Book Reviews

“The Conflict with Rome” by DR. GERRIT G. BERKOUWER

This is the title of an important study of Roman Catholic doctrine by Dr. Gerrit G. Berkouwer, professor of dogmatic theology in the Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. He is recognized even in Catholic circles as a most worthy opponent because of his erudition and his sincere attempt to enter into Catholic thought.

Due to the growing influence of Rome, both in religion and in other areas of life, it is of the greatest importance that a sympathetic study be made of Rome—is the main thrust of the “Introduction.”

In the first chapter, “Unshakable Authority,” Berkouwer clearly states the Catholic position that the Church preceded the Bible, and that “the Bible grows in the vital sphere of the Church.” p. 18. “The irrevocability of the church’s decisions constitutes the stability, the riches, the power of the testimony of the Church, and its blessing for our confused and uncertain world…” p. 19.

How does Rome arrive at its doctrine of the “unshakable authority” of the Church?

This doctrine is based upon the “fundamental idea of the living Christ within the Church…the church is “the continued incarnation of the divine word; the visible Christ, living and working in time and space…Christ himself speaks in and through the church, through the outward doctrinal organization of his mystical body…” pp. 19, 20.

“Continual appeal,” says Berkouwer, “is made to Paul’s epistles to show that the divine truth has been embodied in the Church, and that wisdom has built its house here…The communion between Christ and his Church is pictured in such a way that we need not be surprised when the identity between Christ and the Church is spoken of without hesitation.” Brom, the Catholic theologian, said: “More than once in the New Testament the Church is identified with Christ, and simply called Christ.” (BroIn refers to I Cor. 12:12.) “The church-fathers are as positive as possible in their equating Christ and the Church. In Christ the Church speaks, and in the Church Christ speaks,” is another statement of Brom (Conflict with Rome, p. 267, Note 37). Other Catholic authorities are quoted to substantiate this fundamental Catholic doctrine.

In his refutation of this basic error of Rome, Berkouwer points out that communion with Christ, which the New Testament certainly teaches, is by no means the same as the identification of the Church with Christ. Even for Roman Catholics there can be no question of total identity and equality…We certainly hold that there can be real communion with Christ only if at the same time the distinction between christ and his Church is fully recognized. This is the constant pre-supposition of all that the Scriptures tell us about the relation between God and man.”

Berkouwer develops this Biblical and Reformed truth at length and provides us with a powerful argument against the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Church. He also refutes the Catholic contention that the Protestant Reformation produced religious subjectivism and is mainly responsible for the extreme individualism and lawlessness of our day. It is not the doctrine of an infallible Church but the doctrine of the infallible Word that can save the modern world from chaos. Berkouwer in powerful and illuminating statements exposes the weakness of modern Protestantism in its rejection of the authority of the infallible Scriptures. For this reason also it is to be hoped that The Conflict with Rome has a wide circulation in modernist Protestant circles.

What is Heresy?

In chapter two Berkouwer deals with the problem of heresy. “One of the most fundamental problems claiming the attention of the Church constantly in its course through the centuries is how to recognize heresy. The repeated occurrence of this problem has more than once been indicated as a symptom of the intolerance and narrow-mindedness of the Church, manifesting itself especially in the hunt for heretics…Heresy evokes in the minds of many the idea of a merciless and callous hardheartedness which is radically opposed to the elemental demands of the gospel. Such heartlessness is then compared with broadmindedness, with the recognition of the limitations of one’s own insight, and its resulting tolerance.” p. 38.

Both Rome and the Reformed Churches declare that “heresy is a menace to the very foundations of the church…In the New Testament…heresy was not considered as a psychological difference claiming a ing a generous, tolerant attitude, but was seen as a menace. In this menace the essence of the Church was at stake…The New Testament is intensely concerned about the threat of heresy to the very being of the Church.” p. 39.

But the question how to recognize heresy does not receive the same answer from Rome and the Reformed Churches. Rome brands as heresy that which departs from the teachings and practices of Rome. The Reformed churches declare that to be heresy which departs from the Word of God. The Roman Catholic theologian, Joseph Brosch, says: “Heresy lacks the contact with the divine life flowing into the Church. This life is a dynamic power, a rushing river pushing its mighty waters through the bed of history. Heresy is outside of it, and is destined to get choked up with sand as an insignificant tributary.” p. 42. J. A. Mohler, another Catholic authority, says that Rome holds “that the true doctrine is always in its possession and cannot perist.” (Note 19, p. 272). (There are more than 50 pages of quotations from Roman Catholic sources in The Conflict with Rome, which add immensely to the value of the book. –T)

In distinction from Rome, “the Reformation rejected the idea of identity in the relation between the Church and heresy,” writes Berkouwer, “and pointed to that other relation, viz., between the Scriptures and heresy, which alone can give to the former confrontation its full meaning and depth. The Reformation saw that a pure and actual insight into heresy can be gained only if the relations Church and heresy” and “the Scriptures and heresy’ are continuously made to bear on each other.” Berkouwer quotes Calvin’s Institutes on this point. Calvin warned how “dangerous it is to appeal to the Spirit without the Word. God promised that the Church should he guided by the Spirit, but he has bound such guidance to the Word.”

At great length Berkouwer shows that Rome’s characterization of the Reformation as gross heresy is due to a failure on the part of Rome to grasp “the central religious conception of the entire gospel.” Rome fails to see that “the significance of Jesus’ sufferings and death on earth was valued so highly that every element of reduplication or repetition in later history was absolutely excluded. On account of this conception the Reformation opposed with all its religious fervor the (bloodless) repetition of Christ’s self-sacrifice on Calvary’s cross.” p. 49.

“The Reformation really called back to the simplicity of the gospel: from Mary to Christ; from the many intercessors, to the sale advocate; from the mass, to the immeasurable value of Christ’s earthly self-sacrifice…” (p. 50).

This review of the first 50 pages of The Conflict with Rome does not begin to do justice to the wealth of thought Berkouwer has packed into this small section of his comprehensive study of Catholic doctrine. The rest of the chapters deal with The Guilt of the Church; The Conflict of Grace (abundant suggestive material for sermons on Grace); The Problem of the Assurance of Salvation (how much do our own Reformed people know about assurance?); Ave Maria, a chapter with new insights into Rome’s veneration of Mary; The Communion of Saints; Incarnation and Catholicism; Existing Confusion and the Future.

This last chapter abounds in up-to-date material on Rome and the perils that beset a Protestantism which has drifted so far from Luther, Calvin, and the apostle Paul! This 319-page book is a must for ministers and evangelists who would understand the largest and oldest Church in Christendom, which seems destined to play a very important role in the great apostasy of the last days. It was placed on the market by The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company of Philadelphia, price $5.95. Send orders to Nutley, New Jersey, Box 185.


Taking Heed To The Flock by DR. P. Y. DE JONG

New paper-bound edition by Baker Book House 85 pages; $1.00 This is the third printing of the already popular “Study of the Principles and Practice of Family Visitation.” In ten chapters and 85 pages the author presents the challenge of family-visitation. Seminary students and all potential elders can hardly invest a single dollar in a more worthwhile publication. As a refresher these ten chapters lend themselves readily for a profitable discussion during our routine consistory meetings. Family visitation, as a pillar of our church-life, constitutes one of the features which distinguish our denominational life. There is a strong trend in our churches to conduct family visitation during the weeks that precede the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Dr. De Jong points out that this practice was advocated already by William Teelinck and Voetius. The pattern and questions for the efficient visit may well serve as a guide and are certainly thought-provoking. The suggestions as to how our children can be addressed (questions 1–6, p. 82) could leave the impression that some people in our Church believe that covenant children need only to go through a certain formal procedure to reach the status of full membership. In a fourth printing Dr. DeJong might well add some suggestions here on confronting our children with the need of a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We recommend this booklet to all our leaders and active lay-workers.



The Epistles Of Paul To The Thessalonians by LEON MORRIS

Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Eerdmans, 1957, $2.00

Lately, commentaries on the New Testamany English commentaries are beginning to appear more rapidly. At least three such enterprises are being undertaken simultaneously, none being complete as yet, of course. there are many English commentaries are on the market, but these are published by Reformed authors.

The Tyndale series is under the editorship of R. V. C. Tasker, professor of New Testament, University of London, and Edward J. Young, professor of Old Testament, Westminster Seminary, Philadephia. So far two volumes of this series have appeared. the one mentioned above and the Epistle of James. Reformed theologians the world over are giving their cooperation; at least 7 more volumes on other New Testament books are in preparation.

On the Old Testament only one volume is in preparation: Genesis, by Prof. Young. It is a mystery to this reviewer why three Reformed commentaries on the New Testament are in preparation simultaneously while commentaries on the Old Testament are very scarce. To have a good commentary on Genesis will be a great help no doubt and it marks a beginning at least; but it seems to us there is still a long way to go. considering the size and the scope of the Old Testament.

The volume under consideration is a careful and scholarly work. Prof. Morris has done an excellent job, not only in the matter of exegesis, but also in giving us an insight into the pastoral devotion of the great apostle.

It is regrettable that no further light is given on the difficult passage in II Thessalonians 2:6, but the author wishes to stay clear from speculation and honestly admits he does not know a solution.

An undesirable feature in the Tyndale series is the failure to quote in full the text under consideration. The reader is compelled to have the Bible open at all times while reading the comments. A good introduction at the beginning of the commentary deals with such matters as background, date, purpose, authenticity and the like. For a commentary the price has been kept low indeed, compared with other similar enterprises. To put it popularly, he who is interested in a good, reliable commentary cannot go wrong with this one at this price. The appearance is very neat and the binding excellent. The publisher is to be congratulated. May plans for a more extensive coverage of the Old Testament materialize soon.


Interview Met De Tijdgeest by OKKE JAGER

Kok, Kampen, 1956. FI. 4.95

This well-known minister of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands writes in a fascinating style about the spirit of the age. In a way this book is comparable to Miedema’s “Talks with Gabriel.”

Not everyone will appreciate this sort of story telling, because the humor and subtle irony at times become forced and artificial.

It is rather clear however that the author has a message to tell. He addresses himself particularly to those fellow-saints who have lost a considerable measure of zeal and energy for the work of the Kingdom and feel quite secure within the four walls of their own small church. Okke Jager points out the responsibility to engage in evangelistic work among the unchurched, who are not in the least attracted by the open church doors. He points to Communists and former Nazis to whom the message of the gospel is often an unknown entity.

Some of Jager’s essays have strange titles which are intended to draw attention of lazy and indifferent readers. For example: “Wanted: queer people”; “Are you tired?”; “We want daring people”; “Please hurry”; “Do You Have a Confessional in Your Living Room?” Without a doubt, the author gets his point across to those who are not completely asleep spiritually. The big question is whether the subject matter, spiritual in nature, always lends itself to this kind of hyper-modern, commercial treatment. One thing is sure: If this type of attack is needed to awaken a large part of the Reformed people in the Netherlands, then their sleep is a deep one indeed. For the present time we are inclined to believe that the situation is not quite so bad as the book seems to indicate. Nevertheless. in an exaggerated manner the author points to a danger in the church which is by no means imaginary or far fetched.



Woudstra’s Book House. Edmonton, Alta, Canada, 9330 Jasper Avenue. 75 cents.

This little 46-page Chrisbnas story is a translation from the Dutch; for we read on the flyleaf: “Original title: ‘Het Kerstfeest van twee domme kindertjes.” I like the English title better than the Dutch. The word “dom” conveys to us the idea of stupidity. Perhaps it is intended to convey the thought that the boy and girl in this beautiful story were ignorant of the true story of Jesus’ birth; at least, they had the notion that the Baby Jesus could still be found somewhere in their own neighborhood.

The author is an excellent story teller. The English translation is good though not impeccable. We can recommend this little book without reservations. We know the children will be glad to read it or have it read to them. Baker Book House is selling this booklet in the States.


Woudstra’s Book House, Edmonton, Alta, Canada, 9330 Jasper Avenue. 75 cents.

This too is an interesting story for young boys and girls by the same author who wrote: “Better Than Anything Else.” A little girl, three little boys, little pigs, a minister, and a church janitor who lost his glasses figure in this amusing tale. There is plenty of rollicking action in this story. The English is not as good as in the story reviewed above. “Potatoe” instead of “Potato” may be a typographical error but such expressions as “bad beast” and “dirty beast,” applied to a little pig, though possibly not incorrect, is hardly idiomatic. Why the word “koster” was not translated we cannot imagine. But these are only little flaws which may not trouble the young reader, except that many of our boys and girls will not know what “koster” means unless their parents have some knowledge of the Dutch language. This story, too, can be purchased from Woudstra’s in Edmonton or the Baker Book House.