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Berkouwer, Calvin and Calvinism

Berkouwer has close affinities with 'the old Dutch biblical piety, not seized by dogmatic insights but steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith according to the Scriptures' (Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, p.21).
This 'old Dutch biblical piety' is similar to Berkouwer's insistence that election is not a special gnosis for the theological elite. It is a confession of faith, arising from the hearts of those who have come to know the grace of God (Divine Election, p. 216).
Bringing this perspective to his discussion of Calvin and the Reformed tradition, Berkouwer is concerned to direct our attention to the warm biblical piety of Calvin himself rather than the more speculative developments of later Calvinism.
While he does not accept uncritically everything that Calvin says, Berkouwer has greater respect for Calvin himself than he has for some of Calvin's more speculative followers. While he has suggested that Calvin has not always avoided the influence of scholasticism, Berkouwer sees, in Calvin's work, a warm biblical piety, which is actively and earnestly involved in seeking 'true and solid wisdom ... the knowledge of God and ourselves' (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book One, Chapter I, Section 1).
In his book, Objectiviteit en Existentialitet (Objectivity and Existentaility), S Meijers points out that there is, in Berkouwer's theology, 'a consistent apologetic intention ... directed at scholasticism' (p.448 - quoted by Meijers in his English summary). (In personal correspondence (Spring 1979), Meijers informed me that Berkouwer acknowledged the validity of this observation).
The term 'scholasticism' is used here to describe a theological tendency rather than a precisely identifiable theological position. In his article on 'G C Berkouwer' in Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology (edited by P E Hughes), L B Smedes describes scholasticism and Berkouwer's response to it.
He describes scholasticism as a tendency ' to do theology by deducing propositions from objective truths given by revelation. The difference between theological truths and ... mathematical truths lay in their source: the former were derived from divine revelation and the latter from natural reason. Faith entered, only at the beginning of the enterprise, as an assent to the truthfulness of the statements. Thus, theology (does) not do all its work guided, limited, and determined constantly by the obedience of faith' (p.94).
Describing Berkouwer's theological method, Smedes points out that he insists that 'theology each step of the way, be in dynamic and determinative relationship to faith ... that theology be shaped and formed by the nature of the thing it talks about - the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel comes to man as an urgent summons and merciful invitation ... not ... as a matter-of-fact, disclosure of a set of objective, abstract truths ... The truth of the Gospel ... is known and understood only within the total context of both revelation and the obedience of faith' (pp.94-95).
Berkouwer seeks constantly to break the stranglehold of scholasticism on Reformed theology. He emphasizes that, for theology to be truly Reformed, it must proceed on the basis of a living faith in the living God.

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