Reformed Dogmatics

I was introduced to Herman Bavinck from my seminary theology class. That was amazing for at that time the seminary’s theology was quite eclectic-a bit of P.Tillich, R. Bultmann, K. Barth, and some John Calvin. We were assigned to read Bavinck’s Our Reasonable Faith. I had not heard of him at that time and not certain of his theology. However, reading that book quickly assured me that I was reading a biblically reformed Dutch Theologian of the highest caliber. I also found, as I was reading the class notes, syllabus, and other books by Cornelius Van Til, frequent references and quotations from Bavinck, I grew in my appreciation of him.

I have collected in my library over the years all the works of Bavinck translated into English and often refer to them. I was pleased when Baker Books published his four volumes. I was even more pleased when I learned of the abridged one volume version of the four. Realizing the tough economic situation facing us, I feel much freer to recommend this one volume in hopes that it will encourage our pastors and teachers to read, use, and refer to Bavinck regularly. The first chapter of the book,”Dogmatic Theology as a Science” is worth the entire book. It should be required reading for every seminary student and or at least by the Presbytery’s examining committee of its candidates for ordination. John Bolt and those who assisted him in this project are to be commended.

Having read of their intention in developing this abridgment, I have checked copy with the original four volumes and have found their efforts commendable. Dogmatic theology is simply another name for Systematic Theology which is as Bavinck says is the orderly study of the Christian faith and a summary of its truth content. He says, “the Reformation recognizes no truth other than that which is given on the authority of God in Holy Scripture.” But he further clarifies, “Church dogma is never identical with the absolute truth of God itself since the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised the church does not exclude the possibility of human error. At the same time, it is a mistake to devalue dogma itself as a temporary aberration from the pure essence of a non-dogmatic gospel as many modern theologians do.” One further quote to give you a sense of where Bavinck comes from, “For God to be knowable he must have revealed himself not only in deeds but also in words. The objective knowledge we need for dogmatic theology comes from divine revelation.” He goes on to underscore that such revelation is found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. He says, “Religion and faith must precede theological reflection; the theologian must be a person of faith and the first theological step for a person of faith is to acknowledge revelation.”

I was asked by a seminary student several weeks ago who were my favorite theologians. I will list the ones I mentioned to him below. I cannot recommend this book too highly. It will be a magnificent book to own, read, study, and use in one’s personal spiritual growth, as well as in preaching and teaching the Word.

Being grateful to God for Herman Bavinck and the impact his writings have made on my life and ministry, I was pleased when my friend Ron Gleason, PCA pastor in Yorba Linda, Ca., Grace Presbyterian Church, wrote a biography on Bavinck. Gleason has written a delightfully scholarly and challenging biography of this man.

Bavinck was born 1854 in the Netherlands. He died in 1921. He succeeded Abraham Kuyper as professor of systematic theology at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1902. Gleason writes, “Bavinck was a theologian who sought to bring theology to the church of Jesus Christ. Even though he was well-acquainted with the various technical theologies and philosophies of his day, that did not deter him from writing many tracts and publications of a very spiritual nature. He contributed articles to many church publications and was a sought-after speaker and well-loved preacher.”

Especially because I attribute much to Bavinck for challenging me to thinkChristianly and for helping me understand the importance of having a Christian world and life view that is consistent with God’s truth, I am grateful to Ron Gleason for his many insights into the life and work of Herman Bavinck. He has written an in-depth warm and complete biography that will bless you as you read. This biography serves us quite well in furthering our understanding not only of Bavinck himself, but understanding the setting in which Bavinck lived and ministered.

[My answer to the seminary student mentioned above regarding my favorite theologians: John Calvin, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, and more recently, Wayne Grudem, Robert Reymond, and Michael Horton.]

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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