Louis Berkhof (1873 – 1957) was a Reformed systematic theologian whose written works have been influential in seminaries and Bible colleges in the United States and Canada and with individual Christians in general throughout the 20th century.
Louis Berkhof was a Reformed systematic theologian whose written works have been influential in seminaries and Bible colleges in the United States and Canada and with individual Christians in general throughout the 20th century.
He was born in 1873 in Emmen, Drenthe in the Netherlands and moved with his family to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1882, when still a child. In 1900 he graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan after which he was called to be pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church in Allendale, Michigan. Two years later he attended Princeton Theological Seminary where he earned his B.D. in two years. Then he returned to West Michigan to pastor Oakdale Park Church located in Grand Rapids. In 1906 he joined the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary and taught there for almost four decades. For the first 20 years he taught Biblical Studies until in 1926 he moved into the systematic theology department. He became president of the seminary in 1931 and continued in that office until he retired in 1944.
Berkhof authored twenty two books during his career. His main works are his Systematic Theology (1932, revised 1938) which was supplemented with an Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology (1932, which is included in the 1996 Eerdman's edition of Systematic Theology) and a separate volume entitled History of Christian Doctrines (1937). He wrote a more concise version of his Systematic Theology for high school and college students entitled Manual of Christian Doctrine, and later wrote the even more concise Summary of Christian Doctrine. He also delivered Princeton Theological Seminary's Stone Lectures in 1951. These were published as The Kingdom of God. Berkhof was not known for being original or speculative but for being very good at organizing and explaining basic theological ideas following in the tradition of John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck. Theologian Wayne Grudem has called Berkhof's Systematic Theology "a great treasure-house of information and analysis...probably the most useful one-volume systematic theology available from any theological perspective." Berkhof's writings continue to serve as systematic presentations of Reformed theology. They are organized for use in seminaries and religious education as well as individual reference, though his systematics works are demanding reads.
Works by Louis Berkhof
In his book, Introduction to the New Testament, Louis Berkhof investigates the history and purpose of the Gospels and Epistles in the New Testament. Berkhof's sections begin with a brief outline followed by a comprehensive look at the characteristics, authorship, composition, and canonical significance of each New Testament book. Preceding his discussion of the Gospels, Berkhof discusses the nature and inspiration of the Gospels in general, and introduces the Johannine problem, in which the first three Synoptic Gospels are set apart from the latter Gospel, John. Berkhof's Introduction relies on the findings of a wide range of New Testament scholars including the early Church Fathers. Berkhof's references are very easy to navigate which makes Introduction to the New Testament a prime text for student study. In fact, Berkhof intended this work to be utilized in the classroom at Calvin Theological Seminary where he taught for nearly 30 years until becoming its president in 1944.
Berkhof’s Summary of Christian Doctrine is a very concise version of his 1932 magnum opus, Systematic Theology. Berkhof’s theological views do not differ significantly from that of earlier Reformed theologians such as Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck, but his skilled summaries have proven very useful for teaching and instruction, particularly to young people and those beginning a deeper study of the Reformed tradition.
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