Gc Berkouwer Thesis

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G.C. Berkouwer

Brief Biographical Sketch

Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer born in 1903, in Amsterdam, was a Dutch Reformed theologian. He grew up in a devoutly practiced Reformed Christian home and began and completed his theological training at the famous Free University of Amsterdam, receiving his PhD in 1932. He held pastorates in the province of Friesland and then in Amsterdam, itself. He then began teaching at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1940 and in 1945 was appointed the Chair of Dogmatics and held such position until he retired in 1973. (Elwell 151) it was during this early period of his carrrer at the Fre University that he concurrently became involved in the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN) and held the position of president of the general synod of the GKN from 1943-1945. In that position he became a leader in a movement, against one school of Reformist though and one particular theologian, Dr. Klaas Schilder, that ended in a rift between various factions of the Reformed Church. The decisions of the Gernal Synod of the GKN in fact occasioned the church split of 1944 known as the Liberation (Vrijmaking). (Vanderheide 16) This controversial situation was looked back on by Berkouwer as problematic in his life, and he later contended that such actions should have ended in reconciliation rather than separation, a point which can be attested to by his later involvement in ecumenical ministries and the incorporation of the Dutch Reformist church into ecumenical standing, with other Christian groups. Vanderheide, writes in Berkouwer's memorial that;

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past president of the synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland and one of the most influential theologians in modern Dutch Reformed history, passed away on January 25 [1996] at the age of 92. Berkouwer played a key role in the events that led to the 1944 deposition of Dr. Klaas Schilder and subsequent split in the GKN. Initially regarded as a leading conservative, Berkouwer gained increasing prominence in ecumenical circles and became an advocate and defender of more progressive positions in the GKN. (Vanderheide 16)

Thesis on Gc Berkouwer Assignment

Berkouwer stresses through not only his words and writings but actions that dogmatic and/or theological debate and difference should not constitute the development of rivalries and termination of associations, but rather such matters should be handled academically and with the goal of reconciliation and understanding.

Berkouwer was a well liked and influential member of the Reformist Church and his writings and actions have held a legacy much beyond his years. In his many years as a theologian he was occasioned with meeting many other influential and not so influential people and regardless of their favor of him most considered him "captivating, well-read, influential and cosmopolitan." (Vanderheide 16)

Almost everybody agrees as well that Berkouwer's thinking underwent a shift. Observers committed to Reformed orthodoxy indicate that, especially during the 1950's, Berkouwer departed from the classic Reformed viewpoint on several issues. For example, a comparison between his earlier and later writings shows a shift of viewpoint regarding matters like the authority of Scripture and original sin. (Vanderheide 16)

Berkouwer was a prolific writer and theologian, speaking and working through a lifetime of theological endeavors which ended with the development of what would become one of the most formative of the Reformist movement. Even at the age of 86 Berkouwer was still producing and publishing works that developed his theology and his demonstrative faith. His largest work was published when he was 86 and takes on a kind of memoir status, involving realistic portrayals of many theological debates, some of which included Berkouwer himself as a main character in the discussion, Zoeken en vinden (Seeking and Finding), which has yet to be published and translated in English, as so many other of Berkouwer's works have. "In that volume Berkouwer narrated a number of memories and experiences from more than seventy years of theological endeavor. The professor of dogmatics was himself one of the main characters in this book." (Vanderheide 16) Within this work Berkouwer also discussed the Liberation of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, that ran concurrent with WWII. It is in this work that he, somewhat belatedly explains his resolution, over time regarding his involvement in this split, reflecting that the synod meeting of the GKN during this period really "backed those opposed to the synodical decisions into a corner. Looking back across the distance of several decades, Berkouwer felt that the synod at which he himself presided should have done things differently." (Vanderheide 16)

As a theological instructor Berkouwer engendered a love of theology within his students and the legacies of these students is fundamental to Berkouwer's own legacy as many of his former students having earned high honors and degrees in theology have stepped forward in the 21st century to become significant participants and leaders of many theological endeavors. "A total of forty-two students obtained their doctorates under his sponsorship and guidance. From this group, several became teachers of theology themselves." (Vanderheide 16)

Berkouwer was born in the Hague and raised in Zaandam, but his fame spread around the world by means of his many publications. In 1932 he obtained his doctorate from the Free University, with a dissertation entitled Geloof en Openbaring in de nieuwe Duitse theologie (Faith and Revelation in Recent German Theology). In addition he wrote, among other works, Karl Barth (1936), Het probleem der Schriftkritiek (the Problem of Scripture Criticism, 1936), Wereldoorlog en theologie (World War and Theology, 1945), Conflict met Rome (Conflict With Rome, 1948), De triomf der genade in de theologie van Karl Barth (the Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, 1954), and Vaticaans Concilie en de nieuwe theologie (the Second Vatican Council and Recent Theology). In 1949 the first volume of his eighteen-volume Studies in Dogmatics appeared in the Netherlands. Berkouwer was a well-known theologian beyond the Netherlands as well. A large number of his books have been translated into English and published in North America. Berkouwer participated in various international projects. In 1962 he was an observer at the Second Vatican Council in Rome. (Vanderheide 16)

Berkouwer developed a lifetime of theological thought and teachings into a demonstrative set of works that are known the world over, many still in publication in languages other than his own. He is of course best known for his modern stress on ecumenicism. As early in his career as 1957 he was appointed by the GKN to attend assemblies of the International Council of Christian Churches (meeting in Amsterdam) and the World Council of Churches (meeting in New Delhi) Berkouwer's report to the GKN resulted in his suggestion to the GKN that the organization join the World Council of Churches, one of the first ecumenical bodies of the Christian faith, the GKN followed Berkouwer's advice and became one of the first evangelical denominations to represent themselves among the body of mainstream ecumenical ministries.

Berkouwer's Theology

We must then speak without any hesitation of human freedom as a creaturely freedom given by God. No misuse of the desire for freedom, not even complete anarchy, should tempt us to stop speaking boldly and emphatically of freedom. The anxiety regarding the use of the term which we find in Christian circles is indeed historically and psychologically understandable, since life has often been shaken to its foundations through an appeal to "freedom." Freedom is often understood as autonomy and arbitrary power, as a purely formal power of man to go his own way. Thus man can be "liberated" from many restrictions, and thus Cain can "free" himself from Abel -- "Am I my brother's keeper?" -- and thus freedom can become an idol, a myth, which fills the heart and passions of man. Such practices can bring into the open the hidden and demonic motivations that lurk beneath what is often misunderstood as "freedom," and they who have been made aware of these hidden forces tend to talk freedom only in whispers and certainly without emphasis. (Berkouwer, "Human Freedom" NP)

Berkouwer is said to be influenced the theologians Herman Bavnck and Abraham Kuyper and what Elwell describes as their "presuppositional theological stance." (151) This went against the liberalism of Berkouwer's day which he believed to have become anthropocentric (human centered) and neo-orthodoxy, "which had separated God from the world." (151) Berkouwer in his theology stressed instead that theology and therefore human action should be, sola fide (on faith alone) and (sola scriptura) based on the only source as the scripture. To some degree this is a very basic tenet of evangelism, but Berkouwer went further to stress that Christian faith should be built upon the idea of the reformation as not negative biblical criticism but "any view that gave normative status to any human act, even the act of faith itself." (151) According to Berkouwer "scripture alone must be our norm, and faith is always a response of the human being to God, who calls out through the Holy Spirit. (151) These challenges to other reformation movements as well as what he and others had… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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