Reformed Churchmen

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Monday, January 26, 2015

26 January 1996. The Reformed dogmatician, Mr. (Rev. Dr. Prof.) Gerrit C. Berkouwer, passes

26 January 1996.  The Reformed dogmatician, Mr. (Rev. Dr. Prof.) Gerrit C. Berkouwer, passes.  He was one of the few paid visitors, from the Protestant and Reformed side, to attend Vatican 1.  He was also Mr. (Rev. Dr. Prof.) R.C. Sproul’s doctoral supervisor.

First, a Wiki-bio.  Second, and following, the obituary notice from

Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (8 June 1903, Amsterdam - 26 January 1996, Voorhout) was for years the leading theologian of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN). He occupied the Chair in systematic theology of the Faculty of Theology, Free University (VU) in Amsterdam.

Berkouwer was born in The Hague. He was raised in Zaandam. In 1932 he obtained his doctorate from the Free University. His dissertation was entitled Geloof en Openbaring in de nieuwe Duitse theologie (Faith and Revelation in Recent German Theology). In 1949 the first volume of his eighteen-volume Studies in Dogmatics appeared in the Netherlands. In 1962 he was an observer at the Second Vatican Council in Rome.[1]

He was very influential among the Reformed churches and other groups in North America, where the many volumes of his series, Studies in Dogmatics, were translated and published. He had a continuous flow of seminary graduates to study under him for the degree of Doctor of Theology. Altogether Berkouwer mentored about 46 students who received the ThD degree under his supervision. Many of them became leaders in Christian thought abroad; and, often enough, denominational chief officers.[1]

Work in the GKN

He came to his post at the Free University after the Second World War in which the Dutch national community suffered much from Nazi occupation, the Holocaust, and culminating in the Hunger Winter of 1944. The Free University, like all Dutch institutions of higher learning, had been shut down, so there was no public teaching. Nevertheless, preaching and pamphlet wars raged in church and society.

One issue was the negative tone of Berkouwer's predecessor, Valentine Hepp to use his role of systematician of Reformed theology to attack two movements in the Reformed church. The first was Reformational philosophy led by D. H. Th. Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd, VU professors of philosophy and law, respectively. The other was the in-church movement led by Klaas Schilder, against whom Hepp scored a Pyrrhic victory with Berkouwer's leading involvement as president of the GKN Council, meeting on and off between 1943 and 1945 when that Council finally forced Schilder, his colleague S. Greijdanus, and other theologians and pastors out of the denominational community along with a good number of GKN churches. These reorganized themselves as the Liberated churches. Later, Berkouwer indicated regret that he had helped back the split-off group into a corner, and that some other way of handling the differences should have been found.


One of Berkouwer's crowning achievements was to be delegated by the Council of the GKN to attend the 1957 assemblies of the International Council of Christian Churches, a world fundamentalist body that met in Amsterdam, and the World Council of Churches, the ecumenical body that met that same year in New Delhi, India. In his report back to the GKN, Berkouwer recommended that they join the latter, and they did so, remaining active and becoming one of the first Evangelical denominations to enter the mainstream ecumenical movement.

Middle Orthodoxy

Berkouwer displayed in his Studies in Dogmatics an openness that allowed him to develop and friendship and shared views with Hendrikus Berkhof, the leading professor of systematics in the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church from which the Gereformeerde Kerken had split-off in the nineteenth century). The emerging collegial view of these two theologians became known as Middle Orthodoxy, and it aimed in an even more ecumenical direction than the Hervormde/Gereformeerde relationship of the time would suggest. However, it did not extend so far as to relieve the conscience of the VU theological faculty in regard to their required subscription to the sixteenth-century Canons of Dort, a task which remained to Berkouwer's student and successor in the Chair of Dogmatics, Harry M. Kuitert. (Kuitert, however, went further than his mentor, breaking completely with the Berkouwer and Middle Orthodox tradition and turning publicly to an informal unitarian stance.)


Besides the Studies in Dogmatics (see below), Berkouwer is known for his two books on Roman CatholicismConflict with Rome (1948) and, after the Second Vatican Council in 1962, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism – and two books on the work of Swiss theologian Karl BarthKarl Barth (1954) and The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth (1954). Though this book was quite critical of Barth's thinking at points, Barth considered Berkouwer to be among the few of his reviewers who actually understood him.[2] All of these books were translated into English, and the last was widely read in the English-speaking world.[citation needed]

Studies in Dogmatics

Berkouwer wrote a new theological short essay in almost every issue of the GKN weekly Gereformeerde Weekblad, which garnered responses from clergy and laity all over the Netherlands and beyond. A good part of the articles arose from class lectures to his students at VU, where the newspaper letters of response might carry some weight and sometimes occasioned Berkouwer's refinements for his students. The newspaper theological-articles, letters of response, and classroom refinements in turn led to the publication of books over many years under the general series name, Studies in Dogmatics (the last word usually being rendered in English as systematic theology).

The number of titles in the series eventually came to a total of 14 in English, due to the combination of some paired Dutch volumes into a single volume in English. Among key works were The Person of Christ, The Work of Christ, two volumes on Sin, a volume on The Providence of God (which refers to Herman Dooyeweerd's philosophy), General Revelation (again refers to Dooyeweerd), and The Image of God (which especially made the growing movement of philosophers, scientists, and theologians whose thinking was akin to the ideas of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd much more comfortable than they had been under Hepp).

Berkouwer's leadership within the denomination to which most of them belonged was strengthened by this openness of the leading GKN theologian, and it contributed to Berkouwer's developing in turn his own position in tandem with that of his friend Berkhof. In an end-of-career work published in English but not Dutch, Two Hundred Years of Theology: A Report of a Personal Journey (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989), Berkhof assessed – along with many other philosophers, philosophical theologians, and systematic theologians – a few leading Gereformeerde historical figures, including Abraham Kuyper and Berkouwer. Berkhof said of the latter, who was in his Studies so leery of speculation, that he suffered from being "not speculative enough." But he added that since Berkouwer wanted to produce work in systematic theology that was grounded in careful exegesis of the biblical texts for all doctrinal teaching, according to a Reformed tradition of interpretation of the Bible, he mentions few philosophers and interacts sparingly with only one contemporary philosopher, Dooyeweerd, who theologically seems to have had some kinship with Berkouwer and Berkhof's Middle Orthodoxy.


The full list in the Dutch originals with their publication dates and pages is presented below with the corresponding list of the English translation titles, publication dates, and total pages. Please note that in subsequent reprints of the English, paginations vary from the original English edition. Also, technical matter in the Dutch that referred to earlier theological debates in that historical context have sometimes been removed in the English translations. The original publisher of the Dutch series is Kok (Amsterdam, The Netherlands); the English, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA).

Dutch title (Kok: Amsterdam)
English title (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids)
Geloof en Rechtvaardiging
Faith and Justification
Geloof en Heiliging
Faith and Sanctification
Geloof en Volharding
Faith and Perseverance
De Voorzienigheid Gods
The Providence of God
De Algemene Openbaring
General Revelation
De Persoon van Christus
The Person of Christ
Het Werk van Christus
The Work of Christ
De Sacramenten
The Sacraments
De Verkiezing Gods
Divine Election
De Mens het Beeld Gods
Man: The Image of God
De Zonde I
De Zonde II
De Wederkomst van Christus I
The Return of Christ
De Wederkomst van Christus II
De Heilige Schrift I
Holy Scripture
De Heilige Schrift II
De Kerk I Eenheid en Katholiciteit
The Church
De Kerk II Apostoliciteit en Heiligheid


    1. ^ Jump up to: a b Vanderheide, Al, "Dutch Reformed Leader Dr. G.C. Berkouwer Passes Away", Internet Christian Library. (United Reformed News Service), retrieved 2011-03-10 


External links

NR #1996-016: Dutch Reformed Leader Dr. G.C. Berkouwer Passes Away


 Dr. G.C. Berkouwer, a past president of the synod of the Gereformeerde

Kerken in Nederland and one of the most influential theologians in modern

Dutch Reformed history, passed away on January 25 at the age of 92. Berkouwer

played a key role in the events that led to the 1944 deposition of Dr. Klaas

Schilder and subsequent split in the GKN. Initially regarded as a leading

conservative, Berkouwer gained increasing prominence in ecumenical circles

and became an advocate and defender of more progressive positions in the GKN.


NR #1996-016: For Immediate Release

Dutch Reformed Leader Dr. G.C. Berkouwer Passes Away


by Al Vanderheide, Editor, Windmill Herald

from reports in Nederlands Dagblad, Reformatorisch Dagblad, Friesch Dagblad

Distributed by United Reformed News Service

[Translation from the Dutch courtesy of Dr. Nelson Kloosterman]


VOORHOUT, The Netherlands (February 10, 1996) -- The well-known Reformed

theologian Dr. Gerrit C. Berkouwer passed away on January 25 at the age of

92. He had retired as professor at the Free University of Amsterdam.

Berkouwer also played a critical role in modern Dutch church history, since

he was the president of the [Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland] general synod

of 1943-1945, whose decisions occasioned the church split of 1944 known as

the Liberation (Vrijmaking). While he was still living, both friend and foe

described Berkouwer as captivating, well-read, influential and cosmopolitan.


 Almost everybody agrees as well that Berkouwer's thinking underwent a shift.

Observers committed to Reformed orthodoxy indicate that, especially during

the 1950's, Berkouwer departed from the classic Reformed viewpoint on several

issues. For example, a comparison between his earlier and later writings

shows a shift of viewpoint regarding matters like the authority of Scripture

and original sin.


The Liberation and Kuitert


 Especially theologian Dr. Harry M. Kuitert has been pleased with the

development of Berkouwer's thought. Berkouwer in turn, in an interview on the

occasion of his own ninetieth birthday, defended Kuitert's book Het algemeen

betwijfeld christelijk geloof (The Catholic Doubted Christian Faith).


 Berkouwer was a prolific writer. In 1990, at the age of 86, his largest book

was published, Zoeken en vinden (Seeking and Finding). In that volume

Berkouwer narrated a number of memories and experiences from more than

seventy years of theological endeavor. The professor of dogmatics was himself

one of the main characters in this book.


 In this volume, Berkouwer analyzed the struggle within the Reformed Churches

in the Netherlands which led to a church split during World War II. Berkouwer

was president of the GKN general synod which met off and on from 1943 until

1945 -- the synod which deposed Dr. Klaas Schilder, Dr. S. Greijdanus, and

numerous other officebearers. In later years, Berkouwer gradually reached the

conclusion that the successive synods held throughout those years had really

backed those opposed to the synodical decisions into a corner. Looking back

across the distance of several decades, Berkouwer felt that the synod at

which he himself presided should have done things differently.


 Berkouwer stimulated among many of his students a love for theology. A total

of forty-two students obtained their doctorates under his sponsorship and

guidance. From this group, several became teachers of theology themselves. In

1971 Dr. G.W. de Jong obtained his doctorate from the John Calvin Academy in

Kampen with a dissertation about Berkouwer's theology.


 Berkouwer was born in The Hague and raised in Zaandam, but his fame spread

around the world by means of his many publications. In 1932 he obtained his

doctorate from the Free University, with a dissertation entitled Geloof en

Openbaring in de nieuwe Duitse theologie (Faith and Revelation in Recent

German Theology). In addition he wrote, among other works, Karl Barth (1936),

Het probleem der Schriftkritiek (The Problem of Scripture Criticism, 1936),

Wereldoorlog en theologie (World War and Theology, 1945), Conflict met Rome

(Conflict With Rome, 1948), De triomf der genade in de theologie van Karl

Barth (The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, 1954), and

Vaticaans Concilie en de nieuwe theologie (The Second Vatican Council and

Recent Theology). In 1949 the first volume of his eighteen-volume Studies in

Dogmatics appeared in the Netherlands.


 Berkouwer was a well-known theologian beyond the Netherlands as well. A

large number of his books have been translated into English and published in

North America. Berkouwer participated in various international projects. In

1962 he was an observer at the Second Vatican Council in Rome.


Cross-References to Related Articles:

[No related articles on file]


Contact List:


Dr. Harry M. Kuitert, Professor Emeritus, Free University of Amsterdam

 Troelstralaan 45, 1181 VD Amstelveen, NETHERLANDS * H/O: (020) 641-17-00


Rev. Richard S. E. Vissinga, President, Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in


 Watermunt 11, 8265 EL Kampen, NETHERLANDS * O: (038) 332-16-18 * H: (038)



file: /pub/resources/text/reformed: nr96-016.txt

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