Review of Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck

Reformed Dogmatics, Abridged in One Volume, by Herman Bavinck, ed., John Bolt, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011, 847 pp.

Well, that took a while to read.

I generally liked Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics but can’t really give it a special place in my heart. It is at the same level of the systematic theologies of say Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof. It has an orthodox Reformed viewpoint and shows the great learnedness of the author. But often times Bavinck doesn’t fully answer the question. For example, a mention of the Marrowmen (p. 462) does not clearly state whether their view on God willing the salvation of the non-elect is correct or not. Likewise, his discussion on faith (among other subjects) lacks clear definitions. He speaks of Christ having an “impersonal human nature” (p. 418)  but never explains what “personal” is and what Christ’s human nature is lacking so as not to be personal.

I wearied not only with the length of this volume but also the constant references to Lessing, Kant, Schleiermacher, Ritschl, etc. It is of some value to know the views of these thinkers, but mostly as a contrast to bring out the truth of the Scriptural view.

Highlights included his sections on the Trinity, angels, the ascension, and opposition to Chiliaism.

The book is probably best used as a reference when studying a particular topic. Bavinck should be included in the top ten or so theologians one consults; no doubt his work is impressive.

7 thoughts on “Review of Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck”

  1. “It is at the same level of the systematic theologies of say Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof.”

    What theology books do you place as exceptionally awesome? Or at least above Berkhof/Bavinck/Hodge?

    1. Gordon Clark, Robert Reymond, Herman Hoeksema, John Calvin, Augustine, David Engelsma, William Hendriksen, and J. Gresham Machen are some of my favorites.

  2. I appreciate your review Doug, although I wish it were longer. Not having anything by Bavinck I do not know much of his theology. Is he Kuyperian or Warfieldian in his apologetics?, Supra or Infra? Creationist or Traducianist?, Six 24 hour Creationist or Day/Age creationist?, Impeccability or peccability of Christ? Amil or Postmil?, etc..

    Also sorry to hear you do not like chili! 🙂 I love chili!!

    1. I can offer this; quotes from Bavinck that I thought especially notable:

      “It is true that we do not believe that God exists, in the first place, because someone has marshaled an abundance of date and evidence that convinces our reason. We come to know through faith and not through external sense perception of things.” (p. 8)

      “It is time for those who attempt to create an authoritative theology from the empirical date of the Christian religion alone to acknowledge the impossibility of their task.” (p. 13)

      “In no domain of life are the intellect and the heart, reason, and conscience, feeling and imagination, the epistemic source of truth but only organs by which we perceive truth and make it our own.” (p. 16)

      “Sense perception is the starting point of all human knowledge.” (p. 51)

      “The proper starting point for any theory of knowledge is the universal and natural certainty we find spontaneously in our ordinary experience. … We trust our senses, which lead us to believe in an objective world external to us, and our mental representations of that world point back to that reality.” (p. 51)

      “The same Logos created both the reality outside us and the laws of thought within us. The world is created in such a way that an organic connection and correspondence is possible between our minds and the reality external to us.” (p. 52) [preformation theory]

      “faith, which is a childlike trust” (p. 54) “believing it: faith” (p. 127) “without believing as such, without faith” (p. 127)

      “In the New Testament the word does not ‘come’ anymore; it does not come now and then from above and without to the prophets but has come in Christ and remains.” (p. 95)

      “Those who make their doctrine of Scripture dependent on historical research into its origination and structure have already begun to reject Scripture’s self-testimony and therefore no longer believe that Scripture.” (p. 102)

      “Other efforts to ground theological certainty in experience have no succeeded either. Certainly with respect to the truth of Christianity is not grounded in the Christian person but in the Word of God attested by the Holy Spirit. (p. 119)

      “In the thinking of Lutheran as well as Reformed theologians, faith is ‘firm assent,’ a ‘certain knowledge,’ which excludes doubt and uncertainty.” (p. 130)

      “The New Testament term mysterion does not denote an intellectually uncomprehended truth of faith, but a matter that was formerly hidden in God, was then made known in the history of salvation culminating in Christ, and is now understood by believer.” (p. 142-143)

      “It it true that certain terms such as ‘personality’ when applied to God, mean something different than what we mean in applying them to human persons.” (p. 155)

      Bavink calls the sensus divinitatius a “disposition or capacity for knowing God.” I think this is in error. It is actually knowledge, not just the capacity for it. (p 159)

      “Like all knowledge, knowledge of God is mediated to us through our senses.” (p. 161)

      “The ideas of ‘permission’ and ‘foreknowledge’ do not solve the difficulty; foreseeing the fall, God could have prevented it. He freely permitted it to happen since doing so seemed good to him.” (p. 251) (see also p. 256)

      “For these reasons we judge that the das of Genesis 1 are no to be identified with the periods of geology but as days; albeit extraordinary days.” (p. 294)

      “As we reflect more on the date of sciences such as geology, we need to remember that these facts are just as much words of God as those of Holy Scripture and to be accepted as such.” (p. 295)

      “Sins against the first table of the law are more serious than those against the second.” (p. 378)

      “Fallen humans are still image bearers of God.” (p. 385)

      There are more quotes, but these should keep one’s mind busy.

      1. Wow! What a mixed bag!
        “He speaks of Christ having an “impersonal human nature” (p. 418) but never explains what “personal” is and what Christ’s human nature is lacking so as not to be personal.”
        Hi Doug,
        On a similar vein, would you have a reference where Gordon Clark commented specifically on the WCF 8.7? … Christ, in the work of mediation, acteth according to both natures; by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes, in Scripture, attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.

        1. I don’t have a reference offhand. But the best places to look would be his “The Incarnation” and “What Do Presbyterians Believe.”

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