Faith and Sanctification, by G. C. Berkhouwer, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1952, 193 pages, $3.00
The Providence of God, by G. C. Berkhouwer, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1952, 294 pages, $3.50
The Pauline Eschatology, by G. Vos, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1952, 365 pages, $5.00
Today there is great theological opportunity. These watershed years of the twentieth century are fruitful. The waters of God’s Providence flow back to the twenties and thirties, and forward to the sixties and seventies. The flowering plants of liberalism, sown and cultured in the early years of our century, stand withering, near to death. Future years hold prospect for the newer, more brilliantly colored plants of neo-liberal, realistic and neo-orthodox theology. While God’s waters of history run rapidly, the Reformed community must plant and nourish the full flower of Reformed theology. The three books listed above should occupy a big place in our community of thought. Both Drs. Vos and Berkhouwer point us the way to an unequivocal witness in the field of theology. While modernity reads theology, let us produce a clearly delineated theological witness.
A theological witness can be orientated in many directions. The directional guide for liberal theological scholarship is found in experience, the total experience of total humanity as lived in all the dimensions of the full life. So determined modernity speaks with hesitation. She can not escape the relativities of time. In this world of thought God calls us to speak with certainty, with conviction born out of loyalty to his word. A witness of conviction is a witness of faith. The Reformed theological witness appeals to God’s Word. This gives it challenge, clarity, conviction and relevance. Such a witness one discovers on every page of the books listed at the beginning of this notice. They begin and end with an appeal to the only standard for faith, life and scholarship. In calling the attention of our readers to these books, we shall choose a few illustrations to indicate the basic method used by both Vos and Berkhouwer in articulating a Reformed theological witness.
In the study concerning Sanctification, Berkhouwer discusses Perfectionism. He says, “The problem which Perfectionism throws into our laps is and remains important. It must be answered by an appeal to Scripture.” p. 53 Faith and Sanctification. Thereupon he carefully analyzes the Reformed confessions and particularly Romans 7. Various interpretations are given and criticized. Finally he concludes, “The subject of Romans 7 is not the natural man as seen by the believer, but the believing child of God as by the grace of God he has learned to see himself. From this knowledge is born his confession of guilt. From this knowledge, too, springs his daily tussle with himself. It is surely not a tussle without tension. Woe to him who would rest upon his laurels and forget the law of sin in his members! Whatever hope there is must be of faith.” ibid, p.63
In the chapter entitled “The Imitation of Christ” he carefully studies the passages dealing with the problem. Imitation is always based upon reconciliation. Col. 1:24 is a favorite passage of those who would separate example and expiation. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” Berkhouwer shows by careful exegesis that the devotees of St. Francis of Assisi have no ground for their position of stigmatization. (reproducing the marks of Christ’s suffering in one’s own body as indication of special sanctification) . He says, “Therefore when Paul speaks of ‘filling up’ what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ he means that his suffering constitutes a supplementary part of that total complex of suffering which issues from the cross of Christ.” ibid, p. 159
In the book The Providence of God Berkhouwer’s method is best illustrated in the chapter dealing with theodicy. A theodicy is an attempt to defend God against all complaints leveled against him by showing that his rule is wise and good. In the face of war, death, famine, injustice, oppression, pain, tragedy and cosmic catastrophe the question of Providence and Divine Love becomes an urgent one. Is there then a defense? Yes, says Berkhouwer. But in the same breath he condemns as “worthless and unacceptable” all the attempts of man through his natural understanding to adequately answer the problem. In fact he claims that “such attempts actually abet the progressive secularizing of thought by insisting that man can understand his world without revelation.” p. 269
The only apologetic that is worthwhile, effective and honorable to God is a believing apologetic. “An apologetic will have to begin with faith, not with uncertainty and doubt, if it is to be fruitful and a blessing to anyone. The apologete will have to advance into the struggle with modern thought from a position of faith, profoundly convinced that the logic of modern empirical thought, of neutral analysis and induction is the corrupted logic of sinful thinking. A true apologetic must begin with the awareness that unChristian thought involves an estrangement from the glory of God and suppression of the truth. ‘The fool hath said in his heart that there is no God,’ and all his analyses notwithstanding, he continually fails to understand reality in its deepest sense because his starting point has closed the way of his heart to this understanding.” p.272 How apparently foolish it is then to try as a Christian to get on the same plane of thought with the non-Christian and from there try to lead him up to God. There is no neutral territory in the battle between the truth and the lie. This is “to open conversation within neutralized territory, in which, for the sake of contact, he (the Christian) does not intrude the content of his own Christian faith into the discussion. God is, as it were, the a posteriori conclusion of analytical thought. And, with this, the Divine revelation is in principle repudiated.” pp. 266, 267 (italics mine). Our Reformed witness is only as effective as we increasingly learn to be loyal to such a position. Thus our witness is clear, unambiguous, and ever relevant, for God speaks through it to our generation.
This same spirit of childlike but scholarly submission to Divine revelation characterizes the book of Dr. Vas dealing with Paul’s eschatology. Read for example what Vas says about the “Man of Sin” passage in II Thessalonians 2. He says, “II Thessalonians belongs among the many prophecies, whose best and final exegete will be the eschatological fulfillment, and in regard to which it behooves the saints to exercise a peculiar kind of eschatological patience.” p.133 Such pious respect for God’s Word indicates clearly that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Dealing with the question of Paul’s alleged chiliastic teaching, he says, “This is, of course, a question of evidence to be considered and settled on the basis of Scriptural testimony and of calm, sober, dogmatically unprejudiced exegesis.” p.226 Thereupon follows a masterful exegesis of I Corinthians 15:23–28; I Thessalonians 4:13–18; II Thessalonians 1:5–12 and Philippians 3:10–14. Vas presents a clear witness, articulated in godly loyalty to divine revelation.
For such books we thank God. Both authors show us the way to implement our theological witness today. God give us the humility and contentment to present nothing but his Word, the whole Word, geared to give stability in the middle of a rocking world. We want to commend the Eerdmans Publishing Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan for making works of this calibre available today. May the careful reading of these books enable us to speak clearly to our generation.