Some Theological Connections between G. C. Berkouwer and Herman N. Ridderbos
The idea of witness in connection with the New Testament witness to Christ.
Drawing upon the work of Herman N. Ridderbos, Berkouwer writes, “it is the product of a perception that was not infinite. It is subject to human limitations, its record does not exceed the limits of human memory” (Holy Scripture, p. 162, n. 75).
He does, however, emphasize that there is a “deep dimension of the human witness”: “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).
This conception of “Scripture” as “human witness empowered by the Spirit” (p. 167) transcends the “wholly divine or wholly human” dilemma (p. 24). It emphasizes that “the Word of God does not draw us away from the human but involves us with the human” (p. 167).
* Understanding the witness of the Gospels to Jesus Christ
Drawing upon the work of Herman N. Ridderbos, Berkouwer rejects “an absolute contrast between kerygma and that which happened” (p. 247).
Berkouwer points out that the Gospel writers did not use a form of historiography which follows the rules of modern historical criticism: “In its historiography, Scripture follows its own direction and purpose” - the sacred story is religious history which does not offer “that kind of accuracy which we often desire” (pp. 243-244).
In making this point, he insists that we must not draw a radical contrast between “the biblical picture of the Christ” and “the historical Jesus” (p. 247).
Opposing a false objectivism, he writes, “If absolute preciseness and exactness is seen as the ideal, excluding all interpretive subjectivity, in order to render ‘facts’ as objectively as possible, we must conclude that the gospels do not coincide with this ideal and therefore are not reliable … Even if we are aware of the problem posed by the connection between event and interpretation, we may not withdraw into the postulate of an historiography that separates story from interpretation for the sake of objectivity” (pp. 248-249).
Opposing an a-historical interpretation of the Gospels he insists that the recognition of “a freedom in composing and expressing the mystery of Christ” must not be set over against the observation that”(w)hat happened is decisive for all evangelists” (p. 252).
By adopting this position neither Berkouwer nor Ridderbos give any encouragement to any suggestion that the kerygmatic purpose of the Gospels should ever be separated from their intention to speak “about Jesus as he was when he walked and dwelt among us” (Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and its Authority, (1978), p. 70, emphasis original).
Understanding the connection between election and Christ
In A Half Century of Theology, Berkouwer draws upon the work of Ridderbos who “sees election connected not with a definite number of people, but with Christ” (p. 102) and Dijk who holds that “it is better ‘not to speak of another decree that lies behind the gracious choice that is in Christ” lest we cut election loose from Jesus Christ” (emphasis Berkouwer’s).
With this emphasis on the centrality of Christ, Berkouwer seeks to maintain the absolute necessity of divine grace: “there can never be a question of too strongly accenting the grace of God. He insists, however, that this absolute emphasis should be properly emphasized: “the question is, how shall we lay the proper emphases and how can we most purely praise this grace.”Thus, Berkouwer guards against the wrong emphasis: “It is never the full accent but the wrong accent that obscures the gospel of God’s grace” (The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, p. 349, emphasis original).
Holy Scripture as Canon (Holy Scripture, Chapter Three, pp. 67-104)
Here, Berkouwer cites favourably the view of Ridderbos that “in Christ are based both salvation and its trustworthy communication, and … that ‘here lies to the present day the principium canonicitatis’” (p. 86; citing Ridderbos, The Authority of the New Testament Scriptures, (1963), p. 47.
Berkouwer observes that Ridderbos does not intend to put forward a criterion by which a “canon-in-the-canon” might be established but rather to “set forth relationships which make impossible any attempt to abstract the canon from Christ” (p. 87).