G. C. Berkouwer and the Doctrine of Original Sin -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 132:528 (Oct 1975)
Article: G. C. Berkouwer and the Doctrine of Original Sin
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.


G. C. Berkouwer and the Doctrine of Original Sin

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

[S. Lewis Johnson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

The appearance in English of another volume in the series, Studies in Dogmatics, authored by G. C. Berkouwer, the Coryphaeus of conservative Dutch Reformed theology, is always a thing of theological note. The eleventh volume in the series, entitled Sin,1 is a massive work of almost six hundred pages, its size being explained by the fact that the translated volume is really a combination of two Dutch volumes, the first entitled The Origin and Knowledge of Sin and the second entitled The Essence and Spread of Sin, published in 1958 and 1960 respectively. The work reflects all the qualities that have come to be expected from the man who was for many years Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. Berkouwer is a man of incredible erudition, of penetrating perception and discernment, of keen sensitivity to theological problems, of lively interest in the relationship of dogmatics to the pulpit, and, perhaps more significantly, due to its glaring absence in so many of our contemporary theologians, of detailed acquaintance with Scripture and its exegesis. We stand before this giant of a theologian, who has an almost impeccable knowledge of the past and the present, in wonder and amazement.

“One is struck by the fact,” Bryant Kirkland has wisely pointed out in comparing church audiences of the last half of the twentieth century with those of the first half, “that this generation of listeners is more media-oriented, fad-fashioned, slogan-centered,

issue-oriented, and illiterate as to great Christian words and principles.”2 The works of Berkouwer, if they were being read and pondered, would do a great deal in remedying the situation. But Alas! Berkouwer is not easy reading, and there is good solid evidence that, while seminarians are struggling with him, the average pastor and expositor are not. It has been said that authentic Christian theology is the point where theologians and babes meet, since the theologian simply reflects on that which is revealed to babes. One can only smile in reflecting on the bafflement of the babe who unwittingly opens Berkouwer’s Sin for the same kind of edification that accompanies the study of Calvin’s Institutes. The latter is truly authentic Christian theology in the sense of the definition, but Berkouwer’s work is a step beyond that. It is theology for the theologians.

This writer has the greatest admiration for...

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