The atonement is central to Christianity—orthodox theology rises and falls with the doctrine of the atonement. Yet throughout history, theologians have offered numerous theories of the atonement, some causing controversy, others gaining wide acceptance. In Vicarious Atonement through Christ, Berkhof interacts with thinkers from the church’s entire history, such as Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Grotius, and others to explain the development and current status of the atonement. He also writes at length on the status of the atonement in the context of the Reformation and the subsequent relationship between the atonement and notions of the covenant. Berkhof concludes with addresses to objections to the atonement, especially the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement.
Louis Berkhof was born in 1873 in the Netherlands, and immigrated with his family to West Michigan in 1882. In 1893, he began attending the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church (now Calvin Theological Seminary), where he studied under Hendericus Beuker and was influenced by the writings of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. Berkhof graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1900 and became the pastor of First Christian Reformed Church in Allendale, Michigan. He attended Princeton Theological Seminary from 1902 to 1904, where he studied under B.B. Warfield and Geerhardus Vos. H. Henry Meeter, a friend of Berkhof, remarked that “Berkhof frequently said that he owed more to Vos than anyone else for his insights into Reformed theology” (Reformed Theology in America, 156).
Berkfhof returned to Michigan in 1904 and became pastor of Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. In 1906, he was appointed professor of exegetical theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, and in 1926, became professor of dogmatic theology. He also delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton in 1921. On September 9, 1931, Berkhof became president of Calvin Theological Seminary, where he served until his retirement in 1944. During his lifetime, he wrote prolifically, including numerous volumes on theology, social issues, politics, education, and missions. In addition to his books, he also published countless articles in Reformed periodicals, such as The Banner, De Wachter, and the Calvin Forum. He also served as the first president of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod in 1946.
Louis Berkhof died in 1957.