This week was the toughest with regards to reading. I had the privilege of reading Louis Berkhof’s, Systematic Theology. I had to average about 150 pages a day (skipping one) and that wasn’t easy. Also I barely had time to read other smaller articles and books.
Luckily I was able to speed read through it and retain the majority of the things he said. On a side note, speed-reading is very effective if done correctly… hopefully in another blog I can write about the methods I’ve used and read about that helped tremendously.
Going to the content of the book: I was extremely impressed by Berkhof’s work and his trenchant style of writing. His wide arsenal of resources concerning theology and church history are very enlightening. Berkhof is the classic systematic to go to if you are Reformed or if you want to learn about Reformed theology. Having read Grudem’s work a couple of years ago I can easily say that it doesn’t even come close to the depth of Berkhof. Although Grudem elongates his work by adding a couple of paragraphs of questions for meditation, helpful images and some songs it doesn’t match Berkhof’s straight forward and Puritanic style.
The contents are pretty much the same to any other dogmatic work. He begins with
Scripture (updated version) moves on to
Some of the things I noticed in Berkhof that were different than Grudem was his use of Church history, heavy reliance of predestination and a strong covenant theology. It seemed like (as much as I can remember) Berkhof was more apt to cite church fathers and expand on their views whereas Grudem (as far as I recall) didn’t. Berkhof also treated predestination within the topic of decree whereas Grudem inserted it within the doctrine of man. Finally being a historic and confessional Reformed theologian Berkhof was more covenantal and explained it thoroughly (even though I find myself disagreeing at some points). Be that as it may both of them write really well and sum of Reformed theology properly.
Some of my favorite quotations are:
“Calvin…stressed the fact that the decree respecting the entrance of sin into the world was a permissive decree, and that the decree of reprobation into the world should be construed that God was not made the author of sin nor in any way responsible for it.” (pg. 110)
Berkhof on why Adam was barred from the tree of life after the fall and how God was even there being gracious to him writes, “[Adam] was barred from the tree of life, because it was a symbol of the life promised in the covenant of works” (pg. 226)
On Benedict Spinoza the pantheistic philosopher he writes and compares him to an atheist saying, “[for Spinoza] sin is simply due to the inadequacy of man’s knowledge, which fails to see everything sub specie aeternitatis [in light of eternity], that is, in unity with the eternal and infinite essence of God. If man’s knowledge were adequate, so that he saw everything in God, he would have no conception of sin,; it would simply be non-existent for him.” (pg. 228) Which simply means that Spinoza was very atheistic because in the final and ultimate sense evil does not exist.
Although I disagree with Berkhof on some of the things he writes on the covenants he is right on point with this statement, “When Paul in II Cor. 3 contrasts the ministry of the law with that of the gospel, he has in mind particularly the ministry of the law as it was understood by the later Jews, who turned the Sinatic covenant into a covenant of works.” (pg. 300)
There is much more to be written in summary of some great insight he brings especially in eschatological debates but this will suffice for now.
Overall I highly recommend everyone (Reformed or not) to have a copy of Berkhof sitting on the shelf as a book of reference for nearly every doctrine.
4.5/5 stars for Louis Berkhof!