Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Living the Life of Faith

In speaking of the connection between Christian faith and Christian living, Berkouwer emphasizes the importance of a proper understanding of divine grace. He stresses that, through divine revelation and reconciliation, we become aware that we are dependent on divine grace without being destroyed by divine power. In adopting this approach, Berkouwer seeks to construct a theology which does full justice to the true objectivity of the Christian faith and the necessity for that faith to be a subjectively-experienced faith. Emphasizing that God and man are not to be viewed as competitors, he rejects both the idea that God should compel us to obey Him and the notion that man can ever find true fulfilment apart from willing and glad submission to the God of salvation.
As we affirm our faith in God, we must also emphasize the importance of a life-transforming experience of His grace. God is not merely the object of study for the academic discipline we call theology. He is the One who changes our life. To believe in Him is to be changed by Him. If we believe the Christian faith, we must also live the Christian life. We must reject a man-centred subjectivism which makes human experience the ultimate criterion by which truth is judged. If, however, theological reflection is to avoid becoming barren intellectualism, we dare not forget that the faith of the Church 'comes out of the experience of God's people struggling to hear his Word in the context of life' ( M. Eugene Osterhaven, The Faith of the Church: A Reformed Perspective on its Historical Development, p.7).
These two important points - the normativity of divine revelation for our uinderstanding of human experience and the significance of Christian experience in the development of our understanding of Christian truth - lie at the heart of Berkouwer's theology.
He emphasizes that the normativity of the Gospel excludes the idea that human experience should ever be given 'constitutive importance in the determination of the central focus of Holy Scripture' (Holy Scripture, p.124). He stresses that we only make a true affirmation of the authority of Scripture when we commit ourselves to living the life of a true believer - being a believer in deed.
Making the connection between what we believe and how we live, Berkouwer writes, 'When the 'acceptence' of Holy Scripture as the Word of God is separated from a living faith in Christ, it is meaningless and confusing to call this acceptance belief in Scripture or an 'element' of the Christian faith'. In making this point, he emphasizes that '(t)his does not imply an underestimation of Scripture or of belief in it, but rather a great respect for Scripture, which addresses itself to our faith'. Insisting that '(b)elieving Scripture does not mean staring at a holy and mysterious book, but hearing the witness concerning Christ', Berkouwer refuses to separate the acceptance of the Bible's authority from the experience of 'being gripped by the message to which its words testify' (Holy Scripture, pp. 54, 166-167).
Drawing attention to the practical challenge of the Gospel, Berkouwer emphasizes that salvation is 'not presented as a deed which as a matter of course comes to all, but as a calling of God ... an invitation, a call to conversion' (Divine Election, pp.235-236).

Monday, 8 February 2016

Believing in the love of God and being changed by the love of God

In The Providence of God, G C Berkouwer relates providence to both the love of God as the object of the believer's faith and the believer's faith by which providence is subjectively experienced.
"in the doctrine of providence we have a specific Christian confession exclusively possible through a true faith in Jesus Christ ... this faith is no general, vague notion of Providence. It has a concrete focus: 'If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?' (Rom.8:31,32) ... the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. There is no purer expression than this of the depth of man's faith in God's Providence." (pp. 45, 47).

Sunday, 7 February 2016

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 character of the gospel, distancing himself from the kind of apologetics which tends to place undue emphasis on the capacity of human reason to bring people to faith in Christ. He rejected the idea of faith as a sacrifice of the intellect without ever suggesting that faith is no more than an act of unaided human reason. Recognizing the value of apologetics without attaching an exaggerated importance to it, he emphasized the need for both humility and courage in the defence of the Christian faith. In humility, apologetics must take care to avoid an unattractively militant approach. Resisting the temptation to trim the content of its message in search of relevance, apologetics should, with courage, affirm the gospel's irreducible content. Emphasizing the gospel's own inherent apologetic significance, he was critical of the kind of apologetics which shows little interest in those elements of Christian faith adjudged to be less apologetically relevant.
G. C. Berkouwer, A Half Century of Theology (Grand Rapids, 1977), pp. 25-38, 144-178; Holy Scripture, (Grand Rapids, 1975), pp.346-366; The Church, (Grand Rapids, 1976), pp.232-256
C. M. Cameron, The Problem of Polarization: An Approach based on the Writings of G. C. Berkouwer, (Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter, 1992), pp. 247-284

I wrote this article for the "New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics."
New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Berkouwer and Systematic Theology

Sometimes, it is said that Berkouwer's theology is not very systematic. In my book (The Problem of Polarization: An Approach based on the Writings of G. C. Berkouwer), I comment on this kind of criticism. 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 creative thinker. The first book to alert me to Berkouwer was P E Hughes (ed.), Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology'. By describing him as a creative thinker, I'm not suggesting that he goes his own way, creating his own theology while paying little attention to the Scriptures. He has, however, shown a willingness to re-think theological interpretations which many have thought were settled & not up for discussion.
An example of this is found in his way of handling the doctrine of election where, being unwilling simply to set divine sovereignty & human responsibility over against each other and leave it at that, he suggests a way in which we might affirm both in a more harmonious manner.