Blogging Bavinck 3 – History of Dogma

Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving

I’m a big Ol’ History nerd, so I really enjoyed Chapter 3 – The Formation of Dogma: East and West (pgs. 115-142). Scripture is not a work of dogmatics or systematics, it is the inspired word of God and “the immediate expression of life.” He says that Scripture had not yet become the something that early believers reflected upon with a ‘thinking conscience.’

For this reason, the early church merely articulated dogmatics in epistolary writings and basic creeds. Outside of the canonical epistles, we have those that came later, i.e. Clement, Shepherd of Hermes, etc. As the church grew, we entered the era of apologetics. No longer writing just answers to questions of actions, we were forced to reflect more deeply on scripture in order to defend our beliefs in the face of persecution or our community being ostracized.

Educated converts such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus defended the faith against Gnosticism and created a ‘Christian vocabulary and worldview.’ Later through Tertullian and Origen, the foundations of Theology were set and Christianity increasingly became to be ‘understood primarily as a set of idea.’

The fourth century led to great developments in dogmatics as, after becoming the official religion, questions of theology moved from external attacks to internal struggles. The most compelling issues where those of the Christological nature, especially that of homoousia, that is the dual nature of Christ. Athanasius strongly asserted that the deity of Christ was the essence of Christianity; that is Christ had to be God to bring salvation. He along with others (Basil, the Gregorys, etc.) wrote polemic on this, the Trinity and the incarnation, all over and against the Arians and Macedonians. Orthodoxy was settled in 381 A.D. at the Synod of Constantinople.

The next four centuries were ones of turmoil for doctrine. For the eastern church the focus was that of humanity being subject to sin and corruption, and through Christ, we do not die but partake in life. The west focused on our relationship with God. We are guilty of violating the commandments, but through the work of Christ, we have grace. He notes that John resonates with the East and Paul with the West. I have no idea if this is still true of the Orthodox church today, but it always seemed to me there is a further division in the West, that the protestants resonate with Paul, while Catholics focus on Peter. Continue reading

Blogging Bavinck 2 – Prolegomena

Part 1

First and foremost, he continually uses a word so awesomely hilarious sounding, that it makes me wish I hadn’t bought the MMT domain: Dogmatician.

I thought my second write-up would be over a shorter section, but as I read through, that isn’t quite possible. Each of the four volumes is made up of part, which then have their own chapters. For example, book one has five parts and 17 chapter. I had one crazy idea that the chapters, spread out over all four volumes, would work out nicely as weekly post and I’d have over a year’s worth of material.

However, that doesn’t seem to be working out the way I wanted. For now, I’ll briefly review Part 1 of Book 1, which goes through page 114.

Many of the pages have an apologetic or polemic feel, as he argues definitions for dogmatics and critiques others approaches (as well as definitions). Roughly 30 pages are devoted to the order of a theology book. As in, doctrine of X should come first, followed by Doctrine of Y. He goes through a list of major works (Origen, Summa, Institutes, etc.) to show their layout and what was wrong with those.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is also the issue of antiquated terminology and debates (metaphysics). Additionally, he takes the view that everyone is familiar with church, as they have grown up in church and their understanding is shaped by whichever church they were apart of (hence, there is no way to have an unbiased writing). This is a little less true in modern America. Continue reading

Blogging Bavinck 1 – The Man

Part of my “Just Do Something” was to be active in this blog and use it as a place to publicly share my thoughts. Additionally, it forced me to put thoughts down in writing. Most of this is focused on working on two different projects. The one here today, is reading through and writing about Reformed Dogmatics. This is a massive four volume work (the shortest of which is just shy of 700 pages), and will likely take me more than a year to write about. So, here it goes.

Herman Bavinck was a badass Theologian in the Netherlands. He is not widely known in the US, as his work has just recently (2008) been completely translated to English. He is becoming quite well known in the Reformed community in the us, if you are in seminary or a theology nerd.

Born in 1854, he completed his theological training at Leiden in 1880. He went on to be appointed professor of Dogmatics at Kampen Theological Seminary before eventually coming to be a professor of theology at the newly formed Free University of Amsterdam in 1902 (free in this since of being under control of neither the church nor the state). Where he stayed until his death in 1921. He was a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences and named to the Senate of the Netherlands Parliment. He was a contemporary of Abraham Kuyper in Amsterdam and B.B. Warfield, even participating in the Stone Lectures in 1908.

His magnum opus, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek was published between 1895 and 1901; revised, expanded and republished between 1906 and 1911; published again, unaltered in 1918; with different pagination in 1928; finally translated to English and published between 2003 and 2008. There was also an abridged (from 3,000 pages to 850) edition in published in English in 2011. Many of his other work have also been or are currently being translated.

I am not too far (100 pages or so) into the first Volume, Prolegomena, but I can already say, it’s tough. Not only is it dense and academic (probably 30 pages on why we should use the term ‘dogmatics’) but it has a bit of an antiquated feel. You have references to metaphysics and the concern for these new scientific departments of religion, as opposed to Theology.

Anyway, should be interesting, check back next Monday as we dive deeper in to Prolegomena.

For more info on Bavinck:


Follow along with me, go buy the whole set here – Reformed Dogmatics (4 Volume Set)

Building Your Theological Library

I read a lot. My library started quite small, first with just a Bible, then the realization I needed a Study Bible and commentary to really help me understand. From there I moved on to Theology proper and issues of Christian life. All this led, of course, to the terrible idea that I should start a blog, but I digress. Below is a guide to getting started. First set are the necessities, from then on I give categories to buy (in bold) and a few recommendations of each.

If you want to buy and use amazon, please go click the links or go through my store.

The “Introduction to Christian Life” Library:

The “I Want to Know More” Library

  • Commentary – New Bible Commentary, The Expositors Bible Commentary
  • Broader Christian classics – Desiring God by Piper, Knowing God by Packer, Mere Christianity by Lewis, etc.
  • Church History – Church History in Plain Language by Shelley
  • Systematic Theology – Erikson or Berkhof; Outlines of Systematic Theology by A.A. Hodge
  • Topical books (broad) – What Does the Bible say about Homosexuality by DeYoung; How to Read Genesis by Longman

The “I Want a Deeper Understanding” Library:

  • Bibles – you can pick up a topical study Bible here, or a bi-lingual version
  • Church History – History of Christianity in North America by Noll; The Story of Christianity (2 Volume) by Gonzales
  • Commentary – Full version of Expositor’s Bible Commentary; Tyndale Commentary (this one is shorter and works well digitally, Olive Tree often has a $99 sale); New American Commentary
  • Theology – Biblical Theology by Vos; Historical Theology by Allison; Institutes of Christ Religion (2 Volume) by Calvin (Battles translation)
  • Topical Books (narrowed)– Inspiration and Incarnation, Evolution of Adam by Enns; Any of the Counter Point series from Zondervan
  • Basics of Biblical Greek/Hebrew

The “I Don’t Have Any Friends” Library:

  • Bible – Interlinear or parallel Greek/Hebrew Bible
  • Commentary – Word Biblical, Baker’s Exegetical, New International, etc.
  • Theology –Systematic Theology by Hodge;Reformed Dogmatics by Bavinck(Follow along with Blogging Bavinck)

You can buy all these books from my store.

Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

I was visiting another church the other Sunday and the pastor was discussing stewardship. This led him to the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler where Jesus drops the famous line about it being ‘easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter the Kingdom of God.’ It started off well enough, the pastor pointed out this was a metaphor and of course rich people can go to Heaven. He explained that it was like when people say they are so hungry they could eat a horse. Then he said it could be something a little different, that there was a gate that was small, so it received the nickname “eye of the needle” and that it was so small in fact, that horses had to get down on their knees to get through. I’ve heard something of this before but decided to research it a bit.

This interpretation is somewhere between 200 years old to over 1,000 depending on who you talk to. There are also a few more interpretations that include a mistranslations so that it’s not a camel but a rope (possibly made of camel hair, in at least one thing I found) and instead of gate, it was a well known mountain pass named ‘eye of the needle’. Of course, none of these are very good interpretations, so bad, that I’m not going to even bother arguing against it because it has been done (and better) many times(Blue Letter Bible), including this Wikipedia entry that points out the idiom in other languages (it was an elephant) and even the Qur’an.

Now, I have no idea what this pastor believes. He may have read this in a commentary or somewhere else and was simply trying to educate and give more background. So, the point in not to say anything about him, but instead about this idea. How unwilling are we to accept this parable from Christ Himself? That’s what I think of when I read these other takes on it. What is wrong with us that we would take obvious hyperbole and try to downplay it? I don’t know if the fear is greater that we would offend the rich or (as American’s tend to think) one day we will be rich and perhaps risk being kept out of the Kingdom. This isn’t an attack on wealth. The rich young ruler is looking for God’s favor, he has kept all the commandments (but for God’s will or to secure his place in Heaven?) but that still isn’t enough. You can’t earn your way to Heaven.

It was common in those times for the Jews to believe that their wealth came from God’s blessing because they were good. So, for Jesus to tell him to sell everything is also counter-cultural. If he gave up his money, how would he know he was good? The more common reading, also, is that he loved his money more than God (he went away sad). We are told no one can serve two masters. If someone seeks money and not God, it is literally impossible to spend eternity with Him. It is only though Christ that we can do that. Generally, we are fine with that message, aren’t we? But there is just something about discussing money that we don’t like. We want to be able to keep out love of money and still serve Christ.

Now, maybe you can’t blame some of the pastors who perpetuate these interpretations, maybe they don’t know it was a common saying in the A.N.E., but I haven’t read commentaries that downplay the mountain that our faith moves. So we are least alright with some hyperbole and metaphor from Christ, it just shouldn’t be about money.

Edit – Colbert quotes this parable in a story, has his own take on it:—see-no-equal