Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Dutchman Speaks Truth

I'm preparing to take a small group of men through Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology. In getting ready for this, I'm also reading his Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology. As I was reading it this evening I suddenly became confused. I didn't know Berkhof was a prophet. I don't do block quotes much here, but this is stuff that should make every Reformed guy and gal doubt Berkhof's cessationist credentials. In 1932 the Dutchman said:
...it is characteristic of Pietism that it is hostile to all intellectualism in religion and exalts emotionalism and experience as the only real manifestations of the religious life. It bids Christian people escape from the wrangling of doctrinal controversies by withdrawing into the citadel of the heart, the seat of the affections. In our own country Pietism has found a rather welcome ally in an Activism, which holds that it makes little difference what one believes, provided one is only busy in the work of the Lord. A great number of American Christians are much too busy in all kinds of church activities to concern themselves very much about the study of the truth. They are practical pragmatists and are interested only in a religion that promptly yields tangible results. Their knowledge of dogmas has been reduced to a minimum. In fact both Pietists and Activists often claim that Christian people should disengage themselves from the complexities of present day doctrinal systems and return to the simplicity of the Apostolic Age, and preferably to the words of Jesus, who did not concern Himself about dogmas...the assertion often heard in our day, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life, may have a rather pious sound, and for that very reason seems to appeal to some, but is after all a dangerous falsehood. It has been pointed out repeatedly...that Christianity is a way of life founded on a message. The gospel is the self-revelation of God in Christ, which comes to us in the form of truth. That truth is revealed, not only in the Person and work of Christ, but also in the interpretation of these found in the Bible. And it is only by a proper understanding and a believing acceptance of the message of the gospel, that men are brought to the necessary self-surrender to Christ in faith, and are made partakers of the new life in the Spirit. The reception of that life is not dependent on some purely mystical infusion of grace, nor on the proper ethical conduct of man, but is conditioned by knowledge...participation in the life of Christianity is everywhere in the New Testament made conditional on faith in Christ as He has revealed Himself, and this naturally includes knowledge of the redemptive facts recorded in Scripture. Christians must have a proper understanding of the significance of these facts; and if they are to unite in faith, must also arrive at some unitary conviction and expression of the truth...they who minimize the significance of the truth, and therefore ignore and neglect it, will finally come to discover that they have very little Christianity left (pgs. 28-29).
I am, of course, typing tongue-in-cheek about Berkhof's soothsaying. What he wrote over eighty years ago is an astoundingly accurate description of the contemporary situation because human beings are still human beings, and, as a preacher once said, "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). It could be discouraging, in way: things have not changed since Berkhof wrote. Perhaps they've gotten worse. But I can't be too discouraged. After all, a group of men just enthusiastically agreed to buy the Systematic Theology and meet with me to slowly go through it over coffee. I can't wait for them to see what other truths the Dutchman speaks.

No comments: