Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics: Smash and Grab

We’ve been sifting through some of the high points of Bavinck’s doctrine of God, offering up small, somewhat uncritical summaries of his thought. In volume two Bavinck has an almost throw-away statement that carries a cautionary tone and is even little haunting: “there is no guarantee of a better job, preferment or worldly gain that comes with the knowledge of God.” He’s correct. So why study God if there is no patent success or material fulfillment? The answer, says Bavinck, is obvious.

If theology has any object other than God for its starting point it loses its character. Bavinck has been saying this all along: the subjectivity of modern theology led to an untenable mysticism and pantheism that could not be supported by scripture or the confessions. Across the street from the Reformed, Rome has the view that grace compliments nature leaving Christ on the sidelines waiting to enter into the world and be useful. Other views are usually anthropocentric or create a dualism between God and the world that pushes him and his follower’s right out the door. This cloud is unknowing.

But God has revealed himself to humankind, argues Bavinck, sin notwithstanding. Grace has permeated the world (uniquely through Christ) and is sustained by the creator as easily as a potter shapes clay. The church is certain of this from scripture and her constant testing and validating scripture doctrine. So long as Christian dogmatics retains God as her main objective, the church will thrive in worship and in truth (Heb. 12:1-2).

Tie it all together and you have the bedrock underlying the problems between Pelagius and Augustine, Calvin and Pighius, works and imputed righteousness, repentance and participation, Christ and the world. What do you get for knowing God? Pursuing God? The answer is finding God and enjoying him, putting to bed the uncertainty that comes with not knowing if he’s ‘out there’ or finding him only in a brief moment of crisis or something like that. Put another way, pursuing God with the expectation of anything other than finding him is immediately off track and a recipe for disillusionment. What Bavinck is essentially saying is that the loss of objectivity in theology is the thing responsible for much of the confusion, disorganization and apathy that have plagued the modern era church. Yet for all that Bavinck is unmoved. God’s name and character have been revealed in scripture and testified to in nature. Next time we will undertake Bavinck’s exegesis of the Lord’s Name and a formidable challenge to the pursuit of God.

2 Responses

  1. Luke

    I agree with what you are saying. But just wanted to highlight the subjective element you yourself mention at the end when you say, “What do you get for knowing God?… finding God and enjoying Him”. Enjoyment is definitely a subjective benefit. John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The knowledge of God does have tremendous subjective benefit. Growing in intimate knowledge with the Father and with His Son is what it means to live. It is true, full and forever life. Genuine (eternal), joy-filled life is certainly something the Scriptures encourage us to seek after, and we find it in knowing the Father and in Knowing His Son.

  2. Joel

    Thanks Luke. Something in this post didn’t sit well with me and you hit it on the head. And it gives me a chance to clarify. No doubt the result of John 17:3 follow after Hebrews 11:6. The hardest thing to interpret and nuance here (Vol. 2, pps. 103 – 105, 115- 133ish) is how Bavinck perceives theologically ulterior motives as a hindrance to true faith. Much of this section (esp. 103 – 105) deals with philosophy’s borrowing theological terms to construct its worldview.

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