Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
GTJ 2:2 (Fall 81) p. 340
Christian Faith, by Hendrikus Berkhof. Translated by Sierd Woudstra. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979. Pp. 568. $20.95.
Among the works of Berkhof which are available for the English reader, this present volume, Christian Faith (Geloofsleer), is certainly his most ambitious and comprehensive enterprise, attempting to comprehend in one volume the entire spectrum of systematic theology. As with many contemporary theologians, being convinced that dogmatics must serve the church, his prospect for this study is to be “both informative and inspirational” with respect to the level and needs of both “professionals as well as a larger public.” As a result, he divides his discussions by means of two type sizes in the text: a larger print for the general public, and a smaller one for the professional theologian. The smaller print contains many interesting and worth-while interactions within historical dogmatics, giving particular space to the problems confronting contemporary theology, while the larger print provides a more general delineation of Berkhof’s own particular system.
Berkhof’s system itself is not limited to an exegesis of an inerrant text, nor is it a pious submission to a revelatory Word. Instead, Christian theology for him is to be related to the totality of human experience and must even listen and dialogue with the “wisdom of the world.”
That does not alter the fact that wisdom plays a large role in the preservation of the world. The progress of revelation in the Bible is also determined by the wisdom of Egypt, Babel, Persia, and Greece. The theological development throughout the centuries is unthinkable without Plato and Aristotle, and later without Descartes, Kant, and Hegel. The natural sciences and the humanities have helped us to better understand the Bible…. Whatever the case, it does not change the fact that the world has its own input in the dialogue with the church (p. 420).
Berkhof contends not for a faith that has been delivered once for all, but one that has become necessary to advance “since the Enlightenment.” The divine Word is no longer the transcendent judge of human cogitations, but merely a contributing member of the all-too-human dialogue.
As a result, Berkhof is neither an Israelite nor a Canaanite, but a Samaritan. In attempting to straddle the tensions “between rigid traditionalism on the one side and rudderless modernism on the other” (p. xi), he chooses neither YHWH nor Baal, but an ethereal dialectic which calls for no commitment. For example, his characterization of eternal life and condemnation is typical of this ambiguity. Eternal life is depicted as “Undisturbed rest, while the dynamic person may equally as fully expect that there he wil...
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