Berkouwer: A Hole in the Dike?

Carl W. Bogue

My mind is transported back to 1966. The theology faculty of the Free University had not yet moved to the “suburbs” of Amsterdam, but was packed into that wonderful complex of old buildings on the Keisersgracht. I took a seat close to the open window looking out on the canal. I had never heard or studied the Dutch language; I had never even known a member of the Christian Reformed Church. That first year I heard with understanding very little. More than once I yearned for an extra long fishing pole that could reach the canal. Yet I was drawn, as many students have been, to the enthusiasm with which Professor Berkouwer “did” theology right there before your eyes. Theology fascinated him. I sensed that long before I began to understand the language.

Then there was a cultural gap that was more severe in some ways than the language. Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer had the international stature of his two most distinguished predecessors, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck, but he wrestled with theological issues and historical debates that form a bewildering maze to an outsider. When I read the news of his death, I noted with surprise that a total of 42 students obtained doctorates under his guidance. Somehow, I thought it would be a lot more. I certainly feel unworthy to be in such elite company. That feeling is not lessened when I have from time to time been given opportunity to write about him. Is it possible for an outsider to point out a hole in the dike, without transgressing the bounds of arrogance? I do not know. I do know that during the lectures, in my marginal notes of his many books which I have read, in correspondence during the finalizing of my dissertation, and in private conversations there were questions and problems about which I could not be completely at peace. I sometimes felt very much alone and suspecting that I had missed the point altogether. Some years later Berkouwer published a work that was to confirm that my concerns were not imaginary.

In 1974 a significant book appeared which was translated into English three years later: A Half Century of Theology. The unique value of this volume among his many writings is the autobiographical insight it reveals of Berkouwer’s participation in the period from 1920 to 1970. Expanding on a survey given during the completion of his regular lectures at the Free University of Amsterdam, Berkouwer seeks to give “an overview of the fascinating events, with all their struggles and discussions, of the theology of this half-century.”[1] There are aspects that “are still profound and important, and, far from disappearing, still meet us as we scout today’s theological arena.” It is Berkouwer’s contention “that we are wrestling today with questions put on the agenda a half century ago.”[2] Yet his closing chapter in this revealing work is entitled, “Concern for the Faith,” and is punctuated with thoughts about doubt, fear, unrest, uncertainty, alarm, and theology’s inadequacy in understanding. “The quest,” says Berkouwer, is “for a deeper and richer understanding,”[3] but one suspects the measure for judging success in this quest has changed from what has historically guided the church.

The relevance of Berkouwer’s pilgrimage for this side of the Atlantic needs to be understood. His direct and indirect influence is considerable. During this same half century the American evangelical community has witnessed a profound transformation. There were those respected evangelicals who, willingly or not, began to be identified by the presence of “neo” in front of the name “evangelical.” A growing split was emerging that was to become more than a mere intramural struggle. Part and parcel of this struggle was a growing difference of opinion on the doctrine of Scripture, a difference popularized by Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible.[4] The focal point is inerrancy. So aggressive had the errantists become that the erosion among Evangelicals was rampant. The situation had deteriorated to the point that we saw the emergence in 1977 of an evangelical counter-offensive in the form of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Warfield versus Berkouwer, a distinction underlined by Berkouwer himself, has become a popular symbol of the battle.[5]

Whether disciple or critic, those referring to Berkouwer as a “Reformed” theologian feel a necessity to qualify the definition. Rogers, for example, qualifies to remove him from the “bad company” of Warfield or Protestant scholastics.[6] Van Til qualifies to include him with the “bad company” of the neo-orthodox.[7] Berkouwer stands with one foot in a confessional heritage which he refuses to abandon and another foot in the world of ecumenical ventures which frequently conflict with his heritage. To some, Berkouwer represents a breath of fresh air, providing the evangelical with a way out of the dilemma between “conservative” and “liberal.” To others his theology is at best a frustrating inconsistency and at worst a theological capitulation. The thesis of this article is that Berkouwer has made some significant departures from his heritage, and on the basis of these departures there is justification for seeing a line of development from Berkouwer to the neo-evangelical movement and the rejection of biblical inerrancy. As contemporary evangelicals wake up to the fact that they have been robbed of much of the heart of classical Reformed orthodoxy, the “Dutch connection” may not be overlooked. Berkouwer is, of course, but one of many influences. He is, however, a considerable influence.

Early and Later Berkouwer

Among disciples and critics alike, it is commonplace to distinguish between an early and later Berkouwer. Whether one calls it maturity or capitulation, there is certainly change. Berkouwer believes he missed the “real intentions of Barth” in his 1932 dissertation on the new German theology.[8] His sympathy with Barth had increased significantly a couple of decades later in The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, and by 1974 he was defending Barth against the likes of Van Til and Pannenberg.[9] His two main works on Scripture (1928 and 1966-67) reflect this change as dramatically as any. Krabbendam sees the early Berkouwer on Scripture as “practically identical” to Warfield, while the later Berkouwer is “critical of Warfield” and “endorses and adopts the neo-orthodox position.”[10] Berkouwer’s two books on Roman Catholicism subsequent to the Second Vatican Council breathe a different spirit from his early work, The Conflict with Rome.

It is a fair assumption that this “early/later” evaluation of Berkouwer accounts for the fact that only in more recent years has there been a growing chorus of critics willing to question the orthodoxy of such an esteemed “Reformed” theologian. In late 1975, I presented a paper critical of Berkouwer which was subsequently published as a monograph entitled A Hole in the Dike. The most prevalent response to that paper was from those who had become uneasy with Berkouwer but were not quite sure why. The absence of firm criticism of Berkouwer was no doubt to be attributed to their judgments of charity about a man of his stature and to the style of his writing, which is circumlocutory. The critical voices are on the increase, however. With the appearance in 1975 of the English translation of Berkouwer’s work on Holy Scripture, a new wave of criticism was heard. At a time when evangelicals were growing in the awareness that biblical inerrancy is the issue where the battle must be fought, Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture was tried and found wanting. One need only read the papers from the “Inerrancy Summit” in Chicago (1978), sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, to see Berkouwer attacked from a variety of quarters. Paralleling this increasing criticism is the emergence of Berkouwer as a rallying point of the neo-evangelical and errantist movement . Find someone in the Reformed tradition who denies inerrancy but wants to affirm a “high view” of Scripture and its “infallible message,” and he will probably model his doctrine of Scripture from Berkouwer. Because of his prominence in the battle, Jack Rogers has become the most symbolic of this influence. Editor of Biblical Authority, a book which attacks inerrancy and the “Hodge-Warfield...rationalistic defense of Scripture,” Rogers had earlier written a doctoral dissertation on the doctrine of Scripture in the Westminster Confession and pushed credulity to the limits by trying to make the Westminster Divines’ view of Scripture essentially the same as that of Berkouwer.[11] Such an un-historical conclusion apparently is the fundamental credential by which Rogers has become a spokesman for the errantist movement among neo-evangelicals in this country. Such “revisionist” interpretation of the Westminster Assembly has continued in this disciple of Berkouwer, who is today a prominent spokesman within the old line liberal Presbyterian denomination.

Any discussion of an early and later Berkouwer should also take into account a significant article by Hendrikus Berkhof, a neo-orthodox theologian, on “The Method of Berkouwer’s Theology.” Berkhof finds three phases in Berkouwer’s theology, the first of which acknowledges “the absolute authority of Scripture.”[12] The second phase Berkhof calls “the salvation content of Scripture,” which begins as early as the beginning of Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics in 1949.[13] This phase is less polemical and moves from the authority of Scripture in an absolute sense to the nature of that authority, namely, the salvation content via Christ. The third phase is “the existential direction of Scripture,” with its kerygmatic-existential correlation manifesting itself in Berkouwer’s changed view on Dordt and his “asymmetrical” emphasis on election.[14]

This methodological analysis by Berkhof is a strong indictment to anyone from an evangelical perspective. Simply put, Berkhof is saying that Berkouwer went from traditional Reformed orthodoxy to existential theology via a form of neo-orthodoxy. Whether one agrees with this analysis or not, a theologian of Berkhof’s stature writing in an academic Festschrift honoring Professor Berkouwer must have seen some radical evidence to draw such a far-reaching conclusion. I was in the Netherlands at the time and understood that Berkouwer protested vigorously to Berkhof, though I saw nothing in print. Later, however, Hendrick Krabbendam has provided an important reference in this issue by citing a Dutch work by F. W. Buytendach to the effect “that Berkouwer has acknowledged the transition from the first to the second phase, but objected to the construct of a third phase.”[15] Apparently Berkouwer is willing to acknowledge a significant change, a change which resulted in seeing Scripture content as not necessarily bound to scriptural form. This change, according to Krabbendam, would have been impossible “without Barthian type of neo-orthodoxy.”[16]

Looking back at the conclusion of his “half century,” Berkouwer came to acknowledge how he changed or softened his former criticism of modern trends in theology. Not surprisingly, there is a chapter devoted to Karl Barth. In that chapter and throughout A Half Century of Theology, one is struck by Berkouwer’s acknowledged sympathy with Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Barth in opposition to religious self-confidence. Berkouwer relates his change in attitude toward Barth on the question of faith certainty, and many quotes are given from Barth which sound very much like Berkouwer’s own solution to the certainty question, i.e., knowing “in faith.” In a chapter on Scripture, Berkouwer admits that he used to see kerygmatic theology as “the ‘way out’ of the problems of uncertainty.” He now sees it differently. Opposing Pannenberg in support of Barth, he now sees such accent on the kerygma “not as a ‘way out,’ but as the way in which the witness employs its power.”[17]

As we move to a more specific analysis of Berkouwer’s thought, a significant fact will emerge concerning the early and later Berkouwer. While such a distinction is valid and helpful, we will see that the seeds of what many consider the later Berkouwer were present very early. No doubt to the surprise of some, Berkhof is correct in seeing a significant change as early as the beginning of Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics in 1949.[18] The “hole in the dike” was present even that early. To the extent Berkouwer accurately reflects on the “half century” in which he participated, the seeds were present even at the beginning.

As I read the earlier Studies in Dogmatics, there was often the feeling that Berkouwer was orthodox on many doctrines in spite of his methodology. Perhaps it was not Berkouwer himself but the flood of his disciples in whom unorthodox views were more glaring which alerted so many in recent days to trace these views back to Professor Berkouwer. It was in this light that I began more and more to use the phrase, “hole in the dike,” as descriptive of Berkouwer’s influence.

Scripture and Confession

A fundamental impression that emerges from Berkouwer’s writings is that he seeks to be in subjection to the Word of God.[19] Theology is “relevant” only when it is “relative to the Word of God.” “...Theology is occupied in continuous attentive and obedient listening to the Word of God.” Because God’s love in Jesus Christ is revealed in Scripture, “beyond the word of Scripture we dare not go.”[20] The English translation adds, “There is nothing beyond that.” That sentence is not in the Dutch, but it does reflect the total dichotomy in Berkouwer’s thought between explicit scriptural teaching and all other knowledge, whether deduced from Scripture or from non-biblical sources. The commendable aim of obedience to Scripture may be abused by such a dichotomy, however, and Berkouwer’s aversion to the “good and necessary consequence” statement in the Westminster Confession is a prime example of this.[21]

It is important to realize that Berkouwer is doing more than claiming to be in subjection to the Word of God. He is critical of the inerrancy doctrine and believes his view is really honoring God’s Word while the inerrantist’s is not. “Some,” he says, “are fascinated by a miraculous ‘correctness,’” but “in the end it will damage reverence for Scripture more than it will further it.”[22] “In appealing to its authority we are not dealing with a formal principle but with a deep spiritual witness to Jesus Christ....”[23] Thus a person who operates with “a certain theory of inspiration” (i.e., inerrancy) “is almost certainly going to cry ‘It stands written’ and still come out with something that misses the truth and power of Scripture.”[24] “To speak of to speak of an unhistorical approach.”[25] “The slogan, ‘It stands written,’ is not a magic wand that can be waved to eliminate all problems....”[26] Berkouwer, reflecting on his 1938 work on Scripture, affirms he is no less committed to the significance of “It stands written,”[27] even though his present understanding of what that means has changed considerably.

Of course, anyone may claim obedience to Scripture. He may do so with utmost integrity.[28] The neo-orthodox, no less than neo-evangelicals, claim to be those who are truly honoring and reverently listening to God’s Word.[29] Van Til, acknowledging some validity in Berkouwer’s criticism that he was not sufficiently exegetical, nevertheless makes this timely observation: “One can be ‘exegetical’ in terms of the neo-orthodox schematism of thought, and this is, after all, to be speculative first, and biblical afterwards.”[30]

Closely related to Berkouwer’s subjection to Scripture is his concern that confessions not lose their derivative character. Their subordinate status is coupled with another qualification. In an important article on confessions with special regard to the Canons of Dordt, Berkouwer speaks of the increasing awareness in recent times of the historically conditioned nature of confessions.[31] There is, according to Berkouwer, a certain vulnerability in all confessions brought about by their reaction against a particular heresy with consequent selection and exegesis of “appropriate” passages.

Writing elsewhere concerning the question of whether Chalcedon is a Christological terminal point, Berkouwer writes: “For the Scriptures are richer than any pronouncement of the church, no matter how excellent it be....”[32] “Chalcedon is not as rich as that Scriptural fullness on which the continually allowed to draw.”[33] What is perhaps the only basic difference in his most recent work is the stronger emphasis on the inadequacies of any confessional statement. Answering the fear that questioning Chalcedon is “another alienation from the church’s confession,” Berkouwer writes:

It is worth remembering then that any fixed definition can fossilize, especially if the definitions are no longer understood. Indeed, we should remember that no definition is adequate.... Orthodoxy is maintained only in conformity with the truth that the church had in mind when it tried to state truth in its inadequate formulas.[34]

This is a subtle but significant move from a warning of the inadequacies of language to what is almost an obsession with a confession’s inadequacies necessitating a different measurement for certainty.

While Berkouwer himself has a high regard for the creeds of the church, such a theoretically accurate stance acknowledges the possibility of significant error in all human statements and runs the risk of relativizing any doctrinal statement. Berkouwer rejects relativizing run wild, but the danger lingers of an increasing transformation of what we once believed to be truth by one who zealously maintains the absolute authority of Scripture.

Any student of Berkouwer would, in this context, have one key word constantly in mind. In both lectures and writing, one word increasingly appears as fundamental to his historical understanding of theology. Intent! “What was the intent of the apostle or prophet in Scripture?” “What is the deepest intent of the framers of the confession?” “What was Rome really intending to say at Trent?” And on it goes. In a confessional statement, therefore, one must be alerted to the relation between the “unchangeable affirmation and changeable representation,” the “really intended content and the form, in which this content comes to expression,” and the fact that no form can adequately express the intended content in final form.[35]

There is an unfortunate temptation in the use of this valid interpretive method of seeking the true intent of those who spoke. The danger is that when we come to disagree with our theological heritage, but do not want to step out of that rich heritage, we can simply claim their commitment to our content while using historically conditioned forms. The result may be, and has been, the sneaking in of new content under the guise of a new form for the old content. Berkouwer’s re-interpretation of the Canons of Dordt throws out the “causal” framework as an unfortunate historical form which tried to say too much and restricts the content (the Synod’s real intent) to a doxological reference to the sovereignty of God’s grace.[36] The legitimate question is whether what the Synod of Dordt intended to confess regarding the sovereign, predestinating God has disappeared in such a re-interpretation.

The form-content distinction provides Berkouwer with a ready-made vehicle for ecumenical dialogue where “hang-ups” with past formulations may be politely set aside to clear the way for “fresh” insights on old problems. Nowhere has this been more visible than in Berkouwer’s discussions with and about Roman Catholic theologians. In his first book on the Second Vatican Council, and even more so in lectures, Berkouwer radiates excitement and enthusiasm over similar methodological developments in the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope John XXIII opened the door by declaring some things to be not absolute (the plea for “unity in the essentials” implied there was an area of non-essentials where differences could be tolerated).[37] Berkouwer gives great importance to this statement of the pope on the first day of the council:

The certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which we must ever remain faithful, must be examined and expounded by the methods applicable in our times. We must distinguish between the inheritance of the faith itself, or the truths which are contained in our holy doctrine, and the way in which these truths are formulated, of course with the same sense and the same significance.[38]

Berkouwer relates the pope’s distinction “between the substance and the formulations of the truth” to “similar distinctions that Roman theologians of the new stripe have been making in the recent past.”[39] This was an entrance into “the danger zone of Roman Catholic problematics,” quite different from the 1950 encyclical Humani Generis of Pius XII.[40] And even though Paul VI was less inclined in this direction, Berkouwer sees this new attitude as a significant breakthrough. In this context a whole chapter is given over to “Unchangeability and Changeability of Dogma.”

In a second book growing out of Vatican II, the “intent” idea comes out strongly in a chapter on the continuity of dogma and its sameness. Dogma, Berkouwer says approvingly, was not “timelessly formulated” but used “historically fixed terminology, thought patterns, and pre-suppositions” which were not without philosophical presuppositions and which must be understood out of their polemical setting.[41] “...The task of the church and theology is to penetrate through to what the church intended in these formulations and what she wanted to confess.”[42] Hand in hand with this new approach is “a strong resistance” against a view of dogma as fixed presuppositions from which logical implications may be drawn.[43] This view also was mentioned approvingly in The Second Vatican Council, where it is said that revelation “is not a reservoir of intellectual propositions” but rather “a personal self-disclosure by God in which He encounters the total person.”[44]

Via the form-content distinction Berkouwer had, with qualification, become a part of a new ecumenical alliance within and without the Roman Church where neo-orthodox theology tends to be the common denominator. While this must be said with care and qualification, it is nonetheless a true perspective on Berkouwer’s development.

Correlation versus Systematics

Another aspect of Berkouwer’s methodology has early roots and shows significant development through the years. While not formalized as a methodological principle, the word and the concept “correlation” permeate his theology. Lewis B. Smedes, a former student of Berkouwer and frequent translator of his books, calls “correlation” the “guiding principle” and “perhaps the greatest single most influential principle in Berkouwer’s theology.”[45]

This principle emerges clearly in an early work, Faith and Justification, as a valid attempt to understand the scriptural and Reformation understanding of faith. Discussing Abraham in the context of Romans 4, Berkouwer writes,

...where Abraham is concerned, there is not a causal relationship between Christ’s righteousness and the righteousness of faith, but a correlative association in which the subjectivity of faith has meaning and significance only as it lives off grace.... We are prohibited from abstracting a “subjective righteousness of faith” from the imputed righteousness of Christ, since it is precisely His righteousness with which faith is concerned.[46]

Faith, says Berkouwer, not added as a second, independent ingredient which makes its own contribution to justification in Christ. On the contrary faith does nothing but accept, or come to rest in the sovereignty of His benefit.[47]
“The way of salvation is the way of faith just because it is only in faith that the exclusiveness of divine grace is recognized and honored.[48]

The correlation idea, however, is much broader than an attempt to articulate the instrumental, receptive aspect of faith or the sovereignty/human responsibility question. Even in this early stage, an anti-systematic attitude is being expressed typical in much of modern theology. Correlation was being set forth not so much as an explanation as a denial of the possibility of an explanation. Berkouwer sets a “real theology of the Word” over against a “beautiful system.”

As we reflect on faith and justification, we shall confront not merely theories, but realities—realities seen and understood only in faith, but, when thus perceived, definitive for our own lives and the life of the Church.[49]

Here and throughout Berkouwer’s writing, the suggestion is ever present that a theory cannot (a priori) correspond to reality. Reality is a different dimension from theories and logic and systematics.

One should not miss this close affinity with the neo-orthodox emphasis on supra history even in this early work. The recent publication of A Half Century of Theology throws some valuable light on even earlier roots of this unorthodox aspect of Berkouwer. He begins his reflections on his “half century” by noting that “‘ethical theology’ was a prominent issue for conservative theology in 1920.” “Ethical Theology” was characterized by the anti-dogma slogan: “not dead doctrine, but the living Lord.”[50] In the following chapter, “The Era of Apologetics,” Berkouwer begins by criticizing the way dogmatics came “as a rounded-off and finished system,” and then states: “But later we came in touch with all sorts of doubts and uncertainty about facets of the system; problems and questions unsettled us.”[51] This anti-systematics bias has characterized Berkouwer throughout but has become increasingly noticed by a larger audience.

K. H. Roessingh, professor at Leiden who died in 1925 at the age of 39, represented “a new form of modernism” and made a strong impression on Berkouwer. At Roessingh’s death, Berkouwer wrote in the student paper: “The effect of his work was not to make everything clear and certain.”[52] What impresses one in his evaluation of Roessingh a half century later is the reference to his stand against orthodox Christology. Of Roessingh he writes: “While he saw no reason to deny the historicality of Jesus, he wanted his christology to be independent of this question.”[53] Berkouwer goes on to write:

He was intrigued by the historical-critical question of how much Jesus’ real self was actually reflected in the New Testament profile. But he preferred the language of trust and commitment. “Christ—I can venture with him.” There was always a tension at the point where theological problematics met personal piety.... But his piety did not turn him away from the problems.[54]

As I read these words describing Roessingh, I was struck by how accurately they describe what I understand Berkouwer himself to be saying. Taking Scripture as an example, Berkouwer wants the authority of Scripture and even its historicity without being tied to the historical-critical battleground. He is intrigued by the historical-critical question of how much of Scripture is historically accurate, but he prefers the language of trust and commitment. One could continue this parallel in many areas. This direction suggested by Roessingh, coupled with Berkouwer’s anti-systematics bias, is manifested in Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics under the name “correlation,” and it has consequences more far-reaching than many have realized. The code word is “in faith.” We must understand “in faith.” What that means is difficult to ascertain, but it is set in contrast to logic, system, and the like. It is clearly affirmed as a “knowing,” but a knowing that is distinctly another nature from the speculative knowledge of a non-believer. And the intent is not the traditional distinction in Reformed theology of the believer “acquiescing” or “relishing” in the truth as contrasted to the resistance of the person outside faith. It is a “deeper” knowing that sees “more clearly” and avoids the contradictions (real) within the speculative realm.

One can with justification use the word “subjective” in speaking of Berkouwer. It is true he attacks subjectivism, but what he is attacking is subjectivism à la Schleiermacher, which “gave the human subject a determinative, creative function and made revelation dependent upon the subjective creation.”[55] “Creative” subjectivism is opposed, but a subjectivism in receiving truth, even to the extent of ignoring logic or “good and necessary consequences,” is acceptable. What elevation of the Word of God means for Berkouwer is an a priori distinction between speculation (even true speculation) and theological study. “Theology can only bow before mystery.”[56] Berkouwer went down this road a long way to come under attack by Van Til for opting in favor of the Kantian noumenal realm and the neo-orthodox Historie/Geschichte distinction. Van Til would be far less critical of Berkouwer in this 1949 book on Faith and Justification, and we have, to be sure, drawn out some implications, but it is worth noting that the seeds of his later position are already implicitly present.

When Smedes sets forth Berkouwer’s correlation principle, his summary confirms what we have just said regarding the faith/knowledge conflict. Paraphrasing Berkouwer, Smedes writes:

Theology is a work of faith, and all of its statements must be such as the believer can recognize as objects of faith.... It means that the object of theology is never the construction of a logically coherent system.... Only those matters that the believer can and ought to confess as his personal faith and which the Church can proclaim as the faith of the Gospel are the proper conclusions of theology.[57]

Berkouwer, says Smedes, “declines the temptation to let deduction and inference determine theological conclusions: the demand for faith, not the dictates of logic, must characterize the kerygma.”[58] Such an evaluation by Smedes is basically a correct statement of Berkouwer’s position.

We again find an updated confirmation of Berkouwer’s views in this regard in A Half Century of Theology, especially in a chapter entitled “Faith and Reasonableness.” Berkouwer is unhappy with past solutions and again finds sympathy with the same struggle in recent Roman Catholicism. In rejecting the classical Reformed approach, as well as a subjective, existential “leap,” he sometimes confuses faith with knowledge of God and at other times seems to divorce them. In representing the issue as it emerged in the “half century,” it sounds very much like a description of Berkouwer’s view. not against reason, though it is above reason.... Faith becomes defenseless, in a sense. It has no defenses for itself; it has no apologia, maybe no way of giving answers—except private ones.[59]

Here we see a parallel to the reference above of subjectivism in Berkouwer. Words like “tension” and “paradox” are preferred to “argument,” “logic,” and “good and necessary consequences.” There is sympathy in the notion that a faith founded upon truth that is rational would cause faith to lose its dynamic and destroy true freedom. Against this background, Berkouwer’s repudiation of faith as a subjective leap sounds somewhat hollow.

Given this increasing commitment to faith versus logic, correlation versus systematics, it is not hard to detect why Berkouwer has increasingly been at odds with classical Reformed orthodoxy, whether seventeenth-century or the Princeton theologians.[60] He is frequently maintaining a false dilemma between “logically coherent systems” and matters one confesses as “personal faith,” between “the demand for faith” and “the dictates of logic.” The assumption of their incompatibility is gratuitous. For those who operate with that assumption, or for those who see a contradiction because they are aware only of an abused or errant system (which would not then be “logically coherent”), Berkouwer gives the appearance of a solution via the attempt to lift theology out of the world of logic and reason and into the noumenal realm of Kantian philosophy.

To one who has read Berkouwer, that may seem like a strong statement. He wrestles with all of the hard issues that come along. He does not avoid the conflicts of church history. Yet at the end of the discussion, when each side has been brilliantly criticized, Berkouwer says in effect: “You’re both wrong ultimately; if you look at it ‘in faith,’ you can see the answer is deeper than you thought; come with me from the realm of the ‘phenomenal’ world of Historie to the ‘noumenal’ world of “Geschichte.” It is a pattern which, once seen, becomes increasingly apparent in all his work.

Providence and Election: A Case Study

Prior to the latter volumes on Scripture, the area where Berkouwer’s correlation principle of viewing all theology “in faith” (as we have defined it above) was most visible is in the areas of providence and election. These are crucial areas which deserve some special attention at this point. In a chapter entitled “A Third Aspect,” Berkouwer treats the concept of “concurrence” as a way to express God’s exercise of providence in the world.[61] This is an important chapter. The problem arises of “whether total human dependence upon God leaves room for significant creaturely activity....”[62] Berkouwer’s concern is to avoid “speculation.” Given the biblical a priori that “God is not the author of sin,” how do you “conceive of Divine cooperation in sin?” “Is sin wholly a product of the first as well as the second cause?”[63] According to Berkouwer, “the dilemma is usually construed as: determinism or indeterminism.”

Berkouwer, not wanting indeterminism, is reacting against what he feels is a logical consequence of all determinism, namely, a kind of causality that excludes human responsibility and makes God the author of sin. In this reaction he makes several crucial assertions. “The essential error of identifying the Providence doctrine with determinism is the de-personalization of the God-concept.”[64] “The Reformed confession of Providence does not reason from the idea of causation. It simply recognizes the invincibility of God’s sovereign activity.”[65] “...The use of the terms first and second causes implies that God is only the most important cause among equal causes.... This brings God even...less disguisedly down into the world-process.”[66] For Berkouwer there is apparently a contradiction between Creator and cause. Concerning the biblical reference to Jehovah as the “first and the last,” he says, “The word first points to the absolute Creator, not the first cause of all things.”[67] At best one can agree with these statements if qualified. At worst one sees caricatures and false dilemmas.

Berkouwer apparently is convinced of the inescapable dilemma, however, since he seeks a way out, a third or middle way. The problem, he says, is not properly formulated as determinism-indeterminism.[68]

The alternatives, determinism or indeterminism, are true alternatives only on a horizontal, anthropological level. They pose a dilemma which is resolved in the relationship that man sustains to God. This vertical relationship between God and man alone gives possibility to a correct understanding of the problem of freedom. Both determinism...and indeterminism neglect the religious aspect of the problem.[69]
“Faith knows its boundaries,” says Berkouwer. “Rational conclusions...give way to living faith in Him.”[70]

The problem is resolved, though not rationally, in confession of guilt and in faith. There is a solution, but it is the solution of faith, which knows its own responsibility—as it knows the unapproachable holiness of God. He who does not listen in faith to God’s voice is left with an insoluble dilemma.[71]

We are again struck with the conclusion that Berkouwer’s solution, the “religious” approach “in faith” contra “rational conclusions,” has ended in the subjective, noumenal sphere.

When we turn to the doctrines surrounding election, we would expect to see a similar pattern, and this is the case. Lewis Smedes’s summary may serve as a helpful starter.

Perhaps the most significant contribution that Berkouwer has made to the doctrine of election is his rescue of it from the doctrine of reprobation as its logical corollary. The notion of reprobation as a logical consequence of election is inescapable, as long as election is viewed as an arbitrary selection of individuals. To Berkouwer this is as objectionable as it is logical.[72]

One must understand that Berkouwer moves back and forth on these issues in a way that is hard to pin down. He writes a chapter on “Election and Arbitrariness” and states as a priori evidence that God is not arbitrary.[73] “Arbitrary” seems to be a word to be avoided, whatever the qualifications, even though it has been used, properly qualified, within the Reformed tradition. Berkouwer accepts Calvin’s expression that “God is a law unto Himself” as a rejection of “potentia absoluta as well as a law above God.”[74] “The protest against the term potentia absoluta was not directed against the absoluteness of divine power, but against its unbiblical formalization.”[75] Berkouwer seems thus to open the door for a qualified arbitrariness, but he insists that despite qualifications, the concept brings into question “the stability and trustworthiness of God’s revelation.”[76] “...We shall not be able to discuss the election of God properly without continually reminding ourselves that there is no arbitrariness in God’s acts.”[77]

In the statement of Smedes quoted above one spots a problem. Apparently the “absoluteness of divine power” which Berkouwer affirms cannot be understood rationally without falling into the “error” of arbitrariness, potentia absoluta, and formalization. What is significant is that Berkouwer does not deny the logic of it. It is not sloppy thinking. In Smedes’s words, “this is as objectionable as it is logical.” Our problem is in not seeing that logic (Kant’s phenomenal world?) is a secondary reality. “There is a third way,” says Berkouwer, “between the potentia absoluta and the subjection of God to a law. The third way is the way of revelation.”[78] Thus, logic is set over against revelation; the “noumenal” realm of a third way, a “religious” and “in faith” way, is set over against rational conclusions.

Much of the election doctrine centers around “the boundaries of reflection.” When Berkouwer deals with the Synod of Dordt, the issue of “good and necessary consequences” is at the forefront. The “hard sayings” of Dordt as deduced from Scripture as consequence, culminating in the phrase “predestined to sin,” is an area that disturbs Berkouwer. The issue of reprobation, the rejection of some, is crucial.

In an important chapter on “Election and Rejection,” Berkouwer defines the issue as symmetry versus asymmetry. When the Canons of Dordt speak of election and rejection, “we could get the impression that we are confronted with an obvious duality of two symmetrical ‘decrees’” predestinating to life and to death.[79] Reformed theology rejects the idea that election and rejection occur “in the same manner,” and Berkouwer attributes this to its desire to reject deterministic interpretations. The Scriptures, says Berkouwer, are asymmetrical. God is the “cause” of salvation; man is the cause of unbelief and hence rejection.[80]

Our criticism of Berkouwer must not be affirming symmetry or a determinism that makes God the author of sin. Berkouwer’s method is again at issue. We do not escape determinism by indeterminism. Reformed theology, he says, affirms asymmetry, and “in doing so, it reaches beyond the dilemma between determinism and indeterminism.”[81] The use of causality can never bring us to a solution.[82] The rising above the dilemma, however, is back in the subjective realm. We must, he insists, rediscover the “doxological connections.” “...We cannot discuss the election of God apart from faith.”[83] No metaphysics, but confession. Referring to the words of adoration which Paul speaks in Romans 11:33, he states: “That is for us men—with all our problems—the profoundest exegetical secret of Romans 9 to 11.”[84]

But more than an acknowledgment of the mystery of election is being set forth. Smedes says of Berkouwer’s teaching: “God is the source of election. Man is the cause of his reprobation.”[85] H. Berkhof says Berkouwer’s book on election “is built on asymmetrical confession, inspired by ‘the boundaries of Scripture,’ that God elects whom he will and rejects those who reject him.”[86] That sounds orthodox enough if interpreted in an orthodox manner. However, couple what we have seen with this statement:

Scripture showed us that in the doctrine of God’s election the issue is not a decretum absolutum, abstracted from Jesus Christ, neither a necessitas rerum which cannot be changed under any circumstances, nor a dark and irrational power of the potentia absoluta. Rather, Scripture points in its doxologies and songs in praise of the free election of God....[87]

One gets the impression that Berkouwer tends to be a Calvinist in election and an Arminian in rejection. But if God’s election is not something “which cannot be changed” (i.e., election can be changed?), even his doctrine of election as Calvinistic is suspect.

Berkouwer would reject such conclusions and say we are not looking in the way of faith. Faith sees things differently, not in causality but in doxologies that point to a way that is true but not transparent to rational considerations. We have yet to apprehend adequately what that means, but apparently one must risk the loss of objective certainty and take the existential leap of faith into the realm of theological (noumenal?) understanding.

It is worth noting that in Van Til’s book on Berkouwer and Dordt he gives an account of Woelderink’s 1951 work on Election which shows his move from the historic Reformed faith to Barthianism. The causal question is called unbiblical and equated with determinism, which is limited to the non-human realm of the I-it dimension. Election transcends causal thinking. “We are referring to the noumenal not the phenomenal realm.”[88] Though our criticism of Berkouwer has been based largely on his book on Divine Election and is admittedly drawing implications, the validity of our fear is illustrated by Van Til’s comparison of an earlier and later Berkouwer with the position of Woelderink.

It is of interest to note that in 1955 Berkouwer defended the Synod of Dordt as having the concrete biblical view of election against the charge of determinism launched by Woelderink, while in 1965 his criticism of Dordt was practically the same as that of Woelderink.[89]

Van Til equates Berkouwer’s terminology with that of neo-orthodoxy and places him within the Kantian framework of modern theology.

Still, the “hole in the dike” was there in the “earlier” Berkouwer, and subsequent writings differ by degree rather than reflecting an essentially new position. Nor was Berkouwer unaware that he was traveling “other routes.” He states in A Half Century of Theology that the publication of Divine Election in 1955 was “not without hesitation and persistent questions.”[90] At the risk of some repetition we should not overlook what he says about this doctrine in his survey of the last fifty years. Here we have the advantage of an autobiographical reflection of his mature thought, the vantage point of the “later Berkouwer,” as he views the “half century.”

It is Berkouwer’s conviction that election is the very “heart of the church,” and it should therefore be a doctrine of comfort rather than something to dread. There is, therefore, a strong pastoral emphasis in relation to questions that are seen as problems, “questions about the certainty of one’s own salvation, about the ‘book of life’ in which names of only certain persons had been written, and questions about the secrecy and mystery of election.”[91] Dogmatics and the life of the church merge in the question “whether election can be proclaimed without arousing all sorts of new problems in the mind of the listening congregation.”[92] Berkouwer cites an experience of his first congregation of the man who argued, “nothing could help him ‘if he were not elect’ and his own break from the church could not hurt him ‘if he were elect.’”[93]

Berkouwer seems to view such “problems” as inappropriate for a doctrine that is the “heart of the church.” He says he probably counseled the man against caricaturing and pointed to the “relation between election and responsibility,” but then concludes that “pastoral warning is really powerless over against this sort of logic.”[94] Such concerns have led Berkouwer to see the problem not so much in his parishioner’s caricatures as in the traditional statement of the doctrine. One “solves” the problem aspect by denying the orthodox doctrine of election.

The orthodox statement of the doctrine, the “form” if not the “content” (intent) of the Canons of Dordt, is dominated by arbitrariness.

By arbitrariness we have in mind the “once-for-all” decision made in eternity that seals the lot of all people forever. The eternal decree of predestination (or predetermination) has its logical corollary in reprobation. The question is: Does not double predestination render pointless everything people decide to do?[95]

Berkouwer believes that is the result, and since the Bible teaches “tension and struggle” rather than “self-evident reason for indifference or complacence,” double predestination cannot therefore be scriptural. The biblical call for response evaporates “by the thought of that decree, fixed from eternity...that determines everything and every person, a decree that must be realized in history.”[96]

In the notion of double predestination we have something else on our hands than a hymn of praise to God’s gracious election. The question is whether the notion of double destiny does not turn divine freedom into divine arbitrariness.[97]

It is apparent that Berkouwer’s desire to retain the doctrine of divine election as the heart of the church will necessitate a concept of decree quite different from what is normally understood. Berkouwer now decries a resorting “to obtuse explanations” and a striving “toward an elusive harmony and synthesis” in the doctrine of election.[98] Kuyper’s language is charged as being essentially the same as “arbitrary determination of an ‘absolute might.’”[99] Berkouwer claims to be questioning the form, not the content, of the sovereignty of God, and it is not a desire “to replace determinism with indeterminism.”[100] To negate so much of the doctrine of election and yet boldly affirm it, one has to move “above” the rational-historical realm into the “Kantian noumenal realm”; that is, it must be seen “in faith.” Piety is set over against rational harmonization.

Once understanding “in faith” is seen as incompatible with understanding in rational knowledge, many new directions are open for biblical reflection. Commenting on Matthew 20:15, where Jesus says, “Am I not free to do what I choose with what belongs to me,” Berkouwer rejects the “logical” conclusion which is double predestination and declares instead that freedom means the goodness of God.[101] Similarly, he denies that Paul could conclude Romans 9-11 “with a breathtaking doxology” if his intention was to teach “that the destiny of everything and everyone is sealed from eternity.”[102] Apparently we cannot truly praise God if He “ordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

Noordmans is said to have been “ahead of his time” in teaching that the “pre-” of predestination “is a ‘pre-’ of divine desire, not of logical determinism.”[103] Predestination, therefore, is not choosing some and rejecting others, but merely “desiring” something in regard to sinners without being the cause of it. The “pre-” of predestination as set forth in the Canons of Dordt “does not let the grace of election come to its own,” and “grace takes a back seat because of the double focus of the divine decree.”[104] Reprobation is made incompatible with God’s grace.

In view of the a priori decree of election and reprobation, universal proclamation is not possible, so long as the seriousness and genuinely intended offer of grace is concerned. The offer of grace could not be directed to people who were excluded from salvation by God’s decree.[105]

Against this background, Berkouwer says he published Divine Election, “not without hesitation and persistent questions,” surely aware that he was changing not only the form but also the content of the Reformed doctrine of predestination.

Berkouwer believes he has growing support for choosing a doxological approach versus a decree fixed in eternity.

Thus the reconsideration of election has tended for several years, not in the direction of a double decree that merely waits to be executed, but in the direction of grace as the nature, the character of election.... I cannot help noting that this shift...has gained an encouraging consensus, supporting my own efforts to understand the meaning of the confession of election....[106]

In private conversation, Berkouwer mentioned James Daane’s The Freedom of God as an English language work reflecting his view. But he especially mentioned Herman Ridderbos in this connection as one who arrived at a similar view of election on exegetical grounds. In A Half Century of Theology Berkouwer says their mutual understanding occurred before the publication of Divine Election in 1955. “Our discussion was supportive for me in my conviction that my rejection of consistent views like Hoeksema’s and others need not lead me into a fruitless polarization; I did not have to posit indeterminism over against determinism.”[107]

Not surprisingly, we find Ridderbos writing in a similar vein:

In “election” there is not of itself the thought of a decree....
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The purport of Paul’s argument is not to show that all that God does in history has been foreordained from eternity and therefore, so far as his mercy as well as his hardening is concerned, has an irresistible and inevitable issue.... It is evident that one may not identify the omnipotence and sovereignty of God’s grace thus upheld on the one hand and of his reprobation and hardening on the other with irrevocable “eternal” decrees, in which God would once and forever have predestined the salvation or ruin of man....
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
There inner contradiction, if one conceives of the divine purpose and the number of the elect in a deterministic sense as an immutably established decree of the counsel of God; or if, on the other hand, one supposes that without the individual’s power of decision human responsibility toward the gospel becomes a fiction.[108]

Neither determinism nor indeterminism! Ridderbos, like Berkouwer, has sought a third way. What that way is remains elusive and protected in the “storm-free harbor of suprahistory.”

Berkouwer and the Battle for the Bible

If Lindsell is correct in The Battle for the Bible when he calls biblical inerrancy “the most important theological topic of this age,” with the battleground being the evangelical community, then the significance of Berkouwer must not be underestimated. His influence is considerable in the shift of the doctrine of Scripture manifesting itself among neo-evangelicalism. Krabbendam sees Berkouwer as “the fountainhead of a new type of thinking” which “led him and his followers to the denial of ...inerrancy.”[109] Gordon Lewis, in a paper on “The Human Authorship of Inspired Scripture,” calls Berkouwer’s view of Scripture “both inadequate and unorthodox.”[110] John Gerstner says Berkouwer’s view of Scripture “does more than ‘damage reverence for Scripture,’” it “damages reverence for God.”[111] If the battle is for the Bible, then Berkouwer is a major combatant!

Concerning Berkouwer’s view of Scripture I would make two qualifying comments which could well apply to the whole article. In the first place I will be very selective. This is necessary simply because of the amount of material. But I am also being selective in dealing with what appears to me to be problem areas. I will not spend time relating all the good things Berkouwer has to say, but I will purposely choose that material which suggests deviation from the more generally accepted Reformed doctrine of verbal inerrancy. This is not a balanced study, and is not intended to be, but I believe it is justified. The other qualification I would make concerns the way Berkouwer writes. When he treats the historical development of a doctrine along with the exegetical and theological questions to be considered, there is usually great clarity. But when it comes to a forthright statement of his own view on an area of controversy within the Reformed heritage, there is a studied lack of forthrightness. Here the issue of biblical inerrancy is a prime example. While Berkouwer has been more candid in recent years, one still does not find blatant denials of inerrancy. It is there in rhetorical questions and implication. He is not interested in the “battle for the Bible” as Lindsell and others might formulate it. Berkouwer does not wish to state boldly there are errors in the Bible, but under the assumption that there are errors, he wants us to see the authority and certainty questions from a different perspective.

The hesitation of Berkouwer to be drawn into a commitment to inerrancy or errancy is illustrated by an incident related by Lindsell in his recent book. With reference to Berkouwer, he writes:

He was a contributor to the Current Religious Thought Column of Christianity Today for some years. When readers raised the question about his belief in biblical inerrancy, I wrote to him for clarification. Despite extended correspondence, I could get no answer from him either affirming or denying inerrancy. When a man refuses to reply to a direct question about his continued acceptance of inerrancy, the only conclusion that can be drawn is obvious.[112]

I believe it is increasingly obvious, and for those who see this as a critical issue the time is past for giving his “no comment” the benefit of the doubt.

In treating this subject I made a decision to use something of an historical framework. I have mixed feelings about this method, inasmuch as there will be some duplication which might be confusing. Yet there is a general consensus that Berkouwer had moved in his personal understanding, that there is an early and late Berkouwer, and that consequently we must note this change in his doctrine of Scripture.[113] There is, of course, much truth in the evaluation that Berkouwer’s position has changed. We will begin and end with reference to the contrast. Yet it is also true that the seeds of what he would consider his “mature” view were present in those early years. Interestingly, in his later publication he chose not to repudiate his early work on Scripture but to see it as a different emphasis.[114]

The historical, or chronological, exposition of Berkouwer’s doctrine of Scripture will begin with a book published almost six decades ago and continue through his work published at the close of his active teaching in which he surveyed the past fifty years of theology as he experienced it. I hope to conclude with some references to disciples of Berkouwer which dramatically illustrate the bearing of his doctrine of Scripture on the current debate over inerrancy.

In 1938 Berkouwer’s first of two major works on Scripture appeared. Almost 400 pages long, Het Probleem der Schriftkritiek was a positive statement of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture in relation to the debates raging at that time. A central theme was the contrast of the Reformed doctrine to the “subjectivism” of the increasingly popular biblical criticism. According to Berkouwer, “the modern Scripture examination stands in sharp antithesis with that of orthodoxy,” and “if the Scripture is lost the context of the Christian faith is lost.”[115] He apparently saw the deception of the modern critic of Scripture. “The battle against petrification of orthodoxy,” says Berkouwer, “was in reality a letting go of Scripture revelation,” and the “self-sufficient autonomous subject” dominates the “modern” reflection on Scripture.[116]

We should pay attention to the striking contrast here to the later Berkouwer. In his later work on Scripture, it is precisely this battle against the petrification of orthodoxy which became his battle, but it is now affirmed that it does not involve a “letting go of Scripture revelation.” This contrast is put in bold relief by Berkouwer’s more recent doubts about the early chapters of Genesis. In the 1938 work, opposing those who questioned the historicity of these early chapters, his position is quite orthodox. Modern theology distinguishes, he says, “between form and content or between the kernel and the husk, between fact and the clothing of that fact.”[117] Such a form-content distinction is part and parcel of most of Berkouwer’s dogmatical studies and especially his work on Scripture, but hear what he said about it in 1938: “The natural question is what remains of the religious significance when the historical surroundings are considered doubtful.”[118] The crux of the matter is how one receives certainty in the “religious connection” if the “religious relation’s indissoluble connection to the historical givens is devalued.”[119] A few pages later he writes: “According to Scripture the character of sin cannot be established apart from the historic fact of the fall and the surrounding trustworthy communications given to us.”[120]

The prevailing message of that early work is clear. A modern “subjective” viewpoint is clearly set in opposition to the orthodox view of Scripture as revelation of God. There was resistance to all forms of subjectivism which denied the indissoluble connection between the form and the content. Van Til is basically correct, I believe, in seeing Berkouwer in this early work as opposed to the neo-orthodox view of Scripture, a view Van Til now sees as Berkouwer’s own.

It was almost thirty years later when Berkouwer wrote an even larger work on the doctrine of Holy Scripture. Entitled De Heilige Schrift, it appeared in two volumes in 1966 and 1967, the next to last in his Studies in Dogmatics. The English translation appeared in a somewhat abridged one-volume edition in 1975. The translation is done by Jack Rogers of Fuller Seminary, and it is from this edition that I will be citing.

It would be a serious error to suppose that this work represented anything other than the combined development of his thinking during those thirty years, now put down in a somewhat systematic fashion. Berkouwer’s view of Scripture was not unknown prior to this 1966 publication. Indeed, one could without too much difficulty ascertain his doctrine of Scripture from his other writing during that time, not the least of which would be his books and articles on the Roman Catholic Church and the “new theology” emerging there. For the sake of space, however, I want to concentrate now specifically on his work, Holy Scripture.

The fact that Berkouwer’s view on Scripture was generally known prior to this publication is not without significance. I was living in the Netherlands at that time, and there was an air of expectancy as people wondered to what extent Berkouwer would repudiate his 1938 book. It was my impression of both church and university circles that no one really doubted that Berkouwer had moved considerably from his early work. What made his new book newsworthy was to find out whether he would ignore, repudiate, or reinterpret it. Those familiar with Berkouwer’s style will not be surprised that he did a lot of ignoring, some reinterpretation, and a studied avoidance of explicit repudiation.

A common denominator in the modernist-fundamentalist debate in the early part of this century and the “battle for the Bible” today is the question of certainty with regard to our faith. Berkouwer begins his book with a chapter on Holy Scripture and the certainty of faith. It is not a faith certainty that is grounded in an infallible Scripture, but a recognition that Scripture is the Word of God, a recognition which grows out of one’s existing faith certainty. It is “an incorrect conception of theology,” according to Berkouwer, “which considers it possible to discuss Holy Scripture apart from a personal relationship of belief in it.”[121] He acknowledges “that for a long time during church history certainty of faith was specifically linked to the trustworthiness of Holy Scripture as the Word of God,”[122] but this traditional view is “an incorrect conception of theology.” The correct view is a correlation between faith and the object of faith, namely, God and His Word. “Only God himself can give us definite and indubitable certainty and place us for time and eternity on an immovable foundation.”[123] Berkouwer does not tell us how God does this. He says he does not mean “a miraculous voice of God,” and he strongly denies charges of mysticism, spiritualism, or subjectivism. Yet his correlation is strongly influenced by the existential character of modern theology, what Berkhof calls Berkouwer’s third phase of “the existential direction of Scripture” with its kerygmatic-existential correlation.[124]

Berkouwer sees a strong parallel with the struggles within Roman Catholicism over the certainty question and sympathizes with the approach of neo-orthodox type liberal Roman Catholics. The final chapter of A Half Century of Theology is entitled “Concern for the Faith,” and has this same certainty theme. Some people feel betrayed and threatened, he says. “For Protestants, it is tied to a fear that the complete trustworthiness of Scripture is somehow being subverted. For Catholics, it is related to a loss of respect for the authority of the church as the last word for questions of faith.”[125] Both books by Berkouwer on the Second Vatican Council and subsequent developments are illustrative of this. But one page from A Half Century of Theology will dramatically illustrate how this parallel between Rome and Protestantism functions.

Hans Kung, according to Berkouwer, “called for a hard look at the actual history of papal statements in which error was, as a matter of fact, mixed with truth. He wanted complete honesty and integrity.”[126] We, of course, agree with Kung that there is a great deal of error in papal statements. But remember, Berkouwer is drawing a parallel with the Protestant doctrine of Scripture. “The church is, Kung insisted, indefectible. But this does not require, as a conditio sine qua non, that its teachings are infallible nor that the church’s path is marked by irrevocable statements.”[127] The church is “indefectible,” but the particular teachings are fallible. If you understand that concept from Kung, you will be prepared to understand what men like Berkouwer mean when they say Scripture is infallible but not inerrant!

Berkouwer continues to paraphrase Kung with words very similar to the neo-orthodox banner: follow the living Lord, not a dead book. “We should rather think in terms of being guided and sustained by the Spirit as he leads us through the valleys of possible error.... Kung talked in the same vein as Bavinck did and as the Belgic Confession does: the church is preserved by God as it walks amid enemies (Article XXVII).”[128] That is a remarkable statement. Kung’s view of an infallible church with fallible teaching is likened to the Belgic Confession teaching the church is preserved by God as it walks amid enemies. Berkouwer here equates enemies with errors, and in the Scripture parallel to the Roman Catholic discussion, the infallible purpose of Scripture is preserved by God as it dwells amid error.

Getting back to the first chapter of Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture, we find another theme that will be frequently repeated—“the transition from a more ‘mechanical’ to a more ‘organic’ view of Scripture.”[129] He sees a continuity between the traditional view where “certainty of faith was specifically linked to the trustworthiness of Holy Scripture” and what he calls a mechanical view of inspiration. By contrast, the rise of historical criticism focused attention on the human aspect. This resulted in taking seriously the human “organ” of revelation, and thus, almost self-evident according to Berkouwer, came the preference for an organic view of inspiration. With this also came problems which Berkouwer recognizes. “Students of Scripture began to wonder...whether Holy Scripture as God’s Word was truly beyond all criticism,” and questions were raised concerning the meaning of “is” in the confession: Holy Scripture is the Word of God.[130]

Again, Berkouwer’s sympathy with Roman Catholic parallels is interesting. In a chapter on “Exegesis and Doctrinal Authority” in his book on the Second Vatican Council, he deals with the tension within the Roman Church growing out of two encyclicals. The 1943 encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, “carries a hint of new directions” for biblical studies. In it Pius XII introduced “the question as to the nature” of scriptural authority, granted an area of freedom and “emphasized the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its own intent and purpose.”[131] Without denying inspiration, the door was nevertheless opened. One of the results was a challenge of the accuracy of the Genesis stories while emphasizing their religious intent. One is reminded of Barth’s comment that the literal existence of the serpent is not important, but what the serpent said! A 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis, was necessitated by the erosion of previously proclaimed infallible doctrines regarding the origin of human life. The expected loss of fallible form was resulting in the loss of “infallible” content as well.

This is a fascinating area of study, with a wealth of material which we cannot go into now. The Roman Church will probably never be the same because of it. But it is important to us in understanding Berkouwer, since he is not only sympathetic with the new and unorthodox Roman exegetes, but sees Protestantism faced with the same issue. Note carefully the similarities described in this rather lengthy quotation:

We must acknowledge that we are not able to look on the tensions within the Roman Catholic Church on this point from a restful Reformed eminence, as though Reformation theology is untouched by similar problems. One could maintain such an illusion only by supposing that exegesis is an individual and not a Church concern and that exegesis is secured against error by the motto, sola Scriptura. Actually, the question of Scriptural authority is a most pressing one within Reformed churches. Ever since they abandoned a mechanical view of Scripture’s inspiration and came to terms with an “organic” view, they have been faced, wittingly or not, with problems parallel to Catholicism’s problem of the Church’s teaching authority and free exegesis of Scripture. Pius XII wrote in his encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, of the writers of Scripture as “organs” and “living, rationally gifted instruments” of the Spirit. He emphasized the authority of Scripture, but his acknowledgment of the human writers as “organs” opened the question of how the organs functioned in the service of revelation and how their dynamic function affects the character of Scripture’s authority. Evangelical theology faces the same question. The witness of Scripture itself along with the “biblical studies of our time” faces evangelical churches with problems that only a docetic view of Scripture can ignore.[132]

Berkouwer’s commitment to a confessional church gives him great empathy with the liberal Roman Catholics who want their heritage and changes too, and the solution for both is sought not in orthodoxy, but a “neo”-orthodoxy.

I think it is clear that Berkouwer is not satisfied with past formulations. There is a move, he says, from mechanical to an organic view of Scripture. And it is important to understand something of his criticism of the alleged enemy, mechanical inspiration, as well as who the enemy is, before moving on with his own view. Unhappily, Berkouwer does not clearly identify the enemy. There are hints; there are indicators. Yet many readers will surely be asking themselves, “Who is he referring to?” or “Is he implying I am guilty of that?” The task of identification is further complicated by what Berkouwer himself acknowledges, namely, that “no one deliberately takes the side of a mechanical idea of inspiration.”[133] Thus his criticism of persons holding a “mechanical view,” if they are not to be straw men, they are persons who deny that theirs is a mechanical view.

It is thus necessary to make an assumption which some may not like. I believe it is a valid assumption founded on my whole experience with his lectures as well as his writings. And while disciples are not necessarily true reflectors of their teacher, those who espouse Berkouwer’s doctrine of Scripture would give confirmation of my assumption. My assumption is this: When Berkouwer speaks of a mechanical view of inspiration, or fundamentalism, or a formalized doctrine of Scripture, he is in the broad sweep referring to those of us who hold to the classical Reformed doctrine of biblical inerrancy. I believe he means Warfield and Old Princeton. On the contemporary scene, I believe he means John Gerstner or J. I. Packer or Cornelius Van Til or many others who hold to an inerrant Bible. I think it is important to say this, since it is very easy to read Berkouwer’s criticisms with approval, assuming he is attacking the same abuses you would, while in reality he means your own position. It is to some of these charges we now turn.

Part and parcel to the non-organic, mechanical view of inspiration was a supposed overemphasis on the supernatural or divine aspect. According to Berkouwer, the tendency in the church was “to minimize the human aspect of Scripture.” In what borders on a false dichotomy, he says, “The human element of Scripture does not receive the attention it deserves if certainty of faith can only be grounded in the divine testimony, for then it can no longer be maintained that God’s Word came to us in the form of human witness.”[134] In this context the word “Docetism” appears. Docetism was the heresy of stressing the divine nature of Christ to the neglect of the human nature. Berkouwer raises the question, “whether a kind of Docetism possibly lay behind the so-called theory of mechanical inspiration,” and assures us that it is a “totally wrong concept of Scripture” which thinks “that the trustworthiness of Scripture is protected by means of a docetic view.”[135]

From a discussion of certainty which is grounded in a docetic view of Scripture, Berkouwer moves into the discussion of fundamentalism. He is critical of the “very defensive character” of fundamentalism.

To be sure, many expressions from the fundamentalist camp frequently give the impression that the acceptance of a fundamental truth and a certainty that cannot be subjectified are at stake, especially when its members gladly accept the name “fundamentalist” to set them apart from those who have fallen victim to the influence of subjectivism. This, however, terminates the discussion at the point where it actually should begin.[136]

Berkouwer claims the same “simple and childlike acceptance of Scripture” as the fundamentalist. The problem is that the fundamentalist fails to see the complexity of the problem.

The fact that Berkouwer sees implicit Docetism in the inerrancy of fundamentalism is illustrated in the following quotation:

I believe that I am judging no one unfairly when I say that fundamentalism, in its eagerness to maintain Holy Scripture’s divinity, does not fully realize the significance of Holy Scripture as a prophetic-apostolic, and consequently human, testimony. It is true that fundamentalists do not deny the human element in Scripture, but they allow their apologetics to be determined by the fear that emphasis on the human witness may threaten and overshadow Scripture’s divinity.[137]

According to Berkouwer, the real point at issue is not the acceptance or rejection of the voice of God, as the fundamentalist insists. In what many fundamentalists would see as grossly unfair, if not slanderous, he writes:

They suggest a priori acceptance of Scripture’s infallibility precludes all dangers. Thus, they manifest great tolerance for all who maintain the fundamentalist view of Holy Scripture. They tend to relativize concrete obedience in understanding Scripture. The result is that their apologetic, which is meant to safeguard Scripture’s divine aspect, threatens in many respects to block the road to a correct understanding of Scripture, which is normative, by ignoring and neglecting its human aspect.[138]

I want to pursue this theme in some detail because these charges are serious. Here are some more of Berkouwer’s extreme charges against the fundamentalist or inerrant view of Scripture. The fundamentalist sees Scripture “as though it were a string of divine or supernaturally revealed statements, ignoring the fact that God’s Word has passed through humanity and has incorporated its service.” The fundamentalist is said to be guided by the “wholly divine or wholly human” dilemma, opting for the “wholly divine.” “Thus to them the human aspect of Holy Scripture lost all constitutive meaning and became blurred through the overwhelming divine reality of God’s speaking.” The fundamentalist “greatly obscures the contexts in which God himself gave us Scripture.” There is “an unconscious wish not to have God’s Word enter the creaturely realm,” and “this background...determines fundamentalist apologetics.”[139]

Berkouwer takes another line of attack against the psychological fundamentalism of defenders of inerrancy. Citing critics of post-Reformation theology with apparent approval, he describes the danger thus:

An incorrect connection between Scripture and certainty of faith can be made by proceeding a priori from the premise that for our certainty of faith we need an immovable basis to the conclusion that we can find this only in an infallible Scripture. It is especially the so-called orthodox view of Scripture that came to the fore in this analysis.[140]

Verbal inspiration is thus “an attempt to make the basis of certainty of faith immovable by an a priori preclusion of every element of uncertainty because of the unique, supernatural, divine quality of Holy Scripture.”[141] Faith in Scripture is called a “religious postulate,” and the “religio-psychological explanation” of a need for absolute certainties is seen as the source of the doctrine of inerrancy.

What bothers me about such an attack is an apparent disregard for the question of truth. Defenders of inerrancy take that position because of a supposed psychological need for certainty. They are categorized with “Islam’s evaluation of the Koran” and Roman Catholicism’s evaluation of the pope, with the common denominator being a need for certainty. I find that personally offensive. Berkouwer says, “Faith is not and cannot be based on a theoretical reflection on what, according to our insight, must be the nature of the divine revelations.”[142] None of my teachers on inerrancy ever claimed to arrive at their conclusion on what their “insight” told them it must be. They believed, with good reason, that inerrancy was taught by God and did not originate as a result of their own creation. The traditional doctrine appears on firm ground between the existential direction of Berkouwer and the straw man of human wisdom envisioned in his criticism. We look next at the testimony of the Spirit, and while this alone could be a large topic since it relates to Berkouwer’s whole methodology, we must at least see how it functions in his Scripture doctrine. I must say that it is my experience to see in Berkouwer’s treatment of this doctrine something quite different from what is generally understood by the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

Berkouwer sees traditional apologetics and inerrancy as exemplifying the same problem, and he raises the issue in the context of the testimony of the Spirit. He is using Bavinck to summarize his criticism. (Let me say parenthetically that Berkouwer is continually citing Bavinck with deep appreciation. He sees himself as in line with Bavinck’s direction. I am no authority on Bavinck. I have read a master’s thesis on Bavinck’s view of Scripture by Jack Rogers, and I’ve read the quotes from Berkouwer. As best I remember, I never had problems with Bavinck’s own words, but only the paraphrasing and inferences Rogers or Berkouwer drew from Bavinck.) Here, then, is what Berkouwer writes:

The doctrine of the testimonium was somehow revived again when it was realized that rationalism was untrustworthy and apologetics unfruitful. In this connection he mentions Kant’s criticism of the proofs for the existence of God. Once again there was room for the conviction that it is meaningful to speak of a testimony of the Spirit, because it was seen that the ultimate basis of faith cannot lie outside of us in proofs and arguments, the church, or tradition, “but can be found only in man himself, in the religious subject.”[143]

You see the relevancy for inerrancy. Whether apologetics in general or Scripture in particular, certainty is denied possibility in the phenomenal world. Certainty, religious certainty, is possible only in the Kantian noumenal realm of suprahistory and existentialism.

According to Berkouwer, “only the Holy Spirit himself can give certainty and conquer all doubts.”[144] The certainty of Scripture is not in the realm of reason; we cannot speak of its objective truth apart from a believing subject. Are we not in the realm of existential theology’s “truth as encounter”? Berkouwer mentions this view approvingly in The Second Vatican Council, where it is said that revelation “is not a reservoir of intellectual propositions” but rather “a personal self-disclosure by God in which He encounters the total person.”[145] It is obvious, says Berkouwer, “that there are not two separate kinds of witness, one that must be called the outer and the other the inner testimony.”[146] He states further: “A merely natural recognition of Scripture as a supernatural phenomenon with the consequential ‘rational’ proofs is not possible.”[147] In this framework the question of inerrancy is irrelevant.

I find also a confusion by Berkouwer between “faith” in Scripture and “faith” in Christ, or saving faith. This affects many areas. But he confuses them intentionally via his exposition on the testimony of the Spirit. According to Berkouwer, “there can be no splitting of the testimonium into two separate testimonia, namely, one regarding our sonship, and another concerning the truth of Scripture.”[148] It is certainly true that the regenerating, light-giving, eye-opening work of the Holy Spirit wins our acquiescence in both Scripture and the Savior. The issue, however, is not our “faith” in Scripture but the truth of Scripture, whether we acquiesce or not. Is it objectively true or only existentially true?

For Berkouwer the message, if not the medium, determines the medium’s veracity. “On the basis of the New Testament, the confession of the Spirit is first of all related to salvation in Christ; and then the Word of God is discussed.”[149] He can use the same full meaning of faith with regard to both Scripture and Christ, since faith in Scripture is really not in Scripture at all, but in the message of Scripture, namely, Jesus Christ. This is what Berkouwer says:

True belief in Scripture is possible and real only in relation to the message of Scripture.... When the “acceptance” 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.[150]

But again the issue is not whether we should call acceptance of the Holy Scripture as the Word of God “belief” or “faith,” but whether it is the Word of God or only becomes the Word of God when one is related to it as a Christian. Berkouwer’s position is clear. “The confession of the Testimonium Spiritus Sancti once and for all precludes every separation of faith in Christ from faith in Scripture. Faith in Scripture is not a separate belief that must be complemented by trust.”[151]

Berkouwer writes two chapters on the God-breathed character of Holy Scripture, and within these chapters the fundamental issues arc raised, some of which we have already touched. Berkouwer’s concern for the intent or purpose of Scripture predominates. The word inspiration may be difficult to fully grasp, but the “functional character of Scripture” which concerns salvation and the future is what we must comprehend. “Scripture is the Word of God,” says Berkouwer, “because the Holy Spirit witnesses in it of Christ.”[152] “Seen from the perspective of sola Scriptura, this will not be an abstract and empty confession. The concreteness of the goal idea is of great importance.”[153] John’s words are cited: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31). In A Half Century of Theology Berkouwer calls this a “religious pragmatic,” an “awareness that the gospel records were portraits of Jesus Christ rather than ordinary historical reporting,” with the result that “closer attention had to be paid to the purpose of the Gospel writers.”[154] You must realize that defenders of inerrancy will make a similar emphasis, but Berkouwer is placing the purpose in opposition to inerrancy. In his own words: “The mystery of the God-breathed Scripture is not meant to place us before a theoretical problem of how Scripture could possibly and conceivably be both God’s Word and man’s word, and how they could be ‘united.’ It rather places us before the mystery of Christ.”[155]

The scopus, or intention, of Scripture is the primary thrust of Berkouwer over against “verbal inspiration” and its concomitant “inerrancy.” “Believing Scripture does not mean staring at a holy and mysterious book, but hearing the witness concerning Christ.”[156] There is room for error growing out of the time-boundedness of Scripture. The concept of “accommodation” is introduced in making a “distinction between essential content and time-related form.”[157] “The scopus of Scripture,” according to Berkouwer, means “a concentrated the Word in the midst of many words, to its intent and purpose.”[158] He then cites the Pharisees’ misunderstanding of the Sabbath commandant as an example of missing the “intent” of the Sabbath. But all that text teaches is that the Pharisees had a faulty understanding of the law, not that the law was an errant statement pointing to an inerrant intention. Berkouwer implies an either/or choice between his scopus idea and Scripture as “many words without the goal” in which “its God-breathed character is thereby neglected.”[159] Happily, we are not confronted with such a dilemma.

Berkouwer, in criticizing inerrancy as set forth by Warfield, will speak of an inerrancy in the sense of “sin and deception.” But inerrancy as Warfield advocates is a “serious formalization” which is “far removed from the serious manner with which erring is dealt in Scripture.”[160] Recognizing the good intention of inerrancy, Berkouwer nevertheless maintains that “the formalization of inerrancy virtually destroys this intention” by ignoring the organic nature of Scripture and its testimony.[161] Inerrancy in addition to infallibility is not needed “to guarantee the full and clear message of Scripture.”[162] Inerrantists, then, according to Berkouwer, are “fascinated by a miraculous ‘correctness’ that forever disregards every problem of time relatedness,” and “in the end it will damage reverence for Scripture more than it will further it.”[163]

It is undoubtedly a long way from Berkouwer’s 1938 book on Scripture to his more contemporary writings. Reflecting on that 1938 book, Berkouwer remarked that the appeal—“It stands written”— made a powerful impact on him. In 1974 he wrote:

As I reread my book of 1938, I sense the difference between then and now is not that I was at that time impressed with “It stands written” and that later, in my volume on the Scriptures, I was less committed to it. I still wish to stand, attentively and devoutly, by that appeal, made by Christ.[164]

Who will question, however, that the phrase “It stands written” functions differently for Berkouwer now?

In 1938 he rejected the form-content distinction. The intention, the religious meaning, was inseparable from the historical surroundings. Later, such a distinction was the key to the scopus or intention of Scripture. In 1938 he defended the historicity of Genesis 3, as the Gereformeerde Kerken had done in 1926. The Gereformeerde Kerken officially abandoned that position forty years later, and Berkouwer saw no break with the church’s past. In 1971 Berkouwer publicly asked the question, “Is there room in the Reformed Churches for persons—and I reckon myself among them—who at this stage of their reflection have great hesitations concerning the historicity of Adam?”[165]

One begins to see why Lindsell calls it a battle rather than an intramural skirmish. It is not just how we get the message, but it is a conflicting message. Berkouwer speaks of the same infallible content in the fallible form. But in time what he said in 1938 proves correct. The form and content are bound together, and we see new content emerging. The new position of Berkouwer on the historicity of Adam and the relationship to Genesis 3 and Romans 5 is but one of several problems. The whole question of Paul’s statements on womanhood and marriage is involved also. “At one time,” says Berkouwer, “virtually no attention was given to time-boundedness in these passages.” They were read out of context, with a faulty view of inspiration, creating insoluble problems. “But Paul, in contrast, did not in the least render timeless propositions concerning womanhood.”[166]

Berkouwer is not unaware of the uneasiness surrounding these developments. In chapter one of Holy Scripture and in the concluding chapter of A Half Century of Theology, he speaks of the fear, uncertainty, and alarm within the church. The last page of his Holy Scripture affirms that his approach “is the true and only way to obedience.”[167] The last page of Half Century of Theology encourages us not to lose courage and “lapse into skepticism,” but be stimulated by the promise: “Seek and ye shall find.”[168] Berkouwer is convinced his way most honors the authority of Scripture. The question that must be asked, however, is this: When part of God’s truth is surrendered, will the time not come when the Gospel itself will also be surrendered?

Confessions of a Disciple

I have elsewhere referred to Berkouwer as “the hole in the dike” through which a flood would come.[169] Of the many small streams that are making up that flood I have selected Jack Rogers of Fuller Seminary for particular reference. A variety of circumstances has made him something of a spokesman for Berkouwer’s thought in this country. The inclusion here of a disciple is justified in that disciples are sometimes quicker to draw conclusions and thus are frequently bolder in stating their goals than are their masters.

Rogers is certainly a zealous supporter of Berkouwer, and he is not without impressive credentials. His doctoral dissertation on the doctrine of Scripture in the Westminster Confession was under Berkouwer’s supervision, and he is the translator of Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture. Furthermore, he sees himself as leaving behind his “conservative” background and its “rigidity” while finding deliverance in Berkouwer. “It is possible to avoid the extremes of both conservatism and liberalism and yet develop into an outstanding evangelical theologian. My example is G. C. Berkouwer of the Netherlands.”[170]

Rogers claims to have been “a straight, uptight, conservative Christian.” While his self-deception often sounds like pietistic moralism rather than healthy orthodox Christianity, his critique does not distinguish between the two. He wants to be “less conservative and more evangelical.” Before being enlightened by Berkouwer he “needed an idealized Bible.”[171] No more:

I can no longer be conservative and talk about what the Bible must be, or ought to be—reasoning logically from some idealized human notion of perfection. I want to be evangelical and accept the Word that God has given me, with all its magnificent surprises in both content and form.[172]

The reason there are such “surprises” for Rogers is found in the subjectivism of his philosophical presuppositions. Convinced of Hume’s skepticism, he finds a way to “keep the faith” in Kant’s philosophy which “turns our attention from the objective world outside to what we subjectively bring to it.”[173] The “way out” becomes the “way up” to “supra-history” where one is not bound to the logic of space and time, cause and effect. Or, to use Berkouwer’s expression, he is seeing things “in faith.”

The imprint of Berkouwer on Rogers was clearly seen in 1966, when his published dissertation, Scripture in the Westminster Confession, appeared. There was tremendous research involved giving us important information on the background of the Confession. In my judgment, however, it is most significant as a reinterpretation of the Confession, making it read like Berkouwer on Scripture. The difference is that the attack, I fear a slanderous attack, was fully in the open. According to Rogers, “Princeton Theology’s...emphasis on the inerrant original autographs of the Bible signaled a change from the approach of the Westminster Divines.”[174] How was it different? “Princeton Theology undervalued the witness of the Holy Spirit” and relied on rationalism. There was “a lack of emphasis on the living dynamic Word of God in preaching,” and there “was an underemphasis on the scopus or purpose of Scripture.”[175] There was “an under-valuation of the human element in Scripture.” Furthermore, the New Princeton theologians in the then “proposed” “Confession of 1967” for the United Presbyterian Church “acted rightly in restoring the emphasis on the witness of the Holy Spirit and on Jesus Christ the Savior as being the central content of Scripture,” an emphasis Rogers thought lost in “American Presbyterian orthodoxy.”[176]

Not surprisingly, Jack Rogers appears in the current battle for the Bible. Significantly, he is the editor of Biblical Authority, a collection of articles specifically attacking Lindsell’s book, by men opposed to inerrancy. Rogers’ own article purports to be an historical survey of biblical authority. In reality it is a vehement polemic against inerrancy which is open to challenge on almost every page. Apart from an amazing zeal to promote a Platonic-Augustinian philosophical foundation for his doctrine of Scripture,[177] the article is characterized by repeated quotations or paraphrases of Berkouwer’s work on Scripture. The primary conclusion, aimed at Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible, is that “it is historically irresponsible to claim that for two thousand years Christians have believed that the authority of the Bible entails a modern concept of inerrancy in scientific and historical details.”[178] However one might view Lindsell’s book, it is apparent that Rogers has entered the battle in opposition to inerrancy.

To return again to Rogers’ “confessions,” we find him asserting that Berkouwer did indeed change his position on Scripture and that in doing so he was following the “good” Dutch Reformed tradition as opposed to the “bad” American Reformed tradition. Of Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture he writes: “I believe that this work on Scripture really does break the liberal-conservative dilemmas we have wrestled with for a century. It offers a genuinely evangelical middle way.” Then, referring to Berkouwer’s early work on Scripture, he says:

It encourages me to see how his thinking has changed and developed in this mature work.... The extremes—formalism and subjectivism, rationalism and existentialism—have been rejected. We do not have to choose one or the other of those extremes as so much of our American theology has suggested.[179]
“Warfield left on his followers the imprint of the apologist and polemicist. Bavinck influenced the generations after him to be theological scientists and churchmen. Berkouwer reflects this influence.”[180] “In the nineteenth century, while Hodge and Warfield were building defenses against Biblical criticism, Kuyper and Bavinck were meeting the issue openly and constructively.”[181] “G. C. Berkouwer has taught that the choice between conservatism and liberalism is a false dilemma.”[182] Rogers has thus found a comfortable, platonic, Kantian home in Berkouwer’s “evangelical middle way.”

On the theory that reading Berkouwer into the Westminster Confession salvaged it from the “conservatives,” Rogers collaborated with one of his former students to work the same “magic” on much of church history. Desiring to demonstrate to the reader that inerrancy is not the historic position of the church, Rogers and McKim did not narrow their focus. Norman Geisler has described The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible “as the most complete attempt by non-inerrantists to reinterpret church history in their favor.”[183] Again, Berkouwer provided the model.

Though spoiled by the Aristotelian Scholasticism of Aquinas, Rogers and McKim see a basic consensus in the early church in Neoplatonic Augustinianism with no thought of inerrancy.[184] After a bad Scholasticism in the Middle Ages, nominalism and mysticism “helped pave the way for a return to Neoplatonic Augustinianism.”[185] The Reformers focused attention, not on inerrancy, but on the Bible’s saving function.[186] Reflecting the neo-orthodox view, Rogers and McKim write: “For Calvin, the Bible was God’s Word. But he knew that God did not address human beings directly with divine words.”[187] The Bible is God’s Word but not divine words! In contemporary terms, the Word is manifested in human (i.e., errant) words.

The real villain emerges in post-Reformation “Protestant scholasticism”[188] with its Aristotelian-Thomistic approach where “Scripture came to be treated as a compendium of propositions from which logical deductions could be drawn.”[189] Remarkably, the Westminster Divines were exempted from such scholasticism, but Great Britain generally went the way of the Continent via Owen, Bacon, Newton, Locke, Thomas Reid, and John Witherspoon, who imported errant inerrancy to America.[190]

In America, Reformed Scholasticism was continued preeminently in Princeton Theological Seminary with the teaching of Turretin’s theology and under the leadership of A. Alexander, the Hodges, B. B. Warfield, and J. G. Machen.[191] Rogers and McKim assert that though the leaders of that tradition thought themselves to be followers of Calvin and the Westminster Standards, “in actuality they believed and taught a theological method regarding the authority and interpretation of the Bible that was rooted in a post-Reformation scholasticism, an approach almost the exact opposite of Calvin’s own.”[192]

The direction that such historical revisionism takes for Rogers and McKim, as well as Berkouwer’s influence, becomes evident when the more modern counterparts of Rogers’ approved theologians are named. Charles Briggs, suspended from the Presbyterian ministry, is said to be “historically correct.”[193] The Auburn Affirmation is implicitly approved in opposition to Machen and the conservatives.[194] T. M. Lindsay and James Orr in Scotland are praised as “evangelical reactions to Reformed Scholasticism,” and so also are Kuyper and Bavinck (not Hepp) in the Netherlands and P. T. Forsyth in England.[195]

More recently Barth, Berkouwer, and the Confession of 1967 carry the banner for Rogers and McKim. Karl Barth “founded the authority of the Bible on its divine function” and in so doing “provided a way back to the Reformation focus.”[196] Berkouwer’s difference from Barth is that he reacted to Scholasticism while Barth had reacted to Liberalism.[197] They both arrived at a Reformation focus on the Bible’s saving function in a way that excluded inerrancy. In the United Presbyterian Church “Barth provided a core of consensus,” and the Confession of 1967 restored “the Reformation focus on Christ as the content of Scripture.”[198] With pride Rogers and McKim declare of the Confession of 1967: “The final document was a worthy modern version of the Reformation vision of the Bible.”[199]

Into a Storm-Free Harbor

We return in closing to the teacher. A look at the disciple has produced nothing to alter our evaluation of the professor. Armed with Berkouwer’s view of Scripture, one who professes to be a conservative evangelical in time embraces Briggs and Barth as the true descendants of the Reformation. Not surprisingly, neo-orthodox and liberal Roman Catholics have increasingly embraced Berkouwer, while relations are strained within his own tradition.

The word “change” repeatedly appears as we survey Berkouwer’s “half century” of theological reflection. Rogers is “encouraged” by this change and finds support for his hostility to American Presbyterianism in what he calls Berkouwer’s “evangelical middle way.” Berkouwer’s evolution is from a conservative, orthodox, Reformed theologian to a contemporary theologian for whom conservative and liberal is a false dilemma.

The way out of that dilemma is not a “way” at all in the traditional sense. One of my professors described the post-Kantian developments in modern theology as “piety within the framework of the enlightenment.” Being convinced that rational investigation left faith defenseless, they sought a way to retain their “faith” anyway. Truth was equated with “encounter,” and the realm of the so-called “suprahistory” became a “storm-free harbor” to avoid the “critical historical flood tide.” Berkouwer’s “middle way” of doing theology “in faith” is meaningful only in this anti-meaning philosophical framework.

As alluded to earlier, the shadow of Immanuel Kant hangs heavy over Berkouwer. “The principle of causality is valid only within the limits of our experience.”[200] Causality is thus valid only in what Kant calls the “phenomenal” realm, not the “noumenal” realm of “suprahistory.” It is this new view of causality that has resulted in Berkouwer’s growing criticism of the treatment of election in the Canons of Dordt as well as his criticism of the traditional Reformed doctrine of Scripture. Revelation is in the “noumenal” realm where logic is not applicable, and therefore all theology must be done “in faith.” “The function of human reason is not to investigate revelation but to draw logical conclusions.”[201] All revelation is thus lifted out of the rational, logical, causal investigation and placed in the “noumenal” realm.

Van Til has leveled strong criticism against Berkouwer. The fundamental charge is that Berkouwer is influenced by the “philosophy of the utter relativism of history” with the “modern view” of a “would-be autonomous man.”

This man lives and moves and has his being in Kant’s noumenal realm. The existentialist philosophers and their theological followers today often speak of this realm as being that of Geschichte. The realm of Kant’s phenomenal world is now often called Historie. In order to escape the charge of contradiction, of determinism, man now says that the distinctions between determinism and indeterminism do not concern him. He now lives in a free world, the world of person-to-person confrontation. He now has no theory of reality, no concept of God or of man, no metaphysics. He is now in the realm of ethical relations.[202]

Such strong criticism may seem severe as one surveys the bulk of Berkouwer’s writing and sees many seemingly sound expositions of biblical doctrines. It is justified, however, in that something is at stake which is more significant than what Berkouwer says on any given topic. It concerns the “continental divide” of modern theology. It is perhaps misleading to speak of “a hole in the dike.” The dike has already been breached, and the flood has come. Even statements that sound orthodox must be viewed in light of what Berkouwer means by “in faith,” and all theology must be evaluated anew as pointing to “truth” rather than being “true.”

Berkouwer, then, has anchored his ship in the “storm-free harbor of suprahistory” to be safe from the “critical historical flood tide.” But if Berkouwer’s “middle way” is utterly illusive by the very nature of its subjectivism, the storm-free nature of his harbor is no less so. For in that harbor the only standard by which we may test anything is our own experience with “every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes.” In that harbor there is no safety from being “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”[203]


[1] G. C. Berkouwer, A Half Century of Theology, trans. Lewis B. Smedes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), pp. 8-9.

[2] Ibid., p. 9.

[3] Ibid., p. 263.

[4] Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977).

[5] One of the papers presented at the 1978 “Summit” on inerrancy was precisely on this topic. Cf. Hendrick Krabbendam, “B. B. Warfield vs. G. C. Berkouwer on Scripture,” Summit Papers (unpublished), ed. Norman L. Geisler, International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, Chicago, October 1978, hereinafter cited as Summit Papers, pp. 15.1-15.31. These papers were revised and subsequently published.

[6] Cf., for example, Jack Rogers, Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974), especially pp. 134 ff., and Jack Rogers, “The Church Doctrine of Biblical Authority,” Biblical Authority, ed. Jack Rogers (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1977), pp. 41 ff.; and Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979). Rogers stretches generalities to the extreme in the blanket way he includes Kuyper and Bavinck with Berkouwer in opposition to “Old Princeton theology.” Rogers may be unknown to many readers, and some may question why we have not chosen a more prominent figure. The fact is that Rogers’ growing hostility toward everyone’s interpretation of the Westminster Confession except certain contemporary neo-orthodox and neo-evangelical writers, coupled with his vigorous allegiance to Berkouwer, has thrust him to the forefront of spokesmen of a Berkouwer-influenced neo-evangelicalism. We shall see more of his role later in this article. Cf. also John D. Hannah, ed., Inerrancy and the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), which was sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and addresses the historical thesis of Rogers and McKim. The concluding chapter is my essay: “Berkouwer and the Battle for the Bible.”

[7] Cf., for example, Cornelius Van Til, The Sovereignty of Grace (Nutley, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1969), p. 32, where Van Til says of Berkouwer: “His love for the Reformed faith unquestioned”; however, “concomitant with his more ‘positive’ attitude toward both Barth and Rome in recent times goes an increasingly negative attitude toward historic Reformed statements with respect to Scripture and doctrine.” Near the conclusion of the book (p. 86) he states: “Berkouwer now advocates principles similar to those of Barth and of neo-orthodoxy as though through them alone we can defend the teaching of free grace.”

[8] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 45.

[9] Ibid., pp. 69, 71.

[10] Krabbendam, Summit Papers, pp. 15.3, 15.28.

[11] This particular quote is from David Hubbard, “The Current Tensions: Is There a Way Out?” Biblical Authority, p. 167. Cf. Jack Bartlett Rogers, Scripture in the Westminster Confession (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1966).

[12] H. Berkhof, “De Methode van Berkouwers Theologie,” Ex Auditu Verbi, ed. R. Schippers, G. E. Meuleman, J. T. Bakker, H. M. Kuitert (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1965), pp. 40-43.

[13] Ibid., pp. 44-48. Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, pp. 427-28, give support for Berkhof’s thesis. After the appearance of Berkouwer’s later work on Holy Scripture, Rogers and McKim note the “criticism from some evangelicals who had previously lauded Berkouwer’s theology.” To the question, Had Berkouwer changed? their answer is no. “In actuality he had simply described the approach to Scripture that had enriched his volumes on other doctrines for twenty-five years.”

[14] Ibid., pp. 48-53.

[15] Krabbendam, Summit Papers, p. 15.3, note 6.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 132.

[18] Berkhof, Ex Auditu Verbi, p. 44.

[19] G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification, trans. Lewis B. Smedes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 9.

[20] Ibid., p. 160.

[21] Cf., for example, G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, trans. Hugo Bekker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960), pp. 17 ff.

[22] G. C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, trans. Jack B. Rogers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), p. 183.

[23] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 138.

[24] Ibid., p. 139.

[25] Ibid., p. 140.

[26] Ibid., p. 141.

[27] Ibid., p. 139.

[28] It is interesting to note that on the assumption that Berkouwer is not willfully deceiving us, his writing is inerrant as he defines it. According to Berkouwer, the biblical notion of error is not incorrectness but deception, as in intentional lying. Cf. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, p. 181. Therefore, unless he is willfully trying to deceive us, Berkouwer’s writing is “inerrant.” Following this lead Rogers distinguishes “the biblical notion of error as willful deception” from “‘error’ in the sense of technical accuracy.” Rogers, Biblical Authority, p. 46. Thus error concerns the writer’s intent. Paul D. Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” Summit Papers, p. 10.21, shows how such a definition says too much with this telling comment: “If we accept Rogers’ understanding of error as ‘willful deception,’ then almost every book that has ever been written is inerrant.”

[29] Cf., for example, Rogers, Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical, pp. 103-104, where he claims Warfield “diverted attention” from a true listening of Scripture because of his concern for inerrancy. This criticism of defenders of inerrancy is implicit in the slogan emblazoned upon the cover of Rogers, ed., Biblical Authority:“Turn your Bible from a battleground into a source for spiritual strength.” So also Hubbard, Biblical Authority, p. 167: “The Hodge-Warfield brand of Reformed theology, with its rationalistic defense of Scripture, comes close to jeopardizing the solid principle that Scripture is sufficient.”

[30] Cornelius Van Til, Toward a Reformed Apologetics (n.p., n.d.), p. 27.

[31] G. C. Berkouwer, “Vragen Rondom de Belijdenis,” Gereformeerd Theologisch Tijdscrift LXIII (February, 1963), 1-41.

[32] G. C. Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 91.

[33] Ibid., p. 96.

[34] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 241.

[35] Berkouwer, Gereformeerd Theologisch Tijdscrift, pp. 4-5.

[36] Ibid., pp. 11-15.

[37] G. C. Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism, trans. Lewis B. Smedes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 19-20.

[38] Ibid., p. 22. Encyclical Gaudet Mater Ecclesia.

[39] Ibid., p. 23.

[40] Ibid., p. 24.

[41] G. C. Berkouwer, Nabetrachting op het Concilie (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1968), p. 52.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., p. 53.

[44] Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council p. 68. K. Rahner is specifically cited.

[45] Lewis B. Smedes, “G. C. Berkouwer,” Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology, ed. Philip E. Hughes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966), p. 65.

[46] Berkouwer, Faith and Justification, p. 85.

[47] Ibid., p. 43.

[48] Ibid., pp. 188-189.

[49] Ibid., p. 10.

[50] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 11. It is interesting to note that Berkouwer and his disciples are not averse to throwing this slogan at Old Princeton theology and their contemporary counterparts.

[51] Ibid., p. 25.

[52] Ibid., pp. 18-19. Berkouwer says Roessingh raised doubts about Kuyper’s description of modernism (cf. pp. 18, 20).

[53] Ibid., pp. 20-21.

[54] Ibid., p. 21. “We who were students at the time followed Roessingh’s venture with no little amazement. We could hardly guess that what we saw in Roessingh, both his hesitations and his assertions, would hold our attention and demand our response for years to come” (p. 23). In the following chapter, “The Era of Apologetics,” Berkouwer begins by criticizing the way dogmatics came “as a rounded-off and finished system.” He states: “But later we came in touch with all sorts of doubts and uncertainty about facets of the system; problems and questions unsettled us” (p. 25).

[55] Berkouwer, Faith and Justification, p. 17.

[56] Ibid., p. 21.

[57] Smedes, Creative Minds, pp. 65-66.

[58] Ibid., p. 69.

[59] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 147.

[60] I am well aware that some have and will seek to avoid the impact of this by suggesting a clear disagreement between Calvin and “Calvinism,” with truth and Berkouwer on the side of Calvin. However, something is not true simply because Calvin said it, and furthermore, it is a highly debatable conclusion that Calvin, and possibly the Westminster Confession were substantially different from the Reformed orthodoxy of the seventeenth century or of the “Princeton theologians.” It is a highly questionable fad that sees Calvin as a post-Kantian existentialist or neo-orthodox depending on one’s perspective. On the contrary, as Krabbendam, Summit Papers, p. 15.2, points out: “There is every reason to believe that, according to Warfield, Berkouwer’s emphasis upon, and usage of, the concept of ‘correlation’ would betray a strand in his thinking that would place him in the climate of Schleiermacher’s theology—and of neo-orthodoxy.”

[61] G. C. Berkouwer, The Providence of God, trans. Lewis B. Smedes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952), pp. 125-160.

[62] Ibid., p. 126.

[63] Ibid., p. 131.

[64] Ibid., p. 152.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid., p. 155.

[67] Ibid., p. 158.

[68] Ibid., p. 145.

[69] Ibid. p.146. The Kantian roots of this mentality are illustrated in a summary of Kant’s agnosticism in Norman L. Geisler, “Philosophical Presuppositions of Biblical Errancy,” Summit Papers, p. 11.15. “Hence, I can know the ‘thing-to-me’ but not the ‘thing-in-itself.’ One can know what appears to him but not what really is. The former Kant called phenomena and the latter, noumena. Between the phenomenal and the noumenal realms there is an insurpassable gulf fixed by the very nature of the knowing process.” Another reason “we must remain forever ignorant of reality-in-itself” is this: “Whenever one attempts to apply the categories of his mind (such as unity or causality) to the noumenal realm he ends in hopeless contradictions and antinomies” (p. 11.6).

[70] Ibid., p. 159.

[71] Ibid., p. 133.

[72] Smedes, Creative Minds, p. 78.

[73] Berkouwer, Divine Election, p. 53.

[74] Ibid., p. 59.

[75] Ibid., p. 62.

[76] Ibid., pp. 62-63.

[77] Ibid., p. 87.

[78] Ibid., p. 86.

[79] Ibid., p. 175.

[80] Ibid., pp. 181 ff.

[81] Ibid., p. 182.

[82] Ibid., pp. 188, 190.

[83] Ibid., p. 25.

[84] Ibid., p. 65. Cf. Faith and Justification, pp. 31-32.

[85] Smedes, Creative Minds, p. 78.

[86] Berkhof, Ex Auditu Verbi, p. 49.

[87] Berkouwer, Divine Election, p. 172.

[88] Van Til, The Sovereignty of Grace, pp. 29-31.

[89] Ibid., p. 40.

[90] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 100. In an interesting distinction Berkouwer says he was “wary, not of logic, but of certain logical consequences.” How one can be for logic and not logical consequences is puzzling.

[91] Ibid., p. 78.

[92] Ibid., p. 80.

[93] Ibid., p. 81.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid., pp. 82-83.

[96] Ibid., p. 83.

[97] Ibid., p. 87.

[98] Ibid., p. 89.

[99] Ibid., p. 90.

[100] Ibid., p. 91.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Ibid., p. 92.

[103] Ibid., p. 93.

[104] Ibid., p. 94.

[105] Ibid., p. 98.

[106] Ibid., p. 102.

[107] Ibid., pp. 100-101.

[108] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard DeWitt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), pp. 344, 345, 353. “This concept of election denotes the omnipotence, not the deterministic character of God’s work of grace” (p. 346). “Here again it is a matter...not simply of a decree of God that only later comes to realization...” (p. 347). Concerning Romans 8:29 ff., Ridderbos says: “This is not an abstract pronouncement concerning the immutability of the number of those predestined for salvation, but a pastoral encouragement for the persecuted and embattled church.... ‘Chosen in Christ’ does not say that Christ is the means or the medium through whom or in whom an antecedent absolute decree would be effected” (pp. 350-351). Even hardening “‘need’ not bear a definitive character, but rather, as with the rejection and hardening of unbelieving Israel, presupposes a situation that is still ‘open’” (p. 352).

[109] Krabbendam, Summit Papers, p. 15.1.

[110] Gordon R. Lewis, “The Human Authorship of Inspired Scripture,” Summit Papers, p. 9:11.

[111] John H. Gerstner, “The Church’s Doctrine of Biblical Inspiration,” The Foundation of Biblical Authority, ed. James Montgomery Boice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), pp. 49-50.

[112] Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, p. 135.

[113] Cf., for example, Krabbendam, Summit Papers, pp. 15.1-15.3 where a very helpful study is made comparing Warfield and Berkouwer on their views of Scripture as God’s Word and man’s word. The general conclusion is that the early Berkouwer and Warfield are in basic agreement, while the later Berkouwer has capitulated to what is basically a neo-orthodox view.

[114] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 139.

[115] G. C. Berkouwer, Het Probleem Der Schriftkritiek (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1928), p. 44.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid., p. 129.

[118] Ibid., p. 131.

[119] Ibid.

[120] Ibid., p. 135.

[121] Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, p. 9.

[122] Ibid., p. 11.

[123] Ibid., p. 15.

[124] Berkhof, Ex Auditu Verbi, pp. 48 ff.

[125] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 215.

[126] Ibid., p. 222.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Ibid.

[129] Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, p. 11.

[130] Ibid., pp. 13, 17.

[131] Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council, pp. 113-114.

[132] Ibid., pp. 141-142.

[133] Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, p. 153.

[134] Ibid., p. 18.

[135] Ibid., pp. 18-19.

[136] Ibid., p. 21.

[137] Ibid., p. 22.

[138] Ibid., pp. 22-23.

[139] Ibid., pp. 24-25.

[140] Ibid., p. 30.

[141] Ibid., p. 31.

[142] Ibid., p. 33.

[143] Ibid., p. 47.

[144] Ibid., pp. 47-48.

[145] Berkouwer, Second Vatican Council, p. 68.

[146] Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, p. 58.

[147] Ibid., p. 63.

[148] Ibid., p. 52.

[149] Ibid., pp. 52-53.

[150] Ibid., p. 54.

[151] Ibid., p. 55.

[152] Ibid., p. 162.

[153] Ibid., p. 124.

[154] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 121.

[155] Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, pp. 162-163.

[156] Ibid., p. 166.

[157] Ibid., p. 175.

[158] Ibid., p. 184.

[159] Ibid.

[160] Ibid., p. 181.

[161] Ibid., p. 182.

[162] Ibid.

[163] Ibid., p. 183.

[164] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 139.

[165] Quoted in Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, p. 135.

[166] Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, p. 187. Cf. Rogers, Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical, p. 116: “Jesus was a feminist.”

[167] Ibid., p. 366.

[168] Berkouwer, Half Century, p. 263.

[169] Carl W. Bogue, A Hole in the Dike (Cherry Hill, N.J.: Mack Publishing Co., 1977), pp. 25-26.

[170] Rogers, Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical, p. 134.

[171] Ibid., pp. 9, 12.

[172] Ibid., p. 26.

[173] Ibid., p. 125.

[174] Rogers, Scripture in the Westminster Confession, p. 448.

[175] Ibid., p. 449. American Presbyterian orthodoxy “underemphasized the witness of the Spirit and the saving purpose of Scripture” (pp. 449, 450). “While the Princeton theology felt obligated to defend Scripture’s statements on every subject, the Westminster Divines emphasized that Scripture did not deal with matters of art and science” (p. 452).

[176] Ibid., p. 453. “The proposed Book of Confessions, including the ‘Confession of 1967,’ offers the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. a fresh opportunity to understand its heritage and confess its faith” (p. 454).

[177] Rogers, Biblical Authority, pp. 18-45. “Post-Reformation Protestants” used “the same Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments which Roman Catholics used.... Thus a significant shift in theological method occurred from the neo-Platonic Augustinianism of Luther and Calvin to the neo-Aristotelian Thomism of their immediate followers” (p. 29). “The old Princeton a reactionary one...wedded to a prior commitment to Aristotelian philosophy” (p. 45). Norman L. Geisler, Summit Papers, pp. 11.2-11.4, gives some elementary philosophical teaching which destroys the credibility of much of what Rogers has to say. Concerning “the alleged Aristotelian background of inerrancy,” Geisler lists several inconsistencies: “First, the ‘Aristotelian’ Turretin did not originate the doctrine of inerrancy. The platonic Augustine...clearly held to inerrancy.... Secondly, Augustine...was not the fideist Rogers would make him to be.... Thirdly Rogers speaks as if Aristotle invented the law of non-contradiction.... Fourthly, even Rogers and other errantists use the law of non-contradiction as a pillar of their position....Finally, it was not Aquinas nor Turretin who first applied logic to God’s revelation. The biblical writers themselves warned the believers to ‘avoid ...contradictions’ and anything ‘contrary’ to sound doctrine.” Geisler then makes this telling critique of Rogers’ preference for Plantonic presuppositions: “A further irony in Rogers’ position is his assumption of a relative harmlessness of platonic presuppositions as they bear on the inerrancy of Scripture. While Rogers consciously rejects Turretin’s ‘Aristotelian rationalism,’ he unconsciously adopts a kind of platonic ‘spiritualism.’... Now Rogers is apparently not aware of the fact that this dualistic separation of the material and spiritual worlds is a philosophical presupposition at the root of the errancy position.” The implication of this philosophical preference of Rogers is indeed manifest throughout much of what he writes.

[178] Ibid., p. 44.

[179] Rogers, Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical, p. 136.

[180] Ibid., p. 135.

[181] Ibid., p. 137.

[182] Ibid., p. 147.

[183] Norman L. Geisler, “A Critical Review,” I.C.B.I. Update (Summer 1980), p. 1. That review, though brief, is a devastating critique of the philosophical presuppositions and inconsistencies of Rogers and McKim.

[184] Rogers and McKim, Authority and Interpretation, pp. 3-71.

[185] Ibid., p. 73.

[186] Ibid., p. 73-145.

[187] Ibid., p. 116.

[188] Ibid., pp. 147-198.

[189] Ibid., pp. 187-188.

[190] Ibid., pp. 200-260.

[191] Ibid., pp. 265-379.

[192] Ibid., p. xvii.

[193] Ibid., p. 358.

[194] Ibid., pp. 364-365.

[195] Ibid., pp. 380-405.

[196] Ibid., p. 425.

[197] Ibid., pp. 426-437.

[198] Ibid., pp. 437 and 439.

[199] Ibid., p. 442.

[200] G. C. Berkouwer, General Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955), p. 68.

[201] Ibid., p. 75.

[202] Van Til, The Sovereignty of Grace, p. 86.

[203] Ephesians 4:14.

Carl W. Bogue, Th.D. is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America.