A Gathering Voice Post by Don McKim
One of the giants of nineteenth and early twentieth century theology was the Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). Bavinck was the successor to the great Abraham Kuyper as Professor of Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. He was a prolific writer, best known for his four-volume, Reformed Dogmatics. In 1908, he delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary. Today, Bavinck websites include: http://hermanbavinck.org/ and
Portions of Bavinck’s works have been available in English for a number of years. Recently, through the outstanding labors of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society and Baker Academic books, the four volumes have appeared in English translation—3000 pages worth!
Earlier this year, a one volume abridged edition, edited by John Bolt, reduced Bavinck’s bulk to 850 pages. This was a monumental work in itself! We must be deeply grateful to John Bolt and other colleagues who have made Bavinck’s rich works more widely available (http://www.amazon.com/Reformed-Dogmatics-Abridged-Herman-Bavinck/dp/0801036488/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317842898&sr=8-1).
The abridged edition presents Bavinck’s theology in a strongly sustained way. The size of the book and its traditional format may seem off-putting and “dry.” But it is anything but that! Bavinck’s thorough use of Scripture, his deep familiarity with the history of Christian theology, and his impetus to look for the nurturing, spiritual dimensions of the theological loci make his work one that repays sustained study. His theology is Reformed, orthodox, and forged out of the crucibles of Dutch theological history. But the insights are penetrating, for all Christians.
Anywhere one casts the eye, there is wisdom to be found. To gain some perspective, how about this: “The life that originates in rebirth can, from the human perspective, be called a life of faith (Gal. 2:20), but objectively it is the life of the Spirit, the life of Christ, the life of God in the believer, and therefore supernatural and miraculous in its origin and essence” (Abridged edition, p. 520).
Our “life of faith,” of which we often speak—and rightly; is also, and really, the life of God in us. We speak from our human perspective when we describe what our life of faith is like, to us. Beneath it all, behind it all, and through it all, however, is the recognition that all we know and experience in faith, comes from the action of God within us. It is, as Bavinck notes, “the life of the Spirit, the life of Christ, the life of God in the believer.” All this is God’s work. Our lives of faith are “supernatural and miraculous” in their “origin and essence.”
This may not be a “new” thought. But it does give us a perception that can shape our outlooks. God is at work within us, giving us the gift of faith; and establishing the life of faith in us. As we live our days, seeking God’s will and wisdom, we do so recognizing that the triune God is at work in who we are and what we do. This energizes us, sustains us, and humbles us.
For those in need of a dose of theology focused on God, Bavinck is a theologian to read. He helps us recognize God’s revelation and activities within this world and the life of God in us, in the here and now. But Bavinck also looks to the Consummation, when, as he writes: “All the things that are in heaven and on earth have been gathered up in Christ as head (Eph. 1:10). All creatures will then live and move and have their being in God (Acts 17:28), who is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28), who reflects all his attributes in the mirror of his works, and glorifies himself in them” (p. 777).