September 26 09 2020

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)


Atelier Prinses (Amsterdam)

(I took this photo from Wikipedia; )


We have considered the Holy Trinity in the work of Edward Henry Bickersteth and we proved that there are three persons in the Holy Trinity.  Anyhow I want to move on now to a new project and it may be that my posts might be once or twice a week as I will be reading volume one of Herman Bavincks reformed ethics.  I am so glad that these manuscripts were discovered and for a Religious Studies teacher it gives a wholistic picture to us. Karl Barth was not able to do this thoroughly although I think he wanted to.  In Dogmatic theology God is talking to us.  Where is the reciprocity without falling into some heresy?  Herman Bavinck obviously gives us a road map into the 21st century.


Herman Bavinck

I just did some reading about Bavinck on the internet. I read Wikipedia and I was horrified at one of the entries that Misrepresents Bavinck on revelation.

Taken from;

“Bavinck’s Doctrine of Revelation

Bavinck sensed the open question caused by the subjectivist tendency of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s doctrine of revelation. Deeply concerned with the problem of objectivism and subjectivism in the doctrine of revelation, he employed Schleiermacher’s doctrine of revelation in his own way and regarded the Bible as the objective standard for his theological work. Bavinck also stressed the importance of the church, which forms the Christian consciousness and experience. (Source: Byung Hoon Woo, Herman Bavinck, and Karl Barth)”


Bavinck is orthodox yet modern and the above is a misrepresentation of his teachings.  First of all, his style is that he interacts with other writers on their topics and gives them a proper hearing and then he speaks.  Schleiermacher and Bavinck are not on the same football field.


The Relationship of dogmatics and Ethics.

Bavinck has seriously thought about this  question and I have included it here for Christian theologians and Religious Studies pedagogy.  I enjoyed learning about Barth at KCL under professor Gunton.  We were able to dive deep into understanding a serious 20 century theologian of great stature.   At the time nearing the end of my studies I found a book by Herman Bavinck; The Doctrine of God.  Who was this theologian? Obviously I read the book and didn’t think twice about it. I became a Religious Educator and I learned tons about ethics.  Various ethics from around the world but in the grand scheme of things for Christian ethics I asked the question; Where does ethics fit and how does it work for the Christian.  I feel that I found a seriously good answer below.  Figuratively speaking the paragraphs below are dynamite in a theologians hands. 

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics Page 22

“The distinction between dogmatics and ethics has become clear. The difference does not lie in the fact that the former deals with the understanding

and knowledge, while the latter is concerned with the will and conduct.

This would boil down to a division of human beings into two parts, of which

one half is purely intellectual and the other purely ethical. No. In dogmatics

we are concerned with what God does for us and in us. In dogmatics God is

everything. Dogmatics is a word from God to us, coming from outside us and

above us; we are passive, listening, and opening ourselves to being directed by

God. In ethics, we are interested in the question of what it is that God now

expects of us when he does his work in us. What do we do for him? Here we

are active, precisely because of and on the grounds of God’s deeds in us; we

sing psalms in thanks and praise to God. In dogmatics, God descends to us;

in ethics, we ascend to God. In dogmatics, he is ours; in ethics, we are his. In

dogmatics, we know we shall see his face; in ethics, his name will be written on our foreheads”


In a lot of ways Barth and Bavinck were saying the same thing but with different styles.  Both theologians had to deal with the rise of the Liberal German philosophical theology.  So, in Dogmatics God is speaking to us and what he does for us!  He goes on; Ethics is about what God expects from us now.  God is always in the driving seat and the reciprocation is real because we can give thanks.  So, Bavinck says;”. In dogmatics, he is ours; in ethics, we are his.”

This blows away the impasse of double predestination which Karl Barth struggled with.  Actually, in Karl Barth Christ became the elect and we find our election in Christ.  This was interesting but can the New Testament be interpreted this way?  I think it is one interpretation but is there another way? The answer is I don’t know yet. (For the uninitiated double predestination seems a little harsh for a compassionate God, that some are destined for bliss and others are destined to Hell.  It is a very wooden interpretation, but it gets the job done for now.) Bavinck in his doctrine of God translated by William Hendriksen is touched on but I am just working now through his ethics.

Why is Bavincks Ethics so important in the 21st Century?  It is important because it gives us another way of reading ethics in a Christian manner.  It opens up Dogmatics in some form from various centuries to deal with serious issues; abortion, Euthanasia, splitting DNA, mixing DNA with animals, growing human body parts on and in animals.  Today ethics is a minefield and it is getting worse all the time.  I despair sometimes because of utilitarianisms in the world.  Life is getting cheaper all the time. Philosophical ethics and Christian ethics start from different foundations and a lot of the time come to different conclusions.  Unfortunately, a lot of Christians don’t know the difference.  Bavinck is a breath of fresh air for the believer looking for answers to these most fundamental questions of life.  In Bavinck there is no room for Pelagian views that somehow man can make it on his own strength.  Below is a link to what Pelagianism is and who came up with it;

Karl Barth and Bavinck are certainly correct to fight Pelagianism.  God is Sovereign and we were created in the image of God thus there will always be a relationship between God and humans.  I found this in Bavincks Ethics.  I found this really interesting because Bavinck looks at the creation of Adam and Eve and at that moment humanity was perfect, there were no flaws. Then the fall happened, and the story of redemption started.  This is where Bavinck from my estimation is correct about a lot of these philosophies of his time that had their feet in an evolutionary process.  The Bible is going in the opposite direction as he says.  Enough of what I think let us let Bavinck now speak for himself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: