Professor Berkouwer contends, in the light of Scripture, that there can be no meaning in the meaningless or rationality in that which is intrinsically irrational. And so, a doctrine of sin which suggests that there can be only detracts from the awfulness of sin and the magnitude of God’s forgiveness. The proper response to sin is a true confession of my guilt; for the person who truly confesses is truly forgiven. From this vantage point Berkouwer rejects notions of monism, dualism, and a demonological explanation for man’s sin. He wants nothing to do with a “phenomenology of evil” which sees sin as self-evident. In the light of the salvation that has come we can only speak of sins that remain in us as riddle.
Berkouwer’s view is a wholesome foil to contemporary concepts that refer to human “estrangement” or “alienation,” but have little or nothing to say about guilt. He eschews the language of causality, since “self-exculpation dogs the heels of any explanation for our sin.” He denies the concepts of realism and federalism as developed in Reformed orthodox theology. “Original sin” is no datum that is “with us,” and is certainly no “alien guilt”; much rather, it is known in our involvement in sin. Nothing, not even faith, can shed a particle of light on the truly enigmatic character of evil. God’s wrath is seen the service of his grace and not as the coordinate of his love; and precisely in his intolerance for sin the act of his mercy is revealed. In a similar way, we cannot discuss the law as the source of the knowledge of sin apart from the gospel, or the gospel apart from the law. We cannot see Adam apart from Jesus Christ.
Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (1903-1996), Dutch theologian. He studied at the Christian Gymnasium and at the Free University of Amsterdam, obtaining a doctorate there in 1932. As pastor in the Gereformeerde Kerken (1927–45), he served in Oudehorne and Amsterdam. Also lecturer in modern theology at the Free University of Amsterdam (1940–45), he became professor of systematic theology there in 1945 and continued until his retirement in 1973. He was an observer at Vatican Council II (1962) and a member of the Royal Academy of the Sciences. His Studies in Dogmatics (14 vols., 1952–76) have earned high praise. “The importance of Berkouwer lies in his refusal to accept simplistic either-or’s … in which the fulness of truth is torn apart” (A Half Century of Theology, 208) and his “conviction that theology, if it is to be meaningful … had to be a theology directed to the pulpit” (L. B. Smedes). Other significant works include The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth (1956), The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism (1965), and A Half Century of Theology (1977). - From Biographical Entries from New 20th-Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge