- Paperback: 360 pages
- Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (19 Dec. 1965)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802848192
- ISBN-13: 978-0802848192
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,673,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Work of Christ (Studies in Dogmatics) Paperback – 19 Dec 1965
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About the Author
Berkouwer is Professor of Systematic Theology, Free University of Amsterdam.
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He wrote in the first chapter of this 1953 book, “When we study the biblical message concerning the work of Christ, and examine the countless questions and answers, theories and viewpoints which this work has called forth in the history of the Church and theology, we are surprised that then many answers to the question, ‘Whom do man say that I am?’ [Mt 16:13] reveal such a striking parallel with the various theories concerning the nature and meaning of Christ’s WORK… For, indeed, the object is not a purely theoretical knowledge but a profitable, wholesome knowledge of the salvation of God in Jesus Christ.” (Pg. 9-10)
He continues, “And in times when new sufferings like an avalanche descended upon human life, causing unprecedented terror and utmost desertion and loneliness, the question arose with renewed urgency. What can … Jesus Christ mean for a torn world whose ‘humanity,’ so passionately sought for, had hardly been able to alleviate, let alone eliminate its suffering? Is the cross then indeed more than just a symbol of the Church, a symbol of tragedy and at the same time of oppression, a symbol of the evil in the world? Is it more than romanticism, which had not been able to make headway against the outrages of a realistic era? And is the cross (and resurrection) of this Person a real comfort in the futility and senselessness of our ‘existence,’ for the first time discovered in its hopelessness and absurdity?... We are first of all concerned with questions which touch the core of the preaching of the Church and which cry out for an answer.” (Pg. 16)
He observes, “to John this ‘beholding’ did not preclude the Word’s becoming flesh, nor did Paul believe that Christ’s being manifest in the flesh precludes the revelation. For it is exactly this that confront us with the mystery: the MAN Jesus Christ. Faith considers him not just a mysterious figure but THE mystery, of which Paul says that it was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest… nevertheless this does not dissolve the mystery that has come now, and here, and in this manner, in the lowliness of the flesh, like one of us, Jesus Christ, in all things like unto his brethren… All sorts of attempts have been made to make this miraculous, mysterious birth somewhat acceptable… serious injustice was done to what the Scripture simply teaches: ‘born,’ ‘become.’” (Pg. 89)
He points out, “Christ’s suffering is always connected with the fact that it was ‘for us,’ and the Church considered this the uniqueness of this suffering. His was a fruitful, beneficial suffering and death… The message of the Church concerning his suffering is not tragedy or nihilism, but the message of the only sure foundation in a world of sin, suffering, and death. The message… [is] a specific, peculiar fact which was of such a nature that it could receive a place---and what a place!---in the Church’s doxology and preaching.” (Pg. 136)
He acknowledges, “It is remarkable that Jesus himself mentions only one figure of whom the Church in later centuries will speak. It is the woman who anoints him in the house of Simon…. But neither did the name of this woman find its way into the Creed. It is exclusively the name of Christ’s judge that will forever be mentioned by the Church…” (Pg. 154)
He explains, “we wish to examine the meaning of the confession of Christ’s ‘descent into hell.’” (Pg. 174) He continues, “It would be correct … to say that Reformed theology and confessions have accepted Christ’s descent without thinking of a LOCAL descent. The object was to confess the hellish forsakenness of Christ as the Mediator between God and man, and thus an interpretation was given which was perhaps historically uncertain but nevertheless according to the Scriptures, which depict the Man of Sorrows as subject to the justice and wrath of God, being made a curse for us.” (Pg. 178-179)
He observes, “It is hardly imaginable that anyone should speak of the living Lord without attaching any significance to the empty tomb. It has often been alleged that the Church mad a PROOF out of the empty tomb in order to make the resurrection acceptable. This, however, is not the case… Not the empty grave but the resurrection of Christ is the great soteriological fact, but as such the resurrection is inseparably connected with the empty tomb and unthinkable without it. It is absolutely contrary to Scripture to eliminate the message of the empty tomb and still speak of the living Lord. The Gospels picture his resurrection in connection with historical data, moments, and places of his appearances. Scripture nowhere supports the idea of his living on independently of a corporeal resurrection and an empty tomb.” (Pg. 184)
He asserts, “Only severe Bible criticism can lead one to a denial of the ascension and even to its complete elimination from the original apostolic kerygma.” (Pg. 206) He continues, “As soon as a biblical author does not explicitly mention the resurrection of the ascension, the conclusion is drawn that he was not aware of them. Hence it becomes evident that the meaning of Scripture can be understood only in its fulness, unity, and harmony. If we appreciate this harmony we can see why in a certain instance only one central idea is stressed, without doing injustice to what it taught elsewhere in the apostolic preaching.” (Pg. 207) He summarizes, “There is every reason not only to confess, with the Church, the ontological trinity with the ‘filioque,’ but also to confess the ‘economic’ trinity and the ascension of Jesus Christ.” (Pg. 222)
He argues, “All this is at stake in ‘demythologizing,’ and it is the duty of the Church to make this clear by means of a living faith, without her assuming the right to give a scientific explanation concerning ‘heaven’ as the place where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God… It is surely not incorrect to speak of the right hand of God, but still it is a metaphorical expression… And over against the denial of … [the Ascension and the ‘Sitting’] as being contrary to the ‘modern world conception,’ the Church man continue on the basis of Holy Scripture to speak of these facts in simplicity of faith.” (Pg. 234)
He points out, “The cry ‘Maranatha’ has often been very feeble in the history of the Church. At times it can hardly be heard at all. The saying of the Spirit and the bride, ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ often seems to be a word of Scripture that finds no realization in the life of the Church. There can be only one reason for the languishing and fading longing of the Church, namely an obscuring of insight into the wealth and riches of the work of Christ. This insight of faith disappears and fades away in the face of many dangers and temptations. It is THE temptation of the Church and THE motive of the power of darkness: the incessant battle against the holy remembrance.” (Pg. 252)
He suggests, “The error of the noetic, subjective doctrine of reconciliation is that it denatures the love of God to an affectionless, unconcerned sentiment which is incapable of being insulted or injured, a love which needs only to be unveiled, without suffering and without sacrifice and without an act in history. This ‘unveiling’ takes the place of the wrath of God, which must be eliminated as a human distortion to the concept of God. The entire teaching of the Scripture shrivels to a naught; there is no appreciation of why the suffering of Christ was a ‘must,’ why such a High Priest became us [Heb 7:26], who once at the end of the ages has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself [Heb 9:26]. These texts speak not only of the publishing of the fact of God’s love, but of the revelation as it was executed in history… The Church must sound forth her emphatic ‘No’ to the superficial noetic doctrine of reconciliation, for it fails to recognize the teaching of Scripture.” (Pg. 274)
He says, “Christ is the Mediator in an absolute sense because he is not simply commissioned as a man, but because in his person he combines true divinity and true humanity… On the basis of Christ’s mediatorship it is evident that the question whether God or man is the object of reconciliation is a false dilemma. Christ is not like a human mediator who tries to influence another person to change his mind, for he is a unique Person. The emphasis is not on abstract mediating, but on THUS Mediator… He is the reality of the New Covenant of which he is the Mediator… The two natures of Christ cannot be separated in his mediatoral work, for he is not simply A mediator but THE Mediator between God and men with his whole person and in his specific office.” (Pg. 287)
For anyone interested in conservative Reformed theology, this entire series will be of great interest. The diversity of the theologians and sources with whom Berkouwer interacts make this series a very stimulating reading project.