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You get nothing for nothing ... ?

“You get nothing for nothing. You only get what you pay for.” Is this cynicism – or realism? Let’s think together about something else – something that lifts us above all of this – the love of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God, the gift of God, the peace of God, the joy of God. “Amazing love! how can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? …  He left His Father’s throne above – so free, so infinite His grace. … ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me!” These words, from Charles Wesley’s great hymn of praise – “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood?”, lift us into a way of thinking that is, truly, out of this world. We leave the world and its way of thinking behind us. We turn our thoughts to Jesus, our Saviour. We think of all that He has done for us – and we rejoice. We think of all the blessings that He gives to us – and we give thanks to Him. * God’s love is amazing. We see His love in the death of Jesus Christ, our Sa…

Everything changes?

We live in a changing world. Everything changes. Nothing remains the same. This is life - as we know it; but what if there's something else, something that's unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable! You may ask the question, "Is such a thing possible?" In the Bible - in the heart of the Old Testament, there's a long Psalm, containing twenty-six verses. It's Psalm 136. The second part of every single one of these twenty-six verses says this: "God's love endures forever." Some things are worth repeating - again and again and again ... We read the same thing, again, in Lamentations 3:22 - "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases." Here, we read something else about the enduring love of God, the "forever" love of God -  "His mercies ... are new every morning" (Lamentations 3:22). New! That's the word many people like to hear. In our ever-changing world, the old is thrown away. It's out-of-date. Here, we have …

Who are we listening to?

* Who are we listening to? Where do we get our understanding of life from? There are two very different stories. There's the world's story. It's the story of life without God. There's the Lord's Story. It's the Story of His salvation.  *Who are we listening to? We listen to what we want to hear. If we don't want to hear what God is saying to us, we will listen to the world's story. If, in our hearts, we know that there's more to life than what the world tells us, we will ask the question, "Is there a Word from the Lord?" (Jeremiah 37:17).    * Who are we listening to? Many people tell us that we must live in the here-and-now. They tell us to forget about the past - to forget about the God of the Bible. They say that God isn't relevant to today's world. When we listen to God's Word, are we losing ourselves in the past? or Are we hearing a message from the past, which is also a message for today? Are the Old Testament prophets …

Warfield and Berkouwer: The Evangelical Attitude toward the Bible

On the differences between Warfield and Berkouwer, P. Rees speaks wisely, “is it not right to say that there is a difference between the evangelical attitude toward the Bible and an evangelical’s views about the Bible? Go back to Warfield and Berkouwer. Their views of how to construe the Bible’s matchless revelatory quality and authority are not precisely the same… But their attitude toward the Bible is identical – God’s Word that shines in our darkness, the unerring pointer to the One ‘who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven…” (Biblical Authority, edited by J Rogers, p. 13, emphasis original).

The difference between Berkouwer and Warfield lies not at the point of emphasizing the unbreakable connection between origin and authority but at the point at which divine and human activity are related to each other.

Both Berkouwer and Warfield emphasize the divinity and the humanity of the Scriptures.

Their differing interpretations of the relationship between Scripture’s di…

"Is there any word from the Lord?" (Jeremiah 37:17).

There are different ways of asking questions.
"Is there any word from the Lord?" This is a question which invites Jeremiah to speak the Word of the Lord.
In Genesis 3:1, we have a very different way of asking questions - "the serpent ... said to the woman, Did God really say ... ?"
The "ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan" (Revelation 12:9) is always trying to get us to stop believing the Word of God.
"Is there any Word from the Lord?" - Jeremiah's answer is "Yes" (Jeremiah 37:17).
What was the Word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah at that time? - "You will be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon" (Jeremiah 37:17).
What are we to do when God's Word doesn't say what we had been hoping to hear? - We must refuse to ask the Satanic question, "Did God really say?" We must learn to say, from the heart, "This is the Word of the Lord."
It's not our place to say what the Word of God s…

God’s “everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) and God’s “everlasting salvation” (Isaiah 45:17)

Psalm 136:1-26 ‘His love endures for ever’. This is the great message contained in every single verse of this Psalm. It’s a message worth repeating – over and over again! God’s love is an everlasting love – ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3). God’s love is an unfailing love – ‘My unfailing love for you will not be shaken’ (Isaiah 54:10). Let us ‘give thanks’ to God for His love (Psalm 136:1-3,26). In His love, the Lord has provided for us ‘an everlasting salvation’. His ‘salvation will last for ever’ (Isaiah 45:17; Isaiah 51:6). We must not be like those who refuse to love the Lord – ‘Pharaoh… great kings… mighty kings …’ (Psalm 136:15,17-20). Those who reject God’s love will not receive ‘eternal life’. Their future will be very different – the ‘raging fire that will consume the enemies of God’ (John 3:16-18; Hebrews 10:26-27).

“The days are coming.”

“The days are coming”: These words introduce a prophecy concerning the land (Jeremiah 30:3). The greatest blessing is not being in the land. It is belonging to the Lord. This is the blessing, spoken of by Jeremiah. When, speaking God’s Word, he writes, “You will be My people, and I will be your God” (Jeremiah 30:22).

Sing with joy ...

Jeremiah 31:7-14

“Sing with joy” (Jeremiah 31:7,12-13).
This is to be our response to the Gospel. It’s more than a singalong. It’s “praise.” This praise continues after we leave the place of worship.
“Shout” - “I am not ashamed” (Romans 1:16).
“Proclaim” - Make the message known: “for the Good News” (Romans 1:1,5-6).
This for everyone (Jeremiah 31:8,10).
We come as we are - “blind” and “lame” (Jeremiah 31:8). We come to our “Shepherd” (Jeremiah 31:10). He has “ransomed” us. He has “redeemed” us from the “power” of Satan, Our enemy is stronger than we are, but he is not stronger than Jesus - “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:40.
With Christ in our life, everything changes - “new wine, fresh oil... Their life will be... They will be no longer...” (Jeremiah 31:12). It is “abundant” life, a “satisfied” life (Jeremiah 31:14). We have received new life in Christ - “This is the Lord’s declaration concerning us (Jeremiah 31:14).

God forgives and forgets.

Jeremiah 31:31-40

God forgives and forgets (Jeremiah 31:34). It’s not “God cannot remember.” It’s “God chooses not to remember.” The rebuilding of our life - we are to be “holy to the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:38-40).

Christian Faith in Dialogue with Herbert Marcuse

Marcuse observes the tension between the notion of liberation and its possibilities of historical realization.
He maintains that “On theoretical as well as empirical grounds, the dialectical concept pronounces its own hopelessness” (One-Dimensional Man (ODM), p. 253). Marcuse draws this conclusion on the basis that “The human reality is its history and, in it, contradictions do not explode by themselves” (ODM, p. 253, emphasis mine). He asks, “Does this mean that the critical theory of society abdicates and leaves the field to an empirical sociology … ? Or do the dialectical concepts once again testify to their truth … ?” (ODM, p. 254). Marcuse is both critical of and sympathetic to the dialectical analysis of society. He suggests that “‘Liberation of inherent possibilities’ no longer adequately expresses the historical alternative” (ODM, p. 255, emphasis mine), while contending that “the critique of society would still be valid and rational (even if) … incapable of translating its …

Berkouwer on the authority of Holy Scripture

Discussing the authority of Holy Scripture in the modern world, Berkouwer writes, “The confession of the authority of the Word of God can never be isolated from the saving content of the Word of God” (Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith, p. 14, emphasis mine). In confessing that the Bible is the Word of God, the believer confesses that God is speaking to him through the Bible concerning salvation.

Our Faith is rooted in the Truth of the Gospel.

Berkouwer emphasizes both objectivity and subjectivity. He does this by emphasizing that faith’s subjective certainty is rooted in the truth of the Gospel. “Faith involves a certain subjectivity, … a subjectivity which has meaning only as it is bound to the gospel.” (Faith and Justification, p. 30). “the church’s … certainty is bound to certain norms and … a feeling of subjective certainty does not guarantee irrefutable certainty … it is not the certainty, but the truth in the certainty that makes us free … there is a way of understanding Holy Scripture that does not estrange us from the gospel.” (Holy Scripture, p. 20).

Some Theological Connections between G. C. Berkouwer and Herman N. Ridderbos

The idea of witness in connection with the New Testament witness to Christ.
Drawing upon the work of Herman N. Ridderbos, Berkouwer writes, “it is the product of a perception that was not infinite. It is subject to human limitations, its record does not exceed the limits of human memory” (Holy Scripture, p. 162, n. 75). He does, however, emphasize that there is a “deep dimension of the human witness”: “This witness does not well up from the human heart but from the witness of God, in which it finds its foundation and empowering as a human witness” (p. 165). This conception of “Scripture” as “human witness empowered by the Spirit” (p. 167) transcends the “wholly divine or wholly human” dilemma (p. 24). It emphasizes that “the Word of God does not draw us away from the human but involves us with the human” (p. 167). * Understanding the witness of the Gospels to Jesus Christ Drawing upon the work of Herman N. Ridderbos, Berkouwer rejects “an absolute contrast between kerygma and that whi…

Berkouwer on Bonhoeffer

Berkouwer’s discussion of christology and theodicy refers to insights from theologians of different eras – Paul, Luther, Calvin, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann (‘A Half Century of Theology’, pp. 254-257).
The lessons he draws from this analysis are profound:
‘ … what is involved is not a theoretical answer to the enigma of evil … but an answer of faith’
‘God’s being is expressed in earthly suffering, not an “uninvolved heavenly holiness”. The atheistic protest is rendered mute by the theology of the cross’
‘the abstract questions of theodicy fall away in the shadow of the event of the cross’
‘ … the reality of the cross, a reality that offends human logic … counters all natural expectations of divine power’
‘In the environs of Jesus Christ, we are conscious of both transcendence and closeness. It is a transcendence, however, that is not empty transcendence. And it is a closeness that reveals that God’s answer transcends even our highest concepts’.
* D. Bonhoeffer’s opposition to the ten…

Understanding Christian Truth

Berkouwer emphasizes that, if we are to understand God’s truth, we must take account of two important points:
* The question of truth in itself cannot be asked without also involving ourselves in the question of truth for me.
* To ask the question of truth for me is to find that truth for me has its foundation in truth in itself (Holy Scripture,pp. 9-10).
We will explore the relationship the relationship between truth in itself and truth for me by looking at what Berkouwer says about (a) God; (b) Man. (a) God Insisting that the question of God is more than an abstract question concerning His existence, Berkouwer maintains that we must enquire about God with the kind of religious attitude expressed in the words of Micah 7:18 - ‘Who is a God like Thee, pardoning iniquity, and passing over transgression … ‘. When we ask the question of God in this way, we open ourselves to the atmosphere of ‘a latent doxology, a rapturous hymn (A. Weiser)’, an atmosphere ‘that leaves all doubt behind as…

G C Berkouwer and "the old Dutch biblical piety"

G C Berkouwer has close affinities with 'the old Dutch biblical piety, not seized by dogmatic insights but steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith according to the Scriptures' (Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, p.21).

Berkouwer and Philosophy

Berkouwer approaches the questions of God, man and evil differently from philosophical theology. It should not, however, be thought that his approach is unphilosophical. He is concerned to think clearly about these issues. He is, however, concerned to deal with “actual knowledge of God” (This expression is used by T. F. Torrance in God and Rationality, p.165. It occurs in his chapter, “The Epistemological Relevance of the Holy Spirit.” This chapter first appeared in Ex Auditu Verbi,  a collection of articles published in honour of Berkouwer, pp. 272-296) and the perspective such knowledge offers concerning “actual man” (Man: The Image of God, p. 13) as he faces the “existential” problem of evil (Sin, p. 15). This perspective refuses to build an independent system and then apply it to the questions of God, man and evil (cf. T. F. Torrance, God and Rationality, pp. 165ff.).  In adopting such an approach, Berkouwer is allowing his philosophical thinking to be dominated by the reality of…

Pride and Faith in Berkouwer's "Studies in Dogmatics" (God's provision of salvation)

The Bible speaks of sin. It also speaks of salvation. The gospel is directed toward ‘the restoration of the image of God’. In this connection, Berkouwer cites Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10 which speak of ‘the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’, ‘the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator’. Concerning the relationship between creation and salvation, Berkouwer writes, 'the restoration and renewal of the image will throw light upon the meaning and content of the original creation of man in the image of God.'3
When we consider man’s creation in the light of his salvation, we find ourselves underlining the contrast between pride and faith. In his book, Divine Election, Berkouwer stresses that the Bible story is a ‘history of salvation (which) does away with any personal glory’. This history of salvation reaches its high point in Jesus Christ. Here, we have the low point for human pride, since ‘in Christ…

Who is God?

Philosophical theology is chiefly concerned with the abstract question of the existence of God. Berkouwer, however, insists that the question of God should be asked religiously: “‘Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity, and passing over transgression … ‘ (Micah 7:18)” (A Half Century of Theology, p. 77). To ask the question of God religiously is to see this question as “the one theme that really lies at the bottom of everything else” (p. 76). It is to call in question the detached objectivity of philosophical theology. It is to open oneself to the “different atmosphere” of “Micah’s question”, the atmosphere of “a latent doxology, a ‘rapturous hymn’ (A. Weiser), that leaves all doubt behind as it revels in admiration of Israel’s God” (p. 77). While Berkouwer is critical of philosophical theology, contending that “Many of the questions of our time arise not in doxology but in doubt” (A Half Century of Theology, p.77), he does not opt out of the apologetic task of presenting a reaso…

Pride and Faith in Berkouwer's "Studies in Dogmatics" (introduction)

‘The great theologians from Paul and Augustine to G. C. Berkouwer and Karl Barth ... have been able to explain what the faith does not mean as well as what it means.’1 This is a short study in the writings of one of those great theologians named here by D. G. Bloesch. G. C. Berkouwer, Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam has been described as one of ‘the best theological writers of our day’, ‘one of the genuinely significant leaders of Christian thought in our day’. His Studies in Dogmatics, running, in English translation to thirteen volumes, has been described as ‘one of the most ambitious undertakings in contemporary theology’. Berkouwer has been commended for his ‘complete familiarity with all the currents in contemporary theology’. Concerning Berkouwer, it has been said that ‘the theological student who neglects him is not wise’.2 
In this study, we will explore the meaning of faith by considering both what faith is and what it is not. This…

Berkouwer on “Scripture and Christ”

In his book, “Holy Scripture”, Berkouwer places great emphasis on the vital connection between Scripture and Christ.
* “Scripture is the Word of God because the Holy Spirit witnesses in it of Christ” (”Holy Scripture” (p. 162).
* “the purpose of the God-breathed Scripture is … to witness of the salvation of God unto faith” (p. 180).
* “the unmistakable aim of Scripture is the knowledge of faith, which … is life eternal” ( p. 180).

Believing in the love of God and being changed by the love of God

In The Providence of God, G C Berkouwer relates providence to both the love of God as the object of the believer's faith and the believer's faith by which providence is subjectively experienced. "in the doctrine of providence we have a specific Christian confession exclusively possible through a true faith in Jesus Christ ... this faith is no general, vague notion of Providence. It has a concrete focus: 'If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?' (Rom.8:31,32) ... the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. There is no purer expression than this of the depth of man's faith in God's Providence." (pp. 45, 47).

Living the Life of Faith

In speaking of the connection between Christian faith and Christian living, Berkouwer emphasizes the importance of a proper understanding of divine grace. He stresses that, through divine revelation and reconciliation, we become aware that we are dependent on divine grace without being destroyed by divine power. In adopting this approach, Berkouwer seeks to construct a theology which does full justice to the true objectivity of the Christian faith and the necessity for that faith to be a subjectively-experienced faith. Emphasizing that God and man are not to be viewed as competitors, he rejects both the idea that God should compel us to obey Him and the notion that man can ever find true fulfilment apart from willing and glad submission to the God of salvation.
As we affirm our faith in God, we must also emphasize the importance of a life-transforming experience of His grace. God is not merely the object of study for the academic discipline we call theology. He is the One who changes o…

Faith and Sanctification

Except for one reference to A Half Century of Theology, all of the quotations in this post are from Faith and Sanctification. Berkouwer approaches social concern from a Biblical and Reformed perspective. In Ephesians 2:8-10, the emphases ‘by grace’ and ‘through faith’ lead directly on to the emphasis ‘for good works’. Berkouwer underscores this connection between ‘Sola Fide and Sanctification’ (Chapter II, pp. 17-44). He emphasizes that the true nature of good works cannot be understood apart from Christ who is our ’sanctification’ (1 Corinthians 1:30) (p. 21). Sanctification is not ‘the humanly operated successor to the divinely worked justification (p. 78). ‘Genuine sanctification’ has a ‘continued orientation toward justification’ (p. 78). Berkouwer emphasizes the ‘by grace … through faith’ context in which the ‘for good works’ character of sanctification expresses itself. He draws attention to the nature of the Spirit’s work in sanctification: ‘The Spirit alone could perform the …

Saved by Grace, Reaching out with Grace

"(T)he church may not function as a fearful border guard, but rather as one who brings good tidings (Rom. 10:15; Is. 52:7) .... For Christ died for us 'while we were yet sinners, while we were enemies' (Rom. 5:8,10). All hardness, imprudence and rashness can only be signs that she has forgotten the gracious overstepping of the boundaries at her birth" [G. C. Berkouwer, "The Church" (Grand Rapids, 1976), p. 162].

How many will be saved?

Jesus was asked the question, “How many will be saved?” He gave this answer, “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). His answer is not based on the things we don’t know. It’s based on the things we do know.
These are the things that we do know:
(a) the fact of human sin which can pervert even the most well-intended theology of grace into a means of self-justification;
(b) the fact of human responsibility which may not be diminished by any system of thought, however much it may emphasize divine grace;
(c) the fact of the divine promise - “everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13) - which must be central to the Christian proclamation concerning eternal salvation. A proper understanding of Christian proclamation is closely related to the avoidance of spiritual presumption. Speculation concerning the number of the saved, regardless of the direction it follows, can lead to spiritual presumption.
(i) “A priori” universalism may lead to spiritual …

Justification, Sanctification and Perseverance - By Grace through Faith

Berkouwer's work on Faith and Justification is undergirded by this foundation - principle: "The character of faith resolves all tensions between objectivity and subjectivity, For faith has significance only in its orientation to its object - the grace of God" (p. 29). His work on Faith and Sanctification is undergirded by the same principle: "The sanctification ... demanded is always an implicate of the sanctification that originates in God's mercy. Hence the sanctification of believers is never an independent area of human activity ... we can speak truly of sanctification only when we have understood the exceptionally great significance of the bond between Sola-fide and sanctification ... the Sola-fide ... a confession of 'By grace alone we are saved' ... is the only sound foundation for sanctification" (pp. 26, 42-43). His work on Faith and Perseverance is built on this same foundation: "The perseverance of the saints is not primarily a theo…