 321-322, emphasis mine).
Marx’s call for a world-changing philosophy is, in Marcuse’s opinion, directly related to the liberation of the individual since, for Marx, the transition from capitalism to socialism is necessary “in the sense that the full development of the individual is necessary” (RR, p. 317).
It is this goal of individual freedom which must be maintained where revolutionary practice has resulted in the replacement of one repressive system with another.
The New Testament conception of truth is quite different from that of Marcuse.
The New Testament proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6) and that freedom comes through truth - “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
When truth is defined christologically, Jesus Christ is recognized as the Liberator. The practice of liberation is, then, rooted in the confession of faith in Him as the Liberator.
When liberation theology is properly rooted in such faith in the Liberator, it does not become social activism which is independent of personal faith.
Discussing the connection between Christology and “political theology”, Berkouwer writes, “Helmut Thielicke … criticizes ‘political theology’ on the grounds of its christology, not on the grounds of its concern for the affairs of this world. In this christology, Thielicke thinks, Jesus is viewed as a model of human activity in such a way that the issue of his divinity evaporates. He sees this as a natural upshot of a christology that has concern only with man and his world. Jesus becomes a substitute for an absent God. Naturally, in the mind of ‘political theologians’ Thielicke’s fears are misplaced. For, they say, what they want is not to replace the gospel, but to trace its bearing on worldly affairs” (A Half Century of Theology, pp. 208-209, emphasis original).
According to Berkouwer, “the problem for Christian theology lies in the manner in which the work of man is integrated into the work of God” (p. 209, emphasis original).
Man’s liberating activity must be rooted in rather than arbitrarily separated from the liberating activity of God in Christ.
The New Testament proclamation concerning the work of Jesus Christ the Liberator emphasizes the uniqueness of His redemption through which man, by faith, receives God’s gracious gift of justification (Romans 3:24-25).
In view of this teaching concerning the uniqueness of the work of Jesus Christ the Liberator, salvation is described thus: “this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
The call to Christian obedience is issued on the basis of divine mercy (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 2:10).
A Christian theology of liberation may be regarded as an attempt to understand the Gospel and follow its practical implications in the contemporary world without implying an unbelieving replacement of the Gospel of divine redemption with an ethic of social action.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Creation And Christ

When we think of the relationship between creation and Christ, we become more strikingly aware of the inadequacy of the word, 'reconciliation' as a replacement for the word, 'revelation.' Christ is the centre of divine revelation. It is in Him alone that there is reconciliation or salvation. While seeing Christ as the centre of divine revelation, we must be careful not to make Christ the sum-total of revelation in such a restrictive way that we lose sight of the important Biblical perspective on creational revelation (more commonly known as 'general revelation.')
By strongly emphasizing the centrality of Christ in God's work of revelation and reconciliation, we are able to go beyond the vagueness of much modern theology when it attempts to speak of God. We must, however, take care not to present Christ in a restrictive way which fails to bring out the comprehensiveness of God's revelation in creation, which forms the indispensable background to God's mighty work of salvation in Christ. The powerful evangelistic significance of a proper emphasis on creational revelation is brought out by A. W. Tozer (The Pursuit of God, pp. 73-82; The Best of Tozer, pp. 20-26). Tozer, concerned to emphasize "Not God spoke, but God is speaking", highlights the danger of thinking of creational revelation as 'natural' and the Bible as 'supernatural.'
This kind of contrast gives the false impression of a silent God who suddenly began to speak only to retreat again into silence after He had spoken. Concerning creational revelation, Tozer writes, "His speaking Voice ... antedates the Bible by uncounted centuries ... that Voice ... has not been silent since the dawn of creation." Tozer stresses the integral relation between creational revelation and biblical revelation: "The Bible will never be a living Book to us until we are convinced that God is articulate in His universe." Tozer insists  that if we fail to appreciate the powerful speaking of God in creation, our witness to Christ will be weakened: "To jump from a dead, impersonal world to a dogmatic Bible is too much for most people. They may admit that they should accept the Bible as the Word of God, and they may try to think of it as such, but they find it impossible to believe that the words there on the page are actually for them." 
Careful to avoid "a divided psychology" which "tries to think of God as mute everywhere else and vocal only in a book", insists that "much of our religious unbelief is due to a wrong conception of and a wrong feeling for the Scriptures of Truth. A silent God suddenly began to speak in a book and when the book was finished lapsed back into silence forever. Now we read the book as the record of what God said when He was for a brief time in a speaking mood. With notions like that in our heads how can we believe?" By grounding the unity of creational and biblical revelation in the conviction that God is "by His nature continuously active", Tozer goes on to stress that the Bible is "not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking" and that "a word of God once spoken continues to be spoken."
In our understanding of the Christian message, let us be quite clear that any friction between creation and salvation must be recognized as an unbiblical fiction (the change from 'friction' to 'fiction' is deliberate - it's not a typing error!). Let us see clearly that there is no competition between creation and Christ. Let us rejoice that the salvation of God in Christ opens our eyes to see the glory of God in creation. How we need to allow the glory and the majesty of God to fill our preaching of the Gospel - so that the world cannot turn away from the message we preach with the snide remark, "Your God is too small." 

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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