Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from December, 2016

G. C. Berkouwer and the Experiential Theology of Early Dutch Calvinism

The experiential theology of early Dutch Calvinism finds its clearest expression in the writings of a number of seventeenth century writers, such as William Ames, T J Frelinghuysen and William a Brakel. William Ames, probably the most well-known representative of this type of theology, opens his book, The Marrow of Theology, with a definition of theology as “the teaching of living for God” (I, i, 1). (In his book, Historical Theology: An Introduction, G W Bromiley devotes several pages to discussing the views of Ames (pp. 307-316, 324-328, 332, 336-338). Acknowledging Ames’ intention of “relating theology more closely to life”, Bromiley suggests that there might be “a legalistic element” in the type of covenant theology propounded by Ames (pp. 310, 316).) The experiential theology of early Dutch Calvinism was noted for its distinctive understanding of Christian doctrine. Doctrine was not meant merely for the mind to reflect upon. Doctrine was seen as arising out of the Christian expe…

The Triumph Of Grace In The Theology Of Karl Barth

G C Berkouwer’s book on Barth is entitled, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. Barth was not happy with this title. He felt that it might create the misunderstanding that grace is to be viewed as an impersonal principle which can be isolated from the person of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Barth described Berkouwer’s book as ‘a great book on myself’ (Church Dogmatics, Vol IV/2, xii). Berkouwer responded to Barth’s criticism of the book’s title - ‘I had never thought for a moment that Barth’s doctrine of grace was an abstraction from which theologians were free to make their own deductions. Barth guessed that I had perhaps taken the title from Hans Urs von Balthasar’s remark that, for Barth, Christendom was a “triumphal affair”. But von Balthasar’s words had struck me as being too “triumphalistic” for Barth, especially in reference to Christendom. I had in mind what Barth himself had written, “This history is a triumph only for God’s grace and therefore for God’s soverei…

Berkouwer’s Theology of the Christian Life

Berkouwer places great emphasis on the practical character of theological reflection. This emphasis is grounded in his understanding of the doctrines of (a) God; (b) revelation; and (c) reconciliation. Underlying his interpretation of these doctrines is his understanding of grace. The divine grace which comes to us through revelation and reconciliation is not, in Berkouwer’s view, a coercive power which devalues the significance of human activity. Human activity is not, however, given an entirely autonomous significance that is quite independent of divine grace. Man knows, through divine revelation and reconciliation, that he is dependent on divine grace without being destroyed by divine power (Divine Election (DE), pp. 47-50). The Practical Significance of Berkouwer’s Doctrine of God Berkouwer seeks to construct a theology which does full justice to both the true objectivity of the Christian faith and the necessity for that faith to be a subjectively experienced faith. We are not to…

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, …

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).

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 …

Introducing Berkouwer’s Theology

Dilemmas always are a source of polarization. We quickly move over to simplistic either-or’s … in which the fulness of truth is torn apart. And in the atmosphere of false polarities, we often stop listening to each other’s words. With this, irritation and pique poison the theological discussion. But it is striking and, at the same time, reassuring that the clear intent of the gospel comes through even in the midst of theological polarization, especially when all the parties intend to be faithful to the gospel’ (A Half Century of Theology, p.208). In these words, Berkouwer offers a persepective which promises to be most helpful in the discussion of theological polarization. These words of Berkouwer come immediately after a favourable citation of Karl Barth’s repudiation of ‘(t)he construct, “God is everything, man is nothing”, as a description of grace’. The immediate context of these words - an attempt to understand how God and man are related to each other in the Gospel - provides u…

Natural theology and general revelation

Berkouwer makes a clear distinction between natural theology and general revelation. He emphasizes that knowledge of revelation is arrived at not through natural theology but through experience of the salvation of God “that opens doors and windows towards God’s handiwork” ("General Revelation", p. 131).
While this places the emphasis on the priority of divine revelation, it doesn't mean that we should opt out of the apologetic task of presenting a reasonable faith to a sceptical and unbelieving world.
The emphasis on the experience of the salvation of God is important. It reminds us that there is a difference between the living God and an idea of God.
The living God calls for our attention. He speaks to us about our sin. This is something that we can't get away from. He speaks to us about His salvation. This is our greatest need. The idea of God, reached as the result of an intellectual argument, is something about which many people are inclined to say, "That's…

Berkouwer on Social Concern and Sanctification

Berkouwer approaches social concern from a Biblical and Reformed perspective. In Ephesians 2:8-10, the emphases ‘by grace’ and ‘through faith’ lead directly on to the emphasis ‘for good works’. Berkouwer underscores this connection between ‘Sola Fide and Sanctification’ (Chapter II, pp. 17-44). He emphasizes that the true nature of good works cannot be understood apart from Christ who is our ’sanctification’ (1 Corinthians 1:30) (p. 21). Sanctification is not ‘the humanly operated successor to the divinely worked justification (p. 78). ‘Genuine sanctification’ has a ‘continued orientation toward justification’ (p. 78). Berkouwer emphasizes the ‘by grace … through faith’ context in which the ‘for good works’ character of sanctification expresses itself. He draws attention to the nature of the Spirit’s work in sanctification: ‘The Spirit alone could perform the miracle of making man walk on the road of sanctity without a sense of his own worth’ (p. 78). The life of sanctification has a…

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).
Contrasti…

Berkouwer's Theology of Social Concern

Berkouwer refuses to separate personal faith and social concern. He provides a perspective through which Christian theology can avoid the twin dangers of (a) a preoccupation with social concern which implicitly conceives of personal faith as a flight into illusion; and (b) a preoccupation with individualistic and 'other-worldly' religion which fails to provide any significant expression of social concern. In his introduction to the symposium, At the Edge of Hope, Christian Laity in Paradox, H Butt insists that 'transcendent hope ... immanent hope ... must cohere ... in order to intersect and overcome despair - the loss of expectation for God's eternal Kingdom and expectation for the improvement of this world ... transcendent expectation and ... immanent expectation form one complete Christian hope. The first says, turn to God because the human prospect is so bleak; the second says, the human prospect can be changed because of God' (pp.6-7). Butt continues, 'Eve…