Blogging Bavinck 6 – Foundations of Dogmatic Theology

Alright, get ready, we are going to cruise straight through the entirety of Part III, which include chapters seven and eight (pgs. 207-279).  Chapter 7 is titled Scientific Foundations, of course his use of the word ‘science’ is not the way we use it in modern times. He jumps straight into a discussion of ‘Theological Prolegomena,’ which seems to be an explanation for the entirety of the book so far (over 200 pages). I guess when you writing is over 3,000 pages, it’s alright to have an intro that long. He even says ‘many theologians prefaced dogmatics with far-ranging introduction that had an apologetic thrust.’

He jumps back into what is his view of those foundations of thought – Rationalism, Empiricism, and Realism. I’m not going to write much about these because they for the most part are historical and apologetic in his treatment. Some aspects are obviously still important for today, but for the most part we have moved from Enlightenment thought, to Modernism, to now, Post-Modernism. Also, I just didn’t find them that interesting. Towards the end, he moves from Socrates ides of making knowledge the basis for philosophy, to the Augustinian idea that “God is the sun of the minds.” That is, we cannot see ‘any truth except in the light of God.’

Moving on to Chapter eight, he gets into the idea of the foundations of religion. Trying to find religion at its essence. He starts off, somewhat oddly, in the disputed etymology of the word ‘religion’ which is fairly interesting if you are geeky enough. Further on, he states ‘what makes human beings religious beings and drive them toward religion is the realization that they are related to God in a way that specifically differs from all their other relationships.’ The Reformed theologians made a better and clearer distinction for piety and worship. That is, piety is the principle of religion and worship is the act of religion.

Therefore, the ‘essence of religion cannot consist in anything other than that in it God is glorified and acknowledged precisely as God.’ He considers there to be no better description of religion than the answer to question 94 of the Heidelberg Catechism. It is important how we handle religion and worship, as to ignore or pay little attention to this assumes that God doesn’t care how he is served.

The next focus of the chapter is the head, heart, hand consideration of religion. What drives religion, the intellect, the will, or the heart. That is intellect being the focus on the knowledge of God. Obviously, we can’t go too far that way, or make that our only base, as that is Gnosticism; will being too deep a focus on morality, with religion having no other aim than loving your neighbor, but this leads to rationalism and deism; finally, the heart being religion as feeling. We covered most of this earlier in the impact of Schleiermacher. He finishes this section with the point that religion is not limited to one part, but it is the whole person.

The remained of the chapter is a quick discussion of the origins of religion.  He first write of the belief that the origin is fear, that people fear a cruel and deadly work and seek God/religion as a means of protection. He critiques this stating that this views God as a servant to humans. God and religion become mystical, but this makes God not the first principle, but instead makes it mysticism. Therefore, humans occur first in the world, then find God. The foundation of religion is them that we acknowledge our need. However, this requires at some point a ‘religionless’ man. This reasoning is absurd, as it would require someone, with no assumption of the existence of God, ‘creating’ God and asking for his protection. Obviously, someone could find no comfort in a God he created and the idea collapses in on itself.

His answer to the question of origin is what Calvin called the ‘seed of religion’ and ‘a sense of divinity’. In this, there is something in human faculty and natural aptitude that perceives the divine. It is the objective God, ‘He creates not only the light, but also the eye to see it.’

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

Blogging Bavinck 12, 3, 4, 5

Blogging Bavinck 4 – Catholic and Lutheran Dogmatics

After hitting the early history, chapters four and five (pgs. 143-174) run briefly through Catholic and Lutheran dogmatics, respectively.

My pretend theologian credentials do not extend to knowledge of Catholic Dogmas, so it was a very informative chapter for me. The starting point for Catholic dogma is the era of scholasticism. He sees three main issues with this. First, original sources were not studied, this is partly because Hebrew and Greek were unknown for the most part, but also the theologians at the time accepted Scripture and tradition uncritically; ‘Faith was the starting point.’

Second, the methodology was dependent on Aristotle’s logic, though only two of his books were translated into Latin; only part of Plato’s Timaus and a few quotes from Augustine were known. With Aristotle taking the place of John the Baptist as precursor to Christ, dogmatics became more a system of philosophy than doctrine of faith.

Finally, the whole presentation of the system became, basically, too tedious. I remember hearing that scholastic theologians argued over the number of angles that could dance on the head of a pin. Bavinck notes that complication took the place of serious study, the ‘form became more rigid…and dogmatics degenerated into endless argumentation.’

Later in the Jesuits, with their methodology and scholastic theology, ushered in the Count-Reformation. They brought study and seriousness back to dogma with their polemics against the Protestants, generally following the work of Thomas (I just realized I didn’t write anything about Thomas, that would be St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the medieval and scholastic theologians, with his monumental work Summa), though the differed on sin, free will, and grace. He finishes this chapter with issues of Modernity, which I won’t go much into. He points to the philosophy of Europe becoming that of Bacon and Descartes, and leaving Aristotle. This, and the impact of Romanticism, are the greatest issues in 19th century Catholicism. Continue reading

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)