Is It Worth Reading?

G.C. Berkouwer, FAITH AND JUSTIFICATION. Translated by Lewis B. Smedes. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1954. 207. $3.00.

In our present age of speculation and rigid dogmatism, this book by Dr. Berkouwer is like fresh spring water quenching the thirst of a weary traveler. A new approach to the study of dogmatics is clearly visible. In his foreward he says: “Dogmatic reflection has no power to produce faith, regardless of how keenly it may analyze the Holy Scriptures. It, like every believing enterprise, is totally dependent on faith.”

Dr. Berkouwer points out the indissoluble bond between the problems of faith and justification, faith and sanctification, and faith and perseverance. The conflict between Rome and the Reformation begins at the point of faith and justification to be sure, but it spreads through the doctrines of sanctification, perseverance and assurance of salvation. This is what makes justification the heart of the matter. Even the lay reader will read the book like a novel, finding it difficult to lay it aside. He will meet all sorts of theologians, of both old and new vintage. But, says the author, though we hear the sound of many voices, we hope always to have our ear to the Word.

The purity, and clarity of our study will depend on our attentiveness to the Word of revelation. That will prevent theology to consort with speculation. We know in part theology can only bow before mystery, never forgetting the incomprehensibility of God. The writer humbly confesses to be in temptation on every page, thus he proceeds in fear and trembling, yet with a measured confidence and joy.

On this difficult journey the guide points out to us some interesting landmarks as: the way or salvation; confessional reconnaisance; the Reformation and the Bible, justification from eternity and the value of faith.

This marvelous piece of work is hard to describe. In a way it is almost a commentary with detailed exegesis on many passages of Scripture. It deals at length with Lord’s Day 23, particularly with the phrase: “God imputs  to me the perfect righteousness of Christ, as if I had never committed any sin.” As if does not suggest a fiction or an illusion.  True, the reality of our performance is not commensurate with the as if of the catechism, yet we are faced with immeasurable blessing of Christ’s work, which is valid for eternity at God’s judgment seat. Jesus Christ is the secret of the as if. Many more gems like this could be cited for an example. The reader is taken through the Canons of Dordrecht as well as through the Belgic Confession for determining the scope of justification and faith.

The correlation between faith and good works is set forth brilliantly, even down to the difficult matter of the reward of grace which good works receive. there is shown to be no dualism between faith and works, but a marriage. Rewards and sola fide-sola gratia go well together.

The doctrine of justification in the book of James seems to have served as ammunition for many who regard the insistence upon sola fide one-sided. That type of ammunition, however, has proved to be a blank cartridge.

Time and agin, on practically ever page, Dr. Berkouwer turns his sensitive ear to the Voice of God as spoken in the Holy Scriptures.

Old timers in theology such as Brakel and Comrie are dealt with. Brakel fails to see what God declares the ungodly righteous. In other words, says the author, he sings in his own theological key.

No brief is held for speculation. Speculation attempts to pierce through the shades of eternity; faith reflects on the Word, given in time and aware of its boundaries. Faith is not only a gift, but also a necessity. Let it be written in capitals that salvation is of God, yet this grace must be accepted in faith.

In a moving and heart warming style Dr. Berkouwer thus presents to us one of the principal entrances to the treasury of grace: justification.

The highway sola fide-sola gratia is a dangerous one, but as a guide under the direction of the Chief Guide for faith and practice, he has rediscovered for us the treasures found on the narrow pathway. Dr. Lewis B. Smedes has given us an excellent translation that accurately catches the author’s mood of fearful joy. – Lamertus Mulder



J. M. Spier, CHRISTIANITY AND EXISTEN· TlAlISM. Translated by David Hugh Freeman. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. 1953. xiv, 140. $3.00.

What is existentialism? Who are the representatives of the various schools of existentialism? How do we characterize existentialism in terms of some of the commonly used philosophic classifications? As Christians should we accept or reject existentialism? These are some of the questions which one will find answered in Dr. Spier’s treatment of existentialism.

A simple definition of existentialism would be a helpful thing. It would be especially helpful for those of us who are not professional philosophers. However, since existentialism like our Calvinism is a world and life view, our definition will have to be almost panoramic or we may miss part of the view. The term existentialism stems from a preoccupation with existence. The central question in existentialism is, What is meant by the concept existence? Although different formulations are used, most existentialists have a basic agreement in their answer 10 this question.

Existence may never be equated with our mere concrete existence as perceived by the senses. Nor is it human consciousness as evidenced in intentional and reflective thought. It is not actualized being but potential being. In my existential being I transcend myself…I am different than I was at the preceding moment. I have transcended or gone beyond what I was. My entire history is historical. My future is possibility; my present choice, decision: and my past. fixation. In existential action, action in unconditional freedom, eternity appears in lime (p. 29).

Associated with the idea of transcendence is the idea of absolute freedom. Man is not bound by any law or norm. Actually freedom is only an arbitrary term because the only responsibility exists is that which man has to himself. Man is completely autonomous. Freedom carried to its existentialistic extreme !\lust bring us to the unqualified atheism of Satre or the pantheism of Lavelle.

Existentialism as propounded by Satre also reaches the extremes of subjectivisim. Man as individual is absolutely free. There is no real responsibility to social norms which have been derived from a sort of aggregate subjectivity.

Bearing in mind the individualistic character of existentialism, we should not he surprised to find that it is also aristocratic. A distinction is made between authentic and unauthentic existence. Existentialism has its own antithesis. Authentic existence is the attitude towards life of everyone who accepts his own freedom and responsibility, is a law unto himself, and continually transcends himself through his own creative power. Unauthentic existence, in contrast, is the attitude of the man on the street. It is the existence of the workaday strap hanger. The very contemplation of unauthentic existence can produce nausea in the authentic elite.

Though humanistic and aristocratic, existentialism differs from previous forms of both. It is completely pessimistic. It reacts against the optimism which was based on man himself and on science as man’s assistant. Neither will bring happiness. In fact there is no meaning or happiness in prospect at all. Man is continually seeking after his highest goal. He would be as God. However, in this endeavor man is following a fiction and a phantom. He can never realize his goal. His only prospect is failure.

Existentialism is also reactionary in that it is an irrationalism. This is so not so milch because man is doomed to failure, but because the existential being of man evades all rational concepts. In its lower regions reality can be ruled by reason. The problems of science can be solved, but mysteries of existential being cannot.

This brief and fragmentary resume of Dr. Spier’s characterization will give some indication as to the direction towards which existentialism moves. Dr. Spier sums lip his reaction to existentialism as follows: “A person who bases h is life upon the religious motives of Christianity cannot feel at home in the climate of existentialism. And he should be aware of the impossibility of effecting a synthesis by accommodating existentialism to the basic tenets of his Christian faith. There is a tremendous cleft between Christianity and existentialism. which from the Christian point of view is a cleft which divides true religion from all forms of pseudo·religion, in which the secularized contemporary man of culture seeks his comfort” (p. 119).

00 we then reject all that existentialism has to offer? Not necessarily. It has what Dr. Spier calls “moments of truth.” Following the lead of Dr. Dooyeweerd, Dr. Spier believes that it Christian philosophy must have a pre-theoretic starting point. This starting point is a Christian faith based on divine revelation. Those who do not use this starting point may be correct in points of partial analysis but can only fail in their larger synthesis. For example, the rationalist with his confidence in human reason may make the most  precise use of the laws of logic. However, his system can only end in irrationality because his orientation point is misplaced. Similarly existentialism may have some “truths” though as a system it is basically false.

Dr. Spier appreciates the fact that existentialism recognizes that philosophy is based on super·theoretical prejudices. Dr. Spier is also sympathetic towards the anti·rationalism of the existentialists. Further, he views with approval its search for an ontology in contrast to the post-Kantian tendency to reduce philosophy to an epistemology. Finally, existentialism also gives much thought to anthropology. This emphasis, Dr. Spier avers, rests upon the awareness that with respect to the rest of reality human existence is unique. Dr. Spier suggests appreciation but he carefully qualifies and distinguishes in order to lay bare the essentially non-Christian character of existentialism.

Dr. Spier’s characterization and criticism of existentialism is preceded by a resume of the views of its Christian and atheistic precursors, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche respectively. The existentialists treated include Jaspers, Heidegger, Marcel, Lavelle, Satre and Loen. The reader is hereby given a representative coverage ranging frolll the avowed atheism of Satre to the theistic existentialism of Loen. This volume will serve as a handy primer for those who may wish to make a brief study of existentialism and its implications for the Christian. The book will help to put meaning into what might otherwise remain an esoteric term, even though “existintialism” has been rather freely bandied about.

This English translation is generally quite readable though at times the translator has some difficulty in getting his sentences off smoothly (see the last sentence in quotation above from page 119). The translator is to be thanked for his introduction which acquaints us with Dr. Spier’s basic philosophical position. This is an important help for those who may not have become acquainted with Dr. Spier through other sources.


Bernard Ramm, TYPES of APOLOGETIC SYSTEMS. Wheaton, III.: VanKampen Press, Inc. 1953. 238. $3.00.

In his Types of Apologetic Systems, Dr. Bernard Ramm, Professor of Philosophy at Bethel College and Seminary (Baptist), St. Paul, Minnesota, has given us an interesting survey of Christian apologetics from the time of Augustine to the present. He makes no pretense of completeness nor does he attempt a mere chronological display. Rather he sees the whole field of Apologetics to be classifiable under three heads. These are: systems stressing subjective immediacy, systems stressing natural theology, and systems stressing revelation. In each of these three divisions he deals with the systems presented by three exponents. In the first we find Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Brunner; in the second we find Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Butler, and F.R. Tennant; while in the third class we find Augustine, Van Til and Carnell. With regard to his presentation of each of these nine systems the author strives fOI” faithful reproduction rather than critical evaluation.

In a book of this type wherein the author is making a non-critical summary of a number of possible positions, the reviewer’s task is somewhat simplified. Unless he is able to detect something inadequate or erroneous in the presentation, one must be content to confine his remarks to a few comments on style, pagination, indexing, etc. But while this reviewer feels the author has achieved a fair degree of success in his faithful reproduction or each of the nine systems considered, yet there are two rather basic problems that deserve our attention.

In the first place, the reviewer feels that Dr. Ramm has erred in dividing the field of apologetics into three plots. This would seem to reveal a certain lack of appreciation for the centrality of epistemology in all apologetic discussion. While we are not concerned to deny the existence or these three emphases in apologetic writing—this must be freely admitted—yet is it not true, that with respect to the epistemological problem, systems stressing subjective immediacy and systems stressing natural theology ultimately reduce to one system in which the epistemology is subjective? When Pascal contends that the overwhelming experience of faith is the best defense of the faith. is he essentially on any different ground than, say Butler, who contends that the overwhelming experience of nature is the best defense of Christianity? In either case the mind of man is the ultimate interpreter and the measure or all things. In neither case is the fall and the resulting antithesis taken seriously. This reviewer therefore contends that even in such a non-critical survey or apologetics, the cleavage that ought to have been recognized as basic, is that which exists between those systems stressing human autonomy and those systems stressing Divine revelation. There is no epistemological bridge that spans the chasm between human reason and Divine certainty. We must be willing with St. Paul to come, not with the wisdom of this world whereby it knew not God, but must rather be content with the determination to know nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified, the very zenith or Divine self-revelation, and to bring every thought into captivity unto Christ.

The second point of divergence is pedagogical rather than theoretical. There seems to he a certain lack of organizational unity. In the introduction Dr. Ramm lists several criteria according to which apologetic systems may be classified. such as: the effect of the fall, the nature of the image of God, the necessity of revelation, etc., etc. One might expect, at least this reviewer did expect, that the nine systems would be studied in terms of this comprehensive outline. There are occasional references to it but there is no systematic treatment of the systems in those terms. The value of the book would have been considerably enhanced if this had been done, for it would have enabled the reader readily to make a comparison between Pascal and Van Til on the effect of the fall, or between Tennant and Brunner on the image of God. After all, isn’t it the purpose of a survey such as this to make possible such comparisons?

A third point upon which critical comment is called for is style. It is at this point perhaps that the book is most disappointing. One may excuse such theoretical and pedagogical differences of opinion which have been noted above, but it is difficult to excuse the abounding misprints, grammatical errors and stylistic inelegancies that pervade the work. An impression of inordinate haste in preparation is inescapable. And yet, with all this, one is also profoundly aware of the prodigious amount of study, that has been done for this work. One is also grateful to the kind providence of God according to which there has been raised up for these days of confusion in the Church another young Evangelical who has become conscious of the fact that Christianity is more than skin-deep. Thus it is all the more lamentable that his efforts, which are so desperately needed, should be marred by a rather pronounced but, I am convinced, a by no means incurable rhetorical ineptitude. It is hoped that Dr. Ramm will be encouraged to slow down the rate of production, if need be, in order that he might take time to improve the quality of the product.

The book, despite all that has been said, merits reading and ought to prove quite valuable in the Bible Institute programs. It will also prove to give some good background material to some seminarians whose individual preparation has been somewhat weak. The book ought also to provoke profitable discussion if read by our men’s societies, provided there is personnel capable of giving a critical evaluation of the various systems presented.


Cornelius Jaarsma, FUNDAMENTALS IN CHRISTIAN EDUCATION Theory and Practice. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1953. 482. $5.00.

In August 1953, administrators from Calvinistic Christian schools in the United States and Canada gathered to discuss the philosophy of Christian education. From the discussion it became apparent that we had no well developed exposition of this subject in the English language. Much less were we able to say just how our Christian philosophy of education should he implemented in our schools. We may indeed be grateful to Dr. Jaarsma for editing a book that comprises some of the thinking done along these lines by Reformed men.

Fundamentals of Christian Education is a compilation of forty readings intended “to help us take stock” on the progress we have made in the past and “to make available some fundamental discussions on Christian education.” It includes contributions from seventeen Reformed men. Five of these are practical schoolmen from The Netherlands. Seven men are theologians. Of these Dr. C. Van Til contributes seventy-five pages, Professor Louis Berkhof and Professor Henry Schultze each contribute some fifty pages. Four Calvin College professors are among the authors. Of these Dr. Jaarsma himself is the major contributor with some hundred pages. Addresses from only one American Christian school man are included. One is prone to ask the significance of this. One principal commented at a principals’ club meeting that either articles produced by our men were not of sufficient caliber to be included in the collection, or our Christian school men have not produced anything along this line. This assertion, while it explains nothing, can serve as a stimulus toward self-examination and reflection on our part as professional school men. Certainly the “practice” section of the book could have been strengthened through articles arising from classroom and administrative experiences.

While there is an inherent weakness in a collection of readings by different authors, this book does develop some definite principles of Christian education. Let me list a few of them.

Probably the most basic fundamental is stated by Van Til: “The ordinances for divine education as we find them numerous in the Scriptures are expressions of one grand covenant principle, and this grand covenant principle rests upon the idea of temporal creation as its presupposition and back of the created universe an absolute God” (p. 59). Rather consistently throughout the book Berkhof’s position that “the doctrine of the covenant has always been the great presupposition for Christian Education” is carried out.

Another fundamental is that the role of authority is necessary to freedom. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Obedience liberates the child. “Freedom, then,” says Berkhof, “may be found in the glad submission to things as they are” (p.113).

Much is made of the fact that learning is a unitary process. The whole child is involved at every step in learning. Jaarsma condemns strongly our “lock-step program of learning.” He despairs of its being changed very soon in our time, yet he feels that our artificial organization of subject matter is a sin again God’s child as a “whole-person-in-life” personality. “Learning is heart acceptance” (p. 253). No prearranged, logical compartmentalization of subject matter at various grade levels does justice to this concept of learning has difficulties. “How can we get the child to accept in his heart what he ought? This is a staggering problem. It is in part a question of methodology. We enter here into the sphere of regeneration” (p. 253). But the staggering problem does not deter Jaarsma. “The principle of totality as I have tried to develop it is, I believe necessary to get from under the intellectualism of the past and avoid the pragmatism and activism of our current educational theory and practice” (p. 348). As a consequence of this concept he minimizes methods of teaching. “Method takes form in your person…Why do we still need methods of this or that?” (p.348).

A fourth fundamental is that the child is basically religious. and any education that does not recognize this cannot successfully educate. All education must be religious education. This principle is being increasingly recognized by American educators and the public schools are witnessing a struggle for survival on this very principle.

The Bible is basic to Christian education: “Nothing can be called Christian which does not find its first and foundational departure in the Scriptures” (p. 243). In curriculum-construction this gives us a vantage point outside and beyond Creation, “and, therefore, outside the cultural milieu” (p. 245). The unregenerate, on the other hand, is “confined to a viewpoint within creation.” From this vantage point we learn three things: the creature-creator distinction: God makes himself known; and that man lives by faith.

Other principles are developed. As is to be expected Jaarsma himself makes the major contribution in the section dealing with organization and implementation of the program of Christian education. The principles above reflect some of his views. Some others expressed in curriculum development and teaching practices are not easy to follow. Jaarsma uses terminology that is strange to Reformed thinking and one wonders what he has in mind. For example, on page 293 he writes: “to lead them to a decision for Christ is the goal of Christian education.”

In the discussion all the Christian view of the curriculum there is such an emphasis on citizenship in heaven that one wonders whether training for citizenship in the United States is important (p. 236ff). This other worldly approach is evident again in the illustration of a learning unit on “Eskimo children.” These are the questions we must ask in formulating the curriculum. “How are they living without the Christ? What is being done to bring the Christ? What is our obligation who know the Christ to them who know him not?” I have difficulty distinguishing here the difference between the Reformed and the non-Reformed approach to the Christian school curriculum.

Jaarsma joins in with the “progressives” in bemoaning the graded system of school organization. “This school is not the fruit of Christian thinking and the planning of education wi thin the Christian educational structure. This school is a product of the Enlightenment, the very enemy of scriptural truth” (p. 261). It is not clear just how a grouping into first, second, third, and other grades is anti-scriptural while Jaarsma’s grouping chiIdren traditionally placed in grades Kindergarten to 9 into three major groups is scriptural.

Just one more passage to indicate why I think Jaarsma will have to favor us with further elaboration before we as teachers and administrators can with confidence initiate some of the radical changes he feels are so necessary. It deals again with the lack of clarity between the Reformed and the non-Reformed approach. He writes: “I am not in agreement with those who think we would still have Christian education though Bible and worship were excluded as long as the curriculum is interpreted from a Christian point of view. This reasoning betrays a Thomistic dualism of faith and knowledge” (p. 263). To me it seems the dualism is on Jaarsma’s side.

The organization of the book is excellent. Jaarsma divides it into four parts: the basis for Christian education; the aim of Christian education: organization and implementation of the program of Christian education; and the conclusion. Each reading is followed by a summarization captioned, “key thoughts.” This adds a great deal to the book for its use as a college textbook. These “key thoughts” are followed by “comments.” In these Jaarsma succeeds in giving continuity in a collection or different readings by various authors. The bibliography of eleven books at the end of the book is disappointing. Only two works reflect Reformed and these can only be read in the Dutch language. Why didn’t the author include his own book on the educational philosophy of Herman Bavinck? The course of study of the National Union of Christian Schools is conspicuous by its absence.

From the above it is abundantly apparent that the book is serving “to challenge our thinking about Christian education” Jaarsma hopes for in his practice. This review has not done justice to all the excellent material found in this compilation. I can heartily recommend the book for discussion at professional meetings or teachers and administrators. May out of such discussions grow a crystallization of our Reformed philosophy both as to theory, and practice.