Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics: The Principia

We’ve been attempting to hit some of the highpoints of Bavinck’s Prolegomena. His basic presupposition is that the knowledge of God comes through his own disclosure (special revelation) and is contained in Scripture. The discovery of this knowledge is not reserved for a handful of scholars scattered throughout history, but instead is the work of the whole church, as the redeemed people of God, for all time.

Revelation is knowledge, and as such it has a cause and a source. God is the ultimate source of our knowledge of him (principium essendi ). The general sense in which we learn God’s self-consciousness is through his self-communication presented by the word in scripture (principium cognoscendi externum ). The third principle foundation is the internal work of the Holy Spirit (principium cognoscendi internum ) “the illumination of human beings by God’s Spirit.” For Bavinck, these three distinctions are rooted in the being of God, and the method of revelation moves forward on this Trinitarian model.

Well, is it as easy as it sounds? That depends. To defend his view, Bavinck first takes the reader through a literary history of dogmatics. When modern dogmatics began to look for the ‘purest’ source possible for authentic doctrine some (Harnack) put forward that Christian theology was too corrupted by Greek thinking, and confined doctrinal purity to the New Testament era. If that were true, argues Bavinck, then the Trinitarian model of Christian knowledge (along with Paul’s interpretation of Christ) would have been abandoned, and the literary history says otherwise; early Christian writers were at pains to avoid Hellenistic influence when formulating such doctrines as the Trinity. In very broad, generous terms, Bavinck shows that the Church has always received her doctrine from scripture, and that many of the early battles with Greek and Roman philosophers took place over scripture credibility. Despite any objections, at the end of the day Bavinck hangs his hat on the peg of certainty: dogmatics is an objective science, “a mighty attempt to appropriate the truth of God revealed in Christ and to fully understand the essence of Christianity.”

2 Responses

  1. Bob Covolo


    Look forward to reading the blog and so glad you are writing about Bavnick. I have his volumes and found his doctrine of creation to be quite helpful.

    What exactly does Bavinck do with general revelation? Is he true to Calvin on this or is he getting a little Barthian on us?

    I look forward to hearing more about Bavinck’s doctrine of election. It seems that is where Bavinck contributed something quite profound.

    -Bob Covolo

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