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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Berkouwer and Catholicism. Disputed Questions.
Leiden u. a.: Brill 2013. VIII, 508 S. = Studies in Reformed Theology, 24. Geb. EUR 176,00. ISBN 978-90-04-24558-7.
As a young student I read all 18 volumes of the dogmatic studies of Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (1903–1996). I was fascinated by all the material he offered and I got dizzy by all the literature he referred too. Berkouwer held for many years the Chair in Dogmatics (1945–1974) at the Free University, Amsterdam, a position previously held by Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) and Herman Bavinck (1854–1921). In spite of reading all these works, it was only towards the end of my studies that I came to see the developments in Berkouwers thinking. Reading the book of Eduardo Echeverria (Sacred Heart Major Seminary Detroit, USA) did bring me back to these student years, but what is more important, did give me a much better grasp of the developments in Berkouwer’s thinking.
Reason is the clear style of E., but above all it is his conversation with Berkouwer and the reader E. manages to keep going from the first to the last page of the book. E. tells the story of Berkouwer’s evolving relationship with Catholicism in light of Vatican II out of E.’s conviction that Berkouwer’s journey from a strong reformed position over against Catholicism to seeing the Catholic Church after the developments of Vatican II as a partner, maybe even as the solution for protestantism, is a great stimulus for present day ecu menical relations. Berkouwer attended Vatican II as an invited observer and is according to E. the only reformed theologian who wrote two book-length studies on the Council. E. makes use of these experiences and books of Berkouwer not only to see how Berkouwer’s position developed, but also to learn from him in order to have reformed and catholic Christians learn from him what a good Christian and orthodox ecclesiology is. This makes this fascinating book not just one of historical theology, but one of systematic theology and one of practical theology, and E. manages all three aspects without becoming diffuse or complicated.
The first chapter describes Berkouwer’s position towards Catholicism as it evolved in the years 1940–1968 mainly under the influence of the nouvelle théologie. In chapters two and three E. deals with the issues of natural theology and the rationality of faith, de-scribing how Berkouwer re-assessed these issues in his discussion with catholic theology and as he tried to learn from it. In chapters four and five the relation between Scripture and tradition is the main topic. Here the renewed understanding of the Council of Trent plays a major role, resulting in Berkouwer’s conviction that Trent did not put tradition on the same authoritative level as Scripture, and stating that tradition has authority in protestant theo-logy as well. E. compares this position of Berkouwer with other 20 th century catholic theologians (Rahner, Congar, Ratzinger, e. a.) as well as with protestant thinkers (Heiko Oberman, Timothy George). The final chapter puts the focus on the question how dogma develops. E. does of course see how such a development is central in Berkouwer’s thinking, which is one of the reason why he is seen as the key cause for the development of his church from an orthodox reformed one to a liberal church. E. makes clear that this for him is a fundamental step too far and takes Berkouwer’s cri-tique of the Marian dogma as an example. This critique is analyzed and then rejected by E. who from the beginning of his book openly presents himself as a scholar who wants to be a confessing catholic and therefore defends his church’s position on Mary. In the Epi-logue the significance of Berkouwer for ›the Adventure of Ecumenicity‹ is dealt with. For E. this significance is undoubted which is at least partly due to his own fascination of Berkouwer as a person and as a theologian. These personal elements in a book of academic quality make this publication a not so common but mostly appreciated contribution to a scholarly field that wants to stay connected to the church.