It might be argued that Berkouwer’s concentration on man’s relation to God is no more than the adoption of a particular religious theory of man rather than dealing with the real man.
Berkouwer insists that, from the standpoint of Christian faith, the situation is quite the reverse.
He insists that we are not dealing with “an abstract idea of man, but with actual man” (Man: The Image of God, p. 13, emphasis original).
From the standpoint of faith, it is the view of man in relation to God, and not the view of man as rational, free or personal, which deals with the actual man, who stands outlined in the searching light of the revelation of God” (p. 30).
Emphasizing “the indissoluble Biblical relation between knowledge of man and knowledge of self” , Berkouwer writes,”The Jew did not have a better understanding because he was able to judge the heathen. In the sphere of abstract morality this could possibly be said, but this is not Biblical morality – O man, who judgest others! … We can hardly say that the pharisee had an accurate ‘knowledge’ of man when he pointed to the sins (the real sins) of publicans and sinners. This judgment, which separated knowledge of man from self-knowledge, was as nothing in God’s eyes” (Man: The Image of God, p. 27, emphasis original).
True knowledge of ‘man’ involves growing in self-knowledge. Such knowledge of ourselves comes through knowledge of God. In making this point, Berkouwer cites favourably the words of Calvin: “man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God and come down from from such contemplation to look into himself” (Man: The Image of God, pp. 20-21, citing Calvin, Institutes, One, I, 2).