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Showing posts from February, 2018

Karl Barth the Preacher: “Keep before your eyes our Lord Jesus Christ”

Prior to his ‘forty years as a professor’, Barth spent ‘twelve years as a preacher’ (Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (from the Foreword to the German Edition). As a theologian, he never lost sight of the importance of preaching. Although he worked for so many years in the university, he always saw his theological work as part of the church’s work: ‘I said to myself. “If I am a theologian, I must try to work out broadly what I think I  have perceived as God’s revelation. What I think I have perceived. Yet not I as an individual but I as a member of the Christian church”. This is why I call my book Church Dogmatics. “Church” here does not mean that the church is responsible for all that I say, but that I as one member of the church have reflected on what may be perceived in revelation and tried to present it to the best of my conscience and understanding’ (A Karl Barth Reader, 113, emphasis original).
Barth’s theological work was a part of the church’s work. Ultimately, however, …

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 del…

Predestination And Preaching

In his discussion of the 'pre' element in predestination, G. C. Berkouwer insists that "he who speaks of God's counsel in terms of human categories will have to be aware of the inadequacy of his words." He maintains that the inadequacy of our words is particularly felt when we speak of before and after with respect to God. In his attempt to understand the language of predestination, Berkouwer speaks of the "depth-aspect" of salvation. 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." Seeking to understand the idea of "before the foundation of the world", he writes, "These words do not occur in Scripture as 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 'eter…

G C Berkouwer and Apologetics

Berkouwer, Gerrit C. (1903-1996)
Throughout his lengthy career as Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam, he sought to understand the gospel more deeply. Best known for his multi-volumed Studies in Dogmatics, his chief work was in dogmatics rather than apologetics. His writings contain valuable insights relating to the work of apologetics. From his Studies in Dogmatics, there are two important discussions - 'Apostolicity and Truth' in The Church and 'Faith and Criticism' in Holy Scripture. Also of considerable interest are two chapters in A Half Century of Theology - ' The Era of Apologetics' and 'Faith and Reasonableness'. Distinguishing between an authentic authority and an unwarranted authoritarianism, he affirmed the essential reasonableness of the gospel. The call to faith in Christ is not a call for blind obedience. Believing in Christ does not require a sacrifice of the intellect. He also affirmed the spiritual charac…

Common Grace and Saving Grace

The doctrine of common grace is important for the discussion of the relationship between the church and the world. where common grace is ignored, a radical dualism develops between the church and the world. Where the idea of common grace is dispensed with for the sake of accentuating the saving character of grace, there tends to be a failure to do justice to the biblical call to faith. the concept of common grace is a difficult idea which requires to be interpreted sensitively if theology is to avoid moving in the direction of either dualism or universalism. Neither dualism nor universalism does justice to the complex relationship between the church and the world. Dualism fails to appreciate the value of the world as created humanity. Universalism fails to appreciate the distinctiveness of the church as redeemed humanity. While the doctrine of common grace can be misused, its main thrust is commendable in that it seeks to preserve two important emphases - the church has a distinctive…

Berkouwer on “‘Luther and Calvin’ on ‘Paul and James’”

The views of Luther and Calvin regarding the relationship between Paul and James - this is not merely a matter of historical curiosity. Rather, it points towards a way of overcoming the evangelism - social concern polarization. Both Luther and Calvin were committed to the principles of “grace alone”, “faith alone”, “Christ alone” and “Scripture alone”. Both viewed the epistle of James in relation to what was regarded as “the incontrovertible and central message of salvation” (Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, (1975; Dutch, two volumes, 1965, 1967), p. 95). They did, however, reach different conclusions concerning this epistle. Luther held that it “has no evangelical nature to it” (p. 93; cf. C. E. B. Cranfield, “The Message of James”, Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 18, No. 2 (June 1965), p. 182). Calvin wrote that “it contains nothing unworthy of an Apostle of Christ” (Calvin’s Commentaries - from “The Argument on the Epistle of James”; cf. Cranfield, “The Message of James”, p. 183). Be…

Calvin's Description of Christ as "the Mirror of Election"

On the whole, Berkouwer shows considerable agreement with Calvin. Where there is disagreement, this tends to be minimized through sympathetic interpretation which accentuates their agreement. Whenever disagreement is inevitable, it is always respectful disagreement. Berkouwer’s criticisms of Calvin are never offered without the greatest respect for the great Reformer.
While Berkouwer offers much sympathetic exposition and interpretation of Calvin, it is clearly not his intention ‘to defend every one of Calvin’s utterance concerning the doctrine of election’ (Divine Election, p. 190). In particular, he is critical of the ‘imbalance in the causa-concept which we observe in Calvin’ (p. 181). Even here, however, Berkouwer’s criticism is sympathetic rather than scathing. He refers to an imbalance which requires correction rather than presenting an equally unbalanced and categorical rejection of Calvin’s valid insight into the central importance of the doctrine of election.
Emphasizing the…

Berkouwer and Systematic Theology

Sometimes, it is said that Berkouwer's theology is not very systematic. I think that, to appreciate the systematic quality of Berkouwer's theology, you need to get deeply into it, reading quite a bit of his work and thinking along with him.
I have tended to regard his work on 'Holy Scripture' & 'Divine Election' as important though, admittedly, many others are less happy with these volumes).
The more I reflected on these books, the more I felt that he wasn't being unsystematic. He was opening up perspectives which shed new light on these doctrines.
In my book, I expound Berkouwer's doctrines of Scripture & election, seeking - along the way - to defend his approach against his critics.
An important aspect of Berkouwer's approach is summed up in the two principles - Speak where Scripture speaks. Remain silent where Scripture remains silent.
There is, however, another aspect of Berkouwer's approach which is worthy of mention. He was a crea…

The Purpose of Scripture

Berkouwer emphasizes that “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” (Holy Scripture, p. 180). He insists that “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, which does not increase human wisdom, but is life eternal” (p. 180).

Hearing and Speaking the Word of God

"If theology is to speak adequately of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it must be thoroughly committed to hearing “the powerful witness of the ‘tremendous’ Word that always speaks against us so that we can learn to stop speaking against it.” (A Half Century of Theology, p. 74).
This quotation is taken from Berkouwer’s account of Karl Barth’s reaction to the theological method of Rudolf Bultmann.

Berkouwer on "Divine Election"

In his discussion of the 'pre' element in predestination, Berkouwer insists that "he who speaks of God's counsel in terms of human categories will have to be aware of the inadequacy of his words" (Divine Election, p. 152). In this respect, Berkouwer closely follows Bavinck who, in his discussion of predestination, insists that "one cannot speak of before or after with respect to God" (Divine Election, p. 152). Recognizing the inadequacy of human language, Berkouwer seeks to understand the language of predestination in connection in terms of 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 ... " (Divine Election, pp. 113-114). Maintaining that Berkouwer has continually failed to expound the full t…

Berkouwer’s Contribution to the Ecumenical Movement

The challenge of the  theological  discussion of the doctrine of the Church extends far beyond the bounds of Protestantism.
E. Schlink emphasizes that “the Reformation Churches … do not take ecumenical discussion seriously unless they are prepared to enter upon discussion with the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church” (The Coming Christ and the Coming Church (1967), p. xii).
Berkouwer’s major ecumenical contribution has been concerned with the relation between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. His theological method is also of relevance to the East-West conflict.
Berkouwer’s theological method is (a) doxological and (b) confessional.
(a) Doxological  - “The work of theology must be climaxed, not with the satisfaction of having solved an intellectual problem, but with a doxology to the God of grace” (L. B. Smedes, “G. C. Berkouwer” in P. E. Hughes, (editor), Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology, edited by , p. 69).
This theological method is similar to the approach to “(d)ogma …

G C Berkouwer, “A Half Century of Theology”

In my book on Berkouwer ("The Problem of Polarization: An Approach based on the writings of G C Berkouwer"), I wrote quite a bit about his book, “A Half Century of Theology.” I focused on what he had to say about apologetics and social concern. The discussion ranged quite widely,drawing upon passages from all over the book. At the outset of this discussion, I made the point that a study of Berkouwer’s theology would be incomplete without any detailed discussion of this late work, ‘A Half Century of Theology’ (Dutch, 1974; English, 1977). This is the way in which I introduced the discussion. “This discussion of Berkouwer’s appreciative analysis of apologetics and social concern focuses attention on his later work, ‘A Half Century of Theology.’ Having ‘personally experienced this half-century of theology… as a continuing event’ (p. 7), Berkouwer discusses today’s questions in its light: ‘even at the beginning questions were being raised and answered that are still nagging us …

G C Berkouwer - Scholarly, Pastoral And Evangelical

These comments are taken from the Jack Rogers book, "Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical" (Philadelphia, 1974). Berkouwer was reared in a denomination which "began in rather conservative isolation ... he has developed a scholarly, pastoral, evangelical stance. And he has brought a whole denomination with him" (p. 143) - "you can become less conservative and more evangelical" (12).

What is man?

For much of modern theology, the question, “What is man?” must precede the question, “Who is God?” The approach which begins with man (’from below’) can be set against the approach which begins with God (’from above’). Berkouwer’s doctrine of man has been commended as “a middle course between conflicting theologies … achieved by a strenuous independence of mind” (these words of A. Willingdale . from a review in  The Evangelical Quarterly,  are cited on the front / inside dust cover of Berkouwer’s Man: The Image of God. Berkouwer writes, “all sorts of theoretical knowledge does not answer the question, What is man?” (Man: The Image of God, p. 20). He insists that “man’s nature … is not self-enclosed, and … can never be understood outside of its relation to God … The relation of man’s nature to God is not something which is added to an already complete, self-enclosed, isolated nature; it is essential and constitutive for man’s nature, and man cannot be understood apart from this relati…

Christian Doctrine and Christian Experience

Describing Berkouwer's theological method, L B Smedes writes, 'The truth of the Gospel ... is known and understood only within the total context of both revelation and the obedience of faith. Theology, whose task is to restate that truth, is determined in its methods and limited in its conclusions by the nature of the Gospel as it is heard and obeyed in faith' ('G C Berkouwer' in P E Hughes (ed), Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology, p.95).
Writing from this perspective in which Christian truth never ceases to be existentially challenging to his readers, Berkouwer has produced some very valuable studies in Christian doctrine.
We can illustrate this point by noting some relevant passages in his Studies in Dogmatics.
At the outset of his book, Holy Scripture, he criticizes 'an incorrect conception of theology, a conception which considers it possible to discuss Holy Scripture apart from a personal relationship of belief in it, as though that alone would constitut…

Karl Barth and Paul Tillich: Responding to Theological Liberalism

Two quite different responses to theological liberalism are represented in the theologies of Karl Barth and Paul Tillich. In his protest against theological liberalism, Barth seeks to re-emphasize the lost emphases on man the sinner and God the Judge. In his article, “Liberal Protestantism, Liberal Theology, Liberalism” in A. Richardson (editor), A Dictionary of Christian Theology, (London, 1969), J. Richmond points out that Barth “has stressed the centrality and the kerygmatic character of the biblical writings, the radical discontinuity between God and human nature, and has made much of the concepts of crisis, judgment and grace” (p. 193). In his attempt to overcome the defects of theological liberalism, Tillich advocates a symbolic reinterpretation of the Christian message. Richmond maintains that the theology of Tillich (and Bultmann) is “partly continuous with the liberal tradition” (p. 193). together with Bultmann, Tillich has “tried to avoid the excesses into which the older l…

Karl Barth and Universalism: Comments from Berkouwer, Brown, Bromiley and Bloesch

By asking us to consider the question, “How convincing is Barth’s rejection of universalism?”, Berkouwer is really calling in question Barth’s understanding of election. He is really asking, “Does Scripture teach this idea of universal election?”
Colin Brown has also been forthright on this point. He suggests that Barth’s reservation with regard to universalism should have taken place not at the point of drawing possible consequences from his theology. It should have taken place at the outset of his Christological approach to theology.He maintains that “the trouble is that all Barth’s theology is made to centre around an idea of Christ. But it is not exactly the biblical idea of Christ” (KB, p. 138). Brown concludes that “it is a Christ-idea that often gives Barth his characteristic emphases” and that this has meant that “Some important aspects of the New Testament teaching had to be stretched to make them fit, while others had to be lopped off” (KB, p. 152. See also p. 12).

Berkouwer, Barth and Brunner: A Discussion of General Revelation and Natural Theology

In his book, 'General Revelation', Berkouwer rejects natural theology while affirming the doctrines of general revelation & common grace. He places himself between Barth & Brunner. Barth rejects both general revelation & natural theology. Brunner teaches both general revelation and natural theology.
In connection with common grace, here are two important observations made by Berkouwer: (i) 'grace is at work even in fallen man ... common grace is constantly at work "to bend partially back in the right direction those human powers and endowments which were man left to himself would be wholly perverted'.
(ii) 'common grace ... an imperfect solution ... does centre our attention on the gracious act of God in protecting man's corrupt and apostate nature from total demonization' (Man: The Image of God, pp.153-154, 169).